The first week and a half of the season was terrifying. It was terrifying because the Reds looked like our worst fears. Plenty of pitching, but good luck finding enough runs to win. Since then, however, things have turned around a bit. As I write this, the Reds have scored at least four runs eight games in a row. Unsurprisingly, they are 5-3 in those games.
And indeed, the lineup does look suddenly formidable. Let’s take a quick look at the primary players using wRC+, which is an all-encompassing offensive stat.
1. Billy Hamilton – 38 wRC+
2. Joey Votto – 161 wRC+
3. Brandon Phillips – 85 wRC+
4. Jay Bruce – 120 wRC+
5. Ryan Ludwick – 108 wRC+
6. Todd Frazier – 122 wRC+
7. Devin Mesoraco – 310 wRC+
8. Zack Cozart – 6 wRC+
There’s a lot to digest there. Let’s take it in chunks.
Nothing to See Here
Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, step on up. You are both doing what we expect you to do. You both have a BABIP that’s a bit below your career norm, but overall, you’re looking good. We expect that you’ll keep it up as the season progresses.
Too Good to Be True?
Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick, and Devin Mesoraco, come on down. Mes is not going to hit like this. He just isn’t. However, this sustained period of excellence to start the season does bode fairly well. Friend of the Nation Joel Luckhaupt had a string of tweets recently identifying other Reds who have had stretches like this, and nearly all of them ended up with pretty good numbers at the end of the year. I have to say that, thus far, Frazier also looks pretty good. The power numbers are better than I’d expect in the long run, but he’s taking walks and there’s no weird BABIP voodoo enhancing his numbers.
And then there’s Ludwick. I don’t want to be a downer. I really don’t. He’s been above average and I hope he keeps it up, but his .351 BABIP is unlikely to last. Worse, his Isolated Power of .135 is well below his career norm. It’s early, certainly, but he’s a player I wouldn’t be surprised to see fall.
Is It Going to Get Better?
This is mostly about Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton, though we’ll also address Brandon Phillips here since he’s a bit below average right now. With Hamilton and Cozart, the short, easy answer is probably. Hamilton’s BABIP of .260 is lower than it should be for someone with his speed. It’s also been pointed out in several places that his numbers have been on the rise lately. The jury will, however, continue to be out on Hamilton until he show he can keep his OBP over .300
With Cozart, it’s just bad luck. Plain and simple. His .154 BABIP is team-worst and impossible to sustain. He’ll come around. He won’t hit much because he’s Zack Cozart, but he will likely hit as well as he always has before.
Phillips, I am scared about. His 85 wRC+ is not terrible. But his BABIP of .373 indicates at least some of that number is GOOD luck. Further, his power is down and he isn’t walking at all (2.4%). It’s possible this is simply an early season slump, but Phillips is probably the best candidate on the roster for a sudden and steep decline. We’ll have to keep a close eye on him.
A Word about the Lineup
A lot of ranting has been going on about the lineup lately. The science of lineup construction tells us two things:
1. It doesn’t matter that much.
2. To the extent it does matter, your best hitters should hit 2nd and 4th, with everyone else lined up in descending order of OBP.
Price has, rather subtly, managed to get his two best hitters into the correct slots. As much as it bothers some to not have Votto and Bruce hitting back-to-back, they are positioned to do the most damage for now. After them, I’m uncomfortable ranking any of Phillips, Ludwick, Frazier, and Mesoraco as better than the others. Hamilton and Cozart clearly bring up the rear.
If I were to set the lineup, I’d likely go with something like this:
Hamilton, Votto, Frazier, Bruce, Mesoraco, Ludwick, Phillips, Cozart
I think Hamilton will keep his OBP high enough to have value out of the first spot in the order. Votto and Bruce are where they should be, and everyone else is in descending order by how good I think their numbers will be by the end of the season. You could swap Mes and Frazier and also swap Ludwick and BP and I wouldn’t argue.
Really, though, the lineup shenanigans don’t matter very much, fun as they are to talk about.
Stat of the Week: wRC+
Also known as the stat Joey Votto would most like to lead the league in, wRC+ is compiled by FanGraphs. It attempts to quantify all offensive contributions which means it includes baserunning as well as hitting. It is adjusted for park and league. This means that you don’t need to look at any Reds wRC+ numbers and wonder what it would be like if they weren’t in hitter-friendly GABP.
wRC+ is indexed to 100. 100 is, roughly, league average. Every point above 100 means that player was one percent better than league average. Every point below 100 means the player is one percent below the league average. So, right now, Devin Mesoraco is 210 percent better than league average, where as Zack Cozart is 94 percent worse. Yes, you can have a negative wRC+.
For context, there were 204 players with at least 400 PAs last year. In that group, the lowest wRC+ was 49 (Alcides Escobar). The highest was 192 (Miguel Cabrera). Only 12 players in that group managed a wRC+ of at least 150 (including Votto and Choo). A 120 wRC+ (typical Jay Bruce season), puts a player in the top 25 percent of hitters. A wRC+ around or below 90 puts a player in the bottom quarter of those accumulating at least 400 PAs. There are, of course, a lot of hitters well below that, they just don’t play enough to be part of this sample.
If you missed it, the newest chapter in my baseball novel When the Sparrow Sings went up over at The Hardball Times yesterday. I encourage everyone to read it (and to buy a copy when it comes out as a book later this year).