Phillies' John Mayberry Jr. works on improving average against righthanders

John Mayberry Jr. hits a ton off lefties, but his struggles against righthanded pitching have kept him from being an everyday player.
John Mayberry Jr. hits a ton off lefties, but his struggles against righthanded pitching have kept him from being an everyday player. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 05, 2013

SARASOTA, Fla. - For the first time, John Mayberry Jr. had his chance. Only Jimmy Rollins batted more times (699) for the Phillies last season than Mayberry (479). Mayberry started 107 games as a fixture in the lineup for a .500 team.

When asked earlier this spring to describe Mayberry's season, Charlie Manuel needed six words.

"I learned what I've always learned," the manager said.

Mayberry started abysmally, was energized at the trade deadline, and sputtered to a finish. There was one constant: He failed to hit righthanded pitchers. That failure is what has prevented Mayberry, 29, from being an everyday player.

It does not make him a worthless player; Mayberry could find time in a confusing outfield picture. His days this spring are not scrutinized the way Domonic Brown's or Darin Ruf's are. Still, Mayberry called the opportunity "a good one."

With the split-squad team managed by Ryne Sandberg, Mayberry doubled and singled in his first two at-bats of Sunday's 12-3 loss to Baltimore. Both hits were off righties.

In the last two seasons, few players have hit lefthanders better than Mayberry. His .868 OPS against lefties ranks 22d in the majors for righthanded batters with at least 300 plate appearances from 2011-12.

Much of that comes from his strong power stroke; his .534 slugging percentage ranks 11th among those hitters. Seven of the 10 above him were all-stars in 2012. That makes him a helpful player in certain situations.

Mayberry is out of options and a virtual lock to make the team at a $517,000 salary. The political science major from Stanford University does not say much beyond baseball clich├ęs, and he always sticks to the script.

"I'm just trying to be focused on improving the areas of my game I need to," Mayberry said. "Things have a tendency to work themselves out. I feel like whoever is playing is the one who can help our team the most."

Manuel has made his wish clear. Mayberry's OPS was 185 points lower against righties than lefties last year. The manager reinforced it last week with a batting-cage conversation.

"He definitely hits lefthanded pitchers well," Manuel said. "He still has to hit some on righties. He handled lefthanders pretty well for us. The more he gets to play, the better he'll hit righthanded pitching. He has to do that."

It seems as though Manuel has repeated those words for three years.

"So far, we keep playing him," Manuel said. "He's still out there."

That was not a ringing endorsement, but Manuel is not wrong for wanting more from Mayberry. The former first-round pick has talent, most of which has yet to be realized at the highest level. Three years ago, Mayberry stole 20 bases in 23 attempts at triple-A Lehigh Valley. He attempted one steal in 2012.

"I'm the same guy I've always been," Mayberry said.

And who is that?

"I'm not going to speculate on my own self," he said.

Last winter, the Phillies awarded Mayberry a slight edge for an outfield job because of his strong second half in 2011. But that was mostly done with the platoon advantage. The plan backfired rather quickly, and Juan Pierre soon snatched Mayberry's starts.

When two-thirds of the outfield was dealt at the trading deadline, Mayberry again had a starting job. August was his best month; he hit .290 with an .838 OPS and five home runs. He started 27 games in September and posted a paltry .676 OPS.

His skill set at least makes him an ideal bench player. He can man all three outfield spots in addition to first base. He could serve as a weapon to counter the opposition's lefthanded relief specialists.

Mayberry, of course, wants more. His father, John, played in an average of 148 games during a nine-season span.

"That's what I'm here for," Mayberry said. "That's what I've always dreamed of. That's been my ultimate goal."

Even if he falls short, Mayberry's bat is not without value.

Contact Matt Gelb


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