Brandon Phillips: Stats, analytics are messing up baseball
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote a terrific article juxtaposing Cincinnati Reds teammates Phillips and Joey Votto, both of whom have had a terrific careers despite polar opposite approaches at the plate.
Phillips is a swinger who has never walked more than 46 times in a season and has a career .319 on-base percentage. Despite the low OBP, Phillips has slugged 174 career home runs and posted a .743 OPS, which makes him a well above average offensive second baseman. Contrarily, Votto has made his career by being a selective swinger at the plate who is content to talk a walk if he does not see a pitch he wants to hit. This approach has helped him lead the league in on-base percentage four times, walks three times, OPS once, and helped him win an MVP. He also has a stellar .950 career OPS. On the other hand, he has only driven in more than 84 runs twice in his career.
Votto believes that he is the most productive version of himself by maintaining his approach, even if that means taking a walk with a runner on third. Phillips cannot imagine having this approach and says his goal is to drive in runs by hitting the ball. He is so firmly dedicated to this goal that he has open disdain for the analytics-driven approach to the game, saying he thinks it’s “messing up baseball.”
“That’s the new thing now. I feel like all of these stats and all of these geeks upstairs, they’re messing up baseball, they’re just changing the game,” Phillips told Nightengale. “It’s all about on-base percentage. If you don’t get on base, then you suck. That’s basically what they’re saying. People don’t care about RBI or scoring runs, it’s all about getting on base.
“Why we changing the game after all of this time? If we all just took our walks, nobody would be scoring runs. Nobody would be driving anybody in or getting anybody over. How you going to play the game like that? People don’t look at doing the things the right way and doing things to help your team win.
“I remember back in the day you hit .230, you suck. Nowadays, you hit .230 with a .400 on-base percentage, you’re one of the best players in the game. That’s amazing. I’ve never seen (stuff) like that. Times have changed. It’s totally different now.”
Phillips isn’t entirely correct, probably because he was taking his example to an extreme. I don’t think any team wants a .230 hitter on the roster. However, some teams will tolerate such a low average if it is balanced out by a lot of walks and extra-base hits. But his issue is that the stats he values more, such as RBIs, are devalued by today’s analytics.
There is no singular approach to analytics and different people can argue the merits of different stats. Maybe Phillips takes swinging to an extreme and Votto is too patient as a hitter. Those are valid points to ponder. But one thing we all need to consider is that all hitters are different. Sure, you can try to swing at more pitches out of the zone. You can try to be more aggressive. You can try to be more patient. Every time a hitter tries to do one thing or the other, another part of their game or statistics will suffer. They just have to do what they feel is most comfortable for themselves.