A couple of weeks ago, I started making my case that 2018 will be better for the Reds by talking about the pitching rotation. In a way, that’s the easiest part of the case to make. The pitching was so bad for much of the year that it would be almost impossible for it to get worse. Add to that the emergence of some genuinely promising young starters and it’s easy to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
The lineup is a different story. It was already pretty good this year. According to wRC+ (a catch-all hitting stat where 100 is average), the Reds had five regulars above average: Joey Votto (165—as in 65% better than an average MLB hitter), Zack Cozart (144), Scooter Gennett (127), Eugenio Suarez (119), and Scott Schebler (102). Adam Duvall (95—he gets hurt by his low OBP) and Tucker Barnhart (90) are close to average. That’s not bad at all. Further, good as they’ve been, it’s hard to imagine Cozart and Gennett duplicating what they’ve done this year. And Cozart, of course, probably won’t even be on the team next season.
The question, then, isn’t “How do they get better?” it’s “Can they hold their ground offensively?”
Yes. I think.
Let’s start with Jesse Winker. In limited playing time, Winker’s 131 wRC+ is excellent and also not a surprise. He’s hit at every professional level. The power he’s displayed (7 homers) is perhaps a little surprising, but as someone who watched the wind blowing in off the river knock down lots of Winker fly balls in Louisville, it’s not that surprising. In the current Major League environment, he’s probably good for 20 homers and will absolutely get on base. He likely forces out Duvall or Schebler from the everyday lineup, but he’s also a better hitter than either of them.
And then there’s Nick Senzel. Senzel has been steamrolling through the minors like he’s playing a video game on Rookie setting. In AA this year, he hit .340/.413/.560 and there’s a good chance most of that will transfer to the big leagues. While no prospect is a sure bet, it’s hard to imagine he won’t manage to be around a 120 wRC+ in his rookie year. He has more power than Winker and more or less the same on-base skills. Honestly, I have to try hard not to get too excited about him. Because of service time concerns, he’ll likely start the year in the minors, but I’d expect him up with the big club sooner rather than later. Where he plays is another question.
Essentially, the Reds have four players for three positions. Suarez is great at third but can also play second or (maybe) short, Gennett can play second but not short, Peraza can play anywhere, but might not hit, and Senzel can play third and (probably) second. Essentially, if the Reds think they can get by with Suarez at short, then Peraza will be the super-sub. If they can’t, then Gennett is probably the super-sub (all of this only matters once Senzel actually comes up).
The result—in theory—is that you can manage to replace any lost production from Cozart’s potential departure and Scooter’s regression by upgrading the offense in the outfield with Winker and bringing up Senzel. That lineup would look something like this:
- Jesse Winker
- Nick Senzel
- Joey Votto
- Eugenio Suarez
- Adam Duvall and/or Scott Schebler
- Scooter Gennett or Jose Peraza
- Tucker Barnhart
- Billy Hamilton
At least that’s the plan. Plans, of course, have a way of changing, but there is at least reason to hope that the Reds can have five or six batters in the lineup every day that opposing pitchers really aren’t too excited to face.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.