Last season, the Reds bench was bad. Really bad. In 228 plate appearances, Reds pinch hitters hit .214/.270/.277, with 44 hits, 16 walks and 12 runs scored. Pinch hitters for the Reds in 2017 are hitting .252/.287/.408 with 26 hits, five walks and eight runs scored in 109 plate appearances. While not the biggest improvement, it’s an upgrade from 2016.
One reason for the improvement has been Scooter Gennett, the 27-year-old utility infielder whom the Reds claimed off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of spring training. Throughout the first half of 2017, he’s provided much-needed help off the bench and as a fill-in replacement for anyone who goes on the disabled list.
In 199 plate appearances this season, Gennett is hitting .301/.347/.575, including an OPS of .921 and 12 home runs, 11 doubles, 34 runs scored, and 42 RBI. He also established himself in the Reds record books when he became the first Red and just the 17th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in one game on June 6. Gennett is on pace to shatter his career home run record of 14. Even without the four homer game in June, Gennett likely would still surpass it. Gennett’s wRC+ in 2017 is 136, far and away the best of his five year career. Yes, he’s had less playing time, which means a smaller sample size, but it means he is making the most of the playing time he is getting, whether as a pinch hitter or a starter.
Gennett hits better when he is in the starting lineup, and he’s actually started more games, though that’s due to Zack Cozart’s recent DL stint. As a pinch hitter, Gennett is just 2-for-18, with an OPS of .222 in 18 games. When starting, his batting average is over .300 and his OPS over 1.000 in 32 games.
If there’s something to criticize with Gennett’s play, it’s that he has drawn only 11 walks and has struck out 45 times. His BB% of 5.5 is not the lowest of his career, but his K% shows a steady climb from 14.1% in 2014 to 22.6 this season. His BABIP for 2017 is .341, which could be another factor to his success.
However, those criticisms are not enough to trump the good things Gennett has done for the Reds and it boggles my mind that the Milwaukee Brewers released Gennett at the end of spring training without trying to trade him. Looking at his numbers, Gennett was never a horrible player. Even in spring training this year, he was hitting .316/.366/.500, with an OPS of .866, seven doubles, and seven runs scored in 14 games.
Gennett was mostly an everyday player at second base for the Brewers in 2016. In 136 games (542 plate appearances), Gennett hit .263/.317/.412 with an OPS of .728. He had a career high 14 home runs, 30 doubles, 56 RBI and 58 runs scored. He walked 38 times and struck out 114 times. At 91, his wRC+ last season was below average, but not by much (average is 100).
To get Gennett for nothing was an absolute steal for the Reds. But the Brewers loss is the Reds gain, and though he’ll never be an elite player and likely not even an All-Star (though I can’t say never after that 4-HR night and Cozart’s first All-Star appearance as a 31-year-old), Gennett has made a solid addition to the bench. The Reds control Gennett’s contract through 2020, so it would not be out of the question to see him as a part of the rebuild moving forward.