Great expectations are hard to bear, especially when every armchair analyst (myself included) tends to put the burden on the same shoulders. Yasiel Puig, Jose Peraza, Jesse Winker. We named them early and we named them often but these three were, still are really, the keys to the Reds 2019 playoff run. Throw in a Joey Votto return-to-form and a Nick Senzel Rookie-of-the-Year campaign and who knows where this team could go.

Except, Senzel still lingers in AAA, maybe coming up by early May, maybe picking daisies in Louisville’s centerfield until the presumed Super Two cutoff. And as for the other four? Puig is hitting .164, besting Peraza’s .154 but behind Winker’s .172 average. And of course Votto helms the quartet with a .227.

All four carry the weight of the Reds’ great expectations, and all four have pushed to carry the load. Yet still, they’ve faltered.

As Eno Sarris pointed out last week, Puig’s pressing falls in line with an observed phenomenon: After moving to a new team, players press. Sarris looked at players both historically and those who changed teams this offseason, concluding:

The good news is they’ll probably settle down. It might just take that good meal or that return to their old stadium or a phone call to their mom, but they’ll mostly regain their old swing rates and figure out how to help their new teams as they’ve helped their teams in the past. This isn’t to say their entire production level will return — age comes for us all — but swing rates are pretty steady once you zoom out on the seasonal level.

At the time, Puig came in second in Sarris’ pressing statistic of choice, percent change in swing rate, only behind Jose Peraza. Over the weekend, those positions shifted.

Puig now sits in first, one of two players with double digit percentage changes while Peraza has fallen back to third. Jesse Winker makes three Reds in the top 10, while Votto slips in at 14, albeit with only half the change of Peraza or Puig. If Puig’s woes are attributed to switching teams and hoping to make a splash early, then why are the other three holdovers struggling so badly?

Jose Peraza

I said it yesterday, but I’ll repeat today: Jose Peraza wants to hit dingers. Let’s follow the golden rule of peer-editing and critique Jose by going compliment, all lot of critiques, compliment.

First, compliment: Jose Peraza hit the first Reds dinger of 2019, and it was a beaut.

Watch how that ball flies. It’s a vintage Jose Peraza home run, yanked to the pull side and launched at 22 degrees. The ball travels a relatively low line drive, its peak height only 62 feet above the ground. And hit at 99 mph, it’s about as hard as Jose will ever hit a ball.

Now, the critiques. Jose Peraza has been trying to lift the ball, hitting 17 percent more fly balls than his career average. His average launch angle has also climbed six degrees above his career average. And even though his exit velocity average has stayed mostly constant, his hard hit percentage has dropped by six percent.

Obviously, Peraza is swinging more than his career mark, otherwise he wouldn’t have made this article, but it’s the quality of the swings that’s more concerning. He’s chasing pitches outside the zone at a rate 10 percentage points higher than usual, leading one to think he’s putting too much pressure on himself to succeed. Not only is Jose looking for big flies, but he’s being especially careful in doing so. The combination has left Jose with a strikeout rate nearly double his career average and lots of weak contact.

So why is Jose pressing? It probably has everything to do with Scotter Gennett. When Scooter went down right before the start of the season, Jose Peraza suddenly became the masher of the double play duo, not just the gravy. Peraza likely felt he needed to step into the 20+ homer, .500+ slugging percentage void Scooter left. It explains why a .348/.375/.587 spring suddenly turned into this pumpkin of an April.

Once the bats come around and Peraza does not feel the need to shoulder Scooter’s absence alone, a return to form should be expected. (I’m counting this as a compliment.)

Jesse Winker and Joey Votto

Winker and Votto were supposed to be the one-two punch at the top of the order but have more closely resembled two free punch outs toward a free inning on an opposing pitcher’s loyalty card. But it’s those kind of expectations — Winker’s return transforms this lineup; Votto needs a bounceback for the Reds to get anywhere — that put overbearing pressure on players.

Since the Sarris article, Jesse Winker has tumbled into the top ten of pressers while hitting .154/.154/.615 with two home runs. He’s figured out the power portion of his game, now he just needs the walks to come back.

Through Sunday’s game, Winker ranks 156th out of 194 hitters with 3.65 pitches per plate appearance. Below him, fellow pressers Max Kepler, Andrelton Simmons, Puig and Peraza. Further, Winker has only seen 12 three-ball counts out of his 69 plate appearances. These are both team-wide trends for the Reds as Matt Wilkes pointed out on Twitter, but Winker, Puig, and Peraza have done the most to drag down the whole.

A natural thought would be to blame the Reds new hitting coach Turner Ward for the team’s propensity to swing often and at everything, but as Matt Wilkes points out again, that’s not the case. (Thank you to Matt for answering these questions before I started researching.)

As for Votto, he’s been upfront about his swing not feeling quite right as of yet. When C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic asked about Joey’s fateful pop-up to the first basemen last week, Joey replied as such:

No, that’s a sign that my hitting technique is completely off. There’s a reason I just spent an hour hitting after a day game after a night game. It’s not good. It’s definitely not a good thing. I rarely do that. That’s why when I saw it, I was like, ‘ugh, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’ But I’m going to put in the work, I’m confident it’s going to come.

Like Winker, Puig and Peraza, Votto pulls down the Reds pitches per plate appearance average with a 3.86 of his own. It’s likely that Votto, knowing something is off with his swing, has upped his swing rate to get the reps in and figure out a groove. Pitchers know his bat isn’t as fearsome as usual right now, so his bat is tested more than his eye.

But both Winker and Votto have shown signs of life. Each have hit homers lately, and assuming Votto’s balky back lets him play, each now have a chance to play in the more hitter friendly Great American after four games in cavernous San Diego.

For all four of the pressers, the Reds less than auspicious start might actually work wonders. While winning makes the job easy, losing early takes off the pressure a bit. Okay, so what this team won’t run wire-to-wire? They can still give this fanbase more excitement than its had in half a decade. These four won’t press all season long, that much is assured. We as fans shouldn’t press for too much too soon either.

23 Responses

  1. AllTheHype

    Sure seems that way. Drastic increases in swing % across the board doesn’t seem like pressing. It seems like someone is trying to change their approach…..and not for the better.

    • CP

      Are their stories about Turner Ward implementing a brand new strategy or are you just making things up? Since everyone knows the truth, I’ll hang up and take my answer off the air.

    • CP

      Second time this very thread: Did you actually read the article? Do you just read what you want to read and skip over everything else?

      “I’m also not saying this is certainly the direct result of instruction from the Reds’ new coaching staff. Puig is on a new team in a contract year, and could be forgiven for wanting to maximize his chances for a home run in every at-bat early in the season. The same could be said for Peraza, who might like to double down on his power surge in 2018, and Votto, who has spoken openly about the frustration he felt when his power disappeared last year. All of those guys might be individually focusing on hitting the ball in the air more than they ever have before, and will take it upon themselves to either figure their swings back out or flounder for the remainder of the season.”

    • Rich H

      WV, if you actually read the articles (thanks for pointing out the miss in the other one, CP), you’d notice the part in this article that outlines the Dodgers stats over Turner Ward’s tenure. I’ll lay them out again, and trust me, there is text and not a mysterious blank space below.

      During Turner Ward’s time as hitting coach, the Dodgers had the 2nd most walks, 5th fewest first pitch swings, the most 3-ball counts, and the 5th highest pitches-per-plate appearance in baseball.

      All of those stats clearly and directly contradict what you are saying. It makes it hard for me to believe that you actually read the article when you miss something so clearly laid out.

  2. T Bone

    Perhaps the coaching staff did not create the problem, but it does not seem that there has been any intervention to try to correct it. I can certainly understand the ‘Don’t Panic’ attitude in the first week or 2, but we’re 21 games in now.

  3. Michael Smith

    Obviously Ward has no idea what he is doing…. wait he is a well regarded hitting coach with a sound philosophy. Well its obviously his fault;)

  4. Mike Adams

    Agree with you Jim, I have wondered this myself.
    You only go through age related decline once in your life so one may not recognize it for what it is.
    Or, as you point out, if recognized one tries to adjust but that will lead to deterioration in other things.
    If anybody can adjust and try to figure out what works and what does not, Joey Votto can.
    Here’s wishing he has as much success with adjustments to aging as he has had batting in the past.

  5. Roger Garrett

    I think all of the guys will figure it out but it needs to happen soon.Joey will never ever be what he used to be but he can hit 280 with an obp of around 400 and I would take that all day long.Reds are hacking and hit some out in Petco which is death valley so that I like.I expect the patience to come and with it the walks and thus more runs.They must start stringing hits together obviously but right now I see most guys trying to hit 8 run homers with nobody on base.I do expect they may do better if they went with a more set lineup for the next 8 or 10 games.Winker and Peraza especially need to play every day because well they are young guys and most guys that have been starters have to learn how to come off the bench.Our bench is good but they are bench players because they are no longer starters and no better how to prepare to be a reserve.I do realize Bell is looking for somebody or anybody to actually get hot but again to get the most out of the two guys I mentioned they need to play every day.I would also throw Scott into that as well.Guess what I mean is let the starters start and the bench guys come off the bench.

    • larsbenders

      “Reds are hacking and hit some out in Petco which is death valley so that I like.”

      Which do you like: the hacking or the home runs?

      “They must start stringing hits together obviously but right now I see most guys trying to hit 8 run homers with nobody on base.”

      So which is it: getting on base or home runs? Cause the current swing for the fences mentality of the entire team sure ain’t workin.

      • Roger Garrett

        I am on record as saying the Reds have to and I mean have to be able to hit homers especially at home to win.That goes for this year or last year or any year.We play in a park that is famous for the wall scraping,first row almost caught home run and we must hit more then the visitors.In order to be a top 5 offense,which we must be to even reach 500,we must be able to get on base and hit homers.I think,without any data to prove it,that players swing harder when they are pressing.

  6. Doc

    Was Votto’s swing off during ST? If so, why didn’t it get worked out during ST instead of playing half a game, getting two ABs, then packing his gear and heading out.

    If it were not off during ST, what happened when the flag dropped to start the regular season? How does someone of his quality lose it between Atlanta and GABP, and for this long? Votto has always started slowly; is this not his early season norm?

    I understand the questioning regarding Ward except for two thoughts:

    1. No way Turner Ward tries to monkey with Votto’s swing and no way Votto let’s him. Votto knows more about his swing than any hitting coach. Ward is not even a consideration here.

    2. Ward was Puig’s and Kemp’s hitting coach in LA. I very much doubt he moves to Cincy and changes what he tells 2 successful guys to do something different than he has been telling them the past several years.

    Bigger concern, in my view, are the implications I read that Kemp is going through the motions. If that is so, how does that affect Puig?

    I think the move of Peraza to 2B may have been a bigger negative than suspected.

  7. Eric Wormus

    I hate trying to dive into the mental state of professional athletes, but I think we are overlooking one large elephant in the room; the Reds’ commitment to playing the service time game with Nick Senzel has put, by my estimation, at least 4 other players on edge, not knowing where they will be 2-3 weeks from now.

    Scott Schebler isn’t a centerfielder. It was obvious because he was an average corner outfielder. He has options. Is he odd man out when Senzel comes up?

    Matt Kemp is only here because the Reds wanted to get rid of Homer Bailey. The Reds don’t really want Kemp and Kemp doesn’t really want to be here. Does he get DFA’ed in a few weeks?

    Jesse Winker just watched the Reds bring in two established veteran corner outfielders when he finally thought the job was his. They aren’t going to bench Puig for him and he has seen this organization start Adam Duvall over him and send Homer Bailey out every 5 days because of his contract. He’s an even worse CF than Schebler. He has options too. Does he go down?

    Jose Peraza was the starting 2nd baseman for the Cincinnati Reds until he wasn’t. He watched Scooter beat him for the job during the year. Then he was the starting SS and finally seemed to be coming into his own. The Reds sign a back up SS in the spring because Blandino isn’t going to be ready. No big deal. Until the starting 2B goes down with an injury too. At this point the Reds had 3 options.
    1) Plug in your 2B of the future at his long-term position, leave Peraza at SS, Dietrich and Iglesias are back ups. (the best option)
    2) Plug in your back up 2B (Dietrich), leave Peraza at SS, Iglesias is the back up (2nd best option).
    3) Move your starting SS to 2B.

    Needless to say, the Reds chose option #3. Now Peraza is sitting at 2nd base. He’s not as good a hitter as Dietrich or Scooter. He’s not as good a fielder as Iglesias. So where does he go long-term?

  8. Hanawi

    I was wondering if Votto was trying to get some power back in his game after the 12 homer year last season. Maybe at the expense of OBP.

  9. Joey

    I will say this about Bell, he gives guys a chance to play. He gave Ervin some at bat’s when he got called up. Under previous managers he would have just rotted away on the bench. Winker would have played zero games in center and would not have started over established veterans in the corner (Puig & Kemp) and he gave Bob Steve a chance to prove himself in meaningful innings. I don’t like losing but I like a lot of the decisions he’s made thus far.

  10. TR

    I like the hitting advice of BRM great, Tony Perez: Meet the ball, hit the ball. Forget about homeruns; If you meet the ball, they will happen without too much effort.

  11. BigRedMike

    Wonder if the Reds stretch it to get Kemp to the 60 day IL

    Reds might struggle with the -0.8 WAR Kemp has complied so far this season

    Ervin cannot be any worse than what Kemp has provided.

    The Reds will start hitting better at some point, doubtful that an OF can provide negative WAR for the entire season

    • PhP

      Dude for real, just admit you can be wrong. You were hyping Kemp up all offseason and he’s struggled (like the rest of the team). Ervin put up solid enough numbers for a bench player as a rookie last year, and way better numbers than what Kemp is doing right now. Even Peraza, who you love to rip on has a higher WAR than Kemp. It’s ok to be wrong sometimes, baseball is impossible to predict.

    • PhP

      Ahh I see, my bad. I was hoping for better out of him too

  12. Tom Mitsoff

    For what it’s worth, the Reds’ team batting average on batted balls in play is .225, last in the majors by a wide margin. Second-worst is the LA Angels at .253. Some of that is bad luck, and some of it is they’re just not hitting the ball with authority consistently.