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:

  1. The Top 5
  2. The Next 5
  3. 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.

42 Responses

  1. VaRedsFan

    I don’t think Mez should be in the “can contribute” side of the ledger. But since he has to be on the roster, we already have one of the 9 in the “hindrance to being a good team” column. He is Stuart Turner from this year (non productive in the field and at the plate, only he’s costing the team 13 million more than Turner. OUCH!!

    • Jason Linden

      Mes, when healthy, is still a contributor. He showed that this year. He’s not pre-injury Mes, but he’s still a legit major leaguer.

      Turner was kept on the roster this year so he can be the emergency guy at AAA next year. The Reds had nothing at C in the upper levels and needed to fix that. Thus Turner sitting on the roster during a year that didn’t matter.

      • Colorado Red

        Turner was kept on the roster this year, due to the fact, he was a rule 5 pickup.
        The Reds did not want to return him.
        He will be in AAA this next year.

      • Da bear

        After a fast start this season, Mez deteriorated at the plate quickly. He is a defensive liability.

    • Jim Walker

      I’d like to know what the Reds (and presumably Mesoraco himself) know about the condition of his right shoulder. It is the only major ball joint in his body which hasn’t been surgically rebuilt. The signs from Meso this season were encouraging. His prior troubles had nothing to do with why he has missed the last 6+ weeks of the season. However that doesn’t mean his right shoulder is not a ticking time bomb.

  2. sandman

    Why there’s this constant belief that Peraza will get better just bcuz he’s young I’ll never understand. I don’t know what people see in him. I understand to an extent that he deserves a chance to prove himself, I just wish it wasn’t with the Reds. I thought I heard something about how 2 other organizations passed on this kid though. So, why do the reds get everyone else’s rejects? Why do the reds got to be the proving ground? Yes, we got some good young players but why do people believe that Peraza is one of them? Just because he was a so-called “prospect”. I put very little to no faith in that stupid title. It don’t mean nothing to me. How Peraza was considered a prospect in the minors baffles my mind. But I guess that just goes to show how much of a gap there is between the minors (even between AAA) and the majors. I do believe that Senzel will be a star in the bigs though. I’d be more ok with giving him a full year of starting in the majors than Peraza.

    • Jason Linden

      They didn’t “pass” on him, they traded him because he was a highly touted prospect. Just like the Reds traded Yasmani Grandal, for instance. Trades happen. Peraza’s plate approach has changed significantly of late and young players tend to develop. He also has the reputation of being a good listener and a hard worker, which is the kind of kid you WANT to get multiple chances because he’s actively trying to figure it out.

      Serious Question: Do you give up on every player after one bad season? How long is long enough? Where were you on the pitching prospects earlier this year? I’ll admit, for instance, that Bob is proving me wrong (or starting to), I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he’s figuring it out. It happens.

      • sandman

        Jason, Look…I’m not trying to get into an argument here. But I’ve genuinely asked how long you all would give him and haven’t gotten an exact answer. If I had to guess it’d be 1 or 2 more years. Even if he does improve, I don’t see him being a barn burner offensively. As far as the pitching goes, I didn’t really have an opinion. I Realize that there were injuries to the SP’s we were supposed to have in there at the start of the season and so had to fill it with kids who weren’t ready. One of those kids I think has a bright future (Castillo) but he proved he can pitch in the bigs right off the rip. I have said in the past though that I absolutely hate waiting for a kid to develop bcuz it’s freakin brutal watching them get smacked around or get out most of the time. But, I’ve got no choice but to endure it bcuz I love the reds and I ain’t going no where.

      • MrRed

        Sand, why does anyone have to give you an answer? Can’t folks have an opinion?

        You don’t like Peraza. That’s fine. He’s here to stay though. And it stands to reason that a 23 year old can continue to improve. I’m not sure why this bothers you so much.

      • sandman

        MrRed, I’m gonna bite my tongue bcuz you have really ticked me off. So, I’m gonna sidestep my anger here and keep it about baseball. I don’t like the type of player Peraza seems to be. and I honestly believe he’ll amount to nothing more than a hill a beans. I don’t see what everybody sees in him.

      • sandman

        MrRed, IF I’m wrong about Peraza and he actually turns out to be good (not just adequate. That’s not good enough for me) then, fine, I would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. Big whoop-di-do! So what! I’m sure there will be those who will lord it over me and others who don’t like and/or believe in him IF, he turns out good. But my lord, how long are you guys willing to wait 2 yrs, 7yrs!

      • David Taylor

        If I remember correctly Castillo was traded by two teams (Giants & Marlins) before he came to the Reds. And he is older than Peraza. Look at Cozart’s stats at the same age as Peraza. How long did we have to reap the benefits or a solid major league player?

      • sandman

        David, too long. I like Cozart but I don’t want to wait several years for Peraza or any player to reach their potential. I don’t wanna go through that again with another player.

      • Matt Esberger

        To back up your point 46 years ago Dave Concepcion was a light hitting infielder from Venezuela who at age 23 had a .246 OBP and his first 3 years produced a total of 4 Home Runs and about a .7 WAR. I’m sure if RLN had been around in 1972 that it would feature quite a few Sparky should bench Concepcion and play Darrell Chaney more comments. Now I am not saying Peraza’s offensive career track will mirror that of Concepcion’s from 74-82 and nobody except Ozzie or Omar matched his glove, but consider it is his first year as a regular replacing a fan favorite and would have been better served batting in the lower 3rd of the line-up card.

    • Bill

      I am not convince Peraza will develop into anything more than a super sub, but he has plenty of time to prove us wrong. When you look at Hamilton he never did reach the potential many thought he had, while others like Duvall were not supposed to be anything other than bench pieces and have put together quality seasons. Even BP was given up on by the Indians before becoming a star with the Reds

      • Jason Linden

        Yes to all of this. We don’t know with Peraza yet, but it’s unlikely he’ll be below replacement-level.

        It is interesting how much context matters, though, regarding Hamilton and Duvall. Hamilton is 27 and has generated 10.6 career WAR with two season above 3.0. Duvall is 29, has 5.1 career WAR, and no seasons above 3.0.

        When Duvall was the age Hamilton is now, he didn’t even have 150 MLB plate appearances.

  3. Scott Carter

    I am not sure that I would say I am on the Peraza bandwagon, but I would point out to those who are down on him that 2 years ago many were saying the same thing about Suarez, even through the first part of last year. Barnhart is another example of a player who “couldn’t hit enough” and while Barnhart will never be Johnny Bench at the plate, he has turned into a decent hitter. Give him a chance, he has shown some improvement and that was what this year was about.

    • Jason Linden

      I think people are misinterpreting me a bit on Peraza. It’s not that I think he’s an all-star, it’s that I think this year was his nadir. I think he’s either a bench guy or an adequate starter (depending on how he develops) with a small chance that he’ll be something more than that.

      • sandman

        Jason, what kinds of numbers are adequate?

      • IndyRedMan

        If Peraza is playing much in 2018, then someone much better is hurt or slumping.

      • Thomas Jefferson

        Baseline starters in the league are in the 2 WAR neighborhood; a little north of that would be solidly ‘adequate’.

  4. Old-school

    Refs add DJ Peterson….could he be temporary 3b until Senzel arrives….with Suarez moving to SS.
    The reds don’t need a CI or CO….unless it’s temporary.

  5. kmassey99

    The lack of depth seems to be an ongoing problem. Even looking at a good team like in ’13, the Reds had 4 players with negative WAR that had at least 100 PAs. And another 4 with negative WAA. The pitching is … slightly worse.

  6. IndyRedMan

    The whole thing makes sense. Get more good players on your roster and quit using so many scrubs like Arroyo, Bonilla, Alcantara, etc., etc. The thing is…can they fit these young guy into different roles then what they envisioned previously? Could Reed be a Tony Cingrani type for a year or two? Cingrani was ok…passable in certain situations for a few years. Could Peraza improve and platoon w/Scooter or maybe Winker? Will they move Suarez back to SS? Do they have to carry a 3rd catcher all year again?

    Improve the pitching. Play in more close games and have a good bullpen and bench to help you win a higher % of those games. It sounds easy in theory, but somehow the Reds always take flyers on atleast 5 has-beens/never weres and screw up the roster.

    • Big56dog

      Cingrani has been tearing it up for the Dodgers 24k /3 BB in 16 IP. Especially after giving up 3 run bomb in his first appearance- he has only allowed 1 run in last 12 IP. Rarely pitches in a game they win, I guess he got so much practices in Cincinnati

    • WVRedlegs

      “…but somehow the Reds always take flyers on at least 5 has-beens/never weres and screw up the roster.”

      Aaaahhh, the Walt Jocketty days. RIP.

  7. WVRedlegs

    If the Reds go get that top o’ rotation starter, that would immediately improve the top-10. Knocking some down a spot into the top-15 improving that area. The Reds seem intent on a better bench in 2018 and that should improve that #21-#25 area, the last 5. There won’t be 3 C’s all season next year so that will help right there with one spot by getting a better bench bat than Stuart Turner. The #4-#7 bullpen spots will be better as well as the back end of the rotation. Room to improve, but the #11- #25 spots will be much improved going into 2018 than it was in 2017. How much the Reds do to shore up that Last 15 is going to be the difference between finishing with 79 and finishing with 89 wins next year. Room to improve, and the Reds can afford to go out and obtain some improvement this off-season.

  8. Nick Carrington

    I like this piece in part because of the content and in part because the headline reminds me a specific TLC song.

  9. sultanofswaff

    Improving at the margins could be easily achieved by retaining Cozart and Gennett. When the Reds announce their payroll target we’ll know how serious they are about winning now.

    I don’t understand all the talk around here about having to trade off Schebler or Duvall. This ‘one guy for one position’ mind set only enables Bryan Price and his outmoded thinking about playing time and positional versatility. We should want as many options as the payroll will allow. It’s the manager’s job to keep them placated and find time for everyone, with individual goals taking a back seat. If Price can’t do that, then he’s the problem.

    • IndyRedMan

      I’ve been against resigning Cozart this whole time, but he just keeps hitting! I’ve never seen anything like it? If I’m not mistaken, he was 2nd worst offensive player in mlb in 2014 and now he has a .950 ops?

      Big question is…and I’ve never seen it answered on here (or even asked).

      If they resign Zack then what do they do w/Senzel, Suarez, and Scooter? I’m guessing Scooter would be the utility guy then that makes Peraza totally useless and basically ends his development? Not to mention Scooter is over .900 himself vs righties. How do you bench him if that’s not a mirage? I think Scooter is more likely to repeat this year then Cozart anyway?

      • Thomas Jefferson

        See Steve’s article from yesterday to get some great insight into expectations for the starting lineup going forward:


        Scooter’s underlying numbers already have him at slightly below average as a hitter. Given that he had over 1,000 PA’s in MLB before this year, he is due to regress, and the numbers are saying that in more ways than one. Add in lower than average defense and base running, and you have a guy that should be counted on to be no more than a platoon player/bench bat. He is young enough that he could improve, but significant change is unlikely.

        If they re-sign Cozart, he is also due for regression based upon underlying numbers. Additionally, he is at an age where injuries tend to increase and production decreases, sometimes steeply for middle infielders. Given his battle with injuries for the last three years, a team with Zack needs another solid shortstop to play significant time.

        The bottom line: if they re-sign Cozart and count on Scooter to platoon at second, they need a player (or two) to make a lot of starts in the middle infield. Since they probably wouldn’t want to shift Suarez back and forth between short and third, he would stay at third. He or Senzel would switch to second when Senzel is ready, making Scooter purely a bench player. In any case, a second shortstop would be needed, and only Peraza and Vincej are shortstops on the 40 man roster (and Peraza’s minor league hitting numbers are better than Peraza’s, so be ready for less offense if he wins that job over Jose).

        Overall, there are numerous options with possibility of success, but none without significant risk. Since we don’t know the Reds internal assessments of options (such as whether they would try Suarez as a regular starter at short), and nor do we know the players’ mindsets on switching positions, we have far too little info to project well.

  10. doofus

    I like Peraza at 2B, batting 7th and playing alongside Jurickson Profar in ’18. Call me prescient.

  11. enfueago

    Nice article. Depth tends to cost though and that is the difference between big and small market teams. Small market teams can win but the margin is much smaller because they can’t afford the depth so injuries are devastating. Its no coincidence that the last good Reds team also had a flukishly durable rotation. If they could afford Cozart as a bench player then then there shouldn’t be any question they would. I think when the turn around comes it will be fast. If the rotation improves and they stay in a lot more games then some of the younger players will play better in all facets. To me, the most impressive thing about Votto isn’t just that he is good but that he always seems focused and is always looking to get a quality at bat no matter the score or circumstances. The numbers he has put up given the number of meaningless games he has been in the last few years is amazing.

  12. lwblogger2

    Two top notch pieces today Jason… Not sure if the Reds can eliminate all the scrubs. Most teams have at least a couple players who are “below replacement” level when determined by WAR. The Reds could certainly decrease the number of such players they carry. The pitching was so bad this year.

    • greenmtred

      Billy Hamilton, Dusty Baker, Brian Price and Walt Jocketty. Those are the guys to blame.

  13. bouwills

    It’s interesting to me to take a look at the “top 5 WAR leaders” from both last year and this year. Only Votto is on both lists, even though 8 of the 9 players to make either list are & were Reds. Duvall, DeSclafani, & Hamilton made the 2016 list. Cozart, Suarez, Barnhart, & Iglesias made the 2017 top 5. Dan Straily the 2016 WAR leader for the Reds at 4.29 went to Miami in exchange for Castillo, who not only made it to the ML but established a 2.42 WAR this season ( currently 7th highest WAR for Reds). In 2018, Castillo, Gennett, possibly Winker, Senzel, even Romano may have something to say about the 2018 “top 5 WAR leaders” for the Reds & that’s a good thing.