Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pirates and Reds Infield Comparison

An interesting things came up on Twitter today. As I was watching some shows on my DVR in-between watching the Olympics when this article from FanGraphs about the Reds infield and their production both last year and this year. Essentially it was an article about how good Joey Votto was and illustrated that while the Reds were one of two Wild Card teams last year that they have some holes in their infield. Granted, this article was used in terms of fantasy baseball but the stats of the article doesn't invalidate the needs for the Reds to improve their infield.

While people know how great Votto is one of the very best players in the game (no matter what a certain Reds broadcaster wants you to believe) I think people have this false assumption about the value of someone like Brandon Phillips  but looking over that article I didn't realize how they were forecasted to be mediocre at best in 2014.

This got me thinking about the Pirates. Mainly because I think that they are going to be fighting tooth and nail with the Reds for one of the Wild Card spots. While the NL Central got three teams into the postseason last year I don't think we can count on that every season and with how good the Cardinals are I think the Pirates and Reds are going to be battling for a spot in the postseason. Sure things could go pretty far in one way or the other but for the time being I am treating these teams as around equal as neither team did anything substantial this offseason so far, much to the dismay of fans from both sides.

So that FanGraphs article got me thinking about the Pirates infield. The Reds really are Joey Votto and then guys playing the rest of the infield positions. The Pirates don't have a Joey Votto in the infield but I thought they had a better array of players overall.

So with that being said I am going to compare the infields of the two and see what we really have. Much like the article I linked above I am going to go with the positions of first base, second, base, third base, shortstop, and catcher. I am going to put the combined stats of the players that should start there and who should play in backup roles. I am going to stay with what FanGraphs used and go with the Steamer projections for the 2014 season.

Before we get started I just wanted to throw out the definition of a few stats that will be used. I will be using both wOBA and wRC+. Those are both advanced stats that some might not be familiar with so here are the definition of both for your information:

wOBA - Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

The wOBA formula for the 2012 season was:

wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.884×1B + 1.257×2B + 1.593×3B +
2.058×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

wRC+ - Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.” While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off of wOBA.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.

So here is what we got:

First Base

Cincinnati - Joey Votto
2014 Steamer - .296/.424/.507 | .400 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Gaby Sanchez
2014 Steamer - .254/.343/.406 | .331 wOBA

This really is a no brainer. Votto is clearly one of the best players in the league and hit for a .305/.435/.491 line with a crazy .400 wOBA. He was second in the league, and first in the NL, in OBP and while people in Cincinnati might want him to swing the bat more to get more RBIs (or something) he is incredibly dangerous. On the other side Steamer has Gaby Sanchez getting almost 550 plate appearances (320 PA in 2013). The Pirates still have no answer for the other side of the platoon and if they expect him to get that many plate appearances then it might get ugly. I do think people vastly underrate Sanchez for his ability to get on base but if he gets near 500 PA then it isn't going to be good.

Second Base

Cincinnati - Brandon Phillips
2014 Steamer - .266/.317/.408 | .307 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Neil Walker
2014 Steamer - .272/.345/.433 | .341 wOBA

Phillips is overrated. There, it had to be said. While he drove in over 100 runs last year I think we are all (or should be) past the time where RBIs are the way we evaluate players. He had only a .310 OBP in 2013 and for a guy that is supposed to be on the the cornerstones of the middle of the lineup that just isn't going to work. His 91 wRC+ is way below league average and his defense is decent. Walker on the other hand has been a lot better over the last few seasons. As you know I have been a little down on him for a good chunk of his tenure in Pittsburgh but he's increased his walk rate every season since 2010 and was at 9.1% last season and posted a 114 wRC+ and decent defense (some thanks to the defensive shifting). I think that if you asked most around the league they would prefer Walker over Phillips and while Walker can't hit from the right side of the plate I think this is a position that favors the Pirates.

Third Base

Cincinnati - Todd Frazier
2014 Steamer - .245/.316/.431 | .326 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Pedro Alvarez
2014 Steamer - .243/.317/.468 | .339 wOBA

Frazier is a guy who I am not really sure how people view. I have always been of a mindset that he is a good guy to have on the roster and while I don't think he is a guy I would want to get everyday at bats I think he would be a great guy to have off the bench. Last season he went .234/.314/.407 with 19 home runs and a 100 wRC+. Frazier was much better in 2012 when he hit for a .273/.331/.498 line but that was in 465 plate appearances rather than the 600 he got last season. His career line is .249/.318/.446 which is around what Steamer projects him to be at this season. Alvarez, as I have wrote a lot before, is a guy that I have no idea. Steamer has him going for a decent season with 29 home runs but he still is going to strike out nearly 30% of his plate appearances. I think I would probably give a slight edge to Alvarez thanks to the power and that shows up in the Steamer projections with an edge in the wOBA. I am not firm on that though as we know that Alvarez can be wildly up and down.


Cincinnati - Zack Cozart
2014 Steamer - .251/.294/.390 | .299 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Jordy Mercer
2014 Steamer - .260/.314/.391 | .309 wOBA

This would be a runaway for Cincinnati if Clint Barmes were going to be the starter for the Pirates. He isn't though (thankfully). Cozart isn't good. At all. Last season Cozart had an abysmal 79 wRC+ and had only a .284 OBP. He does play some good defense which is a plus but he is forecasted to not even be a .300 OBP guy which is actually better than his .287 lifetime OBP. Mercer is going to takeover a majority of the shortstop duties this season and while he is a vast improvement from Barmes he still is a pretty streaky hitter. We saw at times last year when he went on tears when you couldn't get the guy out only to be followed by weeks where he couldn't get on base. Last season he went for a .285/.336./435 line but is projected to regress this season. The one problem is that Mercer isn't as strong on defense but I actually think he is better than people give him credit for. Seeing Cozart a good bit last year (more than just against the Pirates) I am probably leaning towards giving this to the Pirates as I think Mercer would be the better option despite not being as good defensively.


Cincinnati - Devin Mesoraco
2014 Steamer - .246/.308/.410 | .312 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Russell Martin
2014 Steamer - .228/.322/.369 | .309 wOBA

This is a big closer than I thought it was going to be. I am a little higher on Mesoraco than maybe I should be but he can show flashes of being a really nice offensive piece for the Reds. Once again he is not going to be an OBP guy after getting on base at only a .287 clip last season and was a well below average hitter with a 74 wRC+ in 2013. Martin is a superior defensive catcher and one of the better pitch framers in the game. He steals strikes and it helped the Pirates pitching staff in a huge way last season. Martin isn't going to hit for a high average and .230 is exactly what I expect him to do. He had 15 home runs last season so he gives you some of that but what he does a great job of doing was getting on base. He was third on the team with an 11.5% walk rate and added nearly 100 points to his batting average to get a .327 OBP. If he could somehow get to be a .250 hitter I think this is an easy win for the Pirates. If you give me the choice for 2014 of taking either of these guys though, I take Martin.

Top Corner Backup

Cincinnati - Jack Hannahan
2014 Steamer - .227/.305/.342 | .289 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Josh Harrison
2014 Steamer - .269/.310/.396 | .309 wOBA

This is about even. Harrison is going to give you a better average but Hannahan is going to get on base at a better clip. I am not really sure how I feel about that because if you are going to get on base at the same rate I think I would rather have Harrison since you will have more chances to score runs with a hit than a walk (maybe that's true?) but I am not a huge fan of Harrison so who knows. Last season Hannahan went .216/.317/.288 and has a career average line of .232/.316/.349 (84 wRC+, .298 wOBA). I don't think either of these guys are huge factors but Steamer gives the Pirates the advantage. I gave Harrison this spot because he is the most likely guy to fill in for Alvarez. I would have put the other first base platoon option here but I have no idea who that is going to be so this could be completely different in a few weeks.

Top Middle Backup

Cincinnati - Skip Schumaker
2014 Steamer - .258/.321/.343 | .296 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Clint Barmes
2014 Steamer - .223/.274/.334 | .267 wOBA

I think it is pretty easy to say that Skip Schumaker wins this category. Steamer actually has Barmes with 79 plate appearances but I have to imagine that he will get more playing time than that, even if he isn't on the team at the end of the season.

Backup Catcher

Cincinnati - Brayan Pena
2014 Steamer - .258/.297/.376 | .295 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Tony Sanchez
2014 Steamer - .240/.306/.369 | .299 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Chris Stewart
2014 Steamer - .230/.302/328 | .283 wOBA

The Reds let go of Ryan Hanigan last season and are going with Pena this year. Hanigan had a tough year last year only hitting .198 but was able to get on base at a .306 clip despite not hitting very well. Pena really isn't all that good. Last season he hit .297/.315/.397 with the Tigers but is a career .258/.292/.359 hitter (72 wRC+, .285 wRC+) so last year might have been a lot better than what you should expect. His best season was a 0.3 fWAR and is projected to go -0.4 fWAR this season. Steamer only has Sanchez with 68 plate appearances which seems low considering that Martin isn't going to be able to take nearly that many at bats. After coming up and holding his own last season (.233/.288/.400, 92 wRC+) I think we can probably assume he is going to backup Martin. I guess I shouldn't assume that since they signed Stewart, but I am not a fan of him getting any significant playing time. He does get on base at a decent clip as compared to his average (.211/.293/.272, 58 wRC+) and is a good defensive catcher but if it were me I would want Sanchez up.

Well there you have it. I guess this really comes down to whether you like the whole (Votto) or the sum of the parts (Martin, Alvarez, Walker, Mercer). I think that is a tough question because Votto is the kind of guy that you would kill to have on your team. He can literally do it all and is probably the best hitter in the National League. He understands what needs to be done and doesn't get himself out. That being said his surrounding cast makes it really tough for him to be productive and the Pirates, in my option, have the better all around talent but doesn't have that breakout guy that even comes close to Votto.

This was a nice little breakdown to see what the infield is like on both teams. It is a little closer of a gap than I thought it was originally going to be but that is what is going to make this season so fun. These two teams should be in the thick of the race and role players like Cozart, Mercer, Mesoraco, Sanchez, etc. are going to decide who makes the playoffs and who doesn't.

Spring training is almost here and that is a great thing.

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