We are two days away from Opening Day of the 2018 season and I am excited to be back with you this season. Every two weeks I will be taking a deep dive into a topic related to the Reds offense. Matt Wilkes kicked off On the Mound with Matt last week and today is the debut of At-Bat with Matt. Enjoy!

2018 will most likely be another (and hopefully final) year of rebuilding before the team is ready to contend. There have been ups and downs and sorting and warm bodies and finally we are coming to a semblance of a competitive team. The offense in particular has seen almost all former fan favorites and lineup cornerstones replaced with fresh faces. While there have been some growing pains and will undoubtedly be more to come, there has been steady progress taking place for the Reds offense.

The primary principle of a rebuild is to swap old, expensive players for young, cheap players. As it turns out, the Reds offense has gotten much, much younger.

age rank

There are both good and bad conclusions to draw here. The bad, as many already know, is that it took the front office too long to jump start the youth movement. In 2015, a full season removed from the 2013 wild-card debacle, the Reds fielded the oldest group of position players in the National League on their way to 98 losses. The good news is that they are finally on the right track as the team’s non-pitchers were the third youngest in the NL in 2017. Eugenio Suarez, Scott Schebler, Tucker Barnhart and Jose Peraza (all age-27 or younger) had significant roles in 2016 or 2017. That trend should continue with Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel primed to get significant playing time this season. Younger players are not guaranteed to make a team a contender, but they are essential for small-market clubs to build teams around. The Reds front office has done just that and have even locked up two of those players to team-friendly contract extensions, which are great for the health of the future payroll.

slash rank

slash change

2013 was the last winning season for the Reds and while the offense was not a juggernaut by any means, they ranked second in the National League in OBP and were above average in OPS. 2014 does not bring back fond memories as it was an aging team (average age of 29 ranked third in the NL) that was missing a healthy Joey Votto and was one of the worst in the league offensively, and overall for that matter. It was no doubt a setback year for the Reds and there appeared to be more grit than hope on the horizon.

Since then, however, there has been steady improvement by acquiring and developing younger talent and 2017 represented continued progress. Although on-base skills were not quite up to par with 2013 (Shin-Soo Choo may have been a better leadoff hitter than Billy Hamilton), the group had more power than any Reds team of the last seven years. They even improved relative to the rest of the league as home-runs were up across the board. Schebler and Duvall are notable additions that brought tons of power with them to Cincinnati, while Cozart and Votto’s adjustments helped provide them with career slugging performances. The team was also more balanced this past season, ranking 7th in both OBP and SLG compared to 2013 when they ranked 2nd and 9th, respectively. There may have been no place else to go but up after the 2014 season but the fact that improvement has occurred three years in a row is encouraging.

bb.k.iso rank

While improvement in results is nice, it is also important that the players are actually performing better. Three metrics that help identify that are BB%, K% and ISO. The improvement here is not as linear as in the slash line but it still shows an above average offense in terms of hitting skill and power.

Walk rate is the one metric the Reds have both excelled at and struggled with during the last five years. That should be an area the Reds are able to maintain as a strength in 2018 with Winker getting regular time and Hamilton playing less or not leading off. However, Jose Peraza will have to continue his plate approach from the second half of 2017 to even somewhat makeup for the loss of Cozart.

Strikeouts have not been a huge issue in recent years and I do not see that changing. Power could be a bit scarcer this year due to losing Cozart’s insane .251 ISO and probable regression from Scooter Gennett’s .236 ISO. The team will be leaning on a healthy and well-rested outfield of Duvall, Schebler and Winker to provide consistent power, but will also get contributions from Suarez, Senzel and obviously Votto. If Mesoraco can regain form and provide good pop off the bench, this team could feasibly be just as powerful as last year, if not more so.

baserunnning rank

It is no secret that the Reds value speed, as shown by Billy Hamilton leading off, Jose Peraza being acquired via trade, and even Ben Revere being invited to spring training. Since Billy Hamilton has been a full-time player the Reds have ranked either 1st or 2nd in the NL in stolen bases. The flip side to that, despite Hamilton’s SB% improvement, is a lot of times caught stealing. Not only do the Reds get caught stealing a lot, but according to FanGraphs BsR metric, the team has been a bottom five base-running team the past two years. So while it is nice to have a premier speedster headlining the group, there is much more value to be found on the base paths. The problem is that Votto, easily the biggest culprit in 2017 (-9.6 BsR), is not getting any younger and continues to clog up the bases. Hopefully he can apply his incredible ability to improve, as he has done with hitting and defense, to his base running ability.

offense rank

Putting it all together we have our last three metrics, which essentially tell us the same thing; how good has the Reds offense been? The past three seasons have been an improvement over 2014, which is not that hard to do. 2015 was better but still had too many older players. 2016 was not good but there was not much continuity due to trades and injuries. 2017 was the first year that felt like pieces were falling into place and the numbers really bear that out. In a year when the young pitching ultimately failed the team, the offense was not all that far off from the 2013 wild-card squad.

The offensive projections for 2018 are not super favorable but projections in general can have a lot of noise in them and are not perfect. For example, ZiPS 2017 wOBA for Zack Cozart was .297, which Cozart decided to outperform by almost 100 points. Projections at the team level are even harder because they include variance from so many individuals. The bottom line is that while this offense does have challenges to overcome and some regression to fight off, this is a well-rounded lineup that has shown the ability to improve their performance and ability, not just the results. It will also be featuring two of the organization’s top five prospects once Nick Senzel joins Jesse Winker and company in Cincinnati. This unit will have to prove themselves in 2018 to show they are for real and can in fact live up to the potential of becoming the post-season caliber offense that the front office hopes they have assembled.

37 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    The Reds have seven offensive starters that I am either comfortable with (Duvall. Barnhart, Gennett) or excited about (Votto, Suarez, Winker, Schebler). Swap in Senzel for Scooter and it’s two good, five terrific. But as long as Peraza struggles and Hamilton plays more often than not (leaving Winker on the bench) I can’t see this as a really strong offense. IF Senzel and Winker play and Hamilton mostly sits and Peraza improves, they could be terrific. If not it’s middle of the pack and probably not good enough to make up for inconsistent and injured starting pitching. Enough to get excited about the offense, enough concerns to remain cautiously optimistic. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. Two days!

    • sanantonefan

      If we get second half Peraza, instead of first half Peraza, I’d put him in your first group. He really improved. Hopefully, he will keep that up. I truly believe Billy is what he is.

  2. Bill

    With all the power & speed the Reds had they still finished last. What was the team average with men in scoring position, how many home runs were hit with no one on base & how many of those with 20 or more homers struck out with men in scoring position? Just wondering.

    • greenmtred

      Look at the pitching stats for an important clue to that last place finish.

      • Matt WI

        Right on, Green! With a competent pitching staff this team might have been .500, with a strong pitching staff, they might have fought for a playoff spot.

      • BigRedMike

        Reds were 14th in MLB in runs scored last year, not sure it was only due to pitching.

      • Matt WI

        Certainly not… but mostly due to pitching. And they were 17th in MLB but 8th in NL, which is important. They were last in NL in pitching. Last.

      • Matt WI

        Nope, clicked wrong column. 14th in runs was right. Right around the midline. Needs help, certainly. Stop batting Billy #1, insert a .350 or more OBP and hopefully watch what happens.

      • greenmtred

        Mid range in runs scored looks like a .500 ball club, doesn’t it?

    • Matt WI

      Bill… if there were hitting woes, I think a lot of blame can be placed on not having enough physical therapists to rub out the sore necks from watching balls fly over the fence when they were on defense. That can really mess up a swing.

    • Ghettotrout1

      I don’t think they will finish in last place. Pittsburgh just traded away their two best players in Cole and Cutch, which I would think would cause them to lose roughly 5 wins on last season which would bring them down to 70 wins. We no longer have Feldman and Arroyo (no offense to either of them) but replacing them with the younger pitching staff I would think would get us around 5 more wins. I know we are losing Cozart but I would think steps forward by the bull pen and Winker more often and Senzel will offset that.

      My prediction would be the Reds win 72 – 78 games Pitt wins 69 – 71. We should be atleast 4th place and I would think that is a conservative estimate.

  3. james garrett

    Its all about Billy and Peraza.If they play a lot and I expect them to do just that then they must improve in getting on base.If they don’t improve then their lack of power and poor OBP will hurt.The pitchers in the national league will just pitch around other guys to get to them.Tucker doesn’t hit for power and all of us expect Scooter not to repeat his 2017 year so we shall see what happens.

  4. WVRedlegs

    Great write up Matt. It gives a little extra confidence heading into Opening Day. But can the 2018 offense out perform the 2017 offense? Winker and Senzel will obviously help. But the outfield is where some marked improvement must come. Again Winker helps in that regard. But the batting average and OBP from the 3 incumbents are going to be crucial. Have to have improvement from all 3. And hopefully the 4 man rotation in the outfield helps with that. It isn’t just fewer AB’s for those 3, but it has to be fewer bad AB’s by those 3 this year. That is where Price and his staff will have to be on top of the 4 man rotation mixing and matching to against LH or RH pitching splits, sitting guys against pitchers they have a tough time against, or just plain maximizing the situations to put them in to succeed. The 30+ HR’s are nice from Duvall and Schebler, but I would take 25-27 HR’s in exchange for .30-.40 points added to their BA/OBP.
    Platoons vs. LH or RH pitching might help a little. However, it looks like the Reds will face few LH starters this year. RH hitters that cannot hit RH pitching are going to be regulated to the bench or even AAA. The C spot is fully manned this year. Scooter can be spelled at 2B on occasion. Hopefully the 4 man OF rotation will take of this for those 3 positions.
    There is still sorting to do with the offense. It comes in the OF and it also comes right at the heart of the defense, right up the middle, the 2 middle INF spots and CF. That is going to be a tough chore for Price and his staff, fielding a good offense without sacrificing much, if any, on defense.
    Winker solidifies one OF spot and Senzel will solidify 1 middle INF spot. Still a lot of questions still to be answered by Duvall, Hamilton and Schebler. After a torrid spring in Arizona, Schebler is ending spring on a very cold note. Hamilton has been the opposite, having a frozen cold spring only to thaw out a week before spring ends. Duvall has had a steady, but unspectacular spring.
    So on offense there is still sorting to do without sacrificing the good defense Cincinnati has built up. A delicate tight rope walk to navigate for the manager and the front office.

  5. Dave Bell

    “Shin-Soo Choo may have been a better leadoff hitter than Billy Hamilton”

    This made me laugh out loud. Talk about an understatement! Choo scored 107 runs in 154 games that year. Hamilton has scored 85, 69, 56 and 72 in his four years as a starter, usually hitting lead off. Once a month or so he does something spectacularly cool like scoring from second on a popup. But that doesn’t make him a good lead off man.

    Nice article, Matt.

  6. bouwills

    Unless Peraza really improves early this season, the Reds best 3 middle-infielders will be Suarez, Senzel, & Gennett by mid-June. How Price handles that situation is crucial. The mid-June lineup: Winker(rf), Senzel (ss,3rd), Votto (1st), Suarez (3rd, ss), Gennett (2nd), Duvall (lf), Schebler (cf), Barnhart/Meseraco (c) has plenty of offense- but is challenged defensively. Answer to the title question? No, it’s still a work in progress

    • VaRedsFan

      That’s why it is baffling as to why Senzel went to AAA to play 2B. If Peraza fails, what is the back up plan for this year and going forward? If he played SS at AAA then he could plug in for Peraza if he failed, and they wouldn’t have to waste a full season of Peraza struggling in the majors.

      • Westfester

        The reason Senzel was sent down was service time.

  7. Indy Red Man

    The Reds were 14th in runs scored last year. Milw almost made a wildcard and they were 20th. They added Yelich and Cain while the Reds lost Cozart. Cards added Ozuna which scares me. He has amazing bat speed. We’ll see? We need some guys to grow up and mature as hitters….they need to be 8th-10th in runs to have any shot at surprising because the pitching is already injury plagued again and can only improve so much with no visible help added except maybe Hughes!

    • greenmtred

      The improvement would come from young pitchers getting better, Indy. If that doesn’t happen, no improvement. But it doesn’t seem like a hopeless bet.

    • BigRedMike

      I noted something similar. The Reds offense was not that great last year based on the number of runs. The Reds lost a 5 Win player with a 141 wRC+ and are replacing that with a negative Win player with little offensive ability. Gennett had a huge outlier year, which is likely not to be replicated. Votto had an amazing year, hopefully that can be repeated.
      Duvall, Barnhart, and Schebler will be average. Suarez may take another small step forward, but, that is not for certain.
      The projections are showing an improvement in the pitching WAR, which is due to the Reds finishing last in WAR in 2017.

  8. Shchi Cossack

    So much for all the playing time the regulars were going to get in Texas as justification for not playing in the final AZ spring game. The final spring game has been washed out. Next stop, opening day.

    • WVRedlegs

      That is looking more and more to be the case for Thursday too. More rain for Saturday night and Sunday morning. They’ll be very lucky if they can get 2 games in of the 3 with Washington.

  9. Patrick Jeter

    “At Bat with Matt” is a great column name!

  10. Thomas Jefferson

    Great column, Matt. I’m looking forward to the bi-weekly read. Thanks!

  11. Shchi Cossack

    ST is in the books. The final ST stats mean nothing, but…

    .434/1.151 Scott Schebler
    .426/1.062 Scooter Gennett
    .357/0.940 Adam Duvall
    .326/0.926 Tucker Barnhart
    .411/0.921 Jesse Winker
    .339/0.870 Eugenio Suarez
    .298/0.662 Jose Peraza
    .278/0.554 Billy Hamilton
    .362/0.529 Joey Votto

    .356/0.817 Devin Mesoraco
    .280/0.599 Phillip Ervin
    .289/0.589 Cliff Pennington
    .250/0.511 Phil Gosselin

    At the end of the 2017 season (with Cozart removed and Peraza inserted at SS), the Reds had 2 holes in the starting offensive lineup…

    .299/0.634 Billy Hamilton
    .297/0.621 Jose Peraza

    At the end of the 2017 season, the Reds had 3 marginal performances and 1 offensive hole off the bench…

    .317/0.765 Phillip Ervin
    .321/0.711 Devin Mesoraco
    .304/0.703 Patrick Kivlehan
    .187/0.435 Arismendy Alcantara

    From the end of the 2017 to the end on ST, the Reds have the same 2 holes in the starting offensive lineup and have replaced 1 marginal performance and 1 offensive hole with 2 offensive holes off the bench. I know ST numbers are not a valid measure of expected performance, but these ST numbers are also reflective of recent performances from last season, which provides a more solid foundation of expectations going forward. I’m not seeing any expected improvement, especially with Cozart omitted from consideration.

    What I’m hoping to see is a 2-3 month evaluation during the 1st half of the 2018 seeason to confirm improvement or lack of improvement.

    At that time, Peraza is of is not the player to take the Reds into the 2019 season as the starting SS; At that time, the 4-man OF rotation shakes out to a more solid demarcation between starters and reserves depending on Hamilton’s offesive improment of lack of offensive improvement and the performance of the other 3 OF’s in the rotation. At that time, Scooter demonstrates a sustained offensive performance or serious regression (at least against RHP). Nick senzel factors into how those 2-3 month evaluations are resolved.

    As far as the bench, Phillip Ervin and Brandon Dixon are no more than utility players at the MLB level, but that’s not a career to have. Enough with the recycled verterans who are long-past any productive contributions. Let the younger players with utility roles in their future get started. Alex Blandino may have starting capability at 2B in MLB or may have a super utility role in MLB, but a platoon at 2B with Scooter is a viable scenario for either a future starting role at 2B or a future super utility role in MLB. And by all means, after a comprehensive search, let’s find a manager with no ties to WJ or BC, who understands the transition modern MLB has taken and is completely capable of leading the Reds to competitive run.

    • Scott Carter

      I am standing up applauding you.

  12. bouwills

    So both D. Hererra & Nicolina have cleared waivers? Pretty good . Sure would like to see Williams pull off a triple.

  13. Bill

    I see on the Reds web site Winker is listed as their impact player, but not listed on the anticipated starting lineup.

    • lwblogger2

      Against Scherzer, I would start him in LF for Duvall. Of course maybe the Reds just want to reward him for prior years’ work with an Opening Day start. Sometimes the lineup on Opening Day, and the roster for that matter, is more political than analytical.

      • old-school

        yes, this season needs to start. Nothing much left to analyze . Watch how the first 50 games or so play out and what injuries mend and which new ones happen and what the team and players do.

    • Jeff Reed

      That’s not surprising to me. As long as Price is the manager, Winker will not be a regular starter. Perhaps another Reds manager will make him a regular because of his on-base ability. But probably Winker will shine when he’s traded.

  14. Greg Hess

    It’s BS Winker is not starting, bottom line. Can’t understand why this organization falls in love with Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce now Schebler type players. What else does Wink need to do to earn a starting spot on this team?!

    • Shchi Cossack

      Get a new owner, GM and manager.

      • Old-school

        You are right again old Cossack.
        Reds corporate sponsors can’t get regular folks to go to a game for free or at a discount. Big Bob is failing because he doesn’t listen to his baseball fans. He is owned by his insular corporate community and his advisors…including the dying Cincinnati Enquirer.

  15. DRE

    I hate to day this but the Reds win 71 and we come in last again. Nothing will change until we get new front office

  16. Jeff Reed

    To get a new front office, the Reds will need a new principal owner.

  17. Jim Shoe

    This team for the last several years struggles in two out hitting, they strike out too much, pitching is going to be what it is and the defense at short and second isn’t what it used to be. Can not wait to see Senzel and Winker getting their opportunity. Team needs a new set of eyes from the coaching box. Another 90 loss season on the horizon. Very disappointing they’ve put the rebuild in Price’s hands cause he has never built anything. Uh. A guy named Dusty is available. Just saying.