Great expectations are hard to bear, especially when every armchair analyst (myself included) tends to put the burden on the same shoulders. Yasiel Puig, Jose Peraza, Jesse Winker. We named them early and we named them often but these three were, still are really, the keys to the Reds 2019 playoff run. Throw in a Joey Votto return-to-form and a Nick Senzel Rookie-of-the-Year campaign and who knows where this team could go.

Except, Senzel still lingers in AAA, maybe coming up by early May, maybe picking daisies in Louisville’s centerfield until the presumed Super Two cutoff. And as for the other four? Puig is hitting .164, besting Peraza’s .154 but behind Winker’s .172 average. And of course Votto helms the quartet with a .227.

All four carry the weight of the Reds’ great expectations, and all four have pushed to carry the load. Yet still, they’ve faltered.

As Eno Sarris pointed out last week, Puig’s pressing falls in line with an observed phenomenon: After moving to a new team, players press. Sarris looked at players both historically and those who changed teams this offseason, concluding:

The good news is they’ll probably settle down. It might just take that good meal or that return to their old stadium or a phone call to their mom, but they’ll mostly regain their old swing rates and figure out how to help their new teams as they’ve helped their teams in the past. This isn’t to say their entire production level will return — age comes for us all — but swing rates are pretty steady once you zoom out on the seasonal level.

At the time, Puig came in second in Sarris’ pressing statistic of choice, percent change in swing rate, only behind Jose Peraza. Over the weekend, those positions shifted.

Puig now sits in first, one of two players with double digit percentage changes while Peraza has fallen back to third. Jesse Winker makes three Reds in the top 10, while Votto slips in at 14, albeit with only half the change of Peraza or Puig. If Puig’s woes are attributed to switching teams and hoping to make a splash early, then why are the other three holdovers struggling so badly?

Jose Peraza

I said it yesterday, but I’ll repeat today: Jose Peraza wants to hit dingers. Let’s follow the golden rule of peer-editing and critique Jose by going compliment, all lot of critiques, compliment.

First, compliment: Jose Peraza hit the first Reds dinger of 2019, and it was a beaut.

Watch how that ball flies. It’s a vintage Jose Peraza home run, yanked to the pull side and launched at 22 degrees. The ball travels a relatively low line drive, its peak height only 62 feet above the ground. And hit at 99 mph, it’s about as hard as Jose will ever hit a ball.

Now, the critiques. Jose Peraza has been trying to lift the ball, hitting 17 percent more fly balls than his career average. His average launch angle has also climbed six degrees above his career average. And even though his exit velocity average has stayed mostly constant, his hard hit percentage has dropped by six percent.

Obviously, Peraza is swinging more than his career mark, otherwise he wouldn’t have made this article, but it’s the quality of the swings that’s more concerning. He’s chasing pitches outside the zone at a rate 10 percentage points higher than usual, leading one to think he’s putting too much pressure on himself to succeed. Not only is Jose looking for big flies, but he’s being especially careful in doing so. The combination has left Jose with a strikeout rate nearly double his career average and lots of weak contact.

So why is Jose pressing? It probably has everything to do with Scotter Gennett. When Scooter went down right before the start of the season, Jose Peraza suddenly became the masher of the double play duo, not just the gravy. Peraza likely felt he needed to step into the 20+ homer, .500+ slugging percentage void Scooter left. It explains why a .348/.375/.587 spring suddenly turned into this pumpkin of an April.

Once the bats come around and Peraza does not feel the need to shoulder Scooter’s absence alone, a return to form should be expected. (I’m counting this as a compliment.)

Jesse Winker and Joey Votto

Winker and Votto were supposed to be the one-two punch at the top of the order but have more closely resembled two free punch outs toward a free inning on an opposing pitcher’s loyalty card. But it’s those kind of expectations — Winker’s return transforms this lineup; Votto needs a bounceback for the Reds to get anywhere — that put overbearing pressure on players.

Since the Sarris article, Jesse Winker has tumbled into the top ten of pressers while hitting .154/.154/.615 with two home runs. He’s figured out the power portion of his game, now he just needs the walks to come back.

Through Sunday’s game, Winker ranks 156th out of 194 hitters with 3.65 pitches per plate appearance. Below him, fellow pressers Max Kepler, Andrelton Simmons, Puig and Peraza. Further, Winker has only seen 12 three-ball counts out of his 69 plate appearances. These are both team-wide trends for the Reds as Matt Wilkes pointed out on Twitter, but Winker, Puig, and Peraza have done the most to drag down the whole.

A natural thought would be to blame the Reds new hitting coach Turner Ward for the team’s propensity to swing often and at everything, but as Matt Wilkes points out again, that’s not the case. (Thank you to Matt for answering these questions before I started researching.)

As for Votto, he’s been upfront about his swing not feeling quite right as of yet. When C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic asked about Joey’s fateful pop-up to the first basemen last week, Joey replied as such:

No, that’s a sign that my hitting technique is completely off. There’s a reason I just spent an hour hitting after a day game after a night game. It’s not good. It’s definitely not a good thing. I rarely do that. That’s why when I saw it, I was like, ‘ugh, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ But I’m going to put in the work, I’m confident it’s going to come.

Like Winker, Puig and Peraza, Votto pulls down the Reds pitches per plate appearance average with a 3.86 of his own. It’s likely that Votto, knowing something is off with his swing, has upped his swing rate to get the reps in and figure out a groove. Pitchers know his bat isn’t as fearsome as usual right now, so his bat is tested more than his eye.

But both Winker and Votto have shown signs of life. Each have hit homers lately, and assuming Votto’s balky back lets him play, each now have a chance to play in the more hitter friendly Great American after four games in cavernous San Diego.

For all four of the pressers, the Reds less than auspicious start might actually work wonders. While winning makes the job easy, losing early takes off the pressure a bit. Okay, so what this team won’t run wire-to-wire? They can still give this fanbase more excitement than its had in half a decade. These four won’t press all season long, that much is assured. We as fans shouldn’t press for too much too soon either.

38 Responses

  1. WVRedlegs

    Four Reds in the top 20. What is the common denominator? Lack of hitting coach Turner Ward is the common denominator. It is pretty clear he is trying to change the approach of established hitters, much to the detriment of the Reds.

    • AllTheHype

      Sure seems that way. Drastic increases in swing % across the board doesn’t seem like pressing. It seems like someone is trying to change their approach…..and not for the better.

      • WVRedlegs

        Yes, I do. Do know anything about hitting at all Rich??????
        I am not buying into the theory that exonerates Turner Ward from this mess of an offense. If it wasn’t a team wide, very extended offensive slump I might be more of the belief it isn’t Ward. The players are seemingly trapped in-between the old Don Long approach, where most had pretty good success, and the new Turner Ward approach, where none of them are having much success at all. That can be terribly frustrating, having to change your approach from where you were having success, to a new mandated change of approach where finding success is fleeting at best. Yes, I think that would be a root cause of the “pressing”.

      • CP

        Are their stories about Turner Ward implementing a brand new strategy or are you just making things up? Since everyone knows the truth, I’ll hang up and take my answer off the air.

      • WVRedlegs

        What do you all think after reading that? It is eye opening, is it not?

      • CP

        Second time this very thread: Did you actually read the article? Do you just read what you want to read and skip over everything else?

        “I’m also not saying this is certainly the direct result of instruction from the Reds’ new coaching staff. Puig is on a new team in a contract year, and could be forgiven for wanting to maximize his chances for a home run in every at-bat early in the season. The same could be said for Peraza, who might like to double down on his power surge in 2018, and Votto, who has spoken openly about the frustration he felt when his power disappeared last year. All of those guys might be individually focusing on hitting the ball in the air more than they ever have before, and will take it upon themselves to either figure their swings back out or flounder for the remainder of the season.”

      • WVRedlegs

        CP, it wasn’t that long of an article, but did you finish it?
        What about this??:
        This excerpt is from the below quote but it is the meat:
        “Those facts seem to be indicative of a team that has a completely different plan at the plate than it did a year ago, and the results have been disastrous.”
        “On the other hand, there is more evidence that suggests that the Reds, as a team, are swinging the bats in a different way than they did just one year ago. For example, in 2018, Cincinnati led the majors in line drive percentage at 24.6 percent. The distance between it and the second-place Braves — 1.6 percent — was the same as the distance between the Braves and the 14th-place team. The Reds could center the ball up, and that led to them having the third-lowest soft contact rate in the majors. They hit ground balls at the fifth-lowest rate in the majors, they hit fly balls at the 12th-lowest rate, and their batting average on balls in play was the fourth best mark in the big leagues at .307.
        Just one year later, those figures could not look more different. The Reds now have the second-lowest rate of line drives, at 18.1 percent, and the seventh-highest rate of soft contact. They hit the 14th-most grounders of any team in baseball, and the sixth-highest rate of fly Those facts seem to be indicative of a team that has a completely different plan at the plate than it did a year ago, and the results have been disastrous.balls. The team’s BABIP is an MLB-worst .225, 28 points lower than the next closest team — a sign of some bad luck, yes, but also a sign of a team that just isn’t making solid contact when the ball is put in play. A Cincinnati team that was 10th in the big leagues in batting average, ninth in on-base percentage and 17th in wRC+ a year ago now owns the majors’ worst batting average and on-base percentage and the third-worst wRC+. And in case you’re holding out hope that it’s simply a case of the Reds getting extremely unlucky, Statcast also pegs as the worst team in the league in xwOBA, xSLG, xBA and hard hit percentage.”

        What don’t you get CP ??? plan = approach = which comes from the hitting coach and manager. It is a staggering turnaround of a once potent offense.

      • Rich H

        WV, if you actually read the articles (thanks for pointing out the miss in the other one, CP), you’d notice the part in this article that outlines the Dodgers stats over Turner Ward’s tenure. I’ll lay them out again, and trust me, there is text and not a mysterious blank space below.

        During Turner Ward’s time as hitting coach, the Dodgers had the 2nd most walks, 5th fewest first pitch swings, the most 3-ball counts, and the 5th highest pitches-per-plate appearance in baseball.

        All of those stats clearly and directly contradict what you are saying. It makes it hard for me to believe that you actually read the article when you miss something so clearly laid out.

  2. T Bone

    Perhaps the coaching staff did not create the problem, but it does not seem that there has been any intervention to try to correct it. I can certainly understand the ‘Don’t Panic’ attitude in the first week or 2, but we’re 21 games in now.

  3. Michael Smith

    Obviously Ward has no idea what he is doing…. wait he is a well regarded hitting coach with a sound philosophy. Well its obviously his fault;)

  4. ohiojimw

    The changes with Votto could be a response to age related decline. This is it not what any of us, myself included want to think or believe; but, it cannot be discounted out of hand.

    An eighth of the way through 2019, Votto’s K rate is significantly up. His BB rate is down by almost the same %. His BB/ K ratio is barely a third of its career level.

    Votto’s ability to wear down pitchers and draw walks has been related to his uncanny ability to make late decisions on pitches. His trademark has been laying off of or spoiling “pitchers’ pitches” until he draws a walk or gets a better pitch to hit.

    Perhaps he has lost just a tic of quickness at reading and responding with borderline pitches; and, his response has been to expand his zone and swing earlier in the count at more manageable pitches he would have taken in the past. Only time will tell.

    • Mike Adams

      Agree with you Jim, I have wondered this myself.
      You only go through age related decline once in your life so one may not recognize it for what it is.
      Or, as you point out, if recognized one tries to adjust but that will lead to deterioration in other things.
      If anybody can adjust and try to figure out what works and what does not, Joey Votto can.
      Here’s wishing he has as much success with adjustments to aging as he has had batting in the past.

  5. Roger Garrett

    I think all of the guys will figure it out but it needs to happen soon.Joey will never ever be what he used to be but he can hit 280 with an obp of around 400 and I would take that all day long.Reds are hacking and hit some out in Petco which is death valley so that I like.I expect the patience to come and with it the walks and thus more runs.They must start stringing hits together obviously but right now I see most guys trying to hit 8 run homers with nobody on base.I do expect they may do better if they went with a more set lineup for the next 8 or 10 games.Winker and Peraza especially need to play every day because well they are young guys and most guys that have been starters have to learn how to come off the bench.Our bench is good but they are bench players because they are no longer starters and no better how to prepare to be a reserve.I do realize Bell is looking for somebody or anybody to actually get hot but again to get the most out of the two guys I mentioned they need to play every day.I would also throw Scott into that as well.Guess what I mean is let the starters start and the bench guys come off the bench.

    • larsbenders

      “Reds are hacking and hit some out in Petco which is death valley so that I like.”

      Which do you like: the hacking or the home runs?

      “They must start stringing hits together obviously but right now I see most guys trying to hit 8 run homers with nobody on base.”

      So which is it: getting on base or home runs? Cause the current swing for the fences mentality of the entire team sure ain’t workin.

      • Roger Garrett

        I am on record as saying the Reds have to and I mean have to be able to hit homers especially at home to win.That goes for this year or last year or any year.We play in a park that is famous for the wall scraping,first row almost caught home run and we must hit more then the visitors.In order to be a top 5 offense,which we must be to even reach 500,we must be able to get on base and hit homers.I think,without any data to prove it,that players swing harder when they are pressing.

  6. MARK MOORE

    I’m not giving in to panic … yet.

    I am disturbed to see the same old problems we’ve observed in the past. You adjust or you fail. Period.

  7. Pete

    A broader point: Reds started the season 1-7, they are now 8-13. 7-6 since the miserable start with 10 of those games on the road. The team is headed in the right direction and if these guys start hitting like the back of their baseball card, all should be well. I’m juiced.

  8. Doc

    Was Votto’s swing off during ST? If so, why didn’t it get worked out during ST instead of playing half a game, getting two ABs, then packing his gear and heading out.

    If it were not off during ST, what happened when the flag dropped to start the regular season? How does someone of his quality lose it between Atlanta and GABP, and for this long? Votto has always started slowly; is this not his early season norm?

    I understand the questioning regarding Ward except for two thoughts:

    1. No way Turner Ward tries to monkey with Votto’s swing and no way Votto let’s him. Votto knows more about his swing than any hitting coach. Ward is not even a consideration here.

    2. Ward was Puig’s and Kemp’s hitting coach in LA. I very much doubt he moves to Cincy and changes what he tells 2 successful guys to do something different than he has been telling them the past several years.

    Bigger concern, in my view, are the implications I read that Kemp is going through the motions. If that is so, how does that affect Puig?

    I think the move of Peraza to 2B may have been a bigger negative than suspected.

  9. WVRedlegs

    Former Reds pitcher Deck McGuire (2017) pitched a no-hitter in the KBO a few days ago with 13 K’s, 1 BB, and 1 HBP. I liked McGuire in his brief stint at the end of the 2017 season and how he pitched. I thought the Reds should have brought him back for 2018. He didn’t do so hot in Toronto last season, though.
    McGuire, with his stuff, could potentially be another Miles Mikolas next winter with a resurrected career. He was a 1st round pick back in 2009. He’ll be 30 later in June, a year or 2 older than Mikolas. Might be worth keeping an eye on McGuire as the year goes along and certainly next winter. He does have a Reds connection and the Reds could be looking in the winter for a starter, since they will be losing 2 . Bullpen or starter, he could be a fit for the Reds the way David Bell uses pitchers.

    https://jaysjournal.com/2019/04/21/blue-jays-deck-mcguire-tosses-no-hitter-in-korea/

  10. Eric Wormus

    I hate trying to dive into the mental state of professional athletes, but I think we are overlooking one large elephant in the room; the Reds’ commitment to playing the service time game with Nick Senzel has put, by my estimation, at least 4 other players on edge, not knowing where they will be 2-3 weeks from now.

    Scott Schebler isn’t a centerfielder. It was obvious because he was an average corner outfielder. He has options. Is he odd man out when Senzel comes up?

    Matt Kemp is only here because the Reds wanted to get rid of Homer Bailey. The Reds don’t really want Kemp and Kemp doesn’t really want to be here. Does he get DFA’ed in a few weeks?

    Jesse Winker just watched the Reds bring in two established veteran corner outfielders when he finally thought the job was his. They aren’t going to bench Puig for him and he has seen this organization start Adam Duvall over him and send Homer Bailey out every 5 days because of his contract. He’s an even worse CF than Schebler. He has options too. Does he go down?

    Jose Peraza was the starting 2nd baseman for the Cincinnati Reds until he wasn’t. He watched Scooter beat him for the job during the year. Then he was the starting SS and finally seemed to be coming into his own. The Reds sign a back up SS in the spring because Blandino isn’t going to be ready. No big deal. Until the starting 2B goes down with an injury too. At this point the Reds had 3 options.
    1) Plug in your 2B of the future at his long-term position, leave Peraza at SS, Dietrich and Iglesias are back ups. (the best option)
    2) Plug in your back up 2B (Dietrich), leave Peraza at SS, Iglesias is the back up (2nd best option).
    3) Move your starting SS to 2B.

    Needless to say, the Reds chose option #3. Now Peraza is sitting at 2nd base. He’s not as good a hitter as Dietrich or Scooter. He’s not as good a fielder as Iglesias. So where does he go long-term?

  11. Hanawi

    I was wondering if Votto was trying to get some power back in his game after the 12 homer year last season. Maybe at the expense of OBP.

  12. Joey

    I will say this about Bell, he gives guys a chance to play. He gave Ervin some at bat’s when he got called up. Under previous managers he would have just rotted away on the bench. Winker would have played zero games in center and would not have started over established veterans in the corner (Puig & Kemp) and he gave Bob Steve a chance to prove himself in meaningful innings. I don’t like losing but I like a lot of the decisions he’s made thus far.

  13. TR

    I like the hitting advice of BRM great, Tony Perez: Meet the ball, hit the ball. Forget about homeruns; If you meet the ball, they will happen without too much effort.

  14. Old-school

    Matt Kemp broken rib. Give him credit for playing hard for the Reds.
    Ervin is up. Gennett is still out a month. Senzel is still weeks away.

    Now is the time with weather warming and a more fixed lineup to break out offensively.

  15. BigRedMike

    Wonder if the Reds stretch it to get Kemp to the 60 day IL

    Reds might struggle with the -0.8 WAR Kemp has complied so far this season

    Ervin cannot be any worse than what Kemp has provided.

    The Reds will start hitting better at some point, doubtful that an OF can provide negative WAR for the entire season

    • matt hendley

      “Ervin cannot be any worse than what Kemp has provided.”

      Ervin ” Hold my beer”

      • PhP

        Dude for real, just admit you can be wrong. You were hyping Kemp up all offseason and he’s struggled (like the rest of the team). Ervin put up solid enough numbers for a bench player as a rookie last year, and way better numbers than what Kemp is doing right now. Even Peraza, who you love to rip on has a higher WAR than Kemp. It’s ok to be wrong sometimes, baseball is impossible to predict.

      • matt hendley

        making a joke, but obviously, hope Ervin is better than the current trend. And i didn’t exactly talk up Kemp, I was just against DFAing him prior to the start of the season Regardless I meant that one as a joke. Unless he does end up sucking.

      • PhP

        Ahh I see, my bad. I was hoping for better out of him too

  16. Tom Mitsoff

    For what it’s worth, the Reds’ team batting average on batted balls in play is .225, last in the majors by a wide margin. Second-worst is the LA Angels at .253. Some of that is bad luck, and some of it is they’re just not hitting the ball with authority consistently.

  17. Old-school

    Clearly a 9-7 slugfest at GABP is on the horizon.

  18. matt hendley

    I do think there is some validity to looking at the coach, The slump is team wide, and not focused around a singular player. If we get to mid may and the TEAM is still as a whole producing horribly then a closer look may be required