Reds Shed Brandon Phillips to Play Brandon Phillips

When you play in the majors long enough, and when you stick with one team for a while, you’re granted certain leverage. Brandon Phillips used his well-earned no-trade protection to block moves that would’ve sent him to Washington, Arizona, and Atlanta. That last decision took place in November, while the Braves were also talking with Sean Rodriguez. They signed Rodriguez, and the Phillips talks went cold. There wasn’t anything more to discuss.

Yet while Phillips was given more leverage, he wasn’t given *all of* the leverage. The situation in Cincinnati threatened to turn ugly, with the team clearly ready to move on and play younger players. Phillips faced the possibility of being benched or released, moves from which he couldn’t protect himself. Talks with the Braves picked back up in the aftermath of Rodriguez getting into a car accident. This time, Phillips acquiesced. The Reds aren’t getting much in return; they’re hardly even getting salary relief. What the Reds do get to do, now, is play Jose Peraza without things being uncomfortable. And, coincidentally enough, Peraza looks an awful lot like another Brandon Phillips.

So why favor Peraza? That one’s easy — where Phillips is coming up on 36, Peraza isn’t yet 23. Now then, Peraza made his big-league debut in 2015. In this table, I’d like to compare Peraza’s time in the majors to Phillips’ last three seasons. The average exit velocities cover just the last two years, of course. I’ve used Jeff Zimmerman’s corrected exit velocities, instead of the raw and incomplete material available on Baseball Savant.

A Comparison
Player Bats Height wRC+ BB% K% Z-OSwing% ISO GB/FB Exit Velo WAR/600
Brandon Phillips R 6’0 93 4% 12% 32% 0.111 1.4 83.1 1.8
Jose Peraza R 6’0 98 3% 12% 29% 0.091 1.4 82.1 1.5
Phillips information for the last three years, exit velocity aside. Peraza information for the last two years.

Phillips and Peraza are both right-handed, and they both stand six feet tall. Peraza has been the slightly more productive hitter, although realistically, that’s been driven by an elevated BABIP. Neither player has walked very much, being more contact-oriented, and they’ve shown similar disciplines. Phillips has hit for more power, but he hasn’t been a power hitter, and the Statcast info doesn’t show a large separation here. Although it’s not included, both players can run. Peraza just stole 21 bags in 72 games.

Here’s what Steamer sees for the season ahead:

Steamer 2017 Projections
Player BA OBP SLG ISO wRC+ BB% K% WAR/600
Brandon Phillips 0.273 0.309 0.381 0.108 83 4% 13% 1.2
Jose Peraza 0.282 0.317 0.380 0.098 83 4% 13% 1.5

Call it pessimistic if you want. Phillips is projected for his worst offensive year since he was a rookie. And Peraza is projected to decline from his own rookie campaign, even though he’s so young. The batting lines are identical, with the same general approach, and if you want to boost one, you should probably boost the other. Peraza looks more valuable because he has minuscule edges in the field and on the bases. Yet in effect, it’s the same skillset, with the ages just being separated by almost a decade and a half.

Peraza and Phillips even look similar in the box:

They both lift their left heel and turn the leg slightly inward, instead of showing a big leg kick. Peraza stands more upright, while Phillips is more hunched over, but the two players have an awful lot in common. You might think of Phillips as more of a power source, while Peraza’s seen as more of a slap hitter, but the ground-ball and fly-ball outputs are also about the same. And Peraza has more pop than he’s usually given credit for:

To this point, the parallels seem interesting, but unexciting. Phillips, after all, hasn’t been great the last few seasons. But this has been Phillips on the downslope, and earlier in his career he posted seven consecutive seasons of at least 2.5 WAR. His overall career WAR/600 is an even 2.5, meaning he’s been an above-average player. And it seems like Peraza has a shot to get to the same peak. He just needs to tap more into the power.

Power has never been considered Peraza’s strong suit, while Phillips once topped out at 30 dingers. According to their FanGraphs player pages, Phillips comes in at 6’0, 200, while Peraza shows up at 6’0, 165. However, lists the weight difference as 211 vs. 196, and an old report from Phillips’ prospect days in his youth put his weight at 185. The two players, then, are fairly close, and Phillips added bulk with experience, experience Peraza hasn’t had yet. Peraza has shown actual strength from time to time, and he hasn’t gone up trying to hit everything on the ground. He’s had more of a line-drive approach, and he’s already demonstrated excellent bat-to-ball skills.

Perhaps Peraza just needs to sacrifice a little of that contact. So far, his big-league contact rate is 87%. If anything, that might be too good, and Peraza might find more success in the 80 – 82% range. He could take a few more chances and try to get a little more loft, and the ballpark would certainly reward him. Looking at Phillips, his career home-run rate has been about 50% better in his home stadium. Peraza could be poised to do something similar, if that’s the path he elects to follow.

Right now, for the Reds, Brandon Phillips isn’t much of a loss, because Jose Peraza profiles to play just like him. The advantage of youth is always the upside, and if you extend the comparison, it’s fair to wonder if Peraza can get to something similar to what Phillips once was. The knock on Peraza has always been that he didn’t hit for power, but he isn’t as weak as he seems. And in this day and age, at least anecdotally, it appears hitters of all types are more open to letting it rip. Peraza’s built like Phillips, and he’s got skills like Phillips. If he has a career like Phillips, the Reds’ll be ecstatic. The path forward, at last, has been cleared.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Daniel R. Epstein
Daniel R. Epstein

The similarities are interesting, but one could argue that Peraza would have started at shortstop if Phillips was still there. In that case they traded Phillips to play Cozart and Dilson Herrera.