Well, I'm boosting an idea from Rany Jazayerli who borrowed it from Jason Whitlock during his Kansas City Star days for my review of 2010 Reds season. A quick report card for our players based on performance in light of preseason expectations.
Ramon Hernandez -- Expectations: Low, Grade: C
Ramon arrived in Cincy with mild expectations, as he was carrying around three straight seasons of .715 or lower OPS. He simply hasn't been an impact hitter, rather just an inexpensive veteran backstop with mediocre expectations. On the plus side, Great American Ballpark is the fountain of youth for righthanded hitters, so Hernandez would have that working in his favor.
Not surprisingly, Hernandez had his best season in four years, posting a line of .297/.364/.428/.792 with an OPS of .818 at home and .763 on the road. Ultimately, Hernandez was a solid player in 2010, providing decent production behind the plate and his ability to speak Spanish to the young Spanish speaking pitchers on the staff could only have helped. All in all, Hernandez was a solid veteran presence behind the dish. After factoring in the friendly hitting environment, Hernandez performed pretty much right in line with expectations.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Hernandez is his ability to elevate his hitting in key situations. I always have lingering doubt about a hitter's ability to consistently perform better in a specific spot in the lineup or in a specific situation. My thoughts run along the lines of "if he can elevate in certain spots, why wouldn't he elevate it all the time?" But, Ramon is just such a hitter. He seemingly DOES possess the ability to elevate his game in key situations.
In 2010, Hernandez hit .233/.285/.367/.652 with no runners on base, .318/.392/.447/.839 with runners on, and .327/.418/.451/.869 with runners in scoring position. The bigger the situation, the better the performance.
Additionally, over the course of his career, Hernandez has hit better in big situations.
Total Career: .265/.329/.418/.747
Career "High Leverage": .295/.360/.458/.818
Career "Medium Leverage": .264/.323/.397/.719
Career "Low Leverage": .251/.320/.416/.736
Both in 2010 and over the course of his career, Hernandez seemingly has had the knack for elevating his game when situation so requires. He seems to like the big moments and the chance for the big hit. Despite my skepticism of whether a player can consistently elevate his game in different situations, Hernandez seems to be able to do just that.
Hernandez was good enough that when paired with the next player in our list, he formed part of one of the most productive catching tandems in the majors.
Ryan Hanigan -- Expectations: Low, Grade: A-
The Reds signed Hanigan as an amateur free agent in 2002. After going undrafted and spending parts of 9 seasons in the minors, he finally broke through at the MLB level in 2010. Hanigan stepped up in a big way in 2010, posting a slash line of .300/.405/.429/.834. He didn't show much power, but made up for it with a stellar K/BB ratio of 21/33 and the second highest OBP among qualifying Reds hitters. Not too shabby.
One of the biggest reasons for Hanigan's success is his plate approach, as he rarely chases pitches outside the zone. It's remarkable how much easier hitting becomes when you don't help the pitcher out by chasing bad pitches. Let those pitches go and tilt the probability of success in your favor. Hanigan does just that.
In 2010, only 18.9% of Hanigan's swings were on pitches outside the strikezone, which landed him among the league leaders in the category. He also saw quite a few pitches per plate appearance (4.08 #P/PA), which when coupled with his refusal to chase bad balls makes him something of a tough out for opposing pitchers. Hanigan forces the pitcher to beat him, rather than making it easy by helping the pitcher out.
Once Hanigan did get a pitch to his liking he made contact 92.5% of the time. And, when he made contact, it resulted in a line a robust 20.8% of the time. Hanigan doesn't have much power, but he seems an ideal hit-and-run candidate and one of the better table-setters on the roster. The fact that he spent a grand total of 1 AB in the top 5 spots in the batting order is a clear failure on the part of Dusty Baker. But, of course, Dusty has long favored speed over on-base skill in his table-setters, which remains his biggest flaw as a manager.
Hanigan also did his part to slow the opposition running game, as he threw out 13 of 41 basestealers (31.7%) and seemed to call a better game than Hernandez.
If he can maintain that performance level, then it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Hanigan take over the larger role of the catching tandem in 2011. Overall, Hanigan was a very pleasant surprise for the Reds and helped provide one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball.
Joey Votto -- Expectations: High, Grade: A+
.324/.424/.600/1.024. A truly amazing season which establishes Votto as one of the top 2 or 3 hitters in the National League. As impressive as it was, even more impressive is that it was supported by the peripherals. Votto ripped line drives at a 20% clip and surprisingly was more productive on the road. At home, he posted a .950 OPS, while on the road he had a 1.093 OPS, which forecloses any notion that Votto was merely a product of a hitter friendly environment.
In fact, in the long history of the team, Votto's 2010 season was tied for the 14th best offensive season (at least according to Offensive WAR). The list reads as follows:
1. Joe Morgan (1975) 10.3
2. Joe Morgan (1976) 9.9
3. Joe Morgan (1972) 9.2
4. Joe Morgan (1973) 8.9
5. Joe Morgan (1974) 8.5
6. Frank Robinson (1962) 8.0
7. Cy Seymour (1905) 7.8
t8. Barry Larkin (1996) 7.7
t8. Johnny Bench (1972) 7.7
10. Ted Kluszewski (1954) 7.5
11. Pete Rose (1969) 7.4
12. Eric Davis (1987) 7.3
13. Joe Morgan (1977) 7.1
t14. Joey Votto (2010) 6.9
t14. Frank Robinson (1961) 6.9
Votto exceeded all my expectations in 2010, which continues a theme. I have never been happier to be wrong on a player than I have been on Votto. I simply didn't see this type of upside as he climbed the ladder, but his level of performance continued to improve as the competition got tougher. All of this culminated in an MVP caliber season with more undoubtedly on the horizon for one of the two or three best hitters in the NL.
Brandon Phillips -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: C+
At this point, there is no less surprising player on the roster than Phillips, whose performance has a metronome like consistency. His performance baseline is well established as .750-.770 OPS on offense and Gold Glove caliber defense.
On the season, Phillips hit the usual .275/.332/.430/.762, but struggled mightily on the basepaths where he stole 16 bases and was nabbed 12 times. It was the first time in 5 seasons that Phillips failed to swipe over 20 bases. Obviously, that type of "success" rate is unacceptable, as Phillips simply gave away too many outs.
Overall, it was largely what we've come to expect from Phillips. His production was on pace to be a tick better than in years past, but a terrible September (caused in part by a hand injury) dragged his numbers back down to his career norms. Phillips logged 97 ABs in September and posted a lackluster .175/.266/.278/.544 slash line. The Reds were pushing for a postseason spot, but in hindsight it was clearly a questionable decision for Dusty Baker to keep running Phillips out there. Not only did it drag down his overall numbers, but most importantly his performance simply didn't help the Reds win ballgames.
Overall, for better or worse, Phillips is as consistent as a metronome. His most valuable attribute is and always has been his defense. As a 29-year old, Phillips should have a few more peak seasons left in him, but his decline phase isn't too far off. Until it arrives, we'll continue to know what to expect.
Scott Rolen -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: B+
I was in favor of the Scott Rolen experiment and he certainly didn't disappoint. For me, Rolen was a key component in the Reds breaking through and into the postseason in 2010.
In 2010, Rolen was a 5-win player, which was roughly a 3-win improvement over the production the Reds got out of third base in 2009. And, his presence seemed to extend beyond the playing field, as he seemed to be a stabilizing influence on a young Reds lineup. In addition, he gave the Reds much better L/R balance in the lineup (a legitimate problem in years past), and was a very steady glove who helped out the entire pitching staff with his ability to make plays. Rolen not only improved the Reds significantly at the hot corner, but also seemed to make those around him better.
Unfortunately, Rolen faded in the final two months of the season, especially in slugging percentage which fell down to .402 in August and .365 in September. It's becoming clear that this is a problem that is unlikely to go away, as his pre and post All Star splits over the past 3-years showed a marked decline Rolen's ability to drive the ball. Over the 2008-2010 seasons, Rolen has hit .293/.366/.484/.850 before the All Star break and .272/.347/.427/.774 after the break. His slugging percentage drops .057 after the break. Clearly, some combination of age and shoulder injury cause him to wear down, sapping his ability to drive the ball.
As a result, the Reds will be forced to address the question of how to get the most out of Rolen in 2011. Simply put, the team will need to find a respectable back-up, both to give Rolen a breather and fill in when injuries arise. Rolen was certainly a pleasant surprise, but going forward the Reds would be better served by finding an impact righthanded cleanup hitter. Doing so would allow them to shift Rolen down to a more complimentary spot in the lineup (i.e. 6th). Rolen remains a very good baseball player, but at this point it would be foolish to expect him to carry a team like he did during his peak seasons.
Paul Janish -- Expectations: Low, Grade: B
Paul Janish had the type of season I suspected was in there all along. I have long liked Janish's combination of short, quick, line-drive swing and disciplined approach at the plate. That combination of attributes should have been sufficient in light of his stellar defensive tools.
In 2010, Janish made the most of his opportunity. However, the Reds decision to sign Orlando Cabrera still leaves Janish with something of a question mark over his head. Janish performed rather well, but the sample size isn't quite large enough to state that Janish is a surefire starter. Unfortunately, that leaves the Reds on the horns of a dilemma for 2011, as they still don't know if they can rely on Janish to hold down the job fulltime.
Despite a solid .260/.338/.385/.723 slash line, Janish sported some rather strange splits. Despite Great American Ballpark being a hitter's Valhalla for righthanders, Janish actually performed significantly better on the road. At home, Janish hit .213/.307/.247/.554, while he was appreciably better on the road at .297/.363/.495/.858. He also performed significantly better during the day (.318/.389/.435/.824), than at night (.217/.300/.348/.648).
So, the question is whether the 2010 splits will normalize over a larger sample size or whether Janish was protected from his splits by the small sample size. The Reds will have to decide, but early rumblings indicate that they have no intention of handing the starting job over to Janish. At the very least, Janish has proven his value as a utility infielder who packs a steady glove. When the Reds were kicking the ball around the field in the postseason, Paul Janish was the only player I actually trusted to have a ball hit his way.
In short, Janish went from a borderline MLB player to potentially a legitimate starting shortstop. It's hard not to label that type of season a success.
Orlando Cabrera -- Expectations: Low, Grade: D+
When the Reds announced the signing of O-Cab, I was immediately against it. I thought Paul Janish offered comparable, if not superior, production at a much lower cost. The bang-for-the-buck easily favored Janish.
One thing I thought would actually work in O-Cab's favor was the boost he would get from Great American Ballpark. Unfortunately and surprisingly, the boost never arrived. In 2009, O-Cab hit .284/.316/.389 combined in Minnesota and Oakland, while in 2010 he hit only .263/.303/.354 for the Reds. He declined in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
The one saving grace for O-Cab was that he actually exceeded expectations on defense. Under the UZR/150 metric, O-Cab was 5.3 runs above average, while under the John Dewan +/- metric O-Cab was a -2. Neither metric rates him as elite, but it's fair to say he was not the big liability with the leather that I expected him to be.
The Reds declined Cabrera's option, but remain interested in bringing him back at a reduced rate. However, given the strong performance of the Reds in 2010, it's probably time to completely embrace the younger talent. There is little to nothing to be gained from players like O-Cab, especially with the capable Paul Janish and Zack Cozart in the organization. Older players like O-Cab are nothing more than expensive security blankets for GMs, as they aren't going to provide legitimate upgrades in production, but the name recognition gives the appearance of improvement. For some reason, fans are placated by an acquisition like O-Cab and become less critical than they would be if the production was generated by an internal option lacking such name recognition (i.e. Paul Janish).
Overall, O-Cab disappointed on offense and surprised on defense. Regardless, the overall result was rather uninspiring. For an organization renowned for its shortstop play, O-Cab's 2010 season was hardly a memorable data point.