Though he only has about two full seasons worth of playing time, Todd Frazier has already had an interesting career. He started as a super-utility player, filled in heavily for Rolen and Votto when they were injured, and now he finally has his own starting job out at the hot corner. Let’s look at what I think Hot Toddy will do this year…
2013 Slash Line: .234/.314/.407
2014 Projection: .245/.330/.430
2013 WAR: 3.0 (BBRef & FanGraphs average)
2014 Best Guess WAR: 3.5
Projected Difference: +0.5 WAR
2014 Floor: 1.5 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 4.5 WAR
I feel like I often end up in arguments with people who don’t think I’m liberal enough in my Todd Frazier praise. I find myself painted as overly-pessimistic, and I don’t know why. What I see is a late-blooming player currently in his prime who seems to be a bit above average and has decline coming soon. He’s a lot like Chris Sabo, actually. Though Todd has been healthier and not quite as good as Sabo was in his first few years.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Frazier is a very solid major league player who absolutely deserves a starting job. But he’s not a world beater and he’s not an offensive juggernaut.
Todd has had come bad luck, though. His average on balls in play last year was low enough that we should expect some bounce back this year, and that’s where the improved offensive numbers come from above. Add it to his already very good fielding, and you have a solid player. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Todd had the third best OBP on the team, and he may also rank third or fourth in slugging.
What the Reds have in Frazier is a good player who should still be good this year (and another year or two into the future), but who has issues with his swing/control of the strike zone that will prevent him from ever being great. It is possible that things could fall right and he could end up with an all-star caliber season, but the best bet is for a modest improvement over his 2013 numbers due to a little better luck rather than to any improvements in his actual performance.
Today’s pick from the vault doubles as This Day in Baseball History. On March 8, 1923, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Giants pitcher Rube Benton could sign with the Reds, even though Benton had admitted to having advance knowledge of the plot to fix the 1919 World Series. This surprising decision overruled the ruling of the independent NL President John Heydler, who had banned Benton for “undesirability.” The Reds, for whom Benton had played from 1910-15, were able to use him for the 1923 season. Benton pitched through 1925, and ranks in the Reds all-time top 50 pitchers in WAR, Wins, Saves (it only takes 10 to get you in the top 50), IP, Strikeouts, Complete Games, and Shutouts. Benton’s is a very interesting story. Check it out here.
Benton as a Red in 1913.
For reference, that road uniform he’s wearing is navy blue.
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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