2016 Reds

On Brandon Phillips and the March of Time

Earlier this season, over at Cincinnati Magazine, I wrote a piece that was headlined, “Brandon Phillips: An Acquired Appreciation.” It was an attempt for me to explain my conflicting emotions toward BP. There were some very good reasons that Phillips never became one of my favorite Reds. On the other hand:

But a resurgent 2015 is not really the reason my opinion about Phillips has softened. It’s because I love Reds history, and BP is a really significant player in the history of this franchise.

Did you know that only seven players in club history have accumulated more plate appearances in a Reds uniform than Brandon Phillips? This team has been around forever, and BP is 8th on the list, behind guys like Rose, Concepcion, Larkin, and Bench. Similarly, Phillips is eighth all-time in games played for Cincinnati. There’s something to be said for that longevity.

He’s been fairly productive, too, depending on how you look at the numbers. Brandon is ninth on the Reds all-time hits list, with 1,635 (I bet you can guess who’s number one). He’s ninth all-time in doubles (282), 13th in home runs (181), 11th in RBI (794), eighth in stolen bases (183).* Yes, these are counting numbers, and I’m not trying to say that BP has been a better player than a bunch of names behind him on these lists. But Phillips actually did those things, on the field, for your Cincinnati Redlegs. It makes him a significant figure in the history of the club.

As I’ve said many times, Brandon Phillips is a future Reds Hall of Famer, which is an important distinction to me. He’s either the second or third best second baseman in the long history of this club (probably third, but it’s arguable either way), and that’s impressive no matter how you look at it.

You’ll know this if you have spent much time around Redleg Nation over the last 11-plus years, but we have a soft spot here for this club’s history. So what Phillips has accomplished over his career is not lost on us.

But Father Time steals our days like a thief, and All-Star second basemen are not immune. The conversation now is, unfortunately, not about Phillips’ outstanding career but rather, about how and when the Reds are going to move on.

Recently, here at RN, Nick Carrington asked the question that Reds’ management must have been asking for the last few months: Should Brandon Phillips be a part-time player?

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.

The Reds were going to have to make this choice at some point. Phillips is now 35 years-old. That’s ancient for a big league middle infielder. So it occurred to me to take a look at Reds history, just to see whether these were uncharted waters, in terms of late-career second basemen. The answer: yes and no.

Since 1900, there have been only three Reds players who were the primary starting 2B in their age 35 season:

–Joe Morgan, 1979 (2.7 WAR)
–Lonny Frey, 1946 (2.3)
–Brandon Phillips, 2016 (-0.4)

Those names were interesting to me because of something I mentioned above: Morgan and Frey are the other two players in the conversation for best Reds second baseman of all time. (Okay, that’s not quite right. Joe Morgan is clearly the best Reds 2B ever. He may be the best in baseball history. Frey and Phillips are fighting over second place on this particular list.)

But anyway, I liked the symmetry. These are the guys who should be in the same conversation together.

But what does this tell us? Not a lot, honestly. Both Morgan and Frey were competent players at age 35. Phillips has been below replacement level.

What about the following season, at age 36? Well, the first thing I can tell you is that neither Morgan or Frey were with the Reds at age 36. That’s right, these are two team legends, both in the Reds Hall of Fame…and the Reds cut bait with each at the end of their age-35 season.

What did they each do after 35?

For his age-36 season, Morgan returned to Houston, where he played 141 games and hit .243/.367/.373 with 3.6 WAR. Two years later, at age 38, Morgan was even better, posting 5.1 WAR with the San Francisco Giants.

Comparing Phillips with Morgan isn’t instructive; Morgan is an all-time great. But it’s always fun to look at Joe Morgan’s career, so you’ll forgive me if I digress a little.

What about Lonny Frey? For those who don’t know much about Frey, he was a three-time All-Star who hit .265/.358/.365 in a seven-year career for the Reds. He was a valuable member of the 1939 National League pennant winners, and the 1940 World Series champions. From 1939 to 1943, which took him to his age-32 season, Frey posted WAR totals of 5.9, 5.9, 3.6, 5.2, and 4.5. Like Phillips, Frey was noted both for his bat and for his glove.

After that 1943 season, Frey missed two complete seasons while serving in World War II. He returned in 1946, at the age of 35, and hit .246/.368/.321, with 2.3 WAR in just 111 games. The following spring, the Reds sold Frey to the Cubs. He only appeared in 78 more games in his major league career.

Currently, Brandon Phillips is hitting .261/.299/.371. His wRC+ is a paltry 74. His wOBA is .293. His OPS+ is 78. He’s below replacement level according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR, and that continues a downward trend that we’ve seen every year since 2011, with the exception of last year’s outlier. There’s no rational reason to believe that Phillips is going to improve…unless you believe that Brandon Phillips is going to age like Joe Morgan.

None of this is intended as a criticism of BP’s fine career as a Cincinnati Red. But this is what happens. Players age, and the club is forced to move on at some point.

As far as I can tell, since the turn of the twentieth century, the Reds have never had a 36-year-old starting second baseman. Brandon Phillips will be 36 next year.

The time for making difficult choices has arrived.

49 thoughts on “On Brandon Phillips and the March of Time

  1. I was dying to play the Heine Groh card on you when it comes to the top 3 2B in Reds history but he played 3B for the Reds a lot more than 2B 😉

    Nice article Chad. Your feelings on this mirror my own for the most part. I wish I could write like the good folks here at RLN. Unfortunately for me, my sister has the writing talent.

    • That’s funny you say that as you and the Old Cossack are the two posters I follow the most.

      • Well, thanks. Always nice to hear. I have a hard time putting thoughts into actual written/typed words sometimes.

  2. I just don’t see any valid reasoning to continue to play Phillips in a starting role on this team. As Chad eloquently pointed out, that’s not intended as any disparagement toward Phillips in any manner. It’s just that undeniable march of time as professional athletes age.

    I found the comp of Phillips and Frey interesting and valid, but what I found more interesting was the possible comp of Morgan and Votto through their respective age 40 seasons. The injury(s) to Votto’s support leg, throws a real wrench into that comp for their age 29 and age 30 seasons.

    Morgan’s hit tool made a precipitous decline in his age 33-34 seasons before stablizing for his age 35-40 seasons, with a single outlier in his age 38 season. Despite the decline in his hit tool, Morgan maintained a fairly consistent OBP of .378 and a consistent ISO of .148 from his age 33 through his age 40 seasons. Could this be the aging curve we see from Votto?

  3. Nice presentation and summary of BP and where we stand currently and historically with him. Very nice indeed, Chad.

    If he remains below replacement level the rest of the year I just can’t imagine Williams will want him on the 40 man next year in any capacity. Especially if we pick up “close to ready” young talent at the trade deadline that will need to be added to the 40.

    • Thanks.

      It’s really going to be interesting to watch. At some point, Reds management is going to have to rip off this particular band aid.

      • I say now is fine, unless they want to send Peraza to AAA. BP is not my first vote for a Reds HOFer, although he will get in eventually. He has contributed to the negatives about the Reds as much as the positives over the years. The Indians gave him up because they could not stand him. We were willing to put up with him.

  4. The question to me is why the decline curve eluded Walt Jocketty when he extended BP into his age-36 season. A general rule of thumb is that all long-term contracts that go past age 35 are stupid. There are almost no exceptions. If the player demands the extra year or so, tell him “No,” and be prepared to let him sign elsewhere.

    The whole trick to running a MLB team is to run a farm system that reliably produces MLB-ready players. When a guy gets old and expensive, a well-run team lets him go and brings up somebody new. Exhibit A (for Albatross) is Albert Pujols, who is dead weight to the Angels, but whose exit opened the door for a bunch of young Cardinals. Exhibit B to about R are any number of Yankee signees.

    I would pretty much bench Phillips now and play Peraza. The Reds are stuck with owing Phillips about $18mm more, and the only way he will waive the no-trade rights is to let him see how much it stinks to sit on the bench on a bad team. If they can trade him and let another team absorb even $1-2 million, then the Reds should consider it a win. I expect them to DFA him by the start of next season, if he won’t accept a trade.

    The $15 million or so that the Reds will eat of BP’s contract would have paid for a couple of years of the additional financing to turn the minor league system into the best of the business. What a waste.

    • I’m not going to try and get inside the head of Mr. J., but it could be that the steroid era still taints his perception of the aging curve?

      • I won’t try to get in Uncle Walt’s head either, but it’s been reported rather extensively that the BP signing was Big Bob’s directive. Walt generally has never nor philosophically believes in signing any player for more than 3 or 4 years max.

    • I try to think of contractual value as WAR generated over the life of the contract, not per year, simply because with injuries and aging, you just never know when and where the wins will come from. When BP signed his extension, wins were going for about $5 million. At present, BP has generated 12.5 wins over the life of his contract. That’s $62.5 million in wins. He is a mere 2 WAR from meeting the value of his contract!

      Sadly, I’m not sure he’ll get there. But, he is closer than I thought before I started figuring this out.

      Also, depending on your source, the value of a win was as high as $7.6 million that year. With this number, BP has fulfilled his contract, and then some.

      http://www.hardballtimes.com/methodology-and-calculations-of-dollars-per-war/

      • Correction: His cumulative WAR is closer to 15.7. I did not factor in defensive and baserunning WAR in my previous number. This value makes a case that at no matter the value per dollar, BP has performed up to the expectation of his contract.

        • Yep. Further cementing the notion that the $ left to be paid under his contract is a sunk cost and should NOT be factored into playing time decisions going forward.

          From a “doing business” / treatment of veteran perspective, the Reds have also fulfilled their duties now. They have tried to give BP an opportunity to play elsewhere, including on a competitive team. He refused to be traded. The Reds are not hiding the ball that they are in a rebuilding process. Hence, both BP and the team should understand that his playing time should now be usurped post haste to the benefit of younger players.

        • Good point. While the terms of the contract are written in ink, the etiquette of servicing aging veterans in the MLB is more abstract, but clearly ever present. By any reasonable standard the Reds have given quite a bit to BP in this regard.

          As such, he should receive his remaining (guaranteed) $15 million doing whatever the Reds need him to do. That is a LOT of money. I’m not saying he hasn’t earned it. But I agree with you — he needs to be doing something other than starting 2B for the Reds.

  5. Great stuff Chad.BP was a really good player for a long long time but just like some of us he just doesn’t have it any more.As stated its time to move on to another chapter.It just is what it is and it won’t change.I am reminded of what my Dad told me a long time ago.Life ain’t fair especially as you get older.

    • The fairness of life as you get older depends on many things including your interests, health, and what you want and can do with your time.

  6. I will say this about Phillips: he is tough, and will play hurt. His AB last night in the 4th, when he had hurt his calf, was excellent. He toughed out a single to right, then Saurez followed with the homer that was the big hit. If Phillips makes the third out there, the game may have turned out differently.

    He could be a decent piece for a contender wanting a guy for maybe 275 ABs, especially if he would play another position or two.

    • He had a chance to play for a contender, but turned down the opportunity to be the starter for Washington. Blocking that trade hasn’t worked out either for the Reds or for BP.

      • It worked out pretty good for the Nationals, though, because they got Daniel Murphy, a possible MVP, to play second base. They signed him through his age 33 season.

        Sometimes the best moves (for the Nationals) are the ones that you don’t make.

    • Let’s hope it is 100% Williams choice because Jocketty just made the idiotic statement in that interview last week that Peraza is blocked at 2nd as long as BP is here. Of course Price agrees.

      That’s the kind of wacky logic that has me completely baffled. Why is it that the vast majority of us “armchair” GMs, the media and even passive fans that I see on a ton of different blogs, boards, and social media sites understand that we are rebuilding and need to play the kids and sit BP yet Jocketty and Price seem clueless? I really wish someone like C. Trent when he gets an opportunity to interview Uncle Walt again like he did last week, would hold his feet to the fire and ask him what is the logic behind delaying the rebuild for 2 years to keep starting a below replacement level player that hasn’t even hit a home run since May 7th.

  7. These are the number of games a Reds player older than 35 has played at 2nd base since 1882

    1 Bid McPhee 433
    2 Dave Concepcion 115
    3 Tom Daly 79
    4 Sparky Adams 29
    5 Miguel Cairo 27
    6 Manny Trillo 10
    7 Tony Womack 5
    8 Juan Castro 2
    9 George Crowe 1

    • so since turning 35 on 6/28/16, BP is already 6th on the list. He will almost definitely move to 4th unless something dramatic changes, and could conceivably jump to 3rd by the end of the year

  8. BP’s deal was signed in April 2012. The team had justifiably high expectations for that season and not re-signing him before he became a UFA likely causes a distraction. Also, I think, at the time, that they believed they could finally break past 2.5 million in attendance and that the post 2016 cable deal would be a huge upgrade….meaning those back end dollars would be affordable.
    Also, after 1 winning season in 10 years, showing a ” commitment” to a player that was productive and popular made PR sense. Keep in mind, the Reds commitment to winning was questioned for years and signing BP, Votto and Bailey was a means to eradicate that narrative. We can evaluate the baseball merits of the signing, but there were legitimate business reasons to make that move at the time.

    Why is he playing now? Perhaps it’s organizational ineptitude…or they would rather placate him temporarily….and not allow a dysfunctional environment that would negatively impact the younger players. If you run him out there every day and he doesn’t produce it ultimately gives you air cover to release or bench him.

    • And there’s adequate air cover to bench release him at this point as so nicely demonstrated by Chad. In this case, I think the clamor from so many camps to bench him now is actually the correct sentiment.

  9. so since turning 35 on 6/28/16, BP is already 6th on the list. He will almost definitely move to 4th unless something dramatic changes, and could conceivably jump to 3rd by the end of the year

  10. I will say this for BP. I think if he got to a contender then he would probably step up in Sept and in the playoffs. He’s the kind of guy that would probably love the big stage but nobody would ever want to stuck with paying him for 2017! The Reds would have to eat 80-90% of his money to even have a shot at moving him.

    Memo to Dick Williams…its just a slight variation on the old nauseating saying
    “If you used to really like someone but now you’re tired of their face then set them free”

  11. It is sad that BP’s final 2 years are headed down this road. He was such a great Red. Defensively, he was a joy to watch and is perhaps the greatest defensive second baseman of this generation. I remember watching him in his early years when he hit leadoff….He could hit 20 home runs, steal 30 bases, hit a triple to right center or bunt for a hit. He volunteered enthusiastically at Reds Camps and seemed to genuinely love an entire generation of young Reds fans, taking pictures with little kids, his arms around them,,, his smiling face beaming. This is the Brandon Phillips I want to remember.
    Unfortunately, he chose to get jealous of the Joey Votto contract to the point he called Bob Castellini a liar. He went all in for that 6 year 72 million dollar contract….and Castellini blinked. How ironic it is that the last year of that contract…the one he fought so hard for….is the one that is ruining his legacy. What if BP had signed a 5 year 58 million dollar deal and this was his last year as a Red? We would be celebrating him now in his last few months, like we did Johnny Cueto. Sometimes, you better be careful what you wish for …..because you just might get it.

    • dude why is it ruining his legacy? He is only doing what the owners signed him to do. You want him to void his contract and go someplace that I understand. But despising a player because he doesn’t want to leave the city that he loves is just being a petty person. I would do the same thing in BP’s shoes. He loves the Reds and perhaps he wants to finish his career as a Red. He has the power and control to make that happen because of stupid decisions of management and ownership that isn’t his fault.
      Go BP!

      • But through the lens of that episode that Old-School mentioned above, I think he’s correct in saying that some fans have soured to BP at this stage. It’s not an unreasonable viewpoint.

        It’s one thing to negotiate hard and win a favorable contract. Probably a lot less people would be griping if that’s all that happened. But, since he called the man who gave him such a generous contract a liar (and indirectly dissed his teammate),the bigger picture has changed. I think the team has been more than fair to BP and it would not at all be disrespectful to bench BP at this point (rebuilding concerns aside).

        • Then that’s on the fans.

          Owner said there wasn’t enough money, then signs Votto to that huge deal. Was BP correct in his assessment? Perhaps BP should have chose his words more wisely, but BP told the truth.

        • But what truth? Assuming it’s true that BP was told by ownership that there “wasn’t enough money”, wouldn’t that account for ownership’s plans to also sign Votto? He can’t reasonably have thought that Red’s budget was only accounting for his contract. If did, that’s solely on him.

          And regardless of how BP perceived it, he should very much own whatever legacy he created with his poor choice of words. They were calculated and it wasn’t just a one-off incident.

          Personally, I’ve really enjoyed BP as a player for the Reds and for some great things that he’s done for the community. But those negative incidents have also affected my perception of him. And a lot of other fans, it seems.

  12. Chad thank you for this article. You are probably my favorite writer here and that is because of two things. You are a fan of all of the Reds players and also you don’t overly compliment and focus your writing an any single individual.

    Keep up the good work.

  13. How is it that BP never seems to get a pass for his injuries (Votto, Bruce, Mez)
    He was great in 2013 before the injury. He was doing ok in 2014 as well. Had a very good 2015, and now is struggling this year after starting off the year on fire.

    Blame the management for not making sure that playing an injured player was neither good for the team or the player.

    • The Reds are a last place team again. Brandon Phillips is in the bottom tier of second baseman…yet still makes 14 million next year. He is obstructing the Reds team in moving forward with peraza at 2b and delaying the rebuild. He has handicapped their payroll….delaying the rebuild. No…mid market Reds can’t afford a 36 year old 2b making 14 million who is below average….they can’t afford to pay charity salaries to has been that consume huge chunks of team payroll. The bullpen could use that salary…joey votto is their best player….he’s earning his dollars on the field. Free Peraza.

    • Also let’s not forget “luck” factor. Others seem to be considered unlucky when things go bad. BP gets hate speech when he hits hard times.

  14. I had a chance to discuss this on the radio with Mo Egger (ESPN 1530) earlier this evening. The calls for BP to be benched are getting louder.

    I don’t think it’ll happen until after the trade deadline, however. If the Reds can move Cozart, they’ll plug Peraza in at SS and won’t be forced to upset Phillips. That’s my prediction.

  15. Chad,

    I agree. I think management would love to not have to make the move of benching or waiving BP. But they need to make the tough move because it is the right move. They have stated we are rebuilding, so why do they continue to start a player who will not be a part of the rebuilding process while keeping a potential part of this rebuild on the bench. It makes absolutely no sense.

    • Dave, Peraza was being groomed in the minors to play SS. So by your account, Cozart is the one that should be losing playing time.

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