The Seattle Mariners have claimed outfielder Phillip Ervin from the Cincinnati Reds. Ervin, a 2013 1st round draft pick of the Reds, was designated for assignment on Friday. Ervin is joining several other now former Reds in the Seattle organization, who in recent years have picked up infielder Shed Long Jr. as well as outfield prospect Taylor Trammell.
From 2017-2019 Phillip Ervin was an average Major League hitter for the Cincinnati Reds. He played in 200 games and picked up 571 plate appearances in that time, hitting .262/.326/.438 with 23 doubles, 8 triples, 17 home runs, 14 steals, 42 walks, and he struck out 138 times. His OPS+ over that span was 98 (100 is league average). Ervin also saw action at all three outfield spots, and in 2018 he even recorded an out on the mound.
The 2020 season treated him like the 2020 decade has been treating the rest of us: Without empathy and with intent to try and break our soul. Phillip Ervin went 3-35 in 19 games. He walked six times and he struck out eight times. That means when he put the ball in play this year for the Reds he had three hits in 27 chances. That’s a BABIP of .111. That kind of thing can and will happen in small sample sizes, but it’s got to be demoralizing, too.
When we dive into the stats for 2020 to compare them to the past – well, there are some things to note. His exit velocity was higher in 2020 than it was in 2019 and 2017, and half a MPH lower than it was in 2018. That said, every season of his career has been between 84.9 and 85.9 MPH, so the difference isn’t noteworthy. His launch angle in 2020 was right in the middle of where it was in 2017 and 2018. But his “expected” numbers based on Statcast data tell a very different story. His expected batting average (xBA) was just .122. His expected slugging percentage (xSLG) was just .155. Statcast doesn’t think he was unlucky based on the quality of contact he was making – but we do need to also understand how small the sample size is here and that it’s not all that useful to look at with regards to projecting forward his performance.
Phillip Ervin’s hard hit percentage according to Statcast was just 18.5% this season. It’s been 31.1% and 34.6% in the last two seasons. His hard hit % according to Fangraphs was 33.3% – not far off from his career rate of 34.6%. Why the numbers are so different between the two sites, I’m not entirely sure. What is interesting, though, is that the line drive rate from Fangraphs had Ervin at just 11.1%, which is less than half of his career rate of 23.8%. Ervin did make contact more frequently, and he walked more frequently in 2020 (again, small sample size alert here) than he has in the past.
For Seattle, they probably just landed themselves a solid bench outfielder who can cover all three spots and likely be a useful bat off of the bench. What’s happened in 2020 for Phillip Ervin so far at the plate has been a disaster. But in the grand scheme of things he had a weeks worth of plate appearances for a starter and he simply struggled in them. His track record is much better than what he showed in that time frame. The Reds couldn’t option him to the minors since he was out of options. And they felt they couldn’t wait any longer for things to start balancing out, either, and that left them with the choice to put him on waivers. In a longer season, Ervin may still be a Red. But like most things in 2020 – it’s not normal.