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.
What You Missed Tuesday Night
Improbable is a word that comes to mind as a way to describe what, otherwise, was a lowly June ballgame between two teams who entered the game at least 20 games under .500. Neither the Reds’ nor the Royals’ division rivals put too much stock in the outcome of this one, but it sure was interesting. In case you missed it, check out the highlights from the Reds come-from-behind 5-1 win:
I thought, for sure, Billy Hamilton was out. After botching the bunt, and generally looking terrible at the plate all night, that had to be the icing on the cake. But no, Billy reminded us all why some hesitate when people talk about potentially trading him. Sure, he lowered his batting average last night, but this play changed the complexion of the game.
If Billy is ruled out, you have runners on first and second with two outs. Kevin McCarthy can be more judicious with his pitches to Joey Votto in the next at-bat, being totally ok with walking him. Then you put Scooter in a situation where the pitcher is comfortable and just trying to get him to pop up for out number three.
Instead, Billy is safe, the pitcher becomes tense, and Joey has all the momentum to do what Joey does best. Hamilton, despite being a rally-killer in the lineup of late, won the game with his base running. Maybe the Reds ought to take that into consideration? Seems like I heard someone say something about having Billy come off the bench late in games to pinch-run and field…
Sal Romano also deserves some praise for being the first Reds pitcher in, what feels like, eons to toss more than seven innings. Big Sal had control of all his pitches in this game. His fastball velocity was the best it’s been all season at 94.6 mph and he had his curveball working as a nice one-two punch. The defense really stepped up to make a complete effort in this game, but still give Romano some props. Despite being on the hot seat with Homer Bailey coming back to health, Big Sal stepped up and delivered his best performance of the season.
For his thoughts on the game-winning RBI, I present to you the unflappable Joseph Daniel Votto:
How can you not like that guy?
So, yeah, the Reds are still 19 games under .500, but Tuesday night was fun.
Amir Garrett’s historic start and his role in the future
The Cincinnati Reds have done plenty of things wrong during the current rebuild. Trades that came too late, roster decisions that didn’t happen soon enough (cough Nick Senzel cough) and moves that came with raised eyebrows.
That last one brings us to the topic at hand in Amir Garrett. After blazing through the minor leagues and establishing himself as one of the Reds’ top prospects, Garrett dazzled in his debut against the Cardinals. But an injury, one he would not disclose until the end of the season – derailed his rookie season.
Upon returning this spring, Garrett was handed a bullpen role that left many questioning the Reds’ decision-makers. And while the question remains about whether Garrett’s future is in the bullpen, one we’ll address later, what is unquestionable is that Garrett has been dominant this season.
At his current pace, Garrett, in his second season, is on pace for roughly 125 innings, is striking out 10.35 batters per nine innings and has a FIP of 3.36.
The list of pitchers in their second season eclipsing 100 innings with a strikeout rate of 10 per nine innings and a FIP of 3.40 is lower is an exclusive group across baseball history. Only five pitchers have accomplished that feat – Mariano Rivera (1996), Pedro Martinez (1993), Bruce Sutter (1977), Billy McColl (1965) and Dick Radatz (1963).
Each one of those pitchers made at least one All-Star game and three of them – Rivera, Martinez and Sutter – are Hall of Famers. Garrett is currently striking out more batters per nine than both Martinez and McCool, something that has been his calling card this season.
After just 8.02 strikeouts per nine last season, Garrett is striking out nearly 2.5 more batters per nine innings. A higher rate than at any stop in his career dating back to his time in the minor leagues.
For relievers 26 years or younger this season, Garrett is sixth in the league in xFIP at 3.17. Of the five relievers ahead of him, only three pitchers have a high strikeout rate: Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz and Carl Edwards, Jr.
His biggest bugaboo this season has been the long ball, as he’s allowed just over one homer per nine innings. Under the same parameters of relievers 26 or under, Garrett is 31st out of 39 pitchers in home runs per nine innings.
The counter to that, though, has been his walk rate. Last season, Garrett 5.09 batters per nine innings and, since 2014 where Garrett moved to Single-A ball, Garrett had never walked less than 3.44 batters per nine innings. This season, Garrett’s walk rate is down to 2.78, ninth-lowest among relievers 26 or younger.
Where is Garrett finding success? He’s limiting hard contact this season compared to last year but the ability to come out of the bullpen and not hold anything back has led to a fastball that is three miles per hour faster than last season.
More than anything, though, Garrett’s slider has become lethal at the plate. After throwing it 22.3 percent last season, he’s upped it to 32.2 percent this season at the sacrifice of his changeup, which he’s thrown 11 percent less this season. Like his fastball, his slider is up three miles per hour more.
Only five relievers this season have had a slider worth more runs above average than Garrett. Of those, only Adam Ottavino has a fastball that’s also worth more than Garrett. His one-two combo of fastball-slider has given Garrett a dynamic arsenal to work with.
Not surprisingly, Garrett has forced batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone six percent more this season with a contact rate on out-of-zone pitches down nine percent with a swinging strike percentage of 13.5 percent up from 8.6 percent last season.
What does all this mean for Garrett’s future? Adding him to the bullpen alongside Raisel Iglesias and newly-acquired Jared Hughes has led to the Reds sporting one of the best bullpens in the league.
Since April 27, the Reds’ bullpen ranks 10th in the league in xFIP, ninth in FIP and 10th in ERA despite pitching the second-most innings in that span.
Is it worth sacrificing one of the few strengths the Reds have to allow Garrett to start? On a team destined for 90-plus losses and with a rotation struggling mightily, it might be. Garrett looked dominant in minor league ball, was brilliant in his debut and, by all accounts, is better this season.
To his credit, Garrett has stated he has no preference of starting versus relieving.
The compromise, though, might be taking a page from the Tampa Bay Rays’ playbook. Sergio Romo has started five games for the Rays’ this season who have turned to their bullpen to start games with a young staff that has struggled.
Coming into Tuesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the Reds held an 8.12 ERA in the first inning. With a pair of relievers in Michael Lorenzen and Garrett who have history starting games, giving them the ball to open the game could alleviate the burden on the young and battered pitching staff.
Or maybe the Reds hand the ball to Garrett later in the season. As it stands, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano both are on pace for well over 100 innings and both have struggled at times this season. The Reds could limit innings for either of the two and give Garrett a spot start. Maybe he can bring his newfound success in the bullpen to the starting rotation?
Whatever the move ends up being, though, Garrett has not only proven he belongs in the league but has succeeded at a historical clip.
The Ones Who Got Away
And here we go! In one corner, we have the 6’ 6”, 245 lb hurler from Alexandria, Virginia – former Red Mat Latos. In the other corner we have a poor son of a gun who was rendered two-dimensional from the body slam Latos put on him. Mad Mat has come a long way from the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark.
Since being traded for Anthony DeSclafani, Latos pitched for the Marlins, Dodgers, Angels, White Sox, Nationals, and Blue Jays (all in the span of two seasons) before finding himself out of Major League Baseball and playing for the Independent New Jersey Jackals.
That viral video got me to thinking, how are those former fan favorites that were dealt away? Let’s take a look.
The New York Reds
For whatever reason, a good handful of former Reds are currently playing in the Big Apple. Keeping it limited to the ones who fans bought jerseys for, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco are currently New York Mets while Aroldis Chapman saves games for the Yankees now.
Frazier – The Toddfather really made Reds fans miss him in 2016, smashing 40 homers for the White Sox. Since then, though, he has cooled down a bit. He had a postseason appearance with the return of the Yankees to October baseball, but otherwise hit a cool .222 after being traded midseason away from Chicago. This year he is hitting .239 in 37 games played with seven home runs and 24 ribeye steaks.
He’s currently on pace to have his best season since he left Cincinnati.
Bruce – Despite being mired in, possibly, his slowest start to a season, Bruce has had an interesting ride since leaving Cincinnati. Upon being dealt to the Mets in 2016, he accompanied them to a Wild Card exit at the hands of the San Francisco Giants (he’s got to have a special kind of distaste for that team) while contributing just eight homers and a .219 batting average.
2017 saw a more Brucian-like 29 homers and 75 RBI up until August 9th, when he was dealt to the Indians for a low-A pitching prospect. With the Indians, Bruce was a vital part of the record-setting 22-game winning streak that Cleveland put together. Bruce hit the 3-run homer that put the Indians ahead in their 21st straight win and hit the walk-off RBI double to win the 22nd in a row.
Mesoraco – He hasn’t been gone long, but he’s still worth mentioning. After receiving a bit more regular playing time, Mes has five homers and 10 RBI in 22 games. He is still batting just .209, though, and has 15 strikeouts in 67 at-bats.
Chapman – This former Reds closer is not a Met but a Yankee. After being dealt to the Bombers for what seemed like 20 cents on the dollar, Brian Cashman flipped him for his current starting shortstop and then signed him in free agency a year later. Must be nice to have all that money. As most of you probably remember, Chapman helped the Cubs break their championship drought in 2016, so I’d say he’s ok with having been traded.
Chappy has 76 saves in his three seasons away from Cincinnati. For what it’s worth, the Cuban Missile hasn’t eclipsed 100 strike outs in a season since pitching for the Reds (Man, I miss seeing that guy in a Reds uniform).
The Rest of ‘Em
Just want to look at a few more who play in other places besides New York.
Mike Leake – Currently a Seattle Mariner, Leake has also pitched for the Giants and Cardinals. Mike has not topped his 2013 season in Cincinnati when he went 14-7 and had an ERA of 3.37 in 31 starts. So far into 2018, Leake is averaging 6 innings a start and an ERA just above four. In his last three starts, Leake has pitched 23 innings, given up five runs, and added two wins to his season total.
If you’re like me, you’re looking at those stats and thinking “How on earth did we think Adam Duvall was worth Mike Leake? The Reds could totally use his arm!” Then I looked at his contract…he’s currently on year three of a five year $80 million deal. He’d be the Reds third-highest paid player. Objectively: $16 million a year is overpaying for a 4.00+ ERA.
Johnny Cueto – Johnny has spent three years in San Francisco after winning the World Series with the Royals in 2015. Cueto was the first domino to fall in the Reds rebuild and, at the time, the trade was deemed a good deal for both sides. As of today, the Royals got a ring and the Reds got one pitcher who is no longer with the team, one pitcher who is wallowing in the minors struggling with his control, and one pitcher who has gone from injury-prone to a reclamation project in Louisville.
This season Johnny is 3-0 in five starts with a sub-one ERA. Sabermetrics show that he is getting a little lucky, stranding over 90% of the baserunners he faces (career average is 76%).
Zack Cozart – We’ll wrap this “Where are they now” segment up with a player who wasn’t traded away. Zack left via free agency last season, as you may remember, to the Angels. He hasn’t quite taken to his new digs, though, as he currently batting .226 with five homers and a .299 on-base percentage. Uncharacteristically for him, Cozart is sporting a negative defensive war. Statistics show the Angels plan to move him to third base has not worked out, to this point, as he has a .957 fielding percentage there, the lowest of the three positions he’s played in LA.
Cozart has bat leadoff in 26 games this season for the Angels and gets on-base one out of every three plate appearances. He has been displaced as of late, though, given his low batting average.
The Reds wont face anyone on this list until August 6th when they travel play the Mets. As far as in Cincinnati, Johnny Cueto may pitch in Great American Ballpark again, when the Giants come to town August 17th, 18th, and 19th.