Welcome Back, PECOTA

After much anticipation, Baseball Prospectus released the 2012 edition of their PECOTA projections yesterday. Fans might be surprised with the rather pessimistic projections for the Phillies going into the season. With three players finishing with 3 WARP or better (four if you round Chase Utley up from 2.9), only one projects to do so in 2012 (Utley, 4.6). Five hitters project to be above the .260 true average (TAv) median, but only two are significantly above that mark (Utley, .299; Hunter Pence, .287). We have seen the Phillies transition from an offensive juggernaut in 2007 to a pitching-and-defense focused team starting in 2010, and that will continue to be the case going into this season.

The most surprising projection, though, involves Domonic Brown. Once a top prospect, his future with the Phillies is shrouded in question marks, but PECOTA foresees him posting a .271 TAv and 1.4 WARP. While that is not amazing, it is better than all of the other options the Phillies have in left field. John Mayberry isn’t far behind at .270 TAv and 1.4 WARP as well.

The other left field options are Laynce Nix (.263, 0.3), Ty Wigginton (.257, -0.1), and Juan Pierre (.237, -0.2). Nix hits right-handed pitching significantly better than left-handed pitching, while Wigginton and Pierre don’t show much of a platoon split. The jury is still out on Brown, but in his 280 career MLB plate appearances, he has shown as vast a platoon split as Nix despite being lauded for his ability to handle left-handed pitching in the Minors.

Is it worth keeping Brown in the Minors just to learn how to play left field better — he has nothing more to gain from hitting sub-standard pitching in Triple-A — at the expense of reducing Brown’s trade value and losing his production in left field? Brown is unarguably better than Nix in all facets of the game, and exponentially better than Wigginton and Pierre would be in the same role. Even if the Phillies platooned Brown with Mayberry, their production in left field would be better than it has been since Raul Ibanez in the first half of the 2009 season.

Ruben Amaro said that, unless Brown had an amazing spring training, the left fielder would start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Brown situation has been a subject of much debate, but it is evident that the Phillies would be much better off breaking camp with Brown in left field, even in a platoon.

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11 comments

  1. Stephen App

    February 09, 2012 08:34 AM

    Love the post Bill, and I’m with you when you say the Phillies would be better with Dom Brown in LF to start the year, but its not happening.

  2. Cutter

    February 09, 2012 09:48 AM

    I think too much is being made over Brown starting the season in the minors.

    I’m fairly certain that he’ll be on the major league roster at some point during the season, esp. if either of these happens:

    1. Brown tears up AAA and/or looks like a capable major league left fielder.

    2. Mayberry/Nix/Pierre prove they shouldn’t be starting much like Ben Francisco last year.

  3. KH

    February 09, 2012 10:50 AM

    Pecota is not very accurate.

  4. topherstarr

    February 09, 2012 11:22 AM

    The answers to the questions “Will the Phillies be better with Brown in LF?” and “Should Brown start the season with the Phillies?” may not be the same. Even if (Brown’s offense – Brown’s defense) > (any combination of Nix, Wigginton, Mayberry, Pierre), three months or even a full season working on defense in AAA may make Brown far more valuable to the Phillies in 2013 and beyond.

    For that reason, I actually take comfort in the fact that they didn’t sign someone like Michael Cuddyer, who would truly block Domonic Brown when he is a finished product. For the time being they should do whatever is best for Brown’s development, whether that is in AAA or in the big leagues. But whatever they do, they need to stop shuttling him back and forth like a AAAA fill-in.

  5. schmenkman

    February 09, 2012 01:17 PM

    For what it’s worth, despite their focus on pitching and defense, once Utley returned last year (replacing Valdez/Orr/Martinez) they still had the NL’s highest-scoring offense for the last 2/3+ of the season, and among the fewest games with 3 runs or less.

    Changes from that lineup:

    - a year older
    - full year of Pence
    - no Howard to start with
    - no more Ibanez and his .707 OPS
    - better offense off the bench

  6. MG

    February 10, 2012 11:32 PM

    Brown is likely a better hit than Nix but defensively he stinks. It baffles me to see how many people argue that Brown will yet become a good OF.

    I understand it is LF and it is the least important position defensively on the field besides 1B but Brown was hideous defensively late in the year.

    There is also the mental aspect of starting the year at Lehigh out of the limelight, playing everyday, and being successful. I do think that matters a lot with Brown right now and how last season went & ended.

    I can understand the criticism of signing Nix to a 2-year deal but I really don’t understand all the hate on here for him. He’s making minor bucks this year & can help this team if used properly. Also a very slim chance he is completely ‘done’ like Schneider or have a complete offensive collapse like Wigginton.

  7. Gaël

    February 11, 2012 07:31 AM

    Nix has a career OBP of .288 (Wilson freaking Valdez gets on base more often), and a career OPS+ of 85. Brown has career marks of .314 and 88, respectively. One of them is 31 and unlikely to get much better, the other one is 24 and has already shown that he’s much better than his dismal 2010 season (he had an OBP of .333 and an OPS+ of 97 in 2011). A Phillies team with Mayberry at 1B and Brown in LF projects to be, offensively speaking, at worst equal to, and at best much better than, one with any combination of Mayberry/Nix/Wigginton at 1B and LF.

    Yes, Brown’s defense is shaky. But we’re talking about a team whose starting LFers for the past 10 years have been Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez. Hardly defensive geniuses in their own right.

    And that’s not even going into how having Nix in the line-up does nothing to help the team past 2012, while having Brown play everyday should make the team better in the long run (he’s not going to learn to hit major league pitching better in Lehigh Valley).

  8. joecatz

    February 11, 2012 10:46 AM

    I think Topher hit the nail square on the head above. For me, the biggest development of the offseason was the non move of finding a 7-10mm LF on a 2 to 3 year deal (Cuddyer, et al) whio could also fill the void at 1B/3B while Howard is out.

    It’s almost like RAJ has a PLAN for Dom Brown, like he signed Nix and Pierre, and Wiggington as mediocre stop gaps so Dom could either a)Surpass them in the spring and break camp with the team or b)kill it at Lehigh in the first half and come up and be the savior.

  9. Phillie697

    February 11, 2012 05:30 PM

    For whatever it’s worth, Nix’s defense last year wasn’t all that great either according to UZR, but then again, before last year UZR rated him as a pretty good defender, and his three-year average is above average as well.

    That said, the “eye test” aside, Brown has only played defense in the majors for 91 games, so it’s not like we can rely on his defensive numbers either. Like Gael said, if you thought Brown’s defense was hideous, may I remind you it wasn’t any worse than Ibanez and we lived through that just fine.

    But I’m willing to concede that Nix is not THAT bad, primarily because he plays decent defense whereas Brown doesn’t. However, part of playing Brown isn’t just that he’s better; it’s also to finally have a chance to see what we’ve got. Do we have Matt Kemp Jr. in our hands, or is Raul Ibanez circa 2008 the best we can hope for?

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