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McCoy: Brandon Phillips “slipping into Joe Morgan’s domain”

May 25, 2013, 11:35 PM EDT

brandon phillips getty Getty Images

If the aforementioned quote refers to a science fiction film, you can count me in. As it relates to baseball, though, I’m not on board. In a column for FOX Sports Ohio, Hal McCoy uses some dubious statistical comparisons to equate Phillips to Joe Morgan. It’s an otherwise interesting and informative column, but I can’t get past this:

Morgan played seven years for the Cincinnati Reds and Phillips is in his seventh year with the Reds. And so many of their statistics are dead-on similar that it is eerie.

Consider: Joe Morgan hit 152 home runs and Phillips has 150. Joe Morgan had 612 RBI and Phillips has 605. Brandon Phillips has 221 doubles and Morgan had 220. Brandon Phillips has 1,214 hits and Morgan had 1,155.

Consider: Morgan had a career .392 on-base percentage and led the league in the category four times. On ten different occasions, Morgan finished a season with a .400 or better OBP. Phillips has a career average .322 OBP and has never exceeded .353 in a season.

Morgan posted an .800 or better OPS on seven different occasions, going as high as 1.020 in 1976, the second of his back-to-back MVP award-winning seasons. Phillips has gone .800 or better just three times. When you adjust OPS for the quality of the league and for park effects, Morgan’s career average is 132, Phillips is at 97 (the general average is set at 100). Morgan also stole 689 bases in 851 attempts (81%) while Phillips has only stolen 154 in 215 attempts (72%). Phillips certainly has Morgan on defense and even though Baseball Reference credits Phillips at 52 career runs above average defensively and Morgan 48 runs below, Morgan easily wins the WAR battle 100 to 24.

Phillips is a great player and extremely fun to watch, but it is unfair to put him in the same conversation as one of the greatest second basemen ever to play the game of baseball.

  1. thomas844 - May 25, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    Phillips is my favorite player but I agree it is hard to compare the two offensively and in terms of career achievements. He still has plenty of time left to add on to his career numbers, though. I can see him end with around 2,000 hits, 250 homers, 1,000 RBIs, a career average around .280-.290, and about 7 or 8 Gold Gloves. With the team he is on, he has a good chance of winning at least one World Series title.

    I doubt he will win an MVP award, but then again, if he continues to lead the NL in RBI all year and continue to play ridiculous defense he may be in the conversation. I don’t ever think Phillips will be in the same class as Morgan, but if he can end up accomplishing the things I listed, which are all very doable for him, he could be in the HOF conversation.

    • genericcommenter - May 26, 2013 at 12:18 AM

      I’m not saying those numbers aren’t possible, but even then he’s probably short of Lou Whitaker- who got 2% of the vote and was gone.

      • thomas844 - May 26, 2013 at 12:23 AM

        That’s true but Lou won 3 Gold Gloves which is what Phillips has now. Phillips has a chance to win 4 or 5 more at the rate he is going. If Phillips does end up in the HOF conversation, it would primarily be for elite defense and secondly with very good offense added on.

      • raysfan1 - May 26, 2013 at 2:24 AM

        Of course Whitaker’s fate on the HoF ballot was a travesty.

      • blacksables - May 26, 2013 at 3:46 AM

        Whitaker only won 3 Gold Gloves because his career paralleled that of Frank White, one of the greatest defensive second basemen of all time.There was also Harold Reynolds and a lot of other good glove men at second at the time he played.

        Phillips doesn’t have the same level of competition for his Gold Gloves.

  2. Aaron - May 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM

    That kind of analysis combined with Paul Daugherty’s lunacy the other day in Sports Illustrated just goes to show how awful the baseball media is in Cincinnati. There are several excellent blogs, but the mainstream media (beat writers & columnists) is terrible.

    • Bill Baer - May 26, 2013 at 12:08 AM

      Shout out to Redleg Nation

  3. randygnyc - May 26, 2013 at 12:12 AM

    I grew up watching and rooting against Morgan and the Big Red Machine. Morgan was the best 2nd baseman I ever saw play the game, until Robinson Cano came along. I’ll give the press a pass on the comparisons between Phillips and Morgan only because they both play/played for the Reds.

    • dan1111 - May 26, 2013 at 3:10 AM

      Cano is certainly an excellent player, and unlike Phillips it isn’t totally ridiculous to put him in the same league as Morgan.

      Still, Morgan was significantly better through the same point in his career–and that was before he put up monster seasons at ages 31 and 32.

    • rufuscornpone - May 26, 2013 at 8:30 AM

      It’s amazing to me how underrated Joe Morgan still is. He got on base like a madman (lead the league 4 times), lead the league in OPS twice, posted a 132 career OPS+ (the same of Josh Hamilton’s!). Oh, and he stole 50-60 bases a year and was great defensively.

      Joe Morgan was, hands down, the best player of the 1970s. He leads the decade in WAR by wins over second place Johnny Bench. Robinson Cano is great…but no, a can’t see how a serious person could make that he’s anywhere close to being better than Morgan. And Phillips is veeeery far from Morgan.

  4. baseballisboring - May 26, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    Why can’t certain writers/fans just be happy with their players being good players? Why does Brandon Phillips have to be Joe Morgan? Brandon Phillips is a pretty damn good player, just leave it at that.

  5. hpt150 - May 26, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    Robinson Cano better than Joe Morgan? It’s simply not possible for anyone to be that big a homer. And it’s disingenuous enough to call into question future posts. Cano is a fine player, the best 2B in the game currently. He’s no where near Joe Morgan. But few are and that’s ok.

    • cogitobaseballergosum - May 26, 2013 at 1:23 AM

      Cano’s only 30 years old. If you look at Joe Morgan’s stats at age 30 he wouldn’t have been considered one of the best 2nd basemen ever, either.

      If you compare stat lines through each players’ age 29 season, they’re pretty similar:
      Morgan 1197 games, .270/.384/.414 for a .798 OPS and 129 OPS+
      Cano 1214 games, .308/.351/.503 for a .854 OPS and 123 OPS +

      Morgan has a big advantage in SB’s and Cano has a big advantage in HR’s. Cano shows a dWAR of 5.0, Morgan of 1.3.

      So, yeah, Cano is somewhere near Morgan at the same stage of their career. But you’re right, few are.

      • rufuscornpone - May 26, 2013 at 8:37 AM

        1. Putting slash lines without context is disingenuous. Offense was waaaay down in the late 60’s-1970s, and Morgan spent the first part of his career in one of the worst hitting environments in baseball history: the Astrodome in the 2nd deadball era.

        2. You use D-War, so you won’t mind when I do a through 30 WAR comparision. Cano’s is 39.3 (which is fantastic!). Morgan is a whopping 54.3. Not close.

        3. This wasn’t even Joe Morgan at his best. The next two years, he would post two of the best seasons in baseball history. He would lead the league in OBP by 60 and 40 points respectively. While leading the league in OPS, slugging in one of those years and 60+ steals.

      • cogitobaseballergosum - May 27, 2013 at 1:17 AM

        I’m not arguing that Cano is better than Morgan, nor am I underestimating Morgan. He’s one the top 5 2nd basemen in history. I’m merely pointing out that we have a complete picture of Morgan’s career and only half of Cano’s and through age 29 they are reasonably similar. To your points:

        1. OPS+ does provide context, which is why I included it.

        2. Speaking of disingenuous, Cano isn’t yet through his age 30 season, which is why I used through age 29. And yes, through age 29 Morgan still leads in WAR 45.5 to 37.6. Whether you call that close is up to opinion.

        3. Yes, Joe Morgan’s 2 best seasons came after age 29. If you have a crystal ball and can say for certain that Cano’s best seasons are behind him, then I defer to Your Oracleness. Otherwise, let’s wait and see, before we decide that Cano has no chance to be somewhere near as good as Joe Morgan.

  6. kicksave1980 - May 26, 2013 at 1:06 AM

    Speaking to the Cano/Phillips side-debate; I am a Cardinals fan and really dislike Brandon Phillips. That said, in my opinion, he’s the best 2B in the game. If Phillips played for the Yankees, he’d be hyped just as much as Cano. When I compare position players, I only look at defense. It doesn’t matter what position you play when you’re at the plate.

    • dan1111 - May 26, 2013 at 3:17 AM

      Cano may be “hyped”, but he is also a far better hitter and far more valuable all-around player than Phillips.

    • malbrecht4 - May 26, 2013 at 11:05 AM


      Well said

  7. jonrox - May 26, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    Phillips is crushing Morgan at one stat, though. In their times with the Reds, Phillips has grounded into 133 double plays, while Morgan managed a paltry 48.

    Just to reiterate some points, Morgan had 599 more walks than Phillips (with Reds), stole 256 more bases (at a better rate), and produced 23.5 more WAR (Phillips has 3.1 more dWAR). (Per Baseball-Reference). It’s neat that a lot of stats lined up so well, but Morgan was better at basically every stat that Hal didn’t mention. It’s like Aaron said above, this is the level of sports journalism Cincinnati teams get., and that’s pretty said. Hal’s even considered one of the best in the area.

  8. tfbuckfutter - May 26, 2013 at 1:48 AM

    Phillips is really good at identifying gritty players.

    Don’t know why that was left off the tale of the tape.

    Also, Phillips has bested Morgan in 3 out of 4 of the last “Catch a greased up David Eckstein” contests.

  9. brewcrewfan54 - May 26, 2013 at 3:25 AM

    So he’s awful at announceing baseball to? Makes sense.

  10. tanzkommandant - May 26, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    Cut him some slack; he’s blind.

  11. freerayray52 - May 26, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    Joe Morgan = way overrated. When he played 2b was where the worst player on the team was stuck.

    • abaird2012 - May 26, 2013 at 8:54 AM

      Really? Tell us more.

    • thomas844 - May 26, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      You’re overrated

  12. Old Gator - May 26, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    Lies, damned lies and statistics.
    -S. Clemens

  13. js20011041 - May 26, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    I think everyone here is also forgetting to mention that Morgan crushes Phillips in the most important stat in baseball: tee dubyah, tee dubyah.

    • thomas844 - May 26, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      Morgan wins in TWTW, but Phillips wins in terms of SWAG lol

  14. ytownjoe - May 26, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Believe it or not – the Tribe gave up on him.

  15. newyorkshets - May 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Phillips is a awesome player. Glad to see he’s become the complete player he was supposed to be. Oh yeah fuck joe Morgan

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