Stop Dismissing John Mayberry, Start Using Him Properly


Let me preface this by saying: stop this nonsense. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

  • UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is a metric measuring defensive runs saved by a position player, centered on zero. An above-average player has a positive UZR, and vice-versa for below-average players. Read more here.

  • wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) is a metric measuring total offensive runs produced above/below average by a player, centered around 100.  It is based on Tom Tango’s wOBA, and adjusted for park factors and league average. Read more here.

Around mid-November, Philadelphia fans thought they had a pretty certain roster of position players. This has proven true with starters, as 1-8 on the lineup card was written in stone from the first day of the Winter Meetings.

However, from the perspective of the bench, that situation sure has changed quickly. In the last week, three of the top contenders for opening day bench positions have been removed from the conversation.

Darin Ruf has strained his oblique, leaving him out 4-6 weeks. Freddy Galvis was diagnosed with MRSA this past Friday, and has an unknown recovery timetable.

Add on to that yesterday’s surprising outrighting of INF Kevin Frandsen to Lehigh Valley, that leaves only OF/1B John Mayberry Jr., C Wil Nieves, and a ragtag bunch of non-roster invitees to fill the void.

The losses of Ruf and Galvis hit the depth hard, but there was already the likely chance that one or both would begin the season at AAA Lehigh Valley.

Both are young enough to have options remaining, and other invitees have emerged in camp that could be valuable immediately at the major league level. The impact of their injuries won’t be immediate.

Even Mayberry’s tenure is in question – reports are that the team has been trying to trade him in recent days. However, until that develops, I want to work under the assumption that he remains with the team.

This idea, despite the majority of fan sentiment, is a good and possibly very productive thing. There’s a similar prejudice against Mayberry that exists with Kyle Kendrick; to many, inconsistency is equivalent to consistently bad.

His inconsistency has been influenced by a lack of OF depth over the last two years, forcing him to be placed in situations that don’t play to his skills. 

The key is maximizing the utility in a given player’s skill set. It’s similar to how Ethan Martin currently looks more likely to become a dynamite late-inning reliever than a mid-rotation starter, and knowing not to throw him out for 4 2/3 innings every fifth day.

So, do not misunderstand and think I’m claiming Mayberry is an everyday player, or even a good backup CF.

Tony Gwynn’s addition means Mayberry’s defensive flaws won’t present themselves. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade of Shane Victorino in 2012 and Ben Revere‘s freak injury in 2013, Mayberry has been shifted into an everyday CF role around the trade deadline each of the last two seasons. For his career, he owns a CF UZR of -15.4, which is quite bad. However, between LF, RF, and 1B he rates as slightly above-average (+4.5 total UZR).

Ok, so he’s an adequate defensive corner OF/1B, but how useful is that? His bat is still awful.

Again, it’s about a role – yes, he has a career .245/.304/.430 slash line, with a 99 wRC+ (actually, that’s about dead average), but look at his strength – batting against LHP. In that role, he’s .274/.321/.526 with a 126 wRC+ for his career, WELL above-average.

A cynical reader might say that his oddly-stellar 2011 just isn’t representative of his talents and he’s been a different player since. Fine. In the last two years against LHP, Mayberry has batted:

  • 2012: .271/.317/.494, 115 wRC+ (roughly his average, with a little less power)
  • 2013: .240/.296/.460, 105 wRC+ (a noticeable dip)

These lowered 2013 values coincide with a 40 point drop in BAbip from his career average, specifically against LHP. He has a career .287 BAbip, and in 2013 his splits were .286 vs RHP/.244 vs LHP.

Accompanied by only a modest dip in line drive percentage, expect a rebound against southpaws in 2013.

So, to summarize – keep Mayberry out of CF, and away from RHP. This sounds easy, but he was forced into that position the last two seasons, why would it be different in 2014?

Three reasons.

One: Ben Revere’s 2013 injury was unpredictable. He’s still very young, and you can’t presume he be similarly injured again (although you can prepare the appropriate depth).

Two: There’s finally a legitimate defensive backup option in the organization. Tony Gwynn Jr. looks to make the opening day roster and is a plus defender in all three OF positions (+40.2 career OF UZR; 20.1 CF UZR).

In any instance where a defensive replacement or occasional CF start is needed, Gwynn will get the call. His LH bat doesn’t provide anything special, but there are additional infield options for a bench bat from that side of the plate.

Three: The starter at 1B has wRC+ scores of 74, 59, and 44 against LHP over the last three seasons. If fans are lucky, Mayberry will split time with Ryan Howard at the position – he is much stronger defensively, and provides competence and power against LHP.

This means Mayberry can hopefully be relegated to the corners, providing a RH power bat off of the bench, and if the team is smart, half of a 1B platoon. 

Howard and Mayberry would make a strong platoon at 1B. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

GM Ruben Amaro has already spoken multiple times about the possibility of platooning Ryan Howard, so aside from it being strategically smart, it’s also practically-speaking possible.

Howard has still provided near-elite levels of production with his bat against RHP as recently as last season, hitting .302/.357/.522 with a 136 wRC+ in an injury-shortened 2013.

While some mention the possibility of using Ruf or Maikel Franco as potential platoon candidates, Ruf is injured and Franco’s bat just isn’t ready yet to face MLB pitching.

Mayberry makes the most sense to use, is cheap, and his bat would play up well. He would likely see 25-30% of PAs from 1B, plus some pinch hits and the occasional OF start.

If done by a small market team, this platoon would be a common sense move and applauded.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what each has done when batting with the platoon advantage in their favor, over the last three seasons.

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That’s a combined .865 OPS, for those curious.

Obviously players age, but anywhere near that neighborhood (with a rebound from Mayberry, and purportedly healthy Howard, it’s possible) would be a crucial step if the Phillies expect to flail into the second wild card spot.

Regardless of actual playoff odds, it’s the smart baseball move. Both Mayberry and Howard would see their overall stat lines boost by focusing on their strengths, and the team could receive a significant production boost from the position.

The team will likely give Howard an opportunity to keep the everyday job he earned eight years ago, but if he continues to not hit LHP, expect this to be the logical move to make.

The idea that Mayberry should be run out of town, or that he should be traded for a bag of baseballs is nonsense. He’s not an All-Star or even a starter, but if used correctly can impact this team in a major way.

He has the current ability; It’s up to the team to put him in a position to succeed.