2013 Reds

No brag, just fact

Brandon Phillips is right. And anyone with half a brain, including us sportswriters, should understand that he is.

Desperate for controversy in a slow week of spring training, news spread like wildfire when Phillips said he was “punked” when managers and coaches voted Darwin Barney of the Chicago Cubs the Gold Glove last year for second baseman.

Writers then chased down Barney, told him what Phillips said and then Barney answered them in a sarcastic tone that it didn’t bother him.

This is much ado about nothing. It’s a non-story.

Darwin Barney is a good, quality second baseman who plays great defense but there is no way Phillips should have not won the award. Yes, Barney had the long consecutive game streak without committing an error. Yes, Barney is a steady, reliable second baseman. Yes, Barney was one of the few positive stories in another disastrous Cubs season.

But straight up on defense, you can’t compare the two. Phillips has better range. Phillips has the experience. Phillips is the better athlete. And Brandon Phillips is the better second baseman. That’s nothing against Darwin Barney. It’s not his fault he played for a team that lost 101 games last year. It’s not his fault he’s playing for a team that is regarded still as a Lovable Loser, hasn’t won a Series since 1908, and plays its games in a broken down historical relic of a baseball park.

I’ve watched many games at Wrigley Field. I guess everyone should experience it once and hope their sight of line of the field isn’t blocked by a steel pillar and pay $25 to park their car. And you know you’re in a rustic environment when you’re surrounded by a bunch of guys in the 7th inning urinating in a horse trough for a urinal. (True story: In the 7th inning of Game 5 of the Marlins-Cubs series in 2003 I was doing just that when a guy accidently dropped his cell phone in the horse trough urinal. All at once, eight streams of urine adjusted their aim to hit the downed and trapped cell phone.)

But back to Brandon. He is absolutely right. His flair rubs people the wrong way. If you’re a Reds fan, you love it. If not, you hate him. He’s not bragging when he says what he says.

Remember what Johnny Bench said one time about the art of catching and throwing out would-be base stealers out. “It’s not being cocky, it’s being confident.”

Johnny Bench was right. He was the best catcher of his generation, period. And Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the National League — period.

Darwin Barney can make the routine plays. Brandon Phillips makes the great plays. If the truth hurts, so be it.

I’m not sure what being “punked” means but I have a good guess. And if Brandon Phillips says it and means it and is basically right, he doesn’t owe anyone anything.

Let’s put it this way. If a game is on the line in crunch time, who would you rather have at second base? If you have any intellectual honesty or baseball sense —or both— you’re gonna say Brandon Phillips.

28 thoughts on “No brag, just fact

  1. I suppose I’d be inclined to dislike BP too if I wasn’t a Reds fan. People, myself included, don’t like showboats, but I also think he is misunderstood. Baseball is entertainment. Why not do it with a little flair provided he’s not making errors while doing it?

  2. Except that at least some of the advanced numbers agree that Barney was better. I know fielding stats are somewhat sketchy, but there is more of an argument to be made than either you or Phillips is allowing for.

    • Except that at least some of the advanced numbers agree that Barney was better. I know fielding stats are somewhat sketchy, but there is more of an argument to be made than either you or Phillips is allowing for.

      And how many people here actually saw Barney play much? I sure didn’t. I’m not a fan of the “no one could have possibly been better than player X, I saw player X play 162 games”.

      • And how many people here actually saw Barney play much?I sure didn’t.I’m not a fan of the “no one could have possibly been better than player X, I saw player X play 162 games”.

        I did. Being in the general Chicago area, I got a pretty good glimpse of Barney almost daily. Of course, having an MLBTV subscription let me follow my Reds and Phillips. It could be I’m a homer for the Reds, but in my unbiased opinion, Barney reminds me a lot of Brett Boone; a solid player, makes the routine plays, but nothing spectacular. BP, on the other hand, is spectacular, a once in a generation talent.

        Now, a case could be made that Phillips purposely makes routine plays look more difficult for the sake of showboating, but he makes plays that I am fairly certain that Barney would never even attempt.

        Anyone who claims Barney fielded his position better than BP simply does not know baseball well.

  3. BP’s comments were BP being BP. He wears his emotions and opinions on his sleeve. He’s open and gregarious. He enjoys what he does and he like showing everyone how much he enjoys what he does. His actions and motivations are geniune and certainly not intended to be mean spirited or viscious, but tact is not one of BP’s virtues. Such an individual makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I prefer the quiet leader who let’s actions speak for him (or her as the case may be). The individual who reserves comments for private, personal audiences, but I do not begrudge BP his personality and I believe he is willing to accept the unfortunate ramifications his personality will cause, such as accolades from those put off by his antics.

  4. It’s only showing off if your Pete Rose…..everyone else it’s ok! Pete is the only person that gets no forgiveness nor any second chance!! Murderers and dopeheads get all they need! MLB sucks without Pete and Johnny Bench is the sole reason Butt Selig can’t and won’t comment! Bench and the rest own him!! Bench doesn’t want Pete in…..if it was ok with Bench, Pete would have been in a long long long time ago!!! I am ashamed of Bench and the rest of the “better than thous”!! There is no Hall of Fame without Pete and MLB stinks without him. You can have all of them!! No respect for any of them!! Too bad Bench has to be that way and then act like he isn’t!!! Would be embarrassing to find out the truth wouldn’t it Johnny!!!

  5. Where did this post come from? BP doesn’t need any assistance being BP. Like Jason said, the numbers show what’s going on. Anyone who thinks BP was better doesn’t like the facts. They’re voting on show, not facts, not stats.

    Not that BP isn’t a good or even great fielder and baseball player. He just wasn’t the best defender at his position last season.

  6. @CI3J: Proof by “you don’t know what you are talking about if you don’t agree with me”. Convincing.

    I personally doubt Barney is better than Phillips defensively, but as I said, I didn’t see them, and even if I did, defense is hard to measure.

    • @CI3J: Proof by “you don’t know what you are talking about if you don’t agree with me”.Convincing.

      I personally doubt Barney is better than Phillips defensively, but as I said, I didn’t see them, and even if I did, defense is hard to measure.

      I don’t care if you agree with me or not. You asked a question and I answered.

  7. BP has to know he’s going to rub people the wrong way at times. That shouldn’t affect his Gold Glove votes, but people are people, so it very likely does. A few managers came right and said as much during last season.

    … I go back to his comments before the GABP tussle with the Cardinals. Did he really not know that insulting the Cards players, coaches and even their fans would not be taken lightly? Then he goes up and taps Molina’s shinguards like it never happened, or like it happened but didn’t matter or was just a big joke. Molina didn’t have to ignite, but geez, if the other side is not laughing with you, try to let it drop.

    I can recall three or four times during last season when the radio crew actually voiced what somebody said above: that at times it appears he tries to make plays look hard for maximum “show” value. Two were occasions when he had plenty of time to make a throw to first as he was going up the middle, but instead of stopping and planting, he does the jump-throw and either barely got the guy or didn’t get him at all. … Heck, one time last season, he covered first base on a play and got a guy out, then lollygagged after crossing the base into foul territory as a runner rounded third and scored.

    I really like BP and don’t have a clue whether Barney was more deserving for the award, but BP does open himself up to criticism despite his at-times sheer brilliance.

  8. @steveschoen: When it comes to defense, I don’t necessarily have a problem with not voting on the numbers. Defensive stats are very fuzzy and there isn’t that much difference between BP and Barney. I only wanted to make the point that there is a good argument to made in Barney’s favor. I don’t think anyone could gripe about either of them winning the award.

    • @steveschoen: When it comes to defense, I don’t necessarily have a problem with not voting on the numbers. Defensive stats are very fuzzy and there isn’t that much difference between BP and Barney. I only wanted to make the point that there is a good argument to made in Barney’s favor. I don’t think anyone could gripe about either of them winning the award.

      I second this motion. Things like Zone Rating and errors really rely on someone’s judgement call; how can we be sure the person making the judgement is using the same criteria other people use to make the same calls for other players?

      Personally, I think it is folly to try to quantify defensive statististics; in many cases, they are simply too subjective.

      • I second this motion. Things like Zone Rating and errors really rely on someone’s judgement call; how can we be sure the person making the judgement is using the same criteria other people use to make the same calls for other players?Personally, I think it is folly to try to quantify defensive statististics; in many cases, they are simply too subjective.

        That doesn’t mean to discount Barney’s play just because BP has “flair” when he does it. If that was the case, I could find you a half dozen fielders in the high school fields that have “flair” but can’t field worth a darn.

        The name of the game is baseball, not flair.

        • That doesn’t mean to discount Barney’s play just because BP has “flair” when he does it.If that was the case, I could find you a half dozen fielders in the high school fields that have “flair” but can’t field worth a darn.

          The name of the game is baseball, not flair.

          I agree on flair. I don’t care about it, but typically humans (writers) are very impressed by it. Frankly, I’m shocked that Phillips did not win the gold glove in the first place, due to flair and highlight reel plays—plus usually once you win one, you win a lot.

          All that said, the defensive metrics are indeed error-prone. For example, some players have wide variance in the different WAR versions (Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and there’s another one I’m forgetting), and that difference is all due to defense. From that I conclude that the defensive metrics are still immature.

          I’d like to see someone work on defensive metrics that take the human out of the loop. It seems possible. It just hasn’t happened yet, to my knowledge.

      • I second this motion. Things like Zone Rating and errors really rely on someone’s judgement call; how can we be sure the person making the judgement is using the same criteria other people use to make the same calls for other players?

        Personally, I think it is folly to try to quantify defensive statististics; in many cases, they are simply too subjective.

        Hilarious. The last sentence in the original post was “I don’t think anyone could gripe about either of them winning the award.” And you agreed, after previously saying anyone who would take Barney knows nothing about baseball.

        In addition, it’s not “folly” to try to measure defense. It’s hard, and currently, it doesn’t really work that well. But to believe that there’s no way it might not get better in 5, 10, 20 years is in fact folly..

  9. @Hank Aarons Teammate: I’m sure there are people hard at work on it right now. The real difficulty comes with batted ball classifications, which are awfully hard to do without a person making the call.

    Right now, looking at several years of defensive stats will tell you who is a good fielder and who is not, but it won’t tell you who is the best and who is the second best.

  10. I suppose I would find BP irritating, if I disagreed with his opinions. I think he has been pretty spot-on.

    Improve defensive metrics all you like, they will NEVER be as solid as a scouting report and the ol’ eyeball test. No way Barney is a better second baseman than Phillips. And I’m not always taken in by flair. I always thought Utley was better in his prime (dare I say that at this stage in his career)because of positioning and his ability to manage the infield, especially with men on base. He was amazing to me, if not particularly spectacular.

    The Gold Glove is a little different from other awards because so much of it is subjective. ‘Flair and entertainment value’ may very well be an acceptable category, but far from the only one, to determine who is the best. Taking the flair away, Brandon is still the best in the league.

  11. @Jason Linden:

    I don’t meant to discount Barney because BP has flair…. You may notice in an earlier post I mentioned something about BP going out of his way to make routine plays seem more difficult.

    However, even knowing that, I don’t put much stock in defensive numbers that can’t be effectively quantified. Like for a catcher, you can say someone is a good catcher based on how many runners they throw out (easily quantified) passed balls/wild pictes (getting a bit murky…) how well they “frame” pitches (can be quantified by measure of how far back over the plate the catcher moves once he receives the ball) etc.

    For fielders, from the moment the ball is hit, all their stats rely on someone’s judgement call. That ball dropped. Is it a hit? And error? That guy ranged pretty far to get that ball. Could another average player at his position make that play? Oh, that guy ranged REALLY far, but just missed catching the ball. Is it an error because he SHOULD have caught it, even though no other fielder could have even come close to it?

    Too many questions, too subjective. I don’t see how they will ever have an accurate formula for measuring defensive stats because, to be truly accurate at it, you’d have to physically measure where the ball was, how fast it was moving, how far the fielder moved to get to it, how difficult the play was otherwise (how do you physically measure THAT?) etc.

    That is why it is folly to try to measure defense numerically or to put much stock in those numbers. Defense is judged subjectively, so when awards are given out, so too should the judges be subjective. To put any stock in the defensive “numbers” is to let someone else be the judge for you.

  12. @preach: It makes absolutely zero sense to essentially state that technological progress will not happen. It’s amazing how often the word “never” is used, considering that when people say “never” they almost always end up being wrong.

    Lots of people said that baseball would never be ruled by stats geeks. It’s not ruled by them…yet.

    My prediction is that defensive metrics will indeed, at the major league level, within 10 years be superior to scouts and eyeballs. However, scouts will still have input into projecting, and there will still be some difficulty in how defensive performance on one team translates to another team.

  13. @CI3J: Again, as you speak, there are outfits that are trying to develop NFL automated scouts. To do anything like this is 100 times harder than quantifying MLB defense automatically.

    You said:

    “you’d have to physically measure where the ball was, how fast it was moving, how far the fielder moved to get to it, how difficult the play was otherwise (how do you physically measure THAT?) etc.”

    I agree with this to the extent that all those things must be measured, and they aren’t easy. You ask, though, how could these things ever be measured?

    Answer: computers. Those computer things might catch on someday.

  14. i don’t care about his “flair”, but BP makes plays at 2nd that Barney or any other current 2B can make. It’s as simple as that.

  15. @Hank Aarons Teammate:

    Here’s something about Zone Rating I considered:

    It is true, even now, computers can measure just how far a player moves to make a play. By looking at where a fielder was when contact was made with the ball to where they were when they fielded the ball, you could effectively make a defensive radius spray chart of sorts for each individual player. I’d love to see Drew Stubb’s Defensive Radius chart compared to someone like, say, Manny Ramirez.

    Likewise, computers can measure the speed of an average batted ball, so this is something you could add to the formula.

    However, what about defensive positioning? What about guys who study batters’ tendencies and put themselves in a good position to make the play before the ball is ever hit? In general, wouldn’t these guys have to range less to make plays, since they were already in good position to make the play? So their knowlwedge of the sport could actually hurt their zone rating in that it would make it appear they aren’t capable of moving as far to make plays, when the fact is they don’t NEED to move as far because they position themselves well.

    And in turn, how do you quantify something like the difficulty of the play? I suppose you could make a formula that does something like Defensive Range X Ball Speed to rate each play with a certain difficulty level. Like let’s say a guy has to move 10 feet to make a play, and the ball was moving 100 MPH when he fielded it. 10X100 = 1000, then divide by 100, and you give the play a difficulty rating of 10.0. Or how about a guy who has to move 2 feet, and the ball was moving at a lazy 80 MPH. 2X80 = 160, divide by 100 for a difficulty rating of 1.6. Over the course of the season, you could average out these numbers and have a pretty decent idea of who is a good fielder and who isn’t by the virtue of mediocre fielders not being able to even attempt the more difficult plays.

    Not a perfect system, but I guess I could see how it could work one day. We’ll see.

  16. @CI3J: I agree. We are nowhere near, today, anything sophisticated. But 10 years is a long time. 10 years ago we didn’t have smartphones.

    If certain fielders study batter tendencies, and I’m sure some do, heck, they are probably using computers for that. A system to do this automatically could take into account how often the fielder is positioning himself correctly, and add that to the formula.

    Your last paragraph makes sense to me. Maybe not the specific formula, but I feel there’s some way to do this. I haven’t given it a bit of thought, but I’d just think that some team (or company) will be the first to do it, because it’s just so important. If different organizations think that Martin Prado is an MVP candidate versus an average player (and this indeed was the case in 2012, as Fangraphs had him at 5.9 WAR and Baseball Reference had him at 2.3 WAR), then there is A LOT of money to be made by someone.

  17. @Hank Aarons Teammate:

    I admit, I see how it COULD be done, but I feel the system and formula as it stands now is so inadequate that it is wrong to consider defensive numbers when trying to decide who is the better fielder in this day and age.

    Until we can accurately quantify the data, the numbers are more or less useless due to them being fundamentally flawed.

    So I’m with Preach; until (if?) the future gets here, I rely on the ol’ eyeball test to tell me who is a good defender and who isn’t.

    From what I saw of BP and Barney, BP was indeed the better defender. But hey, I don’t give out the reward and my subjective opinion is just as (in)valid as anyone else’s.

  18. “These are his highlights from last year, meant to represent the best of the best of what he did. Compare his body of work to what you saw from BP.”

    There is nothing there like those couple crazy acrobatic up the middle double plays that BP pulled off with Cozart this year, but Barney does show some pretty good range in those clips. Barney doesn’t have BP’s arm, but then again, I think Phillips is a guy with shortstop defensive skills that ended up a regular 2b.

  19. I know I’m a bit late to this conversation, but wanted to mention that my main issue with the Gold Glove vote is that there were several managers (Davey Johnson is one that comes to mind) who said they didn’t vote for Phillips BECAUSE he was flashy. Not because Barney was the better defender and not necessarily because of the record-breaking streak, but because Phillips was flashy.

    I believe that Phillips was the better defender in 2012, but I believe that Barney’s streak gave people who didn’t like voting for Phillips an excuse not to. That’s my problem with the vote last year.

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