Posted January 24, 2014

Winter Report Card: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds, Winter report cards
Billy Hamilton, Reds

Cincinnati is hoping Billy Hamilton is up to the tall task of replacing the departed Shin-Soo Choo’s offensive production. (Al Behrman/AP)

With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013. 

Cincinnati Reds

2013 results: 90-72 (.556), 3rd place NL Central, lost Wild Card Game (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: CF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Bronson Arroyo*, C Ryan Hanigan, OF Xavier Paul, OF Derrick Robinson*, Manager Dusty Baker (* = free agent, still unsigned)
Key arrivals: LHP David Holmberg, C Brayan Peña, UT Skip Schumaker

The theme of the Reds’ offseason thus far has been replacing from within. It started when they promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to replace Dusty Baker as manager on the eve of the World Series and has extended it to centerfield, where rookie speedster Billy Hamilton will be asked to replace Shin-Soo Choo, and the rotation, where healthy seasons from fallen ace Johnny Cueto and sophomore Tony Cingrani would render the likely departure of free agent Bronson Arroyo moot.

All three in-house replacements carry risks. Price has never managed before at any level. Hamilton hit just .256/.308/.343 across 547 plate appearances in Triple A last year, his first exposure at that level. Cingrani was sidelined by back problems late last year and failed to surpass his career-high innings total of 146 from 2012. Cueto hasn’t gone more than three starts without reinjuring himself since pulling up lame six pitches into his Game 1 start in the 2012 Division Series against the Giants, hitting the disabled list three times last year, all with the same latissimus dorsi strain near his right shoulder.

Given that, Cincinnati didn’t have to make things harder on itself by selling low on arguably the most underrated catcher in baseball. That, however, is just what the Reds did when they traded Ryan Hanigan after a season in which he hit .198/.306/.261, though a lot of that was due to bad luck on balls in play (.216 BABIP). Prior to 2013, Hanigan, whom the Rays signed to a bargain three-year, $10.75 million deal, had a career on-base percentage of .370. Behind the plate, he has led the majors in caught stealing percentage each of the last two seasons, nabbing 47 percent of would-be thieves, and is consistently above average in pitch framing, as well. Holmberg, Cincinnati’s sole return for Hanigan, is a command-and-control lefty with a plus changeup who saw his strikeout rate plummet at Double A, suggesting he’s close to finding his level.

Unfinished business: Replacing Choo

Even if Hamilton does hold his own against major league pitching, he’s unlikely to surpass his career minor league line of .280/.350/.378 in his rookie season. Yes, he’ll add a ton of value with his legs, but not enough to replace Choo’s production. To compare what Choo did in 2013 with what Hamilton is likely to do in 2014, it will help to fold each players’ actual and projected stolen bases into their respective batting lines. I do this by adding their number of steals to their total bases and recalculating their slugging percentages, and then by deducting their times caught stealing from their times on base to recalculate their on-base percentages.

Let’s assume, again based on his minor league record, that Hamilton steals 100 bases and is caught 20 times. We’ll then factor that into his career minor league batting line stretched across the 712 plate appearances Choo made last year. Adding 100 bases to Hamilton’s projected total bases brings his slugging up to .456. Subtracting 20 times on base from his on-base percentage drops that mark to .331. That gives us a projected steals-inclusive line of .280/.331/.456 representing the best-case scenario of Hamilton’s offensive value in 2014.

Last year, Choo hit .285/.423/.462 in 712 plate appearances but also stole 20 bases himself. Factoring in Choo’s steals and times caught stealing (11) we get a line of .285/.414/.480 to the .280/.331/.456 we got for Hamilton above. Choo’s 83-point advantage in on-base percentage and 24-point advantage in slugging means he made 59 fewer outs last year than that projected best-case-scenario for Hamilton while achieving 29 more bases (including walks and times hit by pitch).

Maybe Hamilton makes up that difference in centerfield, where Choo was overextended and undermined his offensive contribution. Maybe Hamilton hits closer to his .256/.308/.343 line from Triple A last year. Maybe Hamilton spits the bit and the Reds wind up with Skip Schumaker in center on a regular basis. Maybe with 35-year-old Ryan Ludwick having hit .255/.325/.429 over the last five seasons and having lost most of 2013 to shoulder surgery, Cincinnati could have found a way to upgrade leftfield to take the pressure off Hamilton in center. As it stands, a lot is going to have to go right for the Reds on offense for them to simply make up the ground they lost when Choo signed with the Rangers.

Preliminary grade: D-

Cincinnati can be forgiven for not wanting to give Choo the nine-figure contract over seven years that Texas gave him, even if he’s likely to prove worthy of the investment. However, the team’s failure to make a move to upgrade its offense in the wake of his departure, compounded by the folly of trading Hanigan, could be devastating given the strength of its division and the improvements the Cardinals made this offseason. The Reds’ inaction this winter (which extends to their still-unsettled arbitration cases with stars Aroldis Chapman and Homer Bailey, the latter of whom is entering his walk year) leaves their 2014 season heavily dependent on Billy Hamilton’s bat and Johnny Cueto’s right shoulder. Neither is a particularly strong bet. This is still a good team, but one that has taken a clear step backward this winter.

16 comments
dgsapba
dgsapba

The Reds are in need of money maybe Montreal could support them,also the gm needs replaced and Votto and Phillips traded.

bartle.dale
bartle.dale

I see the division about the same as it was last year. Injuries, in regards to all 3 teams will be the key. Cards are best equipped to replace most injured players, Wainwright should be better, we'll see on Wacha once there is a book on him. Vottos power should return as he gets further away from his knee surgery, Hamilton is not Choo, but brings different elements to the game, the stolen base disrupts a game far more than fear of a guys high obp. Pirates are stacked with young talent, willingness to add payroll will be their only issue in the coming years. Regardless of who you root for...enjoy it...you could be a Cubs fan!

Father_Ahab
Father_Ahab

Price is the key to this working out. Dusty had trouble managing the lineup--the huge hole at #2 batter last year a case in point--and he wasn't known to developing young players. Moreover, I'd like to see what a platoon in LF would do, so let's not expect Ludwick to pick up all the slack from Choo's exit.  This is a young team that will be fun to watch. Hamilton's batting will probably be erratic, his speed won't be, though. He will get on base one way or another and then...look out!


Both the Pirates (Locke and Cole) and the Cardinals (Wacha and Miller) should be better with full seasons out of their young pitchers. It's going to be a great race again in the NL Central, that's for sure!

Ol'Diz
Ol'Diz

On paper, it looks like the Reds lost a step to both the Cards and Bucs, but I've too much respect for Jocketty to let that alone sway me. I don't know if Baker is creative enough to make the new lineup work, but Walt will have his back and rouse the cavalry if things start to get out of hand.

I think it will once again by a three-team division.

Kalzy
Kalzy

B.S The Reds underachieved last year. Bruce and Votto will challenge each other for the MVP. Cingrani will dominate. Myopic Cards fan with  the cheat Peralta will fade, like the one dimensional bucs.  Reds in 6 over the A's in the World Series,

JayW
JayW

The Reds will be looking up at the Cards all season... and up at the Pirates, again... and even the Brewers, who have improved significantly.

BrianHu
BrianHu

Reds will be looking up at the Cards all season.

FrankLee
FrankLee

Letting Hanigan go allows them to have Mesoraco catch full time. That should be a huge boost to the offense.

This is a disappointingly shallow analysis; if SI wants to stay relevant you should know more about the team than a casual fan, and share that with us. "Billy Hamilton might struggle in his rookie season" isn't real deep analysis.

BrandonLee
BrandonLee

I agree with everything you said Here but the only reason they are a D- is because they fired Dusty if not they would be a F. If people think ludwicks production is going to make up for losing choo you're crazy. Also if we weren't stuck paying ludwick 7mil we could of upgraded our outfield a little. Lastly vottos contract might be the worst contract in the history of the reds we are hand cuffed now and can't sign good free agents or keep our own. We will lose homer and latos in the next few years because of it.

robert29
robert29

If Ludwick, Cueto and Cingrani stay healthy (and everybody else does too) and come close to their expected production levels, the Reds should be a little bit better than last year.  It was plain last season that they needed another bat: Ludwick is who there is. All that said, climbing over StL looks unlikely. 

oasis1994
oasis1994

I disagree with you.

For one, Ryan Ludwick is going to have a much better season this year than last seeing how he is not hurt. His bat alone with help with the loss of Choo, and Ludwick will help seeing how his bat is from the right side.

The loss of Arroyo might hurt, but they have some younger guys that can step in and who says you need to replace from free agency? Look at who "won the winter" the past few years. How did they turn out the following season?

Building from within works, and it works well if you have the right people. The fact is, no one really knows how Hamilton will hit in the major leagues. There are certain players that hit better in the majors over the minors. Some guys get bored in the minors and thrive in the big leagues.


Let the season play out and I think the Reds will have a good team. 

TommydeJesus
TommydeJesus

@dgsapba  I've been to two rodeos and a worlds fair, and that might be the single dumbest post ever. 


congratulations.

Jim30
Jim30

@BrandonLee Not to mention the contract of datdude. lol Can't trade him.