In an attempt to stave off the Braves, the Phillies acquired Justin Bour from the Marlins in exchange for McKenzie Mills, a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher. For a player who is arbitration eligible for the next two years, the Phillies hardly gave up anything. Mills, an 18th round draft pick in 2014, has a 3.51 ERA and 4.04 FIP in 89 2/3 innings in high-A this year. As he hasn’t pitched an inning in AA, he’s still a ways off from the majors, if he ever gets there.
Despite the low price, it’s a surprising move because they already have a switch-hitting first baseman with high on-base skills and above average power who lacks platoon splits. Over his career, Santana has a 124 wRC+ against lefties and a 120 wRC+ against righties. Bour, on the other hand, hits righties a little better (129 wRC+) but is much worse against lefties (78 wRC+).
The Phillies will have Bour for the next two years which is the same span as Carlos Santana’s contract. Having Bour and Santana on the same roster feels a bit redundant especially when having Santana and Rhys Hoskins is redundant, but more depth is never a bad thing.
Maybe the Phillies are onto the new market inefficiency: stock up on first baseman and figure it out from there. It could be that the Phillies plan to use him for the rest of the year and then flip him in the offseason.
Santana and Bour are both having down years. Santana got off to a slow start, and he struggled throughout July. Other than that, he’s been fine. He’s been the victim of poor batted-ball luck; his BABIP is just .220.
Bour’s xwOBA of .352 and his BABIP of .267 suggests he should also be a little better with balls in play than he has been. He still walks at an above average clip; his 15.4 walk percentage is tenth in the league among hitters with more than 300 plate appearances. Bour is probably overqualified to be a bench player, but the guy he’ll understudy is fourth on that list with a 17.7 walk percentage.
Adding Bour means that when Santana is out of the lineup, Rhys Hoskins can stay in the outfield. That might not be a good thing from a defensive standpoint. Hoskins has been worth -14 outs above average this year according to Statcast. Only Nicholas Castellanos has been worse. But it keeps a potent bat in the lineup that would otherwise be replaced by fourth or fifth outfielder. Beyond Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams, the Phillies don’t have an established bat in the outfield. Scott Kingery has struggled at the plate. Aaron Altherr hasn’t stuck around. Roman Quinn is off to a good start, but he has fewer than 30 major league plate appearances.
While Bour has never played an inning anywhere but first base, Santana has some experience in the outfield. He played 53 innings in right last year with Cleveland and put up -2 DRS, 0 outs above average and a -13 UZR/150. The Phillies haven’t put him anywhere but first base year, and even with Bour they might not try it. With Bour they have a little more flexibility to keep all their bats in their lineup.
That will help because the Phillies have struggled to score runs. On the season, they’re 23rd in wRC+ at 91. The issue is getting Bour enough plate appearances to make an impact.
One reason the Phillies might have been interested in Bour is because he has killed the Braves this year. Bour has a tOPS+ of 224 against the Braves in 40 plate appearances. It’s an incredibly small sample size, so it likely doesn’t mean anything. But the Phillies have seven games remaining against the Braves, and they’re looking for every advantage they can get.
This move doesn’t solve the Phillies’ problems for the next two years. It doesn’t patch a hole, but they did get better without giving up a whole lot.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords