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.

26 Responses

  1. eric nyc

    I agree with you on most counts, though I’m a little confused on Frazier and Bruce. You have their lines almost identical, but have Frazier generating 1.5 more WAR than Bruce. Frazier is an average defender at best and Bruce is plus. I also think that a healthy Bruce is worth way closer to his better seasons where he put up north of 4 WAR.

    I also totally agree about Suarez. I said the day we traded for him that he’d win the starting spot in ST. Given some of Price’s statements that may be a little far fetched right now, but I think when given any kind of regular playing time he’ll show he’s a significantly better hitter than Cozart. He’s hit very well at every level except for a very short cup of coffee in the bigs last year so this is essentially his rookie year. He could be a break out player.

    And for what it’s worth, I will continue to be the president of Team BP. I think he still has some in the tank. When people talk about 2B’s falling off in their 30’s (versus some other position) they are generally talking about a steep decline in their defense. From what I’ve seen in Arizona so far, BP’s defense is just fine. His biggest problem the past few years has been his steady decline in ISO and there’s nothing particularly optimistic to look at in that regard, but I still think he holds his own at the plate, plays at or near to a GG level in the field, and will likely bat lower in the lineup so his dwindling power numbers should be less of a problem for the team as a whole. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up a solidly better year all around than he did last year, even if the age police tell me that’s simply not possible.

    • Jason Linden

      Positional adjustment matters. It’s +2.5 runs for third and -7.5 for right. Also, advanced metrics find Frazier to be an above average third baseman. Bruce has been very up and down in right, so it’s hard to say where he fits.

      • eric nyc

        Makes sense. But I’d still be pretty surprised if a healthy Bruce puts up less than 3 WAR and a little surprised if he was too far south of 4.

      • Jason Linden

        Sure, you might be right. Bruce has has a weird career. He’s strangely hard to project at this point. I’m going very much with the middle ground right now.

    • jonrox

      You’re about two years behind on your defensive analysis. Frazier had developed into a plus-defender while Bruce has slid, presumably due to injuries sapping his range

    • RiverCity Redleg

      I agree with every point you make here. 100%.

      • RiverCity Redleg

        That is for EricNYC’s original comment.

  2. redmountain

    I see a lot of that are a bit low. It is very early in the ST, but I have seen Bruce beat the shift, Hamilton hitting with more authority,and Votto will bounce back and have a pretty big year. I think Cozart is about right, but Frazier will hit better than that, Byrd will find the fountain of youth, and if Phillips can avoid injuries he will hit better. I am not sure what the batting order will be, but think that this team, if set up right, will be potent. I think, or maybe I am just hoping, this team has some reason to be disgusted about last year. This will motivate this team to be better.

    • Jason Linden

      That is very, very, very optimistic on your part. I suppose all those things could happen, but I doubt it.

  3. sultanofswaff

    Is there any information that puts these projections into context? Like, what are the other teams in the division projected to score?

    • Jason Linden

      I’m assuming a run environment the same as last year. Given, however, that MLB seems motivated to change some things, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole league hit a little better this year.

    • lwblogger2

      I haven’t had a chance to work on my position by position analysis very much but you can find some pretty good projections for all MLB teams at Fangraphs. The ZiPS projections are out and are usually pretty good. Each team’s page provides some analysis of the key players and also a WAR projection for the projected starters at each position.

  4. jeff reynolds

    Theres a decent chance Bruce will end up in the Reds HOF some day, but it’s crazy to think how good he would be if he had better plate discipline. For some reason that .325 OBP sticks out like a sore thumb.

    • Jason Linden

      That depends on what you mean by plate discipline. His walk rate has always been good. He just strikes out a lot. But, yeah, if he controlled the zone like Votto, he’d probably be a HOFer.

      • Michael Smith

        I agree but how many players control the zone like Votto?

      • Jason Linden

        Pretty much just Votto. I was just making the point that Bruce has pretty solid zone control already.

  5. Tom Gray

    Wally Pipp. Did you know he played for Reds? I didn’t, to wit:

    … (Yankees) put Pipp on waivers, and he was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds of the National League,[15] who reportedly paid the Yankees a greater sum than the $7,500 waiver price.[1] The Reds, who had not had a strong starting first baseman since Jake Daubert died in 1924, had attempted to acquire Bill Terry from the Giants, but refused to part with Edd Roush in the transaction, and so acquired Pipp instead.

    Pipp played 372 games for the Reds over the next three seasons. In 1926, he had a .291 batting average, and his 99 RBIs and 15 triples were both fourth-best in the National League. He batted .260 with 41 RBIs in 1927, and .283 in 1928.

  6. Frogger

    Have to think your projections are in the ballpark. Love seeing these lines, because it really makes thing pretty clear for how the batting order should go. Frazier is quality, but not a superstar. Byrd is better than average. If Bruce is back to being Bruce, and the pop up off the center field wall in goodyear indicates he will be. He has to bat higher than six or seven in the lineup. Optimized lineup will be Votto, Mes,, Bruce. Either 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 3rd, 4th, 5th. I would like to see a quality bat like Byrd behind him. Wild cards are Votto, because of his ceiling if healthy. BP also looks very well conditioned this year. Think he will be better than last year.

  7. Carl Sayre

    I think the numbers on Mez may be a bit pessimistic, the reason I feel this way is I expect better hitting around him. The more base runners the more fat pitches(fast balls) he is likely to see. Votto being Votto, Bruce being Bruce and Frazier being in the vicinity of what he was last year and the same with Byrd somebody is going to have a monster RBI year. Who it is depends on the batting order.

  8. earmbrister

    I may be in the minority here, but I’m not convinced that Suarez is a better player than Cozart. It’s not a given that he’s even a better hitter than Cozart (the Steamer projections for him are quite anemic). And while he’s considered a defense first SS, he’s not going to outplay ZC in the field.

    That said, I like the Suarez acquisition. The Reds didn’t have a true SS in the upper minors that was close to knocking on the MLB door, so this pickup improved the depth nicely.

    Let Suarez play everyday in AAA, and see if he plays himself into contention. Let Cozart rebound or play himself out of a job. Even with a poor year at the plate Cozart put up a 2.4 WAR last year, a testament to his stellar D. This offense should produce more than enough to carry Cozart in the 8 hole. Having a catcher like Mesoraco certainly helps in that regard …

    • Tom Gray

      Best Reds team of my lifetime. 1961. 1970. 1972. 1975. 1976. 1990.

      Some had weak hitting SS – 1961, 1970, and 1972.

      Others had good (or better) hitter at SS – 1975, 1976, and 1990.

      The 8th spot (whether Cozart or Suarez) will not make or break 2015 season.

  9. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I think our offense will be alright, provided Votto comes back to even a 2013-type of season and Bruce comes back to “baseball card form”.

    I believe Hamilton will be the key to the offense. He needs to bat at minimum 320 OBP, assuming he bats leadoff.

  10. gusnwally

    WOW Tom, you slighted Eddie Kasko a little there. Not much power, but a decent 270 hitter. I would be ecstatic if Zack hit 270.