What Are the Phillies Doing with Ben Revere?

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury just posted tonight’s starting lineup against the Miami Marlins, and someone was once again noticeably absent:

For the fourth straight game, center fielder Ben Revere is not starting. Tony Gwynn, Jr. is playing center field in his stead.

The reasons why are obvious. Revere dealt with a stomach virus recently. He is also slashing .268/.284/.297. He has only two extra-base hits (both triples) and three walks a quarter of the way through the season. To say Revere has been a disappointment is an understatement, considering we were already accepting his weak arm in center field as a detriment.

Manager Ryne Sandberg recently suggested that he’ll decide each game’s starting center fielder based on the opposing pitcher. Revere has a reverse platoon split over his career, which means he hits same-handed pitching better than opposite-handed pitching. John Mayberry, Jr. complicates things as he crushes lefties and is currently hitless against right-handers. The left-handed Gwynn has a normal platoon split.

Sandberg’s lack of patience — and, it appears, that of the Phillies’ brass as well — seems to indicate that the Phillies legitimately view themselves as contenders this season. Mayberry and Gwynn offer one no benefits next season and beyond, but if one believes them to be more productive than Revere, then they offer an immediate upgrade. The Phillies are only four games out of first place in a wide-open NL East, so it’s hard to fault the team for thinking they have a shot. However, they have the third-worst run differential in the National League and aren’t even a week removed from being shut out in back-to-back games.

Giving up on Revere this early is a terrible long-term move for the Phillies. It’s a tacit admission that they can’t develop him further, but also stunts their ability to find out what he could bring to the team over the next three seasons, the second through fourth years of arbitration eligibility for the 26-year-old. It may be hard to see now, but there could be a Juan Pierre hidden within Revere — it’s a long shot, sure, but not a non-zero probability – and it’s up to him and the team to bring that potential out.

Based on what he did over the off-season GM Ruben Amaro appeared to view the 2014 as a transition year. He handed out no long-term contracts and didn’t deal away any valuable prospects. In a transition year, one does not expect to make the playoffs, instead using the season as a laboratory of sorts to gather lots of information on the club’s players.

Here is a summation of most of the information the Phillies have on Revere: During his career with the Twins, Revere hit .278 and stole 74 bases while playing above-average defense. In the first half of 2013 prior to his injury, he hit .305 and stole 22 bases with a 73 percent success rate while playing average defense in center field despite an incredibly weak arm. Over the first quarter of 2014, he’s hitting .268 with 12 stolen bases. He’s hitting a ton of ground balls up the middle, reducing the efficacy of his speed. He hasn’t shown any improvement with his instincts on reading fly balls off of the bat. Revere was worth 2.6 WAR in 2012, his final year with the Twins, according to Baseball Reference. He was at 0.5 last year and is already at -0.6 so far this season. Pros: speed, base running, range in the outfield. Cons: no power, no walks, a weak arm, and a bad read on balls off the bat. While all four cons can’t be fixed and turned into outright tools, the detriments can be mitigated at the very least.

Revere’s 478 plate appearances with the Phillies doesn’t even constitute a full season. His 1,064 with the Twins in his age 22-24 seasons, are roughly two seasons’ worth. To get a general feel for what he brings to the table — how often he strikes out and walks, how much power he has — that’s enough playing time, but it’s a blink of an eye for a player when he isn’t pre-built out of the box like a Mike Trout or a Giancarlo Stanton. Revere is a flawed player and his body type and skill set suggest he’ll be a “tinkerer” throughout his career. The Phillies are doing themselves a disservice by not providing Revere an environment in which he can tinker and learn and grow, making him an asset to the team. Instead, they appear ready to turn the chapter and address their center field problem somewhere down the line. It seems the Phillies think they have enough information on him. If that is true, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Player development is a process, one that requires plenty of patience. The Phillies, thanks to the success of their current core and a flurry of free agent signings and trade acquisitions in the recent past, haven’t had the need to develop their own players in over a decade. But now, with that core nearly on its way out and the team ushering in a new future, they have to go back out to the farm once more. It’s a farm they’ve neglected to water; one at which they’ve only thrown seeds, then became frustrated at the blight.

The Phillies could very well be right that Revere is not capable of handling their center field job over the long term. But what does it hurt them to give him a shot and prove them wrong? Or to try to mold him into the player they envisioned him being? Revere isn’t blocking anyone and the other options barely move the needle in either direction. The Phillies are only hurting themselves by limiting the amount of information from which they can draw when making investment decisions about the team in 2015 and beyond. All because Revere isn’t Shane Victorino.

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15 comments

  1. Sean

    May 20, 2014 04:49 PM

    Oh look, another Ben Revere apologist article. Shocking.

    • hk

      May 20, 2014 05:27 PM

      Sean,

      Which of the following suggest to you that Bill is an apologist? For that matter, with which of the following do you disagree?:

      “To say Revere has been a disappointment is an understatement, considering we were already accepting his weak arm in center field as a detriment.”

      “It may be hard to see now, but there could be a Juan Pierre hidden within Revere — it’s a long shot, sure, but not a non-zero probability – and it’s up to him and the team to bring that potential out.”

      “The Phillies could very well be right that Revere is not capable of handling their center field job over the long term. But what does it hurt them to give him a shot and prove them wrong? Or to try to mold him into the player they envisioned him being? Revere isn’t blocking anyone and the other options barely move the needle in either direction. The Phillies are only hurting themselves by limiting the amount of information from which they can draw when making investment decisions about the team in 2015 and beyond.”

  2. Bob

    May 20, 2014 05:13 PM

    He just hasn’t shown anything defensively. He’s in a defense-heavy position and hasn’t improved at all as far as I can tell. If you’re going to have a sub-.300 wOBA, you need to be good at defense or your playing time is numbered. He’s not even average. Dom better watch out for when Ruf comes back as well.

    I still think he’s our best option for now because I don’t believe that we can compete this year. I agree that he should just play it out and let’s look at the whole season. But Sandberg is very competitive and he’ll do everything in his power to win. I don’t think Sandberg wants to be a part of the rebuilding process.

    I think with Chooch in the two hole we will generate more runs so long as he maintains his projected level of production. Asche has come on strong and his promotion above Dom in the lu is also a step in the right direction. So, I don’t blame Ryne for wanting to go for it particularly when looking at Oliver projections for next five years showing that if Revere plays above average defense he’s good for about 2 WAR. With Revere having not shown defensive improvement, I view that as doubtful and see him more as a replacement level player.

    • Richard

      May 21, 2014 09:42 AM

      “If you’re going to have a sub-.300 wOBA, you need to be good at defense or your playing time is numbered. He’s not even average.”

      Both of these statements assume that Revere simply is, and is always going to be, the player he’s been so far this season. Why are people so quick to assume that?

      • Bob

        May 21, 2014 12:19 PM

        Revere is currently below .300 wOBA. He’s gotten above that once in his career. Oliver’s five year projections have him maxing out at a .305 wOBA. Oliver is pretty reliable. As Bill notes above and in past posts, the Phillies are inept at developing players. I have no faith that the developmental aspect of the organization as currently constituted will be able to help Revere. His ISO has never been above .049 and I don’t see him adding any power at this point in his career. Where’s he suddenly going to get that power from? If he has no power, the only way to raise his wOBA would be by getting on base at an insane clip. His BABIP was .344 last year and has predictably come back down to Earth. At best, you can hope that he’ll work more walks. That’s not much.

        Even with a smallish sample size, his defensive number are not good. Since he’s joined the Phillies, I haven’t noticed any improvement in his defense. Bill says as much too in his article. It’s the same issues – poor throwing arm, poor routes to fly balls, poor jumps off the bat. The throwing arm is what it is. We’d have to live with it. But the other two areas we should’ve seen some – even minor, incremental – improvement. We haven’t.

        If I’ve missed some area where Revere has improved, please let me know. I just haven’t seen it. Based on historical data and the Oliver projections, Revere appears to be playing to his level except for the low walk rate this year and a slight uptick in BABIP. As I said, I agree with Bill and would let him play this year out and possibly next year as well. But there’s ample evidence for the doubters to question his viability as a starting ML CF particularly if you believe that the Phillies can compete this year, which I think Ryno does.

      • Richard

        May 21, 2014 02:17 PM

        “Since he’s joined the Phillies, I haven’t noticed any improvement in his defense. Bill says as much too in his article. It’s the same issues – poor throwing arm, poor routes to fly balls, poor jumps off the bat. The throwing arm is what it is. We’d have to live with it. But the other two areas we should’ve seen some – even minor, incremental – improvement. We haven’t.”

        Arm aside, the rest of this is based on what you’ve “seen”?

      • Bob

        May 21, 2014 03:13 PM

        Let’s look at his stats since the last year he played for the Twins up until present so from 2012-2014. The sample size is still small and he could improve. But based on the below, he really hasn’t.

        Fangraphs def stat: 11.1, -1.1, -1.8.
        DRS in CF: -3, -5, -4
        RZR: .918, .938, .862
        UZR/150: -5.6, -3.6, -9.6
        Errors: 0, 2, 2

        Granted, it’s a small sample size but I’m not seeing improvement in the statistical categories. And from what I’ve seen he doesn’t appear to have progressed. No, I’m not a scout. I have no background in scouting or professional experience of any kind. Yet, Sandberg hasn’t been all to complimentary of Revere’s effort.

        “It looked like he gave up on it,” Sandberg said. “It hit the bottom of the wall. A catchable ball. … I can imagine there would be some frustration with Cliff [Lee] at that point. He was out there battling.” There’s also this from Matt Gelb:

        “The Phillies, though, have harbored concerns about Revere’s center-field defense since last season. Sandberg hedged last September about Revere’s future role. Scouting reports chastise Revere’s arm, and teams routinely take extra bases on balls hit to center.” articles.philly.com/2014-05-10/sports/49745376_1_ben-revere-phillies-notes-tony-gwynn-jr

        So, I based my opinions on (1) the stats, (2) what I’ve seen, and (3) what I’ve heard from inside the Phillies organization concerning their evals of Revere’s defense. But I’ve yet to hear you say that you’ve seen any improvement. I think I’ve provided enough support for my opinions. What are you basing anything you say on? Again, please show me where you think Revere has improved. You haven’t provided any examples and I’ve provided a lot of information and context.

  3. edwin

    May 20, 2014 09:33 PM

    I noticed that Pat Burrell is not in the line up…again

  4. tom b

    May 21, 2014 10:11 AM

    nothing against juan pierre,but he was basically the proverbial 4th of on a good team,starter on a mediocre team, kind of player. to me it seems revere was already there before his benching.

  5. Sunny D

    May 21, 2014 01:44 PM

    I disagree HK the entire staff his enamored with Ben “No Pop”

    WOW, THAT’S A LOT OF FLUFF FOR A PLAYER WITH NO UPSIDE. I laugh about his .305 BA as Bob points out he had a .344 BABIP. Aren’t you supposed to state, “of course the .305 BA was based on an unrealistic BABIP so a regression to the mean should have been expected” For a site that prides themselves on looking at all aspects of a player, you guys only upside in Revere but none in any of the players they could attempt to use in the OF. His defensive liability does adds to his inept bat,

    Sorry, if you want him to show he can learn to get on base, send him to AAA and teach him how to field his position and work the count. The ML’s is not the place to be running around with training wheels.

    I would be OK with a roving CF of Hernandez, Bryd, Mayberry and Gwynn depending on pitcher and who’s hot. Put Ben in AAA where we don’t care if they loose as the money is subsidized by a ML team who needs to win to draw fans.

    • Bill Baer

      May 21, 2014 03:36 PM

      BABIP for hitters is different from BABIP for pitchers. Whereas pitchers tend to cluster around .290-.310, hitters vary based on a number of factors including how consistently hard they make contact, their speed, their handedness, and the ratio of ground balls to fly balls.

      Ichiro Suzuki, for instance, has a career .344 BABIP. J.P. Arencibia has a career .245 BABIP.

      • Bob

        May 21, 2014 04:20 PM

        I’ve been looking for a good xBABIP calculator but haven’t found one. Revere had a .344 BABIP last year, which was Top 30 in the league for those with 300 or more PA. He’s projected by ZiPs and Steamer to be between .305 and .316 and Oliver has him at .325ish. Do you know his xBABIP for last year? It would probably shed some light on this issue but I can’t find it…

    • hk

      May 22, 2014 06:15 AM

      In response to the roving CF idea:

      1. Hernandez is a utility player who may or may not be able to play a better defensive CF than Revere. Could he be a small part of the equation, sure?

      2. Byrd is too old, slow and probably defensively challenged to play CF. If the Phils felt differently, he’d be out there. Ruben is on record as saying they won’t go with a Brown – Byrd – Ruf OF, probably because the pitchers would go on strike, so Byrd is staying in RF. Plus, if you move Byrd to CF, you would open a hole in RF that the team has no one to fill.

      3. I’ve long been an advocate of starting Mayberry every game vs. LHP’s. He has a career .366 wOBA vs. LHP’s. However, he’s a bad defensive CF, so those starts vs. LHP’s should be split among LF, CF and 1B.

      4. Gwynn is 31 and has produced a .261 wOBA this year and .282 for his career. When factoring in hitting, defense and base-running, he’s been more detrimental to the Phillies cause this year than Revere has in half the playing time.

      Would Mayberry’s great hitting vs. LHP’s + poor defense + mediocre base running platooned with Gwynn’s poor hitting + okay defense + mediocre base running provide more production than Revere? Possibly. Possibly not. However, when considering the ages of the 3 players, I would think that Revere has more potential to improve. I’m all for the team upgrading at CF if a better alternative develops in the system or is acquired via free agency or trade. However if the best they can do is a Mayberry / Gwynn platoon, I’d rather see them keep running Revere out there. I do not see this as being an apologist for Revere as much as I see it as being realistic about the potential production from the options that are currently available.

  6. Carmine Spellane

    May 23, 2014 08:41 AM

    Bill, please devote your considerable talent to writing about someone else. Please?

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