valuable of the two Reds' players. Baseball history is rife with first basemen who, like Votto, have hit at a career clip of .300 along with 25-30 home runs each year.
Few second basemen have matched the offensive numbers as well as the defensive prowess of Phillips. In fact, few hitters at any position have demonstrated Phillips' knack for hitting both leadoff and cleanup interchangeably.
During his 11 years in the Majors, Phillips has averaged 20 home runs, 81 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and a.271 batting percentage. Those numbers trump Hall of Famer Joe Morgan in all but steals. Another Hall of Fame second baseman, Ryne Sandberg, has nearly equivalent numbers.
Unlike Phillips, both Morgan and Sandberg enjoyed hitting in the same spot in the batting order for most of their careers. each batting second in over 60% of the games. Neither had to adjust his stroke to serve as lead off man or cleanup hitter to accommodate the needs of his team.
In fact, few hitters have ever been asked to be a team's leadoff hitter and cleanup hitter in the same season. The task requires two entirely different types of hitter,and Phillips is one of the rare players with the skills to be both.
Over the last three seasons, Phillips has over 400 plate appearances in the number four slot in Cincinnati's lineup. He has also amassed over 300 at the very top of the order.
To underscore just how rare this combination is, consider some of the most well-known players with middle-of-the-order power and enough speed to lead off. Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, who led off in his rookie season in Minnesota, showed enough power to hit further down the lineup. Puckett, though, lacked the home run consistency to hit fourth, getting most of his at-bats from the third hole.
Another Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, also had above average power for a leadoff hitter. When he was moved closer to the heart of the order, he too lacked the home run numbers for the cleanup spot. Like Puckett, Molitor batted primarily number three for the various teams he played on.
Phillips has made the necessary adjustments in both spots in the order. Expected to hit for power as cleanup hitter, Phillips averages a home run for every twenty-five at bats. From the leadoff spot, where his power is not nearly as critical as getting on base, Phillips homers once in every thirty at bats.
Phillips has been willing to sacrifice power for patience In the leadoff spot, where he draws a base on balls for every fifteen plate appearances. He draws fewer walks from the fourth slot, where his team needs him to be more aggressive.
For the length of his new six year contract, the Reds are going to benefit from Phillips' willingness to fill two of the most important spots in the batting order. No other team has a hitter who can adjust to the vastly different roles, especially one who is a Gold Glove middle infielder as well.
By the end of Phillips' contract, he will have established himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer. If his numbers alone are not convincing enough to induct him, then the selection committee should consider the fact that he chose to sacrifice his personal stats to optimize his team's chances to win.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.