Cincinnati Reds: Outfield defense will be tested on West Coast trip

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Reds outfielders will spend the next 7 days patrolling the large outfields in Los Angeles and San Diego. How the Reds outfield defense holds up in these spacious stadiums will be a key component in determining their success.

President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams and General Manager Nick Krall made the decision that the 2019 version of the Cincinnati Reds outfield would put an emphasis on offensive production. When you play half your games in the hitter friendly Great American Ball Park, it’s a smart move. As a result, however, the Gold Glove-caliber defense of Billy Hamilton was deemed as expendable.

Through the first 14 games of the 2019 season the Cincinnati Reds have used both Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker as starters in center field.  Both are known more for their offensive prowess as opposed to defense. The offseason decision of the Reds’ front office will be put to the test over the the next week.

Defensively, a great amount of attention has been given to center field following the departure of Billy Hamilton.  Entering play on Monday, Scott Schebler has a -1 defensive runs saved (DRS).  Over the course of the year, Schebler is predicted to finish with a -16 rate in center.

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Surprisingly, Jesse Winker has compiled a +1 DRS in center to begin the 2019 season. Granted it’s a very small sample size, but still it’s an encouraging sign for Winker, who usually occupied left field.

Fortunately, the corner outfielders have been steady, if not spectacular. Matt Kemp has a -1 DRS and Jesse Winker has contributed a +1 DRS in left field. Right fielder Yasiel Puig has been right at league average. However, the Reds outfield will face their most strenuous challenge of the season covering ground at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego.

Thus far, the Cincinnati Reds have several starting pitchers doing an excellent job of inducing ground balls from opposing hitters. Luis Castillo leads the staff with an impressive 57.1% ground ball rate with Sonny Gray posting a 52.8% GB rate, which is amazingly just below his 53.3% career rate.

Right-hander Tyler Mahle has contributed a 53.8% rate. Producing ground balls at these rates obviously places less stress on the outfield defense and helps minimize one of the team’s perceived weaknesses. Luckily, this trio will be starting 5 of the 7 games on the West Coast.

This brings us to right-handed starters Tanner Roark and Anthony DeScalfani. Both of them have given the Reds outfielders plenty of opportunities this season. Roark has a ground ball rate of just 33.3%, while DeScalfani brings up the rear among Reds starters with at a 26.1% rate.

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Look for the Roark and DeScalfani starts on Thursday in Los Angeles and Friday in San Diego, respectively, to present the greatest challenge to the Reds outfield defense during the team’s trip to the West Coast.