2016 Reds

Unknown Unknowns

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Why, you may wonder, a I opening with a 14-year-old Donald Rumsfeld quote that was shaped into a poem? Because it gives me a good opening to talk about the things I want to talk about.

In baseball, we have our known unknowns. We call them prospects. We have hope about them, sure, but who really knows. We have our known knowns. Joey Votto will get one base and Zack Cozart will get to that ground ball.

But, on a young team like the Reds, it is often tempting to make declarations about these new players. To declare and believe that we know something when, perhaps, we don’t know as much as we think we do. These are our unknown unknowns. The things we don’t know we don’t know.

Ballplayers change. We all know that. The 35-year-old isn’t the same player he was at 25. We also know that you can’t assume anything based on a few games. If Billy Hamtilon hits two homers in two days, we don’t assume he’s suddenly the premier power hitter in baseball. The murky part comes in-between. How much do we have to see before we can feel confident in what we’re seeing. The asnwer is: It depends.

For a few years now, I have constantly been referring this portion of the FanGraphs library to remind myself that I don’t always know what I think I know. It provides a guide for how many plate appearances (or innings or whatever) a player needs before we can expect that what we’ve seen represents something close to his true talent. To that end, I’m going to go through the various young hitters and pitchers and articulate what we do and do not know.

I’ll start with position players and look at batting average, on base ability, power, and fielding prowess. If I have time, I’ll come back next week with something on the pitchers.

Eugenio Suarez – Suarez has taken a lot of flak this year because he’s looked less than stellar at his new position and hasn’t exactly been a world-beater with the bat.  As a hitter, however, we’re only just now getting enough of a picture to say. It takes 910 ABs for a batting average to be reliable. 460 for OBP and 320 for SLG. So, we can say, that true-wise, Suarez is likely a .250/.310/.400 hitter or so. Which is pretty much his career line.

Further, while he certainly hasn’t looked good at third, we aren’t anywhere near being able to rely on the numbers (you need 3 seasons of defensive data for that). Of course, the eye-test here does seem pretty conclusive.

Billy Hamilton – As with Suarez, Hamilton is only just a bit over what we need to see to get an accurate read. As such, we can say he’s probably pretty close to what he’s done this year (which tracks along his career line). Fortunately, it seems he has made a bit of leap with power (though, given the scale, we should perhaps call it more of a hop). So .240/.285/.350 it is.

Of course, the real value for Hamilton comes from his fielding. And on that scale we’re still short. Hamilton has about 2 1/5 years of playing time in the field. That’s enough to tell us he’s great (because he’s already so far on the positive side of the ledger) but not exactly how great.

Adam Duvall – The darling of the season only has 438 ABs and so we can’t say much about his average. Other wise, what you see is more or less what you should expect from him. Lots of power, lots of Ks, not many walks. His longterm value is going to have a lot to do with how he ages and where his BABIP settles. You should expect Bruce-level erraticism from him as a hitter, but with a lower ceiling. While he’s looked very good in left, we can’t say anything for certain about his fielding yet.

Tucker Barnhart – Barnhart is right on the cusp of decent. Like Duvall, he needs to more or less double the number of ABs he has before we can know something about his average. We can say that he will walk some, but there isn’t any power there. If he’s a .240 hitter, he’s a backup at best. If he’s in the .260-.270 range, his OBP will be high enough for him to be an adequate starter. Defensively, he’s looked good so far, but we need a lot more innings to say for sure.

Jose Peraza – Jose Peraza has 97 PAs in the major leagues. 97. He’s a known unknown. We need to see a lot more before we pass any judgements.

 

21 thoughts on “Unknown Unknowns

  1. That isn’t very encouraging, even with a re-build in process. Our better trade chips have been exhausted and the market for the two remaining trade chips on tap this year isn’t materializing as we had hoped. More bats are needed. That is 4 .240 hitters and Peraza. Not much of an offensive re-build.
    Maybe Schebler can help this group out some. Players we are counting on to be starters, maybe are no better than bench players.
    One known known: the Reds front office is crap.

  2. I hope to god that Jocketty/Williams brings in some prospects or established Major Leaguers who can hit for average and power. I love lots & lots of HR’s and it seems like the Reds are getting away from that a little (exception: Duvall) by signing these light or no-hit hitters. This article just confirmed what I already knew about both Suarez & Hamilton…they’re light hitters. A .260 BA is the absolute lowest BA I can accept and be reasonably happy with but .270 is my true threshold. But like I said, I can be reasonably happy with a .260+ hitter. You guys have said yourselves that HR’s are more valuable than singles, doubles or even triples. I mean, it’s one thing to try and get contact hitters which are great but what difference does contact make when most of the contact they make are right at a defender? I just hope we start getting a good mix of hitters. I’m telling you that if they continue this trend we ain’t gonna have much of an offense. We might be able to play D and maybe even pitch! So, we’ll have 2 of the 3 most important aspects of a good team (again, IF, this trend continues of signing light hit-good defense players). But I think the real take away from this article is that NO-ONE has a magic crystal ball to predict the future. Although it does seem as if there are those out there trying to come up with ways in which to predict the future. But there’s a difference between common knowledge and predicting the future (ex: saying a player is gonna decline in performance due to “old-age”, isn’t predicting the future. That’s just common sense about aging which some players seem to defy. So, even that so-called common sense isn’t entirely reliable). But, no one can say for sure how a player is gonna turn out…whether it be good or bad. Some of these kids we got will be busts and some will not. I just hope that somehow this mess we got magically comes together in 2 or 3 short years and brings us a championship or two or (dare I say) three before we have to get rid of them in 5-7 yrs (at best).

    • So, .260 just happens to be the NL average this year and last excluding pitchers. It is pretty simple to say that I’d be thrilled with a roster of guys who hit .260+. I think you can relax that number some though when you’re talking about guys who play exceptional defense at premium positions and for guys who have a lot of power. So really, I have to take batting average on a case by case basis and also can’t go by just a single season’s worth of data.

  3. Also important to keep in mind that young players (20-24 ish) are continuing to develop their approach at the plate and physically.

    While 910 ABs is the mathematical break point for 50% noise and 50% signal for AVG, it is certainly possible (known unknown?) that a player can change his approach/swing and/or get more mature physically, which changes the true-talent level implied by the 900 PA sample.

    So I guess what I can get behind is this… Suarez and Hamilton are likely the .710 OPS and .635 OPS players we’ve observed, unless they change their approach and/or get better physically.

    For someone older, like Votto or Phillips, they are very unlikely to change their overall approach (yes, Votto tinkers, but he’ll never be a hacker) and are very unlikely to become better physically due to age-related decline.

    Young players can still get better regardless of what their stats say! I can be a glass-half-full guy!! Just not very often… 😉

    Good write-up, Jason!

    • Patrick, I understand that young players can get better, I just hate the process while they figure it out (if they ever do).

  4. The Cardinals scored 6 more runs than the Reds last year and won 36 more games. At this point, we have no idea how much offense is going to be needed. Will the pitchers develop? Will defense be a huge focus mitigating the need for large amounts of runs? No one knows.

    The 2001 Reds scored more than the 2012 team. The team that scored more lost 96 games vs 97 win team that scored less.

    • This goes back to the old saying “value is value.” A run saved on defense contributes just as much to a win as a run created on offense.

    • It’s all about the pitching. You do not need a great offense in today’s game to win. You just need a pitching staff that can hold opponents to 3 runs or less most of the time. The Reds offense hasn’t been that bad this year.. It’s been the pitching.

  5. Something that is used to predict future projection for hitters is hard contact rate. People were predicting breakouts from Marcell Ozuna and Jake Lamb because they had incredible hard contact rates last season. On the list of players under 25 last season with good hard contact rates was Suarez. His hard contact rate has since jumped from 28.9% last year to 32.0% this year.

    If you look at the top hard contact rates this season among qualified batters under the age of 25, Suarez is 21st. It’s an impressive list of the top young players in the game, and Suarez is among them. Of the top 30 players in the league with top hard contact rates and under 25, the only player with a worse BABIP than Suarez (.271) is Marcus Semien (.262). I don’t know if Suarez will ever be a .300 hitter, but he has the metrics backing him up that suggest he could be in line for the type of offensive growth that could lead him to be one of the more solid young offensive players in baseball before too long.

    This article does an excellent job painting the picture that we just don’t know with these guys. But the numbers are saying Suarez is a good bat to have in an upcoming lineup. As I’m sure that’s something we all want, here’s to that good progression!

  6. While he’s looked very good in left, we can’t say anything for certain about his fielding yet.

    My eye test says he’s been better defensively than I or probably anyone thought. Look, Duvall is one of the few positives in what’s been a dreadful season and he’s done very little wrong and a lot right.

  7. Of the Top-30 in MLB in OBP, 9 come from the NL Central. Four from Chi, 2 from STL, and one each from Cin, Mil, and Pit. Fourteen of the Top-50 are from the NL Central with STL adding 1 and Mil and Pit adding 2 each. Out of the Top-50 in MLB Chi has 4, STL 3, Pit 3, Mil 3, and Cin only 1. And we all know who the one is, Joey Votto.
    There are very few of these type of players available in a trade.

  8. The reason Peraza is an unknown . . . Brian Price (and Philiips being selfish by blocking trades).

  9. Billy’s defense is pretty much a slam dunk, has been since his rookie year.

    Strong accurate arm. Dependable glove. Ridiculous range.

    ED44 v2.0 in the field.

    • Does BHam actually have a strong arm? From what I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard others say about him, his arm rates as average to slightly above average at best.

      • His arm seems on the low side of average. Man I wish more of that data was available from Statcast. We see the occasional MPH on a throw but not very often. I would LOVE to see that and not have to rely so much on what my eyes tell me.

        I will add though that Hamilton does release the ball like an infielder. That is to say that he unloads quickly. He also generally makes the correct decision on where to throw the ball and his throws are usually accurate.

      • From what I’ve seen, his arm is normal, not great. Drew Stubbs and Shin-Soo Choo had much stronger arms. Hamilton’s throwing accuracy is inconsistent. Just my two cents, not saber.

    • ?? This is a blog, right? Anything specific? Usually if you point out a mistake the writer will correct it.

  10. Agree with most except Suarez. I think he’s going to be much more than a “light” hitter. He certainly has pop, and seems to be going through that adjustment phase right now. Started the year with a wallop, but pitchers have made adjustments, now he’s adjusting. As tough as this year’s been, I’m still enjoying watching these young guys develop. Wish BP would get out of the way so Peraza can play every day. I love his energy.

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