Tommy Joseph is Having a Platoon Problem
With Odubel Herrera re emerging in June and Howie Kendrick returning to the lineup on fire, the number of questions facing the Phillies offense have reduced some. Maikel Franco continues to be an enigma, and one that probably deserves an entire week of columns to decipher the problems with his season. Meanwhile, Tommy Joseph has cooled off again, and Michael Saunders has been shoved to the bench. The problem is that both are not doing their primary job well. This seems a simple thing to say about bad players, but part of this season is about dealing with player’s strengths and weaknesses and finding who is at least a bit player on a good team. In the case of Joseph, he is not hitting left handed pitchers well, and it is dragging down his whole profile.
Last year, Joseph was mostly Ryan Howard’s platoon partner as the Phillies gave the veteran slugger his farewell tour. In that role, Joseph was masterful.
While the sample size was small, there was nothing unsustainable about his success vs lefties. There is also a decent history of even marginal right handed sluggers having great success against LHPs. Due to the lack of LHPs in the majors and some injuries to Howard, Joseph had a decent chunk of plate appearances against RHPs and posted a fairly average line.
No one is going to call someone a superstar for posting that line, but if that is the bad side of your platoon, you can live with that. Especially since from the beginning of July through the end of the year he was much improved against righties.
Some of this is BABIP luck, but seeing Joseph nearly double his walk rate vs same side pitching was highly encouraging. If he could put together his second half success against righties with his production vs lefties, many (including me) thought he could be a serviceable major league first baseman who had the upside for a bit more if he could continue to show improvements.
So far this year, he has partially held up his side of the bargain against RHPs.
His BABIP vs RHPs is probably unsustainably high, but his HR/FB rate (17.9%) is probably a little bit low given his raw power. The two are not a wash, but he has been an above average hitter vs RHPs. It would be nice if he was closer to the second half of 2016, but given Joseph’s overall struggles, I think almost everyone would take this line vs RHPs on the season. The only problem is that we expected that line to be paired with dominance vs LHPs. Instead we have gotten this.
This very small sample size, and that helps explain the BABIP being so low. The BABIP is also explained by a lower line drive rate vs lefties and a HR/FB rate that is double that of his rate vs righties. The problem is that this doesn’t deal with the walk and strikeouts rates, which are atrocious for a player who is supposed to hit lefties at a high rate. His struggles vs left handed pitching are contributing to a contact rate that is down from 78.0% to 70.6% on the season.
It is only 55 plate appearances, so how big an effect is this actually having on his season? If we are crude and just slot in his 2016 numbers vs LHPs, Joseph’s total line for the year is now:
No one would be over the moon about that line, but it is probably a top 15 first baseman in baseball, and the Phillies would have probably won a few more games.
The expectations for Joseph are way down, but if he wants to actually hold off Rhys Hoskins, he is going to need to show that he can be an elite bat vs lefties. He has proven that he might be competent vs same side pitching over the past two seasons, but he is not going to put up sustainable offense based solely on what he is doing vs righties. Given that he is hitting .244/.268/.462 with 2 walks to 20 strikeouts over his last 22 games, he is not off to a good start.