Here is the Brandon Phillips article (and some myth debunking) by John Erardi from yesterday’s Enquirer:
One can tell by listening to Reds radio broadcasters Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley how enamored they are of Brandon Phillips as a hitter and acrobatic second baseman. But we might have learned something about Philips they don’t know. He’s not swinging at as many pitches this year.
A lack of selectivity usually means more outs. But Phillips’ natural aggressiveness doesn’t hurt him as much as most other swing-happy hitters, because he’s so good at putting the ball in play. Add that to the fact that he’s swinging at fewer pitches this year – four percent less than in his 30-30 (home runs/steals) season in 2007, and three percent less than in 2008 and 0.5 percent less than last year – and it’s made him more productive.
This year, he’s swinging at 51 percent of the pitches he sees – still Top 40 in the league – but he’s making fewer outs than most of the other guys in that category. In other words, even though he still swings at a lot of balls out of the strike zone, he puts them in play better than most guys.
In 2008, for instance, his contact rate outside of the strike zone was just 52 percent. So far this year it’s a whopping 68 percent.
Although still aggressive, he seems to be looking for pitches he can hammer – even if they aren’t strikes. In other words, he’s still a bad-ball hitter, but he’s swinging at balls closer to the strike zone than he has in the past, given his contact rate. Or, put another way: He’s being selective about his un-selectivity. Of the 40 or so hitters who swing at 50% or more of the pitches they see, only 16 make better contact than Phillips. If Phillips wasn’t regularly putting the ball in play, his value would be greatly diminished at the plate, but he obviously has great hand-eye coordination. Over-aggressiveness probably helped him to hit all those homers in 2007 – he was trying to jerk everything – but now he’s showing power to all fields: Doubles power. He’s become a better hitter and tougher out because of it.
Phillips is a good two-strike hitter. The National League average when hitting with two strikes – .184 batting average, .256 on-base-percentage and .281 slugging percentage – is way below Phillips’ numbers: he’s 74 points higher in batting average (.258), 82 points higher in on-base percentage (.338) and 52 points higher in slugging average (.333). It’s why he’s a tough out.
That’s typical of the best hitters, especially the old-school guys: They focus more on putting the ball in play with two strikes.
Phillips doesn’t walk very much, but he also doesn’t strike out very much. His ability at making contact despite being hyper-aggressive is what allows him to be productive even in the No. 2 hole where, typically, the good eyes thrive. In fact, the numbers show Phillips is more patient when he’s in the No. 2 hole.
He has a .366 on-base percentage this year, his best by far as a Red. In 2007, it was .331, in 2008 .312 and 2009 .329. His on-base percentage is very much driven by his batting average, because he doesn’t walk much. But, to his credit, he’s walking more this year than ever: 8 percent of his plate appearances, compared to 4.7 percent in 2007, 6.4 percent in 2008 and 6.8 percent in 2009. He’s hard to strike out: only 13 percent of his plate appearances result in Ks. That’s considerably lower than most of his teammates – pretty impressive, given that he’s going outside the zone on so many of his swings. Here’s some other Reds walk and strikeout percentages, respectively:
Name BB% K%
Joey Votto 12.7 21.4
Jay Bruce 10.4 25.4
Drew Stubbs 9.4 31.6
Scott Rolen 8.6 16.8
Brandon Phillips 7.9 13.3
Jonny Gomes 6.6 27.6
Orlando Cabrera 5.3 10.9
Despite leading the National League in runs scored so far this season, the Reds are again trailing the pack in the leadoff spot. The myth is that Orlando Cabrera jump-started the Reds offense, when Dusty Baker moved him to the leadoff spot May 7.
The evidence shows the jump-start was more coincidence than anything. Since May 7, the Reds are batting .293 as a team, have a .356 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging average. Before May 7, they were .241/.314/.391. In other words, Cabrera in the leadoff hole isn’t driving this team, the team is driving this team. And Cabrera hasn’t been much better batting leadoff (.263/.307/.349) than he has batting elsewhere in the order (255/.294/.351).
The Reds leadoff men were 19 points worse than the MLB average in 2008, 23 points worse last year and are a whopping 42 points worse this season.
Great article and really explains Phillips great year. He’s not doing things really different, just more effectively.
Also, it debunks the Cabrera “kickstarting the offense” myth; great work. Now if someone would just debunk the Cabrera’s “great defense” myth in language that “Joe Fan” (like me) could understand.
This article was also co-written by our friend Slyde from Red Reporter…great work guys.