We grow attached to players for many reasons. Usually, these players are good enough to stick around longer than a presidential election cycle. They attract fans with their performance, personalities, the way they play the game, or for any number of reasons. Then, as father time or the business of baseball sends them on their way, we lose something.
We love the name on the front of the jersey, but the names on the back become local heroes. Not actual heroes, but certainly super men at the center of our favorite pastime. Even though our hearts want them to continue on in glory forever, they don’t. They fade away like most of life’s pleasures.
In baseball, we learn to love again. The exuberance of seeing our heroes succeed is worth the sadness of that hero’s eventual fall from grace. As old heroes fade away, we cling to new ones.
For all of Brandon Phillips flaws, especially his eruptions and unwise chatter off the field, he has endeared himself to a generation of Reds’ fan. All of those spectacular defensive plays, the 30-30 season, his big smile on the field. He seems to really enjoy the game and love the city of Cincinnati. All of these things and more have led to a loyal following among the locals.
Phillips is probably a Reds’ Hall of Famer and was certainly an integral part of bringing winning baseball back to Cincinnati. I don’t like writing that the Reds should consider benching him, but for the sake of the team’s future, they need to do it soon.
Phillips had a resurgent 2015, reversing a trend of decline from 2012-2014. Last October, our very own Steve Mancuso wrote an article discussing whether 2015 was a new starting point for his aging curve. Then, in December, the Reds agreed to a deal to send Phillips to the Washington Nationals in return for multiple minor leaguers. Phillips would be reunited with one of his biggest fans in Dusty Baker, and the Reds would receive some prospects in return for a player unlikely to be on the next winning team.
Of course, the deal died when Phillips wanted an extension in order to waive his 10 and 5 rights. The Nats moved on, and Phillips remains entrenched at second base for a team that may lose 100 games.
Now, Phillips has seemingly regressed back to his 2012-2014 decline timeline, making it hard to believe that any team would give up anything to take him even if he reversed course and would approve a deal. If we remove 2015, we can clearly see the regression in his game.
Phillips has been a great defender throughout his career, and he’s still decent. His UZR ranks 9th among second basemen. His defensive decline has been somewhat graceful, but his base running and offense continue to plummet.
Out of 168 qualified players, Phillips ranks 166 in Fangraphs’ base running metrics. The only players behind him are Victor Martinez, who has played since 1918, and Miguel Cabrera, who runs about as fast as my 18 month old son (not yet validated).
On offense, the 2015 season looks like an outlier that was engendered by a BABIP of .315. Phillips has slowly lost two important parts of his game: power and speed. He hasn’t slugged over .400 since 2012 and is slugging only .351 against right handers this year.
The speed decline has led to a career worst batting average (.214) on ground balls this year. Billy Hamilton he is not.
The drop off isn’t surprising as second basemen in their thirties often see a rapid decline in production. While Phillips has aged more gracefully than some others, he currently looks like a player whose game fell off a cliff.
Maybe Phillips rebounds some in the second half. Can he really be this bad? But honestly, it doesn’t matter. The Reds need to consider benching him because Jose Peraza needs to play every day.
The Reds seem to think of Peraza as a shortstop based on where they played him in AAA this season. And if Zack Cozart is traded, that’s where he will likely end up.
Until then, second base makes a lot of sense for the middle infielder. He may even end up there permanently. Phillips has struggled mightily, and the Reds gain nothing from playing him. If Peraza’s future is in the middle infield, start playing him there now.
The Reds need to begin putting the pieces together for their next winning team and letting their fans fall in love with those players. Is Peraza the next player we fall for? He better be. The Reds were so desperate to get him that they shipped off what may have been their best trade chip this offseason to acquire him. Peraza probably isn’t a superstar, but he does profile as an everyday player at key defensive positions. Winning teams have those players.
By the end of the month, the Reds may have traded Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce for more young pieces. They should also make Brandon Phillips a part-time player. Those moves will close an exciting chapter in Reds’ baseball. But, it’s time to fall in love with the next generation of Reds’ players. We have lost our baseball heroes before, but we will find our footing again in young, exciting talent.
Peraza may or may not be a player we endear ourselves to, but now is the time to begin figuring that out, even at the expense of a Reds’ Hall of Famer.