Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
One of the key cogs to the Reds success this upcoming season will be the three-time All-Star second baseman, Brandon Phillips.
Usually sporting his happy-go-lucky personality, those in attendance at Goodyear have noticed subtle changes in his behavior. For example, he is nowhere nearly as friendly with the media as he once was. There could be a multitude of reasons as to why that is, and players have spats with the people that cover them, so that is certainly nothing new to the game of baseball. If this allows Phillips to take a more serious approach to his job, he could be in store for a career season.
The last few years, Phillips has had Dusty Baker as his manager, and his go-to confidant. It would be a stretch to say that Baker coddled Phillips, but there definitely seemed to be some form of a crutch used by Phillips, knowing that he had the backing of the man filling out the lineup card every day.
Whenever “DatDude” was banged up, he could sweet talk Dusty to find his name penciled back in at second base.
Regardless of one’s personal feelings towards Brandon Phillips, it is without question that he is one of the most tenacious competitors in the sport. Just because he does not play with old-school hard-headedness, does not mean he is not a gem of an athlete. Tim McCarver, former FOX Broadcaster, and longtime baseball lifer, called Brandon Phillips the best to ever play the position defensively. Ever. Not Bill Mazeroski, nor Roberto Alomar, nor Ryne Sandberg.
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Whether he would be willing to admit it publicly or not, Phillips was probably more injured by the hit by pitch he took off the forearm last year in Pittsburgh than he let on. His numbers took a sharp decline and finished the season with a career-low in on-base percentage (.310), slugging percentage (.396) and OPS (.706).
In light of those modern-day statistics that have shaped entire organizations, Phillips remarkably drove in his career-high in RBI’s, with 103, the first time he has ever reached triple digits. A sacrifice fly is a negative as far as on-base percentage and slugging are concerned, but a positive as far as logical baseball goes. Phillips had nine sacrifice flies last season, the most of his career.
Despite these numbers that are not up to par for those that clamor for more production out of the enigmatic second baseman, he will undoubtedly be batting second in the order come Opening Day. With new management at the helm not afraid to bat two of the game’s best lefties against left-handed pitchers back-to-back to one another, Phillips should not be seeing much movement in the order for the foreseeable future.
Logic tells us that once Billy Hamilton gets on base from the leadoff spot, pitchers are going to be paying more attention to him that maybe any other base runner in the game. Combine that with the fact that in order to attempt to neutralize Billy the Kid, an inordinate amount of fastballs will be fired towards the plate, the prime pitch Phillips will be looking for. Those that were critical of DatDude’s numbers last year may be pleasantly surprised when he is sandwiched in between the fastest man in baseball and the game’s best left-handed hitter.
Rather than having to deal with the stress and pressure of USA Baseball smack dab in the middle of Spring Training this year, the more serious Phillips will be able to concentrate on getting himself a ring that has eluded him thus far in his career.
He may have taken last year’s loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates harder than anyone else, and surely does not want that feeling in the pit of his stomach again.
One of the sports elite defenders has suffered through a tumultuous offseason, rampant with trade speculation. Now that he has the backing of not only the front office, but also the fan base, DatDude seems poised to have his best season yet.