Interview: How Bad Is Eric Bruntlett?

Eric Bruntlett hasn’t been good this season. Or ever, for that matter. He has an OPS+ of 7 and a career average OPS+ of 64. He’s in Abraham Nunez territory, for crying out loud. Not only is he incapable of hitting, he’s a mediocre base runner and he’s a below-average fielder at every position he’s played for the Phillies this season. And yet there he is, with a nameplate above his locker every day.

I talked with the authors of the blog Fire Eric Bruntlett — Steve, Max, and Tommy — to dive a little deeper into the issue.

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So, you’ve been keeping tabs on just how bad Eric Bruntlett has been for the Phillies. Can you put his ineptitude into perspective for us?

Steve: Eric Bruntlett has been very very very bad.  I literally groan or yell every time I see him in the game.  He’s clearly incompetent at the plate and at the very best a mediocre fielder.  He got so much playing time last year simply because he was faster than Pat Burrell, who is the slowest outfielder this side of Gary Sheffield.  His plate skills are so bad that John Mayberry Jr. had 1 less hit and 4 more HRs in 30 less at-bats.  Ben Francisco should have more hits as a Phillie this year than Bruntlett in 2 weeks.

I will say his defense is half decent.  He doesn’t make too many errors, but he sure as hell isn’t anywhere near Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley’s level in the infield and might be right around Matt Stairs’ level in the outfield (which is not saying much).  Thank god the Phils got Francisco with Cliff Lee, so we don’t have to see much more of Bruntlett in the outfield.  It’s scary to think that if Jimmy or Chase goes down this guy is the one who is going to replace them.  I’m convinced that the only reason Houston traded Brad Lidge to the Phils is so they could get rid of Eric Bruntlett.

Max: There are many jokes we’ve made on the site as to how amazingly bad he’s been this season as well as his entire Phillies career. For example, one of my favorite stats to describe how awful he has been is that until he doubled on Sunday, he was neither batting nor slugging his weight. (batting average before Sunday: .123, slugging percentage: .185, weight 193)  We also frequently joke that since he doesn’t actually do anything on the field, the Phillies have also hired him to do the janitorial work, pick up the dry cleaning, hire an escort service, complete the team’s contract killings, etc.

Tommy: It is scary really. Everytime he comes up to the plate and they flash his batting average on the screen, I have to do a double take. I say to myself, or to whoever is unlucky enough to be in the room with me, “Is he really THAT bad?” I didn’t even think that guys with his batting average were allowed in the Majors. Honestly, I think there should be a minimum for BA. So if a guy drops under .150 and has 50+ at bats, he should be forced to the minors.

Where does Brunt rank among Phillies’ utility infielders of this decade? You know, Tomas Perez, Alex Arias, Abraham Nunez and such.

Steve: I’ve thought about this and I like Tomas Perez the best of this bunch.  Tomas had some clutch hits and was at worst a fun player that kept the locker room loose.  Abraham Nunez is the second best here; he was garbage at the plate, but solid on defense.  I don’t really remember Arias, but I see that he hit .293, .303, and .187 while he was here, which is all better than the .217 Beardo hit last year and .133 he’s hitting this year.  Bruntlett is one of the worst utility men I’ve ever seen in a Phillies uniform.

Max: My opinion on Bruntlett compared to other players is very simple: put him up against anyone in Phillies history or on a Major League roster today, and that guy beats Bruntlett. There is only one exception to this rule: he is better than Adam Eaton, which we’ll have up on our site today (Wednesday). TO address each player individually, in his six-year Phillies career, Perez hit .249. That’s better than 4 of Bruntlett’s season averages since 2005. Perez even hit .304 in 2001. Arias spent 3 seasons in Philly. During the first two, he hit .300 in 480 at bats. In fact, in 1999, when he hit 4 homers and drove in 48, in that season alone, he eclipsed everything “Beardo” has done in his career since 2006. It was only his 2000 season, where he hit .187 that was a disappointment. Nunez is the only one who even comes close to how awful Bruntlett is. The only reason Nunez’s stats look worse than the actually are was because he became the full-time third baseman after David Bell was traded. As the starting third baseman, he hit .244 in 213 at bats — two-thirds of his total at bats on the season — and raised his average 64 points.

Tommy: He is the worst. As far as guys this decade go, Tomas Perez was and is a personal favorite. I have a foul ball that he hit. I caught while in the 500 Level at the Vet. We were sitting directly behind the plate. I treasure that ball actually. That may make me seem sad or whatever, but I do. I have a case for it and everything. I do not believe there is such a story for anything hit by or related to Eric Bruntlett. If we were basing this question off of the “Beard,” then he’d be first. But you know what, with his horrid BA, the “Beard” just isn’t cool anymore.

Which Phillies pitchers would you prefer get a pinch-hitting opportunity instead of Bruntlett? Or, maybe the question should be which pitchers should not get that opportunity ahead of Brunt?

Steve: All Phillies pitchers should bat ahead of Brunt!  In all seriousness, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Chan Ho Park should all bat ahead of Bruntlett.  Cole’s had some nice hits in his career, Lee had some great hits in his debut last week, Joe the Lumber’s got a little power, Jamie Moyer is an expert bunter so at least any potential runners will advance, and Chan Ho has more homers than Bruntlett this year.  J.A. Happ and the rest of the bullpen shouldn’t bat ahead of Bruntlett though, I’ll give him that much.

[Ed. Note: Happ’s double last season was his third hit of the season, or more than 25% of Bruntlett’s total for the season. Even Happ should get a PH spot ahead of Brunt.]

Max: Here’s the list of pitchers who have higher batting averages this season than Bruntlett’s .133: Cole Hamels, .139. Hamels also has a higher slugging percentage than Bruntlett. Chad Durbin, .200. Despite being a reliever, he can still get a hit more often than Brunt. Cliff Lee, .500. It took Lee all of one game to surpass Bruntlett on the batting average chart, even though in his career, prior to that game, he was hitting .063, 2-32. Chan Ho Park, .154. Chan Ho has even done sometihng that Beard has failed to do all season, despite having over six times the at bats: hit a home run. Brett Myers, .222. As a matter of fact, Myers and Park not only have a higher batting average, but also a higher on-base and slugging percentage, and thus, a higher on-base-plus-slugging, too. I would rather Charlie use all of those guys as a pich-hitter before he threw Beard up there.

Tommy: Honestly, when Myers comes back, let him pinch hit. I mean, the rotation and pen are full. If there are no other injuries, then just let him be a utility player. He proved it in the playoffs last year that he can hit and knows how to take pitches and work the count. So Myers gets my vote.

Brunt attempted nearly 150 stolen bases in his Minor League career. He’s attempted under 40 in his Major League career. His Minors OPS is only sixty points higher than his Majors OPS. He can’t hit, he can’t field, and he rarely attempts to accomplish anything on the bases. What do you think the justification is for his spot on the Phillies’ Major League roster?

Steve: It’s hard to believe that he attempted that many steals in the minors.  I think he attempts to do so little on the basepaths because he’s happy to even be on base and not sitting on the bench.  I have no idea why he’s on the Phillies’ major league roster.  I’m assuming it’s because he’s quiet and can technically play every position and makes the league minimum.  My personal theory is that he does Charlie’s laundry and any other odd jobs that are asked of him.  I don’t think his defense is nearly good enough to justify his roster spot, but clearly someone does.

Max: That is a very good question that I don’t think anyone knows the answer to, except the front office. Steve has speculated that he has some kind of blackmail against the team. I’d say that it’s so much to keep him around as a player but for the odd jobs I mentioned above. He could be the illegitimate son of a higher-up in the Phillies organization. The answer can really only be speculated about by us fans.

Tommy: Blackmail. He’s got something juicy on the owners, or he cut a deal in his contract that says as long as he keeps the beard he keeps his job. But in actuality, I think it has something to do with him only making $800,000. But then again, you get what you pay for.

One of Eric Bruntlett’s comps on Baseball Reference is Bill Pecota. Obviously, the PECOTA projection system from Baseball Prospectus was named after him. If BP made another projection system named after Brunt, what would it measure?

Steve: It will project how badly one will play based on how good their beard is.  Or maybe it will measure how often one will get to play despite there being no logical reason for him to be on the team.

Max: The projection system would be called the “Brunt Bunt,” and it would measure the likelihood of a player to successfully reach base on a bunt, assuming that no errors are made. For example, Rollins or Victorino would have high “Brunt Percentages” because naturally, they’re faster than most of the team. On the other hand, Ryan Howard’s “Brunt Percentage” would be low, of course, because he’s on the slower end of the team. I think that Bruntlett himself would also have a low Brunt Percentage, because even if it was a perfectly-placed bunt, I’m sure he would find a way to mess it up. That’s just what he does. He messes things up. Whether he trips on the chalk or on his bat, or even just gets tired running the 90 feet, because of the rarity of his usage, no matter what, he would always find a way to get himself out.

Tommy: The ratio of Beard to Batting Average. I mean, Bruntlett rocks the full look and doesn’t do anything, and Werth goes with the Soul Patch thing and is an All-Star. There has got to be something to that… and PECOTA is just the guy for the job.

. . .

Thanks to Steve, Max, and Tommy of Fire Eric Bruntlett for taking time away to answer some questions. Personally, it was fun reading their responses.

I’m sure Eric Bruntlett is a good person — and smart too, as he went to Stanford — but he’s taking up a perfectly useful roster spot that could be given to someone more productive. Heck, call up Miguel Cairo, he couldn’t do much worse, could he?

Among hitters with at least 90 plate appearances, Bruntlett has the lowest OPS of them all, ahead of second-worst Diory Hernandez by a good 17 points. According to FanGraphs, he’s been worth one full win below replacement and cost the Phillies $4.6 million. That’s grounds for a firing.