Phillies Likely Stuck With Ben Revere As Leadoff Hitter
Ben Revere’s flair for scintillating defense may reserve him a soft spot with fans. And after his taped-on homage to Boston and the timing of his likely play of the year yesterday, not just in Philly.
But it’s his performance at the plate that will keep him atop Charlie Manuel’s lineup – or not.
Since being tapped the Phillies everyday leadoff hitter on Opening Day, Revere has been, well, meh.
He’s .222 average ranks second-worst among qualifying major-league No. 1 hitters. He’s stolen 5 bags in 7 attempts, tied for first among leadoff guys. But even then, he’s gotten just 12 total bases on so far, tied for 26th in the group.
Or, just 2 more than Juan Pierre.
It’s early, and Revere’s total base count is even with B.J. Upton (12) and just below reigning Rookie of the Year and seamhead darling Mike Trout (15) so far.
But what’s alarming about Revere’s long-term prospects is his ground ball rate.
Oddly enough, that may be the best argument for keeping him atop the order.
Revere this year is putting the ball on the ground on 78.6 percent of his balls in play, well the worst in baseball. Most years, 44 percent is average.
To put it another way, Revere has in 54 ABs put a ball in play 45 times. Of those, 32 were ground-outs, again, far more than anyone. Pierre’s 25 rank second.
By comparison, Revere’s aired out just 4 times.
So far, he’s only reached base once on a ball with lift: his first hit on Opening Day.
What’s more, he said this is what he’s actually going for.
“It’s been a big strategy,” he said last Wednesday. “Now I’m just gonna keep it there. That’s the way I am, the way I want to be.”
It’s the way his coaches say they want him to be, too.
When asked how to correct Revere’s ground ball tendencies, Phillies hitting coach Wally Joyner said:
“It depends on if you want to correct it. Ben has an advantage. He has the speed to use ground balls to get base hits.”
Revere has just 2 infield hits this year, as many as each of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and Vernon Wells.
So has there been any thought to changing his approach?
“You always like line drives,” Joyner said. “But again, we don’t want him to take away to take away a base hit from putting the ball on the ground and getting a single. He hits the ball up the other way, there’s a good chance he’s going to beat it out.”
What about you, Cholly? What’s your take here?
“I think so far it’s been OK,” he said of Revere as his leadoff guy last Wednesday. “It’s working. It’s not like we haven’t been getting guys on base. We have.”
Why the fuss about ground balls? They’re basically an opposing pitcher’s second-best friend (to strikeouts). They make for not only easy outs, but when there are men on base, get-you-out-of-trouble double plays. They fall for more base hits than, say, line drives, but for fewer worth extra bases.
To put it this way, the average line drive is worth 1.26 runs per out. The average pop fly? Just 0.13 R/O.
Ground balls are worth half that: just 0.05 runs per out.
Suffice it to say, ground balls aren’t a sustainable strategy.
Thing is, as he said, that may just be who Revere is. He’s had a GB% of at least 66 percent in each of his 3 previous big-league seasons. Last year, he and an age-38 Derek Jeter had the only GB%s over 60.
The Phillies dealt Vance Worley and Trevor May this winter to secure him as their everyday center fielder. He’s 1 of 4 players under team control through 2014. The others? Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.
For those of you already going this way: he’s not going anywhere. Nor should he.
To his credit, Revere makes himself plenty valuable with his base running and defense, hugely underrated attributes. Last year, he saved 14.5 fielding runs – seventh in baseball, second among center fielders and more than Trout (13.3). He added 7.5 base running runs in 2012 – seventh overall, third for his position.
Despite his offense, Revere last year was as valuable on the whole as a guy who netted a 5-year, $75 million deal this offseason: B.J. Upton. Both were worth 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR).
But for the Phillies, the biggest question is where to hit him in the lineup if not at No. 1.
Not likely behind Jimmy Rollins. Batting Revere second and Rollins first would make for 3 straight lefties in the lineup, with Chase Utley and Howard.
That leaves only, really, the eight-hole. There he’d have the lumbering likes of Carlos Ruiz, Erik Kratz, Delmon Young or Laynce Nix on base in front of him, undermining his ability to swipe bags – and get in pitchers’ heads.
What’s more, his ground ball rate makes it more likely for him to hit into double plays no matter where he hits. He’s had just 2 this year. Save for St. Louis’ John Jay, no other leadoff hitter has more than 1.
If he can make the 8-hole work by hitting more line drives, why can’t he do the same for the leadoff spot?
He may have to, no matter where he hits.
“He’s holding his own,” Manuel said. “He gets on. He steals a bag for us now and then. We look for him to make solid contact. I don’t see him striking out a whole lot. But we’ll see how it goes.”
Guess we will.