In everyday language, the term “replacement player” refers to one who supplants another, taking his place.
In the world of 21st century baseball, however, the definition of “replacement-level player” goes a step further – it refers to the adequate fielding, poor hitting player who oftentimes serves as a stop-gap to a starter.
The only value a replacement player has is his physical ability to play the same position as the starter. He is organizational depth. He is Brian Bockock-ian.
In 2010, the Phillies have given 617 plate appearances to replacement players.
Know how many plate appearances they gave to replacement players last season? 618.
The Phillies have given almost an entire season’s worth of plate appearances to the adequate fielding, below average hitting, stop-gap 4-A replacement player…at multiple positions and in multiple slots in the batting order. And we still have 56 games to go.
The breakdown is as follows:
- 234 plate appearances for utilityman, Wilson Valdez
- 140 for [call him whatever you want,] Greg Dobbs
- 136 for washed-up utilityman, Juan Castro
- 43 for replacement-level defining, Cody Ransom
- 40 for 4th-string catcher, Dane Sardinha
- 21 for 3rd-string catcher, Paul Hoover
And the team is 58-48, two games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East.
How many plate appearances have the Braves given to replacement players?
Well, it would be irresponsible of me to preclude Melky Cabrera from that category – he’s been worth 0.2 wins BELOW replacement this year in 355 plate appearances and 102 games of shaky outfield defense.
Aside from Cabrera, the Bravos haven’t given out too many at-bats to “that” level of player. Matt Diaz had a slow start, but he doesn’t come close to that category, nor does Yunel Escobar (bad fit), David Ross (105 OPS+ for a backup catcher), Gregor Blanco (defense, discipline), Omar Infante (positional value added to inflated batting average), or even Nate the Great McLouth.
(Take a second to click on McLouth.)
The Braves have been healthy, the Phillies haven’t. The Braves bench was and still is assembled to better make up for injuries than the Phillies’ second unit. And their bullpen is better. But that’s it. Through 106 games, that’s been it.
The Phillies have handed out 280 DL days to the ensemble cast of…
- (April) – Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, Jimmy Rollins, J.A. Happ
- (May) – Ryan Madson, Brian Schneider, Jimmy Rollins
- (June) – Antonio Bastardo, Carlos Ruiz, Chad Durbin, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco
- (July) – Jamie Moyer, Shane Victorino
- (August) – Ryan Howard
…and they’re two games out of first place.
And so here lie the Phillies – no Ryan Howard, no Chase Utley, no Shane Victorino, no Jamie Moyer. Poised to make a run at a developingly-human Braves team. Whether or not they take the NL East lead in time for the big guns to make it back, it’s remarkable that this band of stars, underachievers, and replacements has gotten this far.
How have they done it?
Cole Hamels’ filthy 2010 season is a close runner-up to these two, but the main reasons have been:
1) Roy Halladay
It took Roy Halladay 23 starts to make this HIS team. In 17 of those 23 starts, he allowed two runs or less. He is an otherworldly talent. He is one-third man, one-third lion, one-third pitching machine.
He has a 7.52-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a ridiculous number overshadowed by only the dominance of Lee Who Shall Not Be Named, and a WHIP of damn-near 1.00.
This is Roy Halladay’s team right now. As he goes, so goes the team. Think about what an injury to Halladay would feel like. Did your earth just shatter? Do you want to get it out of your mind as soon as humanly possible right now?
THAT’S why it’s his team.
2) Ryan Howard
I debate with my colleagues and esteemed associates on Twitter on a weekly basis about Ryan Howard. One week it’s contract backlash. The next it’s ridicule of original contract backlash. The next it’s about strikeouts. The next it’s about singles. Then it’s about walk rates. Then isolated power. Then this. Then that. Then Angel Pagan (don’t ask…)
Bottom line, this right here…
For years we’ve asked for Ryan Howard to make more contact. We’ve asked him to strike out less and recognize situations that call for different approaches. And this year he has. Howard’s last three seasons:
- 2010: .292/.356/.528 – (.884 OPS)
- 2009: .279/.360/.571 – (.931 OPS)
- 2008: .251/.339/.543 – (.881 OPS)
Some claim he is “declining.” That his power skills are eroding. That his eye is getting worse. They fail to of course recognize the 4% drop in his strikeouts, because that is my side’s evidence.
They also fail to notice that his slugging percentage – the most indicative number here – is only ONE point lower today than it was on this day last year, and 26 points HIGHER today than it was on this day two years ago.
In 2010, Howard has traded strikeouts, walks, and a few homers for a bunch of singles. And that approach, which led to a typical late-season Howard Power Surge, has helped a completely depleted, wounded, and bed-ridden team to 58 wins in 106 games.
And, finally, I don’t care who in the SABR community kills me for saying their dirty word, “RBI”, I’m mentioning that he has an NL-leading 81 RBI when ALL three hitters in front of him have missed significant time, both alone and simultaneously.
That’s value. That’s production. That’s performance. Talk to me about the higher wOBAs of Angel Pagan and Andres Torres. I’ll listen for 15 seconds and move on.
Any logical, rational, intuitive baseball mind recognizes and applauds Howard for compiling those 81 RBI. They don’t discount it because an eclectic, stiff-speaking assortment of their contemporaries want to prove a point.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Halladay’s healthy. He’s fine. He struck out nine Marlins over seven stellar innings without his best stuff on a humid night in South Florida. He sweat, he labored, he ran uncharacteristic deep counts, but he made every single pitch when he needed to en route to a 13th win.
Howard is not healthy. He went on the 15-day DL Tuesday and might not even be ready when that stint is up.
There is no prediction to make here, because nothing this season has gone as scripted. Cody Ransom and Wilson Valdez made up the right side of the infield last night. At one point a few months ago, Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro made up the left side.
Where do we go from here? You know as well as I do. This team will either make one final push before the stars return to guide them, or they’ll fall just a bit short, disappointing us but gaining our admiration all the while.
Crazy game, that baseball.
(Completely off-topic SeidNote™: if you can, watch highlights of the Mets dugout’s greeting to Jeff Francoeur after his dramatic 9th inning game-winning homer off Billy Wagner. Whether or not you hate the team and its players…there’s nothin’ better than that reaction.)