I should have quit while I was ahead.

After seeing the Reds win three games at Dodger Stadium last month – that is, one-seventh of their victories for the entire season – I decided to push my luck and hit the road Sunday morning for the getaway game of their series against San Diego.

While strolling around Balboa Park prior to the game, I checked my phone and saw that the day’s starting lineup had been announced. I smiled when I saw Jesse Winker leading off, but it quickly turned upside-down when I saw that Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza would all be starting as well.

Last week, amid rambling about the 2005 Houston Astros (who, like this year’s Reds, started the season 15-30 – and who, unlike the Reds, ended up in that year’s World Series), I listed the Reds’ leaders in OBP, OPS, OPS+ and WAR and wrote the following:

“I would argue the above numbers prove that no starting lineup should include the trio of Duvall, Hamilton and Peraza… If the goal is to win, it does the team no good if Blandino, Dixon and Schebler ride the pine on the same day.”

The Reds smacked 12 hits yesterday. The trio of Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza combined for two of them. Hamilton did manage a walk, but it was quickly negated when he was caught stealing. He also hit into a 9th inning double-play, but more on that later.

After driving home, I hopped onto Baseball-Reference to further investigate last week’s hypothesis. While it’s unfair to judge a single player for a team’s performance, here are the Reds’ won-loss records when Hamilton, Peraza and Duvall start, as of Monday morning:

Hamilton: 17-34 (.333)
Duvall: 17-30 (.362)
Peraza: 19-37 (.339)

As I type this, the Reds’ record is 21-39 (.350), just for the sake of comparison.

I then decided to look at the team’s record in games where more than one of these three players started. Insert small sample size disclaimer here, and yes, it’s still not fair to peg a win or a loss on two players’ shoulders – but since these two represent 25% of the starting eight, it seemed like a worthwhile question. The results:

Hamilton + Peraza: 15-32 (.319)
Hamilton + Duvall: 13-25 (.342)
Peraza + Duvall: 15-28 (.349)

As for games when all three start…

Hamilton + Peraza + Duvall: 11-23 (.324)

All of those winning percentages are lower than the team’s overall winning percentage, which I realized had to mean that other combinations of players have been yielding better results. I then spent a few minutes looking at other Reds, namely Winker and Scott Schebler. Here’s how the team fares when they start:

Schebler: 15-22 (.405)
Winker: 12-28 (.300)

A bit of a mixed bag there. When they both start, meanwhile, the Reds have only won 8 of 23 (.348).

Still, seeing that starting Schebler and Duvall seems to raise the Reds’ chances of winning, I then looked at the team’s record when they both start – and their 11-14 (.440) record is the closest thing to “good” that registered yet.

Then I glanced at Alex Blandino, who has batted .293/.369/.373 since beginning the season with just one hit in his first 17 at-bats. In his 21 starts, the Reds have gone 8-13 (.381) – not great, but still better than they’ve done overall.

There have only been 10 games this year when Blandino, Duvall and Schebler have all started. Believe it or not, but the Reds actually won half of those games. Of the 50 others they’ve played, they’ve only won 16. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, there have only been three games that saw Duvall, Schebler, Winker and Blandino all start. The Reds only won one – but the two losses were both by one run, and both losses were charged to relievers. Hmmm again.

What’s the point of all this? As Jeff Gangloff just wrote, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this season anyway, so why not at least try to find the silver lining and put your best foot forward instead of continuing to prove ad infinitum that Billy Hamilton simply cannot hit? We’ve railed in recent years against broken-down veteran pitchers taking away valuable starting opportunities from younger rotation candidates, but I’d argue that starting Hamilton does the Reds just as much of a disservice. As for Peraza, I’m not advocating writing him off – he just turned 24, after all – but I don’t think he should be the team’s default starting shortstop. Some sort of rotation of Peraza, Blandino and Eugenio Suarez seems far more productive.

In his 2011 book, baseball scribe Jonah Keri credited the success of the Tampa Bay Rays to “the extra 2%” – that is, finding ways to maximize available opportunities and squeeze out just a little bit more than the competition. If the Reds wanted to follow suit, it seems they’d realize that continuing to start the trio of Hamilton, Peraza and Duvall is essentially spotting that 2% margin to the other team.

Back to yesterday: Going into the 9th, the Reds trailed by three. In the bottom of the 8th, manager Jim Riggleman made a double-switch, replacing Duvall with Brandon Dixon since the pitcher’s spot was due up first – meaning that Dixon, Hamilton and Winker were set to come to the plate. Schebler had yet to appear in the game, though, and I thought to myself that if Riggleman had any interest in trying to pull out a win, he’d have Schebler pinch-hit for Hamilton.

Instead, Riggleman decided to have Schebler pinch-hit for Dixon, which completely negated the apparent purpose of the previous inning’s double-switch. (If Dixon’s not going to hit, why not just move Winker to left and put Schebler in right?) Schebler singled to bring up Hamilton, who promptly grounded into a double play. With two outs, the Reds then staged a mini-rally, with Winker and Tucker Barnhart each singling – but a check-swing grounder by Joey Votto ended the threat. Still, who knows what would have happened if Dixon had led off the inning, followed by Schebler instead of Hamilton? With a game on the line and with other ammunition at your disposal, in what universe is sending Hamliton to the plate even remotely a good idea?

I didn’t bother looking to see how many of the above-referenced wins and losses took place during the Bryan Price era, but after seeing yesterday’s game, it became clear to me that Riggleman needs a reminder on why we study history – and if he’s content with repeating the same mistakes as his predecessor and handicapping the Reds’ chances at winning, it’s time we stop complaining about who’s batting or playing where and focus instead on the one filling out the lineup card.

16 Responses

  1. SultanofSwaff

    I hate to suggest parallels with the Current Occupant, but it’s the compound effect of all these little decisions that have numbed me to the totality of how poorly this organization has mismanaged the season from the first day of spring training. It’s like the fan base is on slow drip life support.

  2. da bear

    Riggleman is an upgrade from Price, but as you adroitly pointed out wrt the Dixon double switch only to be replaced by Schebler when Hamilton and his weak bat cries out for substitution, Riggleman also is challenged when it comes to maximizing the resources you’ve been handed toward achieving a positive outcome. Wish this was an outlier but instead it is one example of several that indicate Riggleman is not the answer. Especially in this critical period where the Reds need more big league performance data with the youngsters like Dixon, Blandino, Winker, etc.etc.

    Thanks for the analysis. Great post.

  3. Redsinsanefan

    It’s clear at this point that Hamilton is not helping (most likely hurting) the Reds chances of winning. I’d like to see Dixon and Schebler both in the lineup. If Dixon got some play time and starts hitting, he and Schebler could cause some serious damage. Thank God for Gennett and Suarez or we’d still be on track to win 35 games.

    • Jack

      I’m not so sure about Schebler but it’s not like the guy has anybody hitting behind him. When the 3 behind you are Peraza, pitcher and Hamilton, you aren’t going to get many good pitches to hit. I feel more confident with the pitcher getting a hit than I do Hamilton.

  4. Jack

    Let’s just say upstairs runs the show. They are the ones telling Riggs what lineup and who comes out of the game. Billy needs to be showcased to other teams. Other teams know he can’t hit a lick but his defense is what will get the Reds a top notch ball player. If only the Reds could trade with the Reds. Somehow they would screw it up. Couldn’t get the trade approved in time . Oh wait that happened already.

    • Jack

      That was sarcasm up above. Billy isn’t bringing in a bucket of balls.

      • David

        In the years that Billy Hamilton has started for the Reds
        1) Billy still can’t bunt properly
        2) Billy does not hit down on the ball. He hits too many fly balls and pop ups. When Ken Griffey (Senior) came up with the Reds, he was blazingly fast from home to first. He had a nickname then, KIP. Keep it in play. And Griffey Senior had a lot more upper body strength at that time than Billy has ever had.
        3) Billy has never worked on developing any more upper body strength.

        So despite some of Billy’s inherent physical gifts, he has really not worked at becoming a better baseball player.

      • Jack

        I’m still amazed he made it through the minors with nobody teaching him how to bunt or slap hit.

      • Clay Marshall

        Thanks for reading/commenting. I agree with the RBI comparison and want to clarify that I’m by no means suggesting that the Reds’ woes can be magically cured with anything I’m suggesting — just that it should be no surprise when the lineup black hole that’s generated by starting the trio of Duvall, Peraza and Hamilton (who typically hit 6/7/9, with the pitcher’s slot at 8) yields more losses than wins.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Other teams know what Billy is. I don’t think a top notch ballplayer is what they can/will/should get in return for him. He’s a 4th or 5th outfielder to be used for defense and pinch running primarily. That doesn’t bring a top notch ballplayer.

  5. sezwhom

    Riggleman is much better than Price but the starting pitching is so horrid most days, even John McGraw and Connie Mack would be hard pressed to get .500 out of this team. We can point the finger at all four OF’s. Nobody has really made a statement. Just not a very good team.

  6. Mason

    Great article. I enjoy the amount of research you do for these analytics/stats. I really enjoy the way Blandino plays, and I agree (with what I’m assuming is at least 99.9% of the fans) that Hamilton should get the least amount of AB’s, if any, out of all of the outfielders.
    I also may be biased, but I think Schebler has the potential to be a prolific power hitter in the coming years.

    Anyway, thanks once again for the good post.

  7. Den

    I guess it all depends on what you expect as I’m just fine with what our OF brings from the great D in CF and nice HR power from both corner guys.

  8. DavidTurner49

    Small sample size, but so far Riggs seems no better than Price. The acid test will be whether the Reds sign Riggs on to manage after this year. They do that, there’s no doubt the rebuild is perpetual, and that ain’t no rebuild at all.

    • Jeff Reed

      I hope the national search for a young, knowledgeable manager is going forward, if not the page will not be turned toward a competitive Reds team.

  9. Byron

    Sitting behind the dugout, at yesterday’s game, it was painful watching Billy at bat. Seeing it in person makes it even more obvious that he is not a MLB caliber hitter. I really like Hamilton as a person and have long supported his efforts to turn the corner on his career, but it is time to end the experiment for the good of the team.