We are onlyÃ‚Â 25% of the way through the 2015 campaign and I’ve heard people who areÃ‚Â ready to sell everything in Great American Ballpark that isÃ‚Â not nailed down. Rumor has it that St. Louis is looking to acquire the Montgomery Ribs stand in the lower concourseÃ‚Â to fill in for their lack of quality BBQ and Gapper is going to be sent to Philadelphia because they needÃ‚Â another ridiculous mascot. At least thats what I read on the internets.
Yes, this year has been aggravating. Yes, the opening series sweep of the Pirates seems as far away as the 1975 World Championship. Yes, the Mesoraco and Bailey injuries feel like they derailed a season that had no margin for error.
Despite these (very real) drawbacks, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic: seven of the eight Reds starting players are positive value players (in terms of WAR). Even assuming a regression (more on this as we go payer-by-player), the RedsÃ‚Â will probably end the year with seven or eight positive value position players. I’ve grouped them intoÃ‚Â “Good”, “meh”, and “Not so good”:
Going into play Wednesday, Todd Frazier wasÃ‚Â leading the team with 142 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR. If the Toddfather keeps up this pace throughÃ‚Â 600 at bats, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a 6.68 WAR player. Todd will be making only $4.5 million this year and he has already put up $15.5 million in value.
Even though we only bought out FrazierÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2 remaining arbitration years, locking down aÃ‚Â price of $12M this offseason was one of the better moves by the front office. Should Todd push 5 or more wins this season then his arbitration payment would probably be much larger than his existing contract. Frazer gave up some money for the certainty of a $12M payday, and the Reds avoided a massive arbitration bill.
Joey Votto is second on the team with 137 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR through 168 plate appearances. Even if Votto continues on his current pace he will put up 3.82 WAR. VottoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s number have declined from his fast April start, so 3.82 is below what anyone would expect of our starting first basemen.
Zack Cozart is having a career year at the dish. His 127 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR is better than anyone expected from our slick fielding short stop. Through 1/4th of the season Cozart has generated $10M in value for the Reds. Furthermore, CozartÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance is not driven by an unusually high BABIP (.292, which is higher than his career line, but not outrageously so). The real turnaround has been in his power numbers where he is posting a career-high .209 ISO.
Brandon Phillips is at 101 wRC+ and has posted 1 win above replacement. He is on pace for 3.5-ish wins, but the numbers under the hood are not good. His BABIP is .347, which is fifty points higher than his career average. His ISO is .058 and he is swinging at more pitches (56.3%) this year than he ever has (career: 53.7%). BPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s swinging strike rate is down to 9.7%, which is better than his career line (10.7%). Even if he experiences a normal regression at the plate, he still contributes significant value in the field (he is at 2.2 runs saved above average and is on pace for around 7.5 runs saved above average).
Jay Bruce continues to float around 90 wRC+ (he is at 83 wRC+). This is low for him, but his underlying predictive stats are promising. Based on his batted ball profile, his expected BABIP is .320 yet BruceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s BABIP is onlyÃ‚Â .224. His walk rate (11.8%) is still a career high and his swinging strike rate (12.3%) is back to where itÃ‚Â was from 2010-2012. Even more encouraging, he is chasing balls out of the zone (27.5% of the time) at a lower rate than he did in 2010 (29.3%) or 2011 (31.6%). His contact rate this year (73.6%) is almost exactly what it was back in 2010 (74.0%).
In MesoracoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s absence, Brayan Pena has done a solid job behind the plate. His 114 wRC+ is a great contribution at the dish and has propelled him to 0.5 WAR. Expecting this trend to continue is a little bullish, however, as his BABIP (.358) is way above his career line (.291). Despite this, his walk percentage (10.6%) is far above his career line (5.5%) and he is striking out less (9.6%) than his career statsÃ‚Â would suggest (11.2%). Every player has a career year sometime, and this would be a great time for Pena to dial one up.
The Not Good.
Billy Hamilton has immense defensive value. His 7 defensive runs saved is third in the league, and due to this, he is already at 1 win this year. There is no question Hamilton helps the Reds every time he steps onto the ball field. Yet his performance at the dish, a 60 wRC+, is in the lower 25% of all players with at least 30 at bats.
Marlon Byrd is almost as bad in the field (-6.5 defensive runs below average) as Billy Hamilton is good (7 runs saved). Byrd’sÃ‚Â defensive effort is in the lowest 2 percent of all fielders with 30 at bats. As Steve points out, this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t entirely his fault, Byrd isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the one who thought it would be a good idea to move a 38 year old player to a new position.
The bench is a dumpster fire. Boesch (7 wRC+), Negron (23 wRC+), Schumaker (72 wRC+) are combining for -0.7 WAR.
There’s still a way to win
This team is not the 1975 World Champions (for example, Pete Rose put up 5.3 WAR that season and was only the FOURTH best player on the team. Joe Morgan, wRC+Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ing at 176 and putting up 11.0 WAR led that team), but a quick look up and down this list is encouraging:Ã‚Â Frazier is on pace for a career year, Votto will continue to be a 4-7 win player, Cozart is quietly having his best year as a professional baseball player. Phillips battle with Father Time is currently at a stalemate, and the backup catchers are both above 100 wRC+. Billy Hamilton, despite his poor plate play is still on pace to put up almost 4 wins.Ã‚Â No one will gripe too much about this as long as he bats in the lower third of the order.
In short,Ã‚Â this team can win a lot of baseball games. Seven out of ourÃ‚Â eight of starting position players are positive value players. FourÃ‚Â out of our five starting pitchers, Cueto (+1.3), Descalfani (+0.4), Iglesias (+0.4), and Leake (+0.1) are on the right side of the WAR. If these players can continue at their current pace, then three out of our five starting pitchers would be in theÃ‚Â 2-4 win rage. That will play in this league.
Chapman, obviously, is amazing (+0.8 WAR). Cingrani (who, weirdly, auto-corrects to “Kingpin” in the wordpress software) is sitting at 0.2 WAR in only 15.1 innings pitched.
We’ve already given up on Gregg and Marquis can’t be too far behind (Price, when asked if Marquis would be moved out of the rotation, only dropped 45 F-bombs before stating that it was, in fact, a “reasonable question”. Half of that statement is true. I’ll leave it toÃ‚Â you to decide which half).
Negativity has momentum; let’s notÃ‚Â allow the proximityÃ‚Â ofÃ‚Â defeat toÃ‚Â overshadow how close this team is to being a winning ball club.
Its true that an “even WAR” (0.0) team only is supposed to win 46 out of 162 games. The mildly optimistic outlook outlined above has the Reds as anÃ‚Â 84 win team. That might not win the division, but with the help of a trade or two, the Reds could make a run at a wildcard slot.
Its easy to see thatÃ‚Â this group that could yield a winning ball club. And this is assuming that our All-Star catcher is out for the year, which might not be the case. Bullpen arms a a dime a dozen at the trade deadline and picking up a castoff bench player or two would notÃ‚Â cost the farm. The problem is we need to be bold: Its time to end the Marquis experiment and replace him with Cingrani, Iglesias, or, preferably Chapman. The Reds also need to findÃ‚Â a replacement for Byrd, probably via trade (or we can just look for reasonably athletic people as they walk through the turnstiles of GABP. Either way).
I realize that giving up on your starting left fielder who is slated to earn $4M this year, dumping 20% of your starting rotation, and moving a lifetime reliever to the rotation when you are 9 games back is not a modest proposal. But to quote the philosopher Swift, sometimes you just have to shake it off.
Even with this approach, the Reds might fail to make the playoffs. There is a lot of randomness in baseball and the guys across the diamond are paid to play this game, too. But it is not unreasonable to think that the Reds can make a move or two that would createÃ‚Â aÃ‚Â 122-games raceÃ‚Â to the finish line.
And I, for one,Ã‚Â prefer to spend my Octobers wearing Red.