Five-Year Trends with the Phillies Offense

I don’t need to tell you that the 2012 season was a disappointment. The Phillies failed to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, thanks to several big reasons — injuries befell the team like a plague, the young bullpen didn’t meet expectations for most of the year, and the starting pitching regressed. Today’s chart will focus on the effect that first reason had on the offense.

Injuries, of course, force a player to sit on the bench, but they also cause lesser players to get a larger share of the playing time. For instance, while Ryan Howard was out, Ty Wigginton played 62 games at first base with a total of 208 plate appearances. Likewise, Freddy Galvis got the lion’s share of the playing time at second base (50 games, 178 PA) in Chase Utley‘s wake before suffering an injury himself. Neither replacement held a candle to his predecessor offensively, which drastically affected the Phillies’ offense.

The following chart shows the amount of runs above average per 600 plate appearances the Phillies got from each position over the last five years.

Since ten runs roughly equates to one win, each horizontal line signifies about one win.

The runs above average data:

PHI C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF
2008 -5 8 31 -17 1 -1 10 1
2009 8 17 23 -15 -2 6 11 17
2010 19 7 9 -9 -11 5 5 20
2011 1 -2 -5 -11 7 2 23 1
2012 26 -9 -5 -9 10 -5 -4 -1

Runs above average was calculated by finding the difference between the Phillies’ positional wOBA and the National League average, dividing by 1.15 (that number is used to put wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage), and multiplying it by 600 (plate appearances).

The Phillies received above-average offensive contributions from just two positions — catcher and shortstop — after having no fewer than five such positions qualify in the previous four years. Let’s look at each position one at a time.

Catcher

Carlos Ruiz‘s 2012 season was the culmination of expectation-defying season after season. He moved into the upper echelon of catchers, joining names like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina before succumbing to a foot injury. In fact, among catchers with at least 400 PA, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, trailing Posey at .406.

Erik Kratz was also a pleasant surprise, coming up from the Minor Leagues to become one of the best back-up catchers in baseball — at least, before September hit. The Phillies, like most teams around baseball, rarely got anything out of their back-up catchers, so 2012 was a pleasant surprise with Kratz’s arrival. Going forward, however, we should expect both players to regress offensively.

The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option for the upcoming season. As a result, 2013 will be Ruiz’s last year before free agency, who will be 35 years old entering 2014. The Phillies will use the season to judge catching prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp. The 32-year-old Kratz has a good shot at becoming the team’s back-up catcher when the regular season begins.

First Base

In the first year of Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the big left-hander missed the first three months of the season. Many felt he returned from his injury too early, as his defensive mobility and ability to run the bases both lacked severely, and his offense was nothing to write home about as well. Of the 47 first basemen who logged at least 250 trips to the dish in 2012, Howard’s .303 wOBA ranked 38th. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Howard’s pull-side power. Howard broke his toe at the end of the season, but should be ready to go when spring training begins in February.

There aren’t too many changes the Phillies can make at first base unless they can, through some stroke of black magic, find a team to take on some portion of Howard’s massive contract. However, I recently suggested that the Phillies consider utilizing a platoon at first base, letting Howard face only right-handed pitchers while pairing him up with a right-handed hitter (John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, etc.) to take care of the lefties. While the Phillies should expect some improvement after Howard has an entire spring to get himself in the flow of things, they shouldn’t expect any more than league average offense unless they get creative and open-minded.

Second Base

It has been disappointing to see Chase Utley miss so much time over the last two seasons. Utley had been baseball’s best second baseman by far between 2006-10. According to FanGraphs, Utley’s 37.2 WAR is nearly double that of runner-up Dan Uggla‘s 19.5. Baseball Reference paints a similar picture, putting Utley at 37.0 WAR and second-place Robinson Cano at 20.2. In Utley’s absence during the 2012 season, the Phillies relied on the light-hitting Freddy Galvis. Of the 51 second baseman to accrue at least 200 PA, Freddy’s .267 wOBA was the eighth-lowest.

Like Howard, the Phillies are expecting Utley to have a full spring training and enter 2013 ready to go. Unlike Howard, however, Utley can still contribute in other ways when his bat isn’t all there by playing superb defense, running the bases well, and making excellent decisions. Next season will potentially be Utley’s last in a Phillies uniform, though. With his age, injury history, and salary expectations, the Phillies may feel they are best suited moving on with Utley. A lot of that will depend on the improvements Galvis makes in one of the many roles in which the Phillies can utilize him going forward.

Third Base

Ever since Scott Rolen left, third base has been a veritable offensive black hole for the Phillies. There was David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, then Pedro Feliz, then Placido Polanco. The Phillies will likely buy out Polanco’s contract for $1 million rather than pick up his $5 million mutual option for 2013. As a result, they are looking at a rather barren market for third basemen. It is not going to be easy to put them back in the green, so to speak (referring to the above data table). Many speculate that Kevin Frandsen could be a part of their plans, at least for the coming season, while others are interested in seeing Galvis handle the hot corner. There are, realistically, no great solutions to the Phillies’ third base situation, so it is going to be by far their biggest concern going into the off-season.

Shortstop

“Welcome back Jimmy Rollins,” we say, wiping our brow. The Phillies could have ended the Rollins era in Philadelphia when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, but the two sides agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract to keep him around through 2014. Rollins’ 2009-10 seasons were disappointing and injury-plagued (respectively), which prompted the idea that the Phillies might have been able to put Galvis at shortstop and move on. Thankfully, Rollins had a very successful season. His .177 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the fourth-best among all everyday shortstops, and it was his highest since 2007 when he won the NL MVP award. His 4.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, was also the third-best in the Majors behind Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond.

Shortstop is now the least of the Phillies’ concerns going into 2013. Barring an unfortunate injury during the off-season or spring training, the Phillies can write Rollins’ name in pen and focus their attention elsewhere.

Left Field

For as good as Juan Pierre appeared throughout the season, his offensive contributions still fell below the league average and failed to recapture the offense provided by Raul Ibanez. Pierre hit .307, but 86 percent of his hits were singles. With 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts (84%), he was able to effectively extend singles into doubles (27 steals of second base) and triples (10 steals of third base). Overall, though, the lack of power from a corner outfield position was a concern all year.

Domonic Brown came up late in the year and spent his time in both left and right field. However, with the Phillies looking both internally and externally for right fielders (e.g. Nate Schierholtz; Nick Swisher, et. al.), Brown has a good shot to be the everyday left fielder on Opening Day. Brown didn’t do anything particularly impressive, but it makes more sense for the Phillies to rely on the 25-year-old than to bring back the 35-year-old Pierre. A full season with regular at-bats, which Brown has gone without in each of the past two seasons, might help him reach his potential as well.

Center Field

The Phillies’ offense declined the steepest in center field for two reasons: Shane Victorino regressed heavily from a career-best 2011, and John Mayberry didn’t hit well when he took over center field after Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July. Victorino posted a career-high .368 wOBA in 2011, but could only muster a .317 mark in his four months with the Phillies and .297 in two months with the Dodgers. Mayberry didn’t help much with his .303 wOBA.

With a giant question mark in center field, the Phillies are expected to be players for one of the many free agent center fielders, such as Michael Bourn. Even beyond the free agents, there will be various options that may become available via trade, such as Denard Span, which was discussed here recently. Victorino could even be brought back on a short, team-friendly deal if he ends up drawing little or no interest in free agency. With the lowered expectations at catcher, first, and second base, as well as the question mark at third base, the Phillies need to play their cards right in bringing aboard a center fielder.

Right Field

Like Victorino, Hunter Pence had a great 2011 (.377 wOBA) but regressed heavily in 2012 (.340). The Phillies sent Pence to the San Francisco Giants in late July, replacing him mostly with Domonic Brown (.309). The Phillies have a number of ways to address the right field situation, such as acquiring a free agent (Nick Swisher), utilizing an in-house platoon (Nate Schierholtz, Mayberry), or using Brown in right field while addressing left field in another way. Right field is not as high a priority as third base or center field, so don’t expect the Phillies to swing for the proverbial fences here.

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32 comments

  1. Ryan

    October 22, 2012 07:52 AM

    Patience, Rube, patience!!! Look how well it worked with JRoll and how poorly “setting the market” with Howard, Papelbon, Ibanez, and Pence.

  2. euphronius

    October 22, 2012 09:03 AM

    Excellent post Bill.

    They seem to have more questions then the did going into 2012. Where is the young talent?

  3. hk

    October 22, 2012 11:52 AM

    Ryan,

    I agree that patience is necessary if the Phils go the free agent route for a CF. However, patience may not be a virtue if they go the trade route for a CF. Over the weekend, Oakland – does Billy Beane have compromising pictures of every GM? – acquired a 29 year old CF (Chris Young) who’s signed for 1/$10M or 2/$20M and who has averaged 1 WAR for every 138 PA’s over the past 2 years. In exchange, they gave up an IF who has averaged 1 WAR per 369 PA’s in the same time frame.

    I would not be surprised if the Phils sign a CF in free agency if some or all of the following happen (even if RAJ is patient):

    1. They pay an AAV > $10M.

    2. They sign a player for > 2 years.

    3. They acquire a player who is older than 29.

    4. They acquire a player who has produced less WAR/PA than Young has produced.

    5. They give up their 1st round pick.

    If RAJ does not exhibit patience, I expect that 4 or 5 of the above will happen.

  4. BobSmith75

    October 22, 2012 11:56 AM

    “Mostly in Houston”

    Singleton the only guy there. I just don’t understand the love that Villar gets. No MLB team would start a guy at SS who would make potentially ~50 errors there over the course of a season.

    His numbers at AA Corpus Christi aren’t stellar enough to compensate for his defensive defenencies:

    .246/.319/.391 with 21 HR in 744 PAs. Also had 187 Ks too.

  5. Ryan

    October 22, 2012 12:38 PM

    hk,

    I agree 100%. If RAJ decides that a trade is necessary, then it’s probably best to move quickly as long as he doesn’t get ripped off like when he traded so many top prospects for Pence.

    We would probably be best off if David Montgomery fired RAJ and paid $15m/year to buy Billy Beane from Oakland. For some reason, Beane seems much more able to do what the Eagles often do by identifying surpluses on other teams and exploiting them ala Demeco Ryans.

  6. Chris S

    October 22, 2012 01:40 PM

    @Eric

    I could swallow Singleton and Cosart for Pence, even though I thought they were overpaying for him even with just those two. Cosart had control problems and Singleton was blocked by Howard and plays a position that is probably the easiest to fill. When I heard Santana was in the deal that is when I flipped out. He might have the highest upside of all of the prospects the Phillies have traded recently.

  7. nik

    October 22, 2012 03:58 PM

    Same Chris Young that hit .231 and a .311 OBP and wasn’t getting regular ABs this season? That same Chris Young? Same Chris Young that strikes out 22% of the time and a lifetime .755 OPS? Just making sure I got the right stud in mind, hk.

  8. nik

    October 22, 2012 04:01 PM

    Oh did I forget to mention that the guy you wanted so badly, hk, has a .224/.311/.409 line away from Arizona with a 24.6K%. Glad you don’t run this team.

  9. nik

    October 22, 2012 04:09 PM

    I’m not high on Santana. He still has a K% in the 30s and he’ll be struggling to hit .240 his whole career. Only reasons his last two seasons look decent is because of the near .400 BABIPs.

  10. Phillie697

    October 22, 2012 04:13 PM

    Apparently in nik’s world, CFs are DHs, since for some reason a lifetime .755 OPS is somehow a vice for him in CF, when CF in 2012 averaged only .742 OPS, and that’s not to mention that Chris Young’s UZR the last three seasons are 4.2, 14.1, and 11.3, i.e. he’s a VERY good defender.

    Is that the Chris Young you’re talking about, nik?

  11. hk

    October 22, 2012 05:53 PM

    nik,

    It’s the same Chris Young who came back too soon (after one month) from an injury that was supposed to keep him out three months and who struggled upon his return. Are we to place all of a player’s value on one, injury plagued season? If so, I’m sure you’re looking forward to the next 4 years of Ryan Howard, who by the way, produced a lower OBP and SLG than Chris Young.

    I guess the fact that Billy Beane traded for him means I guess you’re also glad Beane doesn’t run this team. Your blind RAJ love is noted.

  12. hk

    October 22, 2012 08:41 PM

    “Oh did I forget to mention that the guy you wanted so badly, hk, has a .224/.311/.409 line away from Arizona…”

    No, but you also failed to mention that over the past 6 seasons, the MLB average OPS for all road hitters was .720, so please tell me again, what’s wrong with a very good to great fielding CF who has an MLB average road OPS, is cost controlled and wouldn’t have cost the team a 1st round draft pick?

  13. Nik

    October 22, 2012 09:09 PM

    I apologize if I came across in an unfriendly way. I’ll try to tone it down, but its my first reaction to the constant anti-RAJ spin from some of the regulars.

  14. Eric Longenhagen

    October 22, 2012 10:30 PM

    Im high on Domingo Santana and bath salts.

  15. Hog

    October 23, 2012 04:52 AM

    I don’t get the Galvis love, I don’t think his defence can cover his lack of offence

  16. hk

    October 23, 2012 05:50 AM

    I thought it was all in good fun, but I surely apologize if I offended anyone. I also understand why nik would react that way to someone he thinks is constantly anti-RAJ as I react similarly to those who I feel support any move RAJ makes. Having said that, I thought I have been much more RAJ-neutral lately as I believe 2012 was far and away his best as GM….I didn’t mind the Papelbon signing as much as others disliked it, I liked the Thome signing, I disliked the Nix and Wigginton signings and the Kendrick tender + extension, I liked the Rollins extension and I thought RAJ did very well with the trade deadline deals. I think the Pence and Victorino trades put the team in position (talent-wise and salary-wise) for continued success if the right moves are made for 2013 and beyond. I just think that trading something comparable to a middling prospect and a mediocre IF for a cheap (relative to what they will most likely spend in years, dollars and a lost draft choice), young and good CF would have been a good start. If they end up signing Michael Bourn for $15M+ or BJ Upton for $12.5M+ per year, they will give up a 1st round pick and $2.5M+ to $5M+ towards the 2013 luxury tax that could be spent on a better starter or even a veteran reliever.

  17. Bill Baer

    October 23, 2012 06:47 AM

    Sorry if I misunderstood the tone of the conversation, it seemed a bit contentious so I wanted to jump in just in case.

  18. Phillie697

    October 23, 2012 11:55 AM

    Just because someone here likes or dislikes RAJ is no reason to react emotionally one way or the other. Are you RAJ’s lawyer? Are you his publicist? Are you his bodyguard? What possess you to think that RAJ personally needs defending, on a blog of all places, in a way that is in no way related to the moves and problems of this team that he may or may not have addressed?

    Or are you taking it personally because someone doesn’t agree with your opinion? Are you that unsure of yourself? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and you are entitled to disagree with those opinions, vigorously if you feel you must. But when you put someone down personally for having an opinion you don’t agree with, then you’ve forgotten the reason why we have opinions in the first place. I hear Communist China is very good about not having opinions. Maybe you prefer to live there.

    Don’t get me wrong, we all get into the heat of the moment and are guilty of what I described above. Myself included. But it’s always good to remind ourselves that hey, there are 6 billion people on this planet, and if we are going to take it personally, either for ourselves or for someone else we support, everytime someone dislikes a person or disagrees with him/her, then it’s possible that we will spend the rest of our lives being pissed off. I choose not to live that way.

  19. Richard

    October 23, 2012 12:51 PM

    “Singleton was blocked by Howard and plays a position that is probably the easiest to fill.”

    The reason to oppose trading Singleton (or any similarly situated prospect) in a deal like the Pence trade is not because you think he’s in a position to help the Phillies major league team in the near future. It’s true he was, alas, blocked by Howard, and plays a relatively easy position to fill. But he can only be traded once. If you trade him in an unnecessary trade, in which you are also including two other good prospects, then you don’t have him on hand for any possible future (and potentially more necessary) trade. It’s a poor use of resources.

  20. Phillie697

    October 23, 2012 03:35 PM

    Spending $100k on a Ford Taurus when you have $100M in the bank probably doesn’t hurt you either, but that STILL doesn’t mean you made a good deal.

  21. Phillie697

    October 23, 2012 04:23 PM

    Again a little off-topic… But does anyone think Andruw Jones might be a good signing? He could probably be had for less money than we’re paying Nix, has had a fairly productive bat until this year, and contrary to popular belief, is still a decent defender (just not holy-cow-does-he-have-wings good anymore).

    That said, has there been anyone who is so unlikely to make the HoF but has a 72.1 career WAR and is second ALL-TIME among ALL players, at any position, in total UZR (well, TZ for data prior to 2002)? Look it up. He’s only behind Brooks Robinson, and while you’re at it, compare the two; besides longevity, Jones is superior in every way. Kinda amazing actually.

  22. hk

    October 23, 2012 05:48 PM

    I don’t see room on the roster for both JMJ and Andruw and while Andruw might be a slight upgrade over JMJ, he’s probably not enough of one to warrant dumping the younger player…although it is pretty amazing that Andruw is less than 7 years older than JMJ.

  23. pRc3

    October 23, 2012 11:33 PM

    Injuries to key players have caused a precipitous drop in the Phillie’s fortunes and outlooks. Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard have at one time or another displayed hall of fame type ability. Yet now they struggle to stay above mediocrity. Too soon I say. The memories of ’08 still fresh. That championship feeling, an ecstasy of joy unbridled, still lingers in my soul. Almost tangible, the feeling is like the impression left by a missing loved one. Come spring I will pace the floors, racking my brain, wondering when, when will my love return? Doubting if it ever shall I will remain hopeful, but not confident.
    I know Rube has been roundly criticized for setting the market on Howard. Yet there was no way such “home grown” talent could be allowed to stray. Hopefully our GM will get what he paid for with “The Big Piece”. Even so Amaro will have to find some “discount” players outperforming their contracts to fill out this line up. A front office atmosphere geared towards catching lightning in a bottle may be whats needed for reigniting this suddenly weary veteran club.

  24. hk

    October 24, 2012 05:24 AM

    Phillie697,

    I react emotionally to anything about which I care even a little bit. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t spend the time that I do spend following the Phillies and reading this blog and other fans’ comments. Now, nothing that anyone writes on here would have me react like I react when something really important happens, but that doesn’t stop me from shaking my head when I read someone defending the Howard contract extension. And, wasn’t it you who wanted to his some of these fans in the head with a fish after reading some of their comments?

  25. Phillie697

    October 24, 2012 12:03 PM

    @hk,

    The point of my post wasn’t saying you shouldn’t react emotionally period. I think it’s perfectly okay to react however you like and focus on the discussion and issue at hand, i.e Howard’s contract, or RAJ’s questionable sanity. However, we don’t need to get personal about it. nik is entitled to his opinions, and you can beat the crap out of those opinions as much as you like, but I think it becomes out of line, and I’m telling myself this as well, when you start focusing on the PERSON who holds those opinions.

    Well, the monkfish is a tongue-in-cheek thing of course (as I’m sure that’s what MB also intended it to be). In some way I suppose it is a bit of an attack on the person who holds certain opinions, but I’m hoping that it’s understood that it’s to be taken light-heartedly, and that the real focus is on the opinions themselves, not the person. But your point is well-taken.

  26. hk

    October 24, 2012 12:09 PM

    Of course…I was just messing around. As I said originally following BB’s post, this is all in good fun.

  27. Phillie697

    October 24, 2012 12:09 PM

    @pRc3,

    No offense, but if Ryan Howard can produce enough so that we get what we paid for with his current contract, you can have my not-so-insignificant life savings. There is no hope. There isn’t even fantasy. Just certainty that it will not happen.

  28. Phillie697

    October 24, 2012 12:11 PM

    @hk,

    Well, I think BB was focused on a continued escalation of negativity. There have been some pretty strong language being thrown around in recent posts that I’m sure he’s just trying to nip in the bud. The comment I made was by no means directed at only you; it was meant for the broader audience.

  29. pRc3

    October 25, 2012 09:29 PM

    @Phillie697

    As for Howard and his return to form “hopefully” was, and is, the operative word…i acknowledge Howards best days could be behind him, yet he’s a special player and he has both the need and desire to prove himself. I will never forget how he carried this team September after September. Hopefully Ryan is still the perennial all star caliber player that he believes himself to be.

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