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How does Scooter Gennett fit back into the Reds lineup?

You can only play nine guys.

Cincinnati Reds Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

I suppose you chalk this decision up to one of those “good” problems to have if you’re the Cincinnati Reds.

By all indications, Scooter Gennett will join Triple A Louisville tonight in Indianapolis (the weather is kinda butt here, so stay tuned) and play a game or two with the Bats before rejoining the Reds when they come home from Anaheim on Friday to kick of a long home stand into the All Star break.

Gennett has been masterful for the Reds in two seasons since being plucked from the waiver wire in 2017. In 295 games spanning the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Scooter has received 1135 plate appearances and posted a triple slash of .303/.351/.508, good for 7.6 bWAR and an All Star appearance just last season. When you compare that to the .279/.318/.420 line (5 bWAR) he compiled in parts of four season with Milwaukee, it’s quite the surprising and dramatic improvement.

He’s truly been nothing less than great for the Reds.

When he injured his groin toward the tail end of Spring Training, it appeared to be a big blow to the Reds offense. And that’s not to say that the Reds couldn’t have used that player, especially when you see how badly the Reds offense struggled to string together consistent outings through the better part two months this season. Adding an .850 OPS bat to that equation certainly would’ve done some good.

As Scooter nears his return, the talk around baseball regarding the Reds is the possibility that adding Scooter back to this team is just the spark that it needs to really contend for a playoff spot through the latter half of the year. I’ve heard several times on the Reds pre and post-game shows that getting Gennett back is like “adding an impact bat at the trade deadline.”

But how does he fit with the way the roster is currently constructed.

When Gennett left that Spring game with the injury, we didn’t yet know what the team had in Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich, both picked up on minor league deals this winter/spring. Iglesias doesn’t factor into this conversation all that much; as a right handed and a master-of-defense at shortstop, he and Scooter won’t overlap much. Dietrich, on the other hand, is interesting.

Derek Dietrich in 2019 has basically been Extreme Scooter Gennett. He’s left handed, he plays second base, and when he’s on, he’s Very On. And he seemingly came out of nowhere. For the season, Dietrich has a .229/.358/.583 line in 217 plate appearances and, despite his reputation, hasn’t played a bad second base (another Scooter comparison). He leads the team in position player bWAR despite not playing as often. He’s been very good.

So, how many starts does Scooter take from Dietrich? We’ve seen Dietrich cool rather significantly in the month of June, so this isn’t an argument that Dietrich is a must start every day. He’s probably playing his perfect role right now. But, he hardly already plays against left-handed pitching, so any time Scooter sees instead at second base is either going to have to come against LHP, or eat even further into Dietrich’s playing time against right handers.

I don’t know that Scooter’s career .638 OPS against LHP is really the answer, there (though it’s worth noting that Gennett was a lot better last season against LHP, but he was a lot better against everything last season).

When Gennett came to the Reds in 2017, they used him in the outfield in order to get his bat into the lineup a little more, since Zack Cozart was still manning SS everyday and the team wanted to see what they had in Jose Peraza. Obviously, Scooter ended up usurping Peraza at second base, but it’s possible they could use him in such a way again this year.

The problem with that idea is that most of what I’ve already written about Derek Dietrich also applies Jesse Winker, the Reds everyday outfield. Winker hasn’t been quite a good as many of us expected this season, but even in a down-ish year, he still has a season long OPS of .800 (and those numbers are starting to creep toward what we’d thought they’d be at the outset, with his OBP up to .335 and his SLG down to .465). Winker is a butcher in left field more often than not, but post-serious groin injury and not exactly a defensive maven himself, what do you truly expect from Scooter out there?

Plus, again, they’re both left-handed, so there’s no obvious platoon advantage.

For several weeks this season, it appeared as though maybe Yasiel Puig could start to become the odd man out when Gennett made his return. And Puig’s season long numbers are still poor, but that’s mostly because of how bad he was to begin the season. Since May 1, in 181 plate appearances, Puig as slashed .268/.320/.524. He’s been, essentially, the Yasiel Puig was know and love in that time frame. He’s been even better if you just narrow it down to June, with an OPS approaching 1.000.

It’s really tough to put into words how dreadful his April was.

Yasiel Puig, being a right handed hitter, seems the logical choice to start a mini-platoon with all these left handed batters the Reds have. And it’s fairly likely we’ll start to see a little bit of that, just to get all of these guys some run. Still, it’s not ideal, as Puig has been a reverse platoon guy for his career, hitting righties nearly 80 OPS points better.

None of this is to say that the Reds are better off without Scooter Gennett. Assuming he comes off the injury and gets acclimated quickly (and I think there’s some pretty serious questions about how long it takes for him to really “be back,” and if we can realistically expect the production from the last two years, but that’s probably a different piece for a different time), he’s obviously the better choice of whomever he displaces from the active roster, whether that’s Phillip Ervin or Kyle Farmer or Jose Peraza. And, he’ll generally be a better choice off the bench than whoever remains. Sliding Scooter into a hole whenever someone gets an off day (whether that’s him filling in for someone, or taking the place of a moving Dietrich) will make the lineup better, especially against right handed pitchers.

I just think the idea of comparing Scooter Gennett’s re-emergence into the Reds lineup to “adding an impact bat at the deadline” is aggressive. It would require him to be obviously better than whoever he is replacing, or at the very least do something differently than what they have now. I don’t know how likely either of those scenarios are.