Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face
With stars to fill my dreams
I’m a traveler of both time and space
To be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race
This world has seldom seen
And talk of days for which they sit and wait
All will be revealed
I’m having a Led Zeppelin moment, letting the sun beat down upon my face in Section 134, watching the Reds lose again to the Dodgers, with the elders all around me adorned in our faded red as we sit and wait for future stars like Elly De La Cruz and, of course, Hunter, to fill our dreams. And I’m thinking about Cody Bellinger, his smiling visage displayed on the scoreboard in front of me. He won the NL MVP award in 2019, edging out Christian Yelich, who won the award the year before, and Anthony Rendon. He’s a shell of that player today, injury and a slow recovery stripping his OPS+ numbers in 2021 and 2022 to a paltry 44 and 80, respectively. Yelich, too, has fallen to earth. The Rendon contract has turned out to be another disaster for owner Artie Moreno and the Angels, following in the footsteps of B.J. Upton and Albert Pujols.
It portends to be another cruel, cruel summer for the boys of said summer who ply their trade with the bat. The baseball hasn’t helped hitters. I’m convinced all those balls forlorn and forgotten during the pandemic season of 2020 have found their way into a mix of whatever formula MLB has concocted, having purchased Rawlings and begun applying its weird science to the ball’s construction. While Angels pitcher Michael Lorenzen ( you remember him) has called out MLB for their quality control, it remains true that baseball has become a pitcher’s game.
The strike zone has turned into a witches’ brew for big league hitters; and not just for the elders like Votto. The batting average of the average major leaguer is .242. Velocity has turned the game on its ear. Stringing together hits in an inning has become a relic of the past, and hitters have adjusted accordingly, waiting for the right moment to do damage with a single swing of the bat. Right now, pitchers wield the hammer of the gods over batters not named Aaron Judge. And they are using it.
As I watch Nick Senzel work his way back to being the player he was touted to be when drafted #2 in the 2016 MLB draft out of Tennessee, I can’t help but think how some have been unable to stretch their eyes, widen their vision to see the bigger picture.
If hitters are under the gun more than ever by velocity and science, if MVP hitters can fall into funks, the proportions of which stretch from a season’s early morning sun to the falling leaves of autumn, cannot Nick Senzel be forgiven for taking his seat on the struggle bus while he searches for the barrel of the bat during his fleeting and erratic time as a major league baseball player?
A year before the Reds selected Senzel with the overall 2nd pick of the first round on the amateur draft, Dansby Swanson was selected 1st in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Since he began playing regularly in 2017—and omitting the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, Swanson’s OPS+ numbers—68, 87, 89 and 97—were hardly the look of a future star. His middling WAR numbers before this season are largely a product of his plus defense at shortstop.
Like Swanson, Senzel’s worth has largely been a product of his defense. Unlike Swanson, Nick has had far fewer opportunities to right the ship. He’s had barely 800 plate appearances in his career, while Dansby has amassed over 3000. Those thousands of marches to the batters box are now beginning to pay off for Swanson and the Braves.
But, Richard, Nick Senzel is fragile, you say. He cannot stay on the field. He’s 27 years old. And all that has been true to date. The bigger picture is this: you don’t easily give up on a 2nd overall draft pick. Those picks at the very top of the draft are the closest thing to a sure thing that exists in a selection process that is anything but a sure thing. The price for Nick Senzel was a season of watching a fading Jay Bruce, Skip Schumaker and Burke Badenhop take the field while the team trudged its way to 68 wins. The new draft lottery implemented in the recent collective bargaining agreement will make securing another pick in the same area code of the draft Senzel was selected much, much more difficult moving forward.
So, give up on Senzel? Give up on a player who marched through the minor leagues, showcasing his talent at each level? Ship him off and watch him blossom with the Red Sox, the Marlins, or god forbid—the St. Louis Cardinals?
Jonathan India has had his own struggles coming back from injury. He admits that when he first came back he just couldn’t see the ball. Tuesday night’s home run was the first time he really could see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand, according to the Reds second baseman. India was once offered up in trade packages by almost every Reds fan playing the trade rumor game. A portion of the fan base seemed willing to give up on the Florida Gator before he even had a chance to prove himself at the big league level. His rookie season has changed all that. Jonathan lives in our hearts now. Nick? Not so much.
Some seem done with Nick Senzel. Others waffle with every night’s box score. For me, these are now the days to sit and wait. Wait for Nick Senzel.
For all will be revealed.