Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Future is Now!

On the eve of the Winter Meetings, it's clear that the Reds are about to blow up. Their phones, their 25-man roster, their future, it's all blowing up. There's going to be upheaval and things won't ever be the same. To say that the next few weeks are important is like saying Joey Votto's pants are just a bit snug. That is to say, understatement at its finest.

How the Reds proceed over the next few days and weeks will determine their future. It'll determine how successful the rebuild is and how long it takes. Baseball operations are a decision-making business and some key decisions are on rolling in over the horizon.

Given that the Reds are on the verge of overhauling their roster, it's important that they understand how their home ballpark impacts their players and overall performance.

Way back when the BoSox won their first World Series in the Theo Era, the writers of Baseball Prospectus came out with a book about it called Mind Game. One of the early points they made about Theo's construction of the roster was that they first had to understand the park effects of Fenway. They argued that previous regimes failed to understand the park, as a result they were always overvaluing hitting and undervaluing their pitching. So, when they should have been bolstering their hitting, they were instead adding pitching. The front office's misunderstanding of the way the park played created flawed roster construction.

The BoSox, before building the roster, had to understand the park and how it impacted production and performance level. If you don't understand how the park impacts performance, then you simply can't properly value your players.

I feel like the Reds are now in the same situation. Before the Reds begin the rebuild, they need to understand what they have and what plays well in their home park. We all know that GABP is a hitter friendly park. In fact, everyone knows. All that said, I still don't think we *fully* appreciate what the park does to our hitters. Basically, it makes our mediocre hitters look good. Put another way, our good hitters aren't actually that good (well, except for one!).

Here's a look at the park effects for 2012-2014:

GABPAVGRunsHitsDoublesTriplesHome RunsWalksStrikeouts

Just as a refresher, 100 is neutral. So, given that the index for Home Runs is 140, it is 40% easier to hit a home run in GABP than league average. Given an index of 94 for doubles, it's 6% harder to double in GABP than in the league average park.

That's all well and good, but how does it impact our hitters?

Below are the career splits for all of our main contributors, except for Eugenio Suarez, whose splits below are solely for the 2015 season:

Jay BruceHome.255.330.499.829
Brandon PhillipsHome.274.323.441.764
Todd FrazierHome.270.333.501.834
Devin MesoracoHome.241.317.455.772
Billy HamiltonHome.228.287.319.606
Zach CozartHome.246.285.381.666
Joey VottoHome.301.420.532.952
Eugenio SuarezHome.301.333.452.785

To me, it's fairly shocking how mediocre our hitters actually are. You usually don't see this type of extreme home/road split outside of the Rockies organization. However, the troubling part is that the Reds don't play in Coors Field. Coors is plagued by atmospheric issues, not ballpark dimension issues. They are constantly adjusting from sea-level spin rates and breaking pitches to high-altitude spin rates and breaking pitches and back again. As a result, the "true" performance level of the Rockies hitters falls somewhere between their home and road splits. The splits of the Reds, however, are driven by ballpark dimensions, rather than atmospheric issues. That's troubling because the true performance level of our hitters is the road split.

If you want to know why I've always thought Todd Frazier should be dealt, you're looking at it. He's a GABP creation in the mold of Rich Aurilia and Joe Randa. He's too old, on the verge of getting expensive, and his production is massively inflated by Great American Ballpark.

I really don't know what happened to Jay Bruce, but he desperately needs to be dealt. He needs a change of scenery and it's very difficult to look at his game and see any projection remaining. He seems very much what he is and it's not good enough for what we are or where we're going.

It's probably too early to draw conclusions about Mesoraco or Hamilton, but there are some troubling signs about the former.   

All that said, seriously, how good is Joey Votto?????

If I'm the Reds heading into the Winter Meetings, I'm focused on adding disciplined hitters. Not only is OBP one of the basic statistics most closely correlated to scoring runs, but it's undoubtedly one that plays about as well on the road as it does at home. It would make the offense more consistent and the Reds a tougher team to play on the road. I want players with plus-pitch recognition and something resembling plus-hit tools. I want hitters who fit the same offensive profile as Joey Votto and Jesse Winker. 

As I've written before, Max Kepler is at the top of my list. I'd build my offseason around his acquisition. If you add Kepler to Winker and Votto, then you have a potential core of incredibly disciplined hitters who control the strike zone, grind ABs, and avoid giving away ABs. That's what the team will need to compete with Cubs and Cards and Bucs in the future.   

All that said, here are some names on my offseason wish list for the Reds:

1. Max Kepler - I would center my rebuild around Max Kepler. Kepler, Winker, and Votto is one helluva core of professional hitters. With the announcement that Sano is joining Buxton in the outfield and the signing of the Korean DH, Kepler might be a surplus asset for the Twins.
2. Kevin Gausman - The Orioles are purportedly looking for a lefthanded hitting outfielder. I still think there is some type of deal that could be built around Jay Bruce here.
3. Mac Williamson - This is the outfielder the Reds should have acquired from the Giants in the Mike Leake deal. He's a right handed hitter with a strong walk rate and good athleticism. He could be an ideal fit in leftfield/rightfield for us.
4. Forrest Wall - Second baseman with a pure hit tool and good speed.
5. Brendon Sanger - A second tier prospect that piques my interest for his hit tool and plus pitch recognition, maybe we could get him and a touch more from the Angels for Brandon Phillips or something.

Now that I've gotten my thoughts out, let's see what the Reds do. It seems like Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers is on the verge of happening. 

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