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.
Reds set for Three Against the Giants
Reeling from being swept at home by their in-state rivals, the Cincinnati Reds (52-69) welcome the San Francisco Giants (61-61) to Great American Ballpark.
The Reds will be glad to see the schedule move past the Indians. In the six games against their in-state rivals, Cincinnati allowed 50 runs. Yup…rub your eyes, shake your head, and check the numbers. The Cincinnati Reds allowed 50 runs in six games to the Cleveland Indians. See also, roller coaster season.
This is the time to really figure out what kind of depth the organization has. Yeah, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker are on the DL. Yeah, Joey Votto is playing on one leg (don’t get me started on that). So now you find out what guys like Dilson Herrera, Brandon Dixon, Mason Williams, and my guy, Phil Ervin, got.
The problem is, they have an interim manager whose posture is one of auditioning for a job in 2019. That’s not an indictment, by the way. I mean, the man wants to get a paycheck past this season, it’s understandable, but figuring out what’s in the tank and winning games are not the same thing.
Both Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson threw 1.2 innings, apiece, in their last outings. Sure, they were pitching pretty terribly, but they need to learn what it is to fight through days when you don’t have it. Now, I hear you, and I agree with you, it was painful to watch, both days, but Sal said it himself “There’s nothing for me to take away from this outing.” That wasn’t him lashing out at Riggsy for pulling him so quick, he was just honest about the fact he didn’t have anything that day.
My point with all this is, even when things are tough, when the score is more of a hyperbole, leave the young guys in there to figure it out.
Anyway, enough ranting, let’s preview this weekend’s pitching matchups.
Anthony DeSclafani toes the rubber against Casey Kelly. Disco is coming off a superb outing against the Diamondbacks in which he struck out nine in seven innings of shutout ball. In fact, his last three starts look like this: two wins, 18.1 innings pitched, four earned runs allowed, and 16 strikeouts. These are the kind of numbers Reds fans want to see from Disco!
His opponent was supposed to be a sensational young pitcher named Dereck Rodriguez, but he was hurt in a benches clearing altercation with the Dodgers on Tuesday. In his place will be Kelly, the son of Reds bench coach, Pat Kelly.
A former first round pick of the Boston Red Sox, Casey Kelly has pitched in a pair of games this year for the Giants. He’s allowed one earned run on 6.1 IP while striking out three. He’s a straight-laced pitcher, serving hitters a steady diet of fastballs and curveballs, and has a sinker he mixes in, on occasion. His fastball velocity averages right around 93 with his curveball countering at around 82.
Game two will see Matt Harvey square off against Madison Bumgarner. Harvey’s season is a fitting parallel to the Reds season, as a whole. After putting together an abysmal stretch of starts following the All Star Break, the Dark Knight turned in an impressive performance against Arizona. In seven innings of work, he allowed a pair of earned runs, five hits, one walk all while striking out seven. There are precious few days before the end of the waiver-trade deadline, so if he is traded away, this may be the last start Harvey has in a Reds uniform.
Facing him will be a Giant, both in terms of the team he plays for and his position amongst professional pitchers. Bumgarner hasn’t pitched a lot this year, due to injury, but he has been his normal self. He currently has a 2.71 ERA in 79.2 IP with 67 K’s. He’s doing a good job of keeping the ball in the park, having allowed just six homers this year.
The finale will feature Luis Castillo pitching against Andrew Suarez. Castillo had a rough outing against the D-Backs, last time. He was saddled with the loss after allowing five earned runs on 5.2 innings of work. Castillo’s sophomore season has had lots of ups and downs, but his season ERA is inching toward the good, slowly as it currently sits at 5.04.
Suarez has put together a solid rookie year for the Giants. The 25-year old 4.40 ERA in 21 starts and has fanned 100 batters in 116.2 innings. He pitched six shutout innings at Dodger Stadium his last time out, but received a no-decision for his efforts. The Reds beat Suarez and the Giants back on May 16th when they scored five runs (four earned), on eight hits and a walk. Former Red Adam Duvall hit a three-run jack off Suarez in that game.
The Reds won one and lost a pair in that May series with the Giants. These will be the last three games they play against San Fran for the 2018 season.
As of this posting, Joey Votto had just been placed on the disabled list. Here’s hoping a speedy and full recovery for Joseph Daniel.
Keep tuned to Locked on Reds for your daily Reds fix and follow @JamesRapien and @jefffcarr on Twitter.
Reds Swept by Indians at Home
Despite making it dramatic in the ninth, the Cincinnati Reds (52-69) lost to the Cleveland Indians (69-51) 4 to 3. The Indians took the Ohio Cup 4 to 2.
The Rollercoaster Reds had runners on second and third but failed to score. The ninth inning saw Billy Hamilton make an interesting choice to run for home on a soft grounder to the first baseman for the first out, Scooter Gennett walk, Eugenio Suarez strike out (more on that later), and Curt Casali fly out.
The game was a struggle from the beginning.
Robert Stephenson didn’t get any better from his first start, he may have actually gotten worse. Dude had zero control of any of his pitches, erratically spraying the ball everywhere but the strike zone. Given a three-run lead from the first inning, Stephenson proceeded to come out in the second and throw first-pitch balls to the first four hitters, allowing two runs, and getting pulled before the end of the second.
Remember when he walked a Mets pitcher on four pitches? Yeah, he walked Indians pitcher Shane Bieber on four pitches, as well. Bieber had exactly three career at-bats before this game.
Cody reed, however, came into the game in the second and proceeded to insert his name into the discussion for pitching in the rotation the rest of the year. The box score will show a loss and two earned runs in 3.2 innings, but his night looked much better than that. He retired eight in a row before allowing a walk and a homer, consecutively, that gave the Indians a 4-3 lead. He worked quickly and confidently, the exact opposite of BobSteve.
Interesting Notes from Wednesday’s Game:
Despite being talked about in this space a bit, Jose Peraza is having a quietly good season. He had another multi-hit night on Wednesday, bringing his total to 33 multi-hit games. His average is now at .285. He’s hitting .288 from the leadoff spot with 57 hits and 31 runs scored.
Jared Hughes tossed an inning and 2/3 of perfect baseball. He struck out a pair in this appearance and managed to lower his ERA to 1.31. He has the second-best ERA among relievers with at least 50 IP, behind Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress (1.29).
The Reds bench, as managed by one Jim Riggleman, was very active. In the bottom of the seventh inning Dilson Herrera pinch-hit for Hughes. This move left just Curt Casali on the bench…and there were still two innings left in regulation play. In fact, in the top of the sixth, Mason Williams was brought in as part of a double-switch when Hughes came in to pitch. He played for all of one out before Riggsy pinch-hit Brandon Dixon for him in the bottom of the sixth. Confused yet?
Eugenio Suarez had a night he’d just as soon forget. He struck out five times, twice on pitches that were, according to the Fox Sports Ohio strike zone, outside the zone. The fifth strikeout left Geno walking back to the dugout with a purely blank look on his face. Watch out for him on Thursday, man may hit 12 homers.
The Reds will get some rest on Thursday and be back at Great American for the weekend against the Giants of San Francisco.
Keep your eye on @lockedonReds and @jefffcarr on Twitter for all your Reds content.
Reds Toss Batting Practice to Indians
The Cincinnati Reds (52-67) had a case of the Mondays as the Cleveland Indians (67-51) put up double digit runs on the scoreboard and won 10 to 3.
Every single Indian batter who started the game got a hit, seven of which got multi-hit games, three of them putting together a three-hit night. The top three Cleveland hitters (Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, and Jose Ramirez) feasted on Cincinnati pitching to the tune of eight hits, six runs scored, three walks, and four RBIs.
Homer Bailey (1-10) has a stat line that will make it look like he got shelled, but the bad stuff didn’t happen til the sixth, a point in time after the gloves and bats behind him proved they would not be much help. In the fourth inning, alone, while Homer was on the mound, the defense gave the Indians, the third best run-scoring team in the AL, two extra outs. Homer managed to get out of it, but it was an inning that inflated his pitch count by close to 20.
Offensively, the Reds stranded eight runners before Bailey had his inning of doom. In fact, as is a constant problem in the history of Cincinnati baseball (it feels like, anyway), the bases were left loaded at the end of the third and fourth innings. Not saying it’s the bats’ fault that Bailey didn’t pitch well in the sixth, but his mindset would have been totally different had some of those runners crossed home plate.
Yes, I am sympathetic for a professional pitcher that blamed his last bad start on the advance scouting department. But every day is a new day, and it really feels like there is some sort of crazy rain cloud following Homer around.
Notes from Monday’s Game:
Curt Casali hit a solo homer in the eighth inning that gave the Reds three home runs, as a team, on Monday night. Tucker Barnhart and Scooter Gennett were the other two. The Reds hadn’t hit any homers in the previous three games.
Speaking of Casali, in 69 AB this year, he is hitting .304 with an OPS of .915.
Amir Garrett endured his worst relief appearance of his career. He allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning. Cleveland knocked him around for four hits and a walk, all in the vaunted sixth inning on Monday.
Joey Votto reached base twice (single, walk) and looked hobbled, running the bases. It’s not something he is keen to do, because he is awesome, but it may be prudent of the Reds to consider resting him. Whether the Reds will do the prudent thing, well…
The Reds and Indians look to break the season-series tie tonight at 7:10 pm as Sal Romano will go up against Corey Kluber. Follow @LockedOnReds and my account, @jefffcarr for your Reds content, in-game and out.