Brandon Phillips was one of the many veterans unable to find a landing spot in free agency this winter, but the longtime Reds second baseman tells MLB.com’s Jon Morosi that he’s still holding out hope for a return to the big leagues (Twitter links). The 36-year-old Phillips notes that he’s open to platoon or bench roles, adding that he’s also amenable to bouncing around the infield and playing some outfield as well.
Certainly, Phillips isn’t the All-Star-caliber player that he once was. While he batted .280/.330/.449 with above-average power and baserunning in addition to superlative defensive contributions from 2007-12, his overall output has diminished in recent years. Nonetheless, Phillips still posted a quite respectable .285/.319/.416 slash in 604 plate appearances between the Braves and Angels last season, delivering 13 homers and 11 steals. His defensive ratings did dip in 2016-17, with both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved providing a negative valuation of his glovework. He’s also been inefficient on the bases, as evidenced by a 25-for-41 success rate (61 percent) in stolen-base attempts over the past two seasons.
While it’s unlikely that a club would add Phillips and plug him into a regular role in the near term, there’s still some potential value to be had. Phillips is perennially one of the toughest strikeouts in the league, even in recent years (11.5 percent from 2015-17), and has batted .290 over the past three seasons. That average hasn’t been artificially inflated with luck (.312 BABIP) and has helped him to get on base at a roughly league-average clip in that time (.322), even though he rarely walks. He’s also maintained a quality line-drive rate, including a 22.2 percent mark in 2017.
On the other hand, Phillips has walked in fewer than four percent of his plate appearances in that three-year run, and his power has dropped from the aforementioned 2007-12 peak. While it’s true that he still hits an above-average share of line drives, his overall hard-contact rate is below the league average, and he didn’t rate well in Statcast metrics such as exit velocity and barreled-ball rate. In fact, at a time when the general thought process throughout the league seemed to be to hit the ball in the air and focus more on launch angle, Phillips posted a career-low 28.3 percent fly-ball rate — one of the lowest marks of any qualified hitter (130th out of 144, to be exact).
All that said, Phillips was worth about a win in 2017 per Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, while Fangraphs was a bit more bullish at 1.6 WAR. In all, he’s a career .275/.320/.421 hitter in nearly 8,000 big league plate appearances. Morosi notes that Phillips has been working out at Georgia Tech while hoping for an opportunity, though it stands to reason that he’d likely need some minor league or extended spring games to ready himself for another run in the Majors.