Inside the Phillies: Phillies need more pop at third base

Placido Polanco had some decent years with the Phils, but injuries and age took their toll. ROSS D. FRANKLIN / Associated Press
Placido Polanco had some decent years with the Phils, but injuries and age took their toll. ROSS D. FRANKLIN / Associated Press
Posted: January 14, 2013

The greatest position player to ever wear a Phillies uniform manned third base for 16 years, and when the new millennium began there was hope a new generational player resided there. Then Scott Rolen was traded, and third base devolved into a Phillies black hole.

The Phillies have played 10 full seasons since Rolen's departure, with David Bell, Placido Polanco, Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, and Abraham Nunez collecting the most playing time. The position ranks among the worst offensively during that span. It sets the bar extraordinarily low for Michael Young.

Last season, third base was the third most productive position across the National League. Only the Cubs generated worse production from third base than the Phillies.

Feliz and Polanco usually provided steady defense, although both suffered a decline near the end of their tenures. But, as the Phillies' infield ages and the outfield is populated by unknowns, offensive production from third base is again a priority.

It remains an enigma, even with the acquisition of Young. The 36-year-old former batting champ is reeling from a career-worst season that prompted the end of his 13-year stint in Texas.

The Phillies will be hard-pressed to perform worse offensively at third than a season ago. But Young's .682 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) was a mere 10 points better than all of the Phillies' third basemen combined.

This was not an anomaly. The numbers are staggering. Since Rolen left, the Phillies' third basemen have ranked higher than 11th in the league in OPS just once. That was Bell's aberration of a 2004 season, in which he posted career highs in OPS at age 31.

In the span of a decade, Phillies third basemen have ranked in the bottom two of National League teams for OPS five times. Third base is traditionally a power position; the Phillies have not cracked the league's top 10 teams in home runs by third basemen in Rolen's absence.

Third basemen hit a grand total of five homers for the Phillies in 2012, which is the franchise's fewest since at least 1949.

It's all relative, of course. The Phillies enjoyed atypical production from shortstop and second base when Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley were in their prime. Now, with so much uncertainty across the lineup, Young is suddenly crucial.

Charlie Manuel has never relied on offensive production from his third baseman during his time as Phillies manager. It could create a different dynamic, and one that allows the Phillies to be patient with their makeshift outfield construction.

Young's slugging percentage dropped 103 points from 2011 to 2012. His .474 clip from 2011 would have trailed only Carlos Ruiz on the 2012 Phillies. If Young recaptures just a fraction of his power stroke, Manuel could have his No. 5 hitter. Manuel will salivate if Young, a career .304 hitter prior to 2012, nears that mark. The Phillies have not had a .300 hitter with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title since Utley and Aaron Rowand in 2007.

Those are enormous "ifs," of course. The Texas Rangers, so desperate to win after being tantalizingly close to the top, decided their best course of action was to trade Young for pennies on the dollar. Young has not regularly played third base in two years. It is totally reasonable to wonder if 2012 represented the twilight of his career.

He is viewed as a stopgap with promising minor-league talent in Cody Asche and Maikel Franco developing in the Phillies system. Asche has one quality season to his name while Franco is 20 and has yet to reach single-A Clearwater. Maybe one of them closes the black hole at third base. Maybe not.

Considering recent history, Young will have to be a total flop at third to equal what the Phillies are accustomed to. But they expect more from him - especially given the myriad questions dogging Manuel's lineup.

The Phillies can tout this: They enter 2013 with a third baseman who possesses a better hitting resumé than any since Rolen was traded more than a decade ago. Predicting performance from aging stars, though, is impossible. The Phillies know that all too well.

Inside the Phillies: Third Watch

In the decade since Scott Rolen vacated third base, the position is a veritable black hole for the Phillies. They have ranked near the bottom of the National League in offensive production.


2012    .672   15th

2011    .665   11th

2010    .697    14th

2009    .686    12th

2008    .695    15th

2007    .688    16th

2006    .684    15th

2005    .692    13th

2004    .828     6th

2003    .632    15th

Home Runs

2012    5    16th

2011    8    14th

2010    10    15th

2009    14    12th

2008    20    13th

2007    11    15th

2006    7    16th

2005    12    12th

2004    21    10th

2003    12    12th

Contact Matt Gelb at Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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