Thinking Inside the Box

Contrarianism

I like to be contrary. I can’t help it. When the Reds were down, I generally wrote a bunch about what was going right or what figured to turn around soon. Now that the Reds are up, it’s time (for me) to look at what isn’t going right. This column, therefore, is about all that is not right in the Reds offensive world and whether or not anything can be expected to change.

But what does it mean when something isn’t going right? Simple. In this column, we concern ourselves only with offense and thus, any player or position producing significantly below what we would expect is a problem. Brandon Phillips isn’t a problem, for instance, because he’s hitting just fine for a middle infielder and is about where we should expect him to be. So what’s going wrong?

The Bench

When I started this week’s column, my idea was to write about the bench, but that didn’t work because there isn’t that much to say. The Reds’ bench stinks. It stinks because there is no offense there. Fans get worked up a lot about the middle-infield backups with their terrible offensive numbers. I don’t worry about that so much because there aren’t any backup middle-infielders who can hit. If they could hit, they’d be starting.

However, the vast majority of teams (I looked) have someone – an outfielder, a backup corner infielder, someone – who can hit a little, but who doesn’t start. This guy may be flawed. He may have a big platoon split or he may make Lenny Harris look like Juan Castro, but he can hit. The Reds do not have this. The highest wRC+ on the bench is Brayan Pena at 79. If you eliminate him because he’s a catcher, you’re left with Chris Heisey at 70.

I never understood why the Reds jettisoned Xavier Paul and I still don’t. He was flawed. He wasn’t going to be a starter, but in the right situation, he could hit. Are you really telling me the Reds were better off with Bernadina or Schumaker or Santiago taking up at bats off the bench? It’s a glaring hole and something that needs be addressed.

Zack Cozart

I’ve written about Cozart in snippets often this season. His career wRC+ is 78, but this season he’s only managed a 58. His BABIP was terrible for much of the season and has come back a fair bit, but disturbingly, his power has been way down this year. He is normally good for 10-15 homers but has only managed two this year. I’ve often warned that Cozart’s usefulness will be short-lived (much as I love him), and there’s a chance he’s already approaching that point.

Joey Votto

Votto’s numbers have been very good in general, but they haven’t been good for Joey Votto. I don’t know what to write here except that he’s obviously hurt and I don’t believe what the organization says about it. I would like anyone who questions his toughness or grit or whatever stupid thing to note that he is managing to contribute offensively despite being well below 100%. Still I wish we knew when or if we can expect it to get better.

Jay Bruce

We all know the story. Bruce was hurt. Is pretty obviously not hurt now, and his numbers are rebounding. They aren’t quite where we would expect them to be and his end-of-year numbers probably won’t look right, but I see no reason to worry about him going forward.

In terms of expectations, I see nothing else to complain about. Other players might not have been great, but they’ve been what we expected them to be. The biggest problem going forward is going to be the bench. I think in an ideal world, they would find a good hitter to start in left, send Ludwick to the bench, and jettison Schumaker. Sadly, that seems unlikely.

26 thoughts on “Contrarianism

  1. “send Ludwick to the bench, and jettison Schumaker”

    Good idea, but the Heisey haters would go crazy.

  2. We need a backup first baseman in a bad way. Even if it is just for the remainder of this season. Votto is not 100% and doesn’t seem to be kicking this injury by trying to play through it. If Votto does happen to go down again we are in a world of trouble. We need someone who can play a little bit and give JV some days off if we are not going to put him back on the DL. If we keep running him out there every day and we are in somewhat of a position to make at the post season he is not going to be the force we need to get it going. I don’t see Pena as being the solution. Bringing Frazier over from 3rd only weakens the Reds at 2 positions when you have to now bring in Santiago.

    • I’m not certain that Frazier at first is weaker than the current Votto. In fact, I guess the opposite. You probably couldn’t find an adequate replacement for Todd at 3rd, though, because he is outstanding. Santiago can pick it, yes, but it’s clear that he won’t hit.

      • I wonder what his fielding percentage at 1st is opposed to 3rd… I might be making this all up but I thought Frazier had a few misplays while at 1B. Rarely get to watch just read the recaps and look at box scores so I am not the greatest judge

  3. I was keeping tabs of the first few innings last night, and remember thinking: Shumaker just really hasn’t worked out this year. Bless Pena for his magic run in the beginning of the year when it was needed, but, as a take on our old phrase T.O.S…. T.B.S* and I’m not talking about tv networks.

    *This bench stinks

  4. As far as Bruce, I think we’re worried over nothing. This June was the best June of his career as far as being a complete hitter (2010 he had a higher BA, lower ISO, 2013 higher ISO lower BA… always lower OBP). If you just look from the time he stopped being hurt and started really playing for the year, he’s batting .290 with an OBP of over 400. He’s good.

  5. The Reds really don’t have a long relief kind of guy so that is why I am kind of agreeing with the 8 man pitching rotation. I do agree though that we will need to send someone away soon since it is becoming clear that Votto is going to need more time off. I am not sure if Soto is the man that gets the call or not. If Gotay was on the 40 man team I’d say give him a shot at first but it is a non issue since he isn’t there. Based upon our current 40 man the backup first base position could be Soto, Lutz, Duran, or Rodriquez. Out of all of those Soto is hitting the best.

  6. It pains me to say it, but I’m actually hoping the Reds and/or Votto himself decide to shut Joey down for an extended rehab, maybe even for the rest of the year. He is still the core of this team’s offense for the next few years and I’d rather have him at 100% starting opening day next year and give up the second half of 2014 than have this hobbled version indefinitely.

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly. Don’t sacrifice future years of production, for another three months of his playing on one leg.

  7. For me, any conversation about improving the team via trade starts with Schumaker and Heisey. We need to target some better bench help. I’d also look to find a backup corner infielder.

    In all these cases, what you have are sunk costs. The question will be whether ownership will act on these needs or wait for these bums ‘to come around’.

    Oh, and thanks Jason for jinxing the Reds in San Diego!

  8. I really has been bad luck for the Reds that just when they decide that Votto is the face and future of the franchise, he goes and gets hurt. He hasn’t been right for a long time now, and I’m starting to wonder if he ever will be the same again.

    • I agree with this 100%. Joey is tough as nails and I appreciated what he’s doing right now for this team. I think the biggest issue for this franchise is whether or not Joey will ever approach what he was in the first half of 2012 again. If not, then the window might already be closed.

    • Hence why 10 year contracts are almost always bad ideas. I’ve been hoping that this injury is a temporary issue, and I’m grateful that Votto’s approach to the game will provide some value even if his physical skills become impaired. But deep down, I’m worried that this contract will be a burden for some time.

      • Everyone knew 10 years was a “bad idea” when they gave the contract to Joey.

        Problem is supply and demand. There’s only one Votto and many folks that would be willing to pay him. Thus, the Reds have to give a contract that is not good for the team to capture his final 5-6 decent years and forego the poor 4-5 years at the end of the contract.

        Votto would not have signed a 4-year, $90 million with the Reds because some other team would have given him the longer deal.

        Simple as that. It’s bad, everyone knew it was bad, but that’s the price for getting every single WAR Votto will produce for the rest of his useful playing career.

    • There’s a long history of hall of fame type players who hit a lull in production around the age of 30-33, but then pick it back up for a few years before the aging process fully takes hold. Most of those guys went from being great to being merely just pretty good. I’m not worried in the least. It would be silly to discount Votto’s future over a muscular issue that can be fixed simply with rest.

  9. We lack a reliable LH relief pitcher–Parra is either hurt or has regressed–as well as a reliable RH 7th inning arm. (LeCure simply can’t get it done with his velocity down. Ondrusek is Ondrusek. Maybe Hoover is that guy, but it’s hard to tell and he’s probably not.) 2 arms to work in front of Broxton and Chapman–that’s the critical need.

    Our left fielder should be batting 7th in this lineup. Replacing him isn’t crucial; neither is another bench bat. Two relievers. Two relievers. Two relievers.

  10. Here are five “Blasts from The Past” that many of you may have seen play for our beloved Reds. Current as of 6/6/14.
    Looks like Chris D. can still hit the fastball.
    Rosales looks better than Santiago

    Name __________Team_________Age_____PA___AVG_____wRC+
    Xavier Paul_____Orioles (AAA)___ 29______152__.251______107
    Chris Dickerson__Pirates (AAA)___32______173__.329______158
    Paul Janish_____Rockies (AAA)__ 31______140__.221_______37
    Adam Rosales___Rangers (AAA)_ 31______212__.278______105
    Chris Valaika____Cubs (AAA)____ 28______190__.291______106
    Kris Negron_____Reds (AAA)____ 28______136__.276______119

  11. Need A left fielder, try this one from up the road.
    Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians
    Birthdate: 5/15/1987 (27 y, 1 m, 11 d) Bats/Throws: L/L Height/Weight: 6-2/200 Position: OF
    • $25m / 4 Years (2014 – 2017) + 1 Option Years (Edit)
    o signed by Cleveland Indians on 2/10/2014 (Avoided Arbitration)
    o 2014: $1.5M, 2015: $5M, 2016: $6.5M, 2017: $7.5M
    Results MLB
    2012 MLB PA 609, Rbi 60, Avg. .288, wRC+ 106, WAR 2.7
    2013 MLB PA 611, Rbi 73, Avg. .284, wRC+ 104, WAR 1.7
    2014 MLB PA 320, Rbi 53, Avg. .325, wRC+ 162, WAR 2.9

    2008 AA__ wRC+ 127, Avg. .319, BABIP .332
    2010 AAA_ wRC+ 127, Avg. .319 BABIP .312
    2014 MLB_ wRC+ 162, Avg. .325 BABIP .331

  12. The only thing that you can say that’s negative about Votto is about his contract. He’s getting paid too much to put up an .810 OPS. That said, he’s still got a great OBP and decent power. His numbers really aren’t bad, they just don’t justify the payday right now.

    I would like to see the Reds target Alex Rios. The Rangers are selling and he would solve LF for this year and next. He’s no world beater, but I think the Reds could get him without emptying the farm, and he would add good depth to the outfield. He would allow Ludwick to go to the bench and be the guy who can kind of hit off the bench.

    • Contracts are given based on past performance and evaluated based on likely future performance.

      If Votto generally stays healthy for 7 of the 10 years on his contract he will earn it, even if he never hits 25 HR again.

      And, by the wya, everyone likes to act like the Reds paid him as a 37 HR, 100+ RBI, .310+ hitter. They didn’t. He’d have gotten a larger contract if they could bank on him being an MVP every year. They paid him as a 5 WAR player, which is likely what he’ll average over the course of the first 7 years of his contract, assuming his health holds up.

      • I don’t know what you’re responding to really, since I never said anything to suggest that Votto needed to have an MVP year every year to earn his contract.

        What I said is that right now (when he’s on pace for 12HR and 2.4 WAR) Votto is not earning his contract. That’s what you can say about this year. If you think he’ll average 5 wins per year for the next 10 years, I like the optimism, but that really has nothing to do with what I posted.

        • Actually, Votto is “only” making $12M this year, so he is earning it, given market value.

  13. Anybody read whether Price has considered putting Mes on first on the days Pena catches to spell Joey and also give Mes more at-bats? That seems like the logical solution to the Joey issue. Keeps Mes off the bench on the days Pena catches; I get that.

  14. Pretty much agree with the assessment.

    If the bench could hit, they would probably be starting. The entire idea of bench players is they lack something, whether batting or defense. And, these days, I believe teams are more likely to give starting jobs to those who can hit. Thus, the benches get more who can field. Sure, I would like to have a hitter on the bench, also. But, then, you have to consider things, like:

    Who?
    How much money?
    Etc?

    Trade for one? Not for a bench player. But, something tells me I do like Schumacher. Something tells me he is a leadership-type of player, something numbers don’t show. And, all teams need someone like that.

    Cozart is Cozart. If it wasn’t for that streak he had with the bat when he was at AAA and we had Janish up here, we would still probably have Janish here. But, most all teams have players like this. If a better batting SS that doesn’t drop our defense much, I say take him. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath for one.

    This is one reason why I liked our draft this season. According to MLB, so many of our top 20 prospects were OF’s and P’s, we needed some infield work. And, I believe we got that. Now, I just hope a couple of those get on their horse and get up here.

    Joey and Jay are the biggest question marks to me. I would have to say shut down Joey, also. He’s not looking good out there. He isn’t contributing anything offensively. Shoot, Hamilton almost has a higher slugging% than Votto. Frazier has a higher SLG% than Votto by almost 100 points. This is where a trade may come, whether directly or indirectly. I mean, trading for someone to play first base the rest of the season and shut Votto down. Or, trading for something like a 3rd baseman and moving Frazier to 1st for the rest of the season, shutting Votto down. Shoot, I heard that Bruce was even taking balls at 1st. Maybe platooning Schu and Heisey in right?

    Jay, though, where in the world is he? Sorry, but when I think of breakout year, I think of batting 300, 30 HR’s and 100 RBI’s. Yes, he had the last two last year, but I mean those being the beginning of consistent years with those numbers. But, it looks like those numbers last season may have been just a fluke. There may be a trade there.

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