The Four Outfielders and the Case for Three: Billy Hamilton

This idea began as “The Infuriating Billy Hamilton” but has evolved into a deep look into how the Reds four-man outfield rotation is going, and who should be the one to leave. 

In this first installment, I take a look at the enigmatic centerfielder for the Reds. For all his flaws, and for the numerous Reds fans out there who are in favor of trading Billy yesterday, Billy actually shows signs that things will turn around. To explain my meaning, I am going to go hardcore into some sabremetric statistics…but don’t worry, I will make them easy to understand.

The first thing you notice when you look at Billy’s performance, thus far, is the fact his average is quite low. At .216, despite the fact it has gone up lately, it still is well below even Billy’s expected threshold. Although only a few seasons are under his belt, Billy’s career batting average is .30 points higher than where he sits almost two months into 2018.

The second stat that you see is his on-base percentage. Now this is more like what you want to see. Hamilton is notorious for his low percentage of reaching base, safely, but thus far in 2018 he is getting on base at a .315 clip. That’s a little over 15% better than his career normal. This is thanks, in part, to his 43.3% swing percentage, which is the lowest it has ever been, contributing to his best career walk rate at 12%. Considering he has only walked 7% of the time, during his career, that stat is trending well.

Jim Riggleman has continued what Bryan Price began by batting Billy ninth, so he is not getting the volume of plate appearances he has, in years past. However, Billy has changed his approach to hitting which could explain the slow start.

So what is it? Why does it seem like Billy isn’t hitting? For that, we look at a few things. Firstly, the contact percentage is down, as a whole. In fact, he is making contact on strikes 10% less than his career average. He’s only made contact on 77% of strikes thrown against him. Then you follow that stat up with the fact Billy has a soft contact percentage of 32.1%. So he isn’t hitting the ball as much, and when he does it isn’t good contact. That has led to his lowest batting average on balls put in play in three years (.305).

The numbers tend to suggest Billy is trying to hit for power. Now, it doesn’t take a baseball scientist to know that Billy trying to hit for power is like a bird trying to swim. The man needs only find his way to first, then the magic happens. Billy’s isolated power, a statistic designed to describe the amount of time a player gets a hit that is better than a single, currently is almost 20 points higher than his career average. I’m all for Billy trying for extra bases, but it has led to a strikeout percentage of 28.7%, the highest it has ever been in his career.

Now the thing that Billy currently has going for him, and the thing that is keeping him part of the four-man rotation, is his defense. He has currently generated 2.5 wins above replacement wit his glove, meaning he is statistically better than your average glove in centerfield.

Should he refocus his efforts into making solid contact with the bat, and not trying to kill it (I feel like a little league coach typing that) then Billy’s offense will pick up the slack and make him an indispensable every day outfielder.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at Jesse Winker and what he has done thus far.

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David vs Nine Goliaths

They did it! One in the win column! Tyler Mahle led the Reds to a victory on, what many believe, should basically be considered Opening Day, since Monday was when the Findlay Market Parade happened. So, yeah, the Reds are undefeated in the last 24 hours.

Tonight will pose an interesting…okay, really tough…matchup to get two in a row. Tonight, the Cubs put Jon Lester on the mound while the Reds will counter with…Cody Reed.

Lopsided is the first word that comes to mind, and no, James Rapien, I do not mean in the favor of Mr. Reed. Cody has a tough hill to climb. In his two years with the Reds, Reed has faced the Cubs three times. He started all three games. From there it gets dicey.

The Cubs have scored 22 runs (18 earned) off Cody Reed. They are batting .391 against him and have clubbed seven homers. In the three starts Reed has had against the Cubbies he has not made it past the fifth inning and they haven’t scored less than seven runs. For any more maths, please refer to the table from baseball-reference.com below:

Yeah…not good. I know, it’s only three games, but it still isn’t good.

If it’s any consolation, though, the Reds aren’t terrible against Jon Lester.

It isn’t quite as good as the Cubs vs Cody Reed…but in my Cincinnati Reds heart, I’m thinking that Cody is due for a gem and Lester is reeling from his less than stellar start in Miami last Thursday. In fact, in his first start against the Reds last year Lester allowed five runs. Cincinnati also got nine runs on Lester in his third start against them in 2017. So with this first start against the Reds here in the 2018 season being an odd number start, look for the Reds to light it up!

Still, this will have to go down in the pantheon of terrible starting pitcher matchups.

Looking at the 2018 Cincinnati Reds

Firstly, let me warn you, this is an optimistic outlook. I have seen plenty of pessimistic opinions on this team to know that what you are about to read may seem foolhardy, but bear with me. That being said, the Cincinnati Reds will finish the 2018 season having won 50% of their games, and what follows is why I believe that.

The Intro

After another disappointing season in 2017, the Reds front office believed that it, mostly, had the cards in their hand they wanted to play with and only signed two free agents to major league contracts. Adding David Hernandez and Jared Hughes strengthened a bullpen that finished second only to the decimated Mets in worst bullpen ERA (4.65). A few minor-league contracts with Spring Training Invites later, and the roster is rounded out and ready for Opening Day.

The Pitching

Part of the team’s struggles could be due to the fact the bullpen pitched a total of 610 innings last year, which isn’t the worst (the Marlins bullpen pitched 612 innings), but it is close to 40 innings more than the next highest team. Also, the Marlins have pretty much punted the 2018 season before it even started, so being lumped in with them is not good in any regard.

The bullpen’s struggles are not entirely their own making. Sure, there were guys like Blake Wood (5.65 era in 57 IP) and a washed up Drew Storen (57 hits allowed in 54 IP) getting calls from the bullpen, but the starters were what really crippled the Reds in 2017.

Two pitchers, that’s right only a pair, threw for more than 100 innings last year and neither one is on staff this season. In fact, neither Scott Feldman nor Tim Adleman are even on the roster. Homer Bailey is the only pitcher currently in the starting rotation (shout out to his first Opening Day nod) who even eclipsed 90 innings. Now the modern day fan still looks at these numbers and sees a doomed squad that will continue to wallow in mediocrity. Let me tell you why it will be completely different this year.

Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Amir Garrett, and Cody Reed were all given auditions last year. Management was never going to put a bevy of starts on them their first full year in the majors as they felt the youngsters needed time to adjust to the Major League grind. Instead, the Reds turned to guys like Feldman, Adleman, and Bronson Arroyo to eat up innings, despite their protracted usefulness. Heck, raise your hand if your really thought the Reds front office saw Asher Wonciechowski or Lisalverto Bonilla as rotation pieces moving forward…didn’t think so. My point here is, 2018 is when the guys who should be in the rotation…Romano, Castillo, Mahle, and Garrett…will be turned loose.

I’m not even counting Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan. I almost see them as midseason additions to the team as neither one has been healthy for almost two years now. The guys they got in the Opening Day rotation are healthy and ready to prove they belong.

Here are a couple of stats to get you excited. Luis Castillo struck out 27% of the batters he faced in 89 innings last year. Tyler Mahle induced a ground ball 52% of the time (huge in such a homer-friendly park like Great American). Sal Romano had the third best WAR on the team for pitchers last year at 1.3. Homer Bailey was an unlucky pitcher last year as his ERA of 6.43 is countered by a 4.90 FIP, which means the pitching statistics that he had direct control over show he should have given up almost two less runs, per game. Lastly, Amir Garrett is the oldest of the young guns (25), as Castillo is 24, Romano is 23 and Mahle is 22.

Now here comes the fun part, the reason that, if, the pitching can shave off a few runs per game, the Reds will definitely win 82 games.

The Hitting

Cincinnati set a franchise record in 2017, having 6 players hit at least 20 home runs. I’m not sure if this is any kind of record, but three of those guys hit over 30 dingers. As a team, the Reds were 6th best (22.7 WAR) in the National League, according to Fangraphs. That means the Reds bats were worth 22 more wins compared to a replacement level team. They scored the 8th most runs (753) and had the 8th best batting average (.253), just 4 points off from being a top five batting average team, and it was all led by one of the best players in the game today.

Joseph Daniel Votto finished second in MVP voting last year for a team that won 68 games. If you ask me, the fact that the man who beat him was traded to the American League, they should give him the trophy now, but I digress. Joey had a phenomenal year. He batted .320 (4th in the NL), he hit 36 homers (tied for 6th in the NL), he had 100 RBIs (10th in the NL), and he scored 106 times (6th in the NL). His peripheral stats are even better. He was on base 45% of the time, he slugged a slip of .578, and he walked (19%) more than he struck out (11%). No one man can carry a baseball team, but Joey is a close as it gets.

Now that I’ve gushed about my favorite player, I’ll let you know the guys around him are pretty good, too. There are three guys, two you’d expect and one breakout, who will help Joey will this team to a .500 record. We’ll start with the man who just got a whopping 7-year contract extension, Eugenio Suarez.

By every stretch of the imagination, Suarez had the best season of his young career in 2017. He compiled a 4.1 WAR, which is more than twice as good as his previous high (1.7), and he learned to take a walk, with 13.3% being much better than the 8.1% in 2016. Due to this newfound patience (Fangraphs says his swing percentage was the same as Joey Votto’s), Eugenio had an on-base percentage of .368 and clubbed 26 homers. He’ll regularly bat somewhere between 2nd and 5th in the lineup and he is going to get a lot of RBI chances this season.

The second player I want to highlight is Scott Schebler. Along with Suarez and Votto, Schebler will help round out the middle of the batting order for the Reds. Schebler crushed 30 bombs last year and doesn’t figure on slowing down. He knocked in 67 runs, which seems low, but usually hit 5th or 6th in the batting order, meaning Votto and Suarez had already cleared them for him. Some sight his .233 batting average as concerning, but may I point out the luck factor as he had a measly .248 batting average on balls in play. The league’s BABIP was .300, meaning Schebs (if no one calls him that then I take full credit for starting it) was getting the short end of the stick. If that normalizes for him this year, watch out.

The last player I want to highlight is Jesse Winker. Now, I know I’m not actually making some sort of breakthrough hot take by saying he is going to break out this year, but Winker will be the leadoff hitter, sooner rather than later. The new guy in town, and Bryan Price’s 4th outfielder (a plan that wont last too far into the season), has gotten on base better than 32% of the time his entire minor league career. In 137 plate appearances during last year’s cup of coffee in the Majors, Winker built an on-base percentage of .375. What do you need a leadoff hitter to do? Get on base! What does Winker do? He gets on base. Put this kid in, coach, he’s ready to play.

So, I am sure, if you’ve stayed in this long on this TLDR post, you may have something to say about something I said. Leave me a comment! Tell me what you think about the Reds this year.

More Man Than Machine: Historic Reds from Before 1970: Johnny Vander Meer

Baseball is an unforgiving sport. Seldom does a player follow a great performance with another. The law of averages is a real jerk on the diamond. Take Scooter Gennett, for example, and his magical four homer performance. That game (June 6th) was the first game he hit even one home run in since April 11th. He didn’t hit one single home run for the month of May. Then he went another two weeks without getting a round-tripper. The way baseball statistics typically go is this: one or two really good game usually means a slump is coming.

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Today I’m talking about Reds legend Johnny Vander Meer. You have most likely heard of him as he is the only pitcher to ever throw back-to-back no-hitters. June 11, 1938, he threw a no-hitter against the Boston Braves. He then followed up by keeping the Brooklyn Dodgers from tallying a hit on June 15th, on the very first night game at Ebbets Field, no less. What’s funny about the two starts is that Johnny allowed as many walks as batters he struck out (11). Still a feat no one has reached, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever beat it.

Back in that day, pitchers pitched deeper into games. In fact, Johnny’s second no-hitter came on three days’ rest. In fact, he threw 16 complete games (baseball vernacular for he pitched every inning). By comparison, the league leader in complete games last season accumulated five.

Johnny Vander Meer, despite this historic feat, did not have a Hall of Fame career. A few years after getting two no-hitters in a row, he began having trouble with his control. He ended his career with 1,294 strikeouts and 1,132 walks. Some baseball historians account for Vander Meer’s lackluster career finish to his time served in the military as he joined up with the Navy in 1944 and 1945.

In all, Vander Meer finished his career with 131 complete games and 29 shutouts, all in Cincinnati. His best three seasons, ERA-wise, came in the three seasons leading up to him entering the Navy as he finished all three seasons under 3.00. He is also one of only four pitchers to lead the National League in strikeouts for three straight years (1941-1943), with the other three being Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, and Warren Spahn.

As far as personal accolades, Johnny went to four All Star games, all before he went in to the Navy. He pitched in the Reds World Series championship of 1940, albeit only one, three-inning appearance, as the 1940 season was when his control issues began to surface. Johnny was elected into the first Reds Hall of Fame class of 1958.mlb_a_meer1_580

Look for more posts on the Reds historic players before the Big Red Machine as Spring Training rolls on to Opening Day!

More Man than Machine: Historic Reds from before 1970

New computer! You’re reading a post typed on a MacBook Air. That’s right…that good ol tax return sure helps sometimes. So maybe I can step up this blog game, huh? We’ll see. For now, I’ve got my new toy, I’ve got a nice cold glass of a good drink, let’s get to it.

The calendar is fast approaching what is, perhaps, the best time of the year. March Madness and, more importantly, the beginning of baseball season. It is on the latter that I will focus on this post, specifically the oldest franchise in Major League Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds.

The history for the Reds is no mystery. The 70’s brought, arguably, the best team the sport has ever seen. The Big Red Machine is well known, but the Reds have a rich history dating back well before 1970. The casual baseball fan can tell you about Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, or Joe Morgan, but what do you know about guys who dawned the Red C well before them? How bout the “Big Klu”, Ted Kluszewski? Or the only pitcher to ever throw back-to-back no hitters, Johnny Vander Meer? I am going to throw out a few posts in the coming weeks about these dudes who helped shape the history of the Reds. Going to start with the man who started it all, Harry Wright.

While they were made in America, the Reds were not made by an American. Harry Wright was born in Sheffield, England. His dad was really good at Cricket. Once he moved to America, Harry learned Cricket from his dad and decided he liked baseball more. Harry got his start in a small league, called the National Association of Base Ball Players (back then they spelled baseball as two words). He then got the idea and began the first ever professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869, when the nation was still cooling off from the Civil War.

Though he stuck around for merely a season, it is Harry Wright who began the Reds. In 1869 they were apart of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Harry formed a team of super talented men who didn’t lose a game the entire season (they were a lot shorter back then). Harry brought his brother George on to the team and paid him the highest salary of any player in the league, $1400 for nine months. Ironically, Harry Wright assembled such a talented team because he paid a lot…so the whole “buying a championship” argument predates even the National League.

Along with giving up oodles of cash for the players he wanted, Harry also instituted a few defensive innovations to the game. He is credited as being the first to teach his players to back up infield plays with outfielders and he is the first to shift his defensive players based on the situation at hand. Another hotly debated topic in baseball, the defensive shift, started in Cincinnati…and predates the National League.

Harry moved on a year later and managed the Boston Red Stockings. He hung out there for 12 years and won four National Association titles in a row, beginning in 1872. Back then, all you had to do was finish first in the league during the regular season. There was no postseason. He would take Boston into the brand new National League in 1876 and manage the team for 6 years. He then managed the Providence Grays for the 1882 and 1883 seasons, creating the idea of the “farm team” of which he stocked with amateurs who could step in to replace injured pros, when the time came. Harry Wright finished his managerial career with the Philadelphia Quakers from 1884-1893. The Quakers are now more commonly known as the Phillies. Theres another Red who went to Philly.

Harry was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953 and into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2005. It is interesting to me, personally, that Harry Wright died on October 3rd, 1895. October 3rd is my birthday.

Harry Wright laid the base for what is now the Cincinnati Reds. As Joey Votto said in an interview just a few days ago, Cincinnati is a baseball town. We all have Harry to thank for that.

I’m not actually this smart…Wikipedia helped out, a lot, with information in this post. If you want more details on what I posted here today, check out https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Wright

Looking Forward to Calls to the Bullpen

A quick thought for today. I’m really pining for some baseball. Usually happens every year around this time. Sure, countdowns to pitchers and catchers reporting help to excite me, but ultimately I’m waiting for the real thing on March 29th. You can bet I’ll be at the stadium again this Opening Day, but I’m sure they’re be a few more blogs between now and then about that. This post is focused on one thing, the Reds bullpen.

Now I know that’s not grabby, may have even lost one or two folks who clicked in to this post, but the Reds just signed their second free agent reliever of the offseason. Both relievers were signed to two year deals, and neither one is a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. They’re bonafide, major league deals, meaning the front office believes these guys can bring some real value to the bullpen.

Jared Hughes was signed a few weeks ago and David Hernandez was inked at the beginning of this week. Middle relievers don’t tend to move the needle in January, but it’s these types of guys who playoff contending teams go after in July…so it only makes sense to see value in having them for an entire year.

I’ll not get into the stats, right now, but leave it to an emotional response. I love these signings. It shows that the coaching staff believes in the young pitchers vying for spots on the starting rotation, and it is the Reds way of emulating teams in years past whose bullpen propelled them to a successful season.

Sure, Milwaukee getting Christian Yelich is the kind of transaction that galvanizes a fan base. It officially signifies a team’s belief that its window to the playoffs, and possibly contending for a world championship, has opened. The deal was one the Reds could not make, though. The Bre Crew had to give up one of their two best prospects and 3 of their top 10. To put that in perspective, that means the Reds would probably have to have traded Nick Senzel. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he is still in the minor leagues, but he is the Reds future great hitter. A future that could begin this season at some point when the Reds call him up to the majors. He is not someone I want the Reds to trade…unless they are getting Clayton Kershaw…and that ain’t happening.

The Reds now have a bullpen that could easily finish in the top half of the league, so long as health problems do not become a thing. If the starting rotation can just be average, with the lineup they can run out each night, the Reds have a real shot to improve this year.

And I know I am crazy biased…but I really don’t think I am far off when I say they could finally end the streak of losing seasons in 2018

Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days.