Much attention has been put on the Reds’ situation out there in left field this offseason, leading to the trade for Marlon Byrd. Some think Byrd isn’t a large enough improvement to make a difference in the 2015 Reds. Even if that ends up being the case there still remains another way to drastically improve the roster.

What do Brayan Pena, Skip Schumaker, Roger Bernadina, Donald Lutz, and Jack Hannahan all have in common? They were all 2014 backups who had at least 50 plate appearances (PA) and ended the season with negative wins above replacement (WAR).

In 2014 the Reds gave 1,655 PA to position players who were not on the Opening Day lineup. That is well over twice as many PA as Todd Frazier, who led the team last season with 660. Of all those players, the only ones who finished with a Fangraphs WAR above 0.0 were Chris Heisey (299 PA, 1.1 WAR), Ramon Santiago (214 PA, 0.5 WAR), and Kristopher Negron (158 PA, 1.9 WAR). The other 984 PA were all taken by 0.0 WAR or negative WAR players for a total of -3.4 WAR. That means last season all the Reds backups combined were barely over replacement level with 0.1 WAR.

So while we were all keeping an eye on the latest left fielder being traded or signed, we should instead be watching what’s happening to the bench, because those five bench players will have a much greater impact on the season than one left fielder. Just think about this. Last year if all of Schumaker and Pena’s playing time had been instead given to a Heisey-caliber 1.0 WAR bench player, it would have resulted in a difference of 3.9 WAR. Last season Justin Upton had exactly 3.9 WAR.

If in 2015 the Reds manage to gather four 1.0 WAR players to accompany Negron’s 1.9 WAR on the bench, it would be a difference of 5.8 WAR from 2014, and more than both Melky Cabrera’s 2.6 WAR and Ben Zobrist’s 5.7 WAR in 2014 without having to give up high level prospects or handing out a 3yr/$42m type contract. So I will not be keeping an eye on left field to gauge how next season might go, but instead those 5 guys who will be sitting on the bench on Opening Day.

39 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    My guess at 2015 bench is Pena C, Suarez & Negron INF, and Schumaker & Boesch OF.

    Schumaker had many decent years prior to 2014 but his shoulder injury obviously hurt his performance.

    Pena is reliable. Negron, hard to say. Better in 2014 than ever before.

    Suarez is up-&-comer and should improve. Boesch has to recapture his output of a few years back.

    • Carl Sayre

      The role players you listed one way to improve the teams WAR would be letting Pena catch Cueto every other start or every 3rd start. That would improve the team without trying to replace the player just rely on him less often.

  2. Steve Schoenbaechler

    A couple of things to consider. First, for those bench players who were to end up with a +WAR, they are probably looking for starting positions somewhere and/or making bigger money than a bench player makes. So, those players you would want to bring in, would they really be available? Would we have to be overpaying for players who may only see 50 AB’s per season?

    Second, you essentially described what bench players are. They are bench players for a reason, either poor hitters or poor defenders, or even both, and thus, probably have a low if not negative WAR. As a comparison, if you consider all the Cardinals players who had an PA last season, take out the ones who had more than 100 PA’s last season, then add up all of their WAR, it comes to a 0.2. And, they were in a pennant race, thus not looking to many if any call-ups who would have low or negative WARs. The Reds, following the same formula, have a -1.1. And, they played the last month with a lot of call-ups, thus having a lot of low and negative WARs (the Reds had 100+ more PA’s with these players than the Cards did). So, the teams were very comparable in these regards.

    Honestly, in my opinion, if you aren’t going to overpay for someone like a current starter on another team to be a “reserve” player for you, bench players are almost like bullpen pitchers, players that could easily be “on” one year and “off” the next. They are an area of the team you don’t want to put much money into. Some money, sure, but not much. For, also, as soon as they have a good season, they are going to want to look to bolt for the next great contract.

    • Jeremy Forbes

      Using your example of the Cardinals, I am not saying a strong bench is a requirement to be in a pennant race, but if you look at the Cardinals in 2014, they didn’t need a strong bench because they had six starters at 2.0 WAR or higher, with one of the two who weren’t, at 1.9. Four of those players were over 3.0 WAR.

      Meanwhile the Reds had only three players at 2.0 WAR or higher. All of them were above 3.0 WAR as well, but when only three out of eight of your starters were producing at a starting level, you need better depth to help combat it.

      I agree that just having good starters is way better than having a good bench, but this is just a possible alternative to try to improve the team since the starters bit is more or less past us.

      A good example of a player would be Scott Van Slyke for the Dodgers. He would be a bench player they could still try to trade for to be their 4th OF/backup 1B. Last year he put up 2.8 WAR in 246 PA as a backup for $507k. Schumaker put up -1.3 WAR in 271 PA for $2m. It would cost some minor league players, but replacing Schumaker with him would be a possible 4.1 WAR shift for a $500k addition. Those are the kind of players I am saying Walt needs to be looking for right now to improve the team since they don’t have the ability to add much more payroll.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Well, given that, shouldn’t we be looking for starters that have a WAR of 2.0 or higher?

        As for Van Slyke, I doubt the Dodgers are going to be letting him get away for peanuts. We would probably have to give up too much to get him from the Dodgers. And, that’s the thing. Oh, I would love to have Van Slyke. But, the Dodgers would have to want what we have to offer in return. Let’s see. We have nothing but young pitching studs. And, with how depleted our starting staff is right now, I doubt we are going to let any of them go. As well as, the Dodgers may not even want them.

        Not to mention, Van Slyke would probably be starting here, which means we still have a regular bench.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Cueto or Chapman for a bench player?

      • eddie koverman

        not just make it a bigger deal

  3. Thegafffer

    Great analysis and something I have mentioned in a round about way before (You said it best). One point is that defense is a big part of this equation so PA is not the only way to estimate the impact of WAR. For example, Heisey was replacement level on offense but in + territory on defense. Skip was bad at the plate, but worse on defense. Hence, Skip being a pinch hitter and never playing in the field could have a positive effect!

    On a “similar” line of thinking I propose that even if Byrd and say Aoki end up with the same WAR, Byrd batting 6th and Aoki batting 2nd means that Aoki would take away PA from Frazier or even Votto. Hence, we may gain say 0.3-0.5 WAR just based on the LF batting lower in the lineup!

  4. unc reds fan

    I think we are overestimating the total WAR that Heisley would’ve given us, but overall I see where you are coming from…obviously Suarez should be a huge improvement over hannahan and if Negron picks up where he left off would also do us some good…its a shame we couldn’t have kept Heisley and traded skip instead but then again I probably answered why just by posing the hypothetical

  5. Jeremy Conley

    Good article, I like where you’re coming from.

    I think that a lot of bench issues come from the idea that there needs to be some veteran grit on the bench, rather than a 4A player in his prime. The Reds seem to always bring in a Schumaker, Hannahan, or Valdez, rather than just using internal options.

    This year’s bench should be better with Suarez and Negron (for a full year), but Schumaker is just terrible and never should have been signed. He’s had a 10 year career and racked up a total of 1.7 WAR. TOTAL! He’s averaged .17 WAR per year and now he’s going to be 35.

    • Tom Gray

      Schumaker had a subpar 2014 due to his shoulder injury but was pretty decent for most of the past decade with Cardinals (et al). The Reds should aspire to be the Cardinals.

      • MrRed

        That’s somewhat true, Tom. Although Schumaker never had any really notable years, so the 2014 injury doesn’t negate that much. But I do agree with you that the Reds should aspire to be the Cards and by doing so, they wouldn’t have signed Schumaker in the first place (to a 2 year deal no less)!

      • Tom Gray

        Cardinals had him for all or part of 8 seasons. Reds signed him for just 2.

      • MrRed

        The point was that the Cardinals didn’t keep him once he hit his decline such as it were. Yet, the Reds bring him him on a 2 year deal and have paid more than he is worth.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Honestly, I believe Suarez might be wasted on the bench. His defense isn’t that bad. And, he definitely hits better than Cozart. Cozart is the one who’s more like a bench player. Bench players are bench players for a reason, they lack something. And, Cozart definitely lacks hitting.

      And, with Negron, part of me can’t help thinking I would like him at 2nd starting, letting BP go for a bag of peanuts. The reasoning being, he most likely isn’t better than BP in the field. However, he is most likely as good as BP with the bat, maybe minus power. But, with the money we would save, I can’t help thinking what we could do with that. Maybe extend Cueto? Maybe pay for a decent hitting SS? Something else?

      • THEGAFFER

        BP is not a bad player, he is just signed to a bad contract. NO WAY you pay him to go away. Suarez is 23 and has limited AAA or MLB experience. I like him, but he is not a certain starting caliber player. If Cozart hits, he will play. If not, WSuarez will get his chance. BP also is better when he gets a day off every now and then so Suarez will get that time too. I bet Suarez gets 300 PA.

  6. WVRedlegs

    I think the Reds front office learned a valuable lesson last year regarding the bullpen and bench. I believe Jocketty is going to apply his “having an MLB experienced starter at AAA insurance policy” to the bench and bullpen as well. Having Christiani, Contreras, Partch, and Jumbo up on the 25 man roster mostly at the same time in the bullpen spelled disaster. And on the bench it was Soto, Lutz, Barnhart and negron. That is alot of green horns to hold down the fort. Thus the multitude of signings with experienced players to minor league deals with a spring training invite. My guess is few of them stay at AAA for insurance purposes.

  7. wvredlegs

    With the premise that Schumaker starts the 2015 season on the DL, then I think Pena is the only one who has a bench spot reserved. The other four spots will have to be earned or lost in spring training. A good spring training gets a ticket to Cincinnati punched. A bad spring training gets a ticket to Louisville or released. That said, I think OF Brennan Boesch is being counted on heavily to win the 4th OF spot. He’ll probably see the bulk of the DH duties in the away interleague games
    with all nine of those games before the All Star break. Then Lutz, or more likely Burgeious, takes the 5th spot until Schumaker returns. The INF spots seem secure in Negron and Suarez. But if one or both have a bad spring training, then there is at least Josh Satin waiting in the wings.

  8. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    I would almost welcome a Russell Branyan type of player for the bench just because I feel that every good bench needs that 1 guy that teams fear will come in as a pinch hitter and just be able to hit a homer at any given moment. Of the guys mentioned I don’t really see that any of them have any power. I guess if they’re getting on base and getting hits then it doesn’t matter. I guess it’s just nice to have that insurance just in case with the power.

      • Tom Gray

        Reds cannot afford $2-3 million on reserve OF or back-of-the-bullpen P in 2015.

      • D Ray White

        So why haven’t they canned The Skipper? Heisey was well worth a one year 2.5 million contract, or if not, still moreso than Schumaker. Hersey can play all three outfield positions, provides late inning pop, and will give max effort. Schumaker can……well…….um………he’s a Cardinal retread. Not paying the pittance to Heisey looks foolish in the face of paying Skip almost equal value. A Heisey contract would not have doomed this team. Another Ludwick, Massett, or Marshall contract might’ve though.

      • Tom Gray

        They didn’t “can” Heisey. He was traded for RP Magill.

        Schumaker plays INF and OF. He hits LH. He has good experience with St Louis.

    • THEGAFFER

      526

      145

      33

      3

      74

      16 HR

      73

      27

      3

      2

      111

      .276 AVG.

      .325 OBP

      .441 SLG

      .766 OPS

      • THEGAFFER

        That was ZiPS for Marlon Byrd in 2015, as this was deemed the most accuarate projection system.

      • lwblogger2

        2015 or 2014? I didn’t think the ZiPS projection for Byrd in 2015 was out yet. Dan hasn’t released Cincy or Philly projections… Do you have a top secret line to him ๐Ÿ˜‰ I tell ya what, I’ll take that from LF this year. I like it a lot better than what Steamer came out with.

  9. Dan

    The Red Sox have an overloaded outfield right now. I wonder what it would take to get 1B/OF Allen Craig. He had a horrible year last year (.215/.279/.315 total) and even worse in Boston (.121/.234/.191), but even including that his career numbers are .282/.337/.445. He’s 30 years old.

    I’d love to have Craig to back up Votto at 1B (no more Pena at 1B!) and/or to be our 4th outfielder (and give Jay Bruce a breather vs. a tough LHP now and then). And he’s even an ex-Cardinal retread to make Jocketty happy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Unfortunately, I can probably answer my own question here – it’s probably not do-able b/c of his contract ($5.5 mil, $9 mil, and $11 mil over the next 3 years).

    Anyway, I still think the guy will hit, and we NEED a bat like that on the bench. Plus, I feel like he screams “buy low.”

    Just a thought…

    • Jeremy Forbes

      The Red Sox have a couple players who’s future with their team is questionable. There’s been plenty of talk about Mookie Betts earlier in the offseason, but another guy to keep an eye on would be Daniel Nava.

      Upside:
      -Hit .270/.346/.361 in 406 PA last year.
      -1st year Arb Eligible, so price controlled.
      -Had 2.6 WAR last year
      -Plays both corners and first.

      Downside:
      -Heading into his age 32 season.
      -Hit .303/.385/.445 in 2013, which is a huge shift from one year to another.
      -Career .125 ISO

      I will say his power might be better in a different stadium. All four of his HR last year were on the road, and in 2014 Fenway was the 27th least HR-friendly park in MLB.

  10. scheffbd (@scheffbd)

    There’s not many inexpensive bench options to be found unless a reclamation project pans out. You’ll have to pay the same $5-7M per WAR for a backup as you would a starter on the free agent market, or you’ll pay in prospects in a trade unless you take on a big salary someone wants to dump. It would take a top 10 prospect or two to get a 2+ WAR 4th outfielder making league minimum salary like Van Slyke or Nava, and just about every team would be interested, so the Reds would have to make the best offer.

    • lwblogger2

      Is that the old “Walks will haunt” ghost?

      • jessecuster44

        Gotta be. I also like “Base on Balls” and “He’s….. A hot dog?”

  11. redmountain

    It seems that some of the people want to make trades that are not remotely going to happen. For instance, i f you could add(not happening)Van Slyke, the Reds would still be on the hook for Schumacker’s salary so you would be adding to the budget. I doubt the Dodgers want what we have in surplus-Pitching and OF.