The Cincinnati Reds addressed every hole in their roster this offseason and in turn, have created what might be the best lineup in the NL Central.
The team added Shin Soo Choo to alleviate last year's leadoff woes, and then, re-signed Ryan Ludwick to a two-year deal, giving Joey Votto some added protection in an already potent lineup.
The Reds aren't likely to make major additions to the team so the lineup is mostly set and should look something like this:
- Shin Soo Choo (L)
- Brandon Phillips (R)
- Joey Votto (L)
- Ryan Ludwick (R)
- Jay Bruce (L)
- Todd Frazier (R)
- Zack Cozart (R)
- Ryan Hanigan (R)
So why is this a tough lineup?
Shin Soo Choo
The Reds acquired Shin Soo Choo in a three-team-deal for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius. Choo is a definite offensive upgrade over Drew Stubbs.
Stubbs, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and the rest of the Reds leadoff batters combined for a measly .208/.254/.327 slash line with 16 HR, 34 doubles, 38 RBI, 83 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.
Last season, Choo slashed .283/.373/.441 with 16 HR, 67 RBI, 88 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
The benefit of adding Choo comes in the form of added run scoring opportunities as Phillips, Votto, Ludwick, Bruce and Frazier will no longer have to produce all of the scoring chances for the team.
The Top Five
The Reds top five is going to be one of the toughest in Major League Baseball.
Last year, the top five players in the Reds lineup (including Choo) combined for a .282/.364/.488 with 297 extra base hits, 379 RBI, 375 runs scored and 50 steals. Additionally, their top five combined for a 13.7 WAR, an oWAR of 15.0, 463 runs created and 10.1 BtWins.
Check out how their numbers last year match up against the rest of the NL Central (top five in lineups from MLBdepthcharts.com).
The Reds top five ranks first in OBP, OPS and adjusted batting wins. The team also ranks second in extra base hits, home runs, runs created and batting average.
The Brewers look like the best team when comparing the numbers, but consider the factors at play. The Reds doubles, home runs, extra base hits, offensive war and adjusted batting wins figures are significantly lower due to the prolonged absence of Votto.
Additionally, the early season juggling of the lineup played into the struggles of certain players like Phillips and Ludwick.
Because these problems have now been resolved, the Reds offense should come back stronger in 2013 and take over as the best in the NL Central.
The Reds don't have a real weak spot in their entire lineup. The addition of Choo gives the Reds arguably the best leadoff hitter in the division and because of that, the team is able to solidify the two spot with Phillips.
These two moves will allow the team to drop Cozart to the seventh spot in the order, further enhancing the lineup.
The additions give the Reds important lineup protection for Votto. Having Phillips and Ludwick batting ahead of and behind Votto will give him pitches to hit. If teams have to pitch to Votto, he's going to hit a lot of doubles and a lot of home runs.
Votto is finally healthy. When healthy, he is one of the best players in baseball, and now, he'll finally have steady and competent No. 1 and No. 2 hitters in front of him.
With Ludwick batting behind him, and Phillips in front of him, Votto should have the best opportunity of his career to see great pitches and drive in runs.
Votto is a catalyst for this offense. Even though he only managed 374 at bats in 2012, Votto still led the league in walks and OBP (check his numbers here).
Prior to tearing his meniscus, Votto was on pace to break the single-season doubles record and looked like a sure-fire MVP candidate.
With a healthy Votto in the lineup, the Reds have a perennial MVP candidate, who can drive in runs at a consistent rate, batting in the heart of their lineup.
Who has the best lineup in the NL Central?
Dusty Baker must be giddy after the addition of Choo. Not only does he finally get a legitimate leadoff hitter, but it gives him the opportunity to alternate right-handed and left-handed hitters all the way to the sixth spot in the lineup.
The obvious advantage to having balance like this is that it can keep pitchers off balance. Facing consecutive batters working from different sides of the plate requires pitchers to drastically change their approach against each individual batter.
Additionally, specialty relievers are good for one batter. Opposing managers looking to exploit matchup advantages will burn their bullpens if they're hoping to do this against the Reds top six.