Cincy’s Infield Looks To Carry Their Weight in 2020

After hitting the eject button on Jose Peraza and with the signing of Mike Moustakas, the Reds have continued the reshaping of their infield that started last season when they grabbed Freddie Galvis off waivers. Don’t buy any jerseys yet kids, but the Reds seem to be moving in the right direction after a string of losing seasons dating back to 2014 – they lost the 2013 NL Wild Card game to the Pirates. They finally have a competitive starting rotation with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer at the top as well as some depth after the top three, so while it is weird to talk about a Reds team that needs their hitting to catch up with their pitching, that’s where they are in Cincy right now. So yeah, back to that infield situation.

Jose Peraza had his doubters after his productive 2018 season where he slashed .288/.326/.416 popping 14 home runs and stealing 23 bags in 29 attempts, good for a 96 wRC+ – not bad for your starting shortstop who also happened to be only 24 years old. Coming into 2019 it looked like shortstop was more or less locked down for the Reds. Turns out the doubters were right as Peraza had a horrible first half hitting only .222. The divisive infielder has never been one to let a pitch go by without hacking at it (swing rate 7% over league average), as evidenced by his OBP for the season which ended up at .285 even after a recovery of sorts in the second half where he hit .265. Peraza was unlucky with a BABIP of .265, but he didn’t set himself up for success either with a walk ratio of 4.2% when major league average is 8.5%. The Reds clearly had their doubts as they signed Jose Iglesias before the season started and then didn’t wait around to see if Pereza could regain the magic and grabbed Freddie Galvis off the waiver wire when Peraza struggled out of the gate. Pereza spent more time at second base and in the outfield in the second half. Interestingly, Galvis profiles a heck of a lot like Peraza with low walk rates but better defensive numbers. Galvis is older – 31 by the time the season starts – with more pop but doesn’t steal much anymore. He doesn’t have Peraza’s upside with the bat but he is more predictable at this point. Galvis slashed .260/.296/.438 in 2019 with 23 homers and while his defensive numbers were similar to Peraza’s at short in 2019, he is widely regarded as the superior defender.

Jose Iglesias is yet another slick fielding shortstop who refuses to walk but can hit a little (.288/.318/.407 slash line in 2019) if you can stomach all the outs he makes if he hits under .280. Iglesias is a free agent after a 1.6 WAR/84 wRC+ season so the Reds will have competition to resign him if they even want to. Iglesias will be 30 this season and Galvis, who is a very similar player, is under contract. It isn’t likely that Iglesias will wear the big red C on his chest in 2020. The Reds reportedly are looking at Francisco Lindor after missing out on Didi Gregorious, but back to Freddie Galvis – he is probably the starter for 2020 and a stopgap now that they’ve cut bait on Peraza who signed with Boston. Galvis will provide good to excellent defense at shortstop and home runs from the bottom of the lineup and a wRC+ around 80. They could do worse.

The Reds only big off-season acquisition so far, Mike Moustakas, became the poster boy for the new market for non-superstar hitters. In 2018, Moose could only get a late, one year deal with the Brewers for $7 million after hitting 38 homers in 2017 which in the past would have netted him a multi-year deal for good money. The Reds signed the infielder to a four year, $64 million deal this off-season taking him through his age 35 season. Moustakas has undeniable power with another 35 home runs in 2019 as a third baseman who also played about a third of his games at second. He put up solid defensive numbers at third and was a tiny bit below average at second, but he has more than enough bat to carry either spot even with only average defense at either spot. It seems that he will be the starting second baseman since the Reds already have third covered. He will be a significant upgrade even though he is another guy who doesn’t quite walk enough – only 7.0% for his career although last season he worked the free pass 9.1% of the time. If that improvement is real, Moose should maintain his near 3.0 WAR production and 110+ wRC+ offensive profile.

The guy standing in Moustakas’ way at third is Eugenio Suarez. Suarez keeps getting better and better with more and more power. His 49 home runs in 2019 was second in all of Major League Baseball behind only Pete Alonso. His power is even more remarkable when you consider that he only hit as many as 10 home runs once in his minor league career that spanned six seasons. Suarez is the complete package who gets on base, hits for power and plays good defense at third as you would expect from a former shortstop. 2019 was his second season in a row of wRC+ in the 130s (133) and his WAR was a career high 4.5 based in part on his defensive contributions. Suarez is only 28 in spite of his long professional career and should continue to put up star numbers for a few more years. He now drives the Reds offense and anchors the left side of the infield and with a team friendly 7 year deal for $66 million that takes him through his age 34 season, he will be a bargain for a few more years at least.

Joey Votto used to be the center-piece of the Reds offense but no longer. Last season was a mess for the guy who was once arguably the best pure hitter in baseball. Even with dropping power numbers, Votto had put up wRC+ numbers above 130 in every full season of this decade. His career wRC+ of 151 and his career WAR of 56.2 makes him a near lock for the Hall of Fame, but last season saw an alarming jump in his strikeout rate – up to 20.2% – and a dip in his batting average to .261 for a career .307 hitter. Is Votto done? It is hard to count out such a great hitter after just one average (for guys who AREN’T Joey Votto) season – he still had a wRC+ of 101, but it is such a precipitous drop from his standard that it sets off alarms. There is some good news for Reds fans in that Votto still hit the ball really hard each of the last two seasons with hard hit rates above 41% both seasons when his career rate is only 37.6%. His line drive rate was in line with his career rate, so Votto can still sting the ball. Pitchers attacked Votto with the slider more often last season and he struggled with that pitch more than he had in the past so an adjustment might bring back some of his Votto-ness. If Votto can take back some of his regression from last year either with the power numbers or the on base percentage, then the Reds will once again have an above average first baseman even if Votto is no longer a superstar. His defensive numbers have never been good so if he doesn’t do it with the bat there is no reason to keep running him out there (except for the remaining $80 million dollars left on his 10 year contract).

Even if the Reds don’t trade for a stud shortstop, their infield offense will still be greatly improved. Moustakas should provide value with his bat for a few more seasons and Galvis will provide pop and an excellent glove as a change and possibly a small upgrade from Peraza. There is probably something left in Votto’s tank so look for the Reds to improve upon their bottom half wRC+ in the NL (12th of 15 teams) to go with their improved pitching. There is a real chance that the Reds win more games than they lose in 2020 and that would be an accomplishment for Cincy given their struggles post 2013. I understand that excitement is usually generated by playoff runs, but small market teams like the Reds need to make improvements where they can and hope to catch some breaks. Winning is infinitely better than losing and could generate some buzz in Cincinnati. And in a division without a clear behemoth, the Reds could surprise if things break right. In a division with the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals, none of whom are at the top of their competitive cycles, the Reds need to take advantage of even small windows.

Author: elfuego25

When I'm not writing about baseball (or shoving kettle corn into my mouth at the ballpark), I am probably walking Daisy, who is a very good dog, researching my Portuguese-Irish roots, or wondering when my lovely wife will return from her latest fabulous trip. Yes, life is good!

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