Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reds 2008 Season Preview: Infield

Well, with the MLB season just around the corner and the roster starting to take shape, it's time to take a look at what we can expect out of the Reds in 2008. To aid this little endeavor, I've included the stats for 2007 and two sets of 2008 projections for each player, including a Bill James projection and the well established ZIPS projection.

C: David Ross

2007 Stats
.203/.271/.399/.670 with 17 HRs, 32 runs, and 39 RBIs

2008 Projections
Bill James: .233/.311/.458/.768 in 330 ABs with 19 HRs, 50 RBI, and 38 Runs.
ZIPS: .203/.275/.369/.644 in 187 ABs with 8 HRs, 24 RBI, and 18 Runs.

After a breakout out 2006 season, the Reds made Ross their full time starter only to see him regress significantly to the mean. While the regression certainly should have been expected, that doesn't necessarily mean that it was. I'd be curious to know what the Reds expected to get out of Ross in 2007.

By now, it should be obvious to everyone that 2006 was the exception, not the rule on Ross. However, Ross could still be an effective player for the Reds in 2008. In fact, the Bill James projection would make him a very effective player in 2008.

In 2007, Ross had an abysmally low BABIP of .228, which should only improve in 2008 right along with his batting average. Given that Ross (69%) has a lower career contact rate than Adam Dunn (72%), he's never going to challenge for a batting title. But, he should be a bit better than he was in 2008. Interestingly enough, Ross actually saw his strikeout rate decrease from 2006 (30.4%) to 2007 (29.6%).

Overall, Ross should be a bit better 2008 season, falling somewhere in between his strong 2006 and poor 2007. The power is legitimate and the batting average should rebound to the .225-.230 range. While he'll never be confused with Johnny Bench, if Ross can hit .230, then his power and solid defense should prevent him from being a complete liability behind the dish.

1b: Joey Votto

.321/.360/.548/.908 in 84 ABs with 4 HRs, 11 Runs, and 17 RBIs.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .307/.388/.533/.920 in 460 ABs with 24 HRs, 71 Runs, and 81 RBIs.
ZIPS: .281/.357/.466/.823 in 556 ABs with 23 HRs, 55 Runs, and 88 RBIs.

Joey Votto has been one of the Reds top prospects for the past couple of years and finally got his opportunity to play at the end of 2007. In his brief cup of coffee, Votto provided a tantalizing glimpse of the future and justified the faith of the Reds nation.

As long as the Reds give him an opportunity to play and don't try to change him too much, then he should be productive. However, if Dusty tries to change his approach at the plate and turn him into more of a Corey Patterson type hitter, then Votto will be a disappointment in 2008. Baker mentioned not liking Votto's approach at the plate, because he didn't like to see called third strikes. Unfortunately for Dusty, Votto struck out 15 times in 2007 and only 1 of those was a called third strike. His approach at the plate is very strong and certainly doesn't need to be altered by Dusty Baker.

The Reds need to just "set it and forget it" when it comes to Joey. Plug him into the lineup and let him do his thing. If they do that, then they'll like the results.

2b: Brandon Phillips

2007 Stats
.288/.331/.485/.816 in 650 ABs with 30 HRs, 107 Runs, and 94 RBI.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .268/.316/.438/.754 in 630 ABs with 23 HRs, 90 Runs, and 79 RBI.
ZIPS: .271/.325/.435/.760 in 568 ABs with 21 HRs, 87 Runs, and 79 RBI.

Phillips undeniably had a very strong year in 2007, but often times big steps forward are followed up by small steps backwards. It would seem that projections are adhering to this maxim. At the very least, I would really expect Phillips' on base percentage to fall below .330 in 2008. He doesn't have good on base skills and benefited from 12 HBP in 2007, which pushed his OBP up over .330. Unless Phillips can better his .288 batting average, he seems likely to post a very low on base percentage in 2008.

Overall, I tend to agree with these projections. Phillips does many things very well, but a step backward seems much more likely than a step forward. It would also seem unlikely that he'll repeat his 30/30 season, which was largely a function of his high number of ABs and his low number of walks.

Phillips should be very solid in 2008, but a step backward shouldn't be unexpected.

3b: Edwin Encarnacion

2007 Stats
.289/.356/.438/.794 in 502 ABs with 16 HRs, 66 Runs, and 76 RBIs.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .287/.355/.476/.831 in 494 ABs with 19 HRs, 66 Runs, and 79 RBIs.
ZIPS: .291/.361/.460/.821 in 506 ABs with 18 HRs, 70 Runs, and 78 RBIs.

And, yet again, the countdown begins for Edwin's break out season. It seems every year people are predicting big things from Edwin and every year he doesn't provide them. So, once again, people are predicting big things from Edwin and maybe this is FINALLY the year. However, I've tempered my expectations, which are now more in line with the listed 2008 projections than any breakout performance.

For me, the presumption has flipped on both Matt Belisle and Edwin Encarnacion. For each, I waited two or three years for them to put up the kind of numbers that were expected. However, at this point, I no longer expect the breakout year to arrive, but rather just another mediocre one. I'll no longer play Charlie Brown to the Lucy of Belisle and Edwin, so 2008 will not see me taking yet another big swing at the football. For now, I'll expect the worst and wait for them to prove me wrong.

SS: Alex Gonzalez

2007 Stats
.272/.325/.468/.793 in 393 ABs with 16 HRs, 55 Runs, and 55 RBIs.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .254/.308/.416/.724 in 425 ABs with 13 HRs, 51 Runs, and 55 RBIs.
ZIPS: .257/.317/.417/.734 in 432 ABs with 14 HRs, 57 Runs, and 58 RBIs.

Alex Gonzalez was a big surprise in 2007, as he exceeded all realistic expectations and yet fans still weren't satisfied. A-Gon was stellar at the plate, posting his best career offensive season. In addition, his defense was quite solid, plagued only by a few more errors than usual. However, he displayed good range and turned the double play very well.

All in all, Reds fans should be very pleased if A-Gon replicates his 2007 season. However, he is likely to regress to the mean a bit, as his bat just isn't as good as it was in 2007. Given that Reds fans weren't satisfied by A-Gon's career year and that he's unlikely to match that production in 2008, expect the calls for Keppinger to be frequent.

Inf: Jeff Keppinger

2007 Stats
.332/.400/.477/.877 in 241 ABs with 5 HRs, 39 Runs, and 32 RBIs.

2008 Projections
Bill James:
.321/.380/.430/.810 in 365 ABs with 5 HRs, 49 Runs, and 36 RBIs.
ZIPS: .307/.360/.408/.768 in 449 ABs with 6 HRs, 60 Runs, and 48 RBIs.

Keppinger was a true surprise in 2007. Last offseason, Krivsky made a series of moves that seemed very odd and illogical at the time, but ultimately netted the Reds Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger seems like he could just roll out of bed and hit .300. His bat control and ability to make consistent contact are truly first rate.

In 2007, Keppinger had more walks (24) than strikeouts (12). In 241 ABs, Keppinger struck out only 12 times! His Contact % was 93%, which is better than Ichiro. While his lack of secondary skills does temper his value a bit (in fact, Keith Law argued that he was one of the most overrated players in baseball last year), he's a nice player for an all or nothing Reds offense.

Batting average is driven largely by putting the ball in play, as a ball cannot find a hole if it is in the catcher's mitt. Strikeout kings like Adam Dunn and Richie Sexson aren't going to be able to post high batting averages. However, Keppinger is a player who will consistently put the ball in play and will have a high average as a result. He brings a new dimension to the Reds lineup which at times can be too one dimensional.

It'll be interesting to see how the Reds get his bat into the lineup, as Baker doesn't have faith in Keppinger's ability to handle shortstop over the long run. Accordingly, he seems destined to be a utility player and spot starter. He hasn't been with the Reds long, but he's been there long enough to become a fan favorite.

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