Cincinnati Reds’ defense in 2016 – a tale of two teams or two sides of the field

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cincinnati Reds were blessed and cursed defensively in 2016 to have some of the best and some of the worst MLB defenders.

Everybody is aware of how good of a defender Billy Hamilton is as the center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds and most people are aware of how good Zack Cozart is at shortstop.  It’s the rest of the team that people don’t know more about.  Looking at how good Hamilton and Cozart really are can be instructive, too.

Hamilton is considered the best center fielder in the National League and backed that up by saving a league leading 15 runs in 2016.  Over the past three years, only Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals and Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays have saved more runs than Hamilton in all of baseball.  Kevin Kiermaier is the definitive best center fielder in MLB, but Hamilton can make a strong case for number 2.

Hamilton is on the way up for the Cincinnati Reds, but Zack Cozart may on his way down.

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Cozart may not be as elite as Hamilton, but he is also among the best in MLB at shortstop.  Cozart ranked ninth in MLB in 2016 with 8 runs saved which places him third in the past three years behind Andrelton Simmons of the Los Angeles Angels and Brandon Crawford of the San Francisco Giants. The Cincinnati shortstop ranked sixth in runs saved in the NL  for 2016 falling behind Crawford, Addison Russell of the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks’ Nick Ahmed and Adeiny Hechavarria of the Miami Marlins.

Cozart and Hamilton have reputations as elite defenders, but Adam Duvall came out of nowhere in 2016 to establish himself as an elite defensive left fielder.  Duvall is primed for a big 2017.

He finished second to Starling Marte in runs saved for left fielders in all of baseball in 2016, which was the seventh best total over the past three years.  Good defensive left fielders fill the NL, but with 15 career runs saved Duvall is among the best.

After the Big 3 defensively, the Cincinnati Reds have a few players that are no longer cutting it.

In 2016 the Reds had three defenders that had good reputations as defenders fall apart.  Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto all allowed runs to score that an average MLB player would not have.  This is after all three have a history of saving runs every year.

Although no longer a Red after a trade to the Mets, Bruce’s defensive fall surprised many Reds’ followers.  Bruce has somewhat of an up and down history as a defender, but he had his worst year in 2016.  He covers ground as well as most right fielders.  However, he saw more extra base hits fall in around him than expected for an average right fielder.

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The two players still with the Cincinnati Reds are aging poorly defensively and play side by side.

Votto, by contrast, appears to have had a bad year.  2016 is the first time in his career that he wasn’t a plus defender.  After saving at least five runs defensively every year in his career, Votto cost the Reds 14 runs defensively.  His early season defense was atrocious, so he may have been taking his bad at-bats onto the field.

Phillips has been trending downward defensively since 2012 when he saved 11 runs.  Since then he has been trending downward until 2016 when cost the Reds seven runs defensively.  Phillips has been slowly grading out worse defensively and now he is a below average defensive second baseman.

Next: Shifting helped Reds defense in 2016

The Reds value defense on their team.  They jettisoned Bruce during the season and have been trying to move Phillips.  If Votto can return to his usual form, the defense should be just fine.