Reds Need Center Fielder and Left Fielder

The Reds are three games up in the National League Central, despite the fact that they have been below average in more areas than they have been above average this season, but between adjustments (installing Todd Frazier as the everyday third baseman) and a scarcity of available upgrades at certain positions (it would be difficult to find a shortstop substantially better than Zack Cozart) the number of areas that Cincinnati can make impactful upgrades to shrinks quickly. It would be nice if the Reds could acquire another starting pitcher, but while Reds’ starters have been short on star power, they have been solid across the board and a upgrade there may be tough to find. Given how well their bullpen has pitched, they may be fine if Mat Latos improves. That leaves two troublesome areas — center field and left field. If they want to be more than a one and done postseason team, they will need to upgrade at these two spots.

Drew Stubbs has been the Reds’ primary center fielder since breaking through to the Majors in August of 2009. He has combined neutral defense with good power, plus speed and poor contact skills. But after a promising first full season in which he hit 22 homers, stole 30 bases and compiled a 110 wRC+, he has gone downhill. Overall, his performance is just not cutting it this year, and now he is hampered by an oblique injury to boot. His cranky oblique aside, Stubbs has been the least valuable qualified center fielder in the game this year.

Stubbs has always had a high BABIP, but his current .297 mark doesn’t exactly paint him as incredible unfortunate. He still has power to spare, as he possesses a 17.5% HR/FB, but since his FB% is at a career-low, his ISO is a relatively paltry .137. Compare that to a .189 ISO in 2010, and you can see that Stubbs has moved away from what made his game so valuable in the first place. Of course, the three true outcomes approach only works if you are good at taking a walk. In 2010 and ’11, Stubbs’ BB% was above league average, but this year it has fallen to league average. The margins are small because of the sample size, but he is still trending downward. This is an effect of seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance:

2010: 4.02
2011: 3.96
2012: 3.77

He is now seeing a below average number of pitches per PA, and the approach has hurt his productivity, perhaps in an effort to seem more like a “traditional” two-hole hitter. Or perhaps it’s been in an effort to cut down on his strike outs, which were never a problem to begin with — there are many ways to skin a cat, and a 110 wRC+ from a center fielder is incredibly valuable no matter how many times you strike out. Unfortunately, one with a wRC+ of 94 (his mark in ’11) or 87 (his mark this season) is much less so. If Stubbs was able to revert back to his old approach, he would likely regain that value, but that is a tall order in the middle of the season.

Still, even if he was able to come back to form, the Reds would want to consider a switch, as Stubbs has not hit right-handed pitching at all the past two seasons. In 2010, he did just fine against righties, compiling a 103 wRC+, but that mark has gone sharply downhill since. Since the start of 2011, his 73 wRC+ against right-handed pitching is tied for last among qualified center fielders with Alex Rios. If the Reds want to win this year, Stubbs needs to be reduced to a platoon/defensive replacement role.

And while center fielders are generally at a premium, there may be a decent number of them available this trade season. The Rockies have never been in love with Dexter Fowler, and the return to form by Tyler Colvin may make Fowler expendable if the right offer comes along. Similarly, Trevor Plouffe’s breakout may help coerce the Twins into parting with either Denard Span or Ben Revere. Other possibilities could include Gerardo Parra, B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino. The latter two have little reason to be traded, as the Rays are in the hunt and the Phillies need to try to stay in it, but for the right offer, who knows — both are free agents at the end of the season. Less sure-fire solutions from guys who are playing well at the moment include Michael Saunders and Justin Maxwell. Peter Bourjos is another name that might still end up on the market, though at this point it’s hard to see him as an upgrade over anyone for this season. Bottom line — there are solutions out there, and the right deal can turn Stubbs from a subpar starter to a great platoon partner.

Speaking of platoons, Cincy’s left-field platoon has not worked out all that well — only five teams have employed less valuable left-field units this season. The Ryan Ludwick Experiment has fared better of late — after a disastrous .190/.266/.397 April, he has hit .231/.304/.484 since — but there is a lot of room to upgrade. Among the 88 outfielders with 150 or more plate appearances, Ludwick’s .316 wOBA ranks just 61st. Unfortunately, he is the best the Reds have, as Chris Heisey’s .295 wOBA ranks 73rd. And unlike Ludwick, Heisey is not improving as the year progresses. He looked to be pulling out of his slump in May, but June has seen him slide once again, as his .07 BB/K has been one of the worst in the game this month. Heisey shouldn’t be discarded entirely, since he is cheap and controllable, but the Reds would be well served to find an upgrade over both him and Ludwick. Any plus corner bat will do, as if Heisey and Stubbs are coming off the bench, either can be used as a defensive replacement in later innings.

In Dave Cameron’s article on Monday, he identified the Reds as potential buyers, but you can see a scenario where they become clear buyers quickly. They are three games up on the competition, chief of whom is a Pirates team that could have a historically futile offense and a Cardinals team that may be vulnerable with Jaime Garcia joining Chris Carpenter on the shelf. And despite their flaws, Cincy has the fourth-best run differential in the NL. The Reds are as well positioned as anyone. They have potentially a dynamic one-two punch at the top of their rotation in Johnny Cueto and Latos, a superb bullpen, a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate in Joey Votto, and a solid core around him in Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. If the club can make the right moves to upgrade left and center field, they could become a dangerous team this October.



Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Aaron
Guest
Aaron
4 years 2 months ago

With Rolen coming off the DL soon, Frazier should start to see some time at LF. So if Rolen can at least be not terrible, that could be a solution to that problem. As for CF I’d be all for Fowler. To me issues that are just as big as these are the bench and lineup construction. The bench is God awful. There is really no other way to describe it, and no one in AAA that could help. As for the lineup, Cozart and Stubbs, arguably the two worst hitters on the team, at least OBP wise, have hit 1 and 2 just about all year.

Colin P
Guest
Colin P
4 years 2 months ago

Agree on Frazier, if Rolen can provide his still excellent defense and just passable offense a few times a week it allows them to give Frazier time in left and alleviate the problem.

If they went after a CF it would almost surely be a rental, because that is likely where Billy Hamilton is ticketed in a year or so. He’s probably moving up to AA in the next few weeks and could be in big league camp next spring.

Eric
Guest
Eric
4 years 2 months ago

Hamilton should have been in AA 4 weeks ago. We already know he can hit in High-A and steal on those inferior catchers. The Reds are slowing his growth.

I think if Hamilton gets fast-tracked and produces at AA then Cozart might make a decent LF. Don’t think he can cover CF.

Fernando
Guest
Fernando
4 years 2 months ago

Stubbs is one of the most intriguing to me. His season numbers are really eye-popping bad. But his splits tells us something else. His line batting second is fine: .280/.348/.476 (according to BBRef). When he was the leadoff, he batted, believe it or not, .083/.132/.083. That’s why his line is so scary this season. 3 hits in his first 38 PAs.

Disco Hero
Guest
Disco Hero
4 years 2 months ago

Do you really think Stubbs’ strikeout numbers were “not a problem to begin with”? He had 168 strikeouts (28.8 K%) in his breakout 2010 season and then last year had 205 strikeouts (30.1 K%). Not trying to be condescending, I’m just really not sure why that wouldn’t be a problem with any hitter who doesn’t regularly put up 30+ HRs a season?

brandon
Guest
brandon
4 years 2 months ago

I would agree. 25+ k% with under 200 ISO is pretty bad. Unless the player is elite in bb%.

steve-o
Guest
steve-o
4 years 2 months ago

“impactful” really? Sounds like a game changer, if they don’t kick the can down the road.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 2 months ago

“impactful” was the worst part, but re-read the entire first sentence. It is proof positive that FanGraphs needs an editor.
Be that as it may, this was a very good article–informative and fact-filled. If the Reds have anything left to trade, they should do so to fill at least some of the holes. They may not be this close to the playoffs again for some time, especially with Baker as the manager.

Bloom
Guest
Bloom
4 years 2 months ago

“Proof positive,” “be that as it may,” and incorrect use of a hyphen were the worst parts, but re-read that last sentence. It’s a good example of why Baltar has no authority to (1) critique grammar, usage, and punctuation on the Internet; and, (2) talk about baseball.

DoubleD
Member
DoubleD
4 years 2 months ago

Isn’t Mike Trout what the Reds thought Drew Stubbs would be?

Bullets on Ice
Guest
Bullets on Ice
4 years 2 months ago

Depends on what you mean. If you mean the uber prospect Trout, no. If you mean the 26th overall pick Trout, maybe. Stubbs was supposed to hit for plus power albeit with a average-ish BA. He was not supposed to be as good of a hitter. Stubbs has 70 speed while Trout has 80 speed. He was supposed to be great, but never on the level of Trout (slightly less power, less hitting, slightly less speed, etc)

Jason461
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

To pick a nit: Cozart has been almost perfectly average offensively, very good defensively, and has already generated 1.4 WAR. How is he anything other than an asset to the Reds?

brendan
Guest
brendan
4 years 2 months ago

Bourjos not an upgrade? He is a +10 UZR fielder who put up a 336 wOBA last year! Even with a sucky 100 PA this year, he still has zips RoS .293 wOBA, good enough to be above average overall, given his glovework. I would love for my team to get him.

Texas Rangers Fan
Guest
Texas Rangers Fan
4 years 2 months ago

Reds need a LF/CF? How about they trade for Edison Volquez and stick him out there? TROLLOLOLOLOL!!!

beeviss
Guest
beeviss
4 years 2 months ago

Or maybe they could get EdiNson Volquez – who is already pitching in the Major Leagues.

rEc
Guest
rEc
4 years 2 months ago

No idea why this is down voted. Absolutely hilarious.

Daniel Chen
Guest
Daniel Chen
4 years 2 months ago

Halos wouldn’t sell Bourjos.(his defence is mercy) It will cost a lot to get him.

adk234769
Member
adk234769
4 years 2 months ago

i def think that cozart will continue to improve. this is his first full season. if he got his OBP to .350 plus he would be a very effective player bc he has above average power for a ss and his defense is improving

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 2 months ago

It isn’t necessary to tweet in this blog. You are allowed to speak English.

WinTwins
Member
WinTwins
4 years 2 months ago

I just want to say that I’ve been a merciless, unforgiving Plouffe basher and yet he continues to just mash in June. At what point do I change my mind?

GorillaKilla
Guest
GorillaKilla
4 years 2 months ago

You don’t. You line in wait until he slumps and then you strike!

GorillaKilla
Guest
GorillaKilla
4 years 2 months ago

Fail

Josh
Guest
Josh
4 years 2 months ago

The metrics may rate Stubbs’ defense as neutral, but a number of scouts still rave about it. One scout maven (I can’t remember exactly which one) said that he has some of the best CF defense in the bigs.

Charlie Scrabbles
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Indeed. For whatever reason, UZR really underrates Stubbs’ defense. He has amazing speed, good instincts, and a good arm. He may not be the elite GG CF that he was projected to be when drafted, but he is definitely much better than a “neutral” defender.

Now, the question is really whether or not his defense is good enough to compensate for his bat. That’s a tough one.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 2 months ago

If some scout whose name you can’t remember thinks his defense is good, then I’m convinced.

DavefrmLville
Guest
DavefrmLville
4 years 2 months ago

I believe it was Kevin Goldstein from BA that tweeted that “Stubbs in the best defensive CF in baseball” at the beginning of the year.

Monroe
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

The fact that Stubbs not only repeatedly misreads balls, but also frequently makes bad routes once he sees them probably has something to do with his neutral UZR.

Jason
Guest
Jason
4 years 2 months ago

Let’s look at the guy next to him in the outfield. Went from a league leading UZR of 19.7 in 2010 to -0.8 in 2011, without any real change in his defense. A large part of that was he stopped getting points for throwing out baserunners as they gave up testing his arm. But while throwing out runners trying to go for two, or score from second is huge, there is also value in forcing them to stay put. Just an example of why UZR has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Stubbs is not a neutral defender; not going to go over well on this site, but sometimes you have to watch the games.

Angelsjunky
Guest
Angelsjunky
4 years 2 months ago

How about Devin Mesoraco for Peter Bourjos?

Monroe
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Mesoraco for Trout makes just as much sense.

Angelsjunky
Guest
Angelsjunky
4 years 2 months ago

Um, no it doesn’t.

Jake
Guest
Jake
4 years 2 months ago

Hey, what if the Reds traded their really good rookie catcher to your favorite team for a crappy CF that the Angels don’t have a place for anymore? That would be a great idea! Unless of course, you’re the Reds.

Angelsjunky
Guest
Angelsjunky
4 years 2 months ago

Bourjos had a 4.3 WAR last year – that’s hardly crappy, nor is Mesoraco a sure thing. Bourjos is one of the most valuable defensive players in the game and lost his job to one of the best young players in the game, so it is hardly shameful. He will never be a great one but just being an average one will make him a borderline star because of his defense. So what’s the problem?

Angelsjunky
Guest
Angelsjunky
4 years 2 months ago

whoops…meant to say “great hitter” not “great one.” You get the drift. Bourjos at .271/.327/.438 was worth 4.3 WAR, and that was with defense not as good as 2010 or 2012.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

I’d take a look at the SFG RF, Nate Schierholtz.

payroll
Guest
payroll
4 years 2 months ago

Twins have a win-now leftfielder on a team friendly contract (Willingham, 3/$21). Do the Reds have / would they shop a legit starting pitching prospect for him?

wpDiscuz