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.