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.
The Reds Blueprint for Success in 2019
Hi, my name is Jeff and I am a Reds-a-holic.
It’s been a problem the last few years. I bring the Reds up in conversation and people either blatantly ignore me for the rest of our time together, their eyes glaze over while they’re faking undivided attention, or they laugh and walk away. The Redlegs need to do some things, plural (because, let’s face it, if all they do is add Mike Trout, they still aren’t a playoff team), to re-insert themselves back into people’s minds as something worth their attention. As a degenerate fan who knows next-to-nothing about running a team (though I was not bad at fantasy baseball, not to brag) here are some obvious, and not so obvious ideas to get this Reds team back to the playoffs tomorrow, let alone next season.
Some people to move on from: Like I said, some are obvious and some aren’t, and some you might want me murdered for mentioning.
First and foremost, sign the check and send Homer Bailey on his way. It’s done, it’s over. He is now one of just a small percentage of pitchers who managed to throw over 200 innings in a season and somehow have a 6.00+ ERA. It’s not health, strangely. The man of many injuries did not go down for an extended period of time. And, come on, the time he missed during the summer was not an injury. That was the Reds brass saying “We need a reason not to play him, so, uh, he’s hurt, maybe.” The one thing you can say about him is he pitched the lone complete game for a Reds staff that was not good. He still lost that game. He’s due $30 mil whether he loses 20 games for you, or not, so just give him his money, and thanks for the memories.
Secondly, move on from Billy Hamilton. This one stings to admit, because, as a fan, I think he’s awesome. Objectively, though, it’s time. Listen, I know there’s this argument that on-base percentage does not apply to Billy like it applies to other players because he scores a higher percentage of runs when he is on base. Baloney. Plus, double baloney on his base-running ability as his steals took a dip this year. Call it conservative managing, or whatever you like, he stole less bases. Billy Hamilton should lead the league in steals every single year, barring a career-altering injury. He didn’t. It’s a bad sign. Find a team who will use him the way he should be used (as a late game super sub) and make a deal for a reliever or for a minor league arm.
Thirdly, and this one stings, because I love this dude, but move on from Scooter Gennett. I’ve been back and forth on this one, and believe me, if my fan heart was not sure about Billy, I’m really not loving this idea, but it has to be done. There is a caveat here, but if there is a good return to be had, do not say no. If there’s no market for him, then keep him. But if you can get a game-changing arm for Scooter and maybe a package of prospects, please don’t dismiss that idea simply because we fans like Scooter. I get it, he’s a hometown dude. He hit four homers in a game. He *almost won the NL batting title this year. He is legit, which means he should garner some trade interest. Do not slap a hypothetical no-trade tag on Scooter simply because he makes a few more fans go woo. There is a defensive upgrade, who is not a liability at the plate, who can take over in his absence, but more on that later.
Lastly, move on from Jim Riggleman. The manager is not the most important thing in a championship run, but he is kind of important, and Riggsy isn’t the guy to get the reds there. This has been said by James a lot, and by other radio personalities in the Queen City, but I’ll just pile on here. The Red Sox are the best team in the AL, with a relatively inexperienced manager. The Yankees are not far behind, with a first-year manager. The Brewers have a manager that some of their fans aren’t high on, and he’s young, but hey, that didn’t stop them from winning the toughest division the National League. Be open-minded about the next Reds manager-aka-go with Mr. Outside Hire.
Here’s who you bring in. Disclaimer, this is all hypothetical. I don’t actually know who’s available and who’s not. So, yeah, take this with a grain of salt.
Go get Jacob DeGrom. Per Baseball-Reference.com, his contract is up at the end of this year. Make a deal before Christmas, send Hunter Greene, Scooter Gennett, Tony Santillan and some other prospects and see if the Mets will add in Brandon Nimmo (can play CF, .404 OBP in 2018). If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of the ridiculous numbers DeGrom put up this year. Some consider him in the MVP race, despite the Mets horribleness. Yeah, MVP, for a pitcher, that’s how good he is. So, maybe the Mets lock him down, or maybe they are looking to blow things up. The Reds have a top ten farm system, but no one cares about what the Reds can do in 2021, we want wins in 2019. Make it happen, captain!
Roll out the red carpet, and the checkbook, for Dallas Keuchel. Do what he wants to get him to pitch for the Reds. There’s money to spend, and he probably loves Skyline Chili, so get him here. He’s a free agent, this year, so no players will have to be traded away to get him, there will just need to be some money spent. What’s that? You are planning on spending for pitching? Well, there you go. Your money will be well spent on both DeGrom and Keuchel, and neither one will be like Eric Milton. You put these two at the top and all NL teams immediately will take notice.
Go get one more pitcher with Scott Schebler. Look, Schebs has been good, but it feels like he’s trending toward brittle, with that shoulder, and now is the time to get value out of him. Go talk to Seattle about Marco Gonzales or Wade LeBlanc, or maybe see if Detroit is willing to part ways with Michael Fullmer or Matt Boyd. It doesn’t seem that farfetched, to me, but maybe Dick Williams gets laughed off the phone in all of those examples. At any rate, I feel like there’s still a little value to be had from trading Schebler to an AL team that can DH him. I do not think he will ever have an outfield arm again, with his shoulder issues, so get him traded, while you still can.
Bring up Senzel and name him the starter immediately after trading Schebler. Don’t wait until Spring Training, or whatever you’ve been doing lately with him, give him the starting corner outfield spot as soon as you swap Schebs for a decent arm. Senzel will replace Schebler, and may even be an upgrade. Or, go the Phil Ervin route in the corner outfield spot, and put Senzel at shortstop and…
Install Jose Peraza as the everyday second baseman, upon Scooter’s departure. Look, he isn’t a plus fielder, but he is serviceable and when you move him to second base, you negate his throwing deficiencies. Plus, he took a big leap forward in the hitting department, this year, making him a top of the lineup candidate in 2019.
Lastly, and this is just my hard and fast opinion, based on nothing but a gut feeling: go get Mike Scioscia. Just a hunch, think he’ll be good.
Alright, I’ve droned on enough. Tell me what you think, @ me on Twitter (@jefffcarr) and all that jazz. Tell me I’m nuts, tell me I’m a looney. Let’s talk the 2019 Reds!
Also follow @lockedonReds on Twitter, if you haven’t already!
Looking Back on the Good in 2018
Well, the Cincinnati Reds did not become the first team to have the exact same record for three-straight years, but they did lose exactly one more game than the last two years. Despite a year of confusion and frustration, there were a few good points. Let’s do the denial thing and recap the bits Reds fans had to smile about in 2018, in no particular order.
1. That point at the end of June/early July where the Reds chances at making the playoffs went from 0.00% to 0.03%. What a time to be a Reds fan and alive, in June 2018. Everyone was hitting, everyone was pitching, and everyone was winning. June and July went down as the only months of 2018 in which the Reds had a winning record. Remember what life was like back then? You talked about the Reds, you smiled about the Reds, and you cared about the daily results. Heck, you even wanted Jim Riggleman’s interim tag removed, right then. How you feeling about that today?
Whoops, sorry, this is a positive post, back to the happy. The Reds outscored their opponents 146 to 119 in June, batting a ridiculous .281 average and compiling an equally ridiculous (for 2018) team ERA of 4.06. That’s where anyone who does math somehow came up with the one single solitary scenario in which Cincinnati could make the postseason. When I think back on this year, I will remember this stretch, and especially the next bit…
2. All those grand slams they hit. I mean, c’mon. For a hot minute, when the Reds loaded the bases, you popped open a cold one, knowing you’d be seeing four runs put up on the board with one swing. The Reds hit 11 slams this year (you probably heard that number). In fact, as a team, Cincinnati hit .299 with the bases loaded, in 2018. Here’s a list of players who hit a bomb with all the deck stacked: Joey Votto (two), Adam Duvall (two), Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, Jesse Winker, Anthony DeSclafani, and Michael Lorenzen.
Joey was just stupid with the bases juiced. He hit .429 in 14 at-bats, with his pair of dingers, a triple, a pair of doubles and two walks. In this tiny sample, Joseph Daniel slugged 1.143 and had a .500 on-base percentage. Despite his overall down year, when it comes to counting stats, nobody wanted to pitch to Joey with the bases loaded.
3. Jesse Winker will be here awhile. Despite enduring one of the handful of “will he start or will he sit” sagas, Winker etched his name in the Reds starting lineup, in the years to come. You may have forgotten about him, since he’s been shut down for a bit, now, due to injury, but let’s take a look.
He showed extraordinary discipline, a true mark of a Votto teammate, but did you also know he had success when aggressive? Winker compiled 13 hits (.361 average) when swinging at the first pitch, including a pair of homers. That’s not to say he should approach an AB with reckless abandon, as he showed poise in three-ball counts with a ridiculous .691 OBP. He will be a valuable on-base machine, in years to come, for the Reds.
4. Votto is a national treasure. Okay, so he didn’t hit a million home runs and failed to eclipse 70 million RBIs, Joey continued being Joey, despite some unluckiness with the counting stats. He joined the inner circle of inner circles, as far as baseball, by leading the NL in OBP (.417) for a seventh time in his career. He joins his idol, Ted Williams (12), Babe Ruth (10), Barry Bonds (10), Rogers Hornsby (7), and Ty Cobb (7). If etching his name next to those legends of baseball isn’t enough, then there’s always this:
5. Scooter Gennett is now someone you hate to see traded. There are objective arguments out there, most of which I agree with, that Scooter should be traded. “He’s blocking Nick Senzel,” or “He’s due for some regression” are a few of the many theoretical headlines around Gennett. One more that some talk about, but I believe warrants more attention, is he is due a big pay day, and pretty soon. With his resume he’s put together since being waived by Milwaukee (which as much as we Reds fans like to harp on, hasn’t seemed to hurt them too much) Scooter is set to have some generous negotiating kahones. Is that risk worth taking? Sure, he’s shown with his play this year that he is no fluke at the plate, but his glove leaves a lot to be desired. Anyway, those are all questions for later posts.
Scooter’s 2018 has looked like this:
He’s a guy that most fans, I believe, will be disappointed to see go, regardless of objectively acceptable outcomes.
6. The late inning guys took shape. This was supposed to be a “set the table” year, like James has said, a lot, on the podcast. It wasn’t in many areas, but it was, in some. The bullpen is a big one. Raisel Iglesias has been and will continue to be the closer. He got to 30 saves this year and, although he allowed a dozen long balls, remained the unquestioned best arm in this bullpen. Joining him are the two free agent acquisitions the Reds made, last offseason, in Jared Hughes and David Hernandez. Now, fatigue factored in, as the bullpen just got used and abused for a third-straight year, but Hughes and Hernandez showed good return on investment. When Hughes comes sprinting out of the bullpen to the mound, I do not have a feeling of uncertainty, I do not really worry, I feel like the door will close on the opposition’s scoring chances. Past them, Lorenzen was solid and Amir Garrett even emerged as a “closer-in-waiting” type guy, should Iggy get traded. I’m not worried, beyond being forced to pitch 600 innings again, about the bullpen next year.
Now that the most exciting part of 2018 for the Reds is beginning don’t forget to check in on Locked on Reds as we will have you covered!
Questions for the Prospective Reds Manager
With the Cincinnati Reds announcing they are officially interviewing in-house candidates for the opening at manager, I had a though: what questions would I ask candidates? Here’s a few I came up with.
What do you expect out of your leadoff hitter? This has been a constant point of questioning by Reds country, really, ever since Dusty Baker thought fellows named Patterson and Hairston warranted starts in the top spot of the order. The superhero known as Billy Hamilton has been tried, and tried, and tried again in this spot in the order and has never taken to it. Does the managerial candidate believe the leadoff hitter should be fast, or…
He should be an on-base machine. Theoretically, if you get on base more, you score more. Ergo, put someone in the leadoff spot who gets on base at a high rate.
When do you call on your best reliever? Another theme created by Dusty that has lingered is watching the team’s best reliever, which, ideally is the closer, only pitch save situations. The save is a weird stat. A player can get a save for finishing a game when the score is close, or by pitching the final 3+ innings of the game, after entering when his team had the lead. If a statistical category drives your decision-making, this job shouldn’t be for you.
Now I know what you’re thinking, relievers who earn a lot of saves tend to earn a lot of money. I would raise your thinking with, the manager, while it’s a nice thought, should not be concerned with his relief pitcher’s forthcoming contract negotiations. He should be concerned with one thing: winning games. Your best reliever should be ready to pitch in the most high leverage situation of the game. Now, sure, maybe that’s the ninth, or maybe that’s the sixth. Bases loaded, nobody out, Christian Yelich is up to bat. Do you want Jackson Stephens or Raisel Iglesias on the bump? Probably won’t happen, but if a manager came in and got rid of the idea of bullpen roles, that would be pretty solid.
Bunting, your thoughts? There is a right answer here. The answer is: don’t. Traditionalists just clicked away, of turnoff their screen, or punted their computer, but seriously, the upside to bunting is moving over the runner. There’s a chart on fangraphs.com that I referenced, in an earlier recap, that uses math to explain the chances of scoring a run based on runners on base and how many outs there are. The percentage of scoring a run with a runner on first and no one out is actually higher than when a runner is on second with one out.
I can remember one play in which a bunt turned into more than it was planned to be, and that was because of an error and the superhero known as Billy. I can think of multiple instances where bunting killed an inning for the Reds. The Reds are all about positive momentum, but a bunt is, at best, neutral, and more likely, negative momentum.
Do you tell Billy Hamilton to do pushups every time he hits a pop fly? If the answer is no then the interview ends, right then.
Does a player dictate his role on the team, or do you? If someone tells you they are incapable of pitching out of the bullpen, but they are also proven to be incapable of starting, then they should be remaindered to the bench. This may be a utopian idea, but I truly believe running Homer Bailey out every fifth day this year was a large reason why the season was pretty much a lost one. Hopefully, the front office takes care of that particular situation, so the new manager doesn’t start the season playing catchup.
How transparent will you be in press interviews? It is nice to see a candid interview, but a lot of things should be kept in house. We as fans want to know, but, honestly, the game tells us plenty. Had the Reds not announced decisions like benching Jesse Winker, putting Bailey in the bullpen, and others, then they would not have looked as haphazard as they did. Some things we fans can find out when the lineup card comes out and when the game unfolds.
There’s plenty more, but these are just the starters. Which ones would you add? Let me know in the comments, or on the Twitter-verse!