I just moved. Moving is exhausting. Amidst the unpacking, I stopped periodically to stare at baseball things. One of the baseball things that caught my attention was this piece over at FanGraphs that looks at how teams generate their wins by breaking the players on each team into three groups:
- The Top 5
- The Next 5
- The Rest
The Reds rankings here are at least a little interesting. Their Top 5 players are actually above average for the league, ranking 8th in total WAR. Their Next 5 are less impressive, coming in at 20th. And the rest? Truly abominable. 29th ahead of only the Padres. Indeed, after their top-10 players, the Reds, as a team, were below replacement level. This was true for four other teams as well, but doesn’t bode well anyhow. It also represents the easiest way for the Reds to improve. Next year, they should try hard to field a team with no scrubs (go ahead, take a minute, I know you’re singing it in your head).
This is mostly a concern for the pitching staff as Jose Peraza is the only player with significant time who is both below replacement level (just barely, his WAR is -0.1) and figures to still get significant time next year. Given that he’s the third youngest player to see time with the Reds this year, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll continue to develop and thus improve next year. His recent tendency to draw the occasional walk helps as well.
On the pitching side, it is more complicated to say the least, but the Reds have clearly managed to identify a stable of pitchers who are non-disastrous. Arroyo won’t be in the rotation next year. Neither will Adleman. Garrett, Reed, and Davis will all have to show they really deserve it before they get a spot. Stephenson probably will, too.
In some ways, I think the absence of players who are truly and only roster filler is a good way to know when a rebuild is done. During a rebuild, there’s no point spending money on even bargain-bin free agents unless you really have no other options. When you’re looking to start winning, however, the margins matter. The Reds have Votto and Suarez. They have Winker and Duvall and Schebler. They have Senzel (or will shortly). We can argue about Hamilton, but he’s not a replacement player either. Barnhart and Mes can both contribute. And then there’s Homer and Castillo and Mahle and Romano and maybe even Stephenson. They have Iglesias and Lorenzen. That’s 16 players who, we can reasonably assume, will all be above replacement level.
Their job then, is to make sure the other nine guys are, too. Sure, someone will probably be unexpectedly bad, that happens. Someone else will probably be unexpectedly good. The point is that they should not enter spring training hoping to patch together a team. They should enter the spring with many possible roster combinations, all of which feature 25 legitimate major league players. And I don’t mean stars, either. I mean guys who are qualified for the role they are asked to play or are auditioning for. If they can stop the bleeding at the bottom of the roster, the guys at the top will get a lot more of the attention they deserve.