Sometimes, I like to get ideas from the comments section here at Redleg Nation. Especially when someone says something like, “The Cincinnati Reds have to do x, y, or z!” I usually think it would be nice if the Reds did whatever it is, but then I usually wonder if it’s reasonable or even possible.
I’ve noticed the bench as an occasional issue of discussion here, and so I thought it would be useful to do a dive into what a team can expect to need in terms of bench players and what a team can expect to get in terms of production from those players.
Expected production is where the disconnect lies around here. I like to use wRC+ not because it’s the best stat in the world or anything, but because 1), It weights on-base percentage correctly (OBP gets short shrift when we use OPS) and 2), It’s on an easily understandable scale. (I know some of you like to yell at clouds about stats that weren’t made up in the 19th century, but I think 100 as average is nice and easy to understand.)
Anyway, last year, 461 MLB players got at least 100 plate appearances. 208 of those players were average or better (100 wRC+ or higher). That’s an average of seven hitters per team. If we raise the number of required plate appearances to 400 (something approaching an everyday player who was mostly healthy), then we have 212 total players, of whom 145 (about five per team) were average or better with the bat.
Now, obviously, better teams tend to have more players who can hit. But the other take away here is that we can’t expect every hitter to be above average. This should be intuitive, but for a lot of people, it isn’t. And guys who don’t play every day, don’t play every day for a reason. Heck, even the mighty Atlanta Braves doled out nearly 200 plate appearances to Kevin Pillar, who is just not good anymore.
So it happens. The best teams are going to give playing time to subpar players because that’s how baseball works. Except in miraculous cases, teams just don’t have 13+ above average hitters to run out there. With all this established, I’d like to delve into what the Reds depth is likely to look like and who they are likely to need. Only nine guys can play every day, so which nine Reds are likely to get the most plate appearances, assuming good health? Here are my guesses from most to least obvious:
- Tyler Stephenson
- TJ Friedl
- Matt McLain
- Spencer Steer
- Elly De La Cruz
- Jeimer Candelario
- Jake Fraley
- Will Benson
- Christian Encarnacion-Strand
That is my guess and a guess is all it is. Fraley, Benson, or Encarnacion-Strand could all end up as the odd man out in favor of Noelvi Marte (I’m assuming that one of the two outfielders will DH a lot as is). But my guess is that, right now Marte starts in Louisville as depth (yeah, I know about the draft pick thing, I guess it could be Encarnacion-Strand or De La Cruz, but that seems really unlikely). Depth is the key word here. Because the ideal situation does not involve rostering your 13 best position players to start the season. Ideally, you have one or two potentially legit guys who need to play every day waiting in Triple-A. Injuries do happen, after all.
Remember, the numbers above tell us that the average team is going to have about 15 players get 100 plate appearances. How is that going to look for the Reds?
The first nine are listed already. We’ll add Marte, who is likely playing every day for the Reds the second someone gets a hangnail. India is (somehow, still) on the roster, and as long as he is, he’s probably 11th on the depth chart. Luke Maile is the backup catcher. That’s 12.
Using MLB last year as a barometer, the 12th man can expect somewhere between 200 and 240 plate appearances. In terms of hitting, Maile might be 13th. He has to be on the roster, but he’s unlikely to hit in a game where he isn’t starting. If he starts 40 games, that will net him (probably) 150-200 trips to the plate.
So we’re looking at the 12th, 14th, and 15th most likely Reds to come to bat. These three players will likely split 400-500 plate appearances between them.
Here are the options.
On the 40:
- Stuart Fairchild
- Jose Barrero
- Jacob Hurtubise
- Rece Hinds
- Nick Martini
Not on the 40:
Various non-roster invitee guys, some of whom may be from the Cincinnati area.
All of the genuine options on the 40-man roster are outfielders, but given that only three of the other 12 guys we’ve already placed on the depth chart have been outfielders for most or all of their pro careers (Friedl, Fraley, and Benson), that seems okay. And Barrero can, of course, play short.
Fairchild is a no-brainer, I think. He’s fine. He’s a good platoon partner for Fraley or Benson. In 382 big league plate appearances, his 96 wRC+ is just a little below average. He has some power. His defense is solid. There’s no case that he needs to play every day. He’s just about the ideal 5th outfielder. (Before you start demeaning Fairchild, I beg of you to look at 5th outfielders around the league, I can’t do everything for you.)
So now we are at the 14th and 15th players on the depth chart. In our current configuration, this is the last guy off the bench (remember, I think someone from the infield starts in Louisville to get regular playing time).
In this scenario, I probably roster Barrero. There aren’t real expectations for him any more and there’s plenty of case to let the other guys on the 40-man play regularly. I can also see a case for Hurtubise or Martini. In any case, this is not a spot where anyone figures to get north of 150 PAs unless something goes really weird. And that’s fine.
Depth is good, and the Reds have plenty of it. We don’t need to get worked up about the last couple of bench spots because those guys just aren’t going to play very much. Nor do we need to feel like the Reds are terrible because they end up giving Barrero or someone similar 150 plate appearances. Every team does this. It’s a necessary part of the game. Just like every team has a reliever or two they only throw out there when the game is out of reach or the rest of the pen is gassed.
Teams get into trouble not because of the end of the depth chart. They get into trouble when they don’t have enough legit MLB players to field a good regular lineup OR when they don’t have any competent enough to step in for stints when injuries occur. Cincinnati is fine on both of these fronts. It’s weird, but I’m not worried about their depth right now.