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How much extra value did Tony Phillips’ versatility create?

tony-phillipsYou’d have to think that by being able to play seven positions that Tony Phillips brought some extra value to his teams that other guys couldn’t. Seems likely, but how can we tell? Well, it might be that we can’t, but let’s at least think it through.

The thing you’d have to do if you really wanted to nail it down is to go through game-by-game to see how the lineup was restructured based on his movements around the diamond. When Phillips goes to the outfield who takes over at the position he just vacated? Is there a domino sequence where his moving to the outfield causes someone else to move to second base so another fellow can play third base?

Because he could play everywhere but catcher, in games when he didn’t DH, Phillips’ teams could get maximum benefit from his presence. Phillips mostly played second base, third base, and left field (he did most of his time at shortstop in his first two seasons as a regular). So in all likelihood on any given day, you were getting the platoon advantage at one of those three positions. But it wasn’t Phillips who was providing the platoon advantage. He was a regular, an everyday player. The guy you were getting the advantage with was whoever enters the lineup at one of the two positions Phillips vacated. For example, the 1993 Tigers had a guy named Scott Livingstone at third base. His OPS was 114 points worse against lefties (.695 vs. .581) that year. Those Tigers also had Dan Gladden whose career OPS against lefties was .752 (in a roughly .725 OPS league). So the platoon difference you’re after is really Gladden versus Livingstone because Phillips’ moving from third to left is the hinge on which the platoon swings. Phillips facilitates the advantage though he does not himself provide it.

So to figure out what additional value Phillips could give his team, you’d actually have to figure out how much advantage the platoons he facilitated were worth in those games that Phillips played.

Got that?

But even so, this might be said to be true for other guys in history. Billy Goodman and Gil McDougald and Bip Roberts and Cesar Tovar spring immediately to mind. The difference between those guys and multi positional infield/outfield stars such as Monte Ward, Paul Molitor, and Pete Rose is that the latter group tended to play one position a year. Certainly they didn’t play several a year. Then again, the Goodmans and Tovars of the world didn’t have long, productive careers where they remained super utility men throughout like Phillips did.

So it is possible that Phillips is unique or nearly unique in history and may well deserve a little extra bonus for it. Trouble is, I can’t figure out a way to do it precisely that wouldn’t take years (given my skills).

The info necessary to figure this out would be

  • His play-by-play data so you knew where on the field he was at any given moment (since pinch-hitting and defensive replacing could be a factor)
  • Who the platoons he facilitated were exactly
  • How the members of those platoons performed (hitting and fielding) when Phillips was also on the field.

Remember this is different than Earl Weaver running out Lowenstein or Roenicke depending on the opponent pitcher’s handedness. This is managers shuffling around at least three players who couldn’t otherwise be shuffled to create a two-man platoon. See, you wouldn’t do this by flipping Alex Cora between third, second, and left field. His bat isn’t worth keeping in the lineup.

Anyway, let’s guesstimate that at a minimum half of Phillips’ games in his salad days involved his facilitating a platoon, which means four or five PAs a game times 75 or so games. Just to spitball it, let’s say that Phillips allowed his teams to put an average player into the lineup instead of a replacement player for those 100 games. The difference between replacement and average is about 20 runs over 150 games. In 75 games that’s 10 runs that Phillips facilitates. Or 1 win. Maybe we can’t give it all to him, I can’t think it through quite that far, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched that Phillips might have enabled his teams, through his versatility, to pick up an extra 5 wins over an 18 year career.

And when it comes to the Hall of Miller and Eric, where the borderline hosts a whole of lot guys packed together that include Phillips, that’s a significant boost.



2 thoughts on “How much extra value did Tony Phillips’ versatility create?

  1. I always thought Jim Gilliam, who did great utility work with the Dodgers in the ’50s and ’60s was a Phillips like player. But the way you state it, Gilliam was more the Molitor/Rose type in that he tended to settle into one position for most of the year then maybe change for the next year. You’re right, it makes a difference.
    Good article.

    Posted by verdun2 | April 8, 2015, 8:43 am


  1. Pingback: What if We’d Given Military-Service and Negro League Credit? | the Hall of Miller and Eric - August 7, 2015

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