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Brandon Phillips: Why You Should Sell High on The Cincinnati Reds Second Baseman

Sat, Jul 3, 2010

Buy or Sell?, Player Projections

Through 82 team games (324 at-bats) this season, Reds‘ second baseman Brandon Phillips is tied with Boston’s Kevin Youkilis for the major league lead in runs, with 62.

Phillips also has 10 homers and 10 steals at the mid-way point, putting him on pace for his fourth consecutive 20/20 season.

Perhaps the most surprising stat, however, is Phillips’ batting average. In four and a half seasons with the Reds, Phillips has never finished with a batting average higher than .288, and his career mark is an uninspiring .269.

Yet somehow, the recently-turned 29-year-old is batting .309 this season and appears to be gaining steam as the season progresses:

  • April: .236
  • May: 316
  • June: 373

One explanation for Phillips’ success is Dusty Baker’s decision to move him up in the lineup, opposed to batting him in the cleanup spot where he’s hit in recent seasons.

In 206 at-bats hitting first or second this season, Phillips sports a .330 batting average with 45 runs, six homers, but just 14 RBI.

This explains the spike in Phillips’ run-scoring total, but doesn’t necessarily provide a reasonable explanation for a batting clip that’s 40 points above his career average.

Phillips’ .335 BABIP, however, could.

His current line drive, ground ball and fly ball rates, don’t suggest a change in Phillips’ swing, as they are in line with his career marks.

Phillips is striking out at a 13.9 percent clip, which is a bit lower than his career mark (16.3 percent), but higher than his total from last year (12.8 percent). 

Phillips’ tendency to hack at pitches off the plate hasn’t changed, as his o-swing rate (30.6 percent) is nearly identical to his career mark of 30.7 percent (2010 MLB average: 28.5 percent).

His contact rate (81.6 percent) is up slightly from recent years, which may suggest Phillips has shortened his swing. This, however, still isn’t enough to explain his unusually high average.

Based on these facts, there doesn’t appear to be a drastic change in Phillips’ approach at the plate. Therefore, we can only assume that his elevated batting average is a result of two things: His new spot in the Reds’ batting order, and pure dumb luck. 

In baseball terms, he’s simply hittin’ ‘em where they ain’t. Unfortunately for Phillips’ fantasy owners, pure dumb luck isn’t as reliable as actual talent.

Not only are the law of averages working against Phillips, but his history is too.

In 1,934 career at-bats before the All-Star Break, Phillips owns a .275 batting average. Following the Mid Summer Classic, however, that mark drops to .261.

Not surprisingly, May and June are generally his best months, while he tends to struggle in July (.258) and September (.241).

Because of recent injuries to Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia, the second base position is somewhat thin. However, if you have the opportunity to pair Phillips with someone else for Robinson Cano, or acquire Martin Prado and another piece for Phillips, it’s worth a shot.

Phillips turns 30 next year, and both his power and speed numbers are declining.

HR/FB rates:

  • 2007: 15.9%
  • 2008: 13.2%
  • 2009: 11.6%
  • 2010: 10.3%

Stolen base efficiency:

  • 2007: 32-of-40 (80%)
  • 2008: 23-of-33 (69%)
  • 2009: 25-of-34 (73%)
  • 2010: 10-of-18 (55%)

Simply put, Phillips’ value will never be higher. He’s a great sell high option.

Image courtesy of: Jamie Wisner

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