Yesterday we looked at the Cincinnati Reds starting infielders and how they projected, and on Monday we took a look at the starting pitchers. Today we move to the starting outfielders were the Reds seem to be set heading into the season with Ryan Ludwick, Billy Hamilton and Jay Bruce playing left, center and right field.
That outfield is quite a bit different than the one that spent most of 2013 together as Shin-Soo Choo left via free agency and a collection of players spent time in left field as Ludwick was injured for the better part of the season. Jay Bruce was able to hold down right field for the entire season. How do the starting outfielders project from an offensive standpoint for the 2014 season?
To answer that question we can head over to Fangraphs.com to get a look at the various projection systems and what they have to say about each player. To get a general answer rather than rely on just one system, I went ahead and grouped together the ZiPS, Fans, Steamer and Oliver projections to come up with one overall projection for each of the projected starters in the outfield.
The projection systems are all taking into account how he performed last season coming off of a shoulder surgery and are weighing that season heavier than the previous seasons. While he is still coming back from the injury, and it is one that historically is very hit-or-miss when it comes to guys returning to their old form, it should be noted that his performance while still recovering is being held against him in these projections. The Fans projections are the most favorable for Ludwick, projecting him to hit .254/.319/.412 with 22 doubles and 17 home runs in 464 at bats. The average of the four systems projects a .246/.313/.411 line from the left fielder in 438 at bats with 21 doubles and 17 home runs. That is likely below what the Reds are hoping to get out of Ludwick, who hit .275 with 26 home runs in 2012.
Hamilton will be taking over for one of the best hitters in the National League for the 2013 season as he comes off of a 2013 season in Triple-A where he really struggled to hit. The ZiPS projection system was easily the most friendly for Hamilton as it projects him to hit .264/.319/.362 with 68 steals in 556 at bats. The Reds would be ecstatic with that production from Hamilton at the plate and it would make him an incredibly valuable player. The average of the four systems projects a more moderate .250/.303/.336 line for Hamilton with 64 steals.
Bruce will be entering his 7th season with the Reds, making him easily the longest tenured starter in the outfield for the club. For Bruce the Fans projections are the friendliest as they project a .265/.340/.514 line to go with 40 doubles and 34 home runs on the season. That would be his best season of his career, though as he enters what is typically the prime years for a player that wouldn’t be surprising to see a slight uptick in production. The average of the four systems project the right fielder to hit .258/.331/.491 with 33 doubles and 30 home runs in 550 at bats. That would put him slightly above his career averages.
Much like the infield, there is a lot of leeway to be given with these projections. Jay Bruce seems to be pretty solid in terms of what to expect from him, but his increased walk rate in the spring could carry over to the season and could swing things a bit more to his advantage. Either way though, .260 and 30 homers seems like a solid bet.
There is a very wide array of outcomes for Billy Hamilton. He has shown much improved plate discipline in the spring compared to his 2013 year. Does hit plate discipline he showed in 2012 and so far in spring training carry forward? Two of the projection systems have Hamilton with a .300 and a .302 BABIP, which seems a bit low for him with his speed. So there could be two improvements working in his favor that could boost his offensive projections. On the flip side, he struggled to hit .256/.308/.343 in Triple-A and the Majors are a big upgrade from there. The Oliver system projects him for a .233/.278/.321 line, which would very likely get him sent back to the minors for more seasoning.
Ryan Ludwick, for different reasons than Hamilton, also has a wide variety of outcomes. A fully healthy Ludwick showed what he could do in 2012. At the same time, he will turn 36 during the season and is coming off of shoulder surgery and really struggled to do much in 2013 when he did return late in the year as his power was non-existent. If his power returns to 2012 levels, his projections will be off by quite a bit on the low side, but if he struggles to hit for power again, the projections could be on the high side.
With both Ludwick and Hamilton possibly having such a large gap between their ceiling and their floor, the outfield could be anywhere from very good offensively to having some real struggles. If the three outfielders all perform well, the Cincinnati Reds offense could be among the best in the league. If things go south though, the team could really struggle to put runs on the board.