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We have a Billy Hamilton problem

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Jacob is a journalist and lifelong sports fan across the board. From soccer to basketball to baseball, he enjoys watching his favorite team’s break his heart. After finishing up at Indiana University and majoring in journalism, Jacob is now a sports editor during the day and an online journalist at night.

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Cincinnati Reds

The Positives for the Cincinnati Reds of Keeping Nick Senzel in AAA

The Cincinnati Reds are telling us it is time to change our expectations of Nick Senzel, writes Clay Snowden

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Things have not gone as planned. Nick Senzel was selected with the second overall pick in 2016 and was praised for his plus hit tool. Fast forward to now and Senzel is an often injured player who currently sits in AAA Louisville. I am not sure if I remember a player with as much frustration attached to his name, maybe Billy Hamilton? I am not writing Senzel off as a bust just yet, but things are trending that way. With him in AAA what should we make of this?

I think it is time to change expectations. Once thought of as a potential building block of the Reds rebuild and future, Senzel has proven he cannot be that. Injury after injury has limited his time on the field, but even when he has played he has not been very good. Definitely not second overall good. Hell he’s a negative WAR player. He’s still young(ish) and has not had enough at bats to really determine what he will become. If I was a betting man, I would bet he wouldn’t reach the potential we once though he had. A lot of the blame falls on….well….bad luck. Injuries stunting development is not something I like to blame on players. The organization has not exact made it easy on him. Changing his positions several times including a drastic change to center to fit team needs was not easy on Senzel. Changing his swing/stance during his rookie season was crazy. And here we sit on August 16th, 2021 with Senzel playing for the Louisville Bats. You can debate if it’s the right move or not, but its where we are. What positives can come from this move?

 

Let’s go back to expectations. It’s time to shift from all star build block to useful utility player. We can be mad about it all we want, but it won’t change anything. My hope is Senzel is used all over the field in Louisville. He’s played some SS down there which makes things interesting. We know he can play second, third, and center. Adding short to that resume makes him a very useful piece. If the plan is to transition him to a utility role, he could get plenty of starts at multiple positions, cover pinch running, defensive subs late in the game, and be a back up shortstop (especially in 2022).  

 

Bottom line, Senzel needs a role and they need to stick to that role. I think the utility role with more playing time than an average bench player is the best role for him. No, it’s not the role we all expected when the Reds selected him in 2016, but it could be the best role for him and the Reds going forward.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds July Reds Mailbag

The Cincinnati Reds are battling to retake first place in the NL Central, here in July, and questions abound. Clay has some answers for you!

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Here we are, a few days before the deadline and more than a couple spots outside of first place. The Reds are looking less and less like a playoff team, and have yet to make a move (7/27/21 2:24 pm). Let’s get to some questions.

 

Miguel Rojas and Yimi Garcia for Allen Cerda and Alejo Lopez?

These are the caliber of players the Reds seem likely to get. I think World Series contenders are more likely to overpay for some all star caliber players than the scratching and hoping for playoff Reds are. I do think the Reds will get someone, but not a splash move. I would love to add Rojas and Garcia. However, I think the Marlins say no to this. Lopez projects to a bench bat and Cerda has been good, but not a high profile prospect. I think the Marlins could get someone in the 8-11 range plus another top 30 from a team. OF course, each team ranking is different, but you get what I am saying.

 

What do you see in the future for Castllanos? Do you think the Reds will sign him to another deal?

I hate to say this, but I do not think Castellanos will be a Red next season. His agent, Scott Boras, is tough. An he loves to have his clients test the market. Castellanos will opt out, as he is worth more than the $16 million option. Once he hits free agency, another team will outbid the Reds. This isn’t me being some grouch, this is me being realistic. One of the best bats hits free agency at age 29, he will be looking to get locked up to a big money/term deal into his mid-late 30s.

 

Will Alejo Lopez get a chance? Does Jose Barrero get called up? What about Phil Diehl?

Lopez has been mostly up and down from Louisville and Cincinnati, and has received a spot start here and there but mostly has been a bench bat. I’d like to see him play some third and give Suarez time on the bench. However, that doesn’t seem likely. To me Diehl is a classic example of a AAAA player. I don’t expect him to come up and make an impact but with the way he’s pitched in Louisville and the current state of the bullpen, he’s earned a shot.

Jose Barrero has been outstanding this season. He was recently moved to the number 20 overall prospect for Baseball America. The deadline will determine the rest of his season. If a SS is acquired, he will stay down. If not I think he would be their “deadline addition”. For the record, I would keep him in AAA the rest of the year and go acquire a SS. Bringing him up as the answer is a lot of pressure. Also, he has less than 250 at bats above single A. If his lack of experience was the issue less than 12 months ago, 245 at bats isn’t a huge amount to prove otherwise. But the way he’s hitting…I would understand if he’s brought up.

 

What should the Reds do with Shogo? Does he stay or go?

He stays. Too much money with another year left for an older outfielder with zero (proven at MLB level) hit tool. I doubt there’s much of a market for that. Maybe he “needs more playing time” to get comfortable, but he has done nothing to earn that. I love Shogo, but it’s getting harder to justify playing him. Keep him on the roster for a defensive replacement/pinch runner.

 

Will the Reds do anything to strengthen the bullpen? Will the starters be stretched out to go 7 innings?

I think the Reds will add a bullpen arm. I don’t think it will be some all star closer, but an above average guy. Givens/Bard from Colorado come to mind.

The issue with a lot of these starters isn’t David Bell *not* letting them go deep, but instead, they are throwing too many pitches. It’s on them more than Bell most of the time. We need to advance past thinking every starter should go 7 or 7 plus innings.

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Positives of the Cincinnati Reds 2021 Season

The highs have been high, but man oh man the lows have been low. Clay Snowden checks in to highlight some of the positives from the first part of the Cincinnati Reds season.

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The highs have been high, but man oh man the lows have been low. This season has entertained us with some big moments like sweeping the cardinals, Wade Miley’s no – no, and a couple of winning streaks. The low’s have been low. Like, lower than Geno’s batting average low. I still have nightmares about the west coast trip. And as of right now, the Reds are hovering around .500. To be frank, that’s about where they should be. A roster with this many flaws, fakes, and aches won’t win many divisions, even if it’s an easier one like the NL Central. I wanted to take today to highlight some of the positives from the first part of the season.

 

The Future is Bright

The Reds rookie class is shaping up to be more than a few contributing pieces, but a core a build around. Johnathan India started off scorching hot, cooled down, but has since blossomed into one of the integral parts of this team and the Reds future. The former 5th overall pick switched positions and has shown he can flash the leather at second. Slashing .262/.374/.396 on the year, he’s really turned it on in June slashing .303/.425/.455. The most important part…the Reds have found a leadoff hitter. Something they have struggled to find.

Tyler Stephenson has not only shown he can hit at the big league level, but that he can become one of the best hitting catchers. His ability to play first has been the cherry on top. Slashing .269/.378/.425 with 5 HR he’’s proving he needs to play every day.  I expect a big breakout in 2022. What Alejo Lopez has shown in the minors is promising as a future switch-hitting bench bat that puts the ball in play.

The rookie arms have shown flashes as well. Vladimir Gutierrez and Tony Santillan have not been perfect, but they have shown enough to have a role in the future. Even if they become 4 or 5 starters under cheap team control, that’s a plus for the Reds. The top two pitching prospects, Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene, have been battling for the title of “future ace”. Both have looked great, especially Lodolo. Greene is younger but developing quickly. Art Warren isn’t exactly a prospect but has pitched well enough to get a mention.

Internal MVP Race

No matter what the Reds do this summer, we will always have the summer of the MVP race. Jesse Winker has blossomed into one of the best pure hitters in the MLB while tapping into more power than he was every projected to have. Nicholas Castellanos had a frustrating covid season in 2020, where he showed power but chased too many bad pitches. Fast forward to 2021 and he’s a doubles machine. He’s hitting everything. Who knows how much longer he’ll be a Red, but what’s happening right now, two all star outfielders, doesn’t happen often. Enjoy it.

 

Reds Broadcast Team

I watch about 8 MLB games a night. Fantasy baseball has turned me into a monster, and MLB TV quad screen has been feeding that monster. I listen to games every time I’m in the car, and I can say with certainty the Reds have one of the best radio + TV groups. John Sadak has been energizing, positive, quirky, and unique. He’s been a breath of fresh air compared to the previous. Larkin was awful at the beginning of the season but has improved, and will continue to improve. Tommy Thrall is gold. He’s in his second year but has been amazing. Chris Welch brings intelligence of the game that makes us smarter each day and Cowboy is just fun as can be. It might seem small but trust me a bad team with bad announcers is unbearable. The Reds nailed this.

 

A baseball season is a roller coaster of emotions. 162 games is a long season. Sure, it’s frustrating that Bob won’t spend the money, but at the end of the day I am thankful I have a team to watch every day. Especially after last season, I will not take that for granted.

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