Table of Contents

Friday, July 31, 2009

More on the Rolen deal

Photo of Scott Rolen originally taken by Googi...Scott Rolen's a fine player. But was the cost too great? Image via Wikipedia

Through a strange twist of fate, I suddenly have a bit of time to spend working through today's big deal in a more careful way than I did earlier today (I have no real opinion on the Hairston deal as of now). Let's look at the players one by one.

Scott Rolen, RHB 3B
2006 31.2 STL 594 12% 9% 20% 0.301 0.296 0.369 0.518 0.223 0.380 22.1 4.0
2007 32.2 STL 441 13% 8% 20% 0.287 0.265 0.331 0.398 0.133 0.327 -3.6 0.9
2008 33.2 TOR 467 15% 10% 21% 0.292 0.262 0.349 0.431 0.169 0.346 5.5 2.3
2009 34.2 TOR 373 11% 7% 25% 0.341 0.320 0.370 0.476 0.157 0.368 11.1 2.5
2009 34.2 TOR (ROS)
174 13% 8% --
0.308 0.284 0.351 0.439 0.155 0.349 2.2 0.9
2009 34.2 TOR (ZiPS)
547 12% 7% --
0.331 0.308 0.364 0.465 0.156 0.362 13.4 3.4
Rolen's had a bit of a resurgence this year, though as noted elsewhere it seems likely to be, in part, based on a "lucky" BABIP (though his LD rate is also up...though that too is also likely unsustainable). His updated ZIPS, based on stats to date and rest of season performance, put his value this season at 3.4 WAR (0.9 WAR the rest of the way). He's a nice all-around hitter, with average walk rates, nice power, and good contact ability. A big part of his problem has been injuries--he hasn't hit 500 PA's since 2006 (a full season is 700 PA's!). A weighted 3-year average of the 07, 08, and projected 09 stats puts his expected "true talent" hitting value at 2.4 WAR.

Fielding-wise, he's not what he once was, but still is a plus defender. A weighted 3-year average of his bUZR puts him at ~8 runs above average. His Fan's Scouting Report in 2008 was outstanding, rating him best in all of baseball at his position. I'll put him as a +1 WAA fielder, with the understanding that injuries can pull this value down.

So, in terms of win value (i.e. total value) the rest of this season (60/162=37% games remaining), we have:
+0.9 offense (from ZiPS Rest of Season)
+1.0 WAA * 0.37 = 0.4 fielding
+0.25 WAA * 0.37 = 0.09 position adjustment
1.4 WAR over the remainder of this season, which is worth around $6.3M.

He's due to make $11M this season, of which I'm estimating 37% should be paid by the Reds, which is $4M. That's a surplus value of ~$2 million this season.

Next year:
2.4 WAR offense
1.0 WAA fielding
0.25 WAA position
-0.5 WAA aging
3.2 WAR Total

That's worth between $14.5 M and $16 M, depending on how the free agent market goes this offseason. He'll make $11 million, so that's ~$4 million in surplus value. Overall, we have a "property" that can reasonably be expected to provide ~$6 million in surplus value over the rest of his contract. He also fills several holes on the Reds--he's a good RHB, and solves (at least until the end of July 2010) the defensive problem at 3B. He's a good pickup. The question, of course, is the cost...

Edwin Encarnacion, RHB 3B
2006 23.5 CIN 467 17% 9% 21% 0.307 0.276 0.355 0.473 0.197 0.361 9.7 2.4
2007 24.5 CIN 560 15% 7% 19% 0.322 0.289 0.354 0.438 0.149 0.353 8.3 2.5
2008 25.5 CIN 582 18% 10% 16% 0.264 0.251 0.340 0.466 0.215 0.352 9.6 2.7
2009 26.5 CIN 165 23% 15% 14% 0.250 0.209 0.333 0.374 0.165 0.322 -1.7 0.3
2009 26.5 CIN 181 19% 10% 0% 0.288 0.259 0.348 0.449 0.190 0.354 3.1 0.8
2009 26.5 CIN 346 21% 12% 0% 0.271 0.236 0.341 0.414 0.178 0.339 1.4 1.1
Eddie's had a horrible season thus far with the stick. But prior to this year, he had posted three consecutive seasons with offensive WAR's in the mid-2's. I tend to think that this year is an aberration. But to be objective, a 3-year weighted average puts his "true talent" offensive performance at almost exactly 2 WAR.

The problem with Eddie is that his fielding really hurts his value. A 3-year weighted average of his bUZR puts him as a -10 run fielder. His Fan's Scouting Report was more "positive," rating him just in the bottom third of 3B's defensively. Consensus seems to be he has a solid glove, but an awful arm--seems right to me. FSR data would put him at about a -5 run fielder. I'll split the difference and call him a -0.75 win fielder.

So, over the rest of this year, we have:
0.8 WAR offense
-0.75 * 0.37 = -0.3 WAA fielding
0.25 * 0.37 = 0.09 WAA position adjustment
0.6 WAR, which is worth ~$2.7 million on the free agent market. He makes $2 million this season, and 37% of that is $0.7 M. That makes his surplus value over the rest of this year ~$2 million.

Next year, we have:
2 WAR offense
-0.75 WAA fielding
0.25 WAR position adjustment
-0.25 Aging (I'm not taking off the full 0.5 WAR because he's still young; injury risk and my lack of regression still warrants a deduction)
1.3 WAR, which is worth between $6-$6.5 million next year. He'll make $4.75 M, so that makes for about a $1.5 million surplus value--entirely due to the fact that he's still in his arbitration years (otherwise, his salary would be better).

So, overall, I'd rate Encarnacion as being worth about $3.5 million in surplus value. You can guestimate that he might be worth another $0.75 million surplus in his third year of arbitration (arbitration players don't make what free agents do), which would bring his value to $4.25 million.

Zach Stewart, RHP
Year Age Team GS% IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2008 21.8 Reds (A) 0% 16.3 7.2 1.7 0.0 0.232 0.55 2.34
2008 21.8 Reds (A+) 0% 16.6 12.4 5.9 0.0 0.400 1.62 2.60
2009 22.8 Reds (A+) 100% 42.3 6.8 1.7 0.2 0.345 2.13 2.63
2009 22.8 Reds (AA) 100% 37.0 7.5 2.4 0.2 0.276 1.46 2.77
2009 22.8 Reds (AAA) 0% 12.3 11.7 5.8 0.0 0.369 0.73 2.55
Stewart was the Reds' 3rd-round selection (their second pick, as they did not have a 2nd-round selection) in the 2008 draft. He's done very well thus far and is skyrocketing through the minors. Scouting reports on him are strong, and he's put up extremely good ERA's thus far. His strikeout and walk rates have been a bit all over the place, but somehow it has all balanced out thus far in a very consistent FIP. Sickels rated him a B- pitcher prior to this season, and the consensus view is that he's a legitimate "B" pitcher now. "B" prospect pitchers are worth about $7 million in surplus value, based on their typical success rate and expected 6 years of below-market pay.

Josh Roenicke, RHP
Year Age Team GS% IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP eW% WAR
2006 23.9 Reds (R) 0% 15.6 13.8 6.9 0.6 0.308 6.32 3.26 63% ---
2006 23.9 Reds (R) 0% 7.6 10.6 3.5 0.0 0.388 1.17 2.42 73% ---
2007 24.9 Reds (A+) 0% 27.6 13.3 4.9 0.3 0.373 3.25 2.44 73% ---
2007 24.9 Reds (AA) 0% 19.0 7.1 2.8 0.0 0.237 0.95 2.57 71% ---
2008 25.9 Reds (AA) 0% 22.0 11.5 4.9 0.8 0.358 3.27 3.47 59% ---
2008 25.9 Reds (AAA) 0% 39.0 9.9 3.2 0.5 0.323 2.54 2.74 68% ---
2008 25.9 CIN 0% 3.0 18.0 6.0 0.0 0.709 9.00 2.13 75% 0.1
2009 26.9 Reds (AAA) 0% 28.0 10.3 1.9 0.0 0.390 2.57 1.77 80% ---
2009 26.9 CIN 0% 13.3 9.5 2.7 0.0 0.355 2.70 1.85 79% 0.5
2009 26.9 ZiPS (RoS) 0% 17.0 7.9 4.2 1.1 0.313 4.24 4.23 52% 0.1
2009 26.9 ZiPS (Update) 0% 30.9 8.6 3.6 0.6 0.331 3.56 3.19 63% 0.5
Roenicke's been all over the place the last few years. But his profile is fairly consistent: hard thrower, very good strikeout numbers, and high-but-not-outrageous walk totals. He's in his first full season, so I think it's probably best to go with Sickels' pre-season rating for him and use that to assign value to him. Sickels gave him a B-, which I'll guess makes him worth about $4 million in surplus value, given his fairly advanced age (he's the oldest player in this deal aside from Rolen!). That's spread out over the first six years of his career.

Trade Tally
Rating strictly on surplus value, we have:

Update: Fay says they get cash to cover the rest of Rolen's 2009 salary. That would be ~$4M. I've updated the below bit to reflect that guesstimate.

Rolen: $6 million surplus
+$4 million cash(??)
Encarnacion: $4 million surplus
Stewart: $7 million surplus
Roenicke: $4 million surplus
Total: $15 million surplus

Assuming the cash sent to the Reds above is accurate, Toronto "wins" trade by ~$5 million, which is roughly the value of a bench player as a free agent.

Does this deal make sense for the Reds? You can make the argument in a lot of ways that it does. They upgrade third base by roughly 1.5 wins next season, get a good right-handed bat (though only modestly better than Eddie's), and continue to upgrade their fielding.

The problems from my perspective are two-fold. First, the Reds overpaid by roughly one Josh Roenicke (though we're admittedly within the margin of error here). Second, even if this was the market rate, they acquired a single aging, injury-prone player in exchange for cheaper, younger players. If the Reds were likely to contend this or next season, it makes sense to do. But who outside of Bob Castellini really thinks that the Reds are in that sort of position? Rolen doesn't improve them by more than 2 wins per season, tops. The Reds prior to this trade were a sub-0.500 club, and by at least one way of forecasting these things, on their way to finishing last in the division. The Reds sacrificed a small part of the future for the now, and the two wins Rolen provides don't help the now very much.

On the plus side, at least I don't have to fret about why the Reds aren't moving Edwin to the outfield anymore. ;)

Reds Acquire Scott Rolen

Update: More on this trade here.

I'm leaving town for the weekend in 20 minutes, so only a little time.

Rolen's long been an outstanding talent, with a great bat and brilliant glove. He's also been someone who has a hard time staying healthy, which hurts his value. He's had a WAR of 2.5, 3, and by this season's end 3.5 to 4. I think it's safe to call him a 2.5-3 WAR player next year. That's worth somewhere around $11-15 million next year. He's paid $11M next yea, so it's fair value, possibly with a small surplus up to $4 M depending on the market.

Eddie has been a 1.5-2 WAR player, but might be lucky to post 1.5 WAR this year. I'll call him 1.5 WAR for next year. Hitting-wise, he's valuable. But the fielding kills his value, and I've long since given up hope he'll get much better. Eddie makes 4.75 M next year in his final arbitration year, while his value should be in the $5.5-6.5 range (again, depending on market).

So, if it was a 1:1 trade, it'd favor the Reds slightly, I think--we take more salary, but upgrade talent and (probably) get a larger surplus.

The question now is who the minor leaguer is. Alonso is a top-25 hitter, I think, which puts his value at ~$25 M. (if just top-50, $23 M). That would swing the deal in a HUGE way to Toronto. Latest reports are that he's not included.

Zach Stewart I don't know how to rate. If he's a top-100 pitcher, he's ~$10 M. Grade B, he's $7 M. Either way, favors Toronto, though not as bad as initial reactions...only by a few million or so. Roenicke is maybe another 1 WAR, which is ~$4.5 WAR.

So yeah, I think Toronto wins by $6M in value or so. Not a disaster, but not good. I don't like this deal. Rolen's old, still a good player, but he's not going to make this team a contender next year. And how much longer will he play? Will he be healthy?

Have to run. :(

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mailbag: Pitching Questions

SAN DIEGO - MAY 15:  Starting pitcher Aaron Ha...What is wrong with Harang this year? Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Had a few questioins arrive in the inbox. Questions may be paraphrased, and since I didn't ask permission to post them, they are anonymous (feel free to chime in if you wish).

Reader #1:
What is your take on Aaron Harang? Has he collapsed, or is he just unlucky?
Note: most of what follows is from Harang's player pages at FanGraphs.

Comparing the 2008-2009 Harang to the 2006-2007 Harang, there are two substantial differences I see. First is a decline in his strikeout rate from the mid-8 k/9's to the mid-7 k/9's. The second thing I see is a decline in ground ball rate from 39% or so to a fairly Milton-like 35%. All the while, though, his walk rate has stayed pretty constant--maybe a slight uptick, depending on how you measure it. But nevertheless, he still has a very fine k/bb rate, even if not as good as it used to be.

I recently read something about his slider's vertical movement having vanished. There is a pretty steep decline in slider vertical movement between 2007 and 2008/2009, which corresponds to a big drop in his slider's run value. Looking at this graph, it seems as though it happened about three starts before his DL stint. So there absolutely could be something to that, and it could explain why his strikeout rates have dropped a fair bit of late. But then again, there's an increase in horizontal movement in his change-up over the same time, without much change in its run value.

The various DIPSish metrics are mixed on him. His FIP is up from 3.7 to 4.4 or so, which is a steep climb. But his xFIP, which is a better predictor of future performance, is up only slightly, from 3.8 to 4.1 or so. So that's encouraging.

His tRA has gone from 3.75ish to 5.1 or so (yikes). But his tRA*, which includes appropriate regression and thus is a better predictor than tRA of future performance (FIP:xFIP::tRA:tRA*), has "only" increased from 4.1 to 4.9 or so. Again, not as bad as the unregressed data, though clearly not the level of performance we saw from him during 2006-2007.

He's essentially performing right at his ZiPS projection this year, which I would have said was pessimistic. Not surprisingly, his ZiPS the rest of the year is unchanged. That's the only projection system I have access to that gives in-season updates, but I think all the other projection systems (which had Harang in the 4.0-4.2 ERA range) will be closer to 4.35 ERA or so.

So I think the message here is that, at this point, Harang is still a quality starter, and can be expected to post something close to a league-average ERA (which is still a bit above-average for a starter). I'd put his expected WAR at around 2.5 to 3 by season's end, and probably about 2.5 next season. That's a quality pitcher. Not the 5 WAR beast he used to be, but still a good pitcher.

He's being paid $11M this year (expected 2.5 WAR) and $12.5M (~2.5-2.7 WAR, depending on the market) next year, which means he's pretty much being paid appropriately. No problem there either.
Reader response: Something you haven't mentioned is that Harang's DER is 2nd worst in the majors. I'd like to see some study on the affect that has on a pitcher's overall numbers. The reason is because if there is a pitcher that is getting less help from his defense, will his other numbers naturally decline simply because of the extra effort it takes to get through an inning. Put another way, a pitcher who basically has to get 3.5 outs an inning might be more likely to give up home runs or other hits than one that only has to get 3 outs an inning.
I didn't directly address the DER issue, though I did notice it. My feeling is that this year has to be luck-induced, as opposed to fielding induced. It's his worst DER of his career, but at least as far as Reds teams go, this has been the best defense he's ever had playing behind him. Granted, maybe there were some screw-ups while he was on the mound gven the small sample, but it makes no sense that his DER would get worse as his team's fielding undergoes a massive transformation unless it's largely a timing/"luck" issue.

Reading this again, I sort of missed the point as far as the psychology issue is concerned. My feeling is that you're right about it, but I don't know what the effect size is.

The next question comes from a different reader:
I am wondering if there is any way you could address this question/issue on your blog or maybe on BTB if you think it is interesting enough. You probably know about the Reds starters' struggles in the 1st inning of games this season. The stats, closely approximated about as near as I can tell are the following:

Bronson Arroyo: 9.46 ERA, 1.080 OPS
Aaron Harang: 7.36 ERA, .870 OPS (OPS worse after today's start against the Padres)
Johnny Cueto: 9.00 ERA (slightly worse), 1.150 OPS
Micah Owings: 7.50 ERA, .860 OPS
Edinson Volquez: 7.00 ERA, .913 OPS

Also, Harang, Cueto, and Arroyo are 3 of the top 5 worst pitchers in the league in BAA the first tie through the order, and the Reds have by far the worst 1st inning run differential in all of MLB. So my question is, do you have any idea or insight into why this might be? Any explanation for it at all? This phenomenon is very perplexing to me, as is the fact that apparently no adjustments are being made to correct it.

I honestly have no clue. Most teams do worse in the first inning than any other inning, simply because that's the only inning where you are guaranteed to see at least one (and often more) of the other team's best hitters. But why the Reds might be especially bad during the first inning isn't something I have an explanation for, unless they're not warming up enough or something (very unlikely, I'd think). Especially because the Reds rotation, while not awesome, isn't bad either.

It's not like the 8th-inning problem the Reds had a few years back, where the problem was that the Reds didn't have anyone competent enough to get the ball to Weathers in the 9th. There was a clear explanation for what we saw that year.

My honest guess is that it's noise. But I can't think of a clear way to test that further that would provide any sort of clear answer. Maybe some of the pitchf/x'ers can look at pitch motions and velocities in different innings and identify an issue. But that's not in my bag of tricks, at least not yet.

Sorry, that's the best I can do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reds Acquire Wladimir Balentien

Wladimir Balentien 002Wladimir Balentien is the newest Cincinnati Red. Image by Baseball player photos via Flickr

Short post, as I'm beat tonight. The Reds picked up RHB OF Wladimir Balentien tonight for Robert Manuel.

Stats in quick 'n dirty fashion via fangraphs:
2006 22.0 AA 522 27% 13% --- 0.280 0.230 0.337 0.435 0.205 0.342 0.4 ---
2007 23.0 AAA 542 19% 10% --- 0.323 0.291 0.362 0.509 0.218 0.376 15.0 ---
2007 23.0 SEA 4 0% 0% 25% 0.333 0.667 0.500 2.000 1.333 0.810 1.6 0.2
2008 24.0 AAA 274 18% 12% --- 0.256 0.266 0.354 0.584 0.318 0.385 9.4 ---
2008 24.0 SEA 260 30% 6% 14% 0.266 0.202 0.250 0.342 0.140 0.257 -15.4 -1.0
2009 25.0 SEA 170 25% 8% 13% 0.264 0.213 0.271 0.355 0.142 0.274 -7.6 -0.3
2009 25.0 ZiPS (RoS) 178 22% 8% --- 0.267 0.235 0.298 0.414 0.179 0.312 -2.3 0.3
2009 25.0 ZiPS (Update) 348 24% 8% --- 0.265 0.224 0.284 0.385 0.161 0.295 -9.5 0.0
He's hit well in the minors, and even has shown a decent eye, despite his reputation for swinging at everything. Hasn't translated to the big leagues, though, at least not yet. High strikeout rate, slightly higher than Phillips walk rate, but good power in the minors. Major league pitchers have carved him up in 434 PA's, so he must have some major holes and/or is easy to fool--consistently low BABIP and LD%'s might support both explanations, though perhaps there's some bad luck in there too.

But maybe he can fix it and get better. His ZIPS over the rest of the season is actually above-replacement level, and that was in the tougher AL. We have a guy who's quite a bit below replacement level playing center field for us these days. And, of course, Bruce and Dickerson are on the DL, so we need all the help we can get.

Fielding-wise, not sure. His LF numbers are good (+4 UZR), but CF and RF numbers are weaker (-2 and -2). Fan's Scouting Report rated him as a below-average fielder last year, which I trust more than UZR givne the small sample sizes. The breakdown on him shows somebody who's somewhat toolsy but quite raw--average speed, plus arm strength, but poor instincts, hands, and release on his throws. Again, maybe there's the possibility that he could get better...

He's still under club control for what should be four more years. He's definitely a project. But there's something to like here, especially given that it "only" cost the Reds a solid relief prospect in Robert Manuel. I like Manuel, but the Reds need some offense--especially from the right side--and while I doubt that Balentien is likely to deliver that this year, he might just be a decent hitter down the line.

The only "bad" thing I see about him is that he basically looks like a raw-er, less good version of Johnny Gomes. Maybe with better fielding, but there's no guarantee of that. And I'd like to see the Reds try to keep Gomes on this team next year. No reason they can't have both players, of course...except that it works against the defense first, offense second strategy the Reds tried to employ this year. Maybe the complete lack of offense is making the front office re-evaluate.

Reds Hall of Fame Ballot 2010

From the Reds:
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum has announced the ten former Reds players who will appear on the Modern Player Ballot for induction into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2010.

Modern Player Candidates are: Bret Boone, Jeff Brantley, Norm Charlton, John Franco, Danny Graves, Kevin Mitchell, Hal Morris, Paul O'Neill, Chris Sabo, and Scott Sullivan.

I don't have my database completely set up to work with pitchers yet. But here's the breakdown on the five position players on the ballot:

Name Seasons Debut wOBA Offense Fld/700PA Fielding PosAdj WAR WAR/700PA
Boone, Bret 5 1994 0.315 -46 -3 -12 9 2.7 0.7
Mitchell, Kevin 3 1993 0.435 75 -7 -8 -9 8.4 6.8
Morris, Hal 10 1990 0.352 54 1 5 -56 11.1 2.1
O'Neill, Paul 8 1985 0.339 10 9 39 -32 10.8 2.6
Sabo, Chris 7 1988 0.348 38 1 3 5 14.5 3.1

And here's the nth-best season graph that we BtB'rs love so much.
Mitchell, O'Neill, and Sabo all effectively tied in their best season with the club. But Sabo had two other seasons that were close to that mark, while the others never really repeated. Mitchell had fabulous rate stats, but never topped 380 PA's in any one season. Morris had the longest tenure with the team, but was never as spectacular (though also didn't tail off as quickly) as Sabo.

My vote's for Spuds. :)

@BtB: Power Rankings Updated

I updated my power rankings at BtB today. The Yankees are now ranked first. If the Reds fall to 30th and the Yankees stay in first, I'm not sure I'll be able to continue posting these things. :(

Monday, July 27, 2009

@BtB: Historical WAR Review: Catchers

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Hall of Famers Joh...Johnny Bench is thrilled to top the list of most valuable catchers ever according to WAR. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Today, I began a series that I started work on two months ago: a position-by-position WAR review. It's a great opportunity to learn some baseball history, while at the same time exploring Rally's WAR database.

I posted the first in this series at BtB. I'm going to do a simultaneous series here that is specific to Reds players, though I'll probably do top-10 lists instead of top-14 lists...simply because the talent bottoms out faster. Look for that hopefully over the next few days.

Today's review is on catchers, and a familiar name shows up at #1:
As a Reds fan I'm biased, but I think if you were to ask a large number of fans the name of the best catcher ever, Johnny Bench's name would be at the top of the poll. It's not a slam dunk, but Bench comes out four wins above Fisk--and Bench had 1200 fewer PA's and a much higher peak. Bench was a brilliant defender, but probably not the best defensive catcher of all time. And he was a superb hitter, but is probably not the best hitting catcher of all time. What sets him apart is that he was extremely good at both offense and defense: with game-changing defense and prodigious power, he redefined his position. No other catcher has ever hit 45 home runs in a season, and only one other (Mike Piazza) has topped the 40-mark twice. He was Rookie of the Year, a two-time MVP (second only to Berra), a 14-time All Star (13 consecutive), and the winner of 10 consecutive gold gloves. He was the best of the best, and I'm proud that he played for my's nice to be proud of something these days.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Reds and WAR - Best Hitter Seasons (1890-2008)

Cincinnati - Great American Ball Park - Crosle...Frank Robinson had some of the best seasons in Cincinnati Reds history. Image by wallyg via Flickr

Note: I'm extremely pleased to post this guest article written by reader Greg in Atlanta. He and I have spent a lot of time chatting about WAR in the past, and as a result of his work he wrote this really exciting article (the first in a series) and asked me to post it. If you run one of the "real" blogs out there, please give this a link so it gets the eyeballs it deserves. -Justin

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is rapidly become one of the more widely accepted measures of player value in the analyst community. Developed by Tom Tango and a number of collaborators at The Book blog, WAR accounts for every measurable contribution a player can make, including baserunning, defense, park and league context. Rallymonkey at Baseball Projections recently developed a method to develop WAR estimates for the entire Retrosheet era, and more recently extended the WAR estimates back to 1871. Sick of trying to decide whether Willy Taveras or Corey Patterson was the worse player, or wondering what interesting way to misuse his players Dusty is going to come up with next, I purchased his database and began to research the Reds of the past. This is the first of hopefully a series of articles on how WAR evaluates the Reds back to 1890. Anyway, here’s a look at best position player seasons for the Reds since 1890.

Top 15 Reds Seasons 1890 – 2008

1. Joe Morgan 1975 – 12.0

2. Joe Morgan 1972 – 10.0

3. Joe Morgan 1976 – 10.0

4. Joe Morgan 1973 – 9.9

Are you annoyed that Cardinal fans get to enjoy having Albert Pujols on their team? Do you wonder what it would be like to have the best player in baseball on the Reds? In the mid-seventies, Reds fans got to enjoy that with Joe Morgan. His 1975 season is the 12th best since 1890, trailing only seasons by Ruth (4), Bonds (3), Mantle (2), Hornsby and Carl Yasztremski (one each). Morgan had the top WAR in baseball all four years. 1976 seems to be a better season offensively than the others (a year where Joe led the league in OBP and SLG), but WAR sees his defense as being better in the earlier seasons. Morgan was a player that gave you 7-8 wins a year just with his bat, and added wins for baserunning and defense.

5T. Johnny Bench 1972, Joe Morgan 1974 – 9.1

In 1972, the Reds had the first and third best position players in the majors, with Morgan and Bench (Dick Allen edged Johnny for second). Bench had years with similar counting stats, but WAR sees 1972 as by far his best offensive year. Bench was regularly 10 runs above average as a catcher. As for Joe’s 1974 season, you know you are good when your off year is tied as the fifth best season in team history. No wonder the Reds didn’t win in 1974, Morgan only ranked second in baseball (behind Mike Schmidt’s first of many great seasons).

7T. Frank Robinson 1962, Pete Rose 1973 – 8.5

Frank Robinson won the MVP in 1961 when the Reds won an unlikely pennant, then had a better year for team that won five more games and finished fourth in the MVP. Maury Wills (6.1) won the MVP based on the novelty of his 104 steals, but Frank had a better year. In addition to his outstanding bat, Robinson was an above average baserunner and fielder with the Reds. He averaged 6.1 WAR in 10 seasons with the Reds. The Reds haven’t had a position player post a 6+ WAR season since Barry Larkin in 1996. WAR sees 1973 as Pete’s best year - and again the difference was his defense. Pete had better offensive years, but WAR sees 1973 (and 1974) as Pete’s best years with the glove.

9. Cy Seymour 1905 – 8.4

Cy Seymour was a converted pitcher, who spent most of his career with the Giants. Bill James has cited this season as one of the great fluke seasons of all time (and it was four full wins better than his second best season) – he led the league in average, hits, doubles, triples, and RBI (missing HR and a Triple Crown by one to teammate Fred Odwell). He was second in WAR for the season behind Honus Wagner

10. George Foster 1977 – 8.2

This was George Foster’s 52 home run season, and WAR gives Foster a considerable amount of credit for his defense that year. It would shock Mets fans, but according to WAR Foster was a very good outfielder with the Reds. Sparky thought so too, as George started 252 games in CF during his career with the Reds.

11. Ted Kluszewski 1954 – 8.1

Ted Kluszewski was a power hitter that analysts and Marty could love – he hit for a good average, took some walks, and hardly ever struck out. In 1954, he struck out 35 times vs. 78 walks, and led the league with 49 homers and 141 RBI. He finished second in NL WAR and in the MVP vote behind Willie Mays. Big Klu was a Hall of Famer at his peak, but due to back problems was unable to sustain a peak long enough to make it to Cooperstown.

12 – Eric Davis 1987 – 8.0

Eric Davis in 1987 was the best player I ever saw. He accumulated his 8.0 WAR in 129 games, as his season essentially ended in early September when he hit the bricks at Wrigley making a game saving catch. For a year with a .991 OPS, 50 steals in 56 attempts, and a Gold Glove with a second place team, Eric finished 9th in the MVP vote. In one of the most inexplicable MVP votes ever, Andre Dawson (2.7) won based on the strength of a 137 RBI season for a last place Cubs team. According to WAR, he wasn’t one of the top 30 position players in the NL that year.

13T – Johnny Bench 1974, Frank Robinson 1961/1964 – 7.6

Most observers would assume Bench’s 1970 season was his second best, but his 1974 was slightly better relative to the league and in most other metrics. He ranked 4th in the NL in WAR that year, behind Schmidt, Morgan, and Jimmy Wynn. The only real difference between Frank Robinson’s second and third best seasons was the context – by 1964 baseball was deep in the second deadball era.

Anytime I look at a leader list, I want to see the trailers. So here are the five worst Reds position player seasons from 1890-2008, as seen by WAR:

Juan Castro 2001 – (2.1)

Juan Castro helped drag the Reds away from contention for 8 seasons (he was below replacement level in 7 of them). 2001 was his “peak”, where he combined a .562 OPS (OPS+ of 42) with below average defense. Castro had a great defensive reputation (how else could he have stayed in the majors?) but the WAR defensive metrics considered him as average to below average. He was tied as the worst position player in the league in 2001 with Peter Bergeron of the Expos (211/275/285).

Wally Gilbert 1932, Mark Koenig 1934, Bobby Tolan 1973 – (2.3)

Wally Gilbert was a light hitting third baseman who finished his career with the Reds in 1932. In a league that hit .274, Wally put up a 214/252/274 season (43 OPS+) as the regular third baseman. His backup (Andy High) was worse (188/276/230) so it’s not like the Reds had options. 1932 was the second of four straight last place finishes for the Reds. Mark Koenig was a major contributor to the fourth of those last place finishes by combining a Willy Taveras like bat (without the steals) and a brutal glove (-15 runs in range factor). Unlike the other two, Bobby Tolan was a very good player for the Reds, and a key member of the 70 and 72 pennant winners. But in 1973, he wiped out, putting up a 206/251/304 season in 501 plate appearances. The Reds still won the division despite gaping holes in CF, RF, and 3B. All three were the worst position players in baseball during their awful seasons.

Tommy Helms 1970 (2.5)

The Reds won the 1970 pennant despite carrying a player that was nearly 3 wins below replacement. Helms couldn’t hit, and his defense was of the “good fielding percentage, no range” variety. Think the Reds improved any when he was replaced with Joe Morgan? From a statistical perspective, Helms (along with Wayne Granger) are the least deserving members of the Reds Hall of Fame.

Next time – the best pitcher seasons for the Reds.