Still all about who should be playing first for the Phillies against right-handed pitching with Howard out and Thome not being a first baseman. Last post we looked at offensive numbers for five players who look like they have a chance to get into the lineup for the Phils against righties early in the year, either in left field or at first base. Based on being worst in both the career and 2011 categories, I’m dropping Pierre from the list. That leaves us with Wigginton, Nix, Mayberry and Brown.

A big issue when looking at those four players is that Mayberry and Brown both have less than 250 career plate appearances against right-handed pitching. Brown has 230 and Mayberry has 205. Nix and Wigginton have both had far more chances against righties, at least 1,500 for each. Nix and Wigginton got a nearly identical number of plate appearances against righties in 2011 with far better results for Nix.

Of the guys with a lot of plate appearances, Wigginton has the slightly better wOBA against righties for his career, but Nix has been better over the last three years. In this post I pointed out that Nix’s career can be looked at in three phases, three years with Texas where he was pretty bad, three years where he didn’t get much time in the majors and the last three years in which he’s been a lot better offensively than he was early in his career.

Here’s the wOBA Nix and Wigginton have posted against righties for the past three seasons:

2011 2010 2009
Nix 341 335 336
Wigginton 310 325 326

In each of the last three seasons, Nix has been better against righties than Wigginton. In 2011 the difference was the most dramatic. Nix got 320 plate appearances against righties for the Nats last year in which he hit 263/306/475 with 16 homers. Wigginton played in Colorado, got 319 plate appearances with the Rockies and hit 235/292/413. Against right-handed pitching, Nix got on base more and hit for more power than Wigginton. While he’s not a lock to get on base against righties more than Wigginton in 2012, he’s a real good bet to hit for a lot more power against them and be the better player offensively overall.

As I pointed out in this post, in each of the last three seasons, Wigginton’s wOBA against right-handed pitching has been worse than it was in the previous season. 2008 was probably Wigginton’s best year against righties — he hit 265/322/488 in 311 plate appearances for the Astros that year.

Looking at 2012, I think it’s reasonable to expect that the lefty Nix, a left-handed hitter who can pretty much only play against righties, will be better offensively against right-handed pitching than the righty Wigginton.

A big part of the question is how those two players stack up against lefty Domonic Brown and righy John Mayberry, two hitters who have not had nearly the same number of plate appearances as Nix and Wigginton have for their careers. Nearly everyone would expect the lefty Brown to be better than the righty Mayberry against right-handed pitching over their careers. And while nobody can know for sure what Mayberry and Brown will do in 2012, people can guess. And they do. And you’re going to struggle to find projections that suggest Mayberry will be better than Brown overall this season, much less against right-handed pitching. Looking at two of the publicly available free projections, here’s Bill James’s predictions for the two players from FanGraphs for 2012 as well as their ZiPs projections:

Brown James 275 355 455 361
Brown ZiPS 273 330 465 345
Mayberry James 257 313 439 332
Mayberry ZiPS 246 300 427 317

Those numbers are total projections, not left-right splits. Both of those projections are better for Brown than Mayberry overall and you also need to assume that as a left-handed hitter he’s going to be far better against righties than Mayberry.

Nearly all of the projections you’ll find for Mayberry suggest he’s going to have a hard time getting on base. I haven’t seen one yet that projects his on-base percentage to top .320.

Of course, Mayberry has been a lot better than that in limited playing time with the Phils over the past two years, hitting 276/343/527 over 309 plate appearances, which is remarkable given his 258/328/457 line over 2,975 minor league plate appearances. If Mayberry continues to produce offense at the rates he has with the Phils over the last two years it will be an outstanding development for the team.

Most projections don’t seem to think that will happen.

In the group of Brown, Nix, Mayberry and Wigginton, Brown is the guy I’d pick to put up the best numbers against right-handed pitching in 2012. Wigginton is the member of the group likely to put up the worst.

Bottom line for me is this: Offensively, against right-handed pitching, Brown is the best choice for the Phils in left field.

It seems likely that both Nix and Mayberry will prove unable to provide league average offense as a first baseman against right-handed pitching in 2012. The lefty Nix seems like the conservative choice and the player of the two more likely to produce near league-average production at the position. Mayberry seems to have a higher upside, but against righties it’s likely his numbers in 2012 will drop rather than improve.

The Phillies, of course, have a bigger decision to make than just who is the player who will be the best offensively against righties in left and first. Especially if Brown starts the year in the minors, I think it’s likely we’re going to see all three of Mayberry, Nix and Wigginton at first against righties early in the season.

This suggests that the Phillies and Yankees are the two teams pursuing 19-year-old outfielder Jorge Solar the hardest. The right-handed Cuban defector is likely years away from the majors.

The article reviews pitchers that will be in camp for the Phils.