Up the Middle: Brandon Phillips

When I get bored, I like to look through the rosters and transaction logs of the teams that won some of my leagues. I found a common name this year in Brandon Phillips, whose 103 runs batted in surely helped a lot of teams even with the dropoff in steals. He went pretty high in redraft leagues, so it’s not like he was a steal or anything, it’s just that 100+ RBI from a middle infielder isn’t really par for the course and probably gave a lot of owners a nice little boost. Amid all of the recent talk of the Reds shopping Phillips hard this offseason, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do with the 32-year-old second baseman if he was on my fantasy dynasty league roster. Despite the great season in 2013, and all of the consistently good numbers over the last few years with the Reds, I read this in the little ESPN player blurb about Phillips:

“This is bad news for those who own Phillips in dynasty leagues, as his value would drop significantly in a less potent lineup.”

I’m not sure it’s just the lineup that is going to hurt him if (or when) he gets moved. But I also think there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Over the last 5 years, he’s been one of the top 5 or 6 second basemen in every standard roto category with the exception of batting average.

The bad news is that Phillips is now on the wrong side of 32 and that usually doesn’t bode well for second basemen. Dave Cameron wrote a great article at Fangraphs in 2011 that referenced the decline among players at the keystone position. But apart from his age, a new home ballpark could impact Phillips going forward as well. Phillips looks like Mr. Consistency in the home run department at first glance. He hit exactly 18 homers in each of the last four seasons. GABP is known to be a hitter’s park, but let’s look at the splits for the hell of it. Of the 72 home runs he’s hit over the last four years, 46 were in Cincinnati. In fact, in 2012 he hit 15 of his 18 homers there, and in 2011 he hit 14 of his 18 homers at GABP. Of course he could end up in a stadium that is every bit as hitter friendly, but with his speed most likely declining with his age, the power is going to be one of his better assets. Since 18 dingers isn’t exactly “elite” to begin with, he can’t afford to take a hit in that category too.

The good news is that Phillips is still going to provide value to fantasy owners over the next couple years and since we’re talking dynasty, we don’t necessarily have to be as concerned with his ADP or “overdrafting” a guy like Phillips next year. If you’ve owned him, you’ve probably loved the  steady production. He hasn’t played less than 140 games since 2005, so there’s no reason to believe he is just suddenly going to fall off a cliff in terms of his health. He’s also as safe a bet for 80 runs and 80 RBIs as you’ll find among veteran second basemen.

All in all, I’d take the trade hype with a grain of salt and not abandon ship yet if you’re a Phillips owner. Despite the favorable home run totals at home and the concern over a second baseman’s ability to stay healthy into his thirties, there’s no reason to think that Phillips can’t continue to be a dynamic, valuable player for a few more years and contribute to your fantasy team no matter where he lands.

Mike also writes for Razzball. You can follow him on the Twitter @643ball

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  1. PaulyOH
    November 15, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Brandon Phillips’ RBI totals will likely fall off a cliff no matter what team he goes to. He was batting cleanup most of the season behind on-base machines Choo and Votto. He was mediocre at best and still drove in 103. It’s the reason I targeted Ryan Ludwick as a sleeper in drafts. I figured he was a lock for 100 RBIs batting cleanup for the Reds….then he goes out and gums up his shoulder on Opening Day.

    Also, Phillips won’t be batting cleanup anywhere else. I’m pegging him for 70-75 RBIs max next season. Stay away….far away.

    • November 16, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Thanks for your comment, Pauly. Even 75 RBIs would have made him a top ten second baseman in that category. I guess that was what I was trying to say…that while his numbers will of course drop in new surroundings and with age, but given the position he okays and his history of production we shouldn’t write him off entirely now. It would be a mistake to draft him high based off of last season, but it’s my opinion that an equally big mistake would be to avoid him entirely due to this trade business. Thanks for reading!

  2. November 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Though Phillips is a great player, he has a big head off the field, I think he has played his last game as a Red in my opinion

    • November 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, DatSquirrel. I agree he’s most likely headed elsewhere, and I do remember similar comments about off the field stuff when he was here in Cleveland.

      • November 16, 2013 at 9:39 pm

        He was my favorite player until I heard about his leave this season and lost interest in liking a ‘playa’. Good thing we got Votto to root for, now he’s a team player.

  3. November 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    @datsquirrel12 – Yup, it’s hard to separate all of that stuff out. I still like the way Phillips plays the game no matter what he says off the field, ut I also don’t own any stake in the Reds so it’s easy for me to be indifferent. Then again I own Votto (who I’d like to see get some of those RBIs sent his way).

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