The League of Extraordinary Nobodies
As a fan, perhaps the biggest drawback of rooting for a team, both besieged by injuries and experiencing a talent drought at the Minor League level, is learning the names of every veteran and Minor Leaguer too old for his level. Between 2007-11, the Phillies’ five-year reign atop the NL East, they had at least five players take at least 500 trips to the plate in each season. In 2012, the first season since 2006 that doesn’t involve meaningful October baseball, they had just one player cross the 500 PA plateau — Jimmy Rollins with 699. The following chart humorously illustrates the issue:
As Michael Baumann’s “Obscure Former Phillie” series shows, the Phillies have had quite a few uninteresting players don the red pinstripes, but 2012 may set a record in The League of Extraordinary Nobodies. The poll to the right names four, but there are so many more. Let’s run through the list, fondly.
Luna signed a Minor League deal with the Phillies back in December, appearing at the time to be a simple depth signing to bolster the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs roster and provide the Phillies insurance in the event of an injury. The journeyman, however, demolished the competition in spring training, hitting .302 with a .578 slugging percentage with two walk-off hits. Despite the great showing, Luna started the season with the Iron Pigs. Hitting seven home runs in his first 220 PA, the Phillies could no longer ignore the 32-year-old, bringing him up to the Majors in early May. In his first actual plate appearance with the Phillies — he pinch-hit for Vance Worley, then was pinch-hit for by Brian Schneider after a pitching change the night prior — he hit a pinch-hit grand slam against the Chicago Cubs.
Unfortunately, that was the pinnacle of Luna’s time with the Phillies. He finished with a 68 OPS+ before being released in August, only to be picked up by the freefalling Pittsburgh Pirates.
There was a point during the season where Erik Kratz was the first-string catcher, as both Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider were on the disabled list. It didn’t seem awful at the time because Kratz was hitting baseballs like Barry Bonds circa 2001, but Steven Lerud was second-in-command. The 27-year-old Lerud spent most of the season as the back-up catcher to Sebastian Valle in Double-A Reading. At the end of August, he was called up and became the Phillies’ #2 catcher behind Kratz. Lerud was hitting .235 with a .654 OPS in Reading, so it was no surprise when he went 2-for-10 with two singles in his brief stint with the Phillies.
The puns! If Pridie had taken more than 10 plate appearances with the Phillies, just think of all the fan groups we could have seen. “A pride of Pridies,” perhaps. “Pridies goeth before the fall.” “Pridie and Joy,” with someone dressed up as Stevie Ray Vaughan. But alas, Pridie’s time with the Phillies was short-lived as he got just one hit in seven pinch-hit appearances. In his one start though, against the Atlanta Braves on July 8, he went 2-for-3 with a home run and three runs batted in against Jair Jurrjens.
I expect that Ruf’s inclusion here will be met with some disagreement, but he qualifies in my opinion for a couple reasons: he has had very limited playing time, and he was relatively unknown going into the season as a first baseman blocked until at least 2017 by Ryan Howard. Ruf’s historically-great season with Double-A Reading — .317/.408/.620 with 38 home runs — turned him from an afterthought into a sensation nearly overnight. Even better, Ruf has looked capable of handling Major League pitching as four of his nine hits have gone for extra bases and he has driven in seven runs in 28 trips to the dish. Nonetheless, the Phillies will need to move some furniture to find room for Ruf at the Major League level, as he is only capable of playing first base and the designated hitter doesn’t exist in the National League.
Believe it or not, players like Orr are valuable to baseball teams for their loyalty and ability to play many positions. Orr has been in the Phillies’ organization for two years, taking a combined 641 plate appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and 160 at the Major League level with the Phillies. With the Iron Pigs, Orr played every spot in the infield and outfield except catcher and first base, and with average to slightly above-average defense at each spot. With the Phillies, Orr played at both second base and third, filling in for Chase Utley and Placido Polanco as needed. He has a .620 OPS as a Phillie and isn’t the type of player kids growing up aspire to imitate, but he will end up being a clever name to cite when playing “Obscure Former Phillies” trivia in 10 years.
“Minimart”, as he’s known ’round these parts, has been the bane of Baumann’s existence as evidenced in this podcast episode. Inexplicably, the utility infielder and former Rule-5 pick has taken 345 plate appearances as a Phillie with a grand .517 OPS. Comparatively, Cole Hamels has a .560 OPS as a hitter this season. Cliff Lee had a .514 OPS last year. Martinez hits about as well as a pitcher, yet the Phillies have intentionally found room for him on the Major League roster multiple times over the past two seasons. Martinez will be lucky to end up as the Kevin Sefcik in future “Obscure Former Phillies”.
Fontenot’s most redeeming quality was that he was Not Ryan Theriot, another French-named player who went to Louisiana State University. With injuries to Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis, however, the Phillies were desperate for a second baseman and Fontenot fit the mold. The Phillies had signed him to a Minor League deal in April, then called him up in mid-May. The left-handed hitter didn’t do much with the bat, but played passable defense at both second and third base, and did end up with one home run.
Not unlike Ruf, Frandsen has enraptured a legion of Phillies fans with hit after hit. The right-hander currently sits on a .333 batting average and has pushed himself into the Phillies’ third base conversation for 2013, at least as a part-time player. Frandsen entered the season with a 68 OPS+ in 626 Major League plate appearances, but he always seemed to hit well at the Triple-A level. The Phillies brought him up at the end of July. Frandsen caught fire and was never put out, notching a hit in 39 of the 53 games in which he has appeared; 18 of those 39 games were multi-hit games as well. While the numbers are against Frandsen duplicating his performance in 2013, stranger things have happened — just ask Brandon Moss.
It is amazing that Schneider has parlayed 3,186 PA with an 86 OPS+ between the Expos/Nationals and Mets into more than $3.5 million over three years with the Phillies. As the back-up to Carlos Ruiz, Schneider has posted an uninspiring 68 OPS+ in his age 33-35 seasons. Schneider’s saving grace was the rapport he developed with Vance Worley in his rookie year in 2011, quickly becoming the right-hander’s catcher of choice. Worley finished the year with a 3.01 ERA and ranked third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting, which helped Schneider negotiate a one-year, $800,000 deal to stick around in Philadelphia through 2012. Schnieder injured his ankle, missing most of July, then pulled his hamstring in late August, ending his season. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Schneider retire after the season.
Nix will go down in Phillies history as “the other guy” with the superfluous y in his first name, next to Jayson Werth. Nix hasn’t exactly had an awful season as a Phillie, but he has been increasingly useless as his .573 second-half OPS indicates. He also performs below-average defensively despite having played at all three outfield positions and first base thoughout the season. Unfortunately, the Phillies are committed to him for another year as Ruben Amaro gave him a two-year, $2.5 million contract, so get used to the sight of the guy with the career 489-to-114 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The story of Erik Kratz is the feel-good story of the baseball season, captured expertly by both Matt Gelb (link) and Sam Miller (link). The 32-year-old had bounced around the Minors between age 22 and 29, spending time in the Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations. Somewhat reminiscent of Chris Coste, the journeyman catcher made his Major League debut with the Pirates in 2010 at the age of 30, but had a .284 OPS in 36 PA to show for it. The Pirates let go of Kratz after the season and the Phillies picked him up to provide depth and benefit the younger players with his experience. Kratz was never much with the bat until 2008, when he crossed the .800 OPS threshold for the first time. Between ’08-12, Kratz never posted an OPS below .800.
Kratz had been called up to the Majors several times in short stints during the season, hitting two homers in seven trips to the plate in May and June. His stay was cemented with this home run against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 24:
The Phillies were down 6-1, but Kratz’s two-run shot helped motivate a comeback as his team eventually won 7-6. Between July 22 and the end of August, Kratz hit six home runs in 98 plate appearances with a .928 OPS. He has cooled off in September, posting a paltry .475 OPS, but he has been one of the most productive back-up catchers in baseball.
Wigginton is the friend of a friend who always shows up to the party even though you didn’t invite him. Of those still with the team, Wigginton is one of only six Phillies to take at least 350 plate appearances, and he has a disappointing .685 OPS to show for it. The 34-year-old set a career-low in OPS+ at 84 and has played three positions — first base, third base, and left field — poorly. In fact, by Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR), Wigginton has been the third-worst player in all of baseball this year:
He will end the season as the seventh-worst Phillie of the last 50 years:
Finally, we get to Freddy Galvis. Another inexplicable fan favorite, Galvis started the season as the Phillies’ every day second baseman while Chase Utley was on the disabled list. Galvis earned immense popularity due to what seemed like one or two nightly spectacular defensive plays. Although the defense was superb, Freddy wasn’t much with the stick, posting a 64 OPS+ before both landing on the disabled list and failing a drug test, resulting in a 50-game suspension. Despite the adversity, Galvis is still in the mix for an everyday infield job, depending on what the Phillies decide to do at third base during the off-season. Just don’t expect him to hit.
Who was your favorite from the League of Extraordinary Nobodies?
(Please note that the phrase “extraordinary nobodies” is meant to be taken jokingly, not insultingly. It was just an excuse for me to reference an El-P song.)