The Philadelphia Phillies were one of the best defensive teams in the National League during their streak of division titles from 2007 through 2011.
Last season was a different story.
The Phillies’ 101 total errors in 2012, 27 more than the team committed in 2011, left them tied with the New York Mets for ninth most in the National League.
Late last season, Matthew Leach on mlb.com provided more insight into the Phillies’ defensive woes . Leach pointed out that errors do not provide the full story. Players must actually attempt to make a play in the first place. Errors only provide a small glimpse into a player’s defensive ability.
Having athletes in the outfield capable of getting to the ball is often just as important as their offensive production. Philadelphia learned that after trading center fielder Shane Victorino last season.
With Ben Revere set to take over in center field, the Phils should see an improvement in at least one area. Other positions, however, could feature players that cause fans to hold their breath when the ball is hit their way.
The following lineup does not take into account a player’s offense but, instead, their ability on defense. These players are the Phillies their best defensive options at each position.
With that being said, here is the Phillies’ best defensive lineup.
It’s difficult to pencil Ender Inciarte into a lineup featuring the Phillies best defenders considering he’s never played above the single-A level. But his selection in the Rule 5 draft was seemingly due to his defensive ability.
Inciarte played in 127 minor league games last season between high- and low-A ball, and another 48 games in the Venezuelan Winter League.
With such little experience, it will be difficult for the 22-year-old Inciarte to make the opening day roster with six other outfielders already competing for jobs.
However, the Phillies would have to offer Inciarte back to the Arizona Diamondbacks (whom they selected him from during the winter meetings) if they decide to move him off their major league roster.
In an article by Todd Zolecki on the Phillies’ website, pro scouting director Mike Ondo said this about Inciarte:
We like the defensive ability....We think he’s an above-average defender in center field and an above-average runner. The reports we get are that he has the instincts to play the game and is a guy we can trust to run out there to play defense late.
Keeping Inciarte on the roster strictly for late inning defense may not be a luxury the Phillies can afford. Depending on injuries and offensive production, the Phillies may need a 25-man roster filled with players capable of playing every day and starting for extended periods of time, not just for late inning defense.
If Inciarte plays well in Clearwater, however, he could make for an interesting case as spring training progresses.
It’s not easy to measure a pitcher’s ability on defense. Any ball that would require the pitcher to leave the mound should instead be caught by another infielder.
However, it doesn’t hurt having someone who can get off the mound and make an athletic play if needed. In those situations, one Phillies pitcher tends to stand out above the rest.
Cliff Lee may be one of the best athletes on Philadelphia's roster, regardless of position.
Yes, he made two throwing errors and a fielding error last season, but chances are high that Lee is still the Phillies best candidate for making a highlight-reel catch on a line drive up the middle, or beating a runner to first base in a foot race.
Lee may not have a Gold Glove award to his name, but after watching these two plays in this 2009 World Series video on mlb.com, it's easy to include him in the Phillies’ best defensive lineup.
Carlos Ruiz was one of the Phillies best offensive players last season, but his work behind the plate gives him even more value.
Ruiz has the responsibility of calling games for some of the league’s best pitcher. He has also done a solid job once the pitch was thrown.
He’s already caught two no-hitters, a regular season perfect game and a postseason no-hitter.
Among catchers who played in at least 100 games last season, Ruiz ranked fifth with a caught stealing percentage of .340. His DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement), according to ESPN.com, tied him for eighth among all catchers.
According to fangraphs, Ruiz also tied for eighth in RPP (Passed Pitch Runs) among catchers who played in a minimum of 800 innings. Fangraphs defines RPP as a measure of a catcher’s ability to block pitches. A score of +1 is average, +5 excellent. Ruiz’s score last season was 2.4, although 2010 and 2011 saw scores of 5.0 and 3.5, respectively.
Despite catching in 22 fewer games than 2011, Ruiz still caught 10 more would-be base stealers last season, ranking fourth in that department.
Since this lineup is based solely on defense, it’s hard to ignore Ryan Howard’s lack of range in the field, and his major league leading number of errors for first basemen from 2008 through 2010.
Ironically, the Phillies best defensive first baseman may be forced to play in left field due to Howard’s presence at first.
Darin Ruf has played three positions in the minor leagues, but has spent the majority of his time at first base. Since 2009, Ruf has appeared in 323 minor league games at the position.
In 2009, Ruf became the first Division I collegiate player to win multiple Rawlings Gold Glove awards when he won the award for the second time while playing first base for the Creighton Bluejays.
According to his profile on gocreighton.com, Ruf had a college fielding percentage of .996, committing just nine total errors.
Through his first four minor league seasons, Ruf has committed a total of 20 errors at first base with a fielding percentage of .992. In comparison, through his first four minor league seasons, Howard had 45 errors and a .988 fielding percentage.
Chase Utley’s health will be one of the many areas closely monitored during the Phillies’ spring training.
Despite not having played in a Grapefruit League game in the past two years, missing 121 regular season games during that span, Utley has still been one of the better defensive second baseman in the National League.
Among NL second basemen who played in a minimum of 700 innings last season, Utley had the sixth highest UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), according to fangraphs. In 2011, among NL second basemen that played at least 850 innings, Utley’s UZR of 8.4 was second best.
In 2010, the last season that Utley played in at least 1,000 innings, his UZR and RngR (Range Runs) led all qualified NL second basemen.
According to Baseball-Reference, Utley’s career Defensive WAR of 17.3 ranks seventh among all active players (sixth if Omar Vizquel is not included).
Although he has committed his share of errors throughout his career, Utley has usually ranked in the middle of the NL pack in that department.
The Phillies were fortunate last season to find out that Freddy Galvis can also play above-average defense at second base. But his offense currently does not match Utley’s when Chase is healthy. Galvis may also prove to be a valuable defenisve option at other infield positions.
If healthy, Utley fits right into the Phillies’ best defensive lineup.
Despite the decrease in his batting average last season, Jimmy Rollins maintained his above-average play at shortstop, winning his fourth career Gold Glove award.
According to fangraphs, Rollins’ 4.4 UZR in 2012 ranked fifth among qualified NL shortstops.
Baseball-Reference lists Rollins’ 2,321 career putouts at shortstop as the fourth most among active players at the position. He has committed six fewer career errors than Jose Reyes, despite playing three more seasons than him, and just seven more errors than former shortstop Hanley Ramirez despite playing five more seasons.
During his streak of three consecutive Gold Glove awards from 2007 through 2009, Rollins finished with the second fewest number of errors among NL shortstops once, and with the fewest number twice.
Rollins may cause a lot of headaches with his pop-ups at the plate, but winning a Gold Glove award with more than 12,700 innings under his belt at the start of last season was still an impressive feat.
It may be a stretch to pencil in Freddy Galvis as the Phillies’ best defensive third baseman, especially since he has only played one minor league game at the position. But Galvis has already proven his defensive versatility. His transition from shortstop to second base last season was a smooth one.
Galvis moved over to second to start last season in place of the injured Chase Utley. His seven Defensive Runs Saved, according to fangraphs, was only one fewer than Utley’s total despite playing 26 less games at second.
With Michael Young, the starting third baseman, not having played regularly in the field since 2010, when he committed the most errors among qualified American League third basemen, serviceable backups are crucial. Behind Young, Galvis and Kevin Frandsen will compete for utility roles.
Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley even suggests starting Galvis at third base when southpaw John Lannan is pitching.
In 55 games at second base last season, Galvis committed just one error, helped turn 31 double plays and posted a .996 fielding percentage.
Galvis has yet to play third base at the major league level, but if his first position switch is any indication, he could turn out to be the Phillies’ best defensive option at third base.
Here’s where a lack of options comes into play.
Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix, Delmon Young and Darin Ruf all have experience playing left field and could see time there this season. Ruf, for purposes of this lineup, has already been slotted in at first base.
Out of the remaining options (with Mayberry needed in right), Nix has some of the better numbers.
Fangraphs shows Nix as having the highest UZR of any Phillies’ outfielder last season, 1.9. Domonic Brown, another left field option, posted a -3.6 outfield rating.
The outfielder and part-time first baseman has played 221 career games in left field. While playing there, Nix has five career errors and a .984 fielding percentage.
Nix doesn’t jump out as an elite defender, but he can at least hold his own in left field and may be less of a liability than the remaining options.
Ben Revere could turn out to be the Phillies best defensive player this season.
The 24-year-old was acquired from the Minnesota Twins this offseason, and should provide the Phillies with the type of glove needed in center field following the trade of Shane Victorino last season.
Revere has played all three outfield positions, the majority of his starts last season coming in right field. However, Revere has played more games in center field than any other position during his career, meaning the move back to center this season shouldn’t be a problem.
Among right fielders that played in a minimum of 700 innings last season, Revere had the third best UZR in the major leagues and the third best RngR, according to fangraphs. Revere also tied Ichiro Suzuki with 11 Defensive Runs Saved.
If anything, Revere's versatility gives the Phillies even more outfield options and, hopefully, a perennial Gold Glove contender in center field.
In this lineup, however, it might be best to have him shade toward left field.
John Mayberry, Jr. has only played 20 career games in right field, but his outfield experience makes him the best option there by default.
With Darin Ruf at first base in this lineup and Domonic Brown and Delmon Young not making the cut, Mayberry and Laynce Nix remain as the main options.
Mayberry’s total career UZR in left field is 0.1, according to fangraphs, while his total UZR in right field is 4.8.
Nix, meanwhile, has a total career UZR of 7.6 in left field and a total UZR of -0.7 in right field.
Mayberry has played adequate outfield defense during his career, but has yet to become a regular on highlight reels. In right field, Mayberry has never made an error in 20 career games.
Fangraphs shows that he had a 2.5 UZR at the position last season, and three Defensive Runs Saved.
With few remaining options and another outfielder shining brighter in left field, Mayberry’s ability to at least play adequate defense puts him in right field in this lineup.