I should have quit while I was ahead.
After seeing the Reds win three games at Dodger Stadium last month – that is, one-seventh of their victories for the entire season – I decided to push my luck and hit the road Sunday morning for the getaway game of their series against San Diego.
While strolling around Balboa Park prior to the game, I checked my phone and saw that the day’s starting lineup had been announced. I smiled when I saw Jesse Winker leading off, but it quickly turned upside-down when I saw that Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza would all be starting as well.
Last week, amid rambling about the 2005 Houston Astros (who, like this year’s Reds, started the season 15-30 – and who, unlike the Reds, ended up in that year’s World Series), I listed the Reds’ leaders in OBP, OPS, OPS+ and WAR and wrote the following:
“I would argue the above numbers prove that no starting lineup should include the trio of Duvall, Hamilton and Peraza… If the goal is to win, it does the team no good if Blandino, Dixon and Schebler ride the pine on the same day.”
The Reds smacked 12 hits yesterday. The trio of Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza combined for two of them. Hamilton did manage a walk, but it was quickly negated when he was caught stealing. He also hit into a 9th inning double-play, but more on that later.
After driving home, I hopped onto Baseball-Reference to further investigate last week’s hypothesis. While it’s unfair to judge a single player for a team’s performance, here are the Reds’ won-loss records when Hamilton, Peraza and Duvall start, as of Monday morning:
Hamilton: 17-34 (.333)
Duvall: 17-30 (.362)
Peraza: 19-37 (.339)
As I type this, the Reds’ record is 21-39 (.350), just for the sake of comparison.
I then decided to look at the team’s record in games where more than one of these three players started. Insert small sample size disclaimer here, and yes, it’s still not fair to peg a win or a loss on two players’ shoulders – but since these two represent 25% of the starting eight, it seemed like a worthwhile question. The results:
Hamilton + Peraza: 15-32 (.319)
Hamilton + Duvall: 13-25 (.342)
Peraza + Duvall: 15-28 (.349)
As for games when all three start…
Hamilton + Peraza + Duvall: 11-23 (.324)
All of those winning percentages are lower than the team’s overall winning percentage, which I realized had to mean that other combinations of players have been yielding better results. I then spent a few minutes looking at other Reds, namely Winker and Scott Schebler. Here’s how the team fares when they start:
Schebler: 15-22 (.405)
Winker: 12-28 (.300)
A bit of a mixed bag there. When they both start, meanwhile, the Reds have only won 8 of 23 (.348).
Still, seeing that starting Schebler and Duvall seems to raise the Reds’ chances of winning, I then looked at the team’s record when they both start – and their 11-14 (.440) record is the closest thing to “good” that registered yet.
Then I glanced at Alex Blandino, who has batted .293/.369/.373 since beginning the season with just one hit in his first 17 at-bats. In his 21 starts, the Reds have gone 8-13 (.381) – not great, but still better than they’ve done overall.
There have only been 10 games this year when Blandino, Duvall and Schebler have all started. Believe it or not, but the Reds actually won half of those games. Of the 50 others they’ve played, they’ve only won 16. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, there have only been three games that saw Duvall, Schebler, Winker and Blandino all start. The Reds only won one – but the two losses were both by one run, and both losses were charged to relievers. Hmmm again.
What’s the point of all this? As Jeff Gangloff just wrote, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this season anyway, so why not at least try to find the silver lining and put your best foot forward instead of continuing to prove ad infinitum that Billy Hamilton simply cannot hit? We’ve railed in recent years against broken-down veteran pitchers taking away valuable starting opportunities from younger rotation candidates, but I’d argue that starting Hamilton does the Reds just as much of a disservice. As for Peraza, I’m not advocating writing him off – he just turned 24, after all – but I don’t think he should be the team’s default starting shortstop. Some sort of rotation of Peraza, Blandino and Eugenio Suarez seems far more productive.
In his 2011 book, baseball scribe Jonah Keri credited the success of the Tampa Bay Rays to “the extra 2%” – that is, finding ways to maximize available opportunities and squeeze out just a little bit more than the competition. If the Reds wanted to follow suit, it seems they’d realize that continuing to start the trio of Hamilton, Peraza and Duvall is essentially spotting that 2% margin to the other team.
Back to yesterday: Going into the 9th, the Reds trailed by three. In the bottom of the 8th, manager Jim Riggleman made a double-switch, replacing Duvall with Brandon Dixon since the pitcher’s spot was due up first – meaning that Dixon, Hamilton and Winker were set to come to the plate. Schebler had yet to appear in the game, though, and I thought to myself that if Riggleman had any interest in trying to pull out a win, he’d have Schebler pinch-hit for Hamilton.
Instead, Riggleman decided to have Schebler pinch-hit for Dixon, which completely negated the apparent purpose of the previous inning’s double-switch. (If Dixon’s not going to hit, why not just move Winker to left and put Schebler in right?) Schebler singled to bring up Hamilton, who promptly grounded into a double play. With two outs, the Reds then staged a mini-rally, with Winker and Tucker Barnhart each singling – but a check-swing grounder by Joey Votto ended the threat. Still, who knows what would have happened if Dixon had led off the inning, followed by Schebler instead of Hamilton? With a game on the line and with other ammunition at your disposal, in what universe is sending Hamliton to the plate even remotely a good idea?
I didn’t bother looking to see how many of the above-referenced wins and losses took place during the Bryan Price era, but after seeing yesterday’s game, it became clear to me that Riggleman needs a reminder on why we study history – and if he’s content with repeating the same mistakes as his predecessor and handicapping the Reds’ chances at winning, it’s time we stop complaining about who’s batting or playing where and focus instead on the one filling out the lineup card.