As the season slowly and mercilessly winds down to an end, we can start to take a closer look at the one positive aspect of this Reds team: the offense. Other than a few lulls induced in part by injuries to key players, the bats showed up this year and continued to show steady improvement over the last few years.

I want to address what will become a very obvious trend throughout this post. Joey Votto had an incredible season last year and was nearly National League MVP. Jose Peraza was very, very bad. The single most predictable outcome was that Votto would decline and Peraza would improve in 2018, and that is exactly what happened. These numbers are not meant to tell the entire story, rather show how each player progressed, or regressed, in specific facets of their game relative to both their teammates and to the league.

We can start with plate discipline. Swinging at strikes and not swinging at balls has been a skill that most people have gotten used to and accepted as a good indicator of strong plate discipline. Interestingly enough, only one Reds player dropped their O-Swing% more than league average this year, and that just happens to be Jose Peraza.

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Peraza has also cut down on swings inside the zone, indicating he was clearly trying to be more selective and improve upon his anemic walk rate from last season. What really stands out here is how much more aggressive some of the Reds were this season, including Scooter Gennett, who is having another terrific year despite swinging at a lot more balls. Scott Schebler did well by increasing his Z-Swing% three-fold compared to his O-Swing%. Joey Votto took a slight step backward by offering at more balls and fewer strikes.

How did these changes translate into quantifiable performance on the field, in terms of walks and strikeouts? Once again, Jose Peraza takes the cake with the strongest improvements.

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Peraza improved his aforementioned terrible walk rate from 2017, though it remains well below league average. He was also able to reduce an already strong strikeout rate, giving him the 5th best rate in baseball.

Despite swinging more, Gennett and Schebler also make positive progress in both metrics. Billy Hamilton walked more but also struck out more while Joey Votto took a step both in both areas, but what do you know, he still has the 2nd best walk rate in the majors (best if you do not include Trout, because how is anyone supposed to beat him in anything?). The strikeout jump is definitely more of a concern for Votto, but again, he is still well below average.

Moving on to strength of contact, the next graph represents good news for almost the whole team. changes3

Everyone has increased their hard contact rate with only Votto and Schebler trailing the league average. In terms of soft contact, everyone has decreased their rates and outpaced the league except for Billy Hamilton, who saw a slight uptick.

Suarez and Peraza really stand out as players who made the biggest strides. Suarez in particular possesses an elite batted ball profile, ranking 2nd in MLB in hard hit % (49.6%) and 1st in MLB in soft hit % (8.1%). This is a huge part of his offensive breakout that should land him some NL MVP votes.

Continuing on with the batted ball profile we see some similar names as the outliers.

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While Peraza and Hamilton have increased fly balls and decreased ground balls, that is not necessarily a good thing considering their strong speed and lack of power. Peraza has actually used this to his advantage this year and increased his ISO from 0.66 to .119, while Hamilton’s ISO and overall production have essentially remained the same.

On the other side of the picture is Votto and Schebler, two guys who do have power and benefit from getting the ball in the air. The silver lining with their FB% declines is they both have increased their line drive percentage and helped buoy overall production a bit, even if their ISO has suffered. Votto is actually the league leader in line drive rate at 31.5%.

Votto referenced this in a great article by C. Trent Rosecrans ($) on the Athletic yesterday, as Joey stated he feels he has almost made too many adjustments to account for age when he might not have needed to do so yet. He seemed to understand the mechanical change he had made that resulted in too much topspin, not allowing him to hit for as much power, even though he is hitting the ball as hard as he ever has. Needless to say, I think this is the good news Reds fans have been looking for in terms of wondering where Joey’s MVP-type numbers went this year.

Put it all together and the overall improvements are definitely positive for the Reds as four players have showed strong progress and Votto the only regular who took a serious step back.

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As I mentioned above, Peraza’s 2017 campaign was about as bad as you can get, so naturally the only way to go was up. However, he went out and showed that he can hold his own offensively, which for the time being reinforces the major needs of the ballclub as starting pitching and centerfield. Once those are filled, fans can start clamoring for an upgrade at SS.

Barnhart and Hamilton have produced very similarly to last year, while Scooter so far has been able to best his amazing 2017 season and has a legitimate shot at the NL Batting Title.

Other positive developments include Suarez’s breakout year and Scott Schebler, who although he could not stay healthy again, showed he too belongs as part of a strong offensive unit. This team was really rolling with Schebler and Winker healthy, and hopefully those two are able to come back next year and pick up where they left off.

Stayed tuned for the final edition of the inaugural At-Bat with Matt and we will look at the team’s totals and how they stack up to previous seasons of the Rebuilding Machine.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Peraza gets so much criticism, but he has proven this year that he is a very good major league player. He has hit for average, has great speed and has almost as many homeruns as our $25 million player. If Peraza would repeat this season statistically with an uptick in his defense, I would be more satisfied. Plus, he is still young enough to make an argument that his best days are ahead.

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    • I’ve said this about Peraza before, but I think it bears repeating: Peraza is virtually a lock to finish this season with 10+ HR and 30+ 2B. Imagine if he gets a little stronger to where some of those 2B to the wall start carrying over the wall. If he just converts 30% of his 2B to HR, suddenly we’re looking at a 20/20 player, and possibly a 30/30 player if he really breaks out.

      The thing about Peraza is, he’s still just 24 years old and (this surprised me) he’s 6 feet tall, which means he should be able to generate some torque in his swings. If Peraza fills out his frame a little, he could go from being an offensive contributor to an actual offensive force.

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      • He’s at a spot now to where he can improve his contribution either through increased power (as you mention) or better def. Either are plausible and just improving one or the other gives the Reds a solid player at SS for the next few years.

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  2. If Peraza’s defense develops in a positive way as Suarez defense has developed at third base, then he’ll be fine at shortstop until, down the road perhaps, a Barry Larkin type shortstop comes along.

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  3. Let’s be clear here. Jose Peraza is excellent at baseball, probably one of the best 1000 players in the world, but he is NOT a “very good major league hitter”. In spite of his improvements this year he still ranks 52 of 69 in OPS among qualified hitters. He is for now the best option in the Reds system at shortstop, and the best things about him are that he is still young and still improving. I’m optimistic that he will be a good hitting shortstop and at least a decent fielding shortstop eventually. But let’s not get too excited about a guy who is a below average hitter among regulars, and one of the worst fielding shortstops in the majors.

    Matt this is good info and the year to year change is interesting. But I’m more interested to see the absolute numbers, especially for Suarez and Schebler (and in much more limited samples, Winker and Ervin). Those guys, plus Senzel, will be the driving force that ensures the Reds have a solid offense for the next several years.

    Finally, though I’m not yet high on Peraza I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that Billy Hamilton really needs to be a utility outfielder, spot starter and pinch running and defensive specialist. His offense is really bad compared to major league starters, and even at a premium defensive position he’s bad. It’s past time to redefine his role.

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  4. CFD you make valid points. I like to look at it based on position and he is 5th for WRC+ for that position in the NL.

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  5. I’ve got to press the brakes a wee bit here. Yes, Peraza is 4th among NL SS in wRC+, but that’s a 97 wRC+. Yes, Peraza made significant improvement from the 2017 season and during the 2018 season, but that significant improvement was from an abysmal level that should have been played at the minor league level. Peraza is a very bad defensive SS and he grew up playing SS. This is not a new position where he needs to learn how to play and gain experience. There is absolutely no reason to expect a dramatic, sudden defensive improvement. Yes, Peraza is the best short term option available at SS for the Reds.

    Peraza’s value comes exclusively from his speed and from simply playing SS. He has a negative fielding value and a negative hitting value.

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    • I agree on the SS assessment. I don’t buy the “he will get better with experience” narrative on his defense. He was a SS when he came over, and if you remember correctly he was going to replace Cozart and Herrera was replacing BP until Herrera’s shoulder put him on the DL. Offensively he could improve the power numbers and maybe even learn to take a few more BB. So for now he is good enough to hold the position down while the Reds try to fix the pitching and replace Hamilton. Maybe at that point the Reds will have some other options to consider at SS, but for now I am not worried about SS

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    • Shchi so he is roughly league average and above average for his position offensively. Larkin did make 29 errors at age 24 playing short stop which I think was his life long position. I do not think he will ever get to that level of defense but it is wrong to think improvements cant be made imo.

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    • It will be interesting to see what Peraza does this winter. He cannot go home to Venezuela. They canceled last year’s Venezuelan Winter League season because of civil unrest, and it isn’t any better this year. Will he play in the Dominican League? Will he go out to Arizona and work out at the complex? Or will he just rest on his laurels? Maybe have him work out in Cincinnati in October with Freddie Benavides? Peraza needs to clean up his foot work, which Benavides helped Suarez with. And Suarez has taken Peraza under his wing. Peraza has a good support network with those 2, so if he gets to work out with them before the weather turns to winter it could pay some big defensive dividends next season.
      However, I think the whole coaching staff gets canned a few days after the season ends, so Benavides might not be around long.

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    • Jose is still improving. Since June 1 his wRC+ is 117. Let’s give him a chance to continue that pace – or even continue to improve on it – before we decide his worth. wRC+ of 117 would put him in the top five offensive shortstops in all of baseball, so he has a chance to be a very good hitter, even if he has not proven it for a full season yet. And as a 24 year old, it is certainly possible that he can improve his defense, as well.

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  6. The Reds could be SO good offensively next year. I hope they make the right moves when it comes to finding time/resigning Scooter, Senzel, etc.

    Im not sure what the correct call is there, but I hope it works out…

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  7. A few more walks and better defense should be his goals.I think he can because he is only 24 years old.Gone are my fears of another Billy.Lots of other issues to be concerned with besides Peraza.

    Reply

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About Matthew Habel

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

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