Watching a baseball team rebuild, retool, reformat, reload, and restart has its ups and downs. The process is all about trying things—new players especially—and seeing what works, and that naturally leads to some mixed results along the way. There are, however, bound to be at least a couple of fun surprises, which is what makes the bumpy stretches tolerable. The Reds have several nice surprises going right now, and two of them spend most of their nights in the corner outfield positions.
Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler have both been better than we would have expected so far. When the Reds acquired them via trades, neither player was a marquee name, and they were both getting long in the tooth for prospects. Last year, they were both given a real chance (though Schebler’s didn’t come until the end of the year). The thing is, it’s not that common for players who don’t become established in the majors until their late-20s to put up numbers like they have. Last year, in his first full season of major league playing time, Adam Duvall hit 33 home runs and was worth 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He was 27. This year, Schebler is on pace for something similar in his age-26 season.
Generally speaking, 2 WAR is regarded as average for a major league player. Obviously, with new players, you’re looking for something at least a little above average if you’re trying to build a winning team. You’re also looking for players who are likely to continue that success for a few years. That’s where the age factor comes in. How long can we expect players like Duvall and Schebler to be contributors at their current levels?
For research, I looked at the recent history of late bloomers in the Reds uniform. I went back to 1980 and grabbed every player who fit the following criteria:
- First full season (I used a cut off around 400 PAs) of playing time at age-25 or later.
- Had subsequent season in which he was clearly the starter at his position (this eliminates players who had single years of increased playing time because, say, Barry Larkin was injured).
- Produced at least 2.0 WAR in their initial season. We’re only interested in players who at least had the potential to be above average, as Duvall and Schebler both clearly do.
Here’s what the data showed:
Chris Sabo – Initial Season WAR and slashline: 4.8 WAR, .274/.314/.414, Total seasons above 2 WAR: 3
We all remember Spuds, of course. He was my favorite player when I was a kid and had a few very nice years. Sadly, he wasn’t as good in reality as he was in my memory. Injuries took their toll, and he only had two above average seasons after his rookie-of-the-year-winning campaign.
Todd Frazier – Initial Season: 2.6 WAR, .273/.331/.498, Seasons above 2 WAR: 5.
Do I really have to say anything about the Todd Father? You all remember him. His numbers, however, have been in steep decline since the Reds traded him, indicating that they may have picked the right moment to say farewell.
Zack Cozart – Initial Season: 2.3 WAR, .246/.288/.399, Seasons above 2 WAR: 2.
Cozart has been so hot this year, he’s already on the verge of his third 2 WAR season. As was the case for Sabo, he’s had some injury issues.
Josh Hamilton – Initial Season: 2.3 WAR, .292/.368/.554,Seasons above 2 WAR: 5. Easily the most engimatic player on this list. An almost magically gifted player whose mental demons derailed his early career, he won the AL MVP in 2010, but was done as a full time player in 2014 and out of baseball after 2015.
Hal Morris – Initial Season: 2.1 WAR, .340/.381/.498, Seasons above 2 WAR: 4. I remember Morris well, but didn’t realize he’d gotten such a late start. Morris rarely played a full season, but when he did play, he hit. Morris missed the 1991 batting title to Terry Pendleton by one point.
Gary Redus – Initial Season: 2.3 WAR, .247/.352/.444, Seasons above 2 WAR: 5. Redus isn’t technically before my time, but he debuted before I was forming long term memories that involved baseball. He had a nice little career. His best years came early with the Reds, but he finished with 322 steals and a .342 OBP, that’s not bad at all.
Aaron Boone – Initial Season: 2.4 WAR, .280/.330/.445, Seasons above 2 WAR: 3. Boone, like Sabo, is better in my head than he was in reality. I must have a thing about third basemen. Despite the famous homer in pinstripes, Boone ceased to be a solid player almost the moment the Reds traded him.
This was an interesting and encouraging exercise for me. I’ve been a vocal skeptic at times about Schebler and especially Duvall, but they fit right in the mold of most of players listed above. They are flawed, but good enough at what they do that we can perhaps count on them to be valuable to the team until they’re more or less ready for free agency. At which time, they should be let go. Via lucrative mid-season trade if at all possible. Only the best major leagues stay productive well into their thirties. While this group doesn’t represent the best, there are plenty of all-star seasons there and more than enough productivity to make me comfortable with the current outfield situation in Cincinnati.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.