The Reds led the NL last season with a .774 OPS and 790 runs scored. Given that, a young talented starting rotation, a deep bullpen, and several top level prospects on the cusp of the majors, they appear to be in great position to defend their NL Central crown.

I have some concerns that the Reds may not be able to repeat last year’s NL-leading performance on the offensive side of the ball. This could factor into their playoff chances for next season also, with the Brewers and Cardinals both looking to be formidable contenders.

Let’s examine the team offensively at each position to see what we should expect. I’ll use ZIPS (Z11-OPS) and Bill James (BJ11-OPS) projected 2011 OPS numbers in the following to compare to each player’s 2010 OPS (10-OPS).

C		10-OPS Z11-OPS BJ11-OPS
Hernandez	.792	.717	.730
Hanigan		.834	.720	.747

Ramon Hernandez, who got 85 starts, is unlikely to repeat his .792 OPS of last season. That is the first time since 2006 that the 35 year old catcher has hit at that level. He put up about a .710 OPS from 2007-2009. Ryan Hanigan, who got 58 starts, will also be hard-pressed to match his .834 OPS from last season. The 30 year old catcher was a .753 OPS minor league hitter, and his major league career OPS is now at .752. It’s very easy to see how the Reds could be facing a big offensive drop-off from this position. The .804 OPS from last season by Reds catchers could easily be about a .730 OPS next season.

Devin Mesoraco, who had never put up an OPS of better than .710 before last season, will need to go to AAA and show that his break out season in 2010 was for real. If he does, he could help out here in the second half of the season.

1B 		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Votto		1.024	.936	.990

Joey Votto, the NL MVP, had an spectacular season in 2010. The problem is, can you expect him to start putting up a 1.024 OPS every year now? I’m sure he’ll have another great season next year, but that would be a true statement even if he put up a mere .950 OPS, which would be a big drop off in production at 1B for the Reds from last season. You can’t be surprised if the Reds get less production from this position next year. Yonder Alonso should be ready to step in next season and provide some offense (ZIPS projected OPS of .752) if Votto misses any significant time next season.

2B 		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Phillips	.762	.759	.752

Brandon Phillips is a solid above average offensive 2B. Chalk the 30 year old Phillips up for a .760 OPS again next season. It will cost the Reds a lot more next season, but they’ll get about the same production again in 2011 at 2B. It’s very likely that 2011 could be Brandon’s last in Cincinnati; I find it hard to believe that they’ll pick up his $12M option in 2012. Chris Valaika is next in line at 2B. He’s hit everywhere in the minors except at AAA, but his ZIPS projected OPS of about .679 would be a significant offensive drop off if he had to fill in for an extended period of time.

3B		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Rolen		.854	.785	.812
Cairo		.763	.662	.675

Scott Rolen will be 36 years old next season and has not started more than 125 games in a season since 2006. He had two distinct halves last season when he put up an overall .854 OPS. In the first half, he looked to be an MVP candidate, logging a .909 OPS and appearing to have recaptured his lost power stroke. The second half he looked more like the Scott Rolen we feared we’d see when he was acquired, and he put up a .772 OPS in 100 fewer AB. Rolen’s SLG in the second half dropped off .128 from the first half. The two previous years his OPS was .780 and .823. With his age and health concerns, it’s hard to see him matching the .854 OPS he put up last year.

The Reds will need to be ready with a replacement for Rolen for a quarter of the season. Last year his replacements dropped the Reds OPS at 3B from Rolen’s .854 OPS down to an .824 OPS for the Reds as a whole. Last season that was mostly Miguel Cairo, who will be 37 years old in 2011. Of course, Cairo played well above all expectations and turned that into a new two-year deal with the Reds. Cairo had not come close to matching his 2010 OPS since 2004, and he appears to be set for a huge fall next season. The Reds would be better off offensively with Juan Francisco, who Zips projects at a .778 OPS in 2011, filling in at 3B for Rolen next season. With a good chance of Rolen slipping from his 2010 production, Cairo primed for a major decline, and Francisco not ready to be a capable fill-in, the Reds will most likely see a dropoff in their production from this position next season.

SS		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Renteria	.707	.680	.714
Janish		.723	.660	.643

Reds shortstops put up a .681 OPS last season compared to NL SS as a whole, who put up a .711 OPS in 2010. The departed Orlando Cabrera started 119 games at SS and put up a .657 OPS for the Reds last season. Paul Janish, whose career OPS is 634, is the heir apparent and he put up a .723 OPS in 2010, with 43 starts as SS. (Janish put up a .686 OPS in AA and a .666 OPS in AAA.)

It’s pretty evident that the 28 year old Janish hit well above expectations last season, and this is reflected in his projections for next season. The Reds must have had the same concerns regarding Janish’s offense, as they signed Edgar Renteria for $2.1M dollars for next season. The company line is that Janish will be the starting SS and that Renteria will be his backup and also play other positions. Well, I’ll believe that when I see it. Expect to see Renteria out there as long as his body will allow him. The 34 year old Renteria has OPS of .699, .635, and .707 over the last three seasons. He appears to be in serious decline from his .744 career OPS, much less the .797 and .860 OPS he put up in the 2006-2007 seasons with the Braves.

Zack Cozart, who I believe is a little less glove and a little more offense than Janish, is ready to step in as a replacement and is projected at a .680 OPS by ZIPS. All told, same formula, different aged SS. I don’t see the Reds improving from last season’s below average offensive output from the SS position. Chalk the Reds up for another .680 OPS from SS for next season.

LF		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Lewis		.745	.740	.768
Gomes		.758	.773	.804
Heisey		.757	.733	.814

Reds left fielders last season put up .766 OPS compared to the NL league average OPS of .770. The 30 year old Jonny Gomes started 126 of those games last season with a .758 OPS. Much like Rolen, he had two distinct half-seasons, putting up a .801 OPS in the first half and a .706 OPS in the second half. Gomes career OPS is .790, and he should exceed that figure if protected more next season in a platoon split. He pounded LH at a .856 OPS in 165 AB, and only hit RH at a .709 OPS over 346 AB last season.

Chris Heisey put up a .757 OPS in 201 AB. The 25 year old Heisey put up a .963 OPS in AA and a .776 OPS in AAA. Heisey is also a RH hitter and a much better fielder than Gomes. With the similar 2010 production and superior glove, Heisey could prove to be a better option than Gomes in LF for next season. Todd Frazier, also a RH, is near ready. He put up a .781 OPS last season at AAA and ZIPS projects him at .729 OPS for 2011. The departed Laynce Nix was the LH part of this equation last season and he put up a .805 OPS for the Reds in 2010 which was his career season to date.

Fred Lewis is the latest addition to the mix. The 30 year old Lewis put up a .745 OPS last season with Toronto, which was a tick below his .766 career OPS. He also has a career platoon split of .796 OPS vs RHP and .650 OPS vs LHP. I see Lewis as a nice LH complement to Gomes in LF. He provides better defense and is very capable of a .350 OBP and filling the hole the Reds have at the leadoff position for two thirds of the season. I can see the Reds getting an .800 OPS from the Gomes/Lewis platoon and increased production from LF if handled correctly.

CF		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Stubbs		.773	.717	.773

Drew Stubbs put up a .773 OPS in 135 games in CF in 2010. The 26 year old will return as the starter again next season. (The Reds as a whole had a .752 OPS last season from CF.)

The 26 year old Stubbs put up a .765 OPS in the minors where he had a .364 OBP and a .401 SLG. Thus far in the majors he has a .770 OPS with a .328 OBP and a .442 SLG. I see Stubbs producing at about the same rate next season but with a higher OBP and less SLG. I’d like to see Stubbs batting leadoff opposite of Lewis and 6th opposite of Gomes in the batting order this season.

Stubbs should improve the Reds .752 OPS of last season from CFs. Lewis and Heisey will be adequate replacements when Stubbs is not starting.

RF		10-OPS	Z11-OPS	BJ11-OPS
Bruce		.846	.835	.869

Jay Bruce will be 24 years old next season and he is coming off a .846 OPS in 2010. He finally broke out last season and began approaching his minor league .917 OPS. Bruce started 133 games in RF and his replacements brought the teams OPS in RF down to .805.

With Bruce having some room for improvement and Heisey being a capable backup next season, the Reds should see offensive improvement in RF from last season.

Expected Position Output from 2010 to 2011

Pos	10-OPS	11-OPS	Diff
C	.804	.730	-.074
1B	1.018	.970	-.048
2B	.753	.760	+.007
3B	.824	.780	-.044
SS	.681	.680	-.001
LF	.776	.800	+.024
CF	.752	.770	+.018
RF	.805	.850	+.045

I was actually surprised, after looking at it closer, that the offense is not likely to tail off as much this coming season as I had initially feared. The middle infield will stay the same essentially. I think that increases in production from all three outfield positions will offset the expected declines from the two corner infield positions. So essentially, the almost certain drop off in performance we expect to see from the catching corps will be the difference in offense from last season to the upcoming one. This will thankfully be minimized since our catchers typically bat 7th or 8th and get less AB than those batting at the top of the order.

I don’t believe the Reds will lead the NL in offense again next season, but I’d expect that they will be in the top third of the league. Add to that a little improvement from our young pitching staff, which was right at league average last season, and I think the Reds will be looking at being right in the middle of the pennant race again late next season.