How would you describe the Reds’ 2013 Bench? Inconsistent? Underperforming? Inept? Well, I would probably tell you it comes down to a combination of Ryan Ludwick‘s injury and roster malpractice.
First off, let’s start with opening day when Ryan Ludwick went down because of a dislocated right shoulder while sliding head-first into third base. You are probably wondering, if this article is about the Reds’ 2013 Bench, why are we discussing Ryan Ludwick? This injury really derailed the bench in 2013 mostly because former Manager Dusty Baker chose to use one of the better pinch hitters in the league, Xavier Paul, as a platoon starting left fielder most of the way. That’s right, after hitting .333/.385/.556 as a pinch hitter in 2o12, Paul hit .273 with 3 HR in 36 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in 2013 while as a starter hit a paltry .232 with 4 HR in 189 plate appearances over 56 starts in left. So this was a double whammy as when Baker started Paul, it not only weakened the offensive output of the left field position, at the same time weakened the late pinch-hitting game. You cannot underestimate the impact of not having Paul’s bat coming off the bench late in games. The guy just posses that particular skill of being able to come off the bench cold and deliver whereas a lot of players just simply cannot be successful in that role.
When Ludwick went down, the Reds called up outfielder Derrick Robinson from AAA. While he should’ve been inserted into the starting role in left field to preserve Paul’s pinch-hitting prowess, as a back-up off the bench, Robinson proved exceptional. As a sub coming into games, he hit .286 with a .364 OBP and as a pinch hitter stroked a nice .290 with a .389 OBP. You really can’t ask for anything more than that coming off the bench. The one part of Robinson’s game that needs work is that while he has speed, he really needs to work on his base running.
Staying with the outfielders, Chris Heisey is the perfect 4th outfielder. He actually excels as a spot starter throughout his big league career, where at the same time when he has been given the left field job to lose, he has always seemed to struggle and not take hold of it. Heisey can play all three outfield positions fairly well which makes him valuable to have on the roster. Normally Heisey is an effective pinch hitter too hitting .324 in 2011 and .316 in 2012 but this year he really struggled at a .130 clip. I would look for Heisey to rebound in 2014 in that aspect of his game because there should be a healthy left fielder so he can prepare to be the club’s 4th outfielder.
I’d like to give an honorable mention to outfielder Donald Lutz who was promoted from AA Pensacola on April 29th after Heisey went on the DL with a strained right hamstring. Lutz made history on April 29th becoming the first German Major League Baseball player and got his first hit on May 5th. This was one of the more misused players on the Reds in 2013. Lutz hit a respectable .267 as a substitute over 30 at bats but the guy was just promoted from starting in AA to riding the bench in the Big Leagues. He was ran up to the plate 24 times as a pinch hitter and only produced 5 hits and 1 walk for a .217 average. It was really hard to watch Lutz put into this situation and asked to come off the bench cold late in games in a role he had never done before. Young players need to play everyday to develop so under the circumstances, Lutz performed admiringly.
Ready to get dangerous? Fan favorite Corky Miller logged big league action for the first time since 2010 when Ryan Hanigan went on the DL. Corky did great for his part hitting .257/.366/.400 with 5 doubles and 8 RBI filling in. He also was 1/3 as a pinch hitter and collected one of his RBI’s.
Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent for $2 million per year to basically be an insurance policy on Todd Frazier in case of a sophomore slump. Hannahan has never been successful coming of the bench in his career and 2013 was no different in which as a starter he hit .259 with a .344 OBP compared to .155 with a .279 OBP as a substitute. However, his first tour of the senior circuit found him as a rather competent pinch hitter contributing 9 hits and 7 walks over 45 pinch hit plate appearances and even smacked a pinch hit 3-Run HR on September 11th, 2013.
Get ready because this is where the real roster malpractice come in with the back up infielders. Possibly the worst Major League Baseball player on any roster was Cesar Izturis. He was 6/22 in pinch-hitting for a .273 average but only hit .237 with a .231 OBP as a sub. It only got worse as Izturis played more, hitting .198 with a .270 OBP over 101 plate appearances as a starter and even received 9 starts in the two hole in the lineup causing even more inconsistent offensive flow. While relatively a cheap investment at $800,000 for 2013, there were plenty of alternatives and even in-house candidates for this 25th roster spot.
To really grade this Reds’ 2013 Bench, you have to expand the grading scale.
Bench Construction: Walt Jocketty really didn’t do the Major League club any favors with constructing this bench because of Izturis’ presence and the total lack of depth.
Bench Use: This is where Dusty Baker’s strategy really failed him. From Paul starting to Izturis’ overall use, this really hindered the Reds over the course of 162 games. To make matters worse down the stretch, call-ups Henry Rodriguez and Neftali Soto were used 13 times as pinch hitters and produced only 1 hit.
Bench Offense: Really tough call here because inconsistency isn’t even a good word to describe the bench’s offense. Hannahan was league average when he got starts, but awful coming off the bench. Heisey wrestled with trying to win the LF gig after Ludwick went down which really affected his offensive approach because in my personal opinion, he put too much pressure on himself to win the everyday job. Paul was superior as a pinch hitter but below replacement as a starter. Izturis should not have even been on a Major League Roster.
Bench Pinch Hitting: One area where the bench was outstanding. They were 2nd in the National League with a .251 pinch-hitting average going 51 for 203. Just think if Xavier Paul had been available off the bench more. Take away the 13 call-up’s pinch hit at bats and the Reds’ Bench hit .263.
Bench Defense: Mixed bag for the bench. Hannahan, normally a sure handed third baseman had a .937 fielding percentage while Izturis provided great defense playing second base making no errors backing up Brandon Phillips and only had one error filling in for Zack Cozart at shortstop. Outfield defense was a strength for the bench. Heisey and Robinson made no errors playing all three outfield positions. Even Lutz didn’t make any errors in the outfield. Xavier Paul committed two errors in left field while Corky Miller only had one error in his 102 innings at catcher.
Bench Overall: Gallant effort considering the roster malpractice. Pinch hitting and defense really evened out the overall grade.