It’s been a difficult start to the season for the Reds and, as is always the case, this has people quickly calling for changes. And I get it. I’m for anything that gets the Reds winning more games. But I also think some things get left out of the discussion because they aren’t as in your face as, say, home runs and RBI.
Recently, on Twitter, home of all reasonable thought, I came across a statement from someone that the Reds should just get a center fielder who can field and hit. Sounds like a good plan, right? Except there aren’t very many of those guys. Among qualified centerfielders, there were seven who produced at an average or better level in both offense and defense last season and only 3 who were significantly better than average in both areas. In fact, there were only 15 out of 52 qualified outfielders in all of baseball who were even two runs above average defensively. Billy Hamilton’s 10.7 runs above average in 2017 (according to FanGraphs) makes him the fourth best outFIELDer in all of baseball.
By contrast, Scooter Gennett sure did hit last year, but he was also dead last in fielding among the 34 players who saw time at second and had at least 400 plate appearances. That’s not so great.
But here’s my larger point. It’s easy to forget what average means. Half of all players are below average because that’s how math works. Everyone can’t be above average. Last year’s World Champion Houston Astros had six everyday fielders with negative defensive value. SIX! That’s 75 percent of their everyday lineup. They also had Carlos Beltran hitting terribly for more than 500 plate appearances. And, as noted, they won the World Series.
My point isn’t that the Reds don’t need to improve. (They do.) It’s that there are multiple ways to improve. The starting pitching, for instance, was only worth 2.8 WAR last year. Meaning the Reds could have called up the average triple-A staff and only been expected to lose about three more games. Rocky as the early season has been this year, that’s one aspect that has already clearly improved.
In the lineup, sure, Billy Hamilton’s 1.3 WAR is below average, but so is Adam Duvall’s 1.7 WAR from last year. He hits more homers than Billy, but he doesn’t get to as many balls or run nearly as well.
Scott Schebler is everyone’s favorite candidate to replace Billy in center right now. I do believe he’ll hit, but he’s not the fielder Billy is or anything remotely like it, to be honest. It’s a tradeoff many fans would choose to make that doesn’t necessarily make the Reds better.
I’ll end with a little comfort. The Reds are an incredibly young team and young teams can absolutely get better in a hurry (see the aforementioned Houston Astros). In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy what I can about the Reds. It sure is nice to see Homer Bailey doing well. And I’m encouraged by the young starting pitching. It’s fun to watch Billy catch things. Also, Joey Votto plays for the Reds. Never forget Joey Votto.
But also remember that even when the Reds are running away with the division next year, they’ll probably still have a few players who aren’t as good as you think they should be. We live in the real world here, not Lake Wobegone. All of the Reds may not be above average, but that isn’t the only way for the team to succeed, either.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.