07 December 2013

The Norfolk Performances of New Oriole Cord Phelps

The Orioles recently claimed infielder Cord Phelps on waivers from Cleveland. If there is one player that I'm glad is now in the Orioles organization, it's Cord Phelps. Partly, it's because of the inescapable Mission: Impossible "Mr. Phelps" references. But it's also because in 2011 Cord Phelps had one of the most memorable series I've seen a visiting player have at Harbor Park, as I will describe below. But over the past four seasons, I've seen Cord Phelps play ten games in Harbor Park for the Columbus Clippers. How has he performed overall? What does he bring to the Orioles?

In July of 2010, Phelps' Columbus Clippers came to Norfolk for a four-game series. I scored three of the four games, and Phelps was phenomenal. In 11 plate appearances, he had seven hits (one double) and two walks, for a slash line of .778/.818/.889. The Clippers scored seven runs in the three games; Phelps scored two of them and didn't drive in any.

Phelps' overall production was lower in the four Clippers games I scored in May of 2011, but he made his hits count. In game 1, his only hit was a bases-loaded eleventh-inning double that drove in three runs and iced the Clippers 5-1 victory. He got three hits in the Clippers 5-2 game 2 victory, one of which drove in a game-tying run in the sixth inning and another of which was a two-run double that, again, iced the game in the seventh. He didn't do much in the Clippers 2-1, 13-inning game 3 loss, but drove in three more runs, including the game-winner, in their 6-5, 10 inning win. For the four games as a whole, Phelps' slash line was a more modest .364/.364/.591, with 1 run scored and 9 batted in (of the 17 the Clippers scored in the series.).

The Clippers' 2012 visit to Harbor Park came in early August, and I scored three of those games. Phelps wasn't nearly as impressive in those three games as he had been in either of the previous years; his slash line was .273/.333/.545. His solo home run in the Clippers 3-1 loss in the third game I scored were his only run and RBI of the series. In 2013, the Clippers came to Harbor Park in late June; while Phelps was then on the Clippers at the time he didn't appear in either of the two games I scored.

So, in the ten games I scored in which Cord Phelps appeared, he produced a .429/.467/.643 slash line in 11 games, with four runs scored and ten runs batted in.

The below table looks at his performance in the on a pitch-by-pitch basis. I've broken the results of each pitch he saw by season:


2010
2011
2012
Total
Ball
17
25
24
66
Swinging Strike
2
6
1
9
Called Strike
3
13
8
24
Foul Ball
3
13
8
24
In-Play
9
17
9
35


Phelps swung at just under 57% of the pitches he saw. Of the pitches he took, 26.7% were called strikes and 73.3% were called balls. He didn't take pitches in the strike zone. It's harder to tell whether he swung at pitches out of the strike zone, but at least we can say that he made contact when he did swing; he missed only 13.3% of the pitches he swung at. There's not a wide variance in these results from year-to-year, and it's safe to conclude that Phelps is a contact hitter who generally knows the strike zone.

The next table shows how many times he had each ball-strike count:


2010
2011
2012
0-0
11
22
12
1-0
4
8
8
0-1
4
12
3
2-0
2
1
3
1-1
4
10
6
0-2
0
4
0
3-0
0
0
0
2-1
4
6
5
1-2
0
5
1
3-1
4
0
2
2-2
0
6
5
3-2
1
2
5


No real clear pattern appears. The lack of 2-0 and 3-0 counts might indicate that pitchers aren't afraid to throw Phelps strikes, which corresponds well to his reputation as not a power hitter. He does seem to have worked the count deeper in more recent seasons, which might indicate that pitchers are throwing him better quality pitches and not grooving pitches in the strike zone. On the other hand, the lack of 0-2 counts might indicate both that when Phelps does swing early in the count, he puts the ball in play and that pitchers may be nibbling when Phelps comes to bat.

Cord Phelps has been projected as an infielder whose strength is his offense; his only chance to be a regular would be as a bat-first second baseman. His overall profile is similar to Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty has hit with more power and has shown worse strike-zone judgement than Phelps, and it's probable that if Phelps survives spring training, he'll start 2014 at Norfolk. If Flaherty struggles, Phelps will be a readily-available replacement.

I recognize that there is no reason to believe that Phelps has a special affinity for Norfolk's Harbor Park and that the eleven games I've seen are merely a fluke. However, when I saw that the Orioles had claimed Cord Phelps and discussed the move with my colleagues, we amused ourselves by concluding that Phelps became an instant front-runner for the 2014 International League MVP.

2 comments:

philip said...

Isn't Flaherty's Major league calling card his defense?
Flaherty has power and-I think-Plus defense, but hasn't yet developed an eye, so his average is poor.
But his defense is excellent.

I can't think why the orioles would make an equivalent addition instead of acquiring someone who is clearly superior.

Phelps apparently offers nothing at all... or is his defense as good as Ryan's?
What am I missing?

Joe Reisel said...

It's unclear exactly how good Flaherty's defense is. The numbers he's put up with the Orioles don't match his minor-league reputation, the fact that he's being groomed as a utilityman, or the fact that Roberts held the job during the second half. On offense, Flaherty is exactly what the Orioles don't need - a low-OBP home run hitter.


I believe Phelps is cheap insurance against Flaherty's bat or glove falling apart. If Flaherty struggles, you can call up Phelps and hope he gets hot. Both are fundamentally replacement-level players.