Thinking Inside the Box

The Reds offense at the All-Star break

[Jason Linden is on vacation, so I’m pinch-hitting for him in his Wednesday column about the Reds’ offense.]

Let’s take a look at the Reds offense at the All-Star break in 2014 compared to 2013. Table 1 compares the two teams on basic offensive numbers.

Table 1

AllStarBreak copy

The bottom line of Runs scored shows nearly a 10 percent decline from last season. The Reds have fallen from fourth in the NL to eighth. Batting average has remained about the same. But the Reds’ on-base-percentage is much lower than it was in 2014. That’s primarily due to Joey Votto’s injury suppressing his number of plate appearances and the loss of Shin-Soo Choo. Somewhat surprisingly, the Reds slugging percentage is down. More on that in a second. The final two advanced metrics – OPS+ and wRC+ – are measures against the rest of the league with 100 being average. The Reds have fallen from fifth in the league in wRC+ to eleventh.

Table 2 shows how the Reds have done in terms of power.

Table 2

AllStarBreak copy 2

The Reds have hit fewer home runs in 2014 and their overall power is down whether measured by slugging percentage or isolated power. The Reds are finding power from different sources this year, mainly from Devin Mesoraco (ISO .304) and Todd Frazier (ISO .210). Last year, Joey Votto (ISO .188), Jay Bruce (ISO .230) and Shin-Soo Choo (ISO .181) led the team in power at the half-way point. One interesting comparison is that Todd Frazier’s power in 2013 was roughly comparable to Joey Votto’s power this year.

Table 3 shows how the Reds have done in terms of speed.

Table 3

AllStarBreak copy 3

The Reds have dramatically increased their stolen base total this year. That’s about half due to Billy Hamilton and half due to the rest of the team, like Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Chris Heisey. The Reds have also become more proficient at stealing. Last year, the Reds got caught in an absurdly high percentage of their SB attempts, particularly Shin-Soo Choo. Research has shown that a success rate of 70 percent is necessary to make the SB attempt worthwhile. The Reds came nowhere near that in 2013. Their success rate is 71.7 percent this year.

The statistic wSB (weighted stolen base contribution) measures the net effect of stolen bases on runs created. You can see the net effect is really small. One surprising result is that Billy Hamilton’s SB value is just about the same as Chris Heisey’s because Heisey has been successful in all 7 of his attempts, whereas Hamilton has 15 CS to go with 38 SB. UBR (ultimate base running) measures all the non-SB aspects of running the bases, including advances, taking extra bases, tagging up and times getting thrown out. Each individual play is weighted. The Reds have gone from a mildly positive team, fifth in the NL, in base running to a highly negative team, fourteenth in the NL.

What’s most striking about the speed measures is how little they effect overall run production for a team. Keep in mind that last season, the Cardinals had far and away the most runs scored in the NL, yet they were last in stolen bases.

Finally, Table 4 looks at some batting approach numbers.

Table 4

AllStarBreak copy 3

The Reds have increased their strikeout percentage, but so has the entire league. Despite striking out at a slightly higher rate this year, the Reds are actually better (sixth) with respect to the rest of the league than they were last year (ninth) at this time. Unfortunately, the Reds walk-rate has fallen dramatically from last year to this. Again, this is primarily due to Votto’s influence being limited by the number of at bats and the loss of Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Hanigan. The Reds plate discipline, as measured by O-Swing% – swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone – has also declined, in large part due to the same factors. Choo swung at an extraordinarily low number of balls, almost as few as Votto.

The Reds have experienced a gigantic turnover in where they get their offense compared to last year. This is due to three factors: Injuries to key hitters like Votto and Bruce, the sudden emergence of Frazier and Mesoraco, and the change in the lead-off spot from Choo to Hamilton. Table 5 shows comparisons in OPS+ (on a 100-point scale, with 100 being average):

Table 5

OFFENSE2 copy

Keep in mind these numbers reflect the 2013 output of the player through the All-Star game, not the full season. As rate statistics (as opposed to counting, like home runs and hits) they also don’t reflect the number of at bats. For example, Mesoraco’s increase in offense is mitigated by missing playing time due to injury and Brayan Peña.

Conclusion

Despite the impressive offensive contributions from Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco, the Reds have not been as good of an offensive team in the first half of 2014 as they were in the first half of 2013.

With serious injuries to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips causing far inferior back-up players to take their places for weeks or months, and the inevitable return of Devin Mesoraco to hitting like a mere mortal, it’s hard to imagine the Reds will be able to reverse that trend with the current roster. If anything, you’d expect further decline in their standing in comparison to the rest of the league.

54 thoughts on “The Reds offense at the All-Star break

  1. Not much to argue about here, although I think the metrics measure speed too clumsily for any real use. There isn’t a lot of downside, for example, for Billy Hamilton’s trying to steal second with 2 outs and Santiago up.

    The Reds could improve offensively if (1) Bruce regresses to the norm, which he should; and (2) Votto can come back to any semblance of Joey Votto, which is an unknown without further rehab information. Because left field has been a perennial black hole for the Reds since Greg Vaughn’s big year, and because the when/if of Votto is an unknown, I think Jocketty will make a move for a rental LF/IB type (God knows who).

    The farm system is average at best, especially at the higher levels, which I believe is WJ’s fatal weakness. His particularly weakness is the team’s not having developed a Latin American hitter. A team that completely whiffs in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela is playing with a short deck. The Reds have few chips to make a deal, and will have to take a salary dump if they make a move at all.

    I think Mesoraco will continue to hit. The risk that he won’t get enough at-bats, due to rest or to the injury risk inherent to catchers.

    • I also think Mesoraco will continue to hit, but I think .300/.370/.600 is a bit out of the question. If he does, I’m buying a Mesoraco jersey! But i think he’ll end the season more like .280/.335/.530, which is still spectactular and will put him on the short list with Posey and Lucroy as the best offensive cathers in the NL.

  2. An element that gives me some hope is the improvement of Hamilton from his bad 1st month to the break. I am surprised he has 30 xbh already. I would have been happy with that for the year. If he can improve his walk rate some more and SB success rate, would help sustain reds offense.

    Reds starting pitching and defense keeping reds in contention. Reds need Ludwick to get 2012 hot again or someone to help the offense.

    • I’m also encouraged by Hamilton’s apparent improvement. One thing that worries me is a some kind of paraphrase one the announcers attributed to Hamilton, saying something like “Me and Luddy were talking about how you just have to get up there and rip it. It’s all about getting hits.”

      I don’t think I want Hamilton’s development influenced by Ryan Ludwick in any form. I think perhaps the reason he’s not walking alot is because he does not want to walk a lot. He wants to get hits because they are flashy. I’m probably wrong, but that’s the way it seems after that paraphrased quoute.

      • Actually one of the reasons Hamilton doesn’t walk a lot is he doesn’t see a ton of balls he had the 8th lowest % of balls thrown to him earlier in the season (that % of course doesn’t take his swings into account just if the pitch was in or out of the strike zone). So pitchers are just coming right after him. I’d say his low walk rates due to pitchers not walking him.

        • Hamilton does see a high percentage of balls in the strike zone (48.4) compared to league average (45.5). But it’s still just 3 percent more. There are plenty of hitters who match his profile (Dee Gordon, Denard Span, Austin Jackson) who see even higher percentage of strikes but yet have way above league average in walks. Hamilton is way below average. Dustin Pedroia sees, by far, the highest percentage of strikes (52.4%) and he walks twice as much as Hamilton.

          While I’d love for Hamilton to walk more, I’m worried less about that than his line drive percentage. He can learn to take more walks as he matures. Just as long as he hasn’t decided to go up there hacking. But I really haven’t seen a sign of that.

  3. Steve: not doubting the numbers, but I wonder how they’d look if one threw away the first month or so of the season (wish it could actually be thrown away)? And also how injuries–not just trips to the DL, but Votto, Bruce, Phillips and others playing hurt–may skew the results.

  4. This makes me appreciate the value of Choo and Votto all the more. Imagine if we’d had a 2-hole hitter to sandwich between them. Imagine if we’d had 2014 Todd Frazier to sandwich between them….

  5. And, this sort of shows, also, how numbers wouldn’t support the style of play. This team plays a lot more like they want to win. They aren’t playing “a marathon”, where you have to pace yourself. They are playing “a wind sprint”, then taking a rest overnight before coming back again for another “wind sprint”. They aren’t going to the papers complaining about the front office making a decision about a player. They aren’t playing a player like veteran journeyman who isn’t going to be part of this team next year consistently, aka Willie Harris, because “We need to get him going”.

    Everyone knew we weren’t going to get as much from the offense because of the loss of Choo. But, with the lack of production from Votto and Bruce, we’ve got production from Hamilton, Devin, and Frazier. Yes, those three guys may regress. But, then, Votto and Bruce should be coming back as well and producing more.

    But, again, even beyond that, I like this team much more than last year’s team. As I said at the beginning, I “almost” wouldn’t care if they go 0-162, as long as they play like they want to win, I will be happy.

  6. Predictions:

    Hamilton & Bruce will have much better 2nd half’s. Actually very big improvement for both.
    Cozart,Heisey and Shu should be better
    Frazier will have the same or better. He is a reinvented player and regression would be disappointing.
    Mes will probably be the player he has been since April which means a regression on the whole
    Pena & Ludwick about the same but if Ryan picked it up, I wouldn’t be surprised.
    Santiago will probably regress
    BP & Joey, who nows

    1st base is interesting. Hard to imagine it being less productive then it has already been. When, and what shape, Joey comes back is huge. I would be shocked if the Reds do not bring in someone.

    2nd base is the wild card. Does BP make it back before September and how good will he be? I don’t see a move by WJ of any great significance. Hope I’m wrong.

    Crazy as it sounds, I believe the offensive numbers improve, if ‘m right about BHam & Jay. The mindset of the team is as good as its been in several years. Go Reds!!!.

      • I’m going to tell you but I want to also tell you why. Here are BHam’s numbers by month:

        April: 245/280/330, wRC+ = 67
        May: 260/301/351, wRC+ = 79
        June: 327/348/500, wRC+ = 134
        July: 308/357/538, wRC+ = 146

        Because I think the first two months indicate a steep learning curve, I’m throwing them out of my analysis. Does Billy look anything like the hitter he was in April & May?

        So now I’m down to June forward: 323/352/509. Is he this guy? I think very close to it but I won’t predict it that way because I’m conservative.

        A couple of other factors I consider:
        * This guy works like few others so I expect his skills will continue to keep improving
        * I think a sore hamstring is effecting his “burst”. Not his overall speed but the ability to go from stand still to full speed in a blink. An example is the ball he hit to third base in his last AB. 2013 Billy Hamilton would have been by the bag before the throw even was caught by the 1st baseman. It is having a major effect on his SB efficiency. Go look at his September 2013 attempts and compare to recent efforts. I would love to know his times from first to second on SB attempts as to compare this year from last. This unfortunately is getting worse not better. I see less SB attempts in the immediate future until the hammy gets right and I’m thinking next year. This will cost him in hitting as well.
        * He will certainly tire in September and maybe as soon as mid-August so that will effect his hitting numbers in a negative way.
        * It will be offset some degree by infielders moving back as his ability to hit is appreciated. Billy is an excellent bunter, his average is .379. Ask yourself, how often does he pop up or miss the ball? If he can get the fielders going back to at least reasonable depth, he can’t miss being a .300 hitter.

        Prediction from here to the finish: .310/.340/.455. The ceiling: .330/.360/.500 but everything has to break right for him and that hammy would probably need to get better somehow, that never seems to happens without a lot of down time. The floor: .300/.325/.425. Bottom line: this guy is going to be a monster because he is doing everything he can to be the very best and has the raw talent & aptitue to make it happen. If he goes all Roger Doran on us, all bets are off but it won’t happen this year. What do you predict?

        I’ll keep a record of this and we’ll see how I do at the end of the season.

        • Thanks for taking the time to write that up. I hope you’re right!

          He does seem to have improved at bunting. I had posted several times earlier in the year about how he’d been the worst bunter in the leauge by a wide margin; perhaps things are changing! The eye test certainly backs it up too. I can remember a lot of successful bunts recently.

        • Charlotte,

          You do not appear to venturing very far out on that limb. According to the Grantland Mid-Season report, Hamilton has hit 307/340/455 since the first 12 games of the season. Those first 12 games were brutal for Billy, where he hit .140 with a .387 OPS, suppressing his season totals.

          I have to agree with your assessment that the hammy is hurting his base stealing.

        • Post ASB… .277/.313/.410 … Those aren’t bad numbers, even if they aren’t near what you’re predicting.

        • You are closer to the experts. Keep in mind these are season ending projections:

          ZiPS: 279/319/406
          Steamer: 273/313/395

          I’d say your in good company.

      • Never thought he was a bad bunter, just hard to bunt when the 1st and 3rd baseman are 30 feet away from you. How many attempts go foul, popped up, missed bunt attempt; I can’t recall many.

        One of the bigger changes I have seen in the last couple of weeks, is swinging at meatballs early in the count. Seemed every other at bat he would “show” the bunt, many times wasting the most hittable pitch in the AB. I actually think this will lead to more walks as pitchers become more selective on the first few pitches.

  7. “The Reds have gone from a mildly positive team, fifth in the NL, in base running to a highly negative team, fourteenth in the NL.”

    • This is highly telling, and those who watch all the agmes know this. This is how the “being aggressive” thing has killed us. Its partly Steve Smith at 3B and part the overall wrong approach. How many times have you seen this team run into the first or last out at 3B or home! This is one of the few things they could really change in the second half, but I doubt it.

      • There have certainly been plenty of wretched tootblans, no argument, and they have certainly hurt the Reds in some games. However, considering where they were not so many weeks ago and where they are now, they haven’t been “killed.” I suspect that–or at least wonder whether–the aggressive base running has had a positive side despite the tootblans–general team attitude, maybe, or impact on opponents’ defensive attitude and reactions?

  8. Excellent summation of the first half. Quick, send this in an email to Walt Jocketty and cc: Mr. Castellini. The Reds starting pitching is sound. The defense is almost as sound. The bullpen is coming around. The offense one week is over-achieving and the next week under-achieving. A Jeckyl and Hyde offense. Sometimes its a Heckle and Jeckle offense. The Reds need some stability on offense and that isn’t coming from within the organization any time soon.
    Walt Jocketty, you are on the clock. T-minus 15 days and counting.

    • In one of the ABs last night, Simon had pitches of : 94, 87 and 77 mph with control Did Fangraphs mention this? Do you think it matters?

      Not saying he is a sub 3.00 pitcher but I do think he is a sub 3.25 pitcher. He may not have sub 3.00 peripherals but he has sub 3.00 stuff. Not looking to argue just an opinion.

      • I know I’ve posted this before, but I continue to be baffled by Simon’s low strikeout rate. He’s got “strikeout stuff” but doesn’t strike a lot of guys out so the advanced stats predict worse results ahead. I can’t think of a comparable pitcher, who has good control and the pitches to strike out a lot of guys who nevertheless doesn’t get the K’s. Anybody?

        This actually makes me a little more positive about Simon’s chances of continuing to get good results, because I think it’s possible he’s getting the results of other guys with “strikeout stuff” even if he’s not picking up the strikeouts for some reason. I’m off to read the article to see if that provides any illumination, so thanks for the link.

        • I’d like to go back and look at when his strikeouts have come. Are they coming when he really needs a strikeout? It means a lot of digging through retrosheet but hey, I like that kind of stuff ;-)

        • Simon’s lines:

          Low Leverage: 216/299/383
          Med Leverage: 230/275/356
          High Leverage: 139/189/235
          Men in scoring position: 165/266/232

          Per Fangraphs.

        • In some ways it reminds me of Chieng Ming Wang when he was first pitched for yanks circa 2006-2007. I seem to recall he had a hard sinker or splitter 95-97 and I was baffled at such a low K rate, about 4k per 9, but he was a back to back 19 game winner, with a era+ 123. I kept expecting the K rate to go up but it never did before he starting breaking down.

  9. I see the Reds have signed LH SP Scott Diamond to a minor league deal. I suppose that is to take the place of Chien-Ming Wang’s place. Jocketty likes having that experienced journeyman at AAA as insurance.
    They didn’t bring Jeff Francis back after he was DFA’d by the A’s, either.
    Diamond is a bit intriguing though as he is 6-7 years younger than Wang and a lefty. He started in the Braves system. He was 12-9 with the Twins in 2012, but slumped to 6-13 last year. He was at AAA with the Twins this year when they released him last week.
    I guess it is good to have another lefty at AAA. Maybe they can work him in the bullpen some.

    • “They didn’t bring Jeff Francis back after he was DFA’d by the A’s, either.”
      The Yankees signed him. I guess that tells a lot about the Yankee farm system.
      Walt don’t call them or return any calls.

    • In fairness to the author he saw the Central as unpredictable. It’s smart to stick with the Cards and Brewers at 1 and 2. I just think he is wrong.

    • I have no idea why anyone would expect the Pirates to finish ahead of us. They’re not as good defensively, they can’t match our starting pitching, and we own them head to head (as do the Brewers). Heck, we beat them with a key hit from the backup (Negron) to our backup (Santiago) to our backup (Schumaker) second baseman the other day.

  10. How much of that low UBR number has to do with the very large number of times that Reds runners get thrown out at the plate? I wonder how many wins that number has prevented us from getting. Call it the Steve Smith factor.

    • Interesting question. UBR counts the number of outs at the plate on fly balls, but not on ground balls. So the higher use of the contact play won’t show up.

      • Thanks Steve. I’m still in the shallow end of these advanced metrics. It does seem that the more aggressive on the base paths mindset, which I thought I was a fan of, has contributed very little to winning games. That negative UBR number points to either overly-aggressive running or unintelligent running in my mind.

  11. the aggressiveness in the running game is being documented as having “contributed very little to winning games” as Jeff has expressed along with many others. My question for Steve and company is this, Does the current advanced measuring system account for opposing team errors, over throws, created by being aggressive on the bases. My thoughts are very simple and based on the concept that the more the other team is caused to throw the ball around (steal attempts, taking the extra base, scoring from 2b or 3b) or throw it in high leverage situations the more likely they will have a miscue. (cause and effect) Yes, I know Steve said that they are major league players and I agree but in general, but when players are given more opportunities to make a mistake it will usually increase their occurrence. Most people who really watch the game understand that baseball is a game of failure which is why there is such joy when a player or team succeeds. So given that the more a team throws the ball the opportunity for failure increases. Just me being off-centered in my thinking
    Any thoughts other than I started “sipping” to early in the day.

    • I posted before I read your comment, but obviously wonder the same things, and I haven’t started sipping yet. Later, yes. Now, no.

    • Why do people keep bringing up Morneau? He is owed a lot of dough next year and is a 1b only plus a big injury risk.
      Rutledge could be a fit as he is a several years from free agency but he hasn’t exactly estabilshed himself and that is in the thin air of Colorado.

  12. I live in Dallas and choo has been hurt and terrible this year. His defense is beyond bad and his batting average is terrible. Little power also. All he does is walk.

  13. If you believe what the people and MLB Tv said in their roundtable all of Baseball is down in the hitting arena. So lets see stats on league and see if they are down across the board. But how many times over the years have we seen the four or five year wonders who for some reason just loose their edge. Not sure how many of those have $25 Million Dollar a year contracts locked in for the next Ten years. What actually concerns me more are the amount injuries. What is missing in the training room, or is it just the way todays ball players are.
    What I fear more is a reduction of starting pitching, and the unsure state of the bullpen between innings 4 and 8.

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