Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reds lineup in need of tinkering for deep run into October

Stubbs' .217 average is pretty unsightly
It's really hard to complain about a team who just clinched their division before any other in the majors. But for the sake of always striving for perfection, I'm going to complain anyway today. What's there to complain about, you may ask? How about the lineup? It's been the primary rift between Reds fans and the team all year long, so it's only natural that we address it just prior to the playoffs.

Actually, Bill Petti of beat me to the punch a couple of days ago by voicing the same concern that many others have about this Cincinnati Reds club. He worries that although the Reds boast excellent pitching, they may not have enough offensive firepower to guide them to a championship. Here's an excerpt from his post:

As a team, the Reds are generating a shade fewer than 4.3 runs per game, fewer than the 4.5 runs produced last season and more than half a run fewer than their 2010 output. Given that the team plays in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, the lack of run generation is even more concerning. Using FanGraphs' weighted runs created plus (wRC+) -- an overall offensive metric that adjusts for league and home park -- the Reds' offense has been 5 percent worse than league average this year.

To be fair, lineup construction has a limited impact on run scoring over the course of a full season. However, in the playoffs, giving your best hitters as many opportunities with runners on base is key. That's hard to do if the likes of Cozart and Stubbs are asked to get on base when facing quality pitching every day in October. Since Sept. 5, Phillips has manned the leadoff spot because of a strained oblique that has sidelined Cozart. Phillips could be an upgrade (a lifetime .327 OBP as a leadoff hitter), but so far this year, he's managed only a .244 OBP in the leadoff spot.

The Reds don't have a lot of options for improving their offense at this point in the season. However, one thing they do have control of is who bats where. In order to maximize their chances of scoring in the playoffs, the Reds may want to consider a shake-up at the top of the lineup. They need to try something, or else their entire postseason hopes could depend solely on the success of their pitching staff.

Bottom line: For the Reds to make a run in October, they need to get runners on ahead of their most dangerous hitter. So far this season, they haven't done that.

Can I get an 'Amen' to that? If there's one legitimate gripe that I have with Dusty Baker's regular lineup it's the fact that he continues to insist on plugging Cozart and Stubbs at the top. Fact: Both Stubbs and Cozart enter play on Tuesday with on-base percentages of .284 this season. Fact: That's not good coming from a one or two-hole hitter.

I realize there's not exactly a host of candidates worthy of sticking in there instead, but a break away from the traditional batting order may be in the best interest of the Reds. Ryan Hanigan, for example, owns the highest OBP on the team outside (min 300 AB) of Joey Votto. Furthermore, he is an excellent contact hitter as evidenced by his low strikeout total (36). Would he not be a prime candidate to hit second then? Is the fact that he's a catcher and not particularly speedy on the basepaths holding Dusty back from penciling Hanigan in there?

Even Chris Heisey with his .323 OBP would be a far better choice than Stubbs right now, especially if the offense struggles as much as it's projected to in October. Stubbs' defense would certainly be missed, but I don't think you're losing that much by swapping Heisey in his place.

Look, I don't claim to be an expert on filling out a lineup card. If I was, I wouldn't be writing this blog. With that said, I do feel like I have decent insight since I've been following the team so closely for so long. Here's how I would fill out the starting lineup if it were game seven of the World Series:

2B Brandon Phillips
C Ryan Hanigan
1B Joey Votto
LF Ryan Ludwick
RF Jay Bruce
3B Todd Frazier
SS Zack Cozart
CF Chris Heisey
SP Johnny Cueto

So, what do you think? Does this lineup give the Reds the best chance to score the most runs?


Anonymous said...

flip cozart and heisey and you got yourself a lineup

Anonymous said...

Stubbs can field and fly, but if he hits before Votto , the Reds are sunk.