Brandon Phillips is the crazy uncle of the Reds. He says whatever he wants to say, and we mostly love him for it. Lately, he’s stuck his foot in his mouth a lot less, though. Say what you want about Dusty Baker, but Phillips has clearly matured under his tutelage. Phillips is someone many fans didn’t like several years ago but is now second only to Joey Votto in popularity among Reds players.

In addition to being fun to have around, Phillips has always been fun to watch. Who could forget this play, for instance. There are plenty more. Just go to youtube and, despite MLB’s ridiculous policies, you’ll be entertained for a while watching Phillips.

Last year was, without a doubt, the best year Phillips has had in the majors. His 6.0 WAR put him head and shoulders above all other NL second basemen. And, as much as it pains me to write it, that’s not going to happen again.

Phillips is good, and he’s going to keep being good for a while, but last year was almost certainly his career year and it was largely the result of luck. I write about batting average on balls in play (BABIP) a lot here, but there’s good reason. Consider for instance, that Phillips’ improved offensive performance last year was almost entirely the result of a batting average that went up by 25 points from 2010. Consider also that his 2011 BABIP was 30 points higher than his career level and, well, you can see where that came from.

I’ve written before that I expect Phillips to decline gracefully, and I still do, but we should start to see that decline in 2012. Every projection system I can get to agrees. They are, frankly, startling in the similarity of their projections for Phillips. His projected OPS ranges from .753 to .769. When five different systems are all a couple of base hits away from agreement, you can pretty much take that to the bank. If there is a silver lining offensively, it’s that the peripherals that aren’t based on luck (walk rate, K rate, etc.) have been very consistent for the last several years and don’t point to Phillips falling off a cliff. We should simply expect the return of his pre-2011 numbers.

Defense should also be a concern, however. Fielding declines early, and Brandon derives a lot of his value from his glove. I wouldn’t expect his hands to age, but he’s going to lose a step eventually. He’ll still be good out there, but again, don’t be surprised if he isn’t quite as amazing this year as he has been.

So, after the Votto optimism, we have to check ourselves a bit and face the facts that the Reds aren’t going to be as good at second as they were last year. Fortunately, they’ll still be good and Phillips still figures to play most every game. He’s had some niggling injuries in the past, but he’s still a good bet to take the field at least 150 times, so there’s no need to discuss a back up, yet. Much like Votto, if the Phillips spends significant time off the field, the Reds are going to have problems.

2012 Slash-line Prediction: .275/.330/.435

2011 First Base WAR: 6.0

2012 Best Guess WAR: 4.0

Projected Difference: -2.0

2012 Floor WAR: 2.5

2012 Ceiling WAR: 6.0

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