Comparing the 2014 Reds Lineup to the 2010 Playoff Team
In 2010, the Cincinnati Reds had one of the best offenses in all of baseball. The team ranked atop the National League in runs scored, batting average, hits, total bases, home runs and slugging percentage, and even managed a second-place finish in on-base percentage.
This year, the Reds feature a lineup that is significantly different from the 2010 version and includes just three players—Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce—who were members of the 2010 team.
With a lot of turnover, the opportunity presents itself to compare the two offenses and see how this year's club stacks up to the 2010 iteration, which happened to feature one of the better offenses in team history. So, that's what we'll do here.
We kick things off with one of the more volatile positions in the Reds lineup over the past few seasons, catcher.
Catcher: 2014 Devin Mesoraco, 2010 Platoon
In 2010, the Reds had one of the more enviable catching situations in all of baseball. Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan combined to put out a .298/.381/.428 slash line with 12 home runs, 29 doubles, 88 RBI, 55 runs scored and an impressive 70-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 516 at-bats.
If their production was combined into one player, that player would have ranked in the league's top five in average, on-base percentage and RBI—per FanGraphs. In short, they were pretty good.
This year, the Reds find themselves in a less enviable position. The club shipped off Hanigan prior to the start of the season, and Hernandez is long gone, having left the club following the 2011 season.
In 2010, Devin Mesoraco was just a prospect, but a highly touted one nonetheless. To this point in his career, the 25-year-old has struggled to actualize his lofty potential, but 2014 has seen a different Mesoraco emerge.
Through his first handful of games—11 to be exact—Mesoraco has been absolutely punishing the ball. The young backstop boasts a lofty .477/.520/.818 slash line to go along with three home runs, six doubles, 12 RBI, eight runs scored and a 9-4 K-BB ratio.
It's unreasonable to expect that kind of production to last over a long-term basis, but there are signs that 2014 will be a career-defining season for the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, native. Over his first 42 plate appearances this season, Mesoraco sports better than league-average marks in strikeout percentage, walk percentage and line-drive percentage.
Although he's been somewhat lucky—evidenced by a sky-high .545 BABIP—Mesoraco has also earned his high batting average, and a good portion of that BABIP, by posting an insane line-drive percentage (42.0) while also having managed to stave off the dreaded infield fly ball.
If he's able to continue hitting line drives at an above-average clip while also improving upon his walk and strikeout totals from years past, Mesoraco will easily surpass the offensive contributions made by the 2010 pairing of Hanigan and Hernandez
First Base: 2014 Joey Votto, 2010 Joey Votto
The 2010 version of Joey Votto was really, really good. That's not to say that Votto's most recent seasons haven't been good as well, but it's hard to top what Votto did back in 2010.
The season marked Votto's first in a string of four straight All-Star appearances and was the only season of his career in which he scored 100-plus runs, drove in 100-plus runs, hit 30-plus home runs and hit for a .300-plus batting average.
Oh, and did I mention that he was the NL MVP that season?
Votto led the NL in on-base percentage (shocking, I know) and came within 12 points in batting average, five home runs and five RBI of a Triple Crown.
Votto has had some difficulties in recent seasons, most of which were no fault of his own. In 2012, Votto was sidelined for a good chunk of the season—49 games to be exact—with a nasty knee injury. The effects lingered into 2013, and although he managed a stellar season, his power production had decreased by a noticeable margin.
This year, though, Votto has gotten off to an impressively hot start, slashing .299/.444/.550 through the season's early goings. In addition to that solid slash line, Votto is the owner of four home runs, three doubles, nine RBI, 13 runs scored and a 17-16 K-BB ratio.
Votto has done solid work to put naysayers to rest this season and is on pace for 30 home runs, 22 doubles, 67 RBI and 98 runs scored—projections based off of Votto's 581 at-bats total from 2013.
Based on last year's at-bats total, we can project out 67 RBI for Votto through production identical to that of his first 21 games. However, it's fair to assume that the total could climb as Billy Hamilton continues to figure things out atop the team's lineup.
It seems almost unfair to label the team as worse off with the same dynamic offensive threat in the lineup. Given the fact that the 30-year-old has led the NL in on-base percentage in each of the last four seasons and considering the uptick we've seen in his power production from last season, it's fair to at least call this a draw.
Second Base: 2014 Brandon Phillips, 2010 Brandon Phillips
The second of only three starters to play for both the 2010 and 2014 versions of the club, Brandon Phillips presents us with arguably our easiest comparison.
In 2010, Phillips was an All-Star Game selection and a Gold Glove winner. On top of those accolades, the then-29-year-old put forth a solid effort at the plate, racking up a .275/.332/.430 slash line with 18 home runs, 59 RBI, 100 runs scored, 16 stolen bases and an fWAR of 3.7.
Phillips' batting average, slugging percentage, home runs, stolen bases and fWAR marks placed him squarely within the game's top 10 second baseman, and, at the time, he was widely considered to be the best defensive second baseman in the game.
Now, four years later, Phillips is on the decline. The 33-year-old has seen his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage decline over each of the last two seasons, and he appears to be having more and more difficulty at the plate as the 2014 season progresses.
Though he is hitting a healthy .264 on the year—a mark that would represent his highest average since 2012—Phillips has struggled to get on base and owns an OBP of just .289. His early-season woes aren't just limited to his declining ability to get on base, though, as his slugging percentage through 20 games clocks in at a paltry .330.
In addition to his declining power and on-base skills, Phillips has lost nearly all of his speed and looks nearly unrecognizable in comparison to the 2007 season, in which the then-26-year-old posted an impressive 30-30 campaign.
It's too early to declare Phillips' season a lost cause, but he'll have to improve upon his startlingly poor walk and strikeout rates in order to turn things around—Phillips' current strikeout and walk rates clock in at 24.2 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.
Third Base: 2014 Todd Frazier, 2010 Scott Rolen
Unsurprisingly, the Reds' 2010 Baseball Reference WAR (rWAR) leaderboard was headed up by Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. You may be surprised, however, by the player occupying the third place on said list, that being third baseman Scott Rolen.
Rolen managed a 4.1 rWAR in 2010—Votto and Bruce had values of 6.9 and 4.7, respectively—largely due to impressive contributions both at the plate and in the field. At the dish, Rolen compiled an impressive stat line, including a .285/.358/.497 slash line, 20 home runs, 83 RBI, 66 runs scored and an 82-50 K-BB ratio.
In 2014, the Reds are working with Todd Frazier as the everyday third baseman. Frazier was a standout performer during his 2012 campaign, gathering enough votes for a third-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
The 28-year-old struggled last season, though, to the tune of a .234/.314/.407 slash line. Despite his shortcomings in the triple-slash department, Frazier was able to set career highs in doubles, RBI, runs scored, walks and stolen bases while also tying his single-season best for home runs (19).
This year, Frazier has gotten off to a solid start, slashing .250/.341/.450 with four home runs, 10 RBI, 13 runs scored and a 16-9 K-BB ratio. Based off his at-bat total from 2013, Frazier's currently on pace for a season including 29 home runs, 22 doubles, 73 RBI and 95 runs scored.
That type of season would earn him high praise within the organization, but it still wouldn't be enough to surpass Rolen's 2010 production.
Shortstop: 2014 Zack Cozart, 2010 Orlando Cabrera
The Reds haven't had a very good shortstop situation since the great Barry Larkin retired back in 2004. In 2010, this was the case once again, as Orlando Cabrera held back the team at the position.
Cabreara, who was 35 years old at the time, put up a lackluster .263/.303/.354 slash line with four home runs, 33 doubles, 42 RBI, 64 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. That, coupled with his defensive performance was enough to net him a FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) of 0.9 for the year.
Among qualified NL shortstops, Cabrera ranked at or near the bottom of the pack in OBP, slugging percentage, fWAR and wRC+.
By 2010, Zack Cozart was being touted as the shortstop of the future for the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately for the Reds, that future has yet to materialize and Cozart is wasting away, leaving fans and the organization to wonder what went wrong.
Cozart relies too heavily on base hits as a means of getting on base. In other words, he doesn't walk much. Or at all, really. In fact, between 2012 and 2013, Cozart managed a combined 57 walks, with an OBP of .286.
In 2014, a similar story has unfolded, as Cozart has managed just a single walk over 72 plate appearances. In case you're wondering, that equates to a 1.4 percent walk percentage.
Beyond that horrible OBP, Cozart owns a triple slash of .139/.162/.236 with a home run, four doubles, nine RBI and three runs scored.
Cozart is a solid defender and ranked within the NL's top three in ultimate zone rating/150 (UZR/150) and revised zone rating (RZR) for the 2013 season. Unfortunately, Cozart's offensive contributions have devolved to the point where even Gold Glove-caliber defense can't make him a reliable option on a team looking to make it to the postseason for the third consecutive season.
Left Field: 2014 Ryan Ludwick, 2010 Jonny Gomes
The left field spot wasn't particularly great for the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. However, it wasn't a glaring weakness like the shortstop position was.
The team trotted out Jonny Gomes for 148 games that season, and the then-29-year-old posted a .266/.327/.431 slash line with 45 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 86 RBI and 77 runs scored. Gomes was a decent producer for the Reds but not an irreplaceable member of the team, as evidenced by his minus-0.4 fWAR in 2010.
Though he wasn't a great player by any means, Gomes, generally speaking, got the job done for the Reds. The now-12-year veteran did a masterful job of hitting with runners in scoring position and put up a gaudy .338/.408/.616 slash line in said situations.
The Reds find themselves in a similar position for the 2014 season, with a near-average offensive asset in left field.
After an outstanding showing with the club in 2012, Ludwick signed a generous two-year, $15 million contract for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Because of this contract, Ludwick became a target for immense levels of pessimism.
Ludwick spent most of the 2013 season on the disabled list, rehabbing from surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right shoulder. When he returned, he was everything but competent, posting a .240/.293/.326 slash line over 140 plate appearances.
This year, Ludwick appears to be healthy again, and the effects of that can be seen in his early-season stat line. Over 17 games played, Ludwick owns a .293/.354/.431 slash line with two home runs, two doubles, nine RBI, six runs scored and a 15-4 K-BB ratio.
Like Gomes, Ludwick is an average offensive threat, and, aside from Ludwick's 18-point lead in batting average, the two sport similar career stat lines. Ludwick's early-season slash line won't continue, and, in the long run, he'll likely settle in for a season very similar to the one Gomes posted in 2010.
Center Field: 2014 Billy Hamilton, 2010 Drew Stubbs
The Reds benefited big time from having Drew Stubbs in the 2010 lineup. It sounds crazy, but hear me out.
In 2010, Stubbs was a dynamic offensive threat and posted easily his best all-around season as a professional. Over 150 games—514 at-bats—Stubbs amassed a .255/.329/.444 slash line with 22 home runs, 77 RBI, 91 runs scored and 30 stolen bases.
Aside from his stolen base total, the numbers above represent Stubbs' full-season highs as a professional.
The then-25-year-old was worth 3.6 fWAR—near All-Star level—and provided the team with excellent defense, to boot.
In some scenarios, even with Billy Hamilton's early-season struggles, adding him over Stubbs could be considered an upgrade. However, Hamilton drew the short straw here having to match up against the 2010 version of Stubbs.
Where Stubbs was downright fantastic in 2010, Hamilton has been somewhat disappointing. Over his first 20 games, the 23-year-old owns a .230/.266/.284 slash line with just three extra-base hits, four RBI, nine runs scored and nine stolen bases.
Hamilton derives nearly all of his offensive value from his incredible speed. Unfortunately, in order to utilize that speed, Hamilton needs to get on base at a solid clip.
Hamilton failed to log a hit through his first five games—he drew just one walk in that time—but has since been a noticeably different player, logging a .274/.303/.339 slash line with nine runs scored and nine stolen bases to his credit.
When it's all said and done, Hamilton will likely see his OBP settle near the .300 mark. With that, we'll see a lot of stolen bases—I predicted 53 steals for him back in December.
With that said, unless Hamilton goes on a tear, puts his OBP up over .330 and steals 70-plus, he has no chance of reaching the offensive output from Stubbs' 2010 season.
Right Field: 2014 Jay Bruce, 2010 Jay Bruce
Although we've since seen his home run, RBI and runs-scored totals increase, it's pretty clear that Jay Bruce's most complete season came during the 2010 season.
Over 148 games—509 at-bats—Bruce slashed .281/.353/.493 with 25 home runs, 70 RBI and 80 runs scored. That stat line earned him a 4.9 fWAR, which remains his highest single-season total through seven seasons of play.
Bruce was stellar in 2010, and it appeared as though he was ready to claim his spot as one of the game's elite players. While he has since been a very productive player, earning All-Star Game bids in 2011 and 2012, as well as two top-10 finishes in MVP voting during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Bruce hasn't quite been "elite."
In 2014, Bruce's age-27 season, we've seen some stark changes in his approach at the plate. Though it's a small sample size—91 plate appearances represents just 13.1 percent of his 2013 total—Bruce sports improved strikeout and walk rates of 23.1 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively.
Bruce isn't exactly lighting the world on fire in the batting average or slugging percentage departments, however, as he sports marks of .240 and .463, respectively—both well below his career averages.
Bruce has been unlucky thus far, and that can help explain away the early-season lagging in his batting average and slugging percentage. This bad luck is evidenced by the fact that he carries a batting average on balls in play of just .288—his career average is .296—and also by his 25 percent line-drive rate. Those two figures don't jibe, and it figures that we'll see Bruce's average, and subsequently his slugging percentage, increase as the season progresses.
If Bruce's improved walk and strikeout rates prove legitimate, and not just the product of a small sample size, he could be in line for his best season as a big leaguer. I'm willing to take that bet.
Before we come to any substantial conclusions, here's a recap of the eight positions and how each of the team's positions stacks up against the 2010 team.
- Catcher: Better
- First Base: Even
- Second Base: Worse
- Third Base: Worse
- Shortstop: Worse
- Left Field: Even
- Center Field: Worse
- Right Field: Better
In case you're counting, that's two "better," two "even" and four "worse." In short, this year's club is slightly worse off than it was in 2010.
Even so, that's not an indictment of the talent present on the 2014 club. The Reds' current roster is loaded with potential, and at two of the four positions that received "worse" grades, we could see the balance of power shift toward the 2014 lineup.
The main takeaway here is that the 2010 offense was really, really good. As I mentioned in the intro, that season, the Reds ranked first in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored, hits, total bases and home runs. On top of that, they managed a second-place finish in on-base percentage.
To this point in the 2014 season, the Reds lineup has proven to be a little less potent but still ranks within the NL's top half in stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.
With that said, though, it will take a noticeable uptick in production from Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton if they hope to catch up to the blistering pace set by the 2010 club.