At what positions do the Reds need to hit better? The short answer is everywhere but first base. To get at a longer answer, we need to compare the Reds position players to the league and their division. Using wRC+, we can assess the offensive value generated by each of these positions and compare each team in the central division by position.

First Base: 

wRC+ 1B
Reds 173
Cards 90
Pirates 97
Brewers 120
Cubs 151
NL 115

It is not surprise the Reds are winning the war of first basemen. The Cubs are not far behind, but both the Cardinals and the Pirates are below league average in terms of offensive production at this position.

Up the Middle

wRC+ 2B SS
Reds 94 93
Cards 88 95
Pirates 96 100
Brewers 69 62
Cubs 79 78
Division Avg 85.2 85.6
NL 91 83

Brandon Phillips continues to battle Father Time to a draw, allowing the Reds to out perform the NL in terms of production at second base. The impressive performances put up by Suarez and Cozart has let the Reds open up a small advantage at shortstop over the NL. Within the division, the Pirates have a narrow hitting advantage at second, but this advantage is so small that the error term almost certainly swamps the relative difference. The Brewers have the weakest pair up the middle, with both of their middle defenders putting up less than 70 wRC+.

Third Base and behind the dish

wRC+ 3B C
Reds 116 80
Cards 126 77
Pirates 108 113
Brewers 75 72
Cubs 112 98
Division Avg 107.4 88
NL 102 89

I grouped these two positions because they have transitioned to a power hitting positions for a lot of team. After looking at both positions, it turns out this was a rather rosy view of the catching position: only one team has an above league average (wRC+ = 100) player behind home plate (the Pirates). This is in stark contrast to the power emanating from third base where four of the five teams have above average production. The division, on average, is better than the average NL team at third base, but the competition at the top is fierce: the Cubs, Reds, and Cards all have 3B’s with impressive (>110 wRC+) numbers.

If we could just stop the article here, you would see the Reds have a huge advantage at first base, a small edge up the middle. With Mesoraco (probably?) returning to the catcher position next year, the Reds might lead the division in production at that position. All things looking up, no?

The Outfield

Reds 71 84 44
Cards 128 115 96
Pirates 103 86 151
Brewers 118 131 109
Cubs 104 86 115
Division Avg 104.8 100.4 103
NL 100 109 101

To save you from doing the math, here’s the Reds outfield compared to the NL and division:

Reds-NLC -33.8 -16.4 -59
Reds-NL -29 -25 -57

NLC = NL Central Division. The first calculation compares the Reds level of production to their rivals in the NL Central. The second is compared to the NL average at these positions.

It is true that these measures do not take into account defensive ability or trades/injuries. Let’s hope that caveat is pretty big considering the Reds are giving up at least twenty-five points compared to the NL at each position and are cratering in center field. Even if you consider Marlon Byrd’s 97 wRC+, the Reds are still in last place in left.

Bruce’s year (wRC+ 95) is lower than expected, but not as bad as the Reds aggregate total (wRC+ 84). Even Billy Hamilton (wRC+ 54) is higher than the above average. Once you compare the Reds starters to the aggregate numbers, you start to see the impact of a way, way below-average bench. The Reds gave seventy or more plate appearances to Brennan Boesch (wRC+ -12, 77PA), Kristopher Negron (14, 103), Skip Schumaker (63, 229). These 409 PAs make up almost an entire season of at-bats. Between offense and defense, these hitters amass -2.8 WAR, or put another way: these players offset more than the entire WAR contribution of Brayan Pena and Brandon Phillips (2.7 combined WAR).

This is the second year in a row the Reds have struggled to find even break-even players to populate the bench. Finding replacement level players should not be this hard. Hence the name. The Reds have a lot of needs this offseason, but finding a group that can sit on the bench and not give away games is a reasonably high priority.