The Reds as currently constructed aren’t very good. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Obviously, the pitching must get better, and with all the young, talented guys both in the big leagues and minors, we have reason to believe it will. In fact, we’ve already seen quite an improvement in the bullpen with the additions of Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves though; the offense has struggled as well. The Reds currently rank 20th in runs scored and 28th in runs created (wRC+). They’ve scored fewer runs than the Twins, one of the few teams with a worse record than the Reds.
The poor to mediocre offense has many causes. The Reds surprisingly (to me) rank 19th in homeruns and 27th in slugging, so they could add some more power to their lineup. Four lineup regulars have hit well below league average this season. But maybe the biggest problem is one that has plagued them for several years now. The Reds have an on-base problem.
The Reds team .300 OBP is 29th in all of baseball. If you don’t think that’s a problem, consider that the top five teams in runs scored are also in the top five in team OBP with a slightly different order (As of Sunday afternoon).
The Reds are 28th in hits and 24h in walk rate. An average major leaguer walks at an 8.3% rate so far this season. As you might have guessed, only one Reds player has a walk rate above that: Joey Votto. Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Brandon Phillips all have walk rates at 6% or under, with Phillips posting a paltry 3.6% BB%. Of course, teams need to do more than just get on base a lot, but it is a vital part of scoring runs in the long term. In 2016, an average major leaguer has reached base at a .326 clip. The Reds have one player with a minimum of 250 plate appearances with an above-average OBP: Joey Votto.
This problem isn’t new. The Reds ranked 29th in team OBP in 2014 and 19th in 2015. The last time they were in the top half of the Major Leagues in team OBP, they made the playoffs in 2013. That season, they ranked sixth with a .327 OBP, which was helped by having both Shin-Soo Choo and Votto in the lineup.
Getting on base more is an obvious need, and players like Duvall, Hamilton, Eugenio Suarez, and if he ever plays, Jose Peraza, need to develop better on-base skills. If at least a couple of them don’t, the rebuild will take quite a big hit.
But there is seemingly some help within the system at various levels as the Reds have drafted several guys with strong approaches. Leading the way are the Reds two best hitting prospects since Votto and Jay Bruce came through the system: Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel.
Winker could join the Reds in a week or so if Bruce is traded. In a stark contrast to most of the Reds current roster, he has walked more than he has struck out in his first half season in AAA. His walk rate is over 13%, helping him an impressive .385 OBP.
Winker can likely get on base right now in the Major Leagues. And he continues to mitigate power concerns, which I thought were silly anyway, by slugging .555 since May 31th (25 games) with ten doubles. His OPS is 987 during that time. Scouts believe he may develop into a 20 homerun a year hitter, but even if he doesn’t have elite power, his on-base skills will help the next winning Reds team immensely.
Side note: there is ZERO reason Winker should be batting fifth in the Bats lineup most nights. ZERO. If he isn’t batting 1-3 every day, someone needs to get Delino Deshields on the phone and make sure it happens. Who bats arguably their best hitting prospect that far down in the lineup?
As you may have heard, the Reds drafted Senzel #2 overall this season. Scouts made much of his advanced approach that helps his impressive hit tool play up even more. He walked almost twenty more times than he struck out in his senior season at Tennessee, helping him post a .456 OBP.
Since being promoted to Dayton a few weeks ago, Senzel has taken off. He has a .333/.435/.536 slash line with twelve walks, fourteen strikeouts, and a 182 wRC+ in 85 plate appearances.
A fellow baseball enthusiast and I went to see Senzel play in Dayton on July 17th, and while Senzel didn’t record a hit, I came away extremely enthusiastic about him.
He went 0 for 3 with two walks, making a loud out on a rocket that the leftfielder snagged. But what excited me about him was that he seemed in control of every plate appearance. Senzel refused to swing at bad pitches and forced pitchers to come to him. As Doug Gray noted in his scouting report on Senzel, he doesn’t tend to miss pitches in the zone.
He still reached base twice and could have had a double if not for some poor luck. If these are his “bad” days, the kid might be alright at this baseball thing. The day after I saw him, Senzel went 4 for 5 with a homerun, triple, and stolen base, showing off power and potential above-average speed. He has outclassed the league to date and will likely finish the year at High A Daytona.
Senzel still has several levels to advance through, and it will be interesting to see how his skills translate at higher levels, but the on-base ability has been impressive.
The Reds have a few other high OBP players in the minors to help out in the future, but Winker and Senzel have the most talent and project as everyday players and potential All Stars. Both players rarely get themselves out by expanding the zone and do damage on pitches in the zone. After watching the swing happy Reds for the last three years, Winker and Senzel are a breath of fresh air.