We’re launching a new feature here at RLN – the photo vault. Thanks to the good folks at Getty Images and the Cincinnati Enquirer, we at the Nation have access to a vast archive of Reds related images. We’ll share the best of them periodically. If you have your own images you’d like to share, please send them to us.
Today, we look back 88 years, to a time when the Reds trained in Mineral Wells, Texas. According to Hall of Famer Edd Roush, it was way too hot. Roush hit .352 in the 1922 season, but only played in 49 games. Maybe he was right about the heat.
If you’re desperately hoping that the new boss ain’t the same as the old boss, look no further than Bryan Price’s view of defensive shifts. Citing “pretty dramatic” data, the Reds’ first-year manager recently said the team will take more advantage of hit-chart data to shift their defensive alignment (Mark Sheldon).
“I think we’re going to be a little bit more inclined to set our defense in the areas of the field where the highest percentage of balls are hit based on the hitter. It makes sense. There will definitely be times where the hitter beats the shift. But the data is pretty dramatic.”
The skyrocketing number of defensive shifts in the major leagues makes the overall trend crystal clear. Here is the raw data (Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com):
As far as the metrics are concerned, the numbers of defensive shifts on balls in play tracked by Baseball Info Solutions’ (BIS) video studies over the last four seasons were as follows:
A 94-percent jump from 2011-12 is eye-catching, in and of itself. A 245-percent rise from 2011-13 is meteoric.
In November, I wrote (Will the Reds Shift Their Ground?) about the growing trend among baseball teams to put more emphasis on defensive shifts, including examples from Washington and Detroit of organizations hiring what amount to defensive coordinators.
John Dewan, an authority on defensive analytics in baseball (he authors The Fielding Bible), recently wrote: “Defense in baseball has gone unnoticed for a long time. I expect that there will come a time in baseball where shifting by batter and even by count and pitch type will become as commonplace as NFL defensive changes based on the down and distance situation. The Tampa Bay Rays are getting close to that now, and as they continue to succeed, other teams will begin to emulate their success, as they have begun doing.”
Price and the Reds appear to have found their Mike Zimmer in new bench coach Jay Bell, who worked on the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff last year. The Pirates’ aggressive use of “optimized defensive positioning” was credited as a factor in their breakout 2013 season. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle is so convinced of the benefits of shifting he intends to do it even more this season (Castrovince):
The Pirates, meanwhile, essentially ignore the publicly available data and insist they used ”optimized defensive positioning” on literally every plate appearance by the opposition. They are convinced that infield shifts were so instrumental in the progress of their pitching staff in the organization’s first winning season in 21 years that they plan to expand their use of the shift this season to incorporate more aggressive outfield positioning, as well. ”There’s not a doubt in anybody’s mind,” said Bucs manager Clint Hurdle, “that this was a gap-closer for us.”
Run production in baseball overall was at a twenty-year low in 2013. The exact contribution of defensive shifting to that trend line remains controversial, with skeptics residing even inside the sabermetrics community, including number-crunching pioneer Bill James. How much of “fewer runs scored” is due to optimizing defensive alignment or how much is due to factors like declining use of PEDs and greater pitching velocity is unclear.
What is clear is Bryan Price’s welcome openness to take a good, honest look at the data.
Homer Bailey held the L.A. Dodgers hitless and scoreless through three innings last night and reflected (Mark Sheldon) on his outing:
“I got through three innings, that was kind of important,” Bailey said. “I was trying to build up the endurance and stuff. I was working on a couple of breaking balls. Overall, it wasn’t too bad. I really didn’t go too deep in many counts. They were pretty aggressive out there.”
Bailey talked about his approach (John Fay) to pitch selection for the game.
“You’re trying to build up so you can get 100 pitches and get ready for the season,” he said. “We’re going to play these guys, so it’s not like we’re going to attack them like we would in the season. I tried to work on a few things, but I still tried to get ahead in the count.”
Mat Latos threw off of a mound (Sheldon) for the first time since his knee surgery.
“Everything feels fantastic,” Latos said. “I expected a little bit of soreness while I was throwing, or to feel it once or twice. I didn’t feel anything while I was throwing. My mechanics were a little off. The ball was up, but that’s to be expected. I’m almost three weeks late.”
Finally, the Reds’ Hall of Fame and Museum is hosting a day-long event on Saturday, March 15. It includes a three-hour afternoon session with fantasy baseball experts from Baseball Headquarters, with Ron Shandler headlining the event. If you take your fantasy baseball seriously and are anxiously awaiting the start of the Reds’ season, this looks like a great opportunity to spend time at Great American Ball Park, the Hall of Fame and Museum and interacting with smart people.
So, the thing about projecting the Reds’ lineup, is that it’s not filled with excitement so much as uncertainty. I don’t want it to be that way, but it is. Correspondingly, I am ready for a projection that’s a little more fun. Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Bruce…
2013 Slash Line: .262/.329/.478
2014 Projection: .255/.330/.500
2013 WAR: 4.6 (BBRef & FanGraphs average)
2014 Best Guess WAR: 4.5
Projected Difference: -0.1 WAR
2014 Floor: 2.0 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 7.5 WAR
Last year, Jay Bruce’s number were almost a perfect copy of his career numbers. It was hard to watch him and not think “this is who he is.” You know what? If that’s the case, the Reds are in pretty good shape because Bruce was really good last year. However, he is still only 27. I’m serious. This is his age-27 season. My wife and I saw his first game shortly before our wedding. We’ll be married six years in June. Jay Bruce is 27. Holy cow.
What that means is that he hasn’t hit the point at which we should expect a decline, nor has he hit the point at which we should stop hoping for that big Jay Bruce season we’ve all been waiting for.
Every projection system sees him improving offensively this year (if only a little), though there is some disagreement about his defense. I’m betting on Jay having another good year in the field. Further, though he started last year by striking out a lot, I looked at it pretty closely and I think that was an anomaly and he should see his k-rate come down a bit.
There is no reason for this to be anything other than a good season for Bruce and I’m hoping this can be the year he rips off a .270/.350/.540 year and puts himself in the MVP discussion. Now is as good a time as any.
Bill and I got our hands on a slow news week in Redleg Nation, and somehow figured out how to talk about it for an hour. Yes, the excitement of Opening Day is drawing ever nearer. Let’s talk Reds, shall we?
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John Fay has an excellent article up this morning about the Reds’ financial picture. It’s based on a long interview with Reds’ CEO Bob Castellini. If you’re interested in taking the pulse of the top leadership for the organization, I strongly recommend you read it.
Fay’s reporting confirms that the Reds can, in fact, afford nice things. As I’ve been saying for a couple of years, the local sources who uncritically repeat the talking point that the Reds don’t have enough money for this or that haven’t carefully studied the new revenues washing up into baseball, even in Cincinnati.
For example, Castellini talks positively about the ability of the Reds to sign Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto to extensions. Castellini also discusses a few details of the national broadcast contract. I particularly enjoyed reading Castellini’s remarks about negotiating the Reds’ next local TV agreement.
“We will maximize the value of our rights when we’re able,” Castellini said. “We will consider every option.”
His reference to “every option” might include a competitive bid from Time Warner/Comcast or possibly a stand-alone regional sports network. Either way, I bet the Reds end up with ownership equity in their new broadcasts. That’s a positive financially, because franchises don’t have to share revenue they earn from owning the broadcast. That’s considered “media revenue” not “baseball revenue” and therefore beyond the scope of the revenue sharing provisions of the CBA.
In the midst of taking a shot at media reports (including blogs, I suppose) criticizing the lack of action by the Reds this offseason, Castellini also puts attendance figures into context by comparing Reds’ season ticket sales to those of the Cardinals. I’d have never guessed this (my emphasis):
“The Cardinals have a huge ticket base because they deserve it,” Castellini said. “They win year-in, year-out. But when we bought the Cardinals in 1996, they had fewer season tickets than we have now. But they brought back that winning tradition. You have to contend.”
Castellini gets it. You have to spend money (wisely) to generate revenue. Baseball franchises can’t cut corners and expect to thrive.
Fabulous reporting by John Fay.
The biggest unknown in the Reds 2014 season is young Billy Hamilton. He is being handed both the centerfield and leadoff jobs to begin the season. Reds fans are both hopeful and nervous. Watching Hamilton run is a religious experience and the only question is if he will bring enough of a bat to carry his weight in the majors. Here are my projections.
2013 Slash Line: .256/.308/.343 (AAA)
2014 Projection: .255/.315/.330
2013 WAR: 0.6 (Choo – 5.2)
2014 Best Guess WAR: 2.0
Projected Difference: -3.2 WAR from Choo
2014 Floor: 0.0 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 5.0 WAR
I want to start the discussion by saying that no one should expect Hamilton to replace Choo. That’s simply not fair. They are radically different players with radically different skill sets. Choo was a finished player while Hamilton is still developing. So while it is very unlikely the Reds will get as much out of center as they did last year, that does not mean Hamilton is destined to be a bust.
Hamilton, at this point, is all about potential. So let’s discuss what we know and don’t know about him.
What We Know:
Hamilton will lead the league in steals if he plays every day and he will hit for zero power. It’s all about the legs. He’s a rare player who might be more likely to hit an inside-the-park homer than the conventional trotting variety. The only real hope for improvement is that as he ages, he gains a bit of strength. Just a touch more power would do him a great deal of good. He did crack a .400 SLG at two different minor league stops, but what we should hope for is that he can get it north of .350.
What We Don’t Know:
How much he will walk and how good his defense will be. In two minor league stops in 2012, Hamilton walked a lot. Like Joey Votto-level a lot. Last year, he was more Todd Frazier. This is the big key to his value. If he walks like Frazier, he’s probably not a total disaster, but many will be questioning his effectiveness. But, if he can even find a middle ground between Frazier and Votto, then the Reds will really have something. A 10 percent walk-rate probably means an OBP north of . 340, and with Hamilton’s speed, that is an excellent place to be.
He figures to be above average in center with projections generally ranging from just above average to, gold-glove level. My money is on him being closer to a gold-glove than average.
What we’ve heard in spring training so far, is encouraging. If Hamilton really does focus on taking walks and getting on base, this could be a big year for him. In the end, we have to hope the potential pays off soon.