There has been a lot of interesting talk of late about Jeff Keppinger and his correct role with the Reds.

But after reading Paul Daughterty‘s column in today’s Enquirer, where he talks about Keppinger’s intangibles (as used by the ole time baseball guys) and how he should getting playing time in front of EE and possibly Dunn, I felt that Keppinger’s great start needed to be put in some context.

Mike Howes had a nice post over on the Reds Listserv List concerning this subject, and, with Mike’s permission and a little editing (also with Mike’s permission), here it is.
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There has been much written and discussed of late concerning Jeff Keppinger and his great start with the Reds since being called up from Louisville. But let’s try to put this in perspective.

Here are the only Reds with 100-250 PAs with an OPS+ of 100 or better for one season

OPS+
158 Jon Nunnally 1997 (231 PA)
144 Jeff Keppinger 2007 (124 PA)
140 Ken Griffey Jr 2003 (201 PA)
128 Chris Stynes 1997 (215 PA)
126 Mike Kelly 1997 (151 PA)
107 Brady Clark 2001 (157 PA)
104 Kelly Stinnett 2001 (211 PA)
101 Ryan Freel 2003 (153 PA)
101 Jeff Hammonds 1998 (103 PA)

This is a stunning list and here is why I think it’s stunning. There are a number of common elements to most of these players.

First, lets weed out two of the above for obvious reasons.

Jr. is a superstar who got hurt and Stinnett was a backup catcher who had a good season as a backup catcher.
Actually, he had a great season as a backup catcher.

The remaining players have some things in common.

They almost all got to the big leagues late, meaning they were hitting their peak offensive years immediately upon getting to the big leagues.

Other than Stynes, the rest had the above seasons between the ages of 25-28 and almost all never became regulars and had short careers.

Jon Nunnally had about 400 PA over 2.5 seasons before becoming a Red. With Cincinnati, he turned 25 and had his career best 200 PA (158 OPS+). He got roughly 250 more PA over the next 3 seasons and was out of baseball by age 29.

Chris Stynes was a bit different. He was younger when he got to the big leagues, at age 24. I think the age is key. He did have a major league career. Not a great one, he was a platoon player for 2000 PA over the next 7 seasons. But that’s because there is a MASSIVE difference between putting up these sorts of numbers at age 24 and at age 27.

Mike Kelly had about 200 PA over 3 seasons before coming to the Reds at age 26. At age 27, he had an outstanding 73 games (126 OPS+). He got about 280 PA over 2 more seasons and was basically out of baseball by age 29, though he did come back and play AAA ball when he was 33 and 34.

Brady Clark was a rookie at age 28 when he had his career 200 PA (107 OPS+) with the Reds. He did have 2 good years with the Brew Crew a couple years later but quickly went down hill thereafter.

Ryan Freel was essentially a rookie in 2003 at age 27. He had his career 200 PA (101 OPS+) and basically replicated that in the following year. But he has been on a very fast decline since, though because he used to get on base and could play multiple positions, he was useful for 2-3 years.

But after his career 200 PA this has been his trajectory:

OPS+
101 2003
101 2004
92 2005
90 2006
66 2007

Jeffrey Hammonds was a failed prospect who was called up to the majors too soon. He’s also different in that he had 1350 ML ABs before coming to the Reds and then having his career 200 PA (101 OPS+). He had had some other average partial seasons with Baltimore but despite playing parts of 13 seasons he only reached 500 PA in a seasons twice and his last productive year was at age 29.

Nunnally, Keppinger, Kelly, Clark, Freel, are basically all the same player.

If you are LUCKY you get 1 or 2 good years out of them, but they really they are not that rare, their careers will be extremely short and usually below average. They should never play regularly over a true young prospect that has a much higher upside.