The Phillies trade of Shane Victorino last season left a gaping hole in centerfield heading into the 2013 campaign. With a bevy of free agent centerfielders available, and even more available via trade, the Phillies stood to shore up the position for years to come. While I argued for the likes of Peter Bourjos, Angel Pagan or Denard Span, the Phillies opted to acquire Ben Revere, a young, speedy, team-controlled outfielder still approaching his prime. The move was met with mixed reviews. Some were scared off by his utter lack of power while others were fans of his defense, baserunning and potential.
By the end of April, most fans were ready to throw in the towel on the Revere experiment, as his weaknesses were magnified and his strengths didn’t look that strong. He was hitting .200 with a .234 on-base percentage in an everyday role. He hit into more double plays than are typically associated with a speedster and failed to beat out dribblers and infield grounders. While his range proved solid up the middle, it wasn’t exemplary, and was at least partly canceled out by his arm. Revere simply wasn’t playing good baseball and was a big reason for the Phillies slow start.
John Mayberry, Jr got off to a much better start, hitting .242/.324/.470 in April, while playing adequate defense at the most important outfield post. As fans grew tired of Revere’s struggles, and the general approach that led to his lack of productivity, many gravitated towards Mayberry as the everyday starter.
But then something funny happened – Revere gradually started hitting well while Mayberry’s power was sapped. From May 1-June 3 — prior to Tuesday night’s dramatic walkoff win — Revere hit .300/.344/.344 while Mayberry hit .280/.308/.300. Yes, Revere actually outslugged Mayberry for over a month. Two extra inning home runs for Mayberry, coupled with Revere’s 0-5 on Tuesday, shifted the paradigm but this comparison offers yet another reminder of why decisions shouldn’t be based on small sample sizes when much more tangible evidence about true talent levels exist.
Who the Phillies should start in centerfield isn’t a cut and dried decision, as listeners of 94.1 WIP felt Wednesday morning, when 69% voted for Mayberry. Rather, it depends upon the organization’s goals and a realistic team projection, which may prove difficult for a front office that may undergo significant changes moving forward.
One of the problems the Phillies have with this Revere-Mayberry scenario is that each player represents an archetype that proves useful in different situations. Revere is a young, everyday player worth a full and extended look. His playing time shouldn’t be tinkered with, as his career numbers are better than what he has shown so far, and it’s tougher to break out of a funk when your playing time is reduced.
He is a solid centerfielder for a team banking on its developmental staff helping him reach his potential in a non-contending phase. Mayberry is a stopgap solution. He is the type of player a team sticks with in centerfield because he is cheap and the front office opted against a big-ticket free agent.
Since the team seems committed to using Delmon Young in right field, the Phillies are at a philosophical fork in the road, because it makes little sense to platoon Revere and Mayberry. Even though they bat from opposite sides, Revere is best utilized with more frequent playing time in center, while Mayberry is best utilized as part of a corner outfield platoon. What makes the most sense is to go with a Brown-Revere-Mayberry outfield, as JMJ already provides what Delmon Young does at the plate, but with much improved baserunning and fielding to boot.
Sure, Young may have had a good playoff series last year, but he is worse than Mayberry and the numbers back up that assertion. Since last season, Mayberry has batted 608 times with a .250/.306/.407 line, a .310 wOBA and 93 wRC+. Young has batted 719 times, with a .260/.293/.412 line, a .305 wOBA and 89 wRC+. Mayberry has 18 home runs to Young’s 23 but the two are equals on an AB/HR basis.
With Mayberry’s extra-inning heroics Tuesday night, the Phillies might feel pressured to work him into the lineup more often, and that will unfortunately come at the expense of Revere. Revere has been playing better over the last 35 days and will continue to see his batting line improve barring some serious fluke — his .281 BABIP would represent a marked drop from his career average if it was sustained. Removing him from the lineup isn’t going to improve the team because that would be a present decision based off of past numbers.
The decision of who to play in the outfield should be based on projections moving forward as well as the team’s overall plans.
The Phillies don’t know what they are right now. At 30-30, they are a hot streak away from being in the thick of the Wild Card race, but they have been unable to put together even a lukewarm streak this season. Treating Delmon Young as a concrete starter in the same way the team views Domonic Brown is a mistake. With Brown set in left, the Phillies would be better suited to play Revere full-time in center to truly gauge what they have over a meaningful sample, while using some type of NixBerry platoon in right field.
If the team is content with Young playing everyday, it should test the trade markets with Mayberry or commit to using him as a reserve. Juggling he and Revere in center doesn’t move the needle this season and could hurt the development of someone they acquired as a long-term centerfield solution.
The first step is understanding where the team is and how it figures to fare moving forward. The team has done enough mortgaging the future for short-term success, and limiting Revere’s playing time is not the answer. Mayberry should play more often, but it should come at the expense of Young, not Revere.