Is Ben Francisco Invisible?

As mentioned yesterday, it is usually not a great idea to make changes just because they didn’t work out in a game or a small set of games. For example, Roy Halladay struggled in the Phillies’ Game One loss. Most people recognize that it was an uncharacteristically mundane start from Doc and that he will likely be better in future starts. Almost every sentient person in the world would not skip him in the rotation because mean-regression is blatantly obvious in this regard.

However, it is smart to make changes based on principles — facts we know to be true. There are two items, among others, we know to be true that should inspire some more tactically-efficient changes from Charlie Manuel:

Francisco, at the very least, should have been a defensive replacement for Ibanez in each of the first two games of the NLCS. As Ibanez’s non-catch of a Pat Burrell fly ball in Game One and his last-ditch diving effort on a Burrell line drive in the ninth in Game Two both indicate, he leaves a lot to be desired defensively. He finished 2010 with a -8.4 UZR/150 and has a career -2.3 career rating. On the other hand, Ben Francisco has a career 3.4 rating.

That Manuel hasn’t subbed Francisco in for Ibanez defensively hasn’t hurt the Phillies… yet. It almost did last night in the ninth inning. But Manuel should start to make the substitution starting in Game Three — especially given the spacious outfield in AT&T Park in San Francisco — before it becomes an issue.

Francisco really should have been in the starting lineup in Game Two against Jonathan Sanchez, and should be in Game Four against Madison Bumgarner. Francisco has the higher career wOBA against lefties, .350 to .330. This year alone, Francisco’s .384 wOBA against lefties way out-paced Ibanez’s .318.

Manuel showed in Game Two that he is willing to make some logically-sound changes. The batting order was as close to optimal as the Phillies are ever going to get under Manuel’s reign. He split up the left-handed hitters by batting Chase Utley second and Placido Polanco third, ahead of Ryan Howard. That forced Giants manager Bruce Bochy to consider allowing Polanco and/or Jayson Werth to face his left-handed relievers, or burn extra relievers in an effort to maintain the platoon split advantage. On the other hand, Manuel didn’t listen to sports talk radio, where there were chants for Wilson Valdez to get the start over Jimmy Rollins.

Manuel isn’t ignorant to defensive replacements as he did it frequently when Burrell was here in Philadelphia. Burrell’s game logs from 2008 indicate that he was lifted for a defensive replacement in 73 games. Ibanez isn’t much better than Burrell defensively, so the lack of a defensive substitution is puzzling to say the least. It would be nice to see Francisco utilized to increase the Phillies’ advantage by another percentage point or two.