As a relatively new Cincinnati Reds fan, I vividly remember the excitement I had about Billy Hamilton when he was in the minor leagues. He was the first prospect I followed from the start and, along with the excitement of following a good Reds team (which feels like decades ago now), the idea of an exciting youngster joining the fold and contributing right away was tantalizing.
And Hamilton did contribute immediately!
As a September call-up in the 2013 season, Hamilton had an OPS of .906, stole 13 bases in 13 games and added a jolt to the Reds that helped them make the playoffs.
Unfortunately, that spurt was as much of an outlier as there has been in Hamilton’s season. He’s never had a 13-game stretch with an OPS or an on-base percentage as high as his first 13 major league games.
His value defensively is unquestioned. By stats, he’s one of the 10 best defensive centerfielders in the league. By my eye test, there isn’t one better. His blazing speed, reading of the ball and athleticism allows him to make both spectacular plays while also making difficult plays look mundane.
Offensively, as mentioned, he’s regressed each of the last two seasons. Through Thursday, he’s hitting .195/.285/.279 with a 57 wRC+. If those averages hold, it’d be his lowest batting average and slugging percentages in a season, second-lowest on-base percentage and second-lowest wRC+.
He’s on pace for his lowest offensive fWAR of his career. Because of his inability to get on the bases, Hamilton’s Baserunning Rating is on-pace for a career low. And even as good as he is defensively, he’s also on pace for a career-low defensive fWAR, is currently worth -3 Defensive Runs Saved and is on pace for a career-worst Ultimate Zone Rating.
We’ve officially entered a time where Billy Hamilton’s defense is no longer good enough to make up for his offense.
Based on the current state of the Reds’ centerfielder options, the Reds either expected Hamilton to be the long-term answer in centerfield or woefully underprepared for the possibility Hamilton wouldn’t work out. There is no current clear-cut player to take his spot in the outfield, which is likely the only reason he still is in the lineup day-to-day.
With the season already lost and no chance at meaningful baseball, the Reds should throw things against the wall and try to find a solution before the days of competitive baseball return.
There are a couple of options, some tantalizing long-term solutions and few enticing short-term fixes, worth looking at.
25-man roster options
Scott Schebler – The first and most obvious solution if you’re benching Hamilton is to place Schebler in centerfield. Schebler is the only current outfielder who can play centerfield and has done so sparingly this season. With the Reds having an issue playing Schebler, Adam Duvall and Jesse Winker already, benching Hamilton and starting Schebler every day would at least solve that issue.
What the Reds would sacrifice defensively they would certainly make up for offensively. Schebler has a wRC+ more than twice as much as Hamilton’s. As a team, it removes what has often become an automatic out from the lineup and makes the lineup more potent.
Reds’ batting with Schebler starting in CF – .284/.342/.379 in 317 ABs
Reds’ batting with Hamilton starting in CF – .243/.321/.381 in 1775 ABs
It’s obviously a small sample size, but the Reds are simply better offensively with Schebler in center.
Jose Peraza – The only other player capable of playing in center, Peraza has played 113 innings in center, 97 of those coming in 2016. Statistically, though, Peraza is worse than Schebler defensively in center and should probably stay in the middle infield.
40-man roster options
Phil Ervin – Another familiar name for fans, Ervin has had two cups of coffee, spending 16 games up with the Reds this season after 28 games last season.
Despite spending 322 innings in center last season in AAA and starting one game in center this season, Ervin has played almost exclusively the corner outfield spots in AAA this season, playing just seven innings in Louisville in center.
With only advanced metrics in the big leagues, we can see Ervin struggled mightily in center in 63 innings last season, which would likely explain why he’s spent most of his time in the corners this season.
Jose Siri – While Siri made waves last season with a lengthy hit streak, his injury during spring training set him back. Even then, Siri hasn’t played above the High-A level he’s currently at and isn’t much of an option.
Non-40-man roster options
Taylor Trammell – At this point, we’re out of options for an immediate fix, but there are some options for the not-so-distant future.
Trammell is a name most Reds fans are familiar with. One of the top prospects in the system, the 20-year old is hitting .304/.412/.476 with a 158 wRC+ in High-A. Trammell has 199 plate appearances across 49 games in High-A. A call-up to AA could likely be in the cards in the very near future and, should he continue his success, it’s not out of the realm he battles for an Opening Day spot in 2019.
Mason Williams – Likely a name that no Reds fan has heard of, Williams is the current starting centerfielder in AAA. If you want solid defense, Williams has made one error in centerfield since 2015 in roughly 1,500 innings. While he was once a top prospect years ago in the Yankees’ system, his 88 wRC+ is an improvement over his 77 wRC+ last season. He’s not the offensive solution for the Reds.
Gabriel Guerrero – One last name to consider is Guerrero, another unfamiliar name. A prospect who has bounced around, Guerrero found his way to the Reds last season in AA, then began mashing in Pensacola this season, hitting .296/.336/.469 in 107 plate appearances, all while appearing exclusively in center.
Guerrero was called up to AAA in early May but has slowed at the plate, hitting .274/.314/.358 in 102 plate appearances. That figure is brought down by a slow start in which he hit .171/.211/.229 in his first 38 plate appearances in Louisville. Since then, Guerrero has hit .333/.375/.433 over 64 plate appearances.
All of that time in AAA comes with the caveat that he’s exclusively played in right field. He’s an intriguing option that needs more time to develop, but could be a call-up later in the season should his recent form hold and he shifts to centerfield at least sparingly.
There really isn’t a simple solution to the problem. The fix probably requires a list of moves. If it were myself, I’d move Schebler into centerfield, call up Trammell to AA and let Guerrero spend more time in centerfield in AAA. I’d also get creative with how I used Hamilton, using this article from FanGraphs in the preseason as a template. Hamilton is an incredibly unique player that requires a unique approach to getting the most out of him.
None of this is likely a fix that’ll help things this season, but it puts the Reds on a path toward a potential solution early next season, which is better than where they’re at now.
Remembering Reds: Corky Miller
Among the Reds’ fan favorites is a man not known for his statistical achievements, but for simply how awesome he was.
Morgan, Bench, Robinson, Larkin, and Miller. All names that Reds fans recog…wait, Miller? As in Corky Miller? Absolutely. Corky Miller, the minor league catcher with 539 career MLB at bats. The Miller that holds a career .193/.277/.306 53 OPS+ and a 0.0 WAR, yet everyone knows his name. And adores him. His stats won’t jump off the page, but his laid back attitude and fu Manchu leave a mark on your memory.
Signed by the Reds in 1998, Miller did not reach the show until 2001. In his 11 year career spanning from 2001-2013 (didn’t appear in 2011/2012) Miller never played more than 39 games in one season. So how did he become a household name? Well, probably because he looks more like your fun uncle than your favorite team’s catcher. Now don’t get me wrong, Corky brought value to the teams he was on. He was as much as a coach/mentor as he was a ballplayer. You will still find him in the Reds organization helping the young catchers develop. Let’s take a look at some of Corky’s highlights.
Corky steals home
When you think about baseball players stealing home you might immediately think about the great Jackie Robinson sliding in against the Yankees as Yogi Berra losses his mind at the “safe” call. Hell, you might even think about Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez pulling off the impossible feat in the last scene of the Sandlot. Well, Corky Miller joined this elite group on September 27th, 2001. As Omar Daal of the Phillies threw to first Miller showed off his wheels as his much slimmer self had a perfect slide under the tag. Miller walked back to the dugout as if he’s done this 1,000 times. Incredible swagger.
The Dancing KING
Fast forward to late June 2013. Miller finds himself back in a Reds uniform for the first time since 2010. Looking more like the Corky we know and love, sporting the fu Manchu, Miller shows off his quick footwork. Juan Uribe flies out to Jay Bruce who’s throw home took Corky off to the left of home. Hanley Ramirez, not the best baserunner himself, runs past home, retreats, dances around the grounded Miller only to be tagged on the third attempt while flailing towards home. This is so ugly that it is absolutely beautiful.
The Next Cy Young
Corky was more than a catcher and fan favorite. He was an elite pitcher. Well, maybe not elite. Over his career in the minors he pitched 7.2 innings and surrendered 14 hits, 13 earned runs and struck out 2. But in 2012 while playing for the Louisville Bats he pitched a scoreless inning. Down 13-0 in the bottom of the 8th, Miller came in to throw some rainbows in the general direction of home plate. A fly out to left, a pop out to first, and a fly out to right Miller put down the Columbus batters in order.
While his career might not stand out, Miller’s impact has. One of the beloved players in the clubhouse, he has mentored many young catchers along the way. Here’s to many more great years to Corky!
How a Shortened Season can Help and Hurt the Reds
step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.
The world is in an obscure and unsure place. Today we were supposed to be watching a parade and cheering on the Redlegs. Instead, we are confused about the future of the 2020 season as we watch the 7th straight episode of a Netflix series, perfecting social distancing. How the 2020 season will be played has yet to be determined. I want to take a step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.
Each day that passes without baseball is a day closer to a season without 162 games. For the sake of argument, let’s say the season is somewhere between 75-100 games. What ways can that benefit the Reds?
1. They can get healthy. Suarez, Senzel, and Galvis (amongst others) have battled some spring injuries. Extra time off only helps their recovery and could lead to a 100% healthy “Opening Day” lineup. Although Galvis is not a top ten talent at short, he is much better than the current back up options. Luckily, he should be ready to go and 100%.
2. The rotation can be a great strength. We all know how strong the current rotation is. The Reds could adjust the strategy because you won’t be worried about getting starters 32 starts and 200ish innings. With a compact season, you could let starters go deeper in games, or even go to a shorter rotation because you won’t be trying to strength out the innings over several months. Bauer and Disco are both on contract years and will be laser-focused on making the most of their fewer starts to prove their value come next offseason. If the league goes heavy on doubleheaders, Mahle and a few others could step up into the expanded rotation and stronger than many team’s depth starters.
3. How a shorten season benefits Votto? As Joey ages, he will need more days off, especially if the decline is steady. If Joey does not have to prepare himself for 162 games, it could lead to better results as he would be fresher. We all know he can get off to slow starts and avoiding that would be crucial in a shortened season.
How can the shortened season hurt the Reds?
1. David Bell is still a new manager. Fresh, unproven, inexperienced. At times in 2019, he cost the Reds some games. There is little to no margin for error in a short season. Each game means more and the lineup experimenting with playing players out of position won’t fly. Managerial experience will be extremely important in 2020 and hopefully Bell has improved after year one.
2. Lack of important experience for prospects. Tyler Stephenson, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, and many other prospects are missing out on developmental time. This one really stings. A couple of the Reds top prospects are projected to be on the 2021 roster but needed some time in higher levels of the minors to learn and iron out a few things. You can train and work with coaches during this time, but the actual game experience cannot be overlooked.
3. Pressure. Obviously, every game counts each season. But a shortened season stresses the importance of each game. The Reds cannot afford to go on a losing streak as they did at the beginning of 2019. The expectations for 2020 remain high, and the pressure to perform is building. The adjustment to the MLB for Shogo must happen fast. Senzel has to stay healthy. The margin of error shrinks and pressure goes up. Iglesias cannot struggle to close out games or he’ll be replaced.
The 2020 season won’t be ideal. No one wants it to be this way. Watching 162 games a year is a joy and I will miss the routine of watching the Reds every night. Let’s hope this shortened season feels and plays like a playoff series where every aspect of the game is emphasized and more important. Here’s to everyone staying safe and healthy, and the Reds winning the pennant.
Take a look at a few thoughts before we get this 2020 season underway!
What is this team’s greatest weakness and how do they go about addressing it? (@GeraldSHuber)
To me, it has to be defense. (Here’s an article I wrote about it: https://bit.ly/2wft1Bs ). Tucker and Casali are fine but not spectacular, Votto is mediocre, Moose is an unknown, and the outfield defense leaves you wanting more. Galvis is great at short, but many others could be troublesome. If defense is your greatest weakness, you probably have a pretty good team.
How many years until we see Jose Garcia? (@smoffe87)
Everyone’s new favorite prospect, and he should be. The future is bright. Garcia has yet to reach AA, where he’ll likely start this season. In high A Daytona he hit .280/.343/.436 with 8 HR and 37 (!) doubles. No need to rush the 21-year-old, but he likely is the SS in 2021 if all goes according to plan. The lack of depth at SS could rush him if injuries happen or he hits the cover off the ball.
Who will lead off? What do they do with Schebler, Reed, Mahle, and other players without options? (@StachlerJames)
Shogo Akiyama should see time as the leadoff. A career .376 OBP who has been closer to .400 in recent years (NPB league) has a chance to be a real difference maker.
Schebler, I think, will end up being traded or DFA. Reed has a tough first start, but its early and he looked great in limited time last season. Another lefty in the pen not named Peralta or Duke is welcomed. Mahle has an option and likely is headed to Louisville to get regular starts. The Reds will likely need him to start at some point during the season. Sims likely earns a pen spot, Travis Jankowski could be the final spot if injuries occur. His speed and defense are useful.
Is Senzel going to be a utility player or end up getting traded? (@GerryYnciarte65)
Being a super utility is not a bad thing. Ben Zobrist was a hell of a player in that role. However, I think Senzel will be seeing plenty of time in CF splitting with Akiyama. His bat is too good to be a true bench player. I don’t think he will be traded. It feels like he would have already been moved if that was the plan.
If Tucker or Casali get hurt do they let Farmer catch or Stephenson? (@OdeToRedsWS)
Catcher organizational depth is lacking. Stephenson could be the option if he is hitting well in AAA Louisville. I think we see him at some point this season. Only other catcher in the organization with MLB experience besides Casali and Tucker is Francisco Pena (190 AB .216/.249/.311). His stats are underwhelming at the plate but he’s a veteran and that carries value. Sadly, I doubt we see former Red great Ryan Lavarnway in 2020. Add Garcia and Stephenson to this lineup in 2021 and that team is very strong.
Over/Under….When do the Reds give up on the mix-n-match platoon ideas and have a regular lineup? Line is May 31st. (MTGPackFoils)
The days of the “same lineup everyday” are gone. And they should be. Putting out the same lineup doesn’t always mean the results will follow. Some players hit lefties but not righties and some hit righties and not lefties. Play the best players for each situation. Platooning can lead to the best results at times. So OVER. (More on that here: https://bit.ly/38cbCXD)
What are your thoughts on Shogo playing mostly center or left, if Senzel is healthy? (@Win1SuperBowl)
As it stands today, the outfield is crowded. It will play itself out. Akiyama can play all three OF positions and I could see him getting at-bats in the corner OF when Senzel is in CF. There’s true competition for at-bats this season and that’s absolutely a good thing. Players will have to earn their playing time.
Who is the backup SS? (@GebzillaG)
Kyle Famer. He ‘s such a unique player who can play all over the field. He was a college SS and has worked their early this spring. Across all levels he’s seen 76 innings at SS and hasn’t recorded and error. Blandino could also be the back up SS. Blandino has 60.2 innings at short in the MLB and is a .941 fielder there. 1692 innings at short in the minors with a .951 fielding %.