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2014 in Review: Brandon Phillips

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The former two-way star has seen his hitting decline precipitously. That doesn't mean he's not still a one-way star.

Just another Gold Glove caliber play.
Just another Gold Glove caliber play.
Joe Robbins

Six hundred and thirteen times in his career, Brandon Phillips has seen his name written in the 4th spot in the batting order for a game in which he started.  In that time, he's logged 2,653 plate appearances as the primary cleanup hitter for the Cincinnati Reds through the last handful of seasons, a number that eclipses the combined totals from when he's hit 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th (2,573).

The Reds have won a lot of games over the years with Phillips cleaning up, but as the 2014 season showed us in umpteen different ways, the tricks and methods of yore are in dire need of a freshen up.

Phillips celebrated his 33rd birthday on June 28th by smashing a dinger and being intentionally walked, and he went to bed that night with a .275/.308/.409 line for his season; eleven days later, the 49-42 Reds saw their stalwart 2B tear ligaments in his left thumb that would sideline him for some 6 weeks.  The Reds went just 27-50 from that point forward, and Phillips' season OPS never again topped the .700 mark.

BP was far from the sole perpetrator at fault for the worst Reds season since 2008, but it's hard to ignore that he, too, had arguably the worst of his 9 seasons as a Red at the same exact time.  He set Reds-career lows in OBP (.306), SLG (.372), OPS (.678), SB (2), SB % (40%), Hits (123), Runs (44), HR (8), and RBI (51) while also playing in the fewest games (121) of his Reds career (the first time he's played in fewer than 141, actually).  While his OPS+ and bWAR somehow managed to eclipse his other previous season lows (both from 2006, 91 to 88 and 1.7 to 0.5, respectively), keep in mind that he hit .276/.324/.427 with 17 dingers, 75 RBI, and 25 steals in '06  (dang, how the eras have changed).

Digging a bit deeper, it's somewhat surprising to see the way in which his numbers declined.  Phillips has historically crushed LHP in his career (.805 OPS against compared to .720 against RHP), but he hit just .229/.292/.303 with a single dinger in 120 PA against southpaws in 2014.  BP did follow his career pattern of hitting better at home than on the road, though the splits in 2014 were far more pronounced as he hit a robust .300/.347/.409 in GABP compared to just .233/.264/.336 on the road.

So, his offense floundered and continued its predictable downward spiral, his OPS+ declining for the fourth consecutive season.  Since his .298 BABIP sat above his career mark of .292, you can't even explain it away as bad luck, either.

Fortunately for the Reds, there's a lot more to Brandon Phillips than just his bat.

Phillips continued to flash his characteristic sparkling defense in 2014, and that's the asset the team will count on as he plays out the final 3 years and $39 million left on his contract.  The four-time Gold Glove winner again posted a solid defensive season, ranking among the Top 5 qualified 2Bs in UZR, UZR/150, and defensive runs saved (per FanGraphs) while making plays like this seem as routine as he did in his 20's.

And this one.  And this one, and this one, and this one.

As is the case with most good to great ballplayers, they get more expensive as they get older, and as they get older they get worse.  Phillips is no exception.  That doesn't mean he's a lost cause, an anchor, an albatross, or even a liability yet, though.  It merely means he's a slightly overpaid asset instead of a cheap one, but he's most assuredly still an asset to the Reds.  If he can manage to hit .270, walk his usual 5-6% of the time, and play his brand of defense for the bulk of a season, he'll continue to be a key cog on a team that can still win games and entertain us.  He has absolutely reached the point where the questionable decision to bat him cleanup has become an unfathomable one, but he still profiles as a guy who could hit 5th, 6th, or even lead off against lefties and be a reasonable contributor on the offensive side of the game.  With his 10/5 rights now in play, that's what we should hope for, at least, since he's surely not going anywhere anytime soon.

There are many places where the Reds will have to look for upgrades before taking the field again.  For the time being, however, 2B isn't one of them.