Before entering play Tuesday, the Reds had 97.4% odds to win the division, according to coolstandings.com (used by ESPN). A division crown would allow them to avoid the one-game, wildcard playoff and land legitimately in the postseason for the second time in three years.
The 2010 team overachieved (or so said the narrative at the time). 2011 was a disappointment. Finally, in 2012, everything is coming together and the talent the Reds have been accumulating is translating into wins on the field, in the form of the second best record in baseball.
As we enter the season’s final month, it’s just about time to start thinking about life beyond the regular season. We all know what happened to the 2010 team. Is the 2012 team any better equipped to handle the postseason? Let’s break down the two rosters, piece by piece, and evaluate what kind of situation we find ourselves in as we head down the home stretch.
It’s tempting to point to the lone personnel difference between these two outfields and assume that Ryan Ludwick pushes the 2012 iteration ahead of 2010. However, this is not necessarily the case, as both Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce turned in their best seasons to date in 2010.
After showing legitimate homerun power in his first two partial seasons, Bruce put it all together in 2010, getting nearly a full season’s worth of plate appearances, improving his batting average and walk rate, and turning in an outstanding campaign in the field. Interestingly, he’s yet to fully duplicate that all-around performance. While his power numbers have actually improved this year, he’s yet to cut down his K rate, and according to Fangraphs UZR, he’s actually played slightly below replacement level defense the past two seasons.
Stubbs, while never quite receiving the “potential superstar” tag that was placed on Bruce, tantalized Reds fans in his first full season in 2010, with the rare combination of speed, power, and defense. The Reds center fielder hit 22 homeruns while stealing 30 bases and flashing impressive range in the outfield. One could assume that the 25-year-old would improve upon his debut season.
Of course, this hasn’t been the case, as the power Stubbs showed in 2010 has dipped, and perhaps most notably, his BABIP is the lowest of his career. After posting a .335 mark over the first 1460 plate appearances of his career, he’s at .288 this season. This is somewhat peculiar, as his line drive percentage is almost identical to his 2010 mark, and he’s been hitting more groundballs, which typically leads to higher a BABIP, especially for players with above average speed. Perhaps Stubbs will see better days ahead, but 2012 has been a tad frustrating.
Chris Heisey continues to be Chris Heisey. Whatever you may think regarding his playing time, he gives this team a very solid fourth outfielder option. He’s been worth about a win and a half the last two years, and projects to do so again in 2012.
Conclusion – even with Ludwick’s comeback performance in 2012, the 2010 outfield is set to out-WAR their projected 2012 counterparts, 10.9 to 9.2. Do keep in mind that approximately two of those 2010 wins can be attributed to Jay Bruce’s defense, and while defensives metrics have come a long way, they are not always overly reliable, especially when looking at only a single season. In general, though, I’d have to give the 2010 group a slight advantage over 2012.
2010: Joey Votto (648), Brandon Phillips (687), Orlando Cabrera (537), Scott Rolen (537)
2012: Joey Votto (370), Brandon Phillips (521), Zack Cozart (560), Todd Frazier (396), Scott Rolen (279)
What can you say about the right side of this infield, amirite? Well for one, they’re still owed over $300MM from Bob and Co. for their future performance as Reds. Ok sorry, we’re not talking about that right now. But seriously, they might be worth that amount, or more, considering what they’ve provided the team to this point.
According to Fangraphs, BP is on schedule to contribute exactly as many wins as he did in 2010 (4.4). What’s interesting, is that sandwiched between these two seasons is what one may consider Phillips’s career year, in which he combined his usual stellar defense with a career high .353 OBP. However, this year didn’t represent the drop-off that some feared. Brandon’s maintained the second best wRC+ of his career (a stat that evaluates his offense against the league as a whole) thanks in part to an improved line drive percentage, and of course he’s continued his defensive excellence.
Joey Votto was on pace to earn serious consideration for his second MVP award in three years when a knee injury sidelined him for 2 months. Of course, the story is well known – instead of limping along without its superstar, this offense has blossomed, and given the Reds an 8.5 game lead in the NL Central. Of course that doesn’t mean the Reds don’t need their franchise cornerstone. Remarkably, Votto still maintains the team lead in WAR.
The rest of the infield is where the story lies. Orlando Cabrera, while leading the team in “veteran presence” and just plain “knowing how to win”, was not the answer at shortstop in 2010. Cozart, at age 26, is making his case. He’s provided great defense, and, if he wasn’t always stuck at the top of the order, produces passable offense for a shortstop, thanks to his 15 homeruns and 32 doubles (which ties Yonder Alonso for most among NL rookies).
The upgrade at shortstop may have been enough to push this year’s squad ahead of 2010, if it wasn’t for Scott Rolen. While he continues to play a valuable role on today’s team, the 16-year vet appears to have enjoyed his proverbial “last hurrah” back in 2010. His .285/.358/.497 slash line, coupled with Gold Glove defense, was enough to tally almost five wins above replacement. A tall order, no matter how improbable a rookie campaign Todd Frazier is having. Though remarkably, Frazier has come close to matching Rolen’s output, as he’s on pace to net 4.8 WAR over 650 plate appearances. Given playing time, however, even combining Frazier and Rolen’s 2012 performances leaves them a full win short, despite a sizeable advantage in plate appearances.
Conclusion – the 2010 team was carried by its offense, with the league MVP and the undisputed clubhouse leader manning the infield corners. As I said, it was a tall order. And yet, this year’s club had a chance to match it, barring a Votto injury. Even now, it’s basically a wash. The Reds could not have asked for more from their two rookie infielders, and would not be where they are now without them.
Hard to beat that 2010 backstop tandem. Ramon was always an on-base machine, as well as a solid defender, and Hanigan to this day remains perhaps the most underrated catcher in the league. In 2010 he posted a .405 OBP, the best mark for a catcher in all of baseball (#2 was Joe Mauer). Together they accumulated the second most WAR at the catching position in the National League.
Hanigan has perhaps put together an even better campaign in 2012, thanks to his defense, and in particular his arm. Among catchers with over 500 innings at the position this year, Hanigan is the major league leader in caught stealing percentage (45.6%), beating out the much heralded Yadier Molina by three tenths of a percent.
However, Hanigan’s counterpart this year is a rookie who’s going through some not unexpected growing pains. Mesoraco is only 24 and should improve, but for now Hanigan is the main man behind the plate.
Conclusion – very difficult to unseat the 2010 duo. Extra points are awarded for the inclusion of Corky Miller as well. Navarro has done some good things recently as the third guy, but all in all, this one was over before it started: 2010 gets the square.
Thanks for joining me as we broke down the offensive side of the ball. Part two will be posted here tomorrow…
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