Earlier this week, I received my copy of the 2016 Baseball Prospectus. It's quite the wieldy beast; clocking in at just under 600 pages, this edition, just like all the others before it, is overflowing with everything you need to know about the 2016 baseball season.
I'm about to outline ten things that I learned (and probably a few things that I already knew, reinforced) from this year's annual, but I could probably write about one-hundred things that I learned (both because this thing has everything you need to know, and because I'm dumb). I suggest if you want to learn everything there is to know about your Cincinnati Reds, or any other team for that matter, you head over to wherever good books are sold and purchase one for yourself.
On to the topic at hand:
1. The Reds aren't going to be good
Damnit. This isn't something I learned.
But it's thoroughly reinforced in BP's 2016 Annual.
It takes exactly six words to get into the overall theme of the 2016 Reds season, one that you and I and everyone in Redsland is completely familiar with. Russell Carleton begins his Reds essay: "Let's preview the 2016 Reds season: It's going to be rough."
Yeah, Russell. Yeah.
2. Joey Votto is awesome, and trading that contract just to get out from under it doesn't make the most sense
We've talked several times here at Red Reporter about whether or not trying to trade Votto's contract during the rebuild/selloff would be a wise thing to do. After reading Carleton's musings on the subject, the answer I glean is: probably not.
The contract, in and of itself, will very likely be a bad investment for the Reds on the back end. But, that's always been conventional wisdom, and the Reds would be far from the first team that's ever done it. But Votto is shaping up to be a generational talent, and generational talents don't come cheap and, more importantly, they're not easily replaced.
Carleton looked at all position players in baseball from 1999 onward who ranked in the top five at their position according to BP's WARP stat for the previous three years and who were between the ages of 27 and 32 and examined how their performance changed over the subsequent one, three, and five years. He also broke that group down into five different categories, essentially: elite, above average, average, below average, and out of baseball. Out of a data set that included 66 players, the vast majority of them were still elite one year later. What's big in the context of Joey Votto's contract, is that even five years out, there was a 40% chance that these types of players were above average major league players (that is, top 15 at their position).
Yes, he'll cost a fortune, but the alternative is that they develop a talent at first base as good as Votto (not likely), they plug in a first baseman that's available for a lot less than Votto who's also not nearly as good as Votto, or they bring in a decent first baseman and pay the going rate for talent in the league, which basically runs counter to the idea that they should trade him to begin with.
The skills Joey Votto brings to the table are a limited resource in this league at this point (keep in mind that a 31 year old Joey Votto finished just percentage points behind 22 year old MVP Bryce Harper in OBP). Guys that get on base as much as Votto just aren't available now, and it's a quality that seems like it should age well. And, as Carleton points out, they won't be bad forever.
The Reds might listen about a deal for Joey Votto. But it would be unwise to trade him for anything less than close to market value.
3. Jay Bruce may just bounce back in 2016
The Reds can't give away Jay Bruce. There's been a lot of smoke but no fire about the Baltimore Orioles being interested in Jay, but nothing has materialized. The Reds just about traded Bruce at the deadline to the New York Mets for injured pitcher Zack Wheeler, but, again, nothing materialized.
The Reds seem content to roll with Jay Bruce as their starting right fielder in 2016, and that might just be the right call. In the aggregate, Bruce wasn't good last year; he failed to get on base 30% of the time and posted a tiny BABIP of .251. Baseball Prospectus and, more accurately, PECOTA, expect all of that to rise in the coming year, returning to a respectable if unspectacular .754 OPS to go along with a 2.5 WARP (which, admittedly, would be a far cry from his 5.6 in 2013).
More importantly, the book notes that his BABIP wasn't any worse when hitting into those pesky defensive shifts that, the narrative goes, has killed Jay Bruce, Major League Ballplayer. This lends itself to the idea that 2015 was the most extreme Jay Bruce yet: when he was good, he was good, but when he was bad (see: August, September, October) he was really, really bad. If the Reds can get more Really Good Jay Bruce, then his stock just might rise back to where it was at the 2015 trade deadline.
4. Good Zack Cozart was really good
We all know that Zack Cozart was enjoying a career year before a horrific knee injury ended his season in June 2015. In nearly a quarter of PAs, Cozart nearly matched his 2013 WARP, and we won't even mention 2014. And even then, he was doing it with a .258 BABIP.
But bashing and bopping Zack Cozart was the deal, even if he wasn't real. When he went down in June, he posted a .201 ISO that outpaced both Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera. Sure, given a full season there's no way that would've withheld, but that was the type of breakout offensive season that we'd been longing to see.
That's a distant memory now as we wait and see what his newly rebuilt knee looks like. But he'll always have 2015 and that stat.
5. Billy Hamilton could defy logic and physics
Billy Hamilton lead the majors in PECOTA's baserunning runs metrics, which isn't really a surprise, until you realize he missed the last month of the season. And that, baseball statistically speaking, he really never gets on base at all.
Maury Wills posted the highest BRR in history. He got on base more than twice as much as Hamilton did. This book notes that, on a per chance basis, Billy was better on the basepaths in 2015 than anyone, ever.
I've quoted basically all of Baseball Prospectus's blurb on Billy Hamilton, so I'll end it with a direct quote. If you had planned on buying this 593 page book based on the 6.5 lines of text about Billy Hamilton, then I apologize.
If Hamilton ever stops lofting lazy pop flies and starts slapping the ball on the ground, he might get on base enough to break baseball.
His top comp is Willy Taveras, though. Have fun with that, Reds fans.
6. Brandon Phillips did something in 2015 that only Willie Mays has done
This doesn't lend itself to 2016, but this factoid is something that I couldn't pass over. Brandon Phillips became the second player in history to steal 20 bases during his age 34 season or older after two consecutive years of five or fewer steals.
The other player: Willie Mays.
PECOTA isn't big on Phillips repeating that feat (or, really, any feat from 2015) but Phillips is here and will likely be manning second base for at least the near future. Here's to hoping that the veteran second baseman isn't too cranky following an offseason filled with twists and turns.
7. Brandon Finnegan has a very familiar comparable
There's not a lot to write here, other than to make the observation that Finnegan played on five different teams across the minor and major leagues last season. He's yet to be able to settle into any particular role, but the Reds are going to give him every possible chance to stick in the rotation. He has three solid pitches, so hopefully he'll be able to figure it out in Louisville this year.
The thing I learned from Baseball Prospectus? One of his comparable players is none other than Johnny Cueto, the pitcher he was packaged for on his trip to Cincinnati. If that ends up being anywhere near a true comp, well, it's interesting how things come around, huh?
8. Raisel Iglesias is probably the real deal
Consider for an instant the comparable players listed for Raisel: Mike Minor (who was once a top 30 prospect in all of baseball), Max Scherzer (who is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball), and Josh Beckett (who was once one of the best pitchers in all of baseball).
You see, Raisel Iglesias could be very, very good.
Don't forget (because I did) that Iglesias was the first Reds starter in over 100 years to post double-digit strikeouts in three consecutive starts. Name your favorite Reds pitcher in your lifetime. They didn't do what Raisel did. The book will get out on him, sure, but his repertoire of pitches and deceptive angles serve him well.
9. JJ Hoover might not be the best choice to succeed Aroldis Chapman
I like JJ Hoover a lot, and I want to see him have the first chance at the newly vanquished closer role. His 2015 was a huge improvement over the previous year, and he even rebounded by posting a 30 appearance scoreless streak. But he was aided by huge dip in BABIP, and somehow overcame striking out 3+ less per nine innings pitched.
He'll likely settle in somewhere between his awesome 2015 and his disastrous 2014, but his first comparable is Jose Arredondo. Which, for as bad as 2016 is likely to be, isn't such a big deal.
But just picture for a second Jose Arredondo as your closer.
10. Of pitchers, Tony Cingrani is the one likeliest to breakout
PECOTA doesn't necessarily like him, as far as numbers go, but of the pitchers, they rate him with a 34% chance to "breakout," breakout meaning the chance that a player will improve by at least twenty percent relative to the weighted average of his performance over recent seasons.
Tony Cingrani isn't the same player that we've witnessed over recent seasons; he was once the admirable fill in for Johnny Cueto before he was hurt before he was the admirable fill in for Sean Marshall before he was hurt...
You get the idea.
Then again, his deceptive fastball played up in relief, just as we suspected it always would, but his faulty shoulder didn't, just as we suspected it wouldn't. Because of that, Cingrani still projects for stuff out of the pen and is a good candidate to surprise.
But will he? That's the story of Tony Spaghetti.