The Reds are having a difficult time scoring runs these days. Outside of the 13-run explosion on Saturday, the Reds have failed to score more than 3 runs in 6 of their last 7 games. While they still rank 4th in the National League in runs scored, it's becoming painfully obvious that this team needs to be better offensively. In the last two weeks the Reds were gracious enough to provide A.J. Griffin and Wily Peralta with the first complete-game shut-outs of their MLB careers. Certainly the hitters themselves deserve the lion's share of the scrutiny. Many of these guys are simply mediocre MLB hitters and others are under-performing. However, it seems at least possible that the offensive philosophy of manager Dusty Baker is a contributing factor in the lack of production plaguing the Reds offense.
Dusty Baker's preferred approach to hitting is no secret. For years he's provided people like us with priceless quotes like "clogging the bases," and "It's not called walking, it's called hitting." When the Reds are scoring a lot of runs, "We've been aggressive." When the Reds (or certain players) are struggling at the plate, "We need to be more aggressive." A quick Google search for "Dusty Baker Aggressive" will yield a full day's worth of reading material. Whether years past or as recently as this week, Dusty is preaching "aggressive" hitting to his team. A small sample of his quotes....
- June 2013; After struggling for much of the season, Zack Cozart extended hit hitting-streak to 7 games. "He's been swinging better," Baker said. "He's been more aggressive. That's what you like to see."
- Last week; After struggling for several games at the plate, the Reds scored 8 runs against the Giants, Baker was asked what the difference was. "You just don't know why," Baker said. "We were more aggressive. We didn't get deep into the count. We were attacking pitches early."
Honest question: has Dusty Baker ever suggested that a hitter needs to be more patient at the plate? Surely there have been hitters under Baker's management that could benefit from a more patient approach, right?
During a recent game, the Fox Sports Ohio broadcast team mentioned that Dusty was "shocked" to learn that his team actually leads all of baseball when it comes to swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat. Such information likely calls into question his theory that the Reds hitters are not aggressive enough. But that information shouldn't be a surprise to Baker. In fact, the Reds have ranked 1st or 2nd in MLB in first-pitch swinging percentage every year since 2010.
For the season, Reds hitters have swung at the first pitch of an at-bat 32% of the time, compared to the MLB average of 27%. Is swinging at the first-pitch necessarily a bad thing? No, in fact many hitters do a lot of damage swinging at the first pitch. In 2013, MLB hitters are posting an OPS of .896 on the first pitch of an at-bat, which is a great number. The Reds however, have managed just a .787 OPS on first-pitches. Perhaps this is a result of opposing pitchers knowing the Reds' overall philosophy.
"But wait!" you might say, ".787 OPS is still pretty good." And you'd be correct. However, that number is calculated using only the balls put into play after swinging at the first-pitch. If the first-pitch is fouled off or missed, the result is an 0-1 count. For the season, Reds hitters have posted an OPS of .582 after falling behind 0-1. Woof!
Finally, there are other clear indications that this offense is one of the most aggressive teams in baseball when it comes to swinging the bat. Only 19% (lowest in MLB) of the Reds strike-outs this year have been the result of a called strike-3. In other words, they go down hacking. Sure, that's a good thing is many ways, but it also provides some perspective - the Reds are aggressive at the plate. Reds hitters have swung at 47% of all pitches they've seen this year, 3rd highest in MLB. The Reds are aggressive at the plate.
Look, all of this may be much ado about nothing. Maybe the Reds offensive struggles are just the result of bad luck. Maybe they just aren't very good. But then again, maybe for once Dusty could entertain the idea that "be more aggressive" is not the only answer to offensive struggles. After all, his offense is already the most aggressive in baseball...