2017 Reds

Look North, Young Man

The World Series is happening and, correspondingly, I found myself looking at the rosters of the competing teams recently while pining for the Reds teams of a few years ago. The Cubs, of course, are a juggernaut, but I’ll admit that I hadn’t paid much attention to Cleveland this year. Their roster struck me because it shows us something similar to what we should all be hoping for if the rebuild goes how it’s supposed to go.

Consider the offensive side:

A simplified version of Cleveland’s offense goes like this: It has four legit contributors in the forms of Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana (who would play first full time for an NL team). After that, it’s some decent, but flawed players and a complete disaster at catcher (Cleveland catchers “generated” -0.8 WAR in 2016). Their bench is the most ordinary bench you can imagine.

The Reds, of course, already have Joey Votto and he can be counted on to be in the contributor column for a few years. Billy Hamilton, too (think of Hamilton as a poor man’s Lindor and Votto as a rich man’s Santana). After that, everything the Reds have is a notch below what Cleveland has.

But Cleveland has spent a few years graduating players and the Reds are about to do that, too. Nick Senzel will be a contributor soon. That’s three. And then you’ve got the scrum in the middle infield and corner outfield spots that should produce something close to league average within a few years. Catcher is also a weak spot for the Reds, but they aren’t as poorly equipped as Cleveland.

N0w, about that pitching:

They have an ace in Corey Kluber and then a whole bunch of guys who were pretty good. It reminds me a lot of the recent run of Reds teams, where the Reds seemed to put a number 3 starter on the mound every night except for when Johnny Cueto was pitching (Reds fans did not understand how lucky they were to have Mike Leake as their number five starter).

Right now, the Reds only have Anthony DeSclafani and he feels like a number two or three to me. They need someone to reach his full potential (my money’s on Amir Garrett) and three or four other guys to become reliable. This does not feel unreasonable.

Conclusion:

My point isn’t that the Reds are going to be in the series next year. Rather, Cleveland provides a reasonable scenario to hope for. When Cleveland was bad, their offense was okay and their pitching was terrible. Then, things came along. It was a bit up and down as different players had to mature, but the process happened. What we see with Cleveland is not how things will go for the Reds, but how they could go. It’s the best case scenario.

53 thoughts on “Look North, Young Man

  1. Going “the Cleveland route” would make for some lively discussions on RLN. A prominent RLN writer was tweeting last night to “keep the walks and stolen bases, I’ll take the home runs.” (paraphrasing)

    SB: Indians 2nd, Reds 4th (in 2016 MLB)
    BB: Indians 9th, Reds 23rd
    HR: Indians 18th, Reds 23rd

    Cleveland hit the jackpot with free agent signing Mike Napoli, and got a career-high in HR from Carlos Santana. It was not a given at season’s start that either could/would be kept beyond this year. (Santana has team option in 2017).

    The Indians are aggressive in run creation by financial necessity, as it hasn’t developed many power hitters, and won’t pay for them in FA.

    Reds can emulate this model, and given its relative financial standing, probably should.

    • I said “keep the bunts and stolen bases” not *walks* and stolen bases. You must be new reading here (welcome!) if you didn’t know how much I’ve written over the years about the value of walks. For all the stolen bases Cleveland had this year, it added 1 win. They had more power (.168) than the Reds (.152) and a higher walk rate (8.6% vs. 7.4%). Here’s what I wrote about the power of walks and how the Cubs offense was built:

      https://redlegnation.com/2016/04/25/a-massacre-built-by-a-walk-in-the-park/

      The Cubs led the majors in walk-rate (10.4%), Cleveland was 9th and the Reds were 24th despite Joey Votto walking 16% of the time.

      • I’m sure we’ve had the discussion before, Steve, and I get your point about stolen bases, but I suspect that good base stealers may add difficult to measure value–pitchers anxiety, many throws to first, altered positioning of infielders, mistakes due to rushing, and so on. Because Billy is really fast, whether he’s stealing or otherwise running the bases. More value than a good power hitter? No, but possibly value beyond the current reach of statistical analysis.

        • Studies show that base-stealers add as much anxiety to hitters as they do pitchers.

        • Hadn’t thought of that. Still the infield anxiety to think about, though, and the impact of speed running the bases, not just stealing.

  2. Lineup in 2018:
    Catcher – platoon Barnhart and Mesoraco
    1B – Votto
    Middle Infield – Some combination of Herrera, Peraza and Suarez
    3B – Senzel or Suarez
    Corner Outfield – Some combination of Winker Duvall and Schebler
    CF – Hamilton
    It seems reasonable to think that out of that group 4 can be reliable offensive contributors.

    Pitching Staff in 2018:
    Straily, Finnegan, DeSclafani, Lamb, Reed, Stephenson, Bailey, Iglesias, Lorenzen, Garrett
    It also seems reasonable to me to think that a strong starting rotation and a few good bullpen pieces can be found out of that group.

  3. The Reds bullpen and position depth could make them a respectable team. The tough part is becoming a team that wins 95 games instead of 83 and is also built for the post season….Andrew Miller was a can’t miss starter who missed….then in his late 20’s became the games most dominant lefty reliever outside of that Cubs closer…mesoraco and Homer will determine if 2018 is doable. If both can’t regain their past levels….hard to see the hometown club relevant prior to 2019.
    Nice article.

    • Bullpen assuming lorenzen.iglesias and Williams statements on spending upgrades.

  4. I like the tenor of this piece—that incremental improvements in every aspect of the Reds will get them back in position to compete for the playoffs. Call me crazy, I think that things could gel more quickly than 2018. I mean, the Cubs plan bore fruit a year ahead of schedule. Why not us? That said, I don’t think that 4th impact player exists in the system right now. We need to make a trade for that player by some combination of clearing out some redundancies in the minor leagues, packaging them with Cozart or Duvall or Schebler, and being willing to take on some salary.

    Elephant in the room—-the Indians bullpen is a YUGE difference maker.

    Does the Tribe remind anyone else of the ’90 Reds?

    • Sort of, but I don’t think that the Indians field as well, and they don’t have Eric Davis or Barry Larkin.

  5. Don’t forget one key ingredient, though: Terry Francona The jury is still out on Mr. Price.

    • The Cleveland Indians definitely are led by Terry Francona. They have a terrific attitude, and respect Francona’s leadership. Price does not do the same for the Reds.
      The Reds have no one like Kluber, He was the AL Cy Young award winner in 2014. He was not always healthy this year, but is hot now (ala Jose Rijo in 1990).

      The Cubs are a very good team, but can be stopped by very good pitching, which is what they will see against the Indians most of the Series. I do not think the Cubs are a juggernaut, because their starting pitching, though good enough to lead them to 102 season victories, is not championship caliber. The Indians shut down Boston (who led baseball in runs scored) and shut down Toronto (who was also very strong).

      And the Indians DO have a good catcher in Yan Gomes, who was hurt much of 2016, as was Michael Brantley (OF), who is another very good hitter. They had key players hurt, their pitching staff was not always 100%, yet they still won. They took a chance on Napoli, because he had played for Francona in Boston, and the Indians still thought he had something left.

      • I didn’t know that teams could win when some of their players are hurt. Very interesting.

    • During Francona’s tenure in Philadelphia he won 44% of his games. Price has won 43% of his in Cincinnati.

      Was Francona just not trying as hard in Philadelphia?

      • Or did you perhaps consider that Francona has learned how to manage better since his time in Philadelphia and has become a world-class manager? Mangers can grow and change too, so it’s really not fair to imply “Well, he’s the same guy he was when he was in Philadelphia, so it must just be the fact he lucked into some teams loaded with stars.”

        I’m not discounting the role the quality of players has on the team, but likewise the manager’s contribution to helping those players achieve their full potential also should not be discounted.

        • All people can grow, change, evolve, improve.

          However, I don’t buy the notion of a “World Class Manager.” Francona has won when he has good talent and lost when he has bad talent….just like Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Bruce Bochy, Lou Pinella, Joe Maddon, Sparky Anderson, Dusty Baker….and hundreds of others.

          Francona did luck into Boston teams loaded with good players…at exactly the right time. . He did luck into having good talent in Cleveland playing in a mediocre division. Joe Torre got lucky. Sparky Anderson got lucky. Russ Nixon was rather unlucky.

          If Francona managed the Reds they would be +-2 to 3 games….if Price managed the Indians they would be +-2 to 3 games.

        • Chuck, I do not agree with the “lucked into” portion of your theory. By and large the guys that keep “lucking into” good situations are put into those situations because somewhere along the line, perhaps even with a losing team, they’ve shown they are predisposed to keeping the train on the tracks and moving in the right direction.

        • It can be counted on for 1-2 wins. I believe Baseball Prospectus did a study on this.

          However, I’ve seen managers game decision costing pennants…Ned Yost did that in KC a few seasona ago….and he turned around and about blew the wild card game.

          Ned Yost is another fine example of benefiting from his roster.

      • He obviously did not have the talent. My BiL is a semi-retired driver. He sometimes drives the team bus from the downtown hotel in Cincy to GAB. He picked up the Indians at the hotel during interleague play last summer. He said they were very friendly, very open and happy group. He has also driven the Reds this season, and they were nothing like this.
        My BiL pitched minor league ball a long time ago, and is a big Reds fan.

        Just an anecdote.

        • I am fine with the Reds giving Price another season to manage, they most likely will not compete in 2017 anyway since the talent is not quite there yet. To compare Price and Francona is pretty foolish at this point, Price could be a good manager for all I know, but the sample size is too small and nothing tangible has been accomplished during his tenure. When Francona took over in CLE they had 3 straight losing seasons under Acta, since 2013 (when Francona took over) they have had 4 straight winning seasons. Francona, it appears, has found out how to take a club to the next level. Of course, organizational philosophy and front office talent go a long way, but at the end of the day, the manager is in the player’s ears and is the voice they hear all the time. That’s hard for a guy like Price who had to learn on the job as a first time manager and had to earn respect from everyone. For 2018 I would like to see the Reds hire a manager who can take the talent to the next level. Maybe that guy is Price, but the Reds need to show a lot of improvement in a lot of areas in order for him to be around Cincy beyond 2017.

        • Yippee…couldn’t one have said the same things about Francona in 2004 as you’re saying about Price now? Tito had nothing in Philadelphia and he lost. He had a lot in Boston and he won.

        • Sure, you could say the same thing, we just don’t know what we have in Price aside from an immature media outburst in his first season and plenty of aggravating, head scratching moves along the way. Could he be the next Tito, Maddon, Torre, etc.? Maybe, he could also be the next Wade Miley. But when the Reds are loaded down in talent and ready to compete for the Central in 2018, is Price the guy to lead the team? We’ll see…I’m thinking no at this point, but maybe he will surprise.

  6. Let’s look at the currently competing Cleveland starting lineup, and compare it to the projected (and far from set in stone) Reds lineup for 2019:

    (NOTE: This is not my projected lineup, just comparing players who I think might be decent comparisons to the Indian’s Game 1 lineup)

    1. CF Rajai Davis => CF Billy Hamilton

    Billy and Rajai had pretty similar seasons (77 vs 78 OPS+, respectively). Billy should be much better than this in ’19.

    2. 2B Jason Kipnis => 3B Nick Senzel

    Kipnis’ season this year is probably the midline for what we can expect from Senzel’s first, perhaps second full season in the big leagues – .275/.343/.469. Maybe fewer homeruns from Senzel (Kipnis hit 23 this year), and probably more stolen bases (Kipnis had 15)

    3. SS Francisco Lindor => OF Jesse Winker

    Again, Lindor had a season that is probably the midline (perhaps closer to the 75% mark) for what we’re all assuming Jesse Winker can provide at the big league level. Lindor hit .301/.358/.435 with 15 homers and 19 stolen bases in ’16. Far fewer stolen bases, maybe a slightly higher OBP for Jesse.

    4. 1B Mike Napoli => 2B Dilson Herrera

    An imperfect comparison, sure, but Napoli hit .239/.335/.465 this season, with an OPS+ of 104 and an oWAR of 1.4. I don’t expect ’19 Herrera to come close to hitting for that much power, but the OPS+ and oWAR line up with what we might be able to expect, should Herrera pan out in Cincinnati.

    5. DH Carlos Santana => 1B Joey Votto

    This, I think, might be a spot on comparison for a 36 year old Votto. ’16 Santana hit .259/.366/.498, good for 2.9 oWAR. Votto hasn’t had a (healthy) season with less than 4.8 oWAR since his rookie season (2.6 oWAR). He’ll be 36 though, so expect that to change when Votto’s power starts to elude him/

    6. 3B Jose Ramirez => SS Jose Peraza

    This is what Jose Peraza will be if he pans out. High average, below average BB%, and a little bit of pop. Peraza will more than likely be worth less on offense than Ramirez was in ’16 (4.0 oWar) and worth more on defense than Ramirez was (0.1 dWar)

    7. LF Brandon Guyer => OF Taylor Trammel

    Can you imagine a lineup with Billy, Peraza and Taylor Trammel in it? Never mention the outfield. Jesse Winker may never have to play defense!

    Looking at the statistics, you can see why the Indians are in the World Series. Guyer is one of those guys on any successful team that goes unnoticed, but produces all the same. Did anyone else know this guy had a 116 OPS+ this season?

    The truth is, this is a spot of unknown for the Reds. I don’t think Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler will be on the team in ’19, and if they are, I doubt they’re starters. Whoever is manning the outfield alongside Billy and Jesse have to beat 2 oWAR if they want to be better than Brandon Guyer in 2016.

    8. RF Lonnie Chisenhall => UTIL Eugenio Suarez

    In the playoffs, you need to use every roster spot available to you to get an edge. Instead of giving the spot to someone who can only play one position, why not give it to someone who can play multiple positions? That’s exactly what utility guys like Ben Zobrist bring to the table night in and night out.

    I think Eugenio can be that kind of player for the Reds, and might be forced into that role if the trio of Senzel/Peraza/Herrera work out.

    Suarez will be 28 in ’19, right in the middle of his prime. I think it’s safe to say he has the potential to match Chisenhall’s ’16, which saw him hit .286/.328/.439 with a 96 OPS+. That’s about as C+ as you can get.

    9. C Roberto Perez => Devin Mesoraco/Tucker Barnhart/Tyler Stephenson/Chris Okey

    Reds fans found out this year that the team might just have the best backup catcher in the league. We also found out that the guy we all want behind the plate every day might just not be able to do it.

    As Jason mentioned in the post, the Indians catching is a mess. If Mesoraco can back and ready to go by ’19, and considering most of the positions above are a push, this could be where the Reds offense pushes things over the edge.

    If not, we usher in the new generation of Reds catchers. Tyler Stephenson and Chris Okey project to be an above average catching unit. Let’s cross our fingers on that one, folks!

    ==

    I won’t go as in-depth with pitching, mostly because this has already gone on longer than it needs to. I think we’re all sort of assuming that the Reds will “figure it out” when it comes to the starting rotation and the bullpen. There are enough high-upside arms in our farm system that it’d almost be unprecedented if five number 3 starters and a few above average bullpen arms didn’t emerge out of a stockpile like ours. More than likely, we’ll have a super dependable ace (like Jason, I’m also betting on Amir Garrett here), in addition to a back four of dependable 3s (Disco, Bailey, Stephenson, Reed).

    Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen coming out of the bullpen, if the reds go that direction, is already a plus bullpen. By ’19, we’ll also be talking about players like Vladimir Gutierrez, Rookie Davis, Nick Travieso, Tyler Mahle, Keury Mella…the list goes on and on.

    Adding to all of this the potential of adding a big bat or arm to a contending Reds team, and I think we can all feel pretty good about 2019.

    • Uhh, let’s look at the pitching staff. The Reds have 1 pitcher that would even potentially start for the Indians (disco). Iglesius could make their bullpen but would be the 3-4th best guy in it. That’s about it really, as Lorenzen probably doesn’t make the postseason roster.

      • HA! I think the Indians would rather have Lorenzen over a number of their bullpen options they’ve used in the postseason.
        List of RP’s the Indians have used in the postseason, and their Regular season ERA. (I know, FIP is better, but I’m not going to take the time)

        Andrew Miller (No stats needed)
        Cody Allen (No stats needed)
        Bryan Shaw (3.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)
        Dan Otero (had an awesome regular season, 1.5 ERA, .9 WHIP. bad k/9= 7.5, only seen 3 games in the postseason)
        Mike Clevinger (5.26 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)
        Jeff Manship (3.12 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
        Zack Mcallister (3.44 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)

        Those are in order of appearances, so the bottom 3 have only gotten one appearance, but to say Lorenzen wouldn’t even make the roster over these guys is not being truthful.

        For the record, Lorenzen finished at 2.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP)

        Iglesias and Lorenzen would be 3 and 4 in the Indians BP.

    • Yeah, not exactly sure what you’re talking about here. Iglesias and Lorenzen both become the best middle relievers in the game on the Indian’s staff. Iglesias could probably be a second setup man.

      Plus, I’m not talking about ’16, clearly. I’m talking about ’19, when all of our arms are developed and ready to go. Did you read my comment?

  7. Lately these posts sound too much like the Cubs of yesteryear: “just wait ’til next year!” or the year after that, or the year after that.

  8. There’s nothing dumber than the annual practice in the media (and baseball front offices) of watching postseason games to “see what won” and then wanting to copy that strategy to build your own team. There are a zillion factors that make teams win and many of those can’t be replicated by those own teams, let alone yours.

    That said:

    There have been 29 postseason games this year. The team that hit the most home runs in the game won 25 of them. In the other four games, the teams hit the same number of home runs. In no game did the team with more home runs lose.

    Cleveland has scored 20 of their 33 postseason runs on homers.

    • The Indians were 18th in baseball in homeruns. They have 2 power hitters and that’s really it.

      Four out of the last. 6 World Series have been won by the Giants and Royals, famously high contact, low power teams. Only once in those 4 years did the Championship team finish in the top 15 in homers.

      You also seem to be ignoring all the implications of your own stat. If you are hitting more homers than your opponents then maybe you have a high powered offense or maybe your pitching staff is shutting the other teams power down.

        • If you believed the numbers were meaningless, then why even post them? Why show correlation when you know there is no causation? Makes no sense

    • The Reds last 3 championship teams all finished no lower than 4th in the entire league in stolen bases.

      They all had really good defense, baserunning, and bullpen. The difference was that the BRM also had one of the best offenses ever created as well.

      From 2000-2009 the Reds hit more homers than any team in the NL. They had zero winning seasons.

      What bugs me about your constant mantra of the Reds need to put hitting for power above all else is that it seems like exactly what they did during the last decade when defense, pitching, and baserunning were secondary. And it never worked.

      • Well, maybe it will stop bugging you when you understand I don’t believe the straw person you’ve created. I think the Reds should focus on pitching, defense and plate discipline, not just power. My “constant mantra” is that power hitting should be put above base stealing (small ball writ large). I doubt you could find anything I’ve ever written saying power is more important than pitching, defense or plate discipline. And it seems like that should be easy to find if it’s my “constant mantra.”

        Stolen bases are practically worthless for most teams because of the negative offset of caught stealings. I suppose you could deny the math, there’s a lot of that going on these days, and disbelieve the 75% threshold for value. But most players and teams barely get above that number into positive value territory. Intentionally building a team around players with 75-80% stolen base success rates is about as dumb a strategy as possible. Even with Billy Hamilton’s improvement, the Reds success rate this year was 73%.

      • If you wanna deny that you have been saying that the Reds should focus on hitting over pitching during the rebuild then fine.

        Yes I know all about the math of stolen bases. You are not the only person who has read Tom Tango. I am just pointing out that when the Reds have been good they have usually been good at baserunning and defense. You love to mention how the Cubs walk and hit homers. What you usually leave out is that they are also an elite baserunning and defensive team. The Cubs are great because they are great at everything

        If you wanna say now that you have been advocating for the Reds to build a balanced team all along then OK. Guess I, and pretty much everyone else, misunderstood you.

        • Think it might be safer for you to speak for yourself and not “pretty much everyone else.”

          If you read what I wrote, I’ve advocated for hitting over pitching because I think the Reds have focused too much on pitching at the expense of hitting.

        • The Cubs may be an elite base running team, but it isn’t built on stealing bases. They’re below average at that.

          Top 4 base-stealing teams in NL: Brewers, Reds, Diamondbacks, Padres
          Bottom 4 base-stealing teams in the NL: Cardinals, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs

      • Small error in the 2000-2009 era never having a winning team. 2000 team was 10 games over 500 with 86 wins. I am assuming you meant 2001-2009.

  9. Steve, apologies on not getting the tweet entirely correct. I remembered it in passing.

    I hope you would agree that the postseason consists of a (very) small sample size.

    The Indians have hit home runs in this postseason, and it has taken them a long way, masking several bad individual batting performances. I think if you asked Cleveland’s front office, “do you think you will hit this many HR’s or generate this high of a percentage of runs from HR’s next postseason?” they would answer “probably not.”

    It’s not how their team was constructed, nor how it performed in the regular season.

    • A bunch of solo HR’s and otherwise lackluster offense for the Indians has won games because they had very good pitching.
      Indeed, hitting more HR’s than your opponent will usually win more games. But this may tell you more about the pitching you are facing than about how good your team actually is. The Indians pitching has made few mistakes. Their opposition has not necessarily been terrible, but has made more mistakes, and gave up more HR’s.

      The only real lesson year after year in baseball is that the team with better pitching will win more games. The HR differentials are not trivial, but may be a significant artifact of who is pitching better or worse.

  10. Jason, you mention Garrett. His upside is reasonably a #3. Can you imagine the advantage if the Reds could just develop a solid group of #3 starters? I honestly believe KC is a better model.

    • Does KC actually have a model or after 25 years of failure did they just “wind up”or “fall into” an odd combination of misfit toys that happened to work? They’ve won 90 plus games 1 time since the Reagan Administration…..if you throw spagetti against the wall for 25 years then something might stick. I was happy that they won, but I’m not sure if that is something that can be replicated.

      • Chuck, thats not fair to say of KC. It wasnt the same front office for 25 seasons trying to figure it out. Dayton Moore figured out how turn failures into valuable pieces and how to build a roster of above average players in a small market. It was a solid team concept. I bring up Garrett…because like the Reds….the Royals were trying to stockpile arms and had very few pan out as starters.

        You don’t seem to know much about the moribund history of the Royals if you think someone was throwing spaghetti against the wall for 25 years. It was an organization with an owner that just cashed profit sharing checks. It was horribly ran.

        I’ll also say that this season they fought injuries, or they might have made the postseason again.

        Luck is ALWAYS involved sure….but often luck simply means health. Pittsburgh has a model too…I mean all these teams that successfully rebuild after long droughts all have a similar cost control model.

        The key to Cleveland is their platoon advantage and they are one of the best 1st to third…2nd to home…baserunning teams Ive ever seen.

        • In Moore’s first 6 years as GM they averaged 92 losses per season. In his first 7 drafts, their average first round pick was the 4th pick. If you have a top 5 pick almost every year for 7 years then shouldn’t you eventually be good?

          In the 3 years before he arrived, their average pick was #2…..so 10 years of drafting top 5 almost every year.

          I want the Royals to be succesful. Like the 2010-2013 Reds, I believe the 2013-2016 Royals were a talented group that made a run, but there is no organizational plan for sustainable success. There is no long term model. They just happened to be good.

          The Cardinals have a sustainability model. The Cubs seem to have developed a sustainability model. I don’t believe the Royals are sustainable. I hope I’m wrong.

  11. People are forgetting that Cleveland is without their best hitter in 2016 and will get him back for 2017, LF Michael Brantley.

    • They will have him back sometime in 2017. Shoulder surgery in 2016 may require him to miss time early next year.

  12. I would separate very clearly the Indians, a good team that made it to the World Series, from the Cubs, who appear to be an annual World Series team for the next 5 years, that made it to the World Series.

    All of us at this point would sacrifice a nonessential organ to be the Indians, but none of us are really philosophizing about how to become them. We’re interested in building what the Cubs have, which is a combination of farm system and veteran acquisition tendencies that set us up for 1 or 2 *decades* of excellence, not 1 or 2 years.

  13. Steve, I know how you regard stealing, in general that is, but do you think Hamilton is the exception to that mindset because of his exceptional speed? I mean, isn’t it a good idea to have him almost always running to at least get in scoring position, considering the circumstances, of course.

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