2016 Phillies Report Card: Tommy Joseph

When writing these report cards, players are evaluated a few different factors each comprising their own sort of curve, which are all then weighed to the tastes of the writer reviewing the player’s season. These factors include grading the player’s season relative to the rest of the league, their personal expectations (preseason projections), and the role the team expected the player to fill.

Personally, I tend to weigh the latter two factors fairly heavily, which leaves me at something of a loss when evaluating Tommy Joseph. He was the headline piece of the Hunter Pence trade to San Francisco back at the 2012 Trade Deadline. At the time a catcher, he was placed on the 40-man roster ahead of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, before a series of concussions forced him to move from catcher. At the less valuable defensive position of first base, much more was required from his bat, lessening his prospect value. In fact, prior to the 2016 season, Joseph was outrighted from the 40-man roster and left exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

If part of the grading criteria is an evaluation of the player relative to his expected role on the team, it seems clear that Joseph had no expected role entering 2016. A blistering first five weeks of the season in triple A – he hit .347/.370/.611 with 13 extra-base hits in exactly 100 plate appearances – pushed him into the conversation. On May 13, he was promoted to the Major League roster as Darin Ruf was optioned to Lehigh Valley.

Over the next five months, his role evolved from sharing time with Ryan Howard, to full-time first baseman as he continued to exceed expectations. He ended the season with offensive production 13 percent better than the league average, with 21 home runs over 347 plate appearances. Per Statcast, the average exit velocity on his batted balls was 2.43 mph higher than average, travelling 22 feet further, on average, than the average batted ball.

The profile isn’t perfect – his defense at first was only adequate, and long term, his selectivity and low walk rates are going to be detriments. He ended up with an eminently 2016 stat line – at .257/.308/.505, he has a low average, low walk rate, and a ton of power. Even this is drastically outperforming his expectations, to the extent that there were any. ZiPS projected Joseph to produce far worse marks in every department, culminating in an 82 OPS+ (his actual was 115). That’s a swing of 33 percentage points relative to league average performance. ZiPS also only projected 186 plate appearances for Joseph, and he ended up receiving almost double that figure.

He’s certainly outperformed personal expectations, but how well did he do relative to the league? What value is there in a bat-first first baseman with his holes? Doing a simple extrapolation over a full season, Joseph’s value metrics (rWAR, fWAR, WARP) place his 2016 season between 1-2 wins above replacement over 600 plate appearances. This places him firmly in the second-division regular tier of player.

Without improvement in his pitch selectivity, this may be his ceiling moving forward. However, Tommy Joseph has gone from being written out of the Phillies’ future plans just one year ago, to being the presumed everyday first baseman entering Spring Training. That’s pretty impressive.

Grade: B

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  1. Run

    December 19, 2016 01:38 PM


    I liked TJ better when his name was Darin Ruf.

  2. Jerry Spradlin

    December 19, 2016 02:59 PM

    If the grade is based on productivity vs. pre-season expectations, I think TJ has to get an A+. No one thought he would be on the big league roster, let alone contributing.

    I do need to keep reminding myself to compare his defense to other 1B around the league, not just 2016 Ryan Howard. Comparing anyone to Howard this year makes the person look like a gold glove winner- sorry Big Piece.

    • Romus

      December 19, 2016 03:08 PM

      JS…according to SDI….Joey Votto was the worst defensive first baseman in the majors in 2016 with a negative 8. With Anthony Rizzo topping the leader board at positive 8.6
      I would hope TJ is middle of the road.

      • JustBob

        December 20, 2016 10:13 AM

        He doesn’t have much range or athletic ability and will be below average defensively. Just hopefully not one of the worst defensive 1B.

  3. Romus

    December 19, 2016 03:05 PM

    Looking for TJ in 2017 to crack the 25HR mark and get close to 30, barring any injuries.
    As for his defense, he apparently seemed adequate as described above, though his throwing to second base is a welcome relief than what RH had attempted over these last 12 years. No denying the strength an accuracy of his arm.

    • Run

      December 19, 2016 04:22 PM

      TJ seems so vulnerable to righties. Maybe Dylan Cozens gets some platoon looks before its all said & done.

  4. Andrew R.

    December 19, 2016 04:58 PM

    I feel like he’s a little bit of Mark Trumbo. .240-.250 average, .300 obp, lots of power. He’ll be in that range of 1.5-2.9 WAR. Hopefully, those walks do get a little bit better and he can give you 25-30 homers a year. Moving forward into contention, he would be a nice 5-, or 6-hole hitter.

    I don’t want to say he will be “fun” to watch, but he certainly will be interesting and I’m sure we will all keep our eyes open for when he hits.

  5. david

    December 20, 2016 09:18 AM

    Compared to expectations, Tommy Joseph was certainly a pleasant surprise. At the same time, looking ahead to 2017 TJ needs to significantly improve his plate discipline and reduce his chase rate (similar to Franco, Galvis, and a number of the Phils young hitters).

    Perhaps bringing on a player like Bautista on a short term contract (2-3 years) who the Phils could easily afford and who could be flipped for real value either at the trade deadline or off-season in 2017 or 2018, could help to highlight for these young players a real example of the tremendous value of plate discipline.

    More balls taken = more strikes seen = higher quality contact = more walks taken and more hits = higher OBP = more runs = more wins = more player value = more $ in arbitration and FA years.

    This is not a difficult concept to understand, but it seems like TJ and some of the other young guys could really benefit from having a plate discipline and OBP icon like Bautista around for a while as a living breathing example that you don’t need to give up all your pop in an effort to get on base (and to help the club win).

    • Romus

      December 20, 2016 10:13 AM

      david…..so Bautista would go to RF and Altherr or Quinn to LF or vice versa?
      However, as an OFer Jose’ best defensive days are in the past.
      SDI…AL…….bottom negative right fielders
      Josh Reddick….OAK….-0.3
      Kole Calhoun….LAA…..-0.7
      Jose Bautista….TOR….-4.7
      Mark Trumbo….BAL…..-5.2
      J.D. Martinez….DET…..-14.2

      • Run

        December 20, 2016 11:44 AM

        Riddick & Calhoun are generally highly regarded with the glove. Guess they caution that even one full season may be too low a sample size for defensive stats.

        I’d take Bautista on a 1 or maybe even a 2 year deal without no trade protection if the price is well under $15 million, but no way if it includes a 3rd year. Not sure even that is worth losing the 38th pick in the draft.

        Even though Bautista’s potential offers are sinking like a rock, he really should be in the AL with a DH at this point.

      • Run

        December 20, 2016 11:46 AM

        Riddick & Calhoun are generally highly regarded with the glove. Guess they caution that even one full season may be too low a sample size for defensive stats.

        I’d take Bautista on a 1 or maybe even a 2 year deal without no trade protection if the price is well under $15 million/yr, but no way if it includes a 3rd year. Not sure even that is worth losing the 38th pick in the draft.

        Even though Bautista’s potential offers are sinking like a rock, he really should be in the AL with a DH at this point.

      • Romus

        December 20, 2016 03:45 PM

        Run…..the 2nd round pick is probably not going to be the 38th selection….don’t forget you have the Competitive Balance picks (6) between the first and second round, then add in teams losing FAs with QOs….so it could be as low as the 48th pick.

      • david

        December 20, 2016 04:45 PM

        Good question Romus. The Bautista idea is based on a few assumptions:

        – The Phillies will require significant advancement by a number of their young players (and potentially meaningful contributions from one or more prospects as well) to even remotely approach a pythag of .500

        – a number of the Phillies young players lack a well developed approach at the plate, an appropriate degree of plate discipline, and/or sufficient pitch recognition capability. I seem to recall a quote from earlier in the year by Tommy Joseph – whom I do like and have real hopes for – that he wasn’t concerned about not getting many walks and that he was focussed on trying to drive the ball (not quite on par with the Amaro quote about “production”, but it betrays a similar lack of emphasis on selectivity at the plate and a failure to understand how a more disciplined approach feeds into what TJ and everyone would like to see from him and from the team).

        – Bautista is still world-class re approach and selectivity, and the young players could use a real world example in addition to words and guidance from Matt Stairs, Michael Jack, etc.

        – Bautista is ‘affordable’ (whatever that means to a larger market team and specifically to the Phillies these days) and may be ‘getable’ for the Phils on a short term deal (e.g. 2 years with a team option for a third) given how the FA market is developing (or rather ‘not developing’) for him at this point

        – Bautista is a very good positive regression (“bounceback”) candidate who, with a good first half (or 12 or 18 months) could bring significant value back to the Phils at the July deadline without undermining their strong financial position for upcoming FA classes (and specifically 2018 and beyond)

        – Assuming such positive regression, the value that Bautista could bring back in trade at the July deadline (either 2017 or 2018) likely dwarfs the prospect value of the lost pick

        – Bautista would add to the energy around this young team, and would strengthen ticket sales for what in 2017 is pretty certain to be another challenging year in the W-L column.

        – Bautista’s defense is clearly a liability, but this signing wouldn’t be about dWAR. It would instead be about fostering a better approach at the plate team-wide, postioning the Phils for another trade and talent influx, and putting fans back in seats near term and helping to drive some marginal revenue.

        Where would he play? What about the logjam on the 40 man? I’m not sure I have the answer right now (though Matt K. may still have a few ideas that will free up a bit of space). If Cesar stays, then HK is slated for an outfield spot, which certainly complicates the playing time issue. They’d clearly like to get AA and possibly Quinn some real time to see what they can do (though, if they moved Bautista this year before the deadline, that could still leave a few months of everyday at bats for whichever of them is emerging at that point).

  6. 64survivor

    December 20, 2016 10:12 AM

    He will eventually be battling it out with Hoskins…may the best man win.

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