Over at Grantland, Jonah Keri has a pretty good piece on the Todd Frazier dilemma that will be staring the Reds in the face when Joey Votto returns (this weekend, hopefully). I’ve gone on the record as urging people not to worry; there will be plenty of ABs to go around, with Frazier playing all over the diamond.
I like both of Keri’s proposed solutions, and I also like his ideas to maximize the productivity of the Reds lineup. It’s something we’ve said a number of times, but the historical aspect of this surprised me:
The problem lies with the Reds’ two resident OBP sieves. Cozart’s hitting .245 with a .287 on-base percentage, Stubbs .221 with an identical .287 OBP. This would be a big enough problem if Baker buried his resident out-makers at the bottom of the lineup. It’s even uglier when they’re hitting 1-2 in the lineup. Together, Cozart and Stubbs have combined to eat up 1,009 plate appearances. Put another way, they’ve made 719 outs. And counting.
How rare is this configuration on a winning team? Try this. According to Elias Sports Bureau, in the history of baseball, only 11 World Series winners have regularly started multiple position players with on-base percentages of .290 or lower; none of those teams have batted two sub-.290 OBP guys 1-2 in the order. If the Reds win it all with Cozart and Stubbs setting the table with torn paper plates and dirty napkins, they’ll have accomplished something no other team has done in 100 years.
Keri criticizes Dusty on this point (and rightly so), but then proceeds to make a similar case as I made over at ESPN recently; i.e., Dusty may screw up the lineups, but he does some other things very well. There’s a reason the Reds have the best record in baseball, and you must give Dusty Baker credit for that. He’s probably the National League Manager of the Year. He’ll probably get a new contract in the off-season, and dare I say it? He’s probably earned that new contract.
I do, however, fundamentally disagree with the notion that it’s heresy to question things such as a sub-optimal lineup, just because the Reds are winning. Certainly, the actual order of the lineup matters much less than most people think…but shouldn’t the Reds still be trying to improve? I don’t understand why some people get so upset over it (on Twitter, especially), but I don’t see anything wrong with questioning the lineups and discussing ways to construct an order that might help the Reds score more. The Reds should be trying to get more ABs for the guys who make fewer outs. I’m not sure why that’s controversial.
Keep that in mind next time you see an employee of the Reds chiding someone on Twitter for the crime of suggesting that, perhaps, the lineup isn’t perfect. As Keri says:
It’s easy to point to the Reds’ record and declare that everything’s working. But it’s also worth considering the possibility that they’re winning in spite of the configuration of their starting nine, not because of it. In baseball, trusting a bad process to keep delivering good results has a way of biting you in the ass.
I have to be honest, however: the fact that the Reds have such a great record is precisely the reason I can’t muster up much energy to get outraged by these lineups. As long as they keep winning, I’ll hold my tongue and remind myself: Dusty Baker isn’t perfect, but he’s not nearly as bad as recent managers Bob Boone or Ray Knight or Jerry Narron.
I know that’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s something….