H/T to NeifiChicken at McCovey Chronicles for alerting me to this particular piece of information.
The St. Louis Cardinals have just DFA’d 1B Josh Phelps in order to create space on their 40-man roster. You might vaguely remember Josh Phelps from his 2002 season with the Blue Jays in which he hit: .309/.362/.562 over 74 games. Since ’02 Phelps has bounced around, finding playing time with the Indians, Rays, Yankees, Pirates, and Cardinals. He played the entire 2006 season for the Toldeo Mud Hens, a Detroit Tigers farm team.
For a guy with a career line of: .273/.343/.472 OPS+ of 110, you would figure that more teams would be able to find a permanent place for Phelps. Phelps does have his drawbacks; he’s not a strong fielder a first, he’s slow-footed, and he’s a free swinger. But, when Phelps does make contact with the baseball, he tends to hit it hard. Let’s check out some numbers.
HR/FB is the ratio of HR’s per flyballs hit. It’s a good indicator of how hard hard a player is hitting the ball. For example, Ray Durham’s power surge in ’06 was largely a product of his HR/FB percentage increasing greatly to 16% after only breaking double digits one time in his career. Flyballs tend to leave the park 10-12% of the time. Let’s use HR/FB to examine Phelps and see what happens when he hits a baseball into the air.
If one thing is clear about Phelps, it’s that he has major league power. From 2002-2004 he posted very strong HR/FB ratios. For example, in ’02 his HR/FB percentage of 21.7% stuck him right between Jim Edmonds and Mike Piazza for hitters with 250 PA’s or more. In ’03 he was smack dab between Albert Pujols and Reggie Sanders and in ’04 he was between Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez. It’s not to say that Phelps is on the same level with these players in the view of a complete package of player skills, but you can say that his power is legitimate. He’s always had the ability to hit the ball hard and out of the park.
His PA’s dwindled in ’05 and ’07 but he still posted above average HR/FB ratios. In ’06 he hit 24 HR’s for the Mud Hens and in ’08 for the Cardinals AAA team, he hit 31 HR’s. I didn’t include his ’08 season with the Cardinals in the data table because he only got 36 PA’s.
Phelp’s career line of: .273/.343/.472 would make him the best Giants 1B since JT Snow’s bizzaro 2004 season. You might be saying: “What about Ishikawa?” but the truth is that Ishikawa isn’t a sure bet and the Giants are in a position where they can do a couple of things. With Brian Sabean naming Pablo Sandoval the 1B for ’09 — at least for now — Phelps matches up better with Pabs than Ish.
Like I said, the Giants can do a few things. First, because of a poor record the Giants can afford to give more playing opportunities to players like Phelps. He’s going to get more playing time on the Giants than on the Cardinals where he has to sit behind Albert Pujols. On the Giants who’s blocking his way? Ishikawa? Bowker? Neither are solid bets to start and finish the season as the G’s first baseman. Second, is that the Giants have just cleared a large portion of their 40-man roster. At the moment the team has 7 open spaces on the 40-man and should get a couple more after Omar and maybe Aurilia leave the team.
I think the most desirable scenario is to bring in Phelps to platoon with Sandoval. Phelps, in 560 career PA’s, has a .297/.364/.495 line against southpaws. Phelps might not have the positional flexibility of Aurilia, but he’s a stronger hitter at this stage in his career and he’s also 6 years younger. Phelps would also provide nice insurance for the 1B position if Ishikawa washes out and they decide to move Pablo back behind the plate. Phelps’ career splits against RHP aren’t actually that bad and would not prohibit the Giants from sticking him in a full-time role if they had to. If he doesn’t make the team, he would be an asset to stash away in AAA.
Good teams have a knack for identifying and acquiring productive talent for little cost. Is Josh Phelps the first baseman of the future for the San Francisco Giants? No. But he provides real benefits right now. His cost is microscopic and he could add value to a position that the Giants have historically struggled with. My bigger question isn’t how Phelps would help this team, but if the Giants actually understand 1B. I’m not so sure they do. It’s a position that they’ve done some curious things with — like trying to turn a 5th OF into a starting 1B — and the string of Giants first basemen over the last 5 years is like a bad dream: Sweeney, Ort, Neikro, Hillenbrand, and so on and so forth.
I’ll end it with this:
Sign Josh Phelps. Do it.