The winter meetings kick off on Monday and that means that baseball fans need to have their seat-backs and tray tables in their upright and locked positions. The hot stove season kicked off with a bang, and it hasn’t slowed down since. And with Robinson Cano becoming a member of the Seattle Mariners, the market for second basemen is nearly nonexistent.
But don’t worry, there is another. Well, two, actually.
The Reds have Brandon Phillips who is signed through 2017 at an average annual value of $12.08M per season. The Angels have Howie Kendrick who is signed through 2015 at an average annual value of $9.25M per season. According to reports, the Reds can’t decide whether they do or do not want to trade Phillips. Howie’s name hasn’t popped up once this offseason in trade rumors, but his availability became a reality last July.
But, who is the better option? Which of these two players should teams target? Let’s take a look at this.
It is no secret that Brandon Phillips blows the doors off of just about everyone defensively. He’s a warlock at second base. Over 1,314 games at second base, his DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) is +50. But Howie is no slouch when it comes to being an above average pivot man. In 813 games at second, Howie’s DRS is +21. In 500 less games, Howie has saved 42% of the amount of runs that Phillips has. But then you look at UZR and range numbers and it becomes apparent that there is no contest between the two.
Howie is a good defensive player. But, Phillips is in a class of his own. Advantage: Phillips.
I’m a card-carrying member of the “Every aspect of baseball should be factored in” club. And if I am going to use every aspect in Mike Trout‘s defense, I’m not going to cheat here.
Per BsR (Baserunning runs above average), Phillips has been worth 19.8 over his career. Howie? 8.9. It doesn’t matter that Howie has played in 400 less games than Phillips. Dat Dude has always been above average on the basepaths. He is not as valuable on the bases as he once was, but Howie has never been prolific. So, again, Advantage: Phillips
Guess who has two thumbs and doesn’t care about RBI totals? That’s right. This guy.
While Howie having 400 less games played wasn’t a factor in both defense and base running, it is a factor in counting stats that pertain to offense, and when you look at wOBA, wRC+, SLG and ISO, you see that despite Phillips being a home run hitter with gaudy RBI numbers, Howie is actually the better offensive option than Phillips.
Brandon Phillips was a better power option than Howie Kendrick, three years ago. But, last season, Phillips posted an ISO of .135 which is 22 points below his career average of .157. Howie’s career average is .137, but he posted an ISO last season of .142. Howie is not the “40 doubles a season” hitter we all though he was going to be, but he makes more consistent contact than Phillips does. This has led to a higher batting average that has pushed his SLG up. Up to the point where both Phillips and Kendrick have an identical SLG for their careers (.429).
Howie also takes home the gold star in wOBA and wRC+. His .330 career wOBA bests Phillips’ .325 by five points. His wRC+ of 106 bests Phillips’ career mark of 96. Howie’s career OPS is .759. Dat dude’s? .749. Slice it however you like, Howie is the better offensive option. Even if he doesn’t have the same sexy home run and RBI totals that Phillips has.
All three of these categories funnel into WAR. And in WAR, a 400 game gap can be a rather big deal. Especially when one player is showing signs of decline and the other player is not. Phillips has a career fWAR over 1,339 games of 27.0. Howie, over 924 games, has an fWAR of 20.1. Phillips’ numbers are already starting to trend downward with age while Howie is still putting up consistent offensive numbers from year-to-year.
With Howie being in a trend of consistency, I feel semi-confident about guessing the amount of WAR he would put up over those 400 games. Howie has average 2.5 wins over his eight seasons in the big leagues, which is 0.015 wins per game when divided by 162. When multiplied by 400, it adds six wins to Howie’s total fWAR. if you round up to .02 wins per game, you add eight wins to Howie’s total fWAR. I’ll let you, dear reader, decide which number you prefer.
All of this, however, still has Phillips slightly ahead of Howie in terms of value. But that is before you factor in…
Age and Contract
The AAV’s for both players were mentioned earlier in this post with Phillips getting $12.08M through 2017 and Kendrick getting $9.25M through 2015. For luxury tax purposes, Howie gets a boost in value on the trade market because of both his relative inexpensiveness and production levels. A team that would prefer Howie is also trading for a player that is going into his age-30 season while Phillips is entering his age-33 season. Teams are looking to get younger and cheaper. They would be doing neither by acquiring Phillips over Kendrick.
So, let’s say that you are the GM of a Major league Baseball team and you have a hole to fill at second base. Who are you going to trade for? The older, more expensive, far superior defender and base runner whose bat is declining? Or, are you going to target the younger, cheaper, better hitting and still above average defender and base runner who has not started declining?
I know who I would trade for. Which, is funny, because I want the Angels to trade him.