2013 Cincinnati Reds Preview: The Infield


Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially inside the one week mark. In 7 long, drawn out days, our Cincinnati Reds will be taking on perhaps the most talent-laden team in baseball in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in our house. We’ll finally be able to stop the speculation, the off-season analysis will be done, and we’ll all be able to finally sit back and watch some baseball.

Exciting, isn’t it?

On behalf of everyone at Blog Red Machine, I’d like to thank you all for reading. This offseason has been great for all of us, and we’ve gained both more readers and writers. As the offseason has been winding down, we’ve been putting it into full-throttle, giving you our expert analysis leading up to that first pitch. If you haven’t seen them, our staff has written some really great National League Central previews, including full team previews, position rankings, prospect previews, and a whole lot of offseason move analysis. We’ve seen Aroldis Chapman move from the closer to the rotation — and back again, the acquisition of a true bonafide lead-off hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, and a change of the guard on the bench.

Now, in the waning days of the off-season, Blog Red Machine brings you the 2013 Cincinnati Reds preview. Over the next week, our crack-team of writers will be previewing the greatest baseball team in the world (or at least the tri-state area), providing you with the perfect send-off from a very eventful offseason.

Without further ado, I present to you: The 2013 Cincinnati Reds Infield:

1B: Joey Votto
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: Todd Frazier
SS: Zack Cozart
C: Ryan Hanigan

IF Jason Donald
IF Jack Hannahan
C Devin Mesoraco

First Base – Joey Votto

Oct 10, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) takes the field during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in game four in the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sport


2012 Slash Line: .337/.474/.567
2013 Fans Projection: .323/.444/.566

2012 WAR: 5.9
Fangraphs Fans Projected 2013 WAR: 8.0

It’s not secret that Joey Votto is our best player. Heck, he might be the best pure hitter in the game today, depending on how you look at it. But in so many ways, Votto is just another cog in the modern day Big Red Machine. Most teams would be in a world of hurt if their best player were to go down for any sort of extended time, like Votto did in 2012. But last year’s Votto-less Reds team just got better, including a 10 game winning streak that really put the Reds in the driver’s seat for the division title.

This in no way, shape or form means that Votto is useless. When JDV is in the lineup, opposing pitchers have to be 100% on their A-game. Joey is a well-documented student of the game, and perhaps the most studious of hitters for at least a couple of generations. In an era where most hitters walk to the plate thinking “see ball, hit ball”, Votto knows what pitch the pitcher is going to throw nearly every time, and usually before the pitcher knows himself. He knows pitch sequences, situational factors, count factors, location factors, and probably a lot of factors that we as fans can’t begin to comprehend. Add that to the already superstar-caliber set of tools that Votto was born with, and it’s hard not to see him as the best hitter in the game.

It’s hard to concentrate on the other pieces of Votto’s game when he’s so strong in one area, and it’s easy to forget that he’s got a Gold Glove in his trophy cabinet. He’s as reliable and athletic a first baseman as you could ask for, and is one of four very strong gloves in the Reds infield.

Fangraphs projects Votto as the second best player in the MLB for the 2013 season behind Mike Trout, projecting the Red’s first baseman to accrue 8 WAR this season. If he can put together a full season like the first half of 2012, and depending on the seasons that Braun, McCutchen, Posey and the other NL All-Stars put up, I think Votto can easily wrap up another National League MVP award.

When it comes to projecting Votto, there’s really no comparison to anything else in the game. A lot of the reservations hinge on his surgically repaired knee, and rightfully so. The Votto of the second half of the 2012 season, although an OBP monster, was not the Votto we know and love. Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic have hinted that the knee is fine and that Joey Votto should be 100% at the start of the ‘13 season.

Second Base – Brandon Phillips

Feb 22, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips (4) smiles during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

2012 Slash Line: .281/.321/.429
2013 Fans Projection: .287/.338/.429

2012 WAR: 4.0
Fangraphs Fans Projected 2013 WAR: 4.6

By now, Brandon Phillips is a well known, every day near fact. He will swing early and often. He will strike out. He’ll also get on base. And in nearly every game he’ll make a fantastic defensive play that will save a run or two and eventually be in contention for a gold glove. Phillips is a staple in the Cincinnati Reds experience, and in my opinion, he’s set up for a pretty good year.

Why you ask? Consistency. Phillips projects best in the 2 hole in the batting order, but due to his flexibility he’s been used everywhere 1-4. With the addition of leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, the recovery of Votto and the revitalization of the power hitting righty in Ryan Ludwick, it seems as though Phillips will finally find some consistency in the 2 spot. We all know how consistency can affect a player, and Phillips is no different.

Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll see a spike in his numbers. We also need to account for his age. Going into his age 31 season, and as a second baseman, it’s unfortunate that we should start to expect some serious regression sooner rather than later. Second basemen are notorious for approaching the cliff and falling hard. So how many seasons of Phillips do we have left? I think that’s best left for another article.

As for the 2013 season, I tend to agree with the projections laid out by ZiPS, which project Phillips’ slash line to end up around .279/.328/.426 with 3.5 WAR. These numbers are virtually the same offensively as they were in ‘12, but we see some regression in defensive metrics and especially baserunning statistics. Phillips posted an 8.1 Runs Above Average in fielding in 2012, but is only projected to score around 4 Runs Above Average in ‘13. His running metrics show an even steeper decline, from 3.6 Base Running Runs Above Average in ‘12 to a measly -0.3 in ‘13.

Both of these declines can be attributed directly to loss of speed. Essentially projections state that Brandon won’t be able to get to as many balls or steal bases at as good a percentage as he has in years past. I can see the decline in baserunning being a very real possibility. However, Brandon takes great pride in his defense, and is very good at what he does. I don’t think the defense suffers just yet, which is good considering the extension we signed him to last season. Overall, barring injury, it looks like we’re going to get another solid season out of Brandon Phillips in ‘13.

Shortstop – Zack Cozart

Feb 16, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart (2) poses for a photo during photo day at the Reds Spring Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

2012 Slash Line: .246/.288/.399
2013 Fans Projection: .263/.311/.426

2012 WAR: 2.7
Fangraphs Fans Projected 2013 WAR: 3.6

Cozart was part of the Reds’ one-two punch at the top of the order in the 2012 season. As most of us know by this point, that punch was more like a flail, as the duo of Stubbs/Cozart were the worst top of the lineup tandem in the entire MLB last season. We quickly learned that Cozart wasn’t, at least for now, a top of the lineup hitter. This doesn’t make him a worse player. In fact, I project the Reds to get much more production out of Cozart in his projected new home in the 7 spot due to a combination of progression of his game and less pressure to perform in front of the monstrous Phillips/Votto/Ludwick/Bruce quad-team.

It was made very clear in the offseason that the Reds are sold on Cozart for the foreseeable future. Superstar prospect Billy Hamilton was moved to center field to avoid being blocked by Cozart, and fellow prospect DiDi Gregorious was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the deal that brought Choo to the team from the Cleveland Indians. I think this is the right call by the Reds brass. Although Cozart is an old sophomore at 27, I think we can still count on him holding down the shortstop role for a couple of years at least.

Defensively Cozart was a good surprise last season. He was good enough to gain a 7.7 UZR, which is well above average. Of course, one season is a relatively short sample size for defensive metrics, but just watching Cozart from day-to-day can show you that he’s a solid and serviceable shortstop defensively.

Offensively is where I think we’ll see a pretty large boost from Zack this season. He’s shown some ability to drive the ball deep, and I think most of the projections that put him at around 15 Home Runs on the ‘13 season are selling him a bit short. It’s my opinion that Cozart doesn’t have quite as much pop as Todd Frazier, but I think he’s a lot closer in terms of HR total potential than a lot of us may think. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cozart hit 20 HRs this season should he acclimate to the 7 spot in the lineup well. Again, this all goes back to him being able to relax a bit at the plate.

Two things to watch this season if you’re a Cozart fan is his strikeout and walk numbers. Nearly all projections see these numbers improving from 2012, which would of course provide more opportunities for those 5 extra home runs I mentioned above. This is the year that Cozart needs to show the fans why Walt Jocketty and the front office like him so much. He’s not Barry Larkin, but with this offense, he doesn’t need to be.

Third Base – Todd Frazier

March 5, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier (21) makes the off balance throw to first base for the out in the fourth inning during a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

2012 Slash Line: .273/.331/.498
2013 Fans Projection: .268/.332/.464

2012 WAR: 2.8
Fangraphs Fans Projected 2013 WAR: 3.5

If Zack Cozart is the young Red who sees progression in ‘13, I think Todd Frazier is the young guy that doesn’t get much better from this point on. Also an old sophomore (he turned 27 in February), I think the ToddFather we saw last season is pretty similar to the ToddFather we’ll see in 2013.

That being said, Frazier is still a really good third baseman. We all know the success he saw in (somewhat) limited action last year, and he was one of the catalysts on the team that stepped up when Votto and Rolen went down. Todd was fifth in ISO for guys at the hot corner in 2012, behind only Miguel Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre and Pedro Alvarez. That’s pretty impressive considering Frazier was only a rookie, but can he put up these numbers again?

He’s entering his prime and he’s playing in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league. So far, all arrows are pointing up. I just don’t see a lot of room for improvement. Playing every day will either make or break his game. If Frazier gets off to a hot start, momentum could lead him to a pretty decent year. However, the wear and tear of a full season can get to some players. His already above average K rate could rise, his slash line could dip, and his defense could suffer.

Indeed, projections see Frazier taking a small step back. ZiPS projects his slash line to end up at or around .247/.311/.444. I think that’s a pretty realistic view of the third baseman we’ll have for the next couple of years. I think we’ll see an increase in Home Runs, and we’ll all be able to tweet FRAZIER FUNK BLAST in all caps around 25 times this season.

Defensively Frazier is good enough to handle things. He won’t win any gold gloves, but he won’t lose his job because of his defense. Hopefully.

All in all, I think Frazier compares a lot to Cozart in many ways. Neither are superstars, but as I said with Cozart, on this team superstars aren’t necessary. It’s all about cogs in the machine, taking the plus parts of one player’s game and complementing that with the plus parts of the other players. Frazier’s bat, personality, and heimlich maneuver skills will surely help put the Reds at the top of the NL Central this year.

Catcher – Ryan Hanigan

Sept 15, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (right) talks with catcher Ryan Hanigan (left) during the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2012 Slash Line: .274/.365/.338
2013 Fans Projection: .275/.366/.353

2012 WAR: 2.9
Fangraphs Fans Projected 2013 WAR: 3.1

Ryan Hanigan is one of the more underrated players in baseball. Don’t just take it from me — ask Bill James. Hanigan is definitely the opposite of what you go to the ballpark to see. He won’t win your team a fantasy league championship, he probably won’t hit 5 Home Runs in an entire season, and will probably never be a household name. But Hanigan has proven that you don’t need any of that to succeed in the MLB.

As Bill James pointed out in the article linked above, the staff ERA when Hanigan was catching last season was 3.04. That’s miniscule. That’s really good. When Hanigan wasn’t catching, the ERA inflated to 3.8. That’s not as good, for those keeping track at home.

So why the huge difference? Intangibles. Knowledge. Relationships with pitchers. Hanigan is a lot like the catcher version of Joey Votto — very studious, never without a plan. This interview with Fangraphs, which is one of my favorite interviews of any kind, just shows how in tune Hanigan is with the game, his team, and in particular his pitching staff.

Like I said above, Hanigan won’t impress many people offensively, other than his fantastic on base numbers. Unfortunately he’ll be batting directly in front of the pitcher’s spot, so most of the times he gets on base will probably end without a run scored. But they key to Hanigan’s game is defense. Besides being a mastermind at calling games, Hanigan is also very good at the more traditional catcher skills. He threw out 48% of runners in 2012,  which was good enough to tie for first in the entirety of Major League Baseball with fellow NL Central catcher Yadier Molina.

Judging by the struggles that backup catcher Devin Mesoraco faced last season, it looks as though Hanigan might get to catch a bit more this season. That can only mean good things for the Reds pitching staff. Most projections actually see him losing a couple of games, probably due to the fact that Mesoraco was touted as the teams’ top rated prospect last season. But to me it’s simple. If we want to win, we play Hanigan.

So, there you have it. These five men will start the season manning the infield for our beloved Reds. Of course, with each season come many surprises. Fortunately for the Reds, the options available to back up any potentially injured Red got a bit better this season, getting rid of the offensively inept Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez in exchange for former Indians infielders Jason Donald and Jack Hannahan. Donald and Hannahan should provide not only better offense, but better defense as well.

This preview provides a look at the best case scenario for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. Of course, as we all know, a full season of baseball brings with it seemingly infinite possibilities, both great and terrible. The Reds infield last year took it’s bumps and bruises. But, when completely healthy, this is one of the best infields in baseball.

Stay tuned throughout the week for more of the Blog Red Machine 2013 Season Preview. And be sure to check back on March 31st for my final pre-season Reds power rankings!