Saturday, September 29, 2007

Brandon Phillps and the 30/30 Season

Brandon Phillips recently became only the 4th middle infielder in MLB history to post a season with 30 homeruns and 30 stolen bases. Of course, he was joined later in the week by Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez needs only 1 more homerun to join the club as well.

The middle infielders who have done the deed so far are Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Brandon Phillips, and Jimmy Rollins.

When you add Brandon Phillips' rock solid defense to his 30/30 season, then it's hard not to be impressed. That said, I don't think we should be TOO impressed. In actuality, Phillips just posted one of the least impressive 30/30 seasons in history.

In fact, when Phillips first reached the 30/30 plateau, I was wondering if it was the worst 30/30 season in history. Given his overall 2007 line of .289/.333/.488/.821, I wouldn't get too carried away by the importance of the counting stats of homeruns and stolen bases.

I found out a number of things about the 30/30 club, including that it isn't quite as a rare a feat as I had previously thought. In fact, three players have already done in 2007, including David Wright, Brandon Phillips, and Jimmy Rollins. Over the years, there are a surprising number of players who have accomplished this feat and the first player to do so was Ken Williams in 1922.


Here is a list of all the 30/30 seasons in MLB history up to now, sorted by OPS. Phillips is near the bottom, ahead of only Preston Wilson, Raul Mondesi, Sammy Sosa, and Joe Carter (by the by, it seems like no player's reputation has been hurt more than Joe Carter's by this new wave of statistical analysis).

If you look at the overall level of production, it's clear that Phillips' season ranks near the bottom. His OPS is among the lowest players to reach 30/30 in a season and his slugging percentage is far from overwhelming. So, while it has certainly been an impressive season, I think it's important to keep his actual production in perspective.


While it is certainly an impressive achievement, some of the more recent metrics developed in this age of statistical analysis are designed to more accurately capture the value of the players.


One of these metrics is Win Shares, which was developed by Bill James to capture the offensive and defensive impact of each player on the team's performance. Here is how The Hardball Times defines it:

"Win Shares. Invented by Bill James. Win Shares is a very complicated statistic that takes all the contributions a player makes toward his team’s wins and distills them into a single number that represents the number of wins contributed to the team, times three."

If you look at the 2007 WinShares for NL second basemen, then Phillips isn't even in the top 3 most valuable second basemen.

Phillips' 30/30 season is impressive, but he's not the most valuable 2b in the NL.


Another metric designed to more accurately measure a player's performance is Runs Created. This is a metric designed to more precisely determine the value of a player's offensive production. Again, here is how The Hardball Times defines it:

Runs Created. Invented by Bill James, RC is a very good measure of the number of runs a batter truly contributed to his team’s offense. The basic formula for RC is OBP*TB, but it has evolved into over fourteen different versions. We use the most complicated version, which includes the impact of hitting well with runners in scoring position, and is adjusted for ballpark impact. RC/G refers to Runs Created Per Game, which Runs Created divided by the number of outs made by the batter, times 27.

Again, here is the top Runs Created for NL second basemen in 2007.

Unlike Win Shares, which captures defensive value, Runs Created is strictly an offensive measure. Without taking his defense into account, Phillips actually fares even worse.


In short, Phillips has been very good, but not great. He's been valuable, but not invaluable. It is certainly an impressive achievement, but I think it is still important to keep it in perspective and not overvalue Phillips. That said, let's hope Phillips continues to produce and even improve in the future.

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