(Ed: Please welcome Redleg Nation‘s newest contributor.)

Before Wednesday night’s game, the Reds had scored 419 runs in 106 games, or 3.953 runs per game (R/G), which ranks them 15th of the 16 NL teams. Only the San Diego Padres have done worse at scoring runs. Obviously, the Reds play in a hitters park and the Padres play in a pitchers park, and when you look at rate stats that adjust for ballpark factors (like OPS+), the Reds are rated as the worst offense in the National League.

I read (and submit) many e-groans every time I see Willy Taveras and Alex Gonzalez penciled into the #1 and #2 slot in the lineup. “Everyone knows” that this combination is costing the team runs and games over the course of the season, but how many runs are being lost at their expense?

I used the lineup tool at baseballmusings.com to calculate R/G (runs per game) projections based on different Reds lineups. That projection model requires you to input on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG) for each of the nine spots in the batting order. To test the accuracy of the model, I took batting splits by batting order for the 2009 Reds from baseball-reference.com and compared the projection to the actual number of runs scored so far this year.

The model estimates that the Reds have scored 417.5 runs through 106 games compared to the actual 419 runs scored. That is a really impressive approximation given that I only input two statistics for each spot in the batting order.

At the top of the lineup, the 2009 Reds have had:

#1 .273 OBP, .298 SLG – mostly Willy Taveras
#2 .300 OBP, .363 SLG – better than Gonzalez’s 2009 season, but close to his career numbers

If we replace those stats with the 2009 MLB average for those batting order spots:

#1 .338 OBP, .401 SLG
#2. .343 OBP, .428 SLG

then, the lineup tool estimates that the Reds would have scored 467.2 runs through 106 games, or 4.41 R/G. That production would put them just a touch below the NL average rate of 4.44 R/G.

Now, with major league average #1/#2 hitters, add Scott Rolen at the trade deadline. I took his 2008 & 2009 stats from Toronto (.358 OBP & .452 SLG) and plugged them into the #5 spot. The model estimates that that lineup would score 4.566 runs per game, which would rank 5th best in the National League in 2009.

With Dusty Baker’s job secure according to Bob Castellini, it is on Walt Jocketty to get the players he needs to be at least league average in the #1 and #2 spot, and Dusty Baker’s job to play the best top of the order candidates. Let’s abandon the Willy Taveras experiment in the leadoff spot. Let’s find a solution for the #2 spot (Hanigan, anyone?) With those changes and the addition of Rolen, this team could very well have playoff caliber offense in 2010.