Phillies Pay Premium For Ben Revere

Bad news for Michael Bourn – the Phillies just emphatically closed the door on bringing back the free agent center fielder, giving up Vance Worley and top prospect Trevor May to acquire Revere from the Twins. Given the price that we just saw Denard Span go for last week, this is a bit of a shocking price for Revere, and looks like a significant overpay for the Phillies.

Revere is perhaps the most extreme speed-and-defense specialist in Major League Baseball. In just over 1,000 career plate appearances, he has a grand total of 33 extra base hits, primarily because he hits the ball on the ground more than any other player. Last year, only Revere (67%) and Derek Jeter (62%) posted ground ball rates over 60%, and even Jeter isn’t particularly close to Revere in frequency of hitting worm burners. As a burner with good wheels, this is the best way to maximize his offensive value, but it also means that he’ll never hit for any power whatsoever.

Add in the fact that Revere is a hyper-aggressive hitter who rarely draws a walk, and Revere ends up as a singles-only slap hitter who is simply not a good offensive player. Of the 119 players to accumulate 1,000+ plate appearances over the last two years, only four — Gordon Beckham, Darwin Barney, Drew Stubbs, and Cliff Pennington — have posted a lower wRC+ than Revere. A .325 BABIP in 2012 allowed him to push his wRC+ all the way up to 88, but without a drastic improvement in his walk walk rate, that’s probably his offensive ceiling.

And, for that kind of hitter, the only way to be an above average player is to maintain out-of-this-world defensive ratings. Last year, Revere posted +3.4 WAR for the Twins by racking up a +16.4 UZR, partially due to spending most of his time in the corner outfield spots due to the presence of Denard Span. If you combine his UZR with the positional adjustment, he comes out as a +13 defender, which is also what he’s averaged in his career. Over the last five years, there have been eight every day non-catcher position players who have averaged +13 UZR+POS per 600 plate appearances: Brendan Ryan, Franklin Gutierrez, J.J. Hardy, Chase Utley, Clint Barmes, Nyjer Morgan, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria.

Essentially, we have to believe that Revere is truly one of the game’s elite defensive players to believe that he’s going to main this level of defensive value going forward. Given that the Twins used him in a corner in deference to Span — a good defender who isn’t viewed at that kind of level — we have to be a little skeptical of the idea that Revere is the rangiest center fielder in the game, and of course we’re dealing with a career sample of just over 2,000 big league innings. Based on what we know about Revere’s speed, we shouldn’t regress him back against league average, but we still need to regress Revere’s defensive projections a fair amount. Realistically, 2,000 innings of excellent UZRs for a speed guy who got to the Majors despite a lite bat means that we should probably see Revere as a something like a +5 center fielder going forward. We have enough evidence to believe that he’s going to continue to be above average. We do not have enough evidence to say that he’s definitively one of the best defensive players alive.

And, if Revere is a +5 defender in center field, even with his elite baserunning value, then he’s more of a +2.0 to +2.5 win player than the +3.5 win guy he graded out as last year. An average starter, essentially. With five years of team control, including two more at the league minimum, an average player is a valuable asset. But, to acquire that average player, the Phillies parted with a Major League average starting pitcher — and that may be underselling Vance Worley — and their best prospect, Trevor May.

Worley comes with some red flags after finishing the year on the DL following elbow surgery, and his strikeout rate is based mostly on getting an absurdly high number of called strikes, but in 277 big league innings, he’s posted a ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line of 90/92/98. Like with Revere, there’s a decent chance that he’s not able to sustain that level of performance going forward, but he’s shown an ability to throw strikes, get some ground balls, and get enough called strikes to make the overall package work. If the elbow surgery is a sign of future arm problems — the Phillies would know that better than anyone else, of course — then Worley’s stuff may degrade to the point where he’s more of a back-end starter, but he’s still likely to be a useful rotation filler and clearly has the ability to be more than that when healthy.

Like Revere, Worley also has five years of team control left, so swapping the two would have essentially be a lateral move. And, given the two team’s various needs, probably a pretty fair challenge trade. There are reasons to prefer either Revere or Worley, but their future values look similar, and they are in the exact same position in terms of arbitration and free agency.

So, the real mystery here is why the Phillies felt it necessary to add May to make this deal. May isn’t particularly close to the Majors, but he has a big arm and has already reached Double-A, so with some refinements to his command, he could be an above average hurler, or else he could end up as a power reliever out of the bullpen. May is a similar prospect to Alex Meyer, who was the sole return Minnesota got in return for Denard Span.

While I felt that deal was too light for the Twins, getting that same caliber of prospect to offset whatever small difference exists between Revere and Worley is a huge win for Minnesota. They essentially turned an average-ish center fielder into an average-ish starting pitcher and a quality pitching prospect. I’m not generally a huge fan of building around pitching, but this is a deal the Twins couldn’t pass up.

For the Phillies, they end up borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, filling their CF hole by creating one in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd are now slotted in as their fourth and fifth starters, and both are significantly worse than Worley. At most, the Phillies probably add +1 win in this exchange, and that win cost them their best young arm. They would likely have been better off keeping Worley and using May and additional prospects to outbid the Nationals for Span, thus acquiring the better Twins center fielder and keeping him out of Washington. Instead, they felt the need to downgrade their big league rotation to acquire Revere, and have essentially cashed in a valuable big league arm and a top prospect for Juan Pierre 2.0.

There’s nothing wrong with having an in-his-prime Juan Pierre as a role player on your team, but paying a premium to get Juan Pierre has never been a great idea, and it isn’t a great idea now that this skillset simply goes by another name.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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9 years ago

In the paragraph about defense, “Span” shows up several times when I think you mean “Revere.”