Reds manager Dusty Baker moved second baseman Brandon Phillips up to the second-spot in the lineup Wednesday night, prompting Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans to send out this tweet:
Reds go from a hitter with a .320 OBP in the 2 hole to one with a .310 OBP
— ctrent (@ctrent) August 28, 2013
Phillips, who tweeted about lobbying for the change after Tuesday night's loss to the Cardinals (with his manager's permission, as Rosecrans later established), took profane exception, calling out Rosecrans during Baker's pre-game session with the media, as captured by this video (warning: strong language):
Rosecrans and the Enquirer largely shrugged off Phillips' outburst, the latter doing so officially with a four-paragraph statement that concluded thusly:
While we are disappointed in Phillips' reaction, we understand it is a pennant race and emotions are high during a crucial series with a heated rival. This isn't the first time a player has lost his temper in response to a reporter's questions and it won't be the last. It is part of covering the team day-in day-out.
This will not affect our coverage of the team or Phillips. We plan on moving on from this and we hope Phillips does too.
Most likely, if Phillips' comments had not been recorded, such a statement would not have been necessary. Phillips showed poor judgement in repeatedly and profanely insulting Rosecrans within range of live microphones, but the paper's statement, written by sports editor Angel Rodriguez, had it right. Ballplayers occasionally lose their cool with the constant criticism they receive from the media. They are human and work in a high-stress job. That doesn't mean that Phillips voiced his objections in an appropriate manner, but nobody is perfect, not even a three-time All-Star making $14 million this year. Be thankful that you don't have the national media recording the majority of what you do and say at the office.
I suspect that there's a history between Phillips and Rosecrans, the latter of whom only joined the Enquirer this year but has been on the Reds beat (formerly with the Cincinnati Post) since before Phillips' arrival in 2006. After all, the tweet that set Phillips off was both factual and, it seems to me, largely aimed at Baker, who is notorious for putting low on-base percentages in the top two spots in his lineup -- or even at the Reds in general for not having a more suitable hitter for the spot.
That said, it is also fair to qualify Rosecrans' tweet as nitpicking. True, Phillips' OBP heading into Wednesday night's game was .310, but as Rosecrans himself pointed out in his next tweet, Phillips has a career .320 OBP, both overall and as a number-two hitter. Normally, putting a player who only gets on base 32 percent of the time in the number-two hole would be bad baseball, which is what Rosecrans was clearly implying, but looking at the Cincinnati roster, there are just two players with an OBP better than .325 this season: Shin-Soo Choo, who is properly leading off, and Joey Votto, who hits third. If Baker was burying a player with a strong on-base percentage in his lineup to bat Phillips second, the criticism would be valid, but that's not the case. The man who Phillips displaced in the two-hole was struggling sophomore Todd Frazier, who after an 0-for-3 night in Wednesday's 10-0 defeat of St. Louis, has a .318 on-base percentage, while Phillips (2-for-5) improved his to .311. It's even difficult to criticize the Reds for failing to provide Baker with a better option in the two-hole. Possible options Ryan Hanigan (.364 on-base percentage) and Ryan Ludwick (.346) have both missed significant time with injuries this year. And last December the team went out and got on-base machine Choo to takeover the leadoff role and fill what seemed to be the only real hole in their lineup (at least given the dearth of alternatives at shortstop). Still, even if Rosecrans was nitpicking, he didn't deserve to be personally, publicly and profanely insulted by Phillips, at least based on that tweet alone. If there is a deeper history between the two, as Baker says in the video above, that's between them, though Rosecrans should be careful not to let his personal opinion of a player influence his analysis (not that I'm saying he did). And Phillips should be careful not to let a little twitter trolling get him so riled up.