Much attention has been put on the Reds’ situation out there in left field this offseason, leading to the trade for Marlon Byrd. Some think Byrd isn’t a large enough improvement to make a difference in the 2015 Reds. Even if that ends up being the case there still remains another way to drastically improve the roster.
What do Brayan Pena, Skip Schumaker, Roger Bernadina, Donald Lutz, and Jack Hannahan all have in common? They were all 2014 backups who had at least 50 plate appearances (PA) and ended the season with negative wins above replacement (WAR).
In 2014 the Reds gave 1,655 PA to position players who were not on the Opening Day lineup. That is well over twice as many PA as Todd Frazier, who led the team last season with 660. Of all those players, the only ones who finished with a Fangraphs WAR above 0.0 were Chris Heisey (299 PA, 1.1 WAR), Ramon Santiago (214 PA, 0.5 WAR), and Kristopher Negron (158 PA, 1.9 WAR). The other 984 PA were all taken by 0.0 WAR or negative WAR players for a total of -3.4 WAR. That means last season all the Reds backups combined were barely over replacement level with 0.1 WAR.
So while we were all keeping an eye on the latest left fielder being traded or signed, we should instead be watching what’s happening to the bench, because those five bench players will have a much greater impact on the season than one left fielder. Just think about this. Last year if all of Schumaker and Pena’s playing time had been instead given to a Heisey-caliber 1.0 WAR bench player, it would have resulted in a difference of 3.9 WAR. Last season Justin Upton had exactly 3.9 WAR.
If in 2015 the Reds manage to gather four 1.0 WAR players to accompany Negron’s 1.9 WAR on the bench, it would be a difference of 5.8 WAR from 2014, and more than both Melky Cabrera’s 2.6 WAR and Ben Zobrist’s 5.7 WAR in 2014 without having to give up high level prospects or handing out a 3yr/$42m type contract. So I will not be keeping an eye on left field to gauge how next season might go, but instead those 5 guys who will be sitting on the bench on Opening Day.