Well, that sucked. I've been quiet on this front lately, because, frankly, there just wasn't anything inspiring me to write anything that I thought interesting. Now let's take a look back at the good and (mostly) bad of the 2014 season. I'll touch on the position player side of things here in Part One, and follow up with the pitchers in Part Two.
There is nothing I can really say about the Cincinnati Reds 2014 offense that you probably don't already know. They sucked. Hard. Just how bad did they suck? I'm about to tell you. (links are embedded to explain some of the stats for the non saber crowd)
Going back to the very beginning in 1882 (I know that's not the true beginning, but that's how far back Fangraphs records go) by wRC+ the 2014 team has the 15th worst offense in Reds history. We're talking over 130 years here, folks. 15th worst! That's bad. Only 2 teams in my lifetime (for context, I was born in 1978) were worse offensively, the godawful 1982 and 1983 teams. Check the table out right here for yourself.
Why did this happen? Why did the 2014 Reds score 103 less runs than they did in 2013? I'd say injuries had a part to play, but not all. There was also just general bad hitting from healthy players. (or players that were claiming to be healthy, anyway)
Well, the Votto injury was a killer. Votto created 129 runs in 2013, and only created 39 runs in 2014. (Revert back to the wRC and wRC+ primer I linked to earlier) Now, of course, not all of those runs are the ones missing from the 103, because his replacements would have created some runs themselves, but that's still quite a large chunk to have missing. Brayan Pena created 33 runs this year...and he played a lot of first base, so let's do a quick and dirty ballpark guess and say he created 29 of those while playing first base. That's still about a 60 run deficit from first base than the previous season. Todd Frazier also played some first, but whenever he played at first a bad hitter was always in the third base slot in his place so it's basically a wash. Say a healthy Votto made up those 60 runs, and honestly it may be more than that, but there's no way I'm doing the math on that, well, if they scored 60 more runs and allowed the same amount that they did pitching and defense wise....well, then they probably if not make the playoffs, are right there in the hunt. And that's just factoring in one guy. So, not all is lost in Redsland. 2015 may turn out to be just fine.
Now to some good things....Devin Mesoraco had his coming out party this year. .273/.359/.534 with a wRC+ of 147 and fWAR of 4.4 and bWAR of 4.8. By wRC+ that's the 5th best offensive season by a catcher in Reds history, trailing Johnny Bench's 1972 season, 2 Bubbles Hargrove seasons, and an Ernie Lombardi season. You can see that chart HERE.
Todd Frazier also took a leap forward this year. .273/.336/.459 with a wRC+ of 122 and about 5 WAR depending on which system you are using, (4.7 and 5.3 so I split the difference) By WAR he was the 6th best third baseman in baseball and he was ahead of some darn good players. I don't necessarily think he's going to be better than those players in the future, but he had a damn good season. Compare him to other third baseman HERE. Of course, this was also his age 28 season, so this may wind up being his career year. I'd expect a slight dropoff in those numbers next year, and Mesoraco too, for that matter, although he's not 28 yet.
Those are pretty much all the bright spots offensively. I'm mixed on Billy Hamilton. I was pretty high on his performance on my mid-season piece, but he fell off a cliff in the second half, to a tune of .200/.254/.257 with a 42 wRC+. For a little perspective on how bad that was, Mike Leake had a wRC+ of 40 over the full season. Do I think Hamilton is that bad? Nah. But I do wonder if he's ever going to hit well enough to be more than a league average player. His defense and baserunning will make him an average player even if he is below average with the bat going forward, so he will have value. 23 caught stealings is something that has to change going forward though. Someone with his speed should be stealing at more than a 71% success rate. That can change with experience as he learns the pitchers and their ability to hold runners on or lack thereof. He grades out near the top of CF in both defensive metrics.
Speaking of players who have a lot of defensive value, let's briefly touch on Zack Cozart. Dude had a horrible year with the bat. I don't think he's as bad as he was this year in a true talent level sense, but he's still below average at his best. 2014 was Cozart's third season as the full time starting shortstop, and from 2012-2014, his wRC+s have been 83, 79, and down to 56 in 2014. I could easily see that going back up to the 70s in 2015. Just like it was at mid-season, the major problem was the loss of slugging. He only slugged .300 this year but his career slugging is .365. If he can bring that back up he's probably a 2 WAR shortstop, which is average. The defense is very good. So, the Reds have 2 elite defenders at the 2 most important defensive positions, which helps the pitching staff more than most people realize. He was second in defensive runs saved (behind Simmons, obviously, that guy is soooo damn good) and third in UZR/150 behind Simmons and JJ Hardy among shortstops. So despite the horrible bat he does have some value.
The Reds need Jay Bruce to bounce back next season. No sugarcoating it. Dude was bad. I'm usually biased towards Bruce because I'm a bit of a Bruce fanboy, so I've always been a bit of a Bruce apologist, but there's no defending this season. It was bad. I have no idea how a guy who had put up wRC+ numbers of 124, 119, 120, and 117 could completely crater down to 79. I hope it was the knee, and not just a natural decline of skills, because the knee will be better, but if it's a natural decline there's nowhere else to go but further down, which would not be good. The 2015 Reds need production from that spot. Digging deeper into the numbers, and you will find that his ground ball rate went up from 37% to 45%, and his fly ball rate decreased from 39% to 34%. That's quite a drastic change from one season to the next, and likely a big part of his struggles. Jay Bruce rolling ground balls to the second baseman over and over is not a recipe for success. The line drive rate was actually slightly higher than his career average, so that's a little comforting that he's still making solid contact at around the same rate, but that groundball/flyball profile is slightly alarming. I think he just got a bit lost at the plate when he came back from the knee injury and it shows in other ways as well, His rate of swinging at pitches out of the strikezone went up from 30 to 33%, which is a career high. (30 is right at his career rate) His rate of swinging at strikes dropped from 76 to 69%, which shows that there was likely a pitch recognition problem. His contact rate actually went up, so that wasn't part of the issue. It was swinging at the wrong stuff. When he swung he actually hit the ball more often than he did in 2013, but swinging at bad pitches probably also leads to hitting more grounders, so we've gone full circle. I think he will likely bounce back next year, but if he doesn't, his career will be basically over as a full time major leaguer. He'll be a bench guy going forward if he doesn't turn it around.
A lot of Reds fans are high on Kristopher Negron after his pretty good performance after he came up this year. I'm not buying that quite yet. Let's pump the brakes on that a little bit, folks. It was only 158 plate appearances. That's not really a substantial sample. Credit where credit is due, he was good for that stretch to the tune of .271/.331/.479 with a wRC+ of 126, but I think it's fool's gold. I just have a hard time buying that a guy who was average AT BEST in the minor leagues, and often times was a below average hitter could suddenly be an above average major league hitter. Not. Buying. It. I do think he could be a pretty good utility guy and bench piece. Steamer's 2015 projections agree with me, actually. They've got him dropping down to .221/.273/.335. Now that wouldn't even be a quality bench guy. I don't think he'll be that bad, but I'm just one idiot.
Brandon Phillips...oh boy....this is going to piss some people off. Guy is a below average hitter at this stage in his career. I know people don't want to hear it, but it's true. The defense is still good, but people thinking, oh, Phillips, he'll bounce back...well, no. Stop it. Dude's 33 years old. He's going to go down, not up, because that is what 33 year old players do. He's not even in the conversation anymore if you want to list the top ten players at his position. I don't want people to think that I'm knocking the guy. I like Brandon, but the undeserved love he gets from the fanbase needs to be balanced out, and I'm the guy who's gonna do it. A lot of Reds fans actually think he's the best second baseman in the National League, and even at his best, that was NEVER the case. He's never been as good as Utley.
Ryan Ludwick will likely not be on the team next year, so I'll be skipping that. Skip Schumaker shouldn't be in the major leagues at all, but he'll be there, and he'll continue to suck. He's been bad since 2009 but teams keep giving him a job. Maybe he's a good clubhouse guy, I don't know. Branyan Pena isn't very good, but as backup catchers go, you could do worse. Jack Hannahan is a dumpster fire. Ramon Santiago was actually pretty good for a backup, problem is, he started too much due to all the injuries. I'd actually not mind him being re-signed for another year. Chris Heisey is your garden variety backup outfielder, I don't have much to add there. The segment of the fanbase that is always yearning for him to play more, well, I just don't think those people are very smart.
Part 2-The Pitchers....coming soon.