clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2014 in Review: The Outfield Backups

Chris Heisey did OK, and let's not talk about the rest

Yes, Bernadina was out on this steal attempt.
Yes, Bernadina was out on this steal attempt.
Christian Petersen

Let's get it out of the way up front, the outfield for the Reds in 2014 was a disaster.  The outfield combined to finish dead last in MLB in WAR, with a total less than one.  As a group, the outfielders hit .231/.286/.351, the 76 wRC+ dead last in MLB by a very easy margin.  To make up for that, as a group they played defense that was league average.

If we count Chris Heisey as a CF, then we find that the true culprits of this albatross of a unit were both of the corners.  Heisey and especially Billy Hamilton played stupendous defense, which leaves the corners dragging the group back to average like an anchor.  Fortunately, this article is only about the backups, which means the brunt of the terribleness in the outfield will be avoided, as I won't be discussing either Jay Bruce or Ryan Ludwick.  But what the backups lacked in playing time, they generally made up for with the degree of their terribleness.  Let's review.

Chris Heisey is the lone bright spot in this group.  In half a season's worth of playing time, Heisey eclipsed 1 WAR, largely buoyed by strong defensive ratings.  Rating very well in both CF and LF (and off the charts from the SSS in RF), it is not an artifact of being compared to a poorer group of defenders in LF that provides value for Heisey.  His defensive ability and versatility would have been enough on its own to bring Heisey to the head of the backup class in the outfield, but he also hit by far the best among this group.  Make no mistake, that is not praise for Heisey, that is a damnation of how the rest of these guys performed.  Heisey's 77 wRC+ is somewhat subpar even for a backup capable in CF.  Still, he managed to show his traditional power off the bench and even flourished under Price's aggressive baserunning philosophy, stealing nine bases to only twice caught.  If we are looking for reasons for optimism that his batting will bounce back to his respectable previous levels, his BABIP has been deflated (though he did hit an ABSURD number of infield flyballs last year) and his Ks have been trending the opposite way of the league as a whole without a big reduction in power.  If Heisey can continue to be a league average player in part time duty going forward, he will still have a place on the team for the next year or two anyway, but as his arbitration value escalates, that perhaps becomes more of an open question.

Continuing down the line in order of playing time, we come to Skip Schumaker.  I would like to give some leniency to Schumaker due to the fact that he appears to have played injured for some chunk of the season.  However, that ended up being quite the selfish thing to do, as he provided the worst WAR of anyone on the 2014 team in his half season of time.  I can't blame the player for wanting to be on the field, but I can blame Bryan Price for putting him there entirely too much, and in the wrong places to boot.  Schumaker played all three OF positions this year, all of them with defensive ratings that are hard to surpass for their deficiency.  His 66 wRC+ tells the rest of the story as to why Schumaker had the worst season by WAR for the Reds since Corey Patterson.

The rest of the crew is comprised of the bit players in the season, though ultimately they came by that status honestly.  Roger Bernadina rode a putrid 47 wRC+ to -0.4 WAR in only 71 plate appearances.  To be fair, SSS oddities seemed to dominate his fate on the year, as he actually had the 2nd best walk rate on the team, behind only Joey Votto.  And for someone with his speed, the .209 BABIP is off-the-charts unlucky.  While never a good CF, he is an acceptable emergency backup there, and has always rated well in the corners, except for his limited time this season.  Does anyone remember him playing seven innings at 1B this year?

Donald Lutz has turned into something of an enigma for Reds fans, and perhaps the organization as well.  Considering the competition for playing time he faced this year, it certainly seems like Lutz deserved more of a look than he got.  On the other hand, he's gotten two cups of coffee and done quite poorly so far with them.  And his performance in AAA didn't scream that he should be pushing established guys farther down the bench, either.  At the lower levels of the minors, Lutz had established about a 22% K rate, which is acceptable if not even slightly encouraging for the type of power he had shown and perhaps could even grow into.  But something went terribly wrong in 2014, and it ballooned to over 30% and was accompanied by middling power in AAA, and no power at all with the Reds.  Lutz's future with the organization is uncertain at this point, and their utilization of him at the times he's been on the big league roster belies a lack of faith.  He has one option remaining, after which point he would be a minor league FA, if I am not mistaken.

Jason Bourgeois, if not a bright spot, at least was not holding the team back, according to WAR.  In only 34 PAs his hitting was terrible (55 wRC+), but his defense is solid in the corners and perhaps average in CF.  Some have suggested Bourgeois as a viable replacement for Heisey's role with the Reds moving forward.  Setting aside my affinity for Heisey, this still is not an appealing option to me; as a downgrade on offense and defense, it seems a poor tradeoff to save a million dollars on payroll.

Yorman Rodriguez, despite still nominally being one of the Reds' top prospects, received the least playing time among the backup outfielders.  The culprits in his poor performance were the questions that have been asked about him every time his prospect status is debated: walks, strikeouts, and power.  Granted that this was his first taste of MLB pitching, that he skipped AAA altogether, and that it was a very small sample size, he failed to answer those questions at all reassuringly.  No extra base hits and a K rate over 40% speak for themselves, and with a walk rate of 3.4% it is clear that the jump was just too much of an adjustment for him to make that quickly.  I am sure the Reds would like to keep the 22 year old in the system for more development, but time is quickly running out.  He has one option left, after which he will be a minor league free agent if not placed on the 25-man roster.

All in all, the backups were a mess.  Heisey chipped in one WAR, and the rest of the crew combined for -2 WAR.  None of the group hit a lick, and outfield should be a place where you can find some offense, at the very least in the corners.  Schumaker (on a two-year deal) and Heisey (arb-1) should figure into the 2015 Reds roster from the outset.  Yorman Rodriguez and Donald Lutz are question marks as to when and where they might fit in the future plans.  Either Bernadina or Bourgeois may stick around on a minor league deal, but probably don't factor into major league roster plans at this point.  In any case, one has to imagine (or maybe it is simply blind hope) that the backup outfield situation will provide better production in 2015.  Schumaker's health (or reduced playing time otherwise) should provide a bounceback in their value on its own.  It's hard to see where a real breakout can come from, but perhaps an unheralded minor leaguer breaks out and catches the league by surprise for a few months.  Otherwise, Price and the Reds have to simply find a way to prevent the major negative performances from finding so much playing time and hope for a bit better luck.