Braves infielder Brandon Phillips moved to third base on Aug. 2 after never playing the position in his long major league career. He’s played it flawlessly since the move.
Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Phillips’ move to 3B: seamless and even spectacular

In case you were wondering, it’s not just the basic “eye test” that tells us Brandon Phillips has been exceptional defensively since moving this month to third base, a position the former Gold Glove second baseman had not played professionally except in a Double-A game in 2001.

It’s also statistics, both basic and advanced, that support that position regarding Phillips’ immediate prowess at the hot corner.

Phillips started his 17th consecutive game at third base Sunday and did so having made no errors in 30 defensive chances over 16 games, including a couple of spectacular bare-handed plays Saturday night against his former Cincinnati Reds team.

In the metric statistical category UZR/150, which is defined as the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games, Phillips’ 19.6 rating at third base before Sunday would rank as the highest by any major league infielder this season.

“Everybody sees it with their own eyes,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “Obviously he’s got unbelievable hands and he’s athletic. He trusts himself, so…. You just watch him play and you understand what he can do and how truly impressive that it is. He plays the game with confidence and trusts his ability and understands how to play the game of baseball. He’s just a baseball player and he does it really, really well.”

He moved to third base on Aug. 2, after the Braves called up second-base prospect Ozzie Albies. They asked Phillips to switch positions and the 36-year-old three-time All-Star, though not thrilled to make the move, did it without protest and has made it look preposterously easy to shift across the diamond and play what’s considered to be one of more challenging positions in baseball.

Phillips has so far declined to talk at all about the move to third base, but teammates have repeatedly praised his performance there.

“He’s an athlete. He’s a Gold Glover,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “He’s still in the infield obviously. Things are coming at him a little bit faster but if anybody’s going to it it’s him. He looks great over there. His reaction time is still great. He had to show off his arm (on a play at Colorado last week when Trevor) Story was getting down the line. He can do it all.”

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