A few years ago, I took to doing in-depth projections for the Reds. The idea was to use the existing projection systems, but then tweak them based on the specialized knowledge that comes from following a team closely for years and years. Generally, I did pretty well, but then last year happened. It was, um, a bit of a disaster as you may remember.

Things have gotten a little extra busy here at Casa Linden and I wasn’t going to do them this year, but your good friend and mine, Uncle Steve “Whippersnapper” Mancuso asked if I would and so, here I am. Sadly, there are no individual write-ups because I just don’t have the time right now. But you do get a nifty chart and comments. So at least there’s that.

Anyhow, this is part one of three. I’ll do pitchers in a few days in then some kind of wrap-up after that.

Context

Before we start, I think it’s important to provide some context. Offense was way, way, way down last year. To understand just how far down it was, take a look at the AVG/OBP/SLG line from 2010, when Joey Votto won the MVP:

.261/.330/.410

That line is the cumulative batting line for all non-pitching MLB players. Now, take a look at last year for the same sample:

.255/.318/.393

What you’re looking at is, essentially, a 30 point drop in OPS in just 4 years. By way of comparison, 1998 – the heart of the steroid era – produced a cumulative OPS of .768. Meaning that 2014 was almost exactly as far divorced from 2010 as 2010 was from 1998.

So, when you’re looking at these numbers, keep in mind that .255/.318/.393 line. That’s the average line.

Assumptions & Projections:

Note that (except for Mesoraco), I assume everyone is playing a full season (I assume 130-ish games for Mes). I’ll account for injuries at the end of this process, but for now, I just assume nobody gets the knee sniffles.

So now, let’s look at my best guess for the probably starting lineup:

Player AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
Devin Mesoraco .250 .335 .460 .795 4.0
Joey Votto .300 .420 .475 .895 5.5
Brandon Phillips .260 .290 .360 .650 1.5
Todd Frazier .260 .330 .450 .780 4.0
Zack Cozart .240 .270 .350 .620 1.5
Marlon Byrd .260 .310 .430 .740 1.0
Billy Hamilton .260 .315 .370 .685 3.5
Jay Bruce .260 .325 .470 .795 2.5

Comments:

Devin Mesoraco – The primary difference between me and the projection systems here is playing time. Mes should regress some, but I’m taking the Reds at their word that he’ll play more than 110 games. The projection systems can’t see that, so it hurts his value.

Joey Votto – It’s all about health, right? The projection systems see him hitting south of .300, but I think they’re putting too much weight on last year when he was not himself, so I’ve bumped him a bit there. With Votto is will be all about health. If he plays 150 games, the Reds will be in much better shape than they were last year.

Brandon Phillips – Strangely, the projection systems do not see him declining. I think this may be a case where he is being regressed up to the mean. I don’t buy it. He’s had a clear, steady decline for four straight years and this is his age-34 season. Since 1950, there have been 45 seasons where a 2B who was at least 34 generated 2.0 WAR or more. That is, it doesn’t happen a lot. It’s not impossible, but this is the age at which players like Phillips typically cease to be useful.

Todd Frazier – I tried not to make this too complicated. He’s at an age where he is neither improving nor declining. The projection systems all see a slight BABIP-driven regression. I agree. He’ll still be good, though.

Zack Cozart – I loved Cozart when he came up, but, frankly, I haven’t seen evidence that the hitting is going to improve. I know, I know, the glove. But even with the glove, he wasn’t worth 2 WAR last year. I suppose he’s likely to bounce back with his bat simply because he isn’t old yet and it’s hard to imagine him being worse. The power should come back a little, especially, but power is down everywhere right now. I love watching Cozart play, but I don’t know if he’s a useful starter anymore.

Marlon Byrd – The projections don’t know what to think. They see him as everything from replacement-level to above-average contributor. I land in the middle, I guess. Either way, the Reds have to make due until Jesse Winker is ready.

Billy Hamilton – I’m a little more bullish on Hamilton than the projections and here’s why: I think his base running improves. It seemed clear that he was dealing with a learning curve last year where base stealing was concerned. If he is successful more often, it will quickly increase his value.

Jay Bruce – Well, it has to be better than last year, right? Those projections are pretty much Bruce’s career numbers. I think he’ll be around there, which is actually quite good in the current environment. And, of course, we all continue to hope for the magical year when it all comes together.

The Bench – I think, as it stands now, the bench is going to continue frustrating us. The Reds do have some depth, but it’s not the kind of depth that rides the major league pine. If someone goes down with a serious injury, especially in the middle infield or outfield, the Reds have players who can probably fill in competently (or better), but they need to play every day in the minors if they aren’t going to play every day in the majors. The bench players are, as a group, unlikely to contribute positively to the Reds. That is, I think it is a replacement-level bench at best.

Eugenio Suarez – I made this prediction on Twitter, and I’m going to make it here, too. I think Suarez is better than BP or Cozart right now. I also think, if he get s a chance to play, he’ll show it and someone will get Wally-Pipped. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Cozart and BP are below average right now while Suarez is slightly above average. I guess we’ll see.