The Value of Cody Asche in the Modern NL

With Domonic Brown’s time with the Phillies coming to an end there is a giant hole in the player-to-be-hated-because-he-disappoints-me category.  With the purge of veterans and a new starting rotation that does not induce instant vomiting, the Phillies might actually be interesting and exciting.  Enter Cody Asche.  He was a “top” prospect in a bad Phillies’ system, he hit well in AA (.300/.360/,513) and AAA (.295/.352/.485), and then came up to the majors and was not Michael Young.  The only problem is he is now at 1069 PAs and has a career line of .246/.301/.392 and due to a crappy glove a fWAR and bWAR of -0.6.  In 2015, he lost his third base job to Maikel Franco and moved to a new position to butcher in the field, left field.  Asche will turn 26 this June, so while young he is not on the level of the Phillies’ next wave of talent.  Yet, his upside is intriguing because he occupies a space on a roster created by the inefficiencies of the modern National League lineup.

With the advent of the 7 man bullpen, National League teams now run a 5 man major league bench.  This is limiting because those 5 players must fill these roles:

  • Backup SS
  • Backup CF
  • Backup C

The conventional roster construction indicates that the other two players are another infielder (able to cover 3B) and another outfielder.  The compounding difficulty is that the bench needs to include pinch hitters who can hit right handed and left handed, without the backup catcher leaving their protective bubble.

So why do we care about Asche?  He does not play SS, CF, or catcher.  However, he plays IF and OF which allows him to fill both the 4th and 5th spots on a bench, removing the requirements on the 5th spot on the bench.  To top it off, Asche can fill the left handed need on the bench.

Now that is his upside, not his current.  Asche was a much different player in the second half, trading some strikeouts and BABIP for a large uptick in both walks (4.8% to 6.9%) and power (.113 ISO to .199 ISO), but that is only 204 of his career PAs.  He is much better against righties than lefties (91 wRC+ vs 60 wRC+) but that only got him to a .248/.298/.415 line last season against righties.  He is going to need to combine both of these trends together to provide value at the plate.  The good news though, is that in a limited role his weaknesses can be eliminated as long as we accept his role will not expand in the future (the John Mayberry Jr effect).

His defense is the other major question.  Zone based defensive metrics hate him, however other metrics paint a rosier picture.  Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA has him as a bad defender, but a full 7 runs better than UZR and 5 runs better than DRS.  PAA also has him as a below average defender, but does not have him as the worst player ever.  It is hard to see his defense at 3B improving, but there is hope in left field where he still looked at times like an infielder in the outfielder.  Combine that with the more average outlooks on his defense, and there may be something near average in his future.

Cody Asche is a very flawed player, and he may not survive the turnover of the Phillies’ roster.  However, he provides an interesting upside as a bench player, because he can bridge the infield/outfield gap and give you flexibility with your bench to carry a limited defensive player like Darin Ruf.  Not all players must be stars, and many are not even objectively better than players who don’t have a major league job, but sometimes the limitations of the game create areas where a certain skillset can make a flawed player a more ideal solution.

Photo by Keith Allison

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.