The Cy Young Award.
The Jackie Robinson Award.
The Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award.
Players dream of earning these awards during their career. To be a part of the prestige and history of the game in that manner is the stuff that dreams are made of. Then, we have the award named after baseball contemporaries.
Matt Klaassen started the Carter-Batista Awards (CBA) in 2009 to recognize those players whose offensive value is exaggerated by their RBI totals. Joe Carter’s name is listed first because not only does he own the highest CBA score since 1990, he owns three of the top seven.
The naming of the award works well in that Carter owned the best score of the 90’s while Tony Batista had the highest score in the proceeding decade. If Klaassen decides to rename the award by 2020, there is a new early leader for the current decade in Brandon Phillips.
Phillips completed the 2013 season with 103 runs driven in and 69 weighted runs created. His 1.67 score trails only Batista’s since the year 2000.
Phillips enjoyed the benefits of hitting behind Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo who had the second and fourth highest on base percentages in baseball in 2013. Votto was on base 101 times when Phillips was at the plate and scored 16 times. Choo was on base 56 times, scoring 32 times. In all, the duo accounted for 48 of the 103 runs that Phillips drove in last season. Phillips had a total of 492 base runners when he came to hit last season which was the third-highest total in the league. Prince Fielder led the league with 536 while Jay Bruce, the batter behind Phillips in the lineup most of the season, had an even 500.
Phillips had his best results hitting with runners in scoring position as he hit .338/.404/.469 last season in 195 plate appearances while hitting .255/.292/.395 in all other situations. Those outcomes allowed Phillips to maximize his run production in RISP situation as only Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, and Allen Craig drove in more runs in identical situations.
2014 presents new challenges for Phillips and his teammates as the team will no longer enjoy so many runners on base with the departure of Choo to Texas. The Reds had more baserunners than any other team in the National League last season, but finished just fourth in runs scored due mainly to poor lineup construction. Rather than maximize the potential of the lineup at the top, Dusty Baker preferred to utilize sub-optimal players for the role and that group hit a collective .228 with a .281 OBP. Both figures were the worst in all of baseball. Overall, the Reds return just two regular players to their lineup that had better than league-average OBP’s – Votto and Bruce.
New manager Bryan Price has that challenge in front of him as he heads to Arizona to start framing out his lineup. Last season, Baker had the luxury of a superb leadoff batter and self-inflicted wounds out of the second spot in the lineup. This season, Price is left with the hopes that Billy Hamilton can somehow get on base enough to utilize his game-changing speed. That would allow Price to set up the top half of his lineup in this manner:
- Hamilton (S)
- Votto (L)
- Phillips (R)
- Bruce (L)
- Ludwick (R)
Votto’s ability to hit to all fields and make strong contact opens up opportunities to put Hamilton in motion beyond just the straight steal. More importantly, Votto hitting second offers more lineup protection to the lineup itself. If Hamilton is only getting on base 30% of the time, repeating the sins of last season by putting the likes of Zach Cozart in the second spot would, more often than not, leave Votto up to bat with nobody on base. Having Phillips bat third at least leaves him in a spot where he is most likely to have men on base in front of him if not in scoring position and afford the best hitter on the team more plate appearances over the course of the season.
The Reds can ill-afford to waste the scoring opportunities in 2014. Last season, they were afford the luxury of having two players near the top of their lineup that excelled in getting on base. This season, no such luxury exists. If the Reds want to help compensate for the change in talent at the top of their lineup, they need to maximize the production of their best batters. Phillips has one of the better wRC totals over the past three seasons with runners in scoring position and it would behoove the Reds to set up their man for success. That could mean hitting between the team’s two best hitters, or if Hamilton proves he is not ready for the job, setting the table for them barring any roster changes in the coming months.