Four outfielders. Three outfield positions. Early returns with the Reds’ 2018 outfield rotation weren’t favorable for then-manager Bryan Price or interim manager Jim Riggleman.
I understand the idea that it would be better to be able to get into a rhythm as a big league baseball player. Knowing you’re going to be in the lineup every day would allow for the mind to be at ease, if nothing else – although with the Reds, there would seem to be evidence that Adam Duvall would benefit from multiple days off, given his solid first half numbers in 2016 and 2017 (and putrid second half numbers).
But the airwaves and Twitterverse have seemed to be full of naysayers when it comes to the infamous four-man outfield rotation since the season began in late March. And it’s easy to buy into the thought that it can’t work, given the dismal start at the plate from Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler, and Jesse Winker.
But as a lifelong Reds fan, I can’t help but remember a few platoon situations that have not only worked, but contributed mightily toward successful seasons. I go back to the 1990 World Series team and recall Mariano Duncan, Ron Oester, and Bill Doran splitting time at second base. Hal Morris and Todd Benzinger were both vital to helping those Reds to the title, and Glenn Braggs — much to the chagrin of many Paul O’Neill fans from Columbus down to Cincinnati — was used against lefties a lot that year.
The 1995 team NL Central champs advanced to the NLCS with a platoon of Mark Lewis and Jeff Branson at the hot corner.
But this piece is about multiple outfielders playing in a successful platoon situation, so let’s go back to the magical summer of 1999, when Greg Vaughn, Mike Cameron, Michael Tucker, Dmitri Young and Jeffrey Hammonds all played between 123 and 153 games in the outfield.
First off, Young did appear nine times at first base and once as a designated hitter, but the success is undeniable.
Vaughn was a mainstay in left field, filling the vocal leader role in his first and only season sporting a goatee in Cincinnati. He hit 45 homers and drove in 118 runs, and I can remember many a trip up I-71 after games listening to callers tell Tracy Jones how terrible Vaughn’s .245 batting average was. Fact was the slugger got on base at a .347 clip and slugged .535. Not too shabby.
Mike Cameron was in center field for 146 games and brought speed and gold-glove caliber play to the table after arriving via trade for Paul Konerko the previous offseason. He sported an on-base percentage of .357, stole 38 bases and clubbed 21 home runs.
Tucker played solid defense and got on base fairly regularly (.338). Young would have been a prototypical first baseman had Sean Casey not already been there. (Unbelievably there was a point in 1998 when the Reds had Casey, Konerko, Young, Eduardo Perez, and minor league legend Roberto Petagine in the fray at first.) Young slashed .300/.352/.504 in his second full season as a Red.
Hammonds, who was acquired the season before for longtime third base prodigy Willie Greene – think Edwin Encarnacion without the eventual 40-plus home run seasons in other uniforms – was a good defender who totaled 17 home runs and slashed .279/.347/.523.
Four of the five main outfielders for that Reds team sported an OPS+ of over 100, with Tucker’s 90 being the lone subpar result. To put it into perspective, even after a few hot weeks by all four of this year’s revolving outfielders, the only one with an OPS+ over 100 was Schebler (120). Winker (95), Duvall (87) and Hamilton (64) were all slightly, or grossly, below league average.
The funny thing about the 2018 outfield is that even though it continued up until Scott Schebler briefly left the team to go on bereavement leave on June 21, the rotation actually started to bear fruit after Riggleman announced its demise, claiming Winker was the odd man out. Winker started hitting, but so did Duvall and even Hamilton. Schebler had been installed at the top of the batting order shortly before taking his leave and he was performing well.
A rotation isn’t ideal, and maybe the likely best scenario in the second half of the season includes only a couple of the original four players, along with someone like Scooter Gennett on a daily basis. None of the members of either the starting pitching rotation or outfield rotation performed well in the first few months of the season. But notice what happens when hitters hit and pitchers, well, pitch?