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The Brandon Phillips Paradox

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The season that the Reds' 2B is currently having makes no sense. It's impossible. There's only one way it could possibly be happening: he's pranking us all.

Is the joke on us?
Is the joke on us?
Al Bello

Brandon Phillips is doing this on purpose. I just know he is.

The most active Cincinnati Red in social media is setting up his legions of followers to join him in his quest. He's got the perfect peers for his performance, the quintessential peanut gallery in place to cover it, and the ultimate manager to see it all through. He's setting the stage for the most calculated, successful troll in the history of baseball, and it's all materializing right before our eyes.

Brandon Phillips is punking sabermetrics. I half expect him to announce so at his All Star Game interviews.

The Reds' second basemen is having a 2013 season for the record books in fascinating, head scratching ways. Phillips is on pace for the lowest OPS of any season in a Reds uniform, is slugging at a lower rate (.413) than at any point in his Reds career, and currently has the lowest wOBA (.316) of any of his 8 seasons in Cincinnati. His OPS against right-handed pitching is at .687, which is well below his career mark, his worst since 2008, and the second worst during his stint with the Reds. He's playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in all of baseball, yet is currently sporting a .227/.283/.337 line at GABP in 2013, which is easily the worst of his career.

But Brandon Phillips is on pace for 126 RBI this season. I'm fairly certain Paul Daugherty is aware of this.

There is literally nothing about the way Phillips' season has gone thus far that could be described as conventional. Not a thing. For instance, National League hitters as a whole have a .938 OPS when the pitcher is behind 2-0...but Phillips has a rather unbelievable .347 OPS in those counts. Conversely, NL hitters have combined for just a putrid .452 OPS in 2-2 counts...and Phillips, in those scenarios, is mashing at an .882 clip.

The three stadiums where Brandon has his highest SLG % this season? Pittsburgh's PNC Park (1.000), St. Louis' Busch Stadium (.696), and Miami's Marlins Park (.692), all notorious pitchers' parks. You'll also find that he has his lowest SLG % this season in Milwaukee (.250), and he's also struggled in Philadelphia (.308) and Texas (.333), all of which are considered hitters' parks.

The truly eye-popping stats, however, are in his situational hitting. In the 178 times Phillips has stepped to the plate without a single Red on the basepaths, he's hitting a miserable .200/.236/.335. That's Cozartian. When there is at least one Red in scoring position, however, Phillips is hitting a rather astonishing .404/.463/.566 in his 124 PAs. That .458 gap in OPS is big enough to fit a Jonathan Broxton/Prince Fielder man-hug. The NL average gap is just .017.

Brandon has also stepped to the plate with the bases loaded 13 times this year, and in those situations he's slashed .800/.692/1.100. Now you probably think I'm just making things up.

I assume this is all well and good given that he's hitting cleanup behind the top to OBPs in the NL (Votto and Shin-Soo Choo). At the same time he's become the sabermetric anti-hero to the Cincinnati media, he's also doing his best to dispel the notion that lineup construction doesn't matter.

He needs a nickname for this. Something like "The Discreditor," only not that and way better. He needs a moniker badly, because if he keeps up his current pace and eclipses 120 RBI this season, he'd have the lowest season OPS to ever do so in the modern era of baseball*. In fact, it wouldn't really even be close, as his current .733 OPS is well below Sam Crawford's .756 OPS in 1910 and miles away from Rusty Staub's .782 OPS from 1978, the current lowest and second lowest to reach that arbitrary cutoff.

What I'm saying is, of course, that what Brandon Phillips is doing is unprecedented.

Brandon Phillips is being called the team's MVP by a certain Cincinnati media member for prolifically driving in runs without getting on base, while Joey Votto is being criticized daily for prolifically getting on base without driving in runs. One is getting the publicity and notice, while the orchestrator behind it is being completely overlooked.

The crux of sabermetric analysis is squaring off with the crutch leaned on by much of the old guard of baseball writers. It's as if the Baseball Gods created a single team yin yang that was both diametrically opposed and amicably inseparable, and it's happening right before our very eyes.

*Hat tip to Former Fearless Leader Slyde for the fancy schmancy BBRef table help.