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.

Hector Luna

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.

Steven Lerud

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.

Jason Pridie

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.

Darin Ruf

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.

Pete Orr

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.

Michael Martinez

“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”.

Mike Fontenot

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.

Kevin Frandsen

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.

Brian Schneider

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.

Laynce Nix

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.

Erik Kratz

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.

Ty Wigginton

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:

Player WAR/pos PA Age Tm Pos
Jeff Francoeur -2.6 595 28 KCR *9/8D
Michael Young -2.3 643 35 TEX D354/6
Ty Wigginton -1.8 355 34 PHI *35/7
Lucas Duda -1.3 451 26 NYM *97/3D
Chris Nelson -1.2 377 26 COL *54/6
Brennan Boesch -1.2 499 27 DET *9/D
Casey Kotchman -1.2 496 29 CLE *3/D
Delmon Young -1.1 602 26 DET *D7
James Loney -1.1 456 28 TOT *3
Jemile Weeks -1.0 511 25 OAK *4/D
Rod Barajas -1.0 358 36 PIT *2/3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/2/2012.

He will end the season as the seventh-worst Phillie of the last 50 years:

Player WAR/pos PA Year Age Pos
Rico Brogna -2.7 580 1997 27 *3
Raul Ibanez -2.3 575 2011 39 *7/D
Marlon Byrd -2.3 378 2004 26 *8
Pete Rose -2.3 555 1983 42 *39/7
Denny Doyle -2.1 449 1970 26 *4
Cookie Rojas -1.9 425 1969 30 *4/7
Ty Wigginton -1.8 355 2012 34 *35/7
Abraham Nunez -1.6 369 2006 30 *5/46
Kevin Stocker -1.5 477 1995 25 *6
Greg Luzinski -1.5 525 1979 28 *7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/2/2012.

Freddy Galvis

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.)

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The end of the regular season is nigh and for the first time since 2006, the Phillies will be scheduling golf outings in October. To the Phillies’ credit, they made it interesting all the way into late September, but a 9-19 June and a constantly-rotating door to the infirmary kept them out of the post-season. That’s not to say there weren’t good things to take from the season — the emergence of Carlos Ruiz, the surprisingly-productive bargain-bin grabs in Juan Pierre and Kevin Frandsen, the progression of Kyle Kendrick, and a great September from the young bullpen give us reasons to look forward to 2013.

There is no question, though, that the 2012 team is a far cry from its predecessor. Half-seasons from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, trading away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, and bupkis from third base dragged the Phillies down. The following charts show the season-to-season changes among hitters.

Note: All stats that follow were compiled prior to yesterday afternoon’s game.

Thanks to Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz, the Phillies got a 172-point boost in OPS from the catching position, representing the biggest change between seasons. On the other side, the Phillies lost 111 points in OPS from first base. Ryan Howard returned to first base in early July after the Phillies had given 200 plate appearances to Ty Wigginton and nearly 150 to the combination of John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Hector Luna. The not-so-fearsome foursome couldn’t quite reproduce a healthy Howard’s production.

Smaller changes occurred at second base (+.053), center field (-.057), and right field (-.075). The latter two were affected, of course, by the regression of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and their replacements following their late July trades.

The Phillies also received significantly worse starting pitching in 2012. Roy Halladay was a far cry from his Cy Young-winning self in 2010 and Cy Young-runner-up self in 2011, finishing with a 4.49 ERA, the first time it had been above 3.00 since 2007 (3.71). Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, while great, weren’t quite as good as in the previous season. Meanwhile, Vance Worley did not repeat his great rookie season while Joe Blanton hovered around replacement level. The most pleasant contributor was Kyle Kendrick, who had two separate scoreless inning streaks of 20 or more innings during the season. Here’s a look at the changes among Phillies starters who made at least 10 starts, ordered from lowest ERA to highest.

If you’re wondering about each pitcher’s specific ERA, enjoy this table:


2011 2012
Halladay 2.35 4.49
Lee 2.40 3.12
Hamels 2.79 3.11
Worley 3.01 4.20
Kendrick 3.22 4.08
Blanton - 4.59
Oswalt 3.69 -

Here is the same exercise done for relievers, minimum 20 games:

And the table:

2011 2012
CL 2.37 Madson 2.23 Papelbon
RP1 1.40 Lidge 1.20 Horst
RP2 2.64 Bastardo 2.90 Valdes
RP3 3.32 Herndon 4.10 Diekman
RP4 3.63 Stutes 4.32 Bastardo
RP5 3.86 Romero 4.46 Schwimer
RP6 6.25 Baez 4.60 Qualls
RP7 6.86 Rosenberg

The Phillies got nearly identical production from their closers (Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon) and their best non-closer reliever (Brad Lidge and Jeremy Horst). Where the Phillies really lost quality was in middle relief. 2011 featured four relievers with an ERA between 2.64 to 3.86; 2012 featured just one: Raul Valdes. After Valdes, the next-best ERA was Jake Diekman‘s 4.10.

What does the overall picture look like?

  • Offense
    • 2011: .717 OPS
    • 2012: .718 OPS (+.001)
  • Starting Pitching
    • 2011: 2.86 ERA
    • 2012: 3.87 ERA (+1.01)
  • Relief Pitching
    • 2011: 3.45 ERA
    • 2012: 3.92 ERA (+0.47)

The precipitous decline in pitching caused the Phillies to go from 102-game winners in 2011 to the low-80’s in 2012. They were the 14th team of the 2000’s to reach triple digit wins. The largest regression among those teams involved the Seattle Mariners, who went from 116 wins in 2001 to 93 the next year, a 23-game swing. The 2011 Phillies won 102 games and currently sit at 80, close to the 23-game freefall. The Phillies’ decline, though, is worse in magnitude as 93 wins is normally good enough for a playoff spot; the Mariners just happened to play in the same division as the 101-win Athletics and 99-win Angels in 2002. The Phillies are just hoping to finish over .500, which typically isn’t nearly good enough to reach the post-season, save the 2006 Cardinals.