The 2013 Phillies enter Spring Training having patched up some holes in their lineup during the offseason. General Manager
September 30, 2012; Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Ruben Amaro utilized the trade instead of throwing money at free agents, winding up with Ben Revere in center field and Michael Young at third base. While Young represents a potentially significant upgrade to Placido Polanco offensively, the aging Polanco continued to play above average defense throughout his tenure in Philadelphia, and should continue to aptly man the hot corner for the Miami Marlins this season.
Polanco’s range, represented best by ultimate zone rating, and ability to make more difficult plays, represented best by Baseball Prospectus’ fielding runs above average, have been declining as he ages, but despite this drop off, his defensive numbers still outdo Michael Young’s by a large margin.
The move to acquire Young given his defensive struggles baffles Phillies fans like me more and more given that Jimmy Rollins, a fantastic fielder in his own right, has shown reduction in his defensive statistics despite continuing to perform at an above average rate. Rollins’ great arm strength makes up for some of his diminishing range, but it won’t negate Michael Young’s abysmal defense at third. With ground ball pitchers like Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick, and John Lannan in the rotation, the Phillies infield will need to perform well to keep hitters off base as well as erase base runners using the double play.
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So the Phillies have an issue. Given the team’s need for above average defense in the infield, can the team overcome Young’s lack of defensive abilities in order to justify keeping his bat in the lineup?
The answer to that question is yes. While the idea of another platoon may sicken most fans, with the players the Phillies have in Spring Training, Charlie Manuel and his staff could use a mix of Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen to make a defensive platoon at third base. Last season, injuries to both Galvis and Polanco, forced Kevin Frandsen to take over at third. In his time at the hot corner, Frandsen played average defense, putting up 2 defensive runs saved, and a positive UZR/150 of 0.3.
While the sample size may not be large enough to put a lot of confidence behind these numbers, Phillies fans could see from the “eye test” that Frandsen kept his cool, and made up for an average throwing arm by applying good positioning in the field and utilizing his soft hands to make clean transfers. His defense wasn’t Polanco-like, but he filled in dutifully, proving that he can play third base at the Major League level.
Frandsen represents one option – the other is youngster Freddy Galvis. Galvis played a mix of second base and shortstop in 2012 before simultaneously being suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for taking a performance enhancing substance, and suffering a season ending back injury. While Galvis hasn’t played third base at the Major League level, his arm strength should be good enough, and his range, combined with Rollins’ at shortstop, would gobble up every ball hit to the left side. Almost all of Galvis’ value comes from his speed and defense, with very little deriving from his bat. In his time in the Majors in 2012, Galvis posted a meek 64 wRC+ and a lacking .217 true average.
On the other hand, Frandsen posted respectable batting numbers in his time with the big club in 2012. Frandsen posted a .317 true average, .362 wOBA, and a 127 wRC+. Okay, he put up these numbers in only 210 plate appearances, and he’s most likely due to regress a bit, but even if he regresses towards replacement level numbers, Frandsen’s offensive abilities should still beat out Galvis’.
Charlie Manuel and his staff have a pretty big decision to make regarding their backup infielders. Frandsen and Galvis both have the ability to fill in at 3rd base and 2nd base, but Galvis adds the ability to fill in for Jimmy Rollins at shortstop as well.
With Rollins isn’t not getting any younger, having a player on the roster who can play 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop on the bench gives Charlie Manuel much more flexibility when deciding to give some of his veteran infielders a day or two off. The issue is the drop in offense that comes with Galvis, but might not be as evident with Frandsen. The Phillies’ biggest issue heading into the season will be their lack of offense, while pitching will be their strength, so having Frandsen on the roster might be the better choice.
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Wait, though, before we anoint Frandsen as the de facto back up to Michael Young, a little creativity might make for a better situation. At 36 years old, Michael Young will need to be rested at least once a week if not more. With 2 of the 5 Phillies starters relying heavily on ground balls and very little on strikeouts, Manuel could play Galvis/Frandsen on days when John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick take the hill.
Kendrick’s of 45.8% and Lannan’s even higher career 53.0% career ground ball percentages mean that when they start, Phillies infielders will need to be on their toes on every pitch. Starting Galvis or Frandsen at third when Lannan and Kendrick start could enhance the Phillies’ chances of winning, but the better approach may be to start Young at third for the first few innings and then replace him with one of the better defenders in the 3rd or 4th inning.
While this may seem like a waste of a substitution, sinkerball pitchers tend to get more sink on their pitches as they tire, or as they pitch further into the game. Allowing Young to get an at bat or two in the beginning of the game and then replacing him with a better defender could defensively and offensively optimize the Phillies value at third base. Given Manuel’s track record there is very little chance of this happening. Look for Frandsen or Galvis to start more when Lannan or Kendrick takes the mound, and to come into the latter third of games as defensive replacements.
While some of this analysis and hypothetical lineup construction may seem like overkill, the Phillies will need show savvy decision making when choosing who plays where and when in order to end the season in the playoffs, let alone with an above .500 winning percentage. The team is already prepared to platoon John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown, and Delmon Young in the corner outfield spots, and Charlie Manuel should not be afraid to apply the same logic to third base. With dedication to the details, the Phillies might have a chance to get the most out of this squad and even surprise some people by sneaking into the playoffs.
Credit and thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus for the data that went into this analysis.
*Fielding runs above average data isn’t split by position, but Young did record ~ 1,936 innings at 3rd base from 2010 to 2013.