Table of Contents

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Reds Preview: Position Players

2014 Reds Season Preview


This week is Reds Preview Week at the 'ole blog.  The Introduction is here.  Time to get down to brass tacks!

Below I'm reporting projections for all Reds position players, including a smattering of potential bench candidates.  The projections are 50:50 averages of Steamer and ZIPS, which I chose because they will be updated throughout the season;  I might use this spreadsheet as a basis for series previews or other kinds of check-ins during the season.  Maybe!  All counting stats (WAR, baserunning, and fielding) are reported as per-year totals, which I set to 550 PA for catchers and 650 PA for everyone else.  This includes bench players.  The idea is to get an idea of player talent, not accurately project playing time.

Starters

The biggest, obvious problem here is Ryan Ludwick.  The projection systems aren't at all buying that he's due for a resurgent season: average offense and poor fielding in an outfield corner mean for near-replacement level production.  They have good reason to be skeptical, too: he'll turn 36 in July, he's coming off a shoulder injury, and his 2012 Reds performance, good as it was, was a 472-PA follow-up to an absolutely dreadful campaign in 2011 with the Pirates and Padres.  Can he rebound?  Sure.  But I'm not putting money on it.  If he doesn't recover, the Reds can go with Chris Heisey out there...but his amazing spring notwithstanding, the projections don't look much better for him.

Otherwise, however, I have to say that the starting lineup looks really solid.  Devin Mesoraco looks to be a solid regular catcher, which would be a big upgrade over what the Reds got last year out of their catchers.  Furthermore, Billy Hamilton is projected to be a tick below average, but also not a complete disaster in center field.  Most of his production is his baserunning and fielding, but he is projected to post a near league-average OBP (with zero power).  Interestingly, he is the starter over whom Steamer and ZIPS differ the most.  ZIPS projects a .302 wOBA and very good baserunning and fielding to net 2.5 WAR, while Steamer is much more reserved (.283 wOBA, good baserunning, avg fielding, 0.8 WAR).

Everyone else looks to be more or less in line with what they did last year, with a bit of regression and a few blips thrown in here and there.  Overall, the Reds project to be a very good fielding team (the silver lining to losing Choo), and will have to find enough offense before they get to the 8-9-1 slots of offensive nothingness that Cozart-Pitcher-Hamilton will bring.  Still, if Zack Cozart and Hamilton can do enough with fielding, and in Hamilton's case, baserunning, they still pass as league-average players because the play elite defensive positions.  If Cozart could figure out how to take a walk now and then, however, it'd sure help the cause.

Bench

Oh, the horrors!

I like that Brayan Pena can bat left-handed, but he looks like a poor offensive player without much defense here.  But he's a catcher, and it doesn't take a lot to be worth bench job.  Hannahan can at least play the field, and looks like a good enough super-sub if he can get healthy enough to play.  Heisey is easily the strongest bat of the bunch, and can contribute fielding as well.  I expect to see him get some starts against lefties to spell Hamilton or Bruce.

But why on earth did they sign Skip Schumaker?  Yes, he's a lefty, and it looks like he can get on base a little bit.  But he has zero power, and his fielding projection is just horrific.  His career UZR/150 is -13 runs at 2B, -2 runs in LF/RF, and -12 runs in CF.  So...I guess if you stick in in a corner outfield slot, his glove is fine.  But despite decent on-base skills, he has zero power, and won't hit enough to offset the position adjustment.  The more I look at it, the more I dislike this signing.  I don't wish an injury on anyone, and I hope he recovers soon from his shoulder injury.  But in terms of performance, I'd much rather have someone like Roger Bernadina as the 5th outfielder/lefty bat (he can field, power makes up for weaker on-base skills) and Cesar Izturis Ramon Santiago as the middle-infielder.

With all of the injuries, guys like Chris Nelson and Neftali Soto might have a legitimate shot at the roster.  Both contribute some pop, but they don't walk and won't contribute defense.  Soto is a bit more interesting to me because of his slight edge on offense, and his ability to "catch," by which I mean he has donned the gear in professional baseball.  I'm not sure that he'd be any better at it than he is at his other fielding jobs, but it's nice to have an emergency catcher, I suppose.

Conclusions

In preparing this piece, I also happened to plug in numbers for the Cardinals.  For the most part, I thought the Reds matched up pretty well.  Except for two things.

1. The Cardinals don't have a gigantic hole like the Reds do in LF.  In fact, pretty much every player in their lineup can hit.  The exception might be 2B, but at least there they have guys who can field.  The Reds really need Ludwick to find himself again, or have Heisey quickly take his job and discover himself.

2. The Cardinals have a really good bench.  They have guys like Jon Jay and Mark Ellis (when he's not platooning) on their bench.  Those two guys can both be at least borderline starters, and that's probably selling them short.  And on top of that, they have Oscar Taveras waiting to make his big league debut, which would push Matt Adams (I guess?) to the bench.  I mean...sheesh.

Those two things put the Reds at somewhere around a 4-6 win deficit compared to the Cardinals, depending on how much the Reds' bench plays.  They will need to somehow get something from left field while keeping healthy enough to minimize the exposure of the rest of their bench to compete.  It won't be easy.

Fortunately...the pitching!  That's coming up next.


***
Here's a relevant exchange on the Twitter about Brayan Pena.  I'm more hopeful about him now.