Phillies Nation


PN Mailbag Part Deux: Third, Utley, Upton

Headley had a monstrous 2012 but can the Phillies acquire him? Ian answers after the jump. Photo: AP

There was a lot of Phils’ news and rumors this week: the Phils were in on Josh Hamilton before they were out on Hamilton, they were finally linked to a bullpen arm, protected some Minor Leaguers while exposing others, and just as Ryan Dinger and I offered our opinions if the Phillies should make a play for the recently designated Chone Figgins, the Phillies signed a third baseman while Charlie showed confidence in Darin Ruf.

Today, a lot of the questions ended up focusing on filling third base.

Cole O. asks on our Facebook Page: What is the plan for (Josh) Fields?

Josh Fields was the Phils’ Black Friday bargain big pick-up this November. To me the best Black Friday purchase analogy for the Fields signing is buying a movie Iron Man on DVD for $1.96: yeah, you’ve already moved on to Blu-Ray and all your friends said Iron Man 2 was better, but for $1.96, if you don’t watch it, you likely won’t regret the $1.96 purchase price and if you do, it’s decent entertainment for the price.

The Phillies are not getting the Fields of 2007, not the one who best case was on the verge of a major breakout and worst case was on track to be a better version of Mark Reynolds. Fields hit .322/.392/.488 with 13 HR for the Dodgers Triple-A  affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, in 2012 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with below-average defense and turns 30 in December. Barring injuries to Kevin Frandsen and others, Fields will likely start the year in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

That being said, Fields could end up seeing some time with the Phillies in 2013. Best case, he may hit a few home runs and play OK defense. Worst case, he hits .200/.250/.300 for a week or two and quietly ends up in Triple-A again.

Mark A. asks on our Facebook Page: Do you think there is a chance for a trade to fill in the hole at 3rd, possibly Chase Headley?

First and foremost, Headley, for better or worse is no longer under the radar and would be incredibly costly in prospects to get. If the Phillies have pieces the Padres would want, it would officially devastate their own system.I’ve seen posters on our blog and on our Facebook Page suggest combinations including Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley, Domonic Brown, and others – think bigger. Headley wouldn’t be as expensive in prospects than say Giancarlo Stanton but it would be enough to wipe the cupboard clean.

At 28, Headley had a breakout season for the Padres, hitting .286/.376/.498 with 31 HR in the tough Petco Park. Headley finished fourth in the NL in fWAR, fifth in the MVP and has two years of team control left. Headley’s season, which all analysis has seemingly been overlooked, was by statistical terms an anomaly: before 2012, he had never hit more than 12 HR, he saved the Padres runs at third for only his second out of five seasons, and his ISO was 67 points higher than his career average. Not only is a trade for Headley not likely but, if I was in the front office of the Phillies, I would avoid for possible regression and because, with last year’s numbers and two years left of team control, he’s not going to come with a small price tag in prospects or in arbitration.

Mike G. from our Facebook Page asks: Are they still looking at the possibility of Utley playing 3rd and if he is able to play at all?

I’ll answer the second question first: Chase Utley will play in 2013 and he will be productive. Despite playing in just 83 games last season, Utley produced the ninth highest WAR among second baseman. Projected across a 162 game season, Utley would have finished second among second baseman to Robinson Cano. Coulda, woulda, shoulda though, right?

That said, there were a lot of positives last season concerning Utley: he provided a positive (+5.3 runs) contribution on defense, he contributed a positive (+4.3 runs) contribution on the base paths, his knees looked good as his ISO went up for the first time since 2009, and he walked more and struck out less than his career averages. Take that with the negatives (average was a career low .256) and 2013 should be a productive, fringe-All-Star type year for Utley.

For your first question, Utley will not, I repeat, will not see time at third base next year. While Utley has great range, he lacks a strong and accurate arm, and you’d be wasting what is one of the most beautiful, and practical, skills he has defensively: his double-play pivot. Utley volunteered last year but plans were scrapped because the Phils ran out of time. I think that is the right move moving forward.

The next one is quite long but it’s worth diving into…

Andrew G. from our Facebook Page asks: Although Hamilton is a “risk” with his past problems and need for a good support system, even though B.J. Upton is younger, isn’t he just as big of risk considering he hasn’t hit over .250 the past four seasons and averages 175 strikeouts a year? Don’t the Phillies have enough players hitting below .260 with a ton of strikeouts that makes B.J. Upton just as big of risk as Hamilton, even with Hamilton’s age and past problems?

Jim Salisbury asked pretty much this question, albeit shorter, of Ruben Amaro Jr. yesterday and his answer was quite interesting: the Phillies were the hardest team in the National League in 2012 to strike out. Imagine being a Nationals fan and seeing 231 more strikeouts! How angry would you be then?!

Anyways, the Phillies had 160 strikeouts from the center field position last year anyways. If Upton were to again get 175 strikeouts, it would be only 15 more over what they had last year, not in addition to it. Yes, perhaps one or two those will come in situations where it isn’t optimal, see Howard, Ryan, but random distribution and all things being equal, most would be the equivalent of a can-of-corn pop fly to left. As for the batting average thing, the Phils’ center fielders hit .253, two points below their team average of .255. Their average out of their center fielders was good enough for eighth in the National League and their team average was good enough for seventh in the National League, just six points behind the Nationals. Upton’s batting average is not good or bad enough to really swing the pendulum either way and that batting average isn’t a really productive way to measure success: five of the top eight teams in batting average did not make the NL Playoffs, including the first-in-batting Colorado Rockies, who won 64 games.

Upton has been a 4-WAR center fielder consistently since 2007, is eighth in WAR among center fielders over the last five seasons, was second in defensive value in that time to Michael Bourn, and third in base running value in that time behind Bourn and Shane Victorino. Yet, Upton’s 2012 proved to produce just 3.3 WAR, only 0.6 more than the Phillies accumulated while playing Victorino for half the season, Mayberry for most of the other half, Michael Martinez for a few games, mixed with a select number of Domonic Brown cameos. Upton provides value in a lot of aspects of his game but there is concern: I wouldn’t be concerned that Upton would detract from the team, I am concerned that Upton just wouldn’t improve it very much. Much of Hamilton’s concern is due to aging but Hamilton would provide a greater improvement, per say, if he played right: Hamilton is about a 4-WAR right fielder and the Phils only put up 1.2 WAR there last year – that nets them about another three wins instead of a net of a half-win.

Thank you for your questions this week, they were again fantastic! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Keep an eye out on our FB Page for the official mailbag thread on Saturday afternoons and you can always Tweet questions @ianriccaboni.

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