Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Whither Denorfia?

Assuming the Reds carry 7 relievers they'll have 5 bench spots available. Four of those roles are pretty much locked up:

Jeff Conine (1B/OF): The looong-time Marlin will spend most of his time as Scott Hatteberg's platoon partner at 1B while occasionally filling in at the outfield corners. Hatteberg has never been able to hit LH pitchers and at age 41 Conine is expected to be slightly above average against southpaws (.303/.375/.487 career against LHP). PECOTA sees him hitting .268/.336/.403, but those numbers could jump higher if Narron sticks to the platoon. Conine fits the "grizzled veteran who knows how to win" cliche to a tee.

Javier Valentin (C/1B): Javier followed up his career year of 2005 with a fantastically mediocre 2006. Swinging both ways (as a switch hitter), Valentin is the team's backup catcher and go-to pinch hitter. However, he'll only be useful as a pinch hitter if he actually remembers how to hit. 2005 was his age 29 season and will likely stand as his best year, but at 31 he's still young enough to improve on his below average .269/.313/.441 line of 2006. Catchers tend to mature as hitters a little later in their careers. Last year he threw out 6 of 14 basestealers and was above average behind the plate.

Juan Castro (3B/SS/2B): Assuming Freel gets an everyday spot in the outfield Castro is the Reds' only backup at 2B, 3B, and SS. He's well above average defensively at all three positions. He's well below average with the bat. Yes, he hit .284/.320/.421 with the Reds last year. That was over only 95 ABs. He's 35. He won't repeat that. But he's still one of the best late-inning defensive replacements in baseball.

Josh Hamilton (OF): His talent is superlative, but with only 89 ABs above A-ball the only reason he's on the team is because he has to be. If he isn't on the 25-man roster he gets a one-way ticket back to Tampa Bay. He's got speed, power, defense, and an incredible arm - but in his brief (89 AB) stint in AA he put up a .180/.221/.236 line...and that was six years ago. It would be in everyone's best interest if the Reds could put a deal together with Tampa Bay that would allow the Reds to send him down to the minors. But that's not going to happen, especially after his blistering spring (.487/.543/.692 in 39 ABs). He'll provide good outfield defense and the only plus power on the Reds bench as the go-to lefty pinch hitter. Here's hoping he gets a lot of fastballs this year.

That leaves one spot open for Chad Moeller, Bubba Crosby, Norris Hopper, Mark Bellhorn, Dewayne Wise, and Chris Denorfia. I'm here to say that Deno should get the spot.

No, he doesn't blow you away with any of his tools, but there's little he can't do. He can play any of the three outfield positions and play them well. He hits for a high average, has good control of the strike zone, is patient and has a decent line drive percentage (17.1% in the majors). In the minors he hit right handers to the tune of .368/.435/.502 and hit lefty's at a .303/.343/.438 clip - showing no major platoon split. He played intermittently for the Reds last year posting a .283/.356/.368 line in 120 plate appearances, but really put it together in September during which he hit .345, got on base 40% of the time, and slugged .466 over 64 PAs.

Let's take a look at the number of pitches each of the 2007 Reds starters saw per plate appearance in '06:

Dunn - 4.2
Freel - 4.1
Hatteberg - 4.0
Denorfia - 4.0
Ross - 4.0
Encarnacion - 3.8
Junior - 3.7
Phillips - 3.7
Gonzalez - 3.7

That sort of patience wears down pitchers and Deno's 4.01 P/PA would look damn good in either of the top two spots of the Reds batting order. PECOTA predicts a .291/.359/.445 line in 2007 with 37 extra base hits and 9 stolen bases. That prediction puts him just behind Dunn, Junior, and Encarnacion in '07 OPS...and ahead of everyone else.

Defensively Deno has yet to commit a fielding error in almost 300 major league innings. His zone rating in center is better than Junior's (.789 to .764). His range factor in right is significantly better than league average.

There are those in the blogging community who feel the final bench spot should go to Bubba Crosby or Norris Hopper - the only two with a realistic shot at supplanting Deno. Bubba can be summed up by his career batting line of .216/.255/.300. His zone ratings are lower than Deno's and he's 4 years older. "Scrappy" can only get you so far. Hopper's minor league body of work is largely inconsistent (other than his consistent lack of power - only 4 home runs in 9 years of professional baseball). Hopper's patience doesn't come close to Deno's and his '07 PECOTA line reads .270/.312/.313.

Oddly, no one seems to be talking about carrying three catchers any more. There's no need. Let Moeller play in Louisville until he's needed.

Bellhorn is a non-roster invitee. Let's hope he doesn't get invited. We don't need an old, poor-fielding infielder who strikes out 95% of the time.

I'll be the first to admit that Cincinnati is sometimes overly infatuated with "scrappiness" and "hustle" in their ball players. Bubba and Hopper have already earned these labels from Reds fans. I only ask that we give Chris Denorfia the opportunity to do the same.


Chris at Redleg Nation said...

Are they going with 12 pitchers for certain?

Ryan said...

It isn't certain, but I have a hard time seeing it go any other way.