So, before writing this column, I felt uninspired and turned to Twitter for guidance. It was then suggested to me that I write about the difficult time the Reds have had finding a left fielder since the departure of Adam Dunn. This sounded interesting and it did register as a problem in my brain, so I thought, yes, I will do this!
And I did, and I learned something. Left field has not been a problem for that long.
My perception, and probably yours as well, is that left is supposed to be a hitter’s position, but it hasn’t been since 2009. In that time, MLB left fielders have been almost perfectly league-average. Reds left fielders have also been almost perfectly average. Certainly, Ryan Ludwick’s injuries and poor play when on the field have hurt the last few years, but he also helped a lot in 2012, and you can’t really predict injuries like that.
So I started poking around different positions, and what I found was this: Since 2009 (arbitrary, I know, but it’s where I started), the Reds have been offensively at or above league average in each of the following positions (using wRC+): C, 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF. League average, in this case, means average for the position.
No doubt, you notice two positions missing there. Shortstop and centerfield have, in fact, been the offensive black holes. Not left field. With the exception of Choo last year, both of those positions have been consistent black holes and the Reds have done very little to fill them. Sure, Cozart has a great glove, but given that he’s at peak age right now and has only barely managed to be an average player the last two years, the Reds, it seems, should be looking.
I’ve been, generally, very pro-Hamilton here, but he needs to develop quickly. Right now, the Reds, when healthy, have three positions that are providing below average offense (again, for the position): left, center, and short. Very, very few teams can have that many offensive issues and still contend. Left happened somewhat because of injury and somewhat because of an unwillingness to address the injury problem (we might also assume the Reds are counting on Ervin or Winker to progress quickly). Center and short are much more problematic because they represent poor execution on the part of the front office.
Certainly, you can’t assume that your system will continually produce fresh talent at every position. That’s what you use your free agent bucks on. The Reds, we know, are up against a payroll limit here, but by my calculations, the Reds are spening at least $25M this season in money on extending/signing relievers and replacement-level bench players. I am of the mind that you should almost never pay for relief pitching because it is so unpredictable. Hitters are much more predictable. Perhaps, going forward, the Reds should think hard about whether they’d prefer to have a capricious bullpen or a shortstop (of centerfielder) who can rake.
Next Week: Inspired by the success of this week’s Twitter, question, I now put it to you. Next week’s column will be a Q&A. Remember, we’re focused on offense, so ask what you want and I’ll do my best to answer everyone (or most everyone).
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.