78 degrees with a few clouds in the sky was the perfect day for the perfect game of baseball. My first in person game since 2019. I never knew just how much I missed it until I experienced the sights of sounds of the game for what felt like the very first time (again). Enough about me, let’s talk about the game. The alternate site Reds (that’s what we will call them) took on the Royals on Tuesday night. I want to provide a recap of the pitching and hitting while highlighting a few players.
Riley O’Brien started for the Reds. Acquired in the Cody Reed trade, O’Brien is an interesting pitcher with some obvious upside. He has a lot to like but can struggle to find the zone at times. He struck out Bobby Witt Jr (One of MLB top prospects) while causing him to whiff on back to back strikes. He also gave up 2 home runs, 4 hits 4 runs in 3 innings while striking out 5. At times he simply over powered hitters and at times they squared him up. I still like him as a possible bullpen guy at some point.
Brandon Finnegan, who came out of nowhere this spring and impressed, looked pretty solid tonight. Struck a guy out looking while allowing 1 hit in one inning. His breaking stuff had some life on it. Doolittle, Perez, and Garrett will make it tough for him to find innings, but if injuries happen he’s more than capable of filling in. What a great story his comeback is.
Finnegan was followed by uneventful innings from R.J. Alaniz, Edgar Garcia, Hector Perez, and Ryan Hendrix. Garcia was hit hard and hit often. Perez has a fastball that is noticeably faster than others, but the radar gun was not on. Hendrix really pops the catchers glove, but location was an issue.
Mike Freeman, a utility infielder brought over from the Indians, provided the only real offense tonight with a home run off a LHP (Lynch) to right center. In my mind him, Blandino, and Schrock all are battling for the same “utility infielder” position. Schrock was quiet at the plate tonight.
Mark Payton had a decent night at the plate. I really like his eye for the strike zone and patience at the plate. He had a strong single up the middle and worked a count full on another at bat. He had a ton of balls hit to him in center and he covered a lot of territory well. One ball he tried to rob a HR and it hit off of him and went over the wall. From my vantage point it looked like he might have helped that ball go over.
Jose Garcia made solid contact in his two balls put into play. I am far from a swing expert, but his swing looked a little off tonight. Maybe a little slow? I don’t know. He also swung and missed several times. A full year in the minors will do him well.
The last player that caught my eye was Alejo Lopez. The 24 year old switch hitting infielder just knows how to hit. He has logged over 1,000 minor league at bats and has a slash of .297/.367/.746. In his two at bats he made great contact one leading to a single up the middle and one a sharp lineout to end the game.
Why Jesse Winker Should Fill in at First Base During Joey Votto’s Absence
The Cincinnati Reds have a unique opportunity to give a look into the future at first base, while Joey Votto is out, and that should be Jesse Winker.
Just yesterday I posted about how to finagle the lineup and the defensive positioning when Shogo Akiyama returns. Another wrinkle has been added to that idea with the broken thumb of Joey Votto. Is it a wrinkle, or an opportunity, though?
The Reds have been getting Nick Senzel work at second base in recent games so as to remind him of his defensive prowess a that position to keep him in the lineup AND get Shogo in there. It happens to have created further value as Joey goes on the IL for roughly a month because it would seemingly open up the possibility of moving Mike Moustakas to first, Jonathan India to third, and Senzel to second in order to get Shogo in the lineup. I say seemingly, because I think there is a better option, and an opportunity for the future, by giving Jesse Winker a look there.
Moustakas has played exactly 12 more games and 98.2 innings at first base than Jesse Winker. Does he have more experience there? Yes. Would you say its an unassailable gap that trumps any possible creativity by David Bell? No. Winker has been trusted to play centerfield and you have to be far more athletic to play centerfield than first base (see Jim Thome in a Phillies uniform). Necessary athleticism to learn to play first base quickly enough to be effective there while Joey is on the shelf, check.
There also is no plan for the succession of Joey Votto at first base. There are no fast approaching first base prospects, and while you could easily move Rece Hinds or Austin Hendrick there now and get them ready, they’re still years away from playing MLB baseball. The DH is coming next year. It would make the most sense if Joey garners a majority of the time there, meaning first base is open defensively. When it comes to his outfield prowess, Winker would seem to be at his peak. He could be far more valuable, defensively, to the Reds at first base as early as next year, why not begin that transition now?
Theres also an argument that sprouts from the Winker to first base that involves India. This is his first taste of MLB action and he is really settling in to second base, defensively. Winker’s four-plus years of experience would lead me to believe a change of position would not affect him as much as changing the position of a rookie, for a short period of time, and then setting him back to the position he was originally at when Joey returns. India had some nice glove plays in Wednesday’s win over the White Sox. It would seem unappealing to change his point of view, now, when it seems to be growing in comfort. Leave him at second, Moose at third, Suarez at short, and move Winker to first to open a spot in the outfield for Shogo.
Of course, when it comes to the idea of the future of the first base position, there is the possibility Nick Castellanos opts out of his contract this offseason. That would have Winker moving to right field with Moose moving to first, Suarez back to third, and Jose Garcia being given the keys to the shortstop sports car, and this idea becomes moot.
How the Reds Effectively Utilize the Roster as Shogo Akiyama Returns
Shogo Akiyama is rumored to be returning to the Cincinnati Reds as early as the end of this week. Here’s what the Reds should do with the lineup as Shogo gets going.
The return of Shogo Akiyama is foretold to be happening by the end of this week. It will be good to see Shogo back on the field and playing his second season of the MLB brand of baseball, but what does his return portend for a roster that has a glut of outfielders and a budding second baseman?
Shogo showed to have a strong ability to get on base as he got more comfortable with Major League pitching. His on-base percentage in the month of September last year as .456. The biggest question around Shogo was his quality of contact. In 121 bated balls he had exactly one barrel, per Baseball Savant. His hard hit percentage of 26.4% was nearly 9% lower than league average. Given that he finished the shortened season with a .297 slugging percentage, his OPS+ of 72 seems fair. The problem comes with thinking that really tells us much of anything about Shogo.
Meanwhile, the logical solution to too many outfielders that seemed available in the offseason has completely changed. An argument could be made for playing Nick Senzel at second base and allow Shogo to man centerfield. The emergence of Jonathan India has changed things. He has shown some ability with the bat, although his peripheral stats show he’s getting slightly lucky, and he shows promise fielding the second base position. There’s still an argument to be had, though, if he deserves everyday playing time based on a small sample size that is mildly successful.
A platoon could be the answer. I had thought last year that intermittent playing time without regularity threw Shogo off, a bit, as he adjusted to a new version of baseball. I see the value in limiting his exposure, at least early into his 2021 campaign, the lefty pitching, though. He only got 21 at-bats against southpaws in 2020 and mustered three singles and a double. Should he show that he is settled in, he might be a candidate to ignore platoon splits.
As it is, I think the Reds should work Shogo in as a platoon with Senzel and use Senzel at second base in India’s stead when Shogo is in the lineup. I feel like that is why they have given Senzel playing time at second base, recently, so as to ensure his ability to move around the diamond and keep him in the lineup while also opening up the possibilities for other lineup combinations.
A lineup against right-handed pitchers could look like Shogo (CF), Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, Senzel (2B), Tucker Barnhart, and the pitcher spot.
Against lefty pitchers, it could look like Senzel (CF), Winker, Castellanos, Votto, Suarez, Moustakas, Stephenson, India (2B), pitcher.
Pitchers Getting Pulled: Who’s to Blame?
Who is to blame, when it comes to pulling a pitcher from the game? The answer for the Cincinnati Reds, as opposed to others, may not be the same.
The complete game. A starter going 8 and handing it off to the closer. The 250-inning Ace. Once a measuring stick for starters, not all but gone from the game. Sure, it still happens from time to time, but if seeing a starter in an 8th inning is rare, seeing one in the ninth might as well be big foot. Why is this? Twitter would tell you David Bell is to blame. Does Bell have a quick hook or are pitchers playing a larger role in this decision?
Let’s get some simple facts we all know out on the table. An inning is 3 outs. If a pitcher throws a complete game, that is 27 outs. Everyone still following? Great. Now, how many pitches is an out? It could be as low as zero (pick off a baserunner) or almost as high as Zack Weiss’ ERA (INF). Pitch count is important. In today’s MLB pitchers are not throwing 130+ pitches too often, and that is a good thing. The reason is mostly due to 1) Avoiding the third time through the order 2) Injury prevention (pitch count)
I know a lot of people hear the “third time through the order” reason and immediately scramble to name several old school pitchers who got outs regardless or those “new” stats. Today and moving forward, the MLB is more and more statistically driven. Managers know the statistics of the third time threw and often decide to go to the bullpen.
Baseball Prospectus (Mitchell Lichtman)
This chart is interesting because it shows good and bad pitchers. Let’s help set a scale. Reds starters wOBA against in 2021 (through 4/27)
Mahle – .243
Castillo – .386 (career .296)
Hoffman – .314
Miley – .225
Gray (2020) – .275
Third time through batters begin to see the ball better, pick up the release point, umpire’s zones are established, and pitchers start to fatigue. As you can see, even the best pitchers have a significant drop in efficiency. Bring in a bullpen guy with a new arm slot. Let’s throw in a lefty. Change of speed, change of pitchers, whatever it is to throw something new at a lineup. Playing the percentages. Of course, the bullpen must come in and get the job done. Another major fact is of course pitch count.
“They pulled him in the 5th and he was pitching a gem, the manager is an idiot”. When I see this my next question obviously is “What was his pitch count?” Injury prevention has never had more focus than it does today. Pitchers do not throw 120 pitches in the first start. They need to work their way up and will likely top out in July and August. Tyler Mahle has been fantastic this year but rarely gets past 5 innings. In games where he pitches 5 innings or less, he throws an average of 90 pitches. You add a third time through the order to a 90-pitch count and it makes Bell’s decision clearer.
My point is, we need to start talking about pitch count as much or more than “innings pitched” when we discuss a pitcher getting pulled. If you want to go deep into games, you first must be effective. That includes pitch count. Rolling a pitcher with 90 plus pitches out just because you want them to go deeper is not always the best decision, especially this early in the year. As the year goes on, pitch counts will increase to some degree. But Bell pulling a pitcher in the 5th, even if his box score looks good, is not automatically a bad decision.