Reds can't let Hamilton lead off.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Monday in St. Louis, Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton led off the game with a single to right field against Michael Wacha. Or at least it would have been a single, had it been struck by 99.9 percent of hitters who have ever played baseball. Instead, Hamilton never stopped running, and not only did he turn the single into a double, he was almost on second before the cutoff man even received the throw. It was an astounding display of speed, and it shows why Hamilton is considered such a promising player.
Unfortunately, that hit was Hamilton's first of the season, and was only his second time on base. Add another hit Tuesday night, and Hamilton has bumped his average up to .091, with an .130 on base percentage. Hamilton has yet to score a run. He has yet to steal a base. And while it's early, the total lack of production from the top of the lineup is a big part of why the Reds have lost six of their first eight, and have scored just 2.86 runs per game, tied with Houston for 26th in MLB.
It's also a big reason why Joey Votto has only one run driven in. It's much too soon to discuss sending Hamilton to the minors, but it's not at all too soon to make an easier change: Cincinnati needs to get him out of the leadoff spot immediately.
When pitching coach Bryan Price was named to replace the decidedly old-school Dusty Baker, many thought the first-time manager would bring some fresh thinking. (Over the winter, Pryce raised eyebrows by saying he would prefer not to use relievers situationally for just a batter, preferring longer appearances.) And while some of that has held true -- 31-year-old Manny Parra got his first career save Sunday, pitching both the eighth and ninth innings -- some of his choices when the Reds are batting seem like more of the same.
For example, it has been proved time and again that the most valuable thing a leadoff hitter can do is get on base. Speed is helpful, but it's useless without the ability to reach base. Hamilton isn't doing that now, and he also didn't do it last year (putting up just a .308 OBP in Triple-A). Combined with the declining Brandon Phillips (with an OBP steadily dropping from .353 to .321 to .310 to .303 in the past four years) atop the lineup, Votto and Jay Bruce more often than not come up without anyone on base to drive in.
[+] EnlargeJoey Votto
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
You can't expect Votto to drive in runs if no one is on base.
Votto, in particular, seems to get endless amounts of heat from fans who merely look at his RBI totals as though that's all that determines the success of a middle-of-the-order hitter. He's not off to a red-hot start this year, but he's also had all of five runners in scoring position when he's been up coming into Tuesday night. The one run he has driven home wasn't Hamilton or Phillips, but pitcher Alfredo Simon, who singled to lead off the sixth Sunday, which means Simon had as many hits and more runs scored than Hamilton going into Tuesday night.
Cincinnati's in-game decisions have been questionable as well. When Hamilton did get that hit off of Wacha, the Reds had a runner on second and none out. Phillips then sacrificed himself by bunting Hamilton to third. (Price's postgame comments were vague on whether he or Phillips made that call.) Because a runner on second is already in scoring position -- to say nothing of the fact that Hamilton's speed made him likely to score on just about any hit -- the move made the Reds less likely to score. (And they didn't.)
Between 1993-2010, teams with a runner on second and no outs scored an average of 1.170 runs. With a runner on third and one out, it drops to 0.989. The extra base isn't worth the lost out, especially when Hamilton might have just stolen third anyway.
When former leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 OBP departed for Texas, a downgrade in production was expected, but perhaps not to this extent. So what would be a better lineup for the Reds? For that, we can use the lineup optimizer tool at BaseballMusings.com. For inputs, we'll use Steamer's 2014 projections, because the real 2014 numbers are too small and players such as Hamilton and Ryan Ludwick had limited playing time in 2013.
The outcome is that every one of the "best" Cincinnati lineups features Hamilton batting ninth -- yes, behind the pitcher -- and Votto first, because of his elite on-base skills. (No one has been better since he arrived in the bigs.) Of course, no one expects Price to really go to such extremes, and forcing Votto to hit with no one on every game isn't ideal, so a more realistic proposal: move Hamilton to eighth (or ninth). Move Todd Frazier to the top.
If, perhaps, that sounds crazy -- Frazier has 11 career steals -- then consider how sane it is to have a hitter who has shown little ability to get on base above Double-A make outs ahead of the middle of the lineup. Frazier is no star, but his career line of .251/.322/.450 is brought down by a tough 2011 debut and is still good for 10 percent better than league average per wRC+. Even average would be a big improvement for the run-scoring outlook of this team.
The problem, really, is that this is a below-average offensive roster without Choo. Last year, MLB batters averaged a .322 OBP. Among Reds, only Votto and Bruce beat that last year; only Votto and Bruce were projected to beat that this year. Tweaking the lineup would help, but it can't erase the roster's flaws.
Worth waiting on
To repeat: 23 plate appearances over the first week of the season are absolutely not a worthwhile sample size. If they were, we'd be talking about Emilio Bonifacio's .500/.548/.571 line as if it were a real thing and not a first-week blip. It's premature to judge Hamilton's job security at this point, and even if it weren't, the Reds don't have better alternatives. Backup center fielder Roger Bernadina has a .238/.307/.358 career line over parts of seven seasons, while veteran Skip Schumaker (currently sidelined with a shoulder injury) is 34 years old and not an asset on either side of the ball.
Hamilton's speed is otherworldly, and he obviously deserves more than a week to prove himself, especially when most of that week is spent facing Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and the outstanding St. Louis staff. (He also sat a few days with a thumb injury.) If the Reds are to be successful in 2014, they'll need Hamilton on base and productive. But until he proves he can do that -- and after that .308 Triple-A OBP, it remains a big open question -- he doesn't need to be hurting the lineup daily at the top of the order. If he proves he can be even an average hitter, he can always move back.
Execs put a price on Drew, Morales.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Vin Mazzaro could be a useful reliever for a lot of teams, but he cleared waivers Tuesday and a couple of executives speculated that part of the reason for that is Mazzaro makes more than minimum wage -- $950,000.
"Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," said one GM. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around."
Maybe the Dodgers have a big budget, or the Yankees. But most teams have little wiggle room in their budget. Which brings us to Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, two veteran free agents who remain unemployed.
To review: Both players -- represented by agent Scott Boras -- rejected $14.1 million qualifying offers from the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, respectively, and continue to wait. And wait. And wait.
There might be one small upside to waiting this long. Now that the season has started, neither can be given another qualifying offer by the next team he signs with, which means each could be a free agent without restriction after the 2014 season. And if they don't sign until after the draft (June 5), the team that signs them won't have to forfeit a draft pick.
On the other hand, a qualifying offer would bring far more money than either player figures to get whenever he signs in the days or weeks ahead. The overwhelming sentiment within the industry is that both players made enormous mistakes in rejecting the qualifying offers, mistakes that will cost each millions of dollars. Based on the estimates presented by club officials Tuesday -- what they would offer Drew or Morales -- both players will have to settle for a lot less than $14.1 million annually.
The questions presented to the club executives:
1. If your team had a need for Drew or Morales, what would you offer him?
2. Would the fact that they haven’t had a spring training and would need time to get game-ready factor into your offer?
Executive No. 1, from the National League: "For Morales, I’d offer between $6 million to $8 million, and for Drew, $7 million to $8 million. At this point, why would you give them more? The whole market passed on them during the winter, and at some point, there has to be some kind of a discount for a player who has held out and sat out.
"With those guys missing so much time, when they’re trying to get ready, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to get hurt. They’ve got to get 50 at-bats or so to get ready, and they’ll try to speed up the timetable to get back in the majors and get paid, and they’ll be at greater risk."
The NL executive said that because of how the negotiations have played out with both players, there would be concern about their emotional investment.
"Let’s say Drew waits until after the draft to sign, so that he isn’t tied to draft-pick compensation for this year," the executive said, "and let’s say he signed a one-year deal. Would he be playing for you at that point, for the team, or would he be playing for himself? If he had a minor injury late in the season, would he push through it for you, or would he sit out [to protect his free agency]. That would be a factor for me.
"For me, at some point, it comes down to, 'Do you want to play [or not]?’ At some point, you swallow your pride and say [rejecting the qualifying offer] didn’t work and you get back on the field and get back to work."
Another NL official: "I think most teams would still view the draft as the most relevant date. As with many scenarios, teams [in this age of parity] are hesitant to forfeit talent and money in transactions. There is a reason [David] Price and [Jeff] Samardzija were not traded."
(In other words: A team would not give up a draft pick and dollars for Drew or Morales.)
He continued: "If a team viewed either player as a midseason acquisition, they might value the player on a longer horizon [maybe a contract through 2016 for Drew and through 2015 for Morales]. I would probably value Drew as a $10-12 million player on a multiyear deal and Morales in the $8-10 million range. Time of year affects many teams with respect to budgets.
"The layoff and need for a modified spring training is a real issue. If a team signed the player in early June, there would still be a 10- to 14-day period to prepare him for activation."
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Agent Scott Boras made a miscalculation by having Drew and Morales turn down qualifying offers.
An American League executive: "You are definitely concerned how long they’ve been away. You’d have to get them their 50 plate appearances in the minors before calling them up. You’d have to get these guys under contract and give them three weeks of preparation. For Drew, I’d go $8 million to $12 million, maybe on a multiyear deal; you wouldn’t want to sign him for one-year deal and give up a draft pick. And for Morales, I’d go $8 million to $10 million, prorated."
A second AL official: "I’d go $5 million for Morales, maybe $6 million to $8 million for Drew. The injury history for both guys scares me."
A third NL official: "The salary level I would be comfortable for both Drew and Morales is in the $7-8 million range. Both are limited players -- Drew just isn't an impact offensive player, and Morales is so limited by his body, injuries and poor defense -- which for me are similar to Nelson Cruz." (Cruz signed with Baltimore for $8 million.)
"Frankly, Cruz may be a better player than Drew and Morales. You know he's going to hit more than Drew, and hitting is what pays, while you know that he will hit similar to Morales and is more versatile defensively.
"I would have concerns about signing both now, but I think Morales can adjust easier than Drew. Morales is basically a bat; nobody expects anything out of him defensively, and even if he plays the field, he won't be put into too many situations where he can hurt himself. Drew is much more of a risk to sign now, not only because of the injuries more common to up-the-middle players but also because he needs to learn his other infielders or, specifically to him, his double-play partners. I think the adjustment will be harder for Drew and the upside will be much less."
AL talent evaluator: "I’d go $5 million to $6 million for Morales -- he has almost nowhere to go -- and $7 million for Drew. That’s after we get past the draft and you don’t surrender a pick."
AL exec: "Two years and $8-9 million for Drew, two years at $7 million or $8 million for Morales. I wouldn’t want to go to a third year for either guy."
An AL evaluator: "We are two months from the draft, and most teams that might be interested would just hold off so they keep their draft pick. I don’t think we have many teams that can just add millions to the payroll in midseason. It becomes an issue before the trade deadline. I think both these guys will sign after the draft and get ready to start playing at the major league level by July 1, a half season. Go out and have a good second half of the season and go back into free agency. Incentives in the contracts will probably be a must, as both guys will be getting ready to play in a shorter period of time.
"Both guys have missed time in recent years. Maybe you’ll see a situation in which team loses a high-priced player and has insurance cover a chunk of his salary which one of these guys could fit right into. I’d give either guy $3 million to $6 million base salary for three months, plus incentives. You will be getting close to the deadline once the summer hits, and you can get these guys without giving anything up.
"Their layoff is a factor but not that big of a factor. By mid-June, 10 teams might be looking to sell, and not buy, so the options for Drew and Morales will be limited. We’ve got to see how the Detroit and Boston infield situations play out for Drew."
Around the league
• Barry Bonds was not mentioned by name in Atlanta on Tuesday night, but he was the elephant in the room, as Hank Aaron was referred to, over and over, as the real home run king.
Speaking with reporters after the ceremony, Bud Selig was asked about Aaron being called the true home run king.
"I'm always in a sensitive spot there, but I've said that myself and I'll just leave it at that," Selig said.
During the ceremony, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said Aaron "set the home run record the old-fashioned way" and added, "You will always be the home run king of all time."
Retired Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren earned a big ovation when he said Aaron is "still recognized as baseball's true home run king."
Here’s the way I’d look at it: Barry Bonds is, quite literally, the Home Run King. He’s hit the most home runs, 762.
But which feat is more impressive? To me, it’s Aaron’s, because he hit his home runs at a time when offensive numbers declined, so much so in the '60s that they lowered the height of the mound to give hitters a little more of a boost. Bonds, on the other hand, played in an era saturated by big offensive numbers. At the time that Aaron hit his 715th home run, there were only 11 members of the 500 home run club. Since then -- through what will be forever be remembered as the steroid era -- that number more than doubled.
On Tuesday’s podcast, the question of whether Aaron’s 715th home run is the greatest record-breaker in U.S. sports is addressed. And listen to Vin Scully’s call of Aaron’s incredible moment from 40 years ago.
Aaron was honored in Atlanta.
• The Rays’ Matt Moore may be headed for elbow surgery.
• Chris Archer and Yordano Ventura combined to put on a show. A ground ball decided the game.
From ESPN Stats and Info, this is how good Ventura was:
• At 22 years old, he's the youngest pitcher in Royals history to go six innings with six strikeouts and zero walks while allowing two hits or less.
• His fastball averaged 97.0 mph, peaking at 100.8 mph.
• The Rays were 0-for-8 vs. his 38 off-speed pitches (14 of 19 changeups for strikes).
• The Rays were 1-for-13 with six strikeouts in two-strike counts.
• Ryan Braun bashed three homers.
• Adrian Beltre hurt his leg in a Texas blowout of Boston.
• The Reds and Homer Bailey gave up an early lead to the Cardinals. In watching Cincinnati and St. Louis last week, you got the sense that the Reds might have a confidence issue against the Cardinals. Jay Bruce addressed the head-to-head play between the two teams after Tuesday’s loss. From John Fay’s story:
The win clinched the series for the Cardinals. That means the Reds have lost six straight series in St. Louis. But the bad times go back much farther than that. The Reds have won one series in St. Louis since 2006. The Reds are 3-26-2 in series since the start of 2003 in St. Louis.
"All the games count the same," Jay Bruce said. "We know if we're going to do well in this division, we need to beat the Cardinals. We've been in there the whole time, every game. We've got to execute better. We have to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented during the games."
• Ryan Zimmerman has an arthritic shoulder. He changed his throwing motion. From Adam Kilgore’s story:
How exactly the new "arthritic" distinction will affect how Zimmerman and the Nationals move forward remains unclear. Tuesday afternoon, Zimmerman was throwing and practicing what may be a new strategy to deal with his ailing shoulder.
Before 3 p.m., Zimmerman stood at third base and fielded groundballs hit by defensive coach Mark Weidemaier. Williams stood at home with bench coach Randy Knorr. Rehab coordinator Steve Gober leaned on the batting cage.
Zimmerman vacuumed the grounders, which Weidemaier hit either right at him or to his backhand, the kind of play that has forced him to make painful throws with his inflamed shoulder. Tuesday afternoon, though, Zimmerman tried a different approach. He gave himself a brief running start and rifled the ball across the diamond with a sidearm motion.
Afterward, Zimmerman conferred with the coaches and Gober. Williams, a four-time Gold Glove third baseman as a player, pantomimed a throwing motion.
Anthony Rendon started at third and had a big game.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Giants cut off contract talks with Pablo Sandoval, as Andrew Baggarly writes. Sandoval is looking to get paid in a big way, but the Giants are concerned about risk, in light of his conditioning issues.
2. The Red Sox can’t get stupid on Jon Lester, writes Gerry Callahan.
3. There is interest in the possible purchase of the Oakland Athletics, writes Tim Kawakami.
4. Colby Lewis is expected to start Saturday. By the way, Matt Harrison continues to make progress.
1. Melky Cabrera helped the Jays take down the Astros. Houston is the perfect tonic for the Jays.
2. The Diamondbacks’ spiral continues.
3. Corey Kluber got it done.
4. Felix Doubront got hammered.
5. Carl Crawford had a walk-off hit.
Dings and dents
1. Troy Tulowitzki is dealing with a quad pull, Patrick Saunders writes.
2. Coco Crisp got a cortisone shot.
3. Dexter Fowler hopes to play today.
4. James Paxton had to leave his start because of an injury.
5. Torii Hunter banged his knee.
6. Omar Infante is confident he won’t miss much time.
7. A couple of Royals relievers landed on the disabled list.
8. Mat Latos was scratched from his rehab start.
9. Josh Beckett will get the ball today.
10. A couple of Mariners are close to coming back.
• Only Willie Mays (6) has had more home runs than Brandon Belt (5) through the Giants' first eight games of a season since they moved to San Francisco (1958). It took 37 games for Belt to hit his fifth homer last season.
• Angel Pagan is playing the leading man.
• Tyson Ross lost his command.
• Joey Votto dressed as a Mountie.
• Rick Renteria was ejected.
• Bartolo Colon shut down the Braves.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:
A) Braves missed hittable pitches: 1-for-14 vs. pitches over middle third of plate, height-wise (33-of-39 for strikes)
B) No walks: Colon threw five pitches with a 3-ball count, all strikes
C) Braves: 0-for-8 with men on base
Colon revealed after the game that his mother has breast cancer.
• The Braves got shut out again.
• Gio Gonzalez was dominant.
• A Marlins infielder is not happy about a scoring change.
• The Phillies bullpen continues to be a problem.
• Ben Revere’s defense is hurting the Phillies, writes Mike Sielski.
• Jesse Chavez has gotten a chance to start.
• There was a misunderstanding in a Bo Porter challenge.
• Mike Moustakas ended his 0-for start.
• The White Sox blasted a bunch of homers.
• Phil Hughes is making himself at home.
• So far, the Twins’ starting pitching looks the same.
• John Farrell is looking for more production.
• Jackie Bradley Jr. is making progress.
• A third-base prospect won’t be rushed.
• Infield weakness affected the Yankees. From Jorge Arangure’s piece:
In the first inning, after Nick Markakis had led off the game with a single to center field, the Orioles’ designated hitter, Delmon Young, hit a ground ball toward the shortstop side of second base.
After a slow couple of steps, Jeter lunged but could not snag the grounder, which went into center for a single. A shortstop with better range than Jeter’s -- he is rated near the bottom in most defensive metrics -- could have turned that grounder into a double play, or at least a forceout.
After a sacrifice fly drove in Markakis, Adam Jones hit a two-run homer.
"He dove," Manager Joe Girardi said of Jeter, who was not in the clubhouse after the game. "I mean, he did everything he could to make the play. It seemed to get through the infield fairly quickly. But he did everything he could."
A diplomatic Nova said that it was impossible to assume what would happen once a ball was put into play.
"Of course you want to get the double play, but it didn’t work out that way," he said.
• It’s too early to panic with the Orioles.