RISP-y Business

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(Editor’s Note: Numbers do not reflect the result of Wednesday’s game.)
Before we get rolling, I need to take a brief moment for one of my favorite things: mixing video footage from fictional sports movies into real-life references to the struggles of Cincinnati sports teams.

(Side note within that slightly relevant video clip: You, Cincinnatians, are four Lebron James wins away from losing the “Well, we won the most recent professional sports title” bragging rights to Cleveland fans. I’m not ready for that.)

Anyhow, the streak is over after nine straight losses, the worst stretch by any Reds team since 1998. It leaves the Reds seven games under .500 (19-26), just 45 games into the season. They need to win 10 games in a row to think about being in Wild-card contention by the All-Star break. They would need to win 20 in a row to catch a glimpse of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are once again running away with the N.L. Central. Things were bad at the end of April. Things are far worse now though, at the end of May, than we thought they’d be.

The issues and injuries to the pitching staff aside, the Reds still aren’t getting it done at the plate. A comparison of the Reds lineup performance in 22 games in April and the first 21 games of May could shed light on the Reds futility, and perhaps leave a shred of hope to move forward with.

Jay Bruce, RF
April: .181, 5 HR, 13 RBI,
May: .267, 2 HR, 6 RBI
2015: .225, 7 HR, 19 RBI

Jay Bruce remains an anomaly, albeit a slightly improved anomaly. Bruce has always been streaky, which is proving to be true again in 2015 as his average in May is nearly 90 points higher than it was in April. For many reasons, Bruce’s May form is one of the few points of optimism for Reds fans right now. While he has been specifically hot for the past two weeks, it’s not been a truly impactful improvement. Bruce’s once-feared power remains absent, as he’s added just two home runs in May, and his batting average with runners in scoring position (.175) has not improved alongside his everyday average. Frankly, Bruce still has yet to be a factor for the Reds this season. It’s worth noting that Bruce is batting .274 at Great American Ball Park, and .188 away from home.

Brayan Pena, C
April: .310, 3 2B
May: .292, 3 2B
2015: .298, 6 2B

If you know anyone with something negative to say about Brayan Pena, feel free to direct them personally to me. He’s a backup catcher, and he’s batting a pine-tar smudge away from .300, and that’s after enduring his worst two-week stretch (sub .200 since some idiot totally jinxed him) of the season. Long live the #GreatPerson.

Todd Frazier, 3B
April: .238, 7 HR, 16 RBI
May: .277, 6 HR, 10 RBI
2015: .253, 13 HR, 26 RBI

Todd Frazier’s mid-career power surge continues. He’s on pace for 47 home runs (according to ESPN’s season projector) which would be the most by any Reds player since George Foster’s 52 in 1977. The problem for Frazier, and the Reds, is that, despite having the second most homers in the N.L., Frazier ranks 13th in RBI. That’s partially his fault (.200 with runners in scoring position), but mostly the fault of his teammates, as Frazier has come to the plate with runners in scoring position just 35 times in his 166 at bats this season.

Marlon Byrd, LF
April: .169, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 BB, .188 OBP
May: .257, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 14 BB, .369 OBP
2015: .211, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 15 BB, .286 OBP

By sheer virtue of not going more than 70 at bats to draw a single walk for the second month in a row, Byrd’s average and on base percentage have trended up massively, but for how long? After starting out May on fire, Byrd is just 9-for-42 over the past 10 games. As is the trend with this entire team, Byrd’s numbers with runners in scoring position are particularly atrocious at just .167. Certainly though, the Reds will graciously accept Byrd’s outlook at the end of May, given where he was entering the month.

Brandon Phillips, 2B
April: .275, 10 RBI
May: .303, 8 RBI
2015: .299, 18 RBI

It’s been eight years since Brandon Phillips recorded his 30-30 season in his second year with the Reds. Both his power and speed are basically gone—41 of Phillips 46 hits this season have been singles. Regardless, Phillips is hitting more than 20 points above his career average (.271) at .299, and has one of the better averages on the team with runners in scoring position (.268). Unfortunately, Phillips decline in pop and speed make him slightly out of place in the top half of the order, but the Reds injuries and struggles dictate that he stay there.

Zack Cozart, SS
April: .280, 4 HR, 10 RBI
May: .250, 2 HR, 8 RBI
2015:.268, 6 HR, 18 RBI

Zack Cozart was one of the brightest points of the first month and a half of the season, showing signs of a long-overdue emergence at the plate. But Cozart is in the midst of his worst stretch of the season. During the Reds nine-game losing streak, Cozart was a dismal 2-for-30 (.067). A lingering wrist injury could be to blame for Cozart’s woes, but I think it’s just as much to do with being moved to the top of the order, where he’s struggled historically. In 19 at-bats this season in the leadoff spot, Cozart has just two hits. Regardless of where he is in the order, however, Cozart is struggling along with the rest of the team in clutch hitting situations: 3-for-25 (.125) with runners in scoring position.

Joey Votto, 1B
April:.317, 7 HR, 17 RBI, .646 SLG
May: .244, 0 HR, 4 RBI, .304 SLG
2015: .280, 7 HR, 21 RBI, .478 SLG

No one seems to be specifically talking about it, but I’m just as concerned about Votto right now as I am with any of the Reds more glaring issues. Votto played MVP-caliber baseball in April, but he’s looked far more like his 2014 self in May. In a month where most of the Reds lineup actually showed an improvement in average, Votto saw the starkest decline. It’s not fair to pin the Reds decline on Votto’s lack of production, but it’s certainly been a major factor, as he’s now gone 30 days without a home run, and produced zero RBI during the Reds nine-game losing streak. It’d be interesting to see the Reds record if Votto could’ve managed to produce the number of runs the team expected from him in the month of May. Hopefully a permanent move back to the number two spot in the lineup, where Votto is batting .324 on the season, will make for a stronger June.

Billy Hamilton, CF
April: .217, 16 runs, 13 SB, 1 CS, .278 OBP
May: .211, 6 runs, 4 SB, 2 CS, .235 OBP
2015: .214, 22 runs, 17 SB, 3 CS, .257 OBP

When Billy Hamilton gets on base, the Reds win. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really gotten on base since the All-Star break last season. A brief bright spot in the opening week of the season has been followed by continued futility for Hamilton, whose average has been under .220 for a full month now. There’s not much to analyze; Hamilton simply isn’t very successful as a left-handed batter (.195 from the left, vs .265 as a righty). After letting Hamilton struggle far longer than he should have, Reds manager Bryan Price has finally moved Hamilton down in the lineup, surprisingly to the nine spot. The youngster has hits in three straight games. Perhaps that’s somewhere to start.

Where to start for the Reds as a team is a little easier. The Reds had four of their eight everyday starters see significant average improvements in May, with only Votto going through a substantial decline. Yet they’ve scored 12 fewer runs than they did in the same time period in April. It’s very straight forward. If the Reds are going to chip their way back toward .500, they’ll have to improve on their egregious .185 average with runners in scoring position.

Joshua A. Miller is a Nuxhall Way and Cincinnati Magazine contributor. You can follow him on Twitter at @_J_A_Miller.

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