The Reds' defense actually appeared to take a step forward in August, posting their best DER of the year despite playing behind a pitching staff that was pummeled into little bits of Reds meat.
Below I've calculated the August splits for Reds defenders based on THT's revised zone rating data, using the process I described here. I've also taken the additional step to convert these +- play values into +- run values using the runs per play values given in this article by Chris Dial. The extra step adds an extra bit of uncertainty to the dataset, but at the same time they make it easier for us to interpret these values...so I think the trade-off is worthwhile. You can, of course, ignore those values if you wish.
Alex Gonzalez had the most impressive showing among all Reds defenders in August, saving roughly two runs above average while playing less than half of the time. That's the sort of player we were told we were getting when we signed him in the offseason, so that's nice to see. As in prior months/years, he seems to do it primarily by being extremely reliable on balls hit in his direction, as his OOZ ratings aren't particularly impressive.
Even more exciting to me, however, was the fact that Jeff Keppinger posted roughly average (if not above average) defensive numbers at shortstop for the second straight month. Obviously, he's not going to have great range at shortstop, as evidenced by his below average ratings out of the zone. But if he can continue to be reliable in zone, he could turn out to be quite a find. Keppinger might be capable of posting an 0.800 OPS at shortstop over a full season, and if he can play average defense at the same time, he would probably be more valuable than Gonzalez to the Reds in '08. ... And that might make a trade of Gonzalez a viable thing to do, which might free up some money for additional pitching...? Just thinking out loud here.
Phillips also turned in another fine performance, pushing his season totals to ~13 runs saved above average. Combine that with 39 VORP on offense through the 17th of September, and you've got yourself a heck of a season. Almost certainly the Reds' MVP this season, at least among position players.
Adam Dunn's fielding numbers looked horrible in August. This is a real disappointment, because I keep hearing on the radio how much his defense has improved since Pete MacKanin took over the ballclub. According to Revised Zone Rating, he had easily the worst month of any Reds defender. In fact, he passed both Encarnacion and Griffey to take the lead as the worst fielder on the ballclub, costing the team an estimated 19 runs in his time in left field compared to an average defender.
Dunn currently (again, through 17 September) leads the team with a VORP of 46 runs, but his defense pulls his overall value down to around 27 runs. That's ~40% drop in value! Yikes. It certainly doesn't negate his value completely, but it's not exactly inspiring either. ... I hate to feed the various Dunn haters out there who always seem to start citing this sort of thing when I post it, but Dunn's defense is enough of a problem these days that we really do need to more explicitly factor that into how we rate him as a ballplayer.
By contrast, Norris Hopper has thus far saved the Reds an estimated 13 runs above average across all three outfield positions (the majority coming early in the season in left field). If we add that defensive performance to his VORP (11 runs), he checks in as being worth roughly 24 runs above the average replacement player. ... in roughly half the PA's as Dunn. I don't think he can keep up that kind of pace on offense or defense over a full season, but the data do give us some perspective on how much the guy has contributed to this team when he has played.
Other poor performances in August came from Hamilton, Griffey, and Encarnacion. Hamilton was playing with leg troubles for some of the month, but he is still probably playing out of position when in CF (he's a natural right fielder). Griffey just keeps on doing what he's been doing all season -- he's fine on balls hit reasonably close to him (+1.7 plays on balls in zone), but makes very few plays out of zone, which really costs his defensive value.
Finally, Encarnacion may have shown some improvement, costing the Reds "just" two runs compared to roughly 5 runs in July. I continue to wonder if the positive UZR split we saw earlier this year was an abberation, or if he really is capable of playing at least average defense at the hot corner in future seasons. If his defense doesn't improve, he's going to have to be a monster of an offensive player to have value...and honestly, while I think he can be a fine hitter, I'm not confident that he'll ever be a great hitter.
Photos by AP/Al Behrman