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Updating the Top 100: Departus Interruptus

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The players who are supposed to be gone but aren't, yet.

Owner of the position for a solid decade.
Owner of the position for a solid decade.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

JAY BRUCE - 35

Played as Red

Primary Position

Career Rank

Peak Rank

Prime Rank

2008-2015

RF

38

39

34

Percent Breakdown of Value

Best Season

Best player on Reds

Hit

Field

Pitch

2013

Never

80%

20%

0%

Awards/Honors as a Red

Leading the League

On the Reds Leaderboard

All Star - 2011, 2012

Silver Slugger - 2012, 2013

N/A

- 8th in career HR
- 19th in career RBI
- 20th in career doubles
- 25th  in career slugging pct
- 26th in career runs scored

If you're looking to feel wonder and amazement at the mysteries contained in the passage of time, consider that just two years ago, we were looking at Jay Bruce and pointing out his back-to-back top ten finishes in the NL MVP voting.  Since any two data points constitute a trend, we extrapolated accordingly.  Instead, Bruce cratered like whoa and now we are staring backwards at another trend: two consecutive seasons of sub-300 on-base percentages.  He's hitting, more or less, like we would expect a non-descript late-season call-up to perform, all in his age-27 and-28 seasons.  What happened?

Mercifully, perhaps, we have one season or less with which to torture ourselves with questions surrounding Jay Bruce.  Given Bruce's performance and the team's outlook on the near future, it's nearly impossible to imagine the 2017 team option on Bruce being exercised.  Indeed, if industry rumors are to be believed, the team has been shopping Bruce's services with varying intensity and consistent futility.  He'll play in 2016, he'll frustrate and inspire (often within the same at-bat), he'll pass Griffey Junior on the Reds' franchise homer list, and he'll go play a few more years somewhere else while we wonder "what if" for the next thirty years or so.

Here's an agonizing exercise: Jay Bruce currently has 208 career home runs and hasn't turned 29 years old yet.  How much money would you be willing to put up on the prospect of him reaching 300?  How does that compare to the same theoretical bet of a couple of years ago?

If there's a secret hidden in Bruce's numbers explaining his demise, I haven't found it.  Even if we chalk up 2014 to a balky knee, we can attribute a general bounce-back effect to better health.  The bounce, of course, was limited.

The natural question, in my mind only perhaps, is whether or not any of this lamenting is warranted or fair.  I'm staking out a position that Jay Bruce is one of the 40 best players in franchise history.  If he plays at any kind of reasonable level this year, he'll probably depart somewhere in the top 30.  He doesn't publicly complain or whine about his struggles.  He's been a likeable and controversy-free face of the franchise for eight seasons.  He was a key element in the team's brief and enjoyable resurgence.  And yet all that, I'm left complaining that he wasn't better.  Such is the burden of early promise, I suppose.  For my part, I will try to enjoy Bruce's existence and output in 2016, whatever may come.  The irony is that the better he plays, the greater the odds that he will be sent packing sooner.

In 4,600 plate appearances, Jay Bruce has a slash line of 248/319/462, good for an OPS+ of 109.  He has 216 doubles and 208 dingers to go with his 638 RBI.  He rises from #40 to #35 on the all-time franchise list, and remains steady as the 3rd best right fielder in team history.

Top 15 Rightfielders in Reds history

1

Ken Griffey

2

Ival Goodman

3

Jay Bruce

4

Mike Mitchell

5

Curt Walker

6

Reggie Sanders

7

Dusty Miller

8

Paul O'Neill

9

Dave Parker

10

Greasy Neale

11

Wally Post

12

Sam Crawford

13

Johnny Wyrostek

14

Tommy Harper

15

Dave Collins

***

BRANDON PHILLIPS - 26

Played as Red

Primary Position

Career Rank

Peak Rank

Prime Rank

2006-2015

2B

19

48

31

Percent Breakdown of Value

Best Season

Best player on Reds

Hit

Field

Pitch

2011

Never

68%

32%

0%

Awards/Honors as a Red

Leading the League

On the Reds Leaderboard

Gold Glove - 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013

All Star - 2010, 2011, 2013

Silver Slugger - 2011

N/A

- 10th in career hits
- 10th in career doubles
- 12th in career runs
- 12th in career RBI
- 13th in career HR

The most obvious storyline when it comes to Brandon Phillips is that he has proven more reliable than any of us have had cause to expect.  His decline phase, which is current and active, has been a far gentler slope than history would otherwise foretell.  Indeed, 2015 even stood as a brief reprieve against decline, as his numbers ticked up from preceding seasons.  Similarly, his defensive range numbers, steadily on a downward path, popped up to ranges evocative of the prime years.

I suppose that one, were he not a believer in the power of narrative, could point out that Phillips's resurgence came primarily as a function of the second highest BABIP of his career.  A responsible reading of the quantitative tea leaves would likely call for a sharp decline in 2016, but why start with that now, Bubba?  In fact, the strongest evidence we have that nothing rational applies to assessing the Brandon Phillips outlook is that he, after a pair of years in which he didn't even attempt ten stolen bases, ripped off 23 against just three times caught.

There was some evidence of a somewhat different approach from BP.  His strikeout rate, which had long ranged in the 13%-15% neighborhood, dropped to under 11%, perhaps a function of seeing even fewer pitches per plate appearance than normal.  If you wanted to be really cynical, you might suggest that opposing pitchers were more likely to "just get the ball over" against Phillips, given that his team was so frequently on the wrong side of a blowout, but it's not like the majority of other players on the team had similar bumps.

Phillips was involved this winter in a relatively high profile trade attempt to the Nationals.  The trade, of course, fell apart due to Phillips's refusal to accept the trade.  I don't want to get into the speculation or discussion of the underlying reasons for this decision, but would like to instead point out that the assumed status quo over the next two seasons will call for BP to wear the wishbone C.  Should these two years indeed play out as scheduled, Phillips will: reach 200 home runs, have a decent shot at reaching 2,000 hits, and have a super outside shot at hitting the 1,000 RBI mark.  It's unlikely that any of these potential milestones will allow for any significant box office juice, but it's pretty cool to see from a guy whose career was on absolute life support before being traded to the Reds.

We might prefer to have prospects instead of Phillips at this point.  We might struggle to understand why he doesn't want to play for a potential contender.  But, on the other hand, with him sticking around a bit longer, he'll crack the franchise's top 25 list with an ever-so-distant chance at being the team's second greatest second baseman ever.  Not bad for a guy who has repeatedly been marked as likely to decline, like, every year since 2009.

In nearly 1,500 games with the Reds, Phillips has a slash line of 278/325/430, for a 99 OPS+.  He has exactly 180 homers and 180 stolen bases with the team.  As with this time last year, he ranks as the #26  player in team history and the 4th best second baseman.

Top 15 2nd Basemen in Reds history

1

Joe Morgan

2

Bid McPhee

3

Lonny Frey

4

Brandon Phillips

5

Miller Huggins

6

Johnny Temple

7

Ron Oester

8

Hughie Critz

9

Bret Boone

10

Dick Egan

11

Sam Bohne

12

Tommy Helms

13

Pokey Reese

14

Morrie Rath

15

Tony Cuccinello