Best Guess Scenario

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Let’s have a little fun this week.

I know, I know—that’s asking a lot of you, especially after the embarrassing performance by our Redlegs over the weekend in New York. During those three games at Yankee Stadium, Cincinnati scored just six runs while going 20-for-101. Even uglier: Reds hitters posted a collective 1-for-21 mark with runners in scoring position. What’s that smell?

Even so, going into last night’s game in Milwaukee (Ed’s note: which they ultimately lost. Sigh.), the Reds—despite being in fourth place—were just 2.5 games out of first. That’s not bad, right? Forget about the fact that the offense is undermanned thanks to injuries to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. Forget, as well, that general manager Walt Jocketty seems perpetually asleep at the wheel and there may not be hope that he can find a bat by the trade deadline. There’s a lot of season left, and the Reds are still in the thick of things. That’s reason enough for a minimal level of optimism, I’d say.

With the All-Star Game in the rear view mirror, now is the perfect time to speculate a little about what we might expect from this club’s most important contributors in the second half of the season based upon past performance and some statistical projections.

A couple of notes before we begin. On the offensive side of the ledger, I’m only going to look at the players who are (a) relatively healthy, and (b) who have gotten the lion’s share of the plate appearances thus far. In other words, I won’t be looking at the Ryan Ludwick or Chris Heisey (or the interchangeable bench parts like Ramon Schumaker or Skip Santiago, or whatever their names are), because their production is likely to be limited due to inconsistent playing time. Just looking at starters here.

Same with the pitching staff; I’m sticking with the rotation. Anyone who thinks they can predict a reliever’s performance in 20 or 30 innings is a better analyst than me. Here’s my bullpen prediction: Aroldis Chapman will be good. After that, I’m not going any further out onto this limb.

You will also notice that I don’t mention Alfredo Simon below. That’s because the bulk of Simon’s career has been as a reliever, so we’re in uncharted waters here. I think it’s a pretty good bet that Simon will regress, mostly because his fielding-independent numbers (4.36 FIP) are so drastically different than his ERA (2.74), and because he’s held opposing hitters to a .233 batting average on balls in play. Simon may be able to sustain that pace, and I hope he can, but it seems unlikely.

Okay, enough of the prelude. Let’s look at a few numbers.

Todd Frazier
Current: .289/.350/.500, 20 HR, 54 RBI, .371 wOBA, 136 wRC+, 134 OPS+
Career first half: .269/.343/.475, 108 OPS+
Career second half: .246/.303/.435, 87 OPS+
2013 first half: .259/.333/.463, 104 OPS+
2013 second half: .227/.290/.353, 98 OPS+

Frazier, of course, has been the straw that stirs the drink so far this season. His current statistics are not only far above what he’s produced in his career to date, but he has been the most productive third baseman in the league in 2014. You will note, however, that Frazier has a (limited) history of performing better in the first half than the second. Then again, the Toddfather’s career first half/second half numbers above are, admittedly, a bit skewed, since his dominant 2014 is included in the career first-half totals. Take a look at 2013—Frazier was somewhat worse in the second half, but not as drastically as his career numbers might lead you to believe.

But really, is it such a stretch to think that Frazier might regress a bit? After all, his season totals are far above what anyone could have projected. We can all hope that this is Frazier’s new baseline level of production, but I’m not going to bet the ranch on it.

Let’s take a look at a couple projections:
ZiPS (rest of season): .259/.326/.459, 10 HR, 33 RBI, .344 wOBA, 117 wRC+
ZiPS (full season) projection: .278/.341/.481, .360 wOBA, 128 wRC+

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ZiPS, it’s a projection system written by Dan Szymborski to project performance in individual baseball players. I won’t delve into the specifics, but ZiPS is a very useful tool for projecting future performance based upon a number of factors, including past performance. ZiPS does project a slight decline for Frazier in the second half, but still projects him as a solidly above-average offensive player. In fact, Frazier projects out to a 5.1 win player (by fWAR). If the Reds don’t make the playoffs, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll have Todd Frazier to blame.

Devin Mesoraco
Current: .298/.367/.591, 16 HR, 46 RBI, .410 wOBA, 163 wRC+, 162 OPS+
Career first half: .259/.333/.467, 119 OPS+
Career second half: .221/.252/.345, 64 OPS+
2013 first half: .234/.308/.345, 83 OPS+
2013 second half: .243/.261/.382, 80 OPS+

Just as with Frazier, Mesoraco’s career first half numbers are skewed by this year’s incredible performance. Last year, he was marginally worse after the All-Star break, but the guy only has 270 second-half plate appearances in his career. Let’s not extrapolate too much based upon that limited sample size.

Look at what ZiPS expects of Mesoraco, however:

ZiPS (rest of season): .266/.330/.473, 7 HR, 24 RBI, .348 wOBA, 120 wRC+
ZiPS projection: .285/.352/.544, 4 fWAR, .386 wOBA, 146 wRC+

Those “rest of season” projections put a smile on my face. That is outstanding production for a catcher (really, it’s outstanding for any position), and Reds fans should be more than satisfied if Mesoraco can perform at that level.

Jay Bruce
Current: .221/.302/.393, 10 HR, 41 RBI, .305 wOBA, 90 wRC+, 90 OPS+
Career first half: .253/.323/.469, 97 OPS+
Career second half: .256/.336/.485, 104 OPS+
2013 first half: .277/.325/.507, 129 OPS+
2013 second half: .239/.335/.433, 116 OPS+

Jay Bruce has been the biggest disappointment on the 2014 Reds, and I doubt that even he would disagree with that assessment. Surely, he’s going to play better in the second half, right? Well, the numbers can agree with you, no matter how you answer that. Over the course of his career, Bruce has been more productive in the second half than in the first. On the other hand, in 2013, Bruce played better in the first half.

If we choose to look at the glass as if it were half full, we have this: ZiPS projects Bruce to be pretty productive the rest of the way.

ZiPS (rest of season): .246/.323/.463, 11 HR, 39 RBI, .339 wOBA, 114 wRC+
ZiPS projection: .233/.313/.427, .322 wOBA, 102 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR

No other way to put this: if the Reds hope to stick around in this race with Votto and Phillips injured, Jay Bruce must play at or above the “rest of season” projection above. Short of the Reds acquiring Giancarlo Stanton to play left field (please?), it’s difficult to envision a scenario where a Reds offense without a resurgent Bruce does anything but continue to sputter.

Billy Hamilton
Current: .278/.311/.414, 5 HR, 47 runs, 38 SB, .318 wOBA, 99 wRC+, 101 OPS+
Career first half: See above
Career second half: 22 plate appearances, so who cares?
2013 first half: AAA
2013 second half: 22 plate appearances, so who cares?

Who knows what to expect from Billy Hamilton? Everything we’ve seen from Hamilton this season has been unexpected. Your guess is as good as mine. ZiPS, on the other hand, has a slightly more scientific guess.

ZiPS (rest of season): .270/.317/.379, 3 HR, 30 runs, 27 SB,
ZiPS projection: .277/.316/.403, .316 wOBA, 98 wRC+

I’ll take that second-half performance by Billy every single day, and twice on Sunday. Fangraphs projects Hamilton to be a 4.4 WAR player at season’s end, and if there is a Reds fan anywhere who would be disappointed with that, I’d like to meet that person. No, wait—I don’t want to be in the same zip code as that moron.

Zack Cozart
Current: .230/.280/.300, 2 HR, 22 RBI, .259 wOBA, 59 wRC+, 62 OPS+
Career first half: .241/.283/.361, 96 OPS+
Career second half: .263/.294/.400, 110 OPS+ (515 plate appearances)
2013 first half: .236/.265/.369, 76 OPS+
2013 second half: .282/.315/.400, 101 OPS+

Okay, so Zack Cozart isn’t a very good hitter. Cozy has his talents, but batting doesn’t qualify as one of the talents he could take to South Beach (and back). His numbers this season are awful.

But here’s the surprising thing: Cozart has been pretty good in the second half in previous years. Not just, Hey, that’s pretty good for Cozart! He’s been genuinely good for any shortstop.

ZiPS (rest of season): .247/.289/.368, 4 HR, .290 wOBA, 80 wRC+
ZiPS projection: .239/.286/.329, 2.1 fWAR, .273 wOBA, 68 wRC+

ZiPS thinks Zack will be somewhat better in the first half than we have seen so far this year. Those projected stats aren’t great, but when combined with his (gold?) glove, I’ll take it.

Now, let’s move on to the pitchers. Warning: these guys are good, and no one should really expect them to perform much better.

Johnny Cueto
Current: 10-6, 2.18 ERA, 3.15 FIP
Career first half: 3.05 ERA, 1.142 WHIP
Career second half: 3.92, 1.316 WHIP
2013 first half: 4-2, 3.33 (9 starts)
2013 second half: only 2 starts
2012 first half: 10-5, 2.39
2012 second half: 9-4, 3.26

ZiPS (rest of season): 5-3, 3.06 ERA, 3.42 FIP
ZiPS projection: 15-9, 2.42, 3.24 FIP

Johnny Cueto is great. Cueto may not continue to be as dominant as we have seen, but there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue to be a very, very effective starting pitcher in the second half of 2014.

Mat Latos
Current: 2-1, 2.79 ERA, 3.50 FIP
Career first half: 3.46 ERA, 1.167 WHIP
Career second half: 3.17, 1.139
2013 first half: 8-3, 3.53
2013 second half: 6-4, 2.68

Latos has always been a second-half pitcher, mostly due to his well-documented struggles in April. Latos didn’t struggle in April this season; instead, he was injured the entire month. That’s one way to keep from experiencing the April blues, I guess.

ZiPS sees Latos being basically the same pitcher in the second half of this year:

ZiPS (rest of season): 4-3, 3.38, 3.45 FIP
ZiPS projection: 6-4, 3.16, 3.47 FIP

I’ll take that.

Homer Bailey
Current: 8-5, 4.21 ERA, 3.91 FIP
Career first half: 4.51, 1.327 WHIP
Career second half: 3.95, 1.311
2013 first half: 5-8, 3.82
2013 second half: 6-4, 3.02
ZiPS (rest of season): 5-4, 3.69, 3.76 FIP
ZiPS projection: 13-9, 4.00, 3.85 FIP

Homer has a pretty good history of improving his performance after the All-Star break, and we all remember his heroics in the second half of each of the last two seasons. ZiPS projects that to continue.

Mike Leake
Current: 7-8, 3.63 ERA, 3.78 FIP
Career first half: 3.57, 1.243 WHIP
Career second half: 4.66, 1.415
2013 first half: 8-4, 2.69
2013 second half: 6-3, 4.42
ZiPS (rest of season): 4-4, 3.90, 4.08 FIP
ZiPS projection: 11-12, 3.73, 3.89 FIP

Leake is the one Reds starter that is projected to be somewhat worse in the second half than he was in the first. Still, I doubt anyone would be disappointed with those numbers from a #4 starter. Leake is what he is: a steady, dependable-but-not-spectacular right-hander. There is real value in a player like that, and I’m glad Leake is a Red.

This was a fun little exercise, but I’m not sure how many conclusions we can draw. In the end, the pitchers have to keep pitching well, and the Reds offense needs to get healthy in a hurry (or Jocketty needs to surprise everyone and actually make a move to improve the roster) if Cincinnati expects to remain a contender in this division race. We already knew that, I guess. Frankly, we aren’t likely to see substantial improvements from anyone in the lineup, unless Bruce can right the ship in a hurry.

Get well soon, Joey.

Chad Dotson is a contributing writer to our Reds Blog. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog.

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