Thinking Inside the Box

Huh. I did not expect that.

So, before writing this column, I felt uninspired and turned to Twitter for guidance. It was then suggested to me that I write about the difficult time the Reds have had finding a left fielder since the departure of Adam Dunn. This sounded interesting and it did register as a problem in my brain, so I thought, yes, I will do this!

And I did, and I learned something. Left field has not been a problem for that long.

My perception, and probably yours as well, is that left is supposed to be a hitter’s position, but it hasn’t been since 2009. In that time, MLB left fielders have been almost perfectly league-average. Reds left fielders have also been almost perfectly average. Certainly, Ryan Ludwick’s injuries and poor play when on the field have hurt the last few years, but he also helped a lot in 2012, and you can’t really predict injuries like that.

So I started poking around different positions, and what I found was this: Since 2009 (arbitrary, I know, but it’s where I started), the Reds have been offensively at or above league average in each of the following positions (using wRC+): C, 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF. League average, in this case, means average for the position.

No doubt, you notice two positions missing there. Shortstop and centerfield have, in fact, been the offensive black holes. Not left field. With the exception of Choo last year, both of those positions have been consistent black holes and the Reds have done very little to fill them. Sure, Cozart has a great glove, but given that he’s at peak age right now and has only barely managed to be an average player the last two years, the Reds, it seems, should be looking.

I’ve been, generally, very pro-Hamilton here, but he needs to develop quickly. Right now, the Reds, when healthy, have three positions that are providing below average offense (again, for the position): left, center, and short. Very, very few teams can have that many offensive issues and still contend. Left happened somewhat because of injury and somewhat because of an unwillingness to address the injury problem (we might also assume the Reds are counting on Ervin or Winker to progress quickly). Center and short are much more problematic because they represent poor execution on the part of the front office.

Certainly, you can’t assume that your system will continually produce fresh talent at every position. That’s what you use your free agent bucks on. The Reds, we know, are up against a payroll limit here, but by my calculations, the Reds are spening at least $25M this season in money on extending/signing relievers and replacement-level bench players. I am of the mind that you should almost never pay for relief pitching because it is so unpredictable. Hitters are much more predictable. Perhaps, going forward, the Reds should think hard about whether they’d prefer to have a capricious bullpen or a shortstop (of centerfielder) who can rake.

Next Week: Inspired by the success of this week’s Twitter, question, I now put it to you. Next week’s column will be a Q&A. Remember, we’re focused on offense, so ask what you want and I’ll do my best to answer everyone (or most everyone).

18 thoughts on “Huh. I did not expect that.

  1. All I know at this point is that the Reds had better get some kind of draft pick in the first round since that was the excuse for not considering Stephen Drew. I know a lot of people are not a fan of Mr. Drew, but the price ended up not being that crazy (although I’m sure Boston got a discount), and he is a monumental upgrade at SS.

    • A “monumental” upgrade? Last year Drew hit .253/.333/.443. He’s a career .264 hitter who hasn’t hit above his career average since 2010.

      $10 million and a first round draft pick for one year of an incremental upgrade from Cozart’s career .249/.285/.305?

      Sure sounds crazy to me.

      • Well first of all the idea was to sign him after the draft so the draft pick wasn’t an issue.

        Second, Drew had an OPS+ of 111 last year. I don’t know why you’re so quick to shrug off a .777 OPS when Cozart’s currently sitting at .572. Yes, that is a “monumental” upgrade. But it’s all hypothetical now.

        • Drew would be a downgrade defensively, though, and not enough of an upgrade offensively to make much difference to this team, with its injuries to key players. It is hypothetical, though. And I certainly hope the Reds will be looking hard at the best shortstop available in the draft.

      • Since when did a difference of .185 OPS become “incremental”? That’s pretty close to the difference between Andrew McCutchen and Lucas Duda this year.

        That said, Cozart over the last 30 days has been one of the few consistent bright spots on the offense.

  2. A lovely article. I do wish you had tabled the numbers up for us so we could see just how far “above-average” the Redlegs have been since 2009. I believe you, I just would have liked to see how those numbers truly stack up (without doing the research myself, because I’m lazy). It’s a stark reminder that even though we’re just treading water this year, we (as Red fans) have been spoiled for the past half-decade. We’ve had a contending team every year, with an above average (albeit inconsistent at times) offense, and a league leading defense. How quickly we’ve forgotten the 90s.

    One question I’ve always wished I had the time to consider, and perhaps you might enjoy investigating, is the evolution of offense at the middle infield positions. For a long time, they were considered positions where leather was more important than lumber. Yet, more recently, those positions have taken on a stigma of guys that should be excellent in both aspect, “otherwise, why not make them a utility guy.” I’ve wondered whether there is a correlated up-swing in offensive numbers at the position to back that concept? Are the shortstops of today really better at hitting than their compatriots of yesteryear? Is Cozart truly a lowly outlier for his position (you covered that a bit today)? Is Phillips really as ‘above-average’ for a second baseman as we seem to assume (based on the concept of the ‘Joey Cora’ Second Baseman)? Is Craig Biggio to blame for these new expectations? Will Gilligan get off the island?

    These are the things I wonder.

  3. Even if the Reds left fielders have been “league average” since 2009, that doesn’t mean that they are right now, or can be expected to be for the next year. Does anybody really question whether the Reds need an upgrade in left field?

    By the way, I was at the Bats game last night, where the Yankees’ AAA team had a switch-pitcher, Pat Venditti, who was initially brought in to face Tucker Barnhart, a switch hitter. It invoked the seldom-seen rule that the pitcher must declare which hand he is throwing with, and stick with it for that hitter.

    Barnhart, meanwhile, is beyond ready defensively and should be catching 3 of the 5 starters here in Cincinnati, with Mesoraco in permanent left field.

    • totally agree. Meso needs to play every day and LF is a logical place when he is not catching.

      Meso has great wheels for a catcher. I would guess he would be an upgrade speed wise over Ludwick. Angles take longer

    • Do we know if Mesoraco is even able to play left field? I’ve seen that idea tossed around here a lot, but it’s not just a plug-and-play kind of situation. Just ask Yonder Alonso.

  4. SS is not a deep position in this upcoming draft. The top HS SS is Nick Gordon, considered a top-5 to top-10 pick. The top college SS is NC State’s Trea Turner, a top-10 to top-15 pick. The next HS SS is Jacob Gatewood, a top-20 pick. The Reds sit at #19. Gatewood is a 6″5″ SS and is RH. Good power and is also projected as a possible 3B. He just might be there at #19 and he might not be.
    The Reds supplemental pick for Choo is at #29. Some mocks have the Reds selecting UL’s Nick Burdi (Pitcher) here. His fastball has been clocked at 102mph. The Cards love hard throwers and may steal him away from the Reds.
    The Cards have 2 first round picks also, #27 and #34.
    I suppose the Reds will do what they did last year with 2 first round picks, use one on a position player and one on a pitcher.

    • I’m a bit iffy on 6’5″ hitters. That’s an awfully big strike zone. You generally don’t see many everyday batters over 6’3″… but hey, Tulo is 6’3″ with power, so maybe Gatewood is in that kind of mold.

      • I think you answered your question. few SS are that big and good enough to stay there. Ripken, A-Rod, Jeter are all in 6-3, 6-4 range and the exceptions. Same for Tulo.

  5. Odd that this post came up today. Just like a day or two I was looking at Heisey’s PH stats the last few years and I saw something…

    Why did the Reds let Xavier Paul go? Sure he was horrible defensively, and wasn’t a good starter, but that guy was an amazing PH. In 2013 he hit .273/.333/.576 in 33 AB. In 2012 he hit .333/.385/.556 in 36 AB.

    That means in 69 pinch hit AB in two seasons, he was 21-69, 4 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 5 BB/17 K. Instead of retaining him (he is now playing for Baltimore’s AAA team) we now have to have Roger Bernadina as the OF bat off the bench. He’s hitting .143/.143/.214 as a pinch hitter in 14 AB.

    Don’t understand why they let a PH with power go and replaced him with a player who has no bat. Your 5th OF doesn’t NEED to be good defensively. That’s what your 4th OF is for. He just needs to actually contribute offensively Paul could, Bernadina can’t.

  6. I believe in the draft. It provided the foundation for the current team. Even the pieces we traded to get (e.g. Phillips, Latos, Hoover, Marshall) were bought by draft picks. Keeps your first rounders.

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