In 2013, Brandon Phillips had two excellent months to start the season. Through the end of May, Phillips had hit .296/.347/.481. Then, he was hit on the forearm, and his season took a turn for the worst as he hit .241/.288/.349 after the injury.
Brandon Phillips had his worst offensive season as a Red in 2014. He posted the lowest OBP, SLUG%, and runs created score (wRC+) of his Reds career. He also stole only two bases, his lowest total since he became a starter. But Phillips battled injuries most of the year including going on the DL after thumb surgery in July. He had an excellent May and a solid June before getting hurt.
Phillips entered 2015 with more questions surrounding him than answers. How much of his decline over the last three years can be attributed to injuries? Would a healthy Phillips produce at an above-average rate to couple with his impressive defense?
His current slash line stands at .286/.323/.350 with three homeruns. PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ batting average is really good, and his OBP is slightly above the league average mark (.319). But his slugging percentage is way off the league pace and the lowest of his career by far. He has a runs created score of 85, which is 15% below league average. But of course, that isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the whole story.
He has had an interesting year to say the least. And a familiar one in many respects. Phillips had a poor April but hit really well in May with a .306/.355/.400 slash line.
But on May 12, Phillips once again sustained an injury; This time, he was diagnosed with turf toe. He missed two games before returning and eventually re-aggravating the injury later in the month, causing him to miss a few more starts. In early June, Phillips sustained a groin injury that forced him out of the starting lineup for a few more games.Now, he has a jammed thumb that caused him to miss last night’s start.
Through May 23rd, Phillips was hitting .317/.357/.379 on the season. AfterÃ‚Â re-aggravating the turf toe injury around that time, Phillips has hit .247/.278/.318. Needless to say, he has struggled mightily. He seems to be on a similar path to past years: start fairly well, get hurt, struggle.
Phillips true offensive talent at his point in his career is difficult to pinpoint. He is in the decline phase but has had strong stretches when healthy. Phillips biggest issue is that his current offensive game leaves little margin for error.
First, some of the positives. Phillips doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t strike out much. Never has. He has struck out at a smaller rate than all Reds qualified hitters. So, even as Phillips ages, he still makes plenty of contact. And this season, he has made plenty of good contact with a career high line drive rate.
All of those line drives have led to a high batting average. The league on average hits .257 thus far. He has hit consistently higher than that when healthy. Phillips appears to haveÃ‚Â lost weight this last offseason, and he may have regained some bat speed that has allowed him to hit more line drives. Or it may just be a relatively small sample size.
And Phillips ability to steal bases has returned in some capacity as well. After stealing only seven between 2013 and 2014 combined, Phillips has eight stolen bases in nine attempts this season. The injuries might slow him down some now, but Phillips has that weapon back in his arsenal to some extent.
Phillips smaller physique may be leading to a few more infield hits as well. He has four infield hits so far this year after only collecting six all of last season. He has seemingly brought back a little of the speed that he had earlier in his career.
All of these things show that Phillips still has solid tools to work with. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s making more contact than he ever has and striking out less. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hitting more line drives and has some speed. But two other parts of his game have made PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ margin for error extremely small.
Phillips has lost all semblance of power, producingÃ‚Â has the same number of extra base hits as Skip Schumaker. Think about that. He has over a 130 more plate appearances than Schumaker. During his prime, Phillips provided consistent power, averaging 20 homeruns from 2006-2013. In 2014, he hit eight. Phillips has only three this season to go along with only six doubles and zero triples.
The lack of power means Phillips needs to get on base at a high rate to produce on offense. We know he hits for a high average, but he has always struggled in another part of the game.
He refuses to walk. His 4.9% walk rate this season is even less than his career mark of 5.7%. Phillips needs to hit for a high average to get on base enough to still be successful. In the past, he has hit for enough power to offset a middling OBP. He canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do that anymore. The reason his runs created score is so low (85 wRC+) is that a guy who gets on base at a roughly league average rate and hits for zero power isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really providing that much value.
The lack of power and walks creates an extremely small margin for error. Phillips is still an offensive force if he hits somewhere between .295 and .315. But he has hit over .285 only twice in his career.
And the injuries just complicate the problem because they affect the tools he still has. We have seen him hit for a high enough average when healthy to still provide value, but at this point, we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t count on Phillips to remain healthy during the season. Injuries are part of the aging process. The body breaks down more and heals more slowly. Injuries are certainly a part of Phillips’ present, and we should expect them to be a part of his future.
I believe Phillips is still a good offensive player when healthy, but if he wants to remain valuable, he needs to either start hitting for more power or get on base more. He probably isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to regain much power (though he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have this little power, can he?). So, he better figure out a way to get on base more. His issues arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talent; they are a combination of age, approach, and consistent injury. One of those three he has control over.