While the Reds’ bats last night were about as quiet as a middle-aged father at a Miley Cyrus concert, one hitter kept his recent form going with a 2-for-3 night—Brandon Phillips. Dat Dude notched his seventh multi-hit game in the last two weeks, boosting his season slash line to .319/.358/.353.

That last number—the slugging percentage—is the one underwhelming part of that troika of numbers. We’ve all known that Brandon is getting older and thus going to lose some power, but the drop-off so far this year has been pronounced. Phillips has only managed two extra-base hits all season (a double and a home run), which makes sense when looking at his average distance on fly balls. This year, he’s averaging just 282.14 feet per fly ball which, for context, is just a hair better than Billy Hamilton’s 280.93 feet.

Phillips is only two years removed from hitting 18 homers (which, strangely, is a total he repeated for four straight years from 2010 to 2013), but time comes to claim all men’s fitness and vigor as this chart shows:

Phillips FB dist

It’s not just that he’s unable to hit any fly balls as far as he used to, but the draining of his power has crept into the heart of the strike zone over the past two seasons. That’s not to suggest Phillips can’t still whack a meatball down the middle out of the park, but he’s getting closer to only being able to turn on those pitches with authority and not just any decent fastball in the middle of the zone. You can get the gist from this chart of his fly balls in play this season:

Phillips_2015_FB

He’s gotten unlucky on a few of those fly outs as you can see, but the vast majority aren’t even getting out to the warning track anymore.

Instead of lamenting that Brandon is not the power hitter he once was, it’s time to embrace the new era of Brandon Phillips as a sort of ersatz Ichiro—an adroit slap hitter who can smack singles to all fields. Those last two weeks in which Phillips managed seven multi-hit games have been a clinic on putting the ball in play. Since April 26, he’s been held hitless in only two games while going 20-53 (good for a .377 average), striking out just four times, and collecting those two extra-base hits in that stretch.

Nick Carrington touched a bit on Phillips’ batted ball data last week when he covered the Reds lineup’s tendencies, but BP’s performance of late has made his numbers stand out a little more:

GB%

LD%

FB%

BIP/PA

BABIP

4/6 – 4/25

34.5%

30.9%

36.4%

84.6%

.309

4/26 – 5/11

44.9%

24.5%

30.6%

82.7%

.396

Certainly, the first reaction is that Brandon’s .396 BABIP over the last two-plus weeks is beyond unsustainable. And while he absolutely won’t continue that rate of success, the huge uptick in his ground ball rate gives us reason to think Phillips won’t necessarily collapse in order to return to his career average. Whether consciously or not, he’s cut down on his fly balls in play (which, since he’s not hitting those as far, aren’t going to drop for hits much anymore) and that in tandem with the ground ball rate has him knocking singles to all fields lately.

Phillips spray before and after 4-26

Now here’s the theory, building off something Grant Freking first floated last week—though mentioning this brings back memories of some of Dusty Baker’s worse batting orders, it’s time to (at least temporarily) install Brandon Phillips in the leadoff spot. Billy Hamilton has looked lost at the plate lately and, with the frequency that the leadoff hitter steps up to the plate in crucial situations, it’s time to go with the contact hitter over the speed demon. Earlier in the season, the Reds were blessed with a lot of early leads thanks to Billy getting on, getting himself over, and then letting Joey or Todd finish the job of driving him in. With the offense struggling of late, concentrating the talent and hot hands at the top could be the elixir to bring back those first-inning leads. Brandon likely won’t stretch many singles into doubles or swipe second any time he reaches first, but perhaps this lineup could string a few hits together and get a run or more in before the opposing starter is fully loose:

 Phillips
Votto
 Frazier
 Byrd
Cozart
Bruce
Hamilton
Peña

What are your thoughts, Redleg Nation?