Is Asche a Candidate for Late-Inning Defensive Replacement?

Now that Freddy Galvis is done being a MRSA infected clubhouse hazard, the Phillies have received a boost to their infield defense and depth with his return to the active roster. Galvis replaced Cesar Hernandez on the roster and although Hernandez is not a defensive liability, he is still a novice at any position other than second base and may not have the skill set for shortstop. Galvis on the other hand is a plus, if not elite, defender at both middle infield positions and last year he added third base to his defensive repertoire. By keeping Jayson Nix, the Phillies now have two reserve infielders who offer little offensive value, but are experienced at 2B, SS, and 3B. The apparent redundancy in carrying both of these players leads me to believe this roster construction is more likely to be temporary than permanent, but at least for now, the presence of both Galvis and Nix provides Ryne Sandberg with the flexibility to use a defensive replacement at third base for Cody Asche at the end of games if he so chooses.

The overall impact of late-inning defensive replacements is debatable, although World Championships have been decided for want of one. The last Phillies regular to be routinely subjected to defensive replacements was lumbering left fielder and two-time World Champion, Pat Burrell. Asche doesn’t provide the same level of offensive production that Pat the Bat did, so his absence from the lineup late in games wouldn’t be as significant a factor, but part of the reason Charlie Manuel lifted Burrell late in games was that his chronic foot injury led him to move around the outfield with a gait evocative of present day Ryan Howard. Asche, who doesn’t turn 24 until June 30th, suffers from no such physical ailments. The ultimate question then in deciding whether to regularly lift Asche for defensive purposes is whether the defensive gap between Asche and Galvis/Nix outweighs the expected offensive downgrade by removing him from the lineup late in games.

Asche has played just 52 games as a third baseman at the Major League level. Even the staunchest proponents of defensive metrics will tell you that this is not a large enough sample to put much credence in his defensive stats. This leaves us with scouting reports as the best way to evaluate his defense. Scouting reports across the board characterized Asche’s defense as a weakness as he has progressed through the minor leagues. The most optimistic reports are that his defense has improved to the point of adequacy and may continue to improve moderately over time. Our own Eric Longenhagen fell into the comparatively optimistic camp with his report on Asche last fall. Still, even the rosiest of outlooks portrays his defense as presently suspect enough that it’s worth investigating the defensive replacement option. By defensive metrics, Jayson Nix is not a superb defender, but should provide a moderate upgrade from Asche, if for the experience factor alone. Freddy Galvis, though, has been touted for his defensive prowess throughout his career and is unquestionably an upgrade.

Offensively, Asche has been unspectacular in his major league career to date striking out in a quarter of his plate appearances while putting up a .693 OPS with notable platoon splits (.570 OPS vs. LHP and .724 vs. RHP). At this point in Asche’s career, neither Galvis (424 PAs, .644 OPS, .713 OPS vs. LHP) nor Nix (1392 PAs, .644 OPS, .713 OPS vs. LHP) represent a significant offensive downgrade and, in fact, may be better options against left-handed relievers.

Given Asche’s growing pains at the position and Sandberg’s new found roster flexibility, he’s likely to consider his options for tightening up infield defense when necessary or even pinch hitting for Asche against left-handed pitching in high leverage at bats. As Asche grows increasingly comfortable with the bat, his offensive skills may progress to the point at which the tradeoff of a defensive upgrade for an offensive downgrade may be too high, but with the roster as currently constructed, when the Phillies have a lead late in the game the defensive switch could be a smart managerial move.

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9 comments

  1. Tim

    April 12, 2014 03:01 PM

    I think we’ll see a platoon at third in the short run…though Asche is on the bench against a hard-throwing righty tonight. Asche has a higher k-rate than Howard so far AND he’s been shielded from left-handed pitching (only 8 PAs so far against LHP).

    If the team continues to struggle, Ruf seems more and more likely to join the club in some role when recovered. Nix is an easy guy to DFA, but if Asche is seeing more and more pine, maybe he gets some more AAA seasoning.

  2. crow

    April 13, 2014 10:29 AM

    It’s easy to overstate Galvis’ defensive abilities as a utility man. In 2013 his defensive metrics took a big step backwards at SS, probably as a result of being moved to so many other positions. UZR/150 shrank from 79.1 in 2012 to 1.8 in 2013. At 3b it was 6.2 with a Fld% of .976. Becoming accomplished at multiple positions doesn’t happen over night. It’s why 30-something guys with mediocre bats manage to keep finding jobs as utility infielders.

    • Corinne Landrey

      April 13, 2014 12:23 PM

      Galvis doesn’t have enough playing time for those defensive stats to mean much at all. At shortstop he had 36.1 innings in 2012 and 67 innings in 2013. At third base his .976 fielding percentage last year is due to one single error in just 133.1 innings, or not even 15 full games.

      It’s difficult to overstate Galvis’ defensive abilities. He may never hit enough to be a regular, but he’s got the glove and then some.

      • Bob

        April 13, 2014 07:50 PM

        There was a drop off in defensive metrics for Galvis last year. You might argue that the sample size isn’t large enough to show whether he truly is a plus fielder with range. But it doesn’t mean he was elite in those limited opportunities. It’s like a batter who hits .500 for the first week of the season. You can say, “Well, he’s not going to hit .500 for the year or his career.” Or you could say, “He had a heck of a first week.” I think Crow is saying that his stats weren’t as good last year, which is true.

        I think Galvis needs to show more before we’re in a position to say that he is a defensive wiz. I’m not saying that he isn’t or can’t be a wiz; just that his stats haven’t been as good as what people have been led to believe up to this point. Is he better than Asche? A resounding yes. One of the things I’m interested in this year is to see if Galvis gets enough opportunities so we can determine if he is good or average in the field.

  3. mark66

    April 13, 2014 02:27 PM

    Replace Howard late in the game, he has become a liability defensively plus he can’t run any more. Again the most overpaid ball player in today’s game.

  4. Carmine Spellane

    April 14, 2014 10:29 AM

    Asche is rated higher defensively than Franco. So it appears that third base, at least defensively, truly is a weak spot in the entire organization.
    I think it is way too early to give up on Asche or declare that he can’t field and can’t hit left-handers. The fan base has been screaming for youth. We can’t simultaneously complain when young players have growing pains.

    • Eric Longenhagen

      April 14, 2014 03:10 PM

      They’re both 40/45 defenders at 3B for me.

  5. flavaflave

    April 14, 2014 11:11 AM

    Asche is the most overrated player by the usually tough Philly fan-dome. Maybe because he’s white, gritty, sort of looks like Chase if you squint hard, & has the fake jock mannerisms in his movement. This dude is not a major league player & can’t do anything really well that you can hang your hat on. The only thing he has going for him is that the team doesn’t have any good options at 3B – might as well teach Ruf to stand over by 3B with a glove on his hand until Franco or whoever else can be placed there. Or, I’d settle for Galvis full time at 3B – at least he won’t regularly cost pitchers to throw to extra hitters.

  6. Mike

    April 14, 2014 05:21 PM

    I have never been impresed with Asche’s defense. He’s not an error machine he just seems to lack that instinctive first move needed for 3rd base. I have seen many games at Lehigh Valley. He does not get a good jump on slow rollers. I am not sure if I have ever seen him make a barehanded play (ala Schmidt). I have seen him miss time his jump on many line drives. Hot smashes eat him up and if he has to hurry, his throw can be a bit off (hopefully that goes away as he becomes more comfortable). I see him more suited for 2nd base. Maybe when Chase retires.

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