This is part five of my attempt to find a true “It” factor on the Cincinnati Reds 40 man roster. Each article in the series will focus on one of the members of the Reds 40 man roster, starting with the most ‘secure’ players as to avoid writing an article about a potential trade victim, retiree, or free agent.
The past couple of weeks have been hectic. I’ve been dealing with my second-to-last set of final exams in my college career, and therefore haven’t been able to comment much on these groundbreaking deals and trades, but my twitter followers know that I’m very excited about the Reds’ latest transactions.
There have been some huge deals this offseason. Huge as they may be, I find two of them to be nearly game changing. The first, and the topic of this article, was the deal we’ve all been talking about for the past couple of days: the three way trade between the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks, and our beloved Cincinnati Reds. The second, and the fruits of which we’ll be seeing on opening day, is the acquisition of Josh Hamilton by the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels are now seemingly slump-proof. Albert Pujols saw his fair share of the slump bug during his initial transition into the AL next year. And we all know about the dramatic day and night performances that were Josh Hamilton’s first and second halves of the 2012 season. People have been calling Pujols the best player in baseball for years now. When he struggled early last year, we were all in awe of Josh Hamilton and his MLB version of beast mode. And then at the end, everyone was clamoring to crown Mike Trout as the best. Now all three of them are in the same lineup.
If you were around for the Yankees teams of the late 90s and early 2000s, you’re used to seeing teams with this amount of talent in one lineup. You also know that those teams didn’t always necessarily pan out. A lineup of Trout/Pujols/Hamilton/Mark Trumbo is out-of-this-world good, I believe there’s a better potential every day lineup in the majors.
That’s right. The Cincinnati Reds have the best lineup in baseball. I said it. Argue amongst yourselves in the comments, but during the last couple of days Walt Jocketty has been on the warpath, and if all goes well this offseason, we’ll be going into opening day against the 2013 version of murderer’s row with an upper hand.
Joey Votto is the best pure hitter in the National League, and maybe in all of baseball. We were able to say that even last year pre-knee injury, despite him rarely having anyone on base in front of him. Imagining what the best hitter in baseball can do with two runners on base, something that will happen a LOT more than it did last year.
This is all thanks to Shin-Soo Choo. The casual fan will see this trade a bit differently than those who read these articles on a daily basis. What the casual fan will see is a nice hitter at the top of the lineup. Cool. Always fun to see the first batter in the game get on base.
But Choo provides so, so much more than that. This is the “it” factor I’ve been writing about and looking for during this offseason. Here are just a handful of reasons why Choo converts this lineup from really, really good to the best in baseball:
1) He gets on base
This is the most obvious positive factor Choo brings to the table. By now even the casual Reds fan who might take in a game every week or so knows that the Cincinnati leadoff hitters had by far the worst OBP in the league last year. Choo brings in a lifetime .289 average and a .381 OBP. This will more than likely increase in 2013 due to the advantages to hitters that Great American Ballpark provides. Last year Choo had the 10th best OBP in the entire American League, which is absolutely better than anything Stubbs or Cozart could have even dreamed of. Choo also brings some pop in his bat, which again, will be multiplied when he’s playing in GABP. Look forward to at least a couple lead-off bombs from Choo’s bat.
Getting on base also has some not-so-obvious benefits. I’ll be very surprised if Choo isn’t near the top in the majors in Runs Scored in 2013, provided the core of the lineup stays healthy. As the old expression goes, “Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in”. If Choo can get on, he has one of the best “get ‘em over” guys in the game in Brandon Phillips behind him, and can rely on Joey Votto’s god-like hitting skills to “get ‘em in”. When you think about this situation playing out even 25% of the time in the first inning, you’ve got yourself at least a one run advantage going into the bottom of the first. Needless to say, that didn’t happen a whole lot last year.
2) Brandon Phillips will be more comfortable
Brandon Phillips, in my opinion and in the opinion of those who get paid to have an opinion, is best suited in the two-hole. Sure, he can hit 1-9, but as I mentioned above, he’s got the skill set to “get ‘em over” at a great pace. It really seemed like BP was trying too hard at times last year when he was in the leadoff or cleanup spots. Now he’ll be comfortable knowing that, if Choo gets on base, all he’ll need to do is put the ball in play. How’s that for no pressure?
If critics aren’t quite ready to call the Reds lineup the best in baseball, they certainly have to consider them to be one of the most balanced. For a team who has been criticized for being way too right handed over the years, another left handed bat in the leadoff spot is perhaps what Dusty Baker is looking forward to the most. This causes the obvious bullpen problems later in the game for opposing managers. Where in years past a good left handed reliever could handle the entire back half of the Bruce-to-Votto span in the lineup, there will now need to be at least one changeup when Choo comes up to bat, should the opposing manager be one of those strict ‘I only pitch opposite handed pitchers’ managers. This is especially effective when you take into account the consequences across a series. As I’ve stated before, winning series is perhaps the most important factor in winning the pennant and creating momentum.
Add this to the fact that Dusty now has plenty of left-handed options coming off the bench, and this team is definitely a lot more balanced.
The biggest knock on Choo has to be his defense. Indeed, his defensive statistics aren’t anywhere close to what Drew Stubbs would have provided in center this year. We don’t even know where Choo will play when opening day rolls around. I’ve talked to a few Indian fan buddies of mine, and apparently Choo is almost unbearable to watch in the field. Perhaps the usual wishful thinking from the Reds fan masses may somehow magically increase his defensive skills. I wouldn’t hold your breath though. We all know how that went with Stubbs.
Defensive skill set aside, I think one thing is clear: if everything goes according to plan, this lineup will have “it” on a daily basis in 2013. And “it” means you’re in the running for a championship. It’s a bit early to be making guarantees of any kind, because we all saw what happened to Ryan Madson last season. But for the first time in a while, it’s hard to see a glaring hole in this Reds lineup.
For more Shin-Soo Choo analysis (including much more of those pesky statistics that I haven’t really learned to decipher yet), check out Steve’s great post.