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Updating the Top 100: The Infirmed

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Those who didn't make much of an impression.

Spoiler alert: the above positive moment in the 2015 season would later be eclipsed by pain and misery.
Spoiler alert: the above positive moment in the 2015 season would later be eclipsed by pain and misery.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Looking through my files, I note that I submitted no posts for Red Reporter in 2015.  Multiple causes are to blame, mostly personal, but included in that list is the simple fact that bad teams (such as, say, the 2015 Reds) who carry a fairly stale roster (such as, say, the 2015 Reds) are flat out dull to write about.  What is left to say about Brandon Phillips at this point?

I did start a story at one point about the streakiness of Jay Bruce and was unable to finish it on account of boring myself into submission.  With this in mind I give credit to the stalwart authors on this site who find fresh things to say about the Reds.  They are better and more imaginative folks than I, certainly.

In that vein, perhaps, I should give thanks for the pitiful bounty which awaits us in 2016.  There will not likely be many wins to write about but there will be both reboots and fresh faces to cover in the new year and that might be worth something.

This segment, however, is mostly for looking back.  This is a list of the top 100 players in franchise history, as determined and maintained by...me.  In past years, I have written updates for any player ranking in the top 250 or so, a threshold which would charge me with providing ten unique updates this offseason.  For reasons that will likely be obvious, there are players in that group who simply don't warrant significant updates and so I've chosen to group the ten players into five buckets, one for each day this week.  Group 1 is today and is...

The Infirmed

It is a true statement, based on roughly five minutes of very intense web browsing research, if not a completely fair statement to point out that Homer Bailey is the third player in franchise history to be awarded a contract totaling more than $100 million.  The others (Griffey, Votto) had claims on being among the best players in the game, whereas Bailey is approaching his 30th birthday and has just two seasons with at least ten wins or an ERA+ over 100.

Like I said, it's not a completely fair observation.  Had the economic climes been different (not to mention the free agency rules), one can easily imagine Frank Robinson or Johnny Bench receiving nine-digit contracts in their primes.  Similarly, $100,000,000 is an arbitrary threshold, perceived as significant because of our innate love of round numbers.  Nonetheless, Bailey got the contract and others didn't.  He'll carry the target henceforth.

The big salary numbers kick in this year, with Bailey's salary jumping from $10M to $18M this year.  His top comparable players, per Baseball Reference, include former Reds Aaron Harang and Joey Hamilton and have an average of 27 lifetime wins post age 29 and an average ERA+ of 88.  Feeling optimistic yet?

Ironically, perhaps, the Reds haven't been that bad in doling out contracts under Jocketty's watch.  We all emphatically wrung our hands over Brandon Phillips's latest contract extension and he has so far held up his end of the bargain.  Joey's been plenty valuable so far and Jay Bruce's contract extension, much lauded at the time, only looks bad as a result of him being abducted by aliens and replaced by a doppelganger citizen who hadn't played baseball since his sophomore year of high school.

There's a strong temptation to focus on Homer's contract because, well, we learned just about nothing about Bailey in 2015.  Tommy John surgery, performed in May after the obligatory "let's see if rest heals this debilitating elbow injury" period, wiped out 2015 completely save for eleven fruitless innings.  Bailey will be back sometime in 2016 (optimistic reports suggest mid-May), and historical results tell us that we should not expect dominance this year and that command will likely be a struggle all year long.  The telling stat is that a comprehensive depth chart of the Reds would show Bailey as the team's #1 starter, sidelined, complete with 58 career victories and a lifetime ERA+ of 96.  2017-19 are what matters in this case, as Bailey will have three distinct shots at justifying the front office's faith in him.  With any luck, Bailey will prove worthy of the money and will have plenty of stiff competition for the title of team ace.

In his nine seasons with the Reds, Homer Bailey is 58-51, with a 4.19 ERA (96 ERA+).  He cleared the 1,000 inning mark in 2015 and has 832 strikeouts.  On the basis of his injury-interrupted season, Bailey steps back from #225 on the Reds all-time list to #226.

***

According to bWAR, Zack Cozart was the Reds' 7th most valuable player in 2015, despite appearing in just 53 games.  Indeed, Cozart was on his way to a career season, marrying his typically potent glovework with a rejuvenated bat.  His 28 RBI in an abbreviated 2015 fell just ten ribbies short of matching 2014's total in roughly one-third the games played.  Cozart blew out his knee in June and is currently anticipated to be ready to compete for a starting role in Spring Training.

How much weight to give to Cozart's relatively strong showing in 2015 is a bit murky.  Generally speaking, recent events count more for future projections, but what if the most recent data entry is also the smallest sample size?  Additionally, we've seen the lingering impact of recent knee injuries on more talented hitters like Votto and Bruce.  Moreover, Cozart's "breakout" offensive season was unusually buoyed by a single game in which he hit two home runs against the Brewers.  While all games count and all players have good games, it should at least be noted that Cozart's best game of the year came on an April day when the two teams combined for 26 runs.  Take away that day and Cozart's 2015 OPS falls by 43 points (from 769 to 726).

None of this is to disparage his year or to downplay the devastating effect of his knee injury.  Cozart provides plus defense at the most important infield position and carries enough pop in his bat to keep opponents honest.  Or, more to the point, he did provide plus defense and moderate power.  Under normal circumstances, I would be likely to predict that Cozart's functional career is over.  Normal circumstances do not apply, however, to a team which is hemorrhaging talent.  For the immediate future, Zack Cozart has a starting role available at shortstop due to his presumed replacement (Eugenio Suarez) needed to fill the gaping hot corner maw left behind by Home Run Derby specialist Todd Frazier.

For Cozart specifically, if not the team, this is the optimal situation: no (or limited) pressure to win a job, no expectations to propel a winning effort.  From the vantage point of the fans, expectations should be similarly depressed.

In exactly 500 career games with the Reds, Zack Cozart has a slash line of 245/284/375, good for an OPS+ of 79.  He has 42 career home runs, 167 RBI, and 228 runs scored.  His rank on the all-time Reds list hops from #230 to #214 and he remains as the #14 shortstop in team history.

Top 15 Shortstops in Reds history

1

Barry Larkin

2

Dave Concepcion

3

Leo Cardenas

4

Roy McMillan

5

Tommy Corcoran

6

Germany Smith

7

Billy Myers

8

Eddie Miller

9

Buck Herzog

10

Larry Kopf

11

Eddie Joost

12

Hod Ford

13

Felipe Lopez

14

Zack Cozart

15

Ike Caveney

***

In a season categorically filled with disappointments, none were disappointier than the Devin Mesoraco saga.  Coming off a breakout season upon which genuine stardom could be forecasted, Mesoraco struggled through a month and a half of pointless pinch hitting appearances which were as futile as they were exasperating.  Unable to play his position due to a hip impingement, the nominal catcher racked up eight whole hits before succumbing to the inevitable vacation to the disabled list.  Reportedly, Devin can squat into a crouch without problem and is expecting to be ready for spring training.

In 2015, we learned virtually nothing about Devin Mesoraco while learning plenty about the organization which employs him.  His age-27 season, follow-up to one of the greatest seasons by a catcher in team history, is forever sacrificed to the Darkest Timeline in which we exist.

Mesoraco has a career slash line of 242/313/423, good for a 101 OPS+.  He has 50 doubles, 41 home runs, and 144 RBI in just under 1,000 at bats.  He holds steady as the #203 player in Reds history.