2014 Phillies Report Card: Cody Asche

This is where expectations become a little unkind. In absolute terms, Cody Asche‘s not that bad. In 613 plate appearances over two seasons–about a season’s worth of work for a full-time starter–he’s hit .252/.309/.390, very slightly below the National League averages in all three rate categories in that time. Despite obvious comparisons in statue, stance, pigmentation and even uniform number to Chase Utley, Asche lacks the athleticism and defensive instincts Utley used to become one of the greatest defensive second basemen ever, so he’s in a little bit of a tough spot.

You see, being a slightly below-average hitter–and he’s still only 24, so it’s probably uncharitable to say he’ll surely never improve–is fine for a third baseman if you can really pick it, but barring some sort of unforeseen defensive transformation, that’s not the case. The first part of the 2014 season was murder on Asche defensively, and while he wound up being just bad defensively, it was so much worse than that for a long time.

So what we’ve got here is a 24-year-old who’s not good enough with the glove right now to be anything more than a below-average third baseman, and not good enough with the bat to be a four corners guy. (I know it’s hard to remember a time when you needed to be a real masher to play first base or corner outfield for the Phillies, but such a time existed, trust me.)

It’s an odd place to be, and how you feel about it depends on your expectations. If you saw “prospect” and thought Asche would be some sort of savior–not on the level of a Mike Trout or a The Mighty Giancarlo Stnaton, but maybe on the level of Matt Carpenter, a true plus third baseman and rebuilding cornerstone–that was never realistic. If Asche was going to start on the Phillies’ next playoff team, he was going to hit near the bottom of the order.

Asche was a fourth-round college guy who was supposed to rise quickly and provide major league help (which he’s done), but never had more than the ceiling of an average regular. He never appeared on a top 100 list, and the only time Baseball Prospectus ranked him, he was the seventh-best prospect in the 24th-best¬†farm system in baseball.

If you’re going from that perspective, you have to be thrilled that Asche is at least a solid bench guy and still could be a second-division regular. But if you’re going from the perspective that Asche was supposed to be the Phillies’ third baseman of the future, you’re going to be disappointed. The bad news for Asche is that Maikel Franco, who does have the potential to be more than the kind of third baseman you’d expect to find on a 73-win team, is just about ready for his turn at third base. That means that if Asche’s going to get another full season or two in which he can wring out all his untapped potential, it might not be with the Phillies.

A letter grade is pretty useless here, because if you’re grading on absolute terms, we have objective tools to do that–I don’t know why I’d put a grade on his performance when I could just link you to his FanGraphs page. But if we’re grading on expectations, a letter grade is equally problematic, because my expectations for Asche were extremely low, while I know others felt differently. I feel like bench guy/second-division regular is something like a 50th-percentile outcome for Asche, even though his 2014 season somehow managed to be both encouraging and disappointing at the same time. In other words, I’m sorry I’m giving everyone a C.

Grade: C

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  1. Chris

    October 16, 2014 11:08 AM

    Decent report. I think you nailed on the head. If we went by performance it was probably a D/D- grade. If we are throwing in expectations, Its probably closer to a C-.

    What should be known is that Franco HAS to be the starter all year at 3rd next year. Has to, has to, has to.

  2. Nick

    October 16, 2014 12:56 PM

    Nailed it. This is a 24 year old, 4th round pick, that made about $500,000 and did what was asked of him. The free agent 3rd basemen last year were:
    Luis Cruz (29), Chone Figgins (35), Orlando Hudson (35), Brandon Inge (36), Adam Kennedy (37), Scott Rolen (38), and Ty Wigginton (35).

    If RAJ had signed anyone but Luis Cruz, the fans would have been in an uproar over our team’s already advanced age. I had to look up Cruz’s stats to see who he was (wow he’s bad). Asche gave us almost 400 PA’s and was a great stop gap until Franco’s ready. He’s a league average guy and I’ll take that over the alternatives.

    Long time reader but first time commenter. Chris’ “opinion” of the grades made me come up to the plate. Keep it up Crashburn!

  3. tbarr

    October 16, 2014 01:02 PM

    thank you for explaining your process. will say that the 24 year old asche and the 24 year old utley seasons were not dissimilar not suggesting asche will be a star but it’s not fair to compare asche to utley’s prime. i don’t believe that utley was predicted to be a great defensive player either. not to belittle franco, but he’s not a sure bet,like most of the fans seem to think.

  4. Major Malfunction

    October 16, 2014 01:54 PM

    “…..the athleticism and defensive instincts Utley used to become one of the greatest defensive second basemen ever…”

    13th ALL TIME in Total Zone Runs (The number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made.)

    78th ALL TIME in fielding percentage for 2nd basemen….ALL TIME. 78th might not sound impressive but when you consider how many 2Bs there have been over the years…wow!

    73rd ALL TIME in range factor. Manny Trillo is 4th, but I have no doubt we boo’d him just as much as Schmidt.

    10th ALL TIME in dWAR for 2B.

    And somehow Utley has ZERO Gold Gloves awarded to him.

    • Chris S.

      October 16, 2014 03:45 PM

      Yeah he is probably the most underrated player of the last decade.

    • Jeremy

      October 17, 2014 01:23 AM

      Well, he’s had the much flashier Brandon Phillips playing in the same league. That sucks some of the life out of a Gold Glove campaign.

  5. WayneKerrins

    October 16, 2014 02:24 PM

    Agree with that, entirely. Well written piece.

  6. bubba0101

    October 16, 2014 05:20 PM

    What are the thoughts on trying him at second? How hard is it to learn that position if you’re moving over from third? He has to have more arm strength than utley so that would make up for having less range, ie theyre both not making the play going far to their right because Utley cant make the throw and Asche cant make the stop. For the sake of nobody starting an argument over Utley’s abilities because Ive seen him make the throw plenty of times moving to his right, so Im just speaking in hypotheticals. Asche’s offensive numbers would play better at second and I think he has not hit his ceiling offensively yet. I predicate all of this on the fact that Ryan Howard will not be on the team next year and Utley will play 100+ games at first. Alternatively, he cant be worse at fielding that Dom Brown and he hit much better than him last year. I think Asche has a spot on this team somewhere even if we get back to playoff form.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      October 16, 2014 05:32 PM

      Asche does have a spot on this team: backup 3B to Franco, pinch hitter, and emergency 1B. There’s nothing wrong with that. He failed at 2B in the minors, so the idea that he could somehow play 2B in the majors doesn’t fly. Maybe he can learn to play LF? At say 15-20 homers and with an uptick in OBP, he’d be acceptable there.

      • Chris S.

        October 17, 2014 08:52 AM

        It worked well for Alex Gordon.

      • Chris S.

        October 17, 2014 08:54 AM

        Not saying Asche ever had the skill set of Gordon, just that Gordon was a below average defensive 3rd Basemen and now he is the best LF defensively in the game.

      • MattWinks

        October 17, 2014 09:53 AM

        Gordon was also the #2 overall pick in 2005 who reached the majors in 2007, struggled to hit and field in the majors and was sent down before becoming who he is now in a 2011 breakdown. If the example is that a 3B can move to LF, then yes, you may be right. But Asche is not a Gordon level of hitter.

      • Chris

        October 17, 2014 09:56 AM

        Is Gordon even that great of a hitter? I mean he hits basically .260 with 15-20 HRs and walks roughly 60 times a year, and strikes out a good bit.

        His value is in the field, not with the bat. And I am not saying Asche is as good of a hitter than Gordon right now, but producing at the plate what Gordon does shouldnt be too difficult. Its just that no one in our system can replace his defense.

      • Bill Baer

        October 17, 2014 10:58 AM

        Gordon posted a .346 wOBA. The MLB average for left fielders was .318. Over Gordon’s 643 plate appearances, the difference between him and a league-average LF offensively is about 14 runs or nearly 1.5 wins.

      • Chris S.

        October 17, 2014 11:14 AM

        I didn’t mean to say Asche is as good as Gordon with the bat, and realized that after my initial post, just a thought that Asche seems like he is athletic enough to handle LF and he would have a decent enough arm too. I like Asche, and I hope he can be a good player that can help the Phillies win in the future. Maybe a move to LF is the first piece to that puzzle or maybe I’m just reaching cause it worked for Gordon.

      • Chris

        October 17, 2014 11:29 AM

        Chris S. It worked for Bautista too in RF> Obviously, Asche will never have his power. But there is more than 1 example of people moving from 3rd to the OF with success.

  7. zengreaser

    October 16, 2014 05:40 PM

    Serious question here: In this age of rethinking how a player is evaluated & what statistics are best for accomplishing that task, why are we still insisting that there are certain batting skills that are a prerequisite for playing particular positions in the field? I totally understand that there are defensive skills that you want/need from specific positions, but the batting thing baffles me. I get that teams want power, but does it really matter where it comes from? For years we were getting power from 2B & SS – positions that don’t usually generate power for most teams. I guess what I am getting at is that shouldn’t it be more important that a guy’s position be more about how he plays that position & that you take power from wherever you can get it?

    • Bill Baer

      October 16, 2014 06:05 PM

      The offensive availability at each position is not equal. It’s much easier to find a .325 wOBA first baseman than it is to find a .325 wOBA second baseman (the average wOBA for 1B was 30 points higher than 2B this past season). In an alternate timeline where the Phillies have to go to free agency to get a first and second baseman, they’d have significantly more difficulty replacing Utley than Howard.

      • tbarr

        October 17, 2014 12:56 AM

        phillies couldn’t find a 1st baseman to post a .325 woba although their 2nd baseman did. kinda his point,i think

  8. The Original Will

    October 21, 2014 06:38 PM

    It’s interesting you compare Asche to Matt Carpenter and Chase Utley (or at least reference them to make a point). Neither of those players was a scouting favorite (Utley being a 1st round pick makes him something of a favorite by default, but he only broke the top 100 once, and pretty low at that). And both those players spent their age 24 seasons in the minors, hitting well enough, but not so well that you could presume they were simply biding their time. If Asche spent this year OPSing .900 in AAA, how would we feel? Because that would put him right there numbers wise, with both Utley and Carpenter. At any rate, I’m not saying that Asche *should* be compared to those guys, just that those guys weren’t expected to become what they became, even by their age 24 seasons. It is perfectly reasonable to think Asche is only a placeholder at best, and that is certainly a pretty likely outcome. But on the flipside, he’s only modest improvement away from being an asset (which I also think has a fair likelihood) and a couple seasons of real growth from being a mainstay. The likelihood of those outcomes is increasingly unlikely, but I want another 500 ABs, at least, to say with any confidence what he is.

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