2012 Reds / Dusty's Lineup Shenanigans

Don’t blame Dusty for Reds’ lineup conundrum

I’m a little reticent to wade into too much of the criticism of Dusty Baker for, well, being Dusty Baker, but since it seems like that’s the hot topic of the day, allow me to offer a brief, somewhat distanced, observation on the question of the Reds’ lineup.

Here’s a pretty stark fact: as of this writing (roughly 11:00 Wednesday night), the Reds have exactly three players who have accumulated at least 100 plate appearances, Joey Votto, Ryan Hanigan, and Todd Frazier, with an on base percentage of at least .330*. Votto, of course, easily eclipses that threshold with a downright ridiculous .478 OBP, and Hanigan also check in with a very respectable .361 mark, but Frazier barely qualifies for the group with an OBP of .331. Yes, that’s correct, the third best on base percentage on the entire Reds’ roster right now is a paltry .331. That’s not good. It also means that’s there’s not a whole lot that Baker could do to make much difference at the margins, as moving around a handful of low OBP guys at the top of a lineup is about as close to the baseball definition of rearranging the deck cares on the Titanic as you can get (not that the Reds are doomed or anything).

To make matters worse, it’s not exactly clear that either Hanigan or Frazier should first on the depth chart given the Reds’ current roster. Hanigan is a very underrated catcher in my opinion, but he’s splitting time with top prospect Devin Mesoraco, and the rookie obviously needs regular playing time to learn at the big league level, so giving Hanigan 75% or more of the team’s at bats from the catcher position probably isn’t a great idea. Frazier, on the other hand, presents problems with where to play him. I gather that putting him in leftfield in place of Ryan Ludwick is a popular idea, and Frazier has indeed been the better hitter than Ludwick so far this season, but Ludwick’s league average wRC+ of 101 isn’t awful by means, and since Frazier isn’t a natural outfielder, he gives up some of that offensive advantage over Ludwick in the field, making this a very marginal upgrade at best.

From a pure performance standpoint, there’s a much stronger case for starting Frazier at third base, his best position, and benching Scott Rolen, who’s hitting a measly .197/.258/.333 through his first 37 games played. On the other hand, this probably won’t happen in the near term, both because of the value of the brand name Rolen brings to the table, so to speak, and because Rolen wouldn’t exactly be a great fit for a bench role, since his playing ability is limited to one position. Given that, Frazier might actually be best utilized in a utility role of sorts, as long as he gets to spell Rolen at third semi-regularly.

Now I’m not trying to say that the Reds don’t have a problem with getting on base — they certainly do — nor am I really trying to defend Baker, per se. Heaven knows I’m far from a fan of Dusty, and the constant stream of nonsense he uses to justify poor decisions should embarrass everyone in the team’s front office, to say nothing of the pride he obviously takes in being ignorant of a couple of decades worth of progressing knowledge of the game. But Dusty, like any manager, can only go to battle with the tools he has, and right now that tool box is decidedly lacking in on base skills. Who should you blame for that? I don’t know. Maybe you can blame Walt Jocketty for saddling the roster with low OBP role players like Ludwick and extending Rolen through the twilight of his career. Maybe there just weren’t any viable, high OBP alternatives on the market to acquire (in the interest of full disclosure, I thought Kosuke Fukodome made a lot of sense for the Reds over the winter, but he just got released by the White Sox after hitting .171/.294/.195, so this stuff is hard). Maybe it’s an organizational failing, and someone needs to sit down and think about working on this with future prospects.

No matter who’s to blame, however, at the moment everyone in the front office would be well advised to spend their time figuring out how to add some on base ability to the top of this lineup, because it’s just not there right now. And that’s true whether Dusty Baker sufficiently appreciates it or not.

*That’s according to Fangraphs right now, and I’m not sure if they’ve updated their numbers to include Wednesday’s game yet, so this could be different by the time you read it. But not by much, so the basic thrust of this post holds.

79 thoughts on “Don’t blame Dusty for Reds’ lineup conundrum

  1. Formatting was soooo bad on that… What I said was “Honestly Steve, I’m just happy he isn’t hitting Rolen 4th. I’m only half kidding too.”

  2. I thought of another way of looking at walks just a few minutes ago because of something Brian Anderson said on the Detroit vs Tampa Bay telecast. He said something that made me think: How do you feel when your pitcher walks a guy? Isn’t it even worse when it is a fairly light hitter in front of a really good hitter? What if it’s the 8th batter in front of the pitcher setting up the bunt (in the NL)? You don’t feel good when your pitcher walks a guy, especially in these situations do you? So, maybe Dusty needs to look at it from that perspective.

    The comment Anderson made that made me ponder this was “Walking guys just kills you.” and it wasn’t just the phrase, it was his tone. He went on to talk about the baserunners and pitching with guys on base and how those walks seem to come around to score. This is all old-school wisdom but from the pitchers’ perspective. So if walks are bad for pitchers, they are good for hitters.

  3. @earmbrister: They don’t have a leadoff hitter, and Baker’s “solution” is to put a guy there who rarely gets on base and has 2 steals for the entire season.

    Yeah, because he doesn’t have a great leadoff hitter, obviously the best solution is to put one of the WORST candidates in that spot. What else COULD he do?

    Yeah, you have a good point there.

  4. The Reds are in FIRST PLACE “despite (the) manager’s utter incompetence”.

    Too bad we couldn’t have found a manager who was just somewhat imcompetent. Then we’d be in, er, second or third place?

    Yeah, they don’t have a leadoff hitter. I guess your “solution” would be to put Phillips there. A guy that gets on base at a career mediocre rate of .322 and who has THREE steals for the entire season (BP hasn’t had more than 20 steals in a season since 2009). Not to mention that you lose his bat at cleanup when he is one of the most consistent RBI guys on the team. Maybe Phillips can bat at leadoff and at cleanup.

    Other posters here have used the .OBP argument to push for Frazier batting second (brilliant) or even Mesaraco (yeah, there’s that small sample size thing again).

    Face it, this team is devoid of high OBP guys who have any speed at all.

    Or you can just go with your “utter incompetence” nonsense.

  5. Baker’s philosophy on first pitch swinging is valid. How many times do you hear a pitcher say “I got behind in the count”. The first pitch strike is the goal of every pitcher. Knowing it’s coming gives the hitter an advantage. The game isn’t about taking walks or getting to the bullpen in the 5th inning every night. It’s a simply game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains. Think about that.

  6. @earmbrister: The point is not what place the team sits. The point is whether the lineups are making the most of this roster.

    There is a “plank in the eye” problem if you are judging Phillips as a leadoff candidate while giving Cozart a pass. Cozart batted exclusively at #1 or #2 all year. Excluding Rolen, he has the worst .OBP of all Reds starters and only two stolen bases. These simple facts demand an answer and a lack of candidates is not an answer when nothing else has even been attempted.

    The most dominant hitter in the league has 47 extra base hits, a league leading average (and universe leading with runners on) and only 47 RBI. (Compare to his peer David Wright who has a similar average and only 35 extra-base hits and 47 RBI.) The problem is setting the proverbial table. Cozart is not the solution. The manager should have tried something else by now.

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