The Reds have made the NL Central perhaps the most interesting race of the summer. At the two-thirds mark they’re 60-47, leading the Cardinals by just one win. They’re tied for the NL lead in team wOBA, and while they rank 13th in FIP they’ve realized better results. Their 4.02 ERA ranks seventh in the NL, thanks, at least in part, to their team UZR/150 of 6.3, third in the NL.
They’ve had plenty of help from the expected performers. Joey Votto has established himself as an elite first baseman in a league where there are six first basemen with a WAR of 3 or more, Votto leads the way with 5.1, a full win better than the next closest player. Brandon Phillips, thanks to equally excellent seasons on offense and defense, ranks second among NL second basemen with a 3.7 WAR. Despite missing time, Scott Rolen ranks third among NL third basemen with 3.6 WAR.
Still, it takes more than three heavy hitters to power a league-leading offense. To that end, the Reds have gotten help from Chris Heisey (6.6 wRAA), Ryan Hanigan (4.3 wRAA), and Miguel Cairo (4.0 wRAA). These players have played an important complementary role on offense, bringing above-average production to supplement the star power of Votto and company.
That last name in particular stands out. Cairo is the definition of a journeyman. Just look at his Baseball Reference page. He has played parts of 15 seasons in the majors, landing on nine different teams. He has stayed on no one team for more than three years, and even then he hasn’t done that since his 1998-2000 stint on the Devil Rays. He has played on five teams in the last four years and has changed teams nine times in the last 10 years. In other words, he is the consummate journeyman. Every once in a while he makes a positive contribution to his team, and the Reds are the beneficiaries this time around.
At 36 Cairo is not in the midst of a career revival, but instead is making one last run while he’s still considered an option as a utility player. His .355 wOBA is by far the highest of his career. Last year he produced a wOBA of over .300 for the first time since 2004, and even then it was .304 in 47 PA. Before that he had a .336 wOBA as the regular second baseman for the Yankees in 2004. He hasn’t eclipsed the 400 PA mark since that year. Even this year he figures to clock in under the 250 PA mark, but unlike in years past he has been quite effective.
Like many runs by below-average players, Cairo’s 2010 outburst is BABIP-fueled. It is .328 this year — well above his .292 career average and his highest, again, since that 2004 season. This is due, it appears, to him squaring up plenty of pitches, leading to a 27.3 percent line drive rate. Yet these aren’t the only standout aspect of Cairo’s season. He has walked in 8.1 percent of his PA, the highest he’s achieved since splitting time between Cubs and Cardinals. His power has also hit a high-water mark, a .121 ISO, his highest again since 2004 (and discounting his 47 PA from last year, which may or may not be fair). His .367 OBP is the highest in his career.
At 36, Cairo doesn’t have much time left. There are a few utility men who can play into their late 30s, but Cairo never seemed the type. Like other utility men, he lacks with the bat, but he doesn’t have top-notch defense to go with it. His career UZR is negative at every position except third and first bases, and at third he’s right around league average at best. Chances are he’ll head to free agency again and wait until late January or even February to catch on with a team in need of a utility player, and even then will probably receive only offers for minor league contracts. Still, he’s made the most of his opportunity in 2010, and the Reds are all the better for it. It’s not every day that you see a utility player with the sixth highest wRAA on the team.