In the spring of 2017, the Milwaukee Brewers had a decision to make. They picked up Travis Shaw to cover third base and had Jonathan Villar to cover second, so Scooter Gennett was either going to come off the bench or they were going to cut him. He was set to make $2.5 million, and they decided that he wasn’t worth that. They cut him, the Reds picked him up off the waiver wire because they thought he was worth it, and it turns out that the Reds were right.
Last July, I took a look at what exactly had gotten into him. It is now looking increasingly like it wasn’t a fluke.
Since joining the Reds, Scooter has hit baseballs like few others in the business. He more-or-less has accumulated a full-season’s worth of PAs in a Reds uniform at this point, so let’s take a look:
Some things jump out at me when you dig in here. To start, he has been remarkably consistent. His lowest OPS in a month was March/April of this year, when he put up a respectable .298/.344/.412 slash. His best month is the 1.127 he has put up this month, in which he has clobbered out a .371/.385/.742 (with 11 XBHs in just 15 starts so far!). So, at his worst, he has been a perfectly decent middle infielder and at his best he is putting up MVP-caliber numbers. Can’t front on that.
His home/road splits aren’t terribly alarming, either. He has hit about 100 points of OPS better at Great American Ballpark than he has elsewhere. That’s a remarkable split, but nothing ridiculously abnormal. Hitters on average tend to do better at home. It has something to do with some sort of advantage when playing on one’s home field. I read a thing about it once. Furthermore, while he is hitting worse on the road, it’s not like he’s hitting poorly. His road OPS while with the Reds has been around .825.
How does he compare to the rest of the league? Most impressive to me is that robust slugging percentage. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, his .531 SLG ranks tied for 16th in all of baseball with Carlos Correa, right up there with stalwart bombasts Joey Votto, Gary Sanchez, and Nelson Cruz. His batting average ranks at #15, just ahead of Mike Trout and (gasp) Carlos Correa. In fact, Scooter and Correa match up alarmingly well over the last 14 months or so. Check it:
Scooter vs Correa
The one substantial difference (and it’s a doozy) is that Correa walks a lot more than Scooter does. But still, this set me back on my heels a bit. Carlos Correa is one of the most heralded young hitters in baseball and our very own Scooter Gennett is doing a passable impression of him. That’s not nothing.
My biggest concern, which is not at all surprising, is how left-handed pitchers can so effectively neuter him. He OPS’d just .691 against them last season but has improved it a bit this year to .776. Regardless of the uptick, his platoon split is actionably worrying.
His biggest weakness, as you may well know, is his glove. He has rated as consistently below average throughout his career at second base. Here is another comparison of Scooter and Correa, and I think it does a hell of a lot to illustrate the difference between them:
Scooter’s WAR over this time frame is 3.5. Correa’s is double that, at 6.9.
Correa is a good defensive shortstop while Scooter is a bad defensive second baseman. And there is the difference between an MVP-caliber player and an All-Star-caliber player.
The big takeaway here though is that I think Scooter is a legitimate All-Star-caliber player. Whatever changes he has made to this hitting approach since leaving Milwaukee, they look reasonably sustainable to me. He has changed, and so I think we need to change what we think of him.
So now, the Reds face a very similar decision to the one that the Brewers faced 14 months ago. What do you do with Scooter Gennett?
Well, there are a few options, which, we have been debating these for a good while around here. But I want to lay them out here and make sober assessments of them all. This whole time, my view of Scooter is that he is just another Dan Straily. That is, a potentially useful player who, if things break right, could be traded for someone(s) with more long-term value. You remember how Straily was snatched off waivers back before the 2016 season. He put up a surprisingly solid season and then before the ‘17 season he was traded for Luis Castillo and Austin Brice. That’s profit as all hell, y’all. I’ve always thought they should do the same thing with Scooter.
And with that in mind, I have been pleased as pie to see him breakout the way he has. The more home runs he hits and the more RBIs he collects make him all the more valuable on the trade market. There’s a ton of profit to be had there.
But to be honest, he has hit so many home runs and collected so many RBIs that I’m beginning to wonder if maybe rather than trade him the Reds should invest in him. Has he improved his game so much that he has gone from potential trade chip to potential building block?
Well, that all depends. On, like, a lot of things. Like, a lot lot. As you may or may not know, the Reds have a glut of middle infielders right now. On top of Scooter, they have Eugenio Suarez signed to a long-term deal. They have top prospect Nick Senzel in AAA. They have Shed Long mashing in AA who will likely push for playing time as early as later this summer. They have lesser-lights like Alex Blandino and Dilson Herrera. And there is current starting (and struggling) shortstop Jose Peraza. They have a ton of different directions in which they can go, and there aren’t any real clear easy answers. Scooter only complicates that. But then again, at this point, only Suarez and Scooter have proven themselves to be legit major leaguers. Maybe you should take the bird in the hand.
If the Reds seriously consider approaching Scooter with the prospect of a contract extension to keep him in town beyond 2018, what would such a deal look like? I haven’t done a real deep dive to compare similar players and their contracts, but I think a safe estimate for our purposes here is something around $15 million a season. That translates to $45 million over three years and $60 million over four. He’s on pace to accumulate about four WAR this season, and if you account for regression (do you think he is really this kinda slugger or not?) that’s probably a reasonable deal for both sides, in the abstract at least.
So I dunno. Maybe Scooter would accept a hometown discount. A lot of folks make quite a bit from the fact that he is a local boy, but who knows how much that really matters.
In light of all of this, I think trading him this summer is still probably the best idea. Considering the glut of middle infield talent they have and the weaknesses elsewhere on the roster, they might be smart to move Scooter’s roster value from the infield and into the rotation or where ever. But of course, that all depends on how the trade market unfolds and which teams will be looking for a player like him.
You know, now that I think about it, I bet being the general manager of a major league baseball team is kinda difficult.
Whatever they decide to do with Scooter, it is very much worth stopping for a second and giving the team some credit for picking him up for absolutely nothing in the first place. The good organizations are the ones that are able to find value in unexpected places.
Still, I’m really impressed with what Scooter has done here in Cincinnati. He has turned himself into a middle-of-the-order masher, but more importantly, he has made me second-guess what the team should do with him (I’m clearly very important to this whole thing). I don’t think it is any longer a slam-dunk no-question scenario where they should absolutely trade him. He has hit well enough to force himself into the Reds’ long-term discussions, which is really damn cool.