Thinking Inside the Box

Thinking Inside the Box

Hello, my fellows in oppression. Let me start with a sad tale. You see, I pride myself on my ability with the words and I had a nice, shiny name all picked out for this column. It was to be called “Uncle Jason Raps with the Kids about How the Base Ball Players of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Organization Are Performing with Their Baseball Bats.”

But, no. Uncle Steve Mancuso had to come in with his “Thinking Inside the Box” pun and I knuckled under because the man is strong and I am weak.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will proceed…

The purpose of this column is to discuss the week in hitting. I thought I might start by talking about spring stats and then I did some research and it reminded me how worthless spring stats are. They don’t correlate with in-season performance at all. You’re actually much, much better off looking at the various projection systems.

So, instead, I thought I’d start off with my hopes and fears for the Reds hitting this year. Let’s start out with the bad news first…

I’m afraid that the injury to Brandon Phillips’ wrist isn’t what made him so terrible with the bat for most of last year.

I’m afraid that Devin Mesoraco won’t progress.

I’m afraid that Todd Frazier’s best season will always have been 2012.

I’m afraid that Ryan Ludwick won’t hit at all.

I’m also afraid that Billy Hamilton won’t hit at all.

Eww. I don’t know about you, but that gives me the shivers. Now let’s engage in something a little more life-affirming.

I hope that Joey Votto finds his power again.

I hope that Jay Bruce finally has that season.

I hope that it really was just the wrist for Phillips.

I hope that Devin hits like we all believe he can.

I hope that Frazier has a little more BABIP luck.

I hope that Hamilton sees lots of pitches and gets on base all the time.

I hope Ryan Lydwick hits like a number five hitter.

The encouraging thing about this team is that I can imagine more things going right than I can imagine going wrong. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a mediocre or even a bad offense. It just means, it’s not their destiny. On paper, it’s not a great offense, but as people often tell me when I talk about stats other than wins and losses, “That’s why they play the games, nERD!”

So sit tight kids. It’s not even April yet. Let’s see what happens. It might be a fun ride.

40 thoughts on “Thinking Inside the Box

  1. I’ll take a stab at guessing which of your hopeful moments are most likely to least likely, in my humble and meaningless opinion:

    1. Jay Bruce has that season
    2. Joey finds his power (if we’re including 2b’s and not just HR’s)
    3. Devin hits
    4. BP recovers from the wrist
    5. Hamilton sees lots of pitches and gets on base all the time
    6. Frazier has more BABIP luck
    7. Ludwick. Sigh.

    • The Ludwick thing has me really bummed out. He has looked less than stellar this spring. What really gets me fired up is the fact that either Gardner or Sizemore could have been a viable option, not just in case Hamilton works out, but just in case Ludwick still struggles. A three man split across these two positions would have been great. Who knows, maybe Bernadina can be this guy.

      • Neither Sizemore nor Gardner were realistic or even possible options for the Reds. The Yankees were not dealing Gardner unless they received a windfall (see Gardner’s contract extention) and Sizemore simply wanted to play for the BoSox as evidenced by backing out of the agreement he had with WJ. I was also in favor and strong supporter of both options, but they just weren’t there.

        Ludwick is a traditionally and habitually SLOW starter and has struggled true to historical form during spring training, but he has started to come on a little lately with the start of the season approaching. He’s slashing .260/.275/.340 now and that’s a significant improvement along with a few key hits lately. With opening day just 5 days away, I have resolved myself to the fact that Ludwick will be the starting LF until he plays his way out of the position. I just hope Heisey and Bernadina haven’t completely cooled off by the time that happens, if it happens.

      • Adding to what the Cossack said about Ludwick, his low OBP in the spring doesn’t bother me as much as it would in the regular season. One, in the spring, a lot of guys have the mentality of “I need to swing the bat.” so they expand their zone and just work on their timing. Two, it’s still a small sample size. I’m pretty worried about Ludwick but not because he’s had a rough spring. It’s more a matter of him being two years older, and coming off a shoulder surgery. On a positive note, he seems stronger and says he feels stronger. As he said in his rather grumpy interview, it’s hard to workout when you are injured. When he came back last year, he wasn’t strong because of that.

  2. Also, your original proposed column title reminds of something Grandpa Simpson would want. And I like it. :)

  3. Beyond the numbers and irrespective of the numbers, What encourages the Old Cossack most is the way things are transpiring in spring training, lead by Hamilton. Hamilton continues to be an extraordinary student. He has done this at every level and excelled at every level (AAA caveat noted). He has focused on specific development and built his skill set block by block. He is now making the final refinements to his game. I really wish he had the opportunity to make those final refinements at AAA to start the season, but that’s just not in the placcards, so it’s time to mash that accelerator down to the floor and go for a ride in the show.

    Hamilton has learned to use the bunt as a weapon, but he does not live by the bunt. Hamilton has a long, lanky frame he can extend and turn on the ball to drive it to, or even over, the wall, but he doesn’t live by driving the ball deep. Hamilton will work the count and make the pitcher find the plate. He will take a walk but he doesn’t rely on the walk. Hamilton will hit the ball on the ground significantly more than hitting a line drive or a fly ball, but he has proven he can drive the ball in the air when appropriate. If a pitcher grooves a pitch Hamilton is looking for, well he will either be flying around the bases or trotting around the bases.

    Hamilton has been the recipient of excellent coaching and has maximized that benefit. Hamilton can not play like Mike Trout. He doesn’t have the natural ability of Mike Trout. Hamilton has one role on a major league team and that is a leadoff hitter. If he can’t fill that role successfully, his contibutions will be minimal. If he can fill that role successfully (i.e. get on base any way possible), he will be the engine that pulls the train to the promised land.

    Personally, I’m anxious to see what Hamilton can do when the games start to count in 5 days. He’s shown nothing to indicate he can’t be the locomotive this Big Red Train needs.

  4. Just out of curiosity Jason, did you do a projection for Heisey? I’d be interested to see how his slash line over the course of a full season sizes up against your projection for Ludwick. (Not advocating for Heisey over Ludwick necessarily–just mildly curious).

    • I didn’t do Heisey, specifically, no. If it were me, he’d probably start or share time in left while spelling Hamilton in center. I’d guess he’s roughly equivalent to or a touch worse than Ludwick with the bat, but as he’s obviously much better in every other part of his game, he figures to be a better (though likely still below average) player.

  5. Per Sheldon, “One more piece of the roster puzzle is in place. Infielder Ramon Santiago, a non-roster invite to camp, has been told by the Reds that he has made the team and will go north.”

    I feel I now owe Dusty a modicum of an appology. Dusty is gone, WJ is still here and the ideology of a requisite all-glove, no-hit utility IF is still here. Best wishes and good luck this season to the Reds 2014 utility IF, Izturis, I mean Harris, I mean Valdez, I mean, well I think you get the point. Let’s just hope that Bryan will manage the situation more effectively.

    • Then this quote from Bryan, made me shiver…

      “When our season got over, we looked at our club and felt like we needed to have that type of a player,” Price said. … He’s a guy that he bunts well. …”

      OUCH & UGH!!!

      • The bunting part aside (ugh) I think he’s talking about “clubhouse” guy, which is Santiago’s rep. Hard for me to imagine that a backup infielder could have that large of a leadership role in the clubhouse.

      • I know bunting is a useful skill, but I have never understood why when the situation calls for it, you don’t use one of your starting pitchers who can do it well? What else have they got to do besides crack jokes and spit seeds? So what if you ‘burn’ a off day rotation pitcher? It sure beats burning a guy that might have some use in a later inning.

        • Exactly. J. Cueto should be the designated bunter 4 days out of 5.

          Hell, I’d strongly consider using M. Leake as a pinch runner, too.

    • I think the Reds are getting so good at having the no stick/good glove SS guy spot reserved on the roster that we should all start referring to this person (whomever it may be) as “The Janish.” This way, we don’t actually have to remember the name of the person presently occupying the position.

    • If the Reds wanted a visionary, they likely didn’t choose one in Price. Also, the front-office in general has a very traditional mentality on roster building and on strategic aspects of the game. Like I said, it remains to be seen how much more forward-thinking that Price will be over Baker and even if he is, how much of that may be reigned in by the front-office.

    • Old Cossack, sorry to give you some heartburn.
      Just think, WJ could have had Bonifacio as we’ve discussed before. Bonifacio at least shows up with a bat when he comes to the stadium. Well, the Cubs love them some Bonifacio, as he will help them alot this year.
      And now this from Seattle about Franklin, “He knows he’s lost the shortstop job to Brad Miller. He wouldn’t come out and say it but admitted the chances of him getting every day at-bats is gone now.”

      Seattle had Franklin playing some RF last night. WJ could get him for the backup SS/2B and now add OF/LF to possibilities for Franklin.
      Seattle is searching for a SP and a RH hitting OF. Ryan Ludwick anybody? Anybody?

      • Ack! And I thought it was just bad Vodka. The Sizemore and Gardner situation I could stomach, but the Bonifacio situation was even more absurd (inept, stubborn, idiotic, pick-your-poison) than the Byrd situation and both are totally on WJ.

    • Well, that’s one thing, isn’t it? Baker decides who plays (except when he isn’t whining to the papers about how he wants an answer from FO on a player), and the FO decides the roster. Not to say Santiago shouldn’t be the guy. And, Price mentioned why him. But, I would like to know why not the others? I mean, there are some who batted and have batted a lot better than Santiago, including this ST, and they weren’t picked.

  6. Quick question to Jason/Steve/Mods: Is there a particular reason why I cannot reply to the replies to my initial reply? . . . I don’t see the button on the replies to my reply above.

    • I had the thread level limited to three so they didn’t get too skinny. I just changed it to four and we’ll see how it works/looks.

      • Not a bad idea. On my phone the threads used to get so thin that sometimes some of the longer words didn’t fit on a line… Thanks to the whole RLN staff for the continuing work on the new site.

  7. Jason: I feel your editor-induced pain. Cossack: always a pleasure to read your comments: If we can’t be optimistic now, when can we be? As for roster construction, I understand everyone’s point about The Janish (great idea, by the way), but will point out, not in a contradictory way but in a modifying way, that the Reds, hidebound though they may be, have been a good team for some years. I expect that they will be this year, too. Billy is not Trout, certainly, but he could certainly become his defensive peer or superior as well as a good lead-off hitter. And he’ll raise more hell on the basepaths, too. The games are afoot.

    • Absolutely! Hamilton can not do what Trout can do, which is hit at a superior level anywhere in the lineup, but if Hamilton can reach base effectively (and I believe more and more that he can and will), he can be a superior leadoff hitter, even better than Trout and that’s some pretty stratospheric company.

      I also like ‘The Janish’ reference and suggestion. Kudos DrooMac.

  8. In his final tuneup before opening day, Marshall has given up 6 runs in 4 innings on 8 hits, 1 BB, 1 HR & 5 SO. PLEASE let Latos and Bailey return to (and maintain) full health and their starting rotation responsibilites post haste. BTW, Bernadina is 1-2 today with a 2-out RBI. He reminds me of the annoying little pink bunny.

    • Yes, I turned the game on, half paying attention, and I heard Marshall’s name. My heart skipped a beat, and then I realized… “Oh, not thatMarshall.” Marty just lit Marshall up after giving up a homerun.

    • Yes, like I said in another thread, if B. Marshall ends up throwing significant innings for the Reds, it’s not going to be a good thing. His stuff doesn’t play well at the MLB level and he doesn’t have the pin-point command to overcome it. Yes, he has some talents so there will be times when he can be tough, just like any of these guys can, but more often than not, he’s probably going to struggle.

      • LWB2,
        On a totally different subject: given your background, what do you think of this Neftali Soto at catcher experiment?

        I saw him for one inning today and thought he did not look all that bad; but then he didn’t have to throw. Price seemed impressed and even made a comment about what it could mean to Soto and the team if he could get his catching skills to the #2 catcher level. Seems to me a guy who can catch well enough to be a “#2 catcher” is a strong bat away from serious playing time if the #1 struggles offensively.

        • It’s an interesting experiment. Apparently he’s been working really hard on it but I haven’t seen him catch. He has a little bit of experience behind the plate, having caught 10 games in Lynchburg in 2010. He didn’t do particularly well allowing 15 of 16 runners to steal on him and allowing 2 passed balls. Some of the SB were likely due to the pitcher allowing a big jump but 15/16 can’t be all tied to the pitcher. Soto was drafted as a 3B and many of the skills for a 3B translate well for work at catcher. Soto has soft hands and quick reactions. He also isn’t too worried about getting banged up or he wouldn’t have volunteered for catcher duty. Plus, it takes a lot of guts to play the hot-corner. Soto has a fair arm, probably enough arm to play catcher, so I am guessing that most of his issue with throwing in 2010 had to due with poor foot-work and perhaps a slow release. Both of those things can be taught and worked on. I have also heard that Soto is a smart guy and a ‘student of the game’ type, so that bodes well for his chances of being a fair catcher. If he’s willing to put in the work, he might be able to make himself a passable catcher. I’m thinking, maybe along the lines of a Javier Valentine type player. I think as a catcher, that’s probably about where the upside would be. Like I said though, I’ve never seen him catch so I really can’t give much more than a best guess.

          I haven’t tried to message Mike Stefanski for his opinion but I barely know him in passing and there is no reason he’d be candid with me in sharing his opinion. One thing I will say is that I don’t think he’d be putting in the work if he didn’t think that Soto could pull it off.

        • When Pena starts, Mesoraco becomes a valuable RH pinch hitter off the bench and having Soto available as a 3rd catcher, frees up Mesoraco for pinch hitting duties. I would prefer Mesoraco against a LHP as opposed to Soto against a LHP, at least until Soto can demonstrate that his spring training performance was something more than just a spring training performance (of course the caveat of Soto making the roster applies).

  9. As a Pacific Northwest resident and a casual follower of the Mariners, I’ll at least stop to give credit for even having some depth of starting pitching options. At the least, Jocketty pulled in BMarshall and Price was extending Simon’s innings from the start of Spring. Francis and Wang remain filler – you’d have to break the glass to break the glass just to get to those guys.

    In Seattle, Randy Wolf and Scott Baker were competing for a spot in the rotation even before the injury cascade hit a couple weeks ago. Both are gone and the Mariners are selecting a #5 between 3 guys who averaged a 6.50 ERA across a collective 17 starts last year – only one of whom has thrown 10+ innings in major league camp this spring.

    We may not want to see Marshall or Simon in the rotation, especially for any kind of extended time, but at least there was some forethought and preparation.

    • second to that notion

      I’m not sure if it was Kriskvy or O’Brien but when the Reds made the decision to start focusing on pitching prospects instead of power hitters throughout the Organization the improvement of the team can not be denied. Some of the so called Opening Day roster pitchers of the early 2000′s wouldn’t even be able to make the 40 man on our current team. So even if a Marshall or Simon has to start I think that this team has a chance to compete, the year or two when Milton and Harrang were the only legit starters on the club(and by that point Milton’s “good days” were over) are not going to be repeated anytime soon.

      • Good observation, redsfan11. Pitching, as we are seeing to our sorrow this spring, is the most fragile element of a team. But also the most important, as in, you can’t have too much of it. The Reds have been good since they started pitching and fielding well.

  10. Well the 6th starter has been decided for the Reds. Marshall is out with a strained tendon on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Simon is the 6th starter and Beato almost has to be added to the 25 man roster since he is on the 40 man roster. WJ must be burning up his minutes trying to clear a space or two or three on the 40 man roster.

    • I’m fine with Simon as 6th starter. And, Jason: Exactly what was Steve’s problem with your proposed title? Is he a spoilsport or something?

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