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RBI Opps to Decline For Reds Infielders

There are two big stories when it comes to the Reds offense. One relates to an outfielder, which indirectly affects the infielders and their fantasy potential and the other involves an infielder that somewhat surprisingly still dons a Reds cap. Another less major, but still noteworthy, story is the changing of the guard behind the plate. Ryan Hanigan‘s departure opens the door for Devin Mesoraco and now there’s simply no excuse to not make him the every day catcher and see what he could do.

It feels like forever ago, but as recently as 2011, we ranked Mesoraco as the second best prospect in the Reds organization. Mesoraco went on to validate the ranking by posting a strong .375 wOBA at Triple-A, but he’s done nothing at the plate since. The good news is that he makes above average contact, so if his BABIP ever rebounds and comes anywhere close to the league average, he won’t end up being such a negative in batting average. The question of his ultimate power potential remains though, as his ISO is a disappointing .134 in about a full season’s worth of at-bats. His xHR/FB ratio of 9.5% last year basically matches his actual mark, and that’s likely lower than many expected he is capable of. With the job his for the taking, he’s an interesting post-hype sleeper who should come cheaply and offers good profit potential.

Of course, the Reds decided to bring in Brayan Pena to back up Mesoraco and he makes excellent contact, but that’s really his only skill. If Pena begins to steal playing time away from Mesoraco, then something is seriously wrong in Cincinnati.

Joey Votto is going to make it his mission this season to be less selective and swing at worse pitches, all in an effort to record that elusive extra run batted in. Oh wait, he didn’t say that, that was just a scene in one of former manager Dusty Baker‘s dreams. Votto finished with a shockingly low RBI total from a guy who recorded 726 plate appearances and wOBAd .400. And ya know what? I cannot guarantee it’s going to get better.

You see, on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo is now gone and his likely replacement atop the batting order is speedster Billy Hamilton. Choo posted a .423 OBP last year. The most optimistic Hamilton OBP projection (from the Fans of course) is just .317, while my Pod Projection is nearly as bullish with a .313 projected mark. Is that the biggest one year drop in OBP from the leadoff spot ever? That would be interesting to research. And although Hamilton will more often end up on second after getting on base, he’ll still offer significantly fewer chances for Votto and crew to drive in the leadoff guy.

The next story comes in the form of Brandon Phillips, who appeared to be as good as gone this offseason. But alas, he hasn’t gone anywhere. And even if he was traded, who the heck would play second? Skip Schumaker (!!) currently sits behind Phillips on our depth chart and obviously he wasn’t going to open the year as the team’s starting second baseman. Phillips’ power has declined in an almost straight line since 2007, though you’d barely notice if you just checked out his HR/FB rates. It’s really just been the ebb and flow of his doubles totals and the disappearance of his triples. The good news is that his batted ball distance has remained stable, but he pulled the ball less frequently last year, leading to his lowest xHR/FB mark since the first year I have data for, 2008.

His speed is gone though, so instead of flirting with a 20/15 season, the hope now is for merely 20/5, which really hurts his value. He’s also going to greatly miss Choo, as he knocked in the most runs of his career last season, combining opportunity with much better performance with runners on base. He wasn’t going to be as clutch again to begin with and now he’ll have fewer runners on base to drive in.

In mid-November, I wondered if Zack Cozart was truly a zero-category contributor. Obviously the league format comes into play, but it’s difficult to generate negative value in all five hitting fantasy categories. Cozart may very well do that though. While one projected batting order has him hitting in the two hole, it’s hard to believe the team would be willing to stick a guy with a .287 career OBP right behind a rookie projected most optimistically to post a .317 mark. Talk about not understanding how a team scores runs!

Though Cozart once stole 30 bases in the minors, he doesn’t seem at all interested in running any longer. And last year his batted ball distance was the same as such power-hitting luminaries like Alberto Callaspo and Adeiny Hechavarria. No power, no speed, and should be hitting at the bottom of the order means he should not appear on any RotoGraphs reader’s teams!

There is an infielder who we could be reasonably optimistic about. His name is Todd Frazier and he plays third base. Frazier is coming off a disappointing season in which his BABIP dropped and his power declined. But, his batted ball distance jumped nearly 10 feet! And that led to a spike in his xHR/FB rate. His BABIP should rebound somewhat as well. And if Bryan Price read Dave Cameron’s suggestion of hitting Frazier in the two hole last year and agreed with his conclusion, then we may see Frazier move up in the lineup, which will boost all of his counting stats.