2017 Reds

How bad (or good) will Cincinnati’s defense be in 2017?

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
1B: Votto
2B: Jose Peraza
3B: Eugenio Suarez
SS: Zack Cozart
LF: Adam Duvall
CF: Billy Hamilton
RF: Schebler

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:

29 thoughts on “How bad (or good) will Cincinnati’s defense be in 2017?

  1. I don’t know how many times I said last year “What are you doing, Joey?” both defensively and on the base paths. Its an enigma wrapped in a riddle to me.

    I’m calling it now: Suarez will be well above average defensively this season. For everyone else, I pretty much agree with you. What is disconcerting is the players you listed as the highest injury risk are also our best defenders. Talk about possible meltdowns.

  2. I’ll be surprised if Votto and Schebler aren’t better this year than last. Once guys reach the majors opportunities to focus on improvements are limited so when they do take some initiative results are often positive. I expect both will get better after focusing on defense this spring. That said, neither is likely to end up better than average at their positions. I’d like to think Preach is right about Suarez. Otherwise I think you’re probably right Chad – this will be a middle of the pack defensive squad. But I’ll say it again – this team will go as far (or not) as the starting pitching dictates. Offense will be average to good, defense average, bullpen solid, starting pitching… who knows?

    • Pitching is, of course, quite dependent upon defense. I’m puzzled about Votto, too. I wouldn’t have supposed that he would unlearn how to field. I recall hearing that Pujols gave him a bit of informal tutelage some years ago, and my eye test told me that he was a better-than-decent fielding 1st baseman. I’ve got to believe that, if he applies anything close to the analysis and concentration he applies to hitting, he won’t be the worst defender.

      • The area where Votto’s defense has fallen off is his fielding of grounders.
        He is still a top class picker on throws. On the other hand, he has never been a strong thrower; recall a questionable Votto throw set Cozart up for the collision which resulted in Cozart’s major elbow injury in 2011.

        I am looking forward to seeing how much, if any, better JV’s ground ball defense is in 2017. It has looked to me that since his knee injury (2012), he has lost his first step of lateral movement to his right. Thus instead of sliding over and getting in front of grounders, he pivots on his “good” right knee and makes backhand “Óle!” stabs at balls.

        I’ve always found this curious because sliding to the right in the field is a similar motion to what he would use as a LH hitter to step into his swing; and obviously he still does that quite well. Perhaps the difference is that in the field, following the push off with his left knee, he would need to eventually get the left foot off the ground then replant it in support of most if not all of his body weight?

        • Good points, OhioJim. His throws, never very strong, sometimes seem really ill-considered besides being inaccurate. And, should have said this a few days ago, but I hope that your health scare is or will soon be behind you.

  3. I agree with all of your sentiments, and think a major hurt to the defense will be if (when) Cozart is moved along. Unless his defensive replacement is Vincej (gold glover) then it will definitely be a down tick (potentially substantial). Overall though, I think they’ll be average to slightly above average.

    • I believe we saw enough of Peraza at SS last season to have reasonable confidence he can play league average or better at SS if he ends up there. However he is an unknown at 2B which makes that position probably my greatest concern given Herrera’s ongoing shoulder issue..

  4. If were comparing to the playoff teams we had fairly recently. In the infield there is no comparison (rolen, frazier, cozart, phillips, votto) all where gold glove caliber during our winning years. But LF (Ludwick), CF (Choo), RF (Bruce) and average at best defensive catching.

    I think we are really good in the outfield defensively and can be average to slightly plus average on the infield. Schebler has plenty of speed to be a plus average even with a below average arm. With issues behind the plate possibly.

    This makes me think, maybe we shouldn’t trade cozart. I am afraid his knee won’t hold up, but that is the risk with him.

    • At the very least, I’d have a conversation with Cozy about how much he likes Cincy, if he views himself as a starter moving forward, whether he’s open to being a utility guy, and how much he’d be looking for in a 2 year extension. Maybe there’s a meeting of the minds, maybe not, but the Reds should do their due diligence.

      • I don’t necessarily disagree, but if you’re paying a utility guy 10-12x’s what you’re paying the starters it eventually becomes a problem.

        • ZC is looking for his big payday. It is unlikely he is would tie himself up for 2 years beyond this season for less of an annual haul than he is making this season; and likely he would actually want more. Neither works for the Reds moving forward.

          Also he is still far from having proven what he still has to offer. I hope for him (and the Reds) that he plays a lot in the spring and does well so he can get on with his life successfully elsewhere as the Reds move forward in redevelopment process.

  5. Avg or avg Plus based on health. The Coach should have pulled Jahlil immediately and not played him again until he ran a thousand laps, or never.

  6. I agree with the overall assessment. What’s important is that (occasionally with Votto) we don’t have any butchers on the field. Each position is solid. Even Schebler’s arm was rated as just slightly below average according to Statcast, but he has excellent speed/range for a corner guy. I also think the narrative about Peraza not being able to handle SS is ridiculous. The guy has a strong arm and his plus speed will get him to balls others can’t.

    In short, the left side of the field will be above average, the right side will be slightly below. It’s not going to make or break the team. That responsibility falls on the pitchers.

  7. I think Suarez will be slightly above average at third base and despite a fairly weak arm I think Schebler will be at league average in right. My real concerns are 2B with Herrera arm and catcher those two positions could be problematic.

  8. Pretty much agree with Chad here. If Mes doesn’t catch 60% of the games then the defense there will improve. I think Barnhart is a little better than the metrics show. Give him a chance and he throws out baserunners. He doesn’t make more than his fair share of errors. He’s a good pitch-blocker. His framing numbers are so-so but there is still a bit of a ways to go with pitch framing metrics when it comes to pitchers with general control issues as they don’t get as many calls and may lose calls based on umpire bias and also losing calls because the ball may have been caught in the zone but the momentum of making the catch forced their glove out of the zone. I saw that a lot with Reds pitchers last year. Mes was a fair defender but is average on a good day. After all the injuries, can he even be a fair defender anymore?

    Votto may improve but probably no better than average overall. He is very good at picking throws though and I think some fans miss that.

    Peraza may be average at 2B or SS but probably not much better than that. Hererra has never had a good defensive rep.

    Suarez I think has a legit chance to be above average defensively. The tools are there and a lot of his growing pains should be behind him. His arm is excellent.

    I think switching Duvall and Schebler would help the OF defense. I think Duvall can be above-average in RF as well as he was in LF and he has a much better arm than I thought, certainly enough for RF. Schebler has range but his reads were bad and his arm fair. I think he could be average in LF. Winker is probably an average OF at his best.

    • Good point on switching Duvall and Schebler. If those are the 2 guys starting the season in the outfield, I think that makes good sense to try and switch them.

      • I always thought they’d switch Duvall and Schebler, but the linked article quotes Price as saying that the Reds have decided to leave the Gold Glover in LF. Is this because more balls go to LF than RF? Or because they don’t want to distract Duvall from focusing on his plate discipline? Or because they have some feel for who they think will win in a 3 way between Duvall, Schebler, and Winker?

        So many questions, lol.

  9. Don’t know about our defense but I predict our regular season record will be better than our spring training record!

  10. Good stuff all around. I’ll add that I think a developing pitcher is harmed more by errors and poor positional range than they are benefitted by the offense produced by the guys making the errors. Their psyche and development depends more on outs being outs than veterans do IMHO.

    Not that you make decisions based on the mental well being of potential starting pitchers but a pitch framing defensive catcher (and his equivalent at each position) might be better for the tryout-a-thon we’ll hopefully be holding on the mound this year.

  11. Duvall was supposed to be a he liability last year in left. He worked diligently to improve and was up for a GG. When Hamilton plays the Reds are an above average defense, period. He covers more ground than an antelope and has better body control. Peraza, I don’t know. Looked pretty decent at short, and should cover more ground than the aging datdude. Joey will be better because he’s Joey, and Schebler will field well, just worried as others are about his arm. Barnhart hopefully will get a smaller workload and get back to above average. Wouldn’t mind seeing Cozart play till the AS break if he can hold up. By that time Herrara should be over his bad shoulder and ready to move Peraza to short.

  12. Amir Garrett 3 scoreless innings…Jose peraza is hitting .636 and slugging .909. who needs defense? And who says St isn’t statistically significant or representative? Cingrani 2BB!

  13. I still think they should at least take a look at switching Duvall to RF this spring

    • I think the only justification for not making that decision at the end of the 2016 season is the internal expectation that Duvall will not make it as a starting OF and Schebler might make it as a starting OF. With Winker looming on the horizon, I think the Reds believe Schebler would be better suited to playing RF than Winker with Duvall being relegated to a utility role. Otherwise, I agree with you Josh, The Reds are missing the boat by not having used the off season to prepare Duvall for playing RF with Schebler moving to LF. The only restriction limiting Duvall from playing equally good defense in RF as he plays in LF is experience and familiarity with the position.

      Personally, the Old Cossack believes the long term solution in the OF will come when Senzel forces his way onto the 25-man roster and the Reds start looking for the best 8 players to put on the field. Could Herrera’s bat play in LF? Could Suarez or Senzel play in RF? How about Aquino? He may be ready about the same time as Senzel and there are a couple more OF playing in the lower minors right now who might factor into the equation also. I hope the Reds give Duvall and Schebler a solid 3 months to prove what they can do as starters. If one of both of them can be a solid starting OF, the pending decisions become very interesting…in a very good way.

      • Personally, I believe that the Old Armbrister believes that Aquino is the long-term solution in RF …

        • I would like nothing more than to see the Young Aquino build on his breakout season in the pitcher-friendly FSL with a dominating season in the Southern League and become a pounding force at the major league level and a fixture in RF at GABP.

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