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Brandon Phillips: Back up where he belongs?

Reeling in the years.
Reeling in the years.

Brandon Phillips has traced a unique career arc. The Media Guide bullet points about him finding success with the Reds after the Indians "gave up on him" have been repeated countless times. Nearly as interesting as is transformation from near-bust to All Star, I think, is how Phillips' skill set has evolved in recent years.

After BP's 30-30 season in 2007, he was a good defensive second baseman who offered a exceptional power for his position on top of his apparent speed. He picked up the label "all-around player."

Under the surface, he didn't have a skill set that was supposed to age well - speed, power without plate discipline and defensive skills (and a batting stance/swing) that often looked high-risk.

With an abnormally high (15.9%) HR/FB rate in '07, it's not surprising (in hindsight) that's where his HR totals peaked. And with a 4.7% walk rate, he had to get a lot more patient at the plate. In addition, BP hit almost as many home runs in 2007 as triples or doubles. If his home runs were fluky, he'd need to drive the ball to the gaps to compensate for regression and/or a decline in power. He also needed to stay healthy.

After 2008, it looked like a pessimistic reading of his peripherals might win out. His OBP fell to .312 and there were stretches where he was swinging out of his shoes. He had surgery on his throwing hand in September of that year and wound up playing in his fewest games since becoming a Red.

Last season, he turned 30 and was the best second baseman in the National League.

Five years since his breakout season, Phillips has made an unlikely transformation. While his HRs and SBs have declined every single year since then, Phillips doubled 12 more times last season than in 2007 (in 17 fewer PAs). Meanwhile, his walk rate this season stands at an all-time high (8.0%). His defense, to my eye at least, looks as good as ever.

So what should we expect the rest of the way from a 31-year-old BP, with 5 contract years ahead of him?

His current line - .273/.329/.407 - looks like he's settling around his career average (.272/.322/.433). His career average, though, is skewed at least a little bit by the player Phillips used to be.

With, at minimum, some extra base hits, we might get the '09-'10 vintage.

If you think his walk-rate is real - that pitchers will keep throwing him less strikes and he'll continue to lay off - then he could be much closer to where he was last season. His 2011 campaign was a career year - or the start of a new one.