This is going to be another Adam Duvall post mostly. Please actually read it before you yell at me in the comments.
So, the dust having cleared after the trade deadline, the Reds are stacked with middle infield prospects, but not so much in the outfield. In the immediate future, they have what seem to be the following options for filling spots out there (current seasonal age in parenthesis):
Billy Hamilton (25)
Adam Duvall (27)
Scott Schebler (25)
Jesse Winker (22)
Steve Selsky (26)
It doesn’t look as though Hamilton is going anywhere, so let’s assume it’s really a battle amongst the other four for playing time at the corners.
I included the ages for a reason. The better a player is, the more likely he is to debut or establish himself at a young age. It also matters because minor league performance to some extent needs to be prorated for age. Jesse Winker, for instance, has been between 2.3 and 4.6 years YOUNGER than the average player in his league since his professional career began. Adam Duvall, on the other hand has ranged from 1.6 years younger than average to 0.6 years older than average for his league. Schebler has been consistently young for his league (though not as young as Winker) and Selsky has been right around the average age for his league (note for this that it’s important to disregard winter league and fall league play and simply trace the player from rookie league to AAA).
So, based on potential according to age, we would order them like this:
Of course, we haven’t talked about talent yet. These a guys have different approaches. Winker and Selsky are high OBP/Medium power guys and Duvall and Schebler are low/med OBP and high power guys. But, overall, they’ve all been excellent performers in the minors (and in Duvall’s case, solid in the majors).
Many of you know that I am not and have never been on the Adam Duvall bandwagon. I don’t think his approach is suited to sustained major league performance and I think people are too quick to discount his age. He is 2 years older than Hamilton and 5 (FIVE!!!) years older than Jesse Winker. This matters.
But for this article, I decided to try and convince myself on Duvall. Surely, I thought, there have been players in history with a similar approach who have contributed. And the late bloomer thing is something we’re used to in Cincinnati. Frazier, Cozart, and Sabo leap immediately to mind and I’m sure there are plenty more I’m forgetting.
So I did a search that went like this: I looked for all players who lost rookie status between the ages of 25 and 28 (late bloomers) with a strikeout rate over 25% and a walk rate under 7% in their first season of meaningful playing time (similar approach).
There are, surprisingly, dozens of these players. Most of them are fairly recent owing to our current era where strike outs are up league-wide and OBP is being suppressed. Most of these players, also, were terrible. Generally finishing short careers with WAR totals that put them at or below replacement level. Most, but not all.
In fact, I got really excited when I saw Travis Hafner’s name pop up. I mean, Hafner was good. If Duvall was Hafner, the Reds would have something. Alas, Hafner’s rookie season, where he walked 6.8% of the time is an extreme outlier in his career. He walked significantly more in the minors (over 13% of the time) than Duvall and continued to walk a great deal until injuries ended his career. So, sadly, we have to throw Hafner out.
Who does that leave? Well, here is the list of players who were rookies at the right age with similar plate approaches and who had career WAR totals of at least 2.0 (career WAR in parenthesis).
Kelly Shoppach (8.3)
Casper Wells (3.0)
Dick Stuart (10.9)
Abraham Almonte (2.3)
Ron Kittle (5.2)
Ryan Thompson (3.7)
Chris Johnson (2.8)
Okay guys, I tried, but this is not good. One player with over 10 WAR for his career. One. And remember, that list is not a representative sample. It’s the cream of the crop.
Further, Shoppach and Stuart are only barely comps, as both later improved their walk rates substantially, meaning Duvall would have to as well, and that’s not likely.
Basically, it comes down to this: Adam Duvall has a plate approach which isn’t sustainable. He is currently at his physical peak and providing above average value, but not wildly above average value. Further, if you haven’t noticed that the league has started to pitch him differently, you haven’t been paying attention. He’ll still run into one with reasonable frequency, but he’s going to get fewer chances and if he loses even a little bit physically, that’s it. He’s got nowhere to fall back to.
You are allowed to like Adam Duvall. He’s been a great story on a bad team. But there is absolutely no data AT ALL to suggest that he can be anything but a stopgap solution. If you want him playing every day for more than another year while the Reds search for a replacement, you have to acknowledge that this is an emotional desire and not about having the best players on the field.
Adam Duvall is versatile and thus a VERY useful bench player. Plenty of power. Can play all the corner positions. No one wants to pitch to him if he comes off the bench late in the game. But in the long run, if your team is counting on him to be a major contributor, they are misguided.
If the Reds are looking in-house, Winker should be at the top of the list followed by Schebler. After that, we can talk about Selsky and Duvall, but realistically, given the ages of the players we’re looking at (besides Winker), the Reds NEED to go prospect hunting or be willing to drop some change on the free agent market. The outfield is the weakest area in the organization for the Reds and it’s time to do something about it.