So…a couple of days, I did a little tweetin’ about the Reds defense:
I mention this because, in the wake of that spring defensive disaster, MLB.com has a couple of articles about how the Reds are working hard on defense. First, there was this piece, under the headline “Votto working diligently on defense”:
After a morning batting-practice session before Tuesday’s game with the White Sox, Joey Votto took to a wet practice field to get some defensive work in at first base. As he prepares for his 11th season in a Reds uniform, the first baseman never gets tired of perfecting his craft.
“He’s a relentless worker, a tireless worker in everything he does,” manager Bryan Price said of the veteran. “As long as I’ve been here, he’s gotten a stronger and stronger commitment to his defense. He does a ton of extra work at the end of the day.”
Tuesday, Votto focused on digging throws out of the dirt, taking throws from every angle in the infield and honing his instincts for picking and scooping.
Votto, of course, won a Gold Glove in 2011, so it’s not like he’s always been bad with the glove. But last year, Votto was just awful, far and away the worst defensive player on the Reds. At times, he looked disinterested; I doubt seriously that Votto was, in fact, disinterested, but it was as bad as I’ve ever seen him play. The good news? Votto says he’s serious about improving his defense (and baserunning):
Last season, in Votto’s estimation, there was a correlation between training and performance.
“I was shaky defensively,” he said. “Base-running, I wasn’t aggressive. I’d see old video of my running. It didn’t look as . . . I just didn’t look athletic. I didn’t look like I was being aggressive and athletic.
“That’s certainly not the way collectively we want to play here. And if I’m going to be on the field on a consistent basis, then I have a responsibility to my teammates to get the most out of myself. I watch everybody else on their team bust their behinds to be the best they can at every component. I should be the same.”
Today also brought a piece on Scott Schebler, “Schebler honing defensive skills in right field.”
“I think the thing for me last year is that he was a guy who put a lot of air under his throws, and we really wanted him to be online even if there’s a hop, as opposed to being able to throw straight through to the plate on the fly,” Price said. “We’d rather he threw the ball with less air underneath it, a ball we could cut off and redirect. I think he really had to work physically on this throwing mechanics, which he’s done. With the improvement in mechanics, we’ve seen the improvement in arm strength and accuracy.”
More on Schebler in a moment. Let’s assume that the Reds begin the season with these eight everyday starters:
C: Devin Mesoraco/Tucker Barnhart
2B: Jose Peraza
3B: Eugenio Suarez
SS: Zack Cozart
LF: Adam Duvall
CF: Billy Hamilton
Yes, we’re assuming a lot in this scenario. Cozart could be traded at any moment, or any of these guys could get hurt (I’m looking at you, Devin and Billy and Zack). But stick with me here. Which of these eight starters are going to play above average defense?
Hamilton and Duvall were Gold Glove finalists last year, so let’s assume they’ll be good again. Hamilton, in particular, is other-wordly with the glove, when he’s on the field. Zack Cozart should be somewhat above-average. He’s always been great with the glove, and despite his advancing age and his knee injuries, I think it’s safe to say he’ll be good again. Cozart certainly won’t be a liability. (Again, who knows how long Cozart will be a Red?)
I have no confidence that the Reds will be above-average at any other position.
Catcher: Barnhart was a minor-league Gold Glover. He hasn’t been quite as good since he reached the bigs, and he’s a less-than-ideal pitch framer, but he’s not below average. If things go as the Reds hope, Barnhart will be catching 40% of the games. I am a huge fan of Mesoraco, but no one will claim that he’s anything but a below-average defender. He’s in the lineup for his bat (which can be very good at its best). Put those two catchers together, and it’s not a good defensive duo.
First base: I dunno, I believe Votto is capable of anything. It’s possible that he’ll become a Gold Glover again. I’m not going to bet the ranch on that.
Second base: I think Peraza has a chance to be a pretty good defensive player in the long-term. For 2017, I’d be surprised if he were anything better than average. I also think there’s a pretty good chance that Peraza ends up at shortstop (after Cozart is traded, if that happens). If Peraza is at shortstop, then second base will go to Dilson Herrera or Arismendy Alcantara. Herrera’s shoulder doesn’t work, so he can’t throw, and Alcantara has already made a number of errors this spring (not that we should draw any conclusions based on such a small sample size). But do you want to bet the ranch that either of those guys will be above-average with the glove?
Well, maybe, if this play made by Alcantara today becomes the norm:
Third base: Suarez improved dramatically last year, the more time he spent learning the intricacies of playing the hot corner. If he’s average defensively this year, I’ll be happy.
Right field: Schebler…well, Schebler was a center fielder, so I imagine he’ll be able to learn how to play right. His problem is that his arm will be one of the weakest right-field arms in the league. The other option out there might be Jesse Winker, and I don’t think anyone expects Winker to be a plus-defender.
So tell me: where am I wrong? This is very much a surface-level examination of the Reds defense — though I did consult the defensive metrics — but I’m comfortable with these projections. But what happens if Cozart and Hamilton get hurt again? Think how bad the defense could be in that scenario.
Of course, no matter how bad the Reds look on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, at least we can be comforted by the fact that they will have no one as disinterested in playing defense as former Duke star (and highly-drafted NBA bust) Jahlil Okafor: