Awhile ago I got the idea to write about the Reds bench.  More specifically, to write about the type of bench the Reds have put together over the last several seasons and see if we can find anything interesting.

I think the narrative is already in place.  The Reds prefer to spend money on aging journeymen who are past their primes and are no longer capable of providing any tangible value on the field. Whether or not that is true, the phrase “We got Jack for that” is still probably rolling around in a lot of our heads.

So, without really knowing what I’d find, I started digging around.  In order to try and keep things somewhat scientific, I decided to limit my sample of “bench players” to the 5 players with the most pinch hit plate appearances each season from now back to 2010. I figured this would give me a good chance of estimating what the bench looked like, on average, for the largest part of the season.  I also excluded catchers, since backup catchers are on teams for an entirely different reason that the average bench player, and I excluded players who were meant to be starters.  For example, one season Ryan Ludwick was in the top 5 for pinch hits, but since he wasn’t meant to be a bench piece, I excluded him.

So, here’s a chart showing the aforementioned sample:

chart1

As you can see in 2016, only 4 players have met my criteria of not being a backup catcher or not being a starter.  Nothing ground-breaking here.  Most of you will remember vividly all the fellows on this list.

Attempting to figure out, perhaps, the type of players the Reds target for bench players, I put everyone in a list and looked a few different things.  First, I looked at where these players were before and after their stint on the Reds bench.  The next chart shows precisely that.

chart2

A box being filled red indicates the player was one of the 5 players with the most pinch hit PA that season.  For the most part, this also indicates their seasons with the Reds.  Chris Heisey in 2013 is a notable example to the contrary.  He was with the Reds, but not among the top 5.

After putting this together, the first thing that popped out at me is how many of the Reds bench players the last few years are no longer in professional baseball.  This is indicated by the Out-of-Baseball (OOB) designation.  I think the rest are self-explanatory.

So do the Reds have a slant towards aging, on-their-last-leg journeymen?  Well, that’s been the narrative and it sure seems like it from this first chart.

Now, let’s take a look at each player’s age during the season, as well as the average bench age for each season.  Ages below are as of April 1st.

chart3

The youngest player the Reds have benched in the last 7 seasons was Juan Francisco. Thanks to him, he drove the average age of the 2010 bench down to 27 years.  The 2012 bench was the oldest thanks to Miguel Cairo.

So, again, there’s not a ton of information to glean from this view.  Perhaps that the Reds prefer veterans to prospects, but that’s not revolutionary.

Now, let’s take a look at how productive these players were during this 7-year span by examining their Wins Above Replacement (fWAR).

chart4

Now we’re getting somewhere!  Note that, again, the boxes filled with red are the seasons where the player appeared as a top 5 bench option for the Reds.  Also, if a box is not filled with a number, it means the player did not play in the majors that season.

There is quite a bit of negative on this chart.  Perhaps we should expect this since bench players are generally not as talented as starters.  If you subscribe to the theory of WAR, however, this is a bad thing.  The theory I’m alluding to is that there is a large supply of replacement players who will play for league-minimum salary that are capable of putting up a 0.0 WAR season; hence the name “replacement level.”

If that theory has an merit, we’d expect there to be as many plus-WAR seasons as negative-WAR seasons.  Actually, we’d expect more since many of these players are probably expected to be better than replacement level, as evidenced by the fact that not all players on this list made league minimum salary.

So if you count everything up, 19 of the 34 player-seasons in our sample were at or above replacement level. Barely over half.

Also interesting to note is that many of these players put up negative WAR in the season prior to playing for the Reds.  There were 11 players-season where the player posted negative WAR before their Reds season.  Of those 11 players, 9 of them put up negative WAR in their first season with the Reds.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  A bench player who was bad one year is likely to just be a bad player.  Maybe the Reds got bad luck.  Who knows.  But the fact that the Reds got 11 guys coming off negative WAR seasons and 9 of them did not improve shows a lot about the Reds decision making process.  For those of you who don’t enjoy the “Where’s Waldo?” series, the two players to buck the trend were Adam Duvall and Xavier Paul.

The last thing I wanted to do was classify each player and see if certain types of players have been more successful for the Reds.  The buckets I chose to create are as follows: prospect, career minor leaguer, and journeyman/role player.  The distinction on the last bucket is that a journeyman is generally older and more expensive, and a role player is a guy like Chris Heisey who at some point was no longer a “prospect” but was clear in his role as a bench player. As such, I bucketed Heisey’s 2010 and 2011 in as “prospect” and his 2012 and 2014 as “role player,” which is bucketed with journeyman.  Here is that chart:

chart4andahalf

I added an “RWAR” column showing the red boxes added up, and also showed how I bucketed each player.

So, here’s the final chart:

xhart5

I felt the need to present the data with and without Heisey, since he’s been by far the best bench player the Reds have employed over the last 7 seasons.  He also received the most overall playing time, which adds to his WAR totals.

We can see, even from this tiny and likely irrelevant sample, that the Reds are not doing themselves any favors by rostering these “journeyman” types of players like Schumaker and Hannahan.   Not only have the Reds been unable to identify good journeyman, they have to pay them way more than league minimum.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think we’ve discovered much here today, but I thought it was fun to look at something like this anyways!  I’m encouraged by the fact that the Reds didn’t waste any money on journeymen this season.  I hope it continues until 2018 when the Reds hope to compete again!  They should certainly be able to find useful bench pieces from within their own, cost-controlled stable of players.

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34 Responses

  1. wkuchad

    Sometimes the eye test does work. 2015 bench was really, really bad. And 2016 bench has a chance to top them!

    Is this a Reds issue or a norm with most teams?

      • greenmtred

        Patrick, I understand that WAR includes the assumption that there are a good number of 0 WAR guys available most of the time, but I wonder if that is actually the case (not saying it isn’t), since it seems likely that a lot of teams have a number of 0 WAR starters. Might be the subject for an interesting article. Good work! as always.

    • eric3287

      The Reds bench of 2016 has a chance to be worse than the bench of 2015 because it was designed to be. That may sound harsher than intended; I don’t mean to imply the front office is actively trying to lose, but that anyone with any knowledge of baseball should be able to look at the names on the Reds bench and understand that it is a collection of not very good major league players.

      The Reds as an organization since at least 2008 have been very inefficient with the resources they have. The most astonishing part of the 2016 roster to me was the inclusion of Jordan Pacheco, Tyler Holt, and Scott Schebler at the expense of Rule 5 Draftee Jake Cave. That probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves, what with all the other issues with the Reds organization. Cave and Schebler are basically the same age. One had options (Schebler). One did not. A team truly committed to a rebuilding effort keeps Cave on the 25 man roster to see if maybe they found a gem. You can keep Schebler in AAA and if he tears it up, find a way to bring him to the big leagues. Or don’t. 2016, as we’ve been told, doesn’t matter anyway.

      Instead, Jake Cave is hitting .302/.349/.553 between AA/AAA for the Yankees and Schebler didn’t even make it to Memorial Day on the 25 man.I can’t really call it second guessing because it was asinine to begin with. Meanwhile, the other “near MLB ready” outfielder in the Todd Frazier deal, Trayce Thompson who the Dodgers got in exchange for letting the Reds have their coveted prize (Peraza) is hitting .282/.385/.544 for the Dodgers.

      Ronald Torreyes, another player given up for Sean Marshall, is hitting .289/.333/.400 for the Yankees. He’s all of 23 years old.

      I get you can probably nit pick at any team’s trades/signings, but the Reds, in their last place glory, would be a heck of a lot more interesting if players with the potential to be good, and to be good the next time they have a shot at competing, were getting playing time over ever more journeymen.

      • Patrick Jeter

        I agree with your assessment that Cave should have been rostered and Schebler sent to AAA (with the power of hindsight! at the time, I liked Schebler with the club), although I still think Schebler has a significantly higher ceiling than Cave. Which, I know, is not really relevant to your point.

      • lwblogger2

        The Frazier trade just kills me. I think it’s going to continue to kill me every time I look at Thompson. Even if Peraza turns out to be good, he’s going to have to be better than Thompson to soften the blow in my mind. I’m not sure he is or will be. Thompson hits, walks, and hits for power. Maybe if Peraza turns into a plus-fielding SS who hits league average that trade can be called a win? The Sox gave that package for Frazier. The fact that the Reds didn’t take it was just crazy in my mind.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Thompson had middling stats in the minors his last two seasons, and has had some unsustainable (HR/FB%) stuff going on in partial MLB seasons. Thompson may very well be the best player in that deal, but what he’s showing now is probably not his true talent. If it is, then there was probably no way to have projected it this early.

        Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize to make myself feel better. Who knows!

      • wkuchad

        Is the Frazier trade worse or the Chapman trade? I just don’t understand making it. Get past the suspension and trade him at the all-star break or trading deadline and get so much more. Missed opportunities.

      • Patrick Jeter

        If Rookie Davis ends up being even a #4/#5 major league starter, the Chapman trade will become a “win,” I think. Or if Eric Jagielo ends up being a decent major league hitter. I think Davis is more likely than Jagielo.

        Now, perhaps you’re right that we could have gotten more at this upcoming trade deadline, but you accept the risk of injury in that, as well.

        They didn’t handle it well, but there is some chance that the Chapman trade will turn out OK.

      • eric3287

        What I hate about the Frazier trade isn’t so much who they got, but how they went about it. They didn’t shop him around to the highest bidder. They targeted a player (Jose Peraza) and went about finding ways to get him. I remember there was talk that they were “asking” the Indians for 2 or 3 top 5 prospects and a Major League ready guy. In hindsight, it seems like they were doing this to drive up the prospects that the White Sox would be willing to send to the Dodgers! That’s just insane.

      • Hotto4Votto

        Both trades this offseason are still leaving me shaking my head. It was poor reaction to the Chapman news, and not wanting to look like they weren’t trying anything (couldn’t trade Phillips, Bruce tanked his trade value, Chapman got trigger happy). So they took the best trade chip and cashed it in for a poor return just to do something.

        Maybe Davis becomes a SP for the Reds. At best he’s the Reds 4th best prospect pitching in AA/AAA (behind Stephenson, Reed, and Garrett) for a Reds team that has numerous options, albeit mainly injured, already in the Majors. And that’s if he ends up being better than Romano, Travieso, Mella, and Mahle. Meanwhile Jagielo has been brutal at the plate to start the year and hitting was his calling card as his defense is below average.

        This offseason was an unmitigated disaster in trading/gaining assets. They were even unable to add any value with Rule V, even though they had the #2 pick.

        For all of Jocketty’s mismanagement of the roster, extensions to aging vets/bullpen/bench guys, and inactivity at the trade deadline, the one thing he did well was make trades. I’ve been told by a person who knows more people than I, that Jocketty is still calling the shots and the front office will run better when he’s gone. I don’t buy it. None of these trades seem like Jocketty trades, because he never got hosed like this, nor did he get fixated on a specific guy like Peraza that he would turn down a better deal.

        I think we’re already seeing the Dickie W. future. And it’s bleak if this offseason is any indication.

  2. Hotto4Votto

    Good thing we traded Heisey for Magill and were able to play Boesch, Dominguez, Bourgeois, and Schumaker instead. It’s this kind of decision making that makes me relieved we have such a competent FO to handle the rebuild.

    • vegastypo

      Wasn’t Heisey getting too pricey for a bench role? That was something that irked me. Guess it went for the new scoreboard for the All-Star Game.

      • eric3287

        Heisey made $2.2 million last year. The Reds paid Skip $2.5 million ($3 million if you factor in the $500,000 they paid him to go away and not play this year).

    • lwblogger2

      They pretty much moved Heisey for salary relief!! If you’re struggling for salary money down to the million, then I seriously question the future of this franchise in regards to being able to be competitive.

  3. enfuego

    Nice article. Its interesting to see an analysis of whether what we thought was supported by the data. I didn’t remember Nix being that decent off the bench or the regression from Cairo his last year. What a colossal waste Francisco turned out to be.

  4. jimmaloney46

    I definitely think there’s some serious and important info here. It shows the Reds have been frikkin’ bad in buying/building their bench the last 3-4 years, and it’s fair to conjecture it’s directly related to poor talent evaluations in the front office, both at the personnel level or the top level. A decent bench is a necessity to a winning team. The inverse is true, too. The effort at putting a decent bench together lately has seemed haphazard at best.

    Interestingly enough, over these same last 4 years the Reds have increasingly relied on sabermetrics to evaluate players and talent. That poses the next questions: are they interpreting their data poorly, are they not using sabermetrics enough,or are they just having bad luck with the predictive expectations they’re coming up with?\

    Back in 2010, which was my most enjoyable season of the run, because so much young talent emerged, including Votto and Cueto, they had a terrific bench, with Heisey, Cairo, and Nix in the forefront. I’ve always felt it was a terrible decision not to keep Nix. He signed with the Nats for only $700.000, and had an even higher WAR, with 16 homers and 15 doubles in 350 ABs. I remember him hitting a lot of key doubles in that 2010 season, key hits that helped the Reds win what I call “momentum” games, games where a team gets a lift and goes on a nice win streak. This year the Reds are the other team’s fodder for such, the team that gives away games and gives their opponents a boost. What a turnaround.

    I find these particular stats very useful. Thank you, well done. They tell us in detail about a particular part of a baseball team that is rarely analyzed: the Bench. I can be very critical of sabermetrics at times, especially when it “proves” the already obvious. but in this case, I think you have done some cutting edge work. I hope the Reds take notice of how miserably they’ve been at putting a bench together, and try to improve. You can sign good bench players for about as much as bad ones, so why not sign good ones?

    • Patrick Jeter

      Thanks, Jim,

      If the Reds are looking at any sabermetric measures, they are probably just looking at the wrong stuff.

      It was the easiest call in the world to say Boesch and Pacheco would not be good. When they were rostered, they were coming off 3 years (Boesch) and 5 years (Pacheco) of consecutive negative WAR seasons. Major league caliber players don’t do that. BUT, the allure of useless spring training stats won out in both cases, which the 3rd emergency catcher carrot playing some in Pacheco’s case.

      Why Pacheco is still on the team is a mystery, though, now that Mesoraco is out of the picture and we have 2 healthy, young catchers on the roster.

      Pacheco should be released so one of our non-prospects from AAA can get a shot. Maybe they find a useful piece. But Pacheco is blocking that path. Shame on the Reds for a wasted opportunity.

      • jimmaloney46

        Bottom line is, they’re pretty much junk pile players. Even without going as deep as WAR, the Reds should have been able to see they were really bad at this stage and avoided them. Equally disappointing is their signing of junk pile pitchers at the very end of the last 2 spring trainings for 2 million apiece. Jocketty seems to have this perverse love for signing over the hill vets to these $2 mill/2 year deal, and then either releasing them in a few months or making us watch these clowns disintegrate before our eyes. .It seems almost in direct ratio to the number of worn out ex-Cardinals he can no longer find to sign.

        Pacheco is just the latest in a long line of inept signings and bad roster management. The extremely bad news is I seriously doubt Dick Williams will be much of an upgrade to a long-past-his-expiration-date Walt Jocketty. Nepotism is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

      • TR

        The Williams brothers along with their GM, Dick Wagner, were responsible for the dreadful Reds teams of the early 1980’s. They still are partial owners of the Reds and the new GM is a member of the family. The nepotism worries me. I would have preferred a GM from the outside, but the Reds are still around, after all these years, because ownership has usually been local in nature.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Different generation of Williams brothers.

      • lwblogger2

        I bought into Boesche being able to turn it around. He was relatively young and had a couple decent seasons. I also thought that injuries were a factor in the 3 years of sub-par seasons. I felt he was worth a flier. I was wrong but hey, that happens. As for Pacheco, the analyst in me and the scout in me can’t figure out why in the world he was (and remains!) on the roster. Third catcher? Well, crap, bring up Cabrera if you really think you need a 3rd catcher. He’ll hit just as well and he’s certainly better at…catching!!

      • Patrick Jeter

        There was always a chance, you’re right about that.

        The thing that sticks out to me, though, is the 2012 season. He played in 132 games and recorded over 500 PA, so injury couldn’t have been much of a factor. He put up a 77 wRC+ and played horrendous defense, which netted him -1.5 WAR. In addition his ISO and BB% were both below league average. This all occurred at/near his production peak of 27 yrs old.

        Expecting him to be decent at 30 when he wasn’t decent at 27 and played sparingly with injuries over the next 2 years seems quite optimistic. 😉

        Pacheco, though, is a mystery. He’s never even been average-ish. Ever. At least they only gave him $800k (I think).

      • TonyD

        Can’t reply to Patrick directly for some reason, but I was in the the same camp as LWBLOGGER2, where I thought Boesch was a good get. I didn’t think he would be a good starting OF, but a good 4th OF, bat off the bench type player with some power. Maybe someone that would be good in a platoon if you could find someone with the opposite splits. Of course, that might have made him the 2nd best Reds outfielder last year.

        I had to look it up to refresh my memory, but Boesch tore a ligament in his hand in the second half of the 2011 season. His 2012 season was impacted as well. Not in the number of games he played, but in his performance. I remember reading an article about him where he said it took three years to get his hand right, which coincided with his tearing up the PCL in 2014. He still had good numbers in Louisville last year, so, maybe he’s just a AAAA guy. I don’t think we’ll ever know, though. He broke his wrist this spring, so this is probably a lost year for him. Given his age, I doubt he gets many chances after this year.

      • Tom Diesman

        I completely agree that the Boesch signing, all though it did not work out in the end was a good pickup by the Reds. There was a lot of evidence that injuries led to his downfall (He missed the 2011 postseason because of a right thumb injury that required surgery to repair the UCL in his right thumb. Boesch missed significant time in 2013 dealing with a shoulder injury.) and recent AAA success (2014 AAA 407 PA .332/.381/.636/1.017) to indicate that he he still possessed the talent that led to some MLB success early in his career. This is one of those cases where you need to look beyond the stat line for outside factors and scouting reports. The Reds can sign guys like that to compete for bench spots all winter long and I’d be a real happy about it. Signings like this should work out more often not.

      • Phil Gasson

        Completely agree. I can’t believe they used him as d h in Cleveland. Pitiful.

  5. I-71_Exile

    Isn’t WAR a cumulative stat so bench players can’t really help but produce negative WAR due to reduced playing time? I am genuinely asking as I don’t really know.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Yes it is cumulative, but whether you produce incremental positive or incremental negative WAR depends on how you play when you get the chance.

      Schebler this year, for example, has accrued -0.5 WAR in only 69 plate appearances. If he were to continue the same level of production (unlikely) and play a full 600 PA season, he’d be sitting at -4.3 WAR at season’s end.

      For the positive case, look at Adam Duvall last season. He put up 0.6 WAR in 72 PA, mostly because he hit 5 HR in 72 PA (a 41 HR pace, and a 4.2 WAR pace).

      So the reason why most of these numbers are mostly between 1 and -1 are because the guys didn’t get a ton of playing time. But there’s nothing inherent about playing time being tied to positive and negative.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Important to note that, in Schebler’s case, the fact that he played a few games in CF (and made a few bad plays) is actually a huge downer on his season WAR total. With the fielding part of WAR, you need a large sample before it becomes somewhat reasonable. So, in essence, Schebler really isn’t that bad. He just had some contact issues, got some bad BABIP luck, and played some bad defense in CF for 2-3 games.

      • Tom Diesman

        If the fielding component of WAR can skew the numbers of the bench players this much, was the the right measure to use for this comparison? A years worth of defensive metrics is typically not a big enough sample to keep it from skewing the WAR numbers, much less the very small samples of bench players.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Ahh, yes! I remember that. “Former Cardinal?” Best chart column ever. 😉

  6. another bob from nc

    Interesting analysis. The bottom line is that Reds’ management has been consistently able to stock the bench with low value players. This is the same management in charge of the rebuilding?!?