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The Revival of Brandon Phillips

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What would you say if the Cincinnati Reds could acquire a four-time Gold Glove winner, who also happens to be a three-time All-Star, produced a 30-30 season in his career, and up until 2014, had hit at least 17 home runs in eight straight seasons? Well, some may be surprised to find out that the Redlegs already have that player in their organization, and he currently mans second base. Let me introduce you to Brandon Phillips, the single most important player on the Reds’ 25-man roster.

Transcendent talents come along so few in a generation that their greatness can almost be underappreciated. No one from my kids, down to their kids will underappreciate the great Joe Morgan; but for generations to come, Phillips may eternally live in his shadow. They played the same position in the same city, have similar electric smiles, and quirks about their game that can drive opponents up the wall, but endear them to local fans.

Although lately, it seems Brandon has done anything but endear himself to Reds Country. Which is puzzling, considering his string of significant injuries, which he has shaken off as if they were merely paper cuts. Somehow, playing with a broken forearm in 2013, and coming back just three weeks after a dislocated thumb this past season is now viewed as villainous.

For these reasons, expect Phillips to come back stronger than ever in 2015. The last season he played where he was truly healthy was 2012. That year, he finished 13th in the MVP voting race (four Reds would finish in the top-15 that year; Phillips, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, and Joey Votto). While he batted .281/.321/.429, with 18 home runs and 77 runs batted in, his true value was defensively. His 1.6 dWAR in 2012 is tied for the highest of his career.

The two facets of the game are intricately interwoven for Phillips. When he makes a diving stop in the field, it can spur him on offensively. No longer is Brandon a top of the order hitter entering his age 34 season, but he is far from being tossed away on the scrap heap.

Then again, it’s not as if the Reds can escape him. His near trade to the New York Yankees last winter was much publicized, but “Dat Dude” is on the hook for $39 million over the next three years.

His WAR from the past two seasons has been 1.7. The last time it was that low, the Cleveland Indians had just jettisoned him to the southern part of Ohio in 2006.

Despite many in the sabermetric community denying the existence of RBIs as a valid statistic, Phillips thrives on such numbers. It’s how he still drove in 100 runs even with a busted forearm. His WPA+ in 2014 was a miniscule 8.7. The last time it was that low with significant playing time in a season was 2003. An explanation as to why that happened? There were significantly less men on base for Brandon in 2014. He did not constantly have Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce, all on-base in front of him to be driven home. With a much more complete and balanced lineup planned out for 2015, should Phillips drop to the sixth or seventh spot in the order, he will be salivating at the potential of driving in a now-healthy Bruce and emerging stars Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier.

What is “clutch” worth these days anyway? Analysts with loud opinions gripe about how it doesn’t exist, as if the men playing baseball are the same you fool around with on your Xbox. Ask any ballplayer and he’ll let you know that clutch is real.

For Brandon, he has always been viewed as a “clutch” guy. No one is quite sure what that means, considering the stats are primitive, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, Phillips’ 1.4 clutch in 2014 was the highest of his career. The next closest was 1.0 back in 2012, the year in which he looks to return to similar form.

Luckily for both the Reds and Phillips, he doesn’t have to be an MVP candidate come 2015. He can simply fill the role of best defensive second baseman in the sport, and can drive in runs from the bottom of what should be a retooled batting order.

Expect Brandon to come back as strong as ever come this spring.

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