The KC Royals traded for a promising young outfielder back in 2018. Defensively, we know he could be an elite-level talent. Offensively, he still has question marks around him. In order to finally know what Brett Phillips can do, it’s time to let Maverick fly.
Consistency is the name of the game for any goal, profession, or hobby. The more consistency you are at a task, the better you become. If your consistency is sporadic, then your overall success will vary. This is not new, it is common sense. Yet, it seems like the KC Royals, and some of the fan base skipped past the consistency part and have gone straight to production when evaluating how often Brett Phillips will/should play. It seems to be the classic “putting the cart before the horse” scenario.
If you look strictly at season numbers you can get a false impression as to what type of player Phillips can be. For example, since Phillips joined the KC Royals in the Mike Moustakas trade he has a career .169/.250/.294 slash with 12 extra-base hits and 73 strikeouts compared to 19 walks over 66 games.
I’m calling this mindset surface-level analytics though because it doesn’t actually tell you much of anything. The only thing this shows is that he struggles at the plate. However, is he getting consistent playing time? Are the 66 games all in one year? Did injury play a role at all?
Let’s dive a bit deeper
Offensively, his numbers have not been great at the big league level. So let’s dig a bit deeper and not just focus on offensive numbers.
Let’s start with something simple. Consistency. Since coming to Kansas City, Phillips has played in 66 games. However, over those two years, he has only started in 52 of those games. A difference of 14 games isn’t necessarily that big of a difference, so let’s dive a bit deeper. Of his 66 games, he only came to the plate one time in 12 games.
During the 2018 season, he started in 33 of his total 36 games, meaning in 2019 he started in 19 of his 30 games. Say what you will, but consistency is crucial for a player offensively. If his at-bats are inconsistent, then it’s hard to expect him to be consistent at the plate.
If we look at offensive numbers a bit more we can see some other interesting components.
For example, the average percentage of balls swung at that were outside the strike zone (0-swing%) is 30%. Phillips had an o-swing% of 21.0% in 2019, which contributed to his ability to draw 10 walks, and have a 12.7 BB% over 30 games. Remember, he only started in 19 games in 2019 as well. His eye for pitches inside the strike zone that he’s swinging at (68.0% z-swing%) is also better than the league average (65.0% z-swing%).
The caveat here, his contact on those pitches inside the strike zone is actually lower than the league average. In 2019, his z-contact% was 77% while the league average is around 87%. In 2019, he was identifying whether the pitch was a strike or ball well, it was just a matter of making contact. Which I guess is a big part of hitting in baseball, right?
However, if Jorge Soler can go from a z-contact% of 74.0% in 2017 to a z-contact% of 84.0% in 2019, I feel like Phillips can make an improvement with consistent playing time like Soler experienced when he got more consistent at-bats.
What about defense?
If you have any questions at all about if Phillips defensive abilities are capable of transferring to the MLB, I strongly recommend you look up his highlight reel. To give you the numbers, since coming to Kansas City he has a career UZR of 0.5 in left field, 8.2 in center field and 3.7 in right field. That’s good for a combined 12.2 UZR in the outfield. For perspective, a 0.0 UZR is “league average”, a 5.0 is considered “above average”, and a 10.0 is considered “great”.
Phillips is considered to be more of a center fielder than a corner outfielder, and this statistic confirms that. In 2018, Phillips had a 4.2 UZR in center field and a 4.0 UZR in 2019. Essentially, Phillips is considered an above-average defender while playing center field, and he did this with just 36 games in 2018 and 30 games in 2019.
According to MLB.com as well, Phillips has a rating of 70 for his arm, meaning “well above average” according to the rating scale. As well as a 55 fielding rating, which is nearly an “above-average” rating, too.
The possible fix
As the 2019 season went on, Phillips was still in Omaha but started really turning his year around. The question of “did Phillips change anything?” started to pop up more and more. For example, Phillips started the year hitting .165/.331/.306 with 29 walks compared to 60 strikeouts over 39 games. Then the switch seemed to happen.
Over the next 66 games, Phillips was hitting .283/.405/.618 and had 45 walks/intentional walks compared to 60 strikeouts. His confidence level at the plate increased, and his power dramatically increased because he was forcing the pitchers to throw in the strike zone. After I made this observation on Twitter, Phillips reached out to explain what he had done to make the change.
It all started with wearing his non-prescription glasses again because it helped brighten things up for him. He also started practicing his swing with an Axe Bat again to help re-adjust how he was holding his bat. Once the adjustments were made, he started seeing positive changes at the plate almost immediately. Which based on his number differential in Triple-A, it’s easy to believe that the changes made impacted his season in a positive way.
Which all of this leads back to my original statement. Consistency. I firmly believe that the adjustments he was able to make in Omaha that resulted in his season turnaround were not only because of his small adjustments but also because of consistent playing time. And by consistent playing time, I’m referring to starting the game and finishing the game, which if you remember of the 30 games he played last year, 19 were games he started.
Phillips is a class act. He doesn’t seem like the kind of person to vocalize displeasure in something or want to cause issues. In fact, when talking with him he said that he wanted to “…seriously thank the KC Royals organization for their patience and encouragement throughout one of the toughest times in my career.”
So it is up to fans like me and Lance McCullers Jr (google or twitter search to understand that if you don’t know) to be vocal about giving Phillips a long, consistent shot. Phillips deserves to have a chance to prove what he can do, and I firmly believe that given the chance he can cement himself into the KC Royals’ future plans.
I know the return of Alex Gordon will make this difficult, but at some point, it has to happen for Phillips. Just like the Royals did for Moustakas, Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, and many others, they have to give Phillips his fair shot.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to let Maverick fly. What do you say, KC Royals fans?