The 2014 version of the Cincinnati Reds outfield experienced some level of disappoint. Both Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick hit below league average in 400 or more plate appearances and Chris Heisey’s 77 wRC+ in 299 PA’s didn’t help. Questions about Billy Hamilton’s bat and contact skills turned into legitimate concerns as the speedy outfielder posted a poor 0.29 BB:K ratio, tied for 122nd among 146 qualified batters. There should be power to be had with Marlon Byrd joining the team and Bruce potentially bouncing back. Just be warned that the rate stats the Reds OF will put up won’t be too pretty.
Marlon Byrd is enjoying a late career bounce-back. The 37-year-old is coming off of back-to-back seasons where he has hit over 20 home runs while posting over 70 runs scored and 80 RBIs. His walk rate in 2013-14 was less than 6% and his strikeout rate has climbed steadily so it isn’t all sunshine and roses. Byrd has upped his K% each season since 2010 with last year’s rate coming at 29%, almost 10% above the (non-pitcher) 19.9% mark. He’s benefited from a .353 and .346 BABIP in 2013-14 respectively and while Byrd does own a career .326 mark, both seasons he’s been on the fortunate end of the batted ball spectrum. It should be noted that in his last two seasons Byrd has hit fly balls at a higher ratio and ground balls less, the opposite of what one would expect given his BABIP. I’m hesitant to cite his above average line drive rate as stringer bias is something that is hard to account for. Sticking strictly with his GB/FB rates (which leave no room for creative classification), Byrd is hitting fly balls more frequently than at any time in his career. His transition from Citizen’s Park to Great American Ball Park should be smooth as both play up his right-handed power. Another season of 20+ home runs seems likely, however Byrd’s rate stats are due to come back down to earth.
Donald Lutz flashed solid power in his low-minor league days but it has failed to translate to the upper-minors. His strikeouts and poor swinging strike rate — 21.8% — limit his offensive upside. Lacking speed as well, Lutz is a replacement level bat.
While no one should be excited to draft Skip Schumaker, he is at least eligible at 2B and in the OF. He did undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in September of last year, though it was on his non-throwing shoulder. Schumaker has hit below league average for his career and should only be played if you’r desperate for MI stats.
Roaming the CF pastures will be Billy Hamilton. His speed can’t be doubted but the rest of his offensive game can be. At this point given his rate stats, lack of power and speed, Hamilton is Rajai Davis, only swapping about 20 points of AVG for 20 steals. Despite hitting leadoff all season, Hamilton’s .292 OBP — combined with a poor offensive season from most of his teammates — added up to only 72 runs scored. The old saying of “you can’t steal first” seems to speak to Hamilton as his 83% contact rate last year was above the 79.6% league average, but the weak contact turns him into outs. Right now he’s being drafted in the fifth round, 52nd overall, though he is still a mostly one category player.
Jason Bourgeois offers some speed in a fifth outfield type role, having accrued at least 20 steals in each season of his professional career. Unfortunately Hamilton already has a monopoly on speedy outfielders who struggle at the plate, and thus Bourgeois may find PA’s rather sparse.
The question of “will Jay Bruce bounce back?” is one that was asked throughout most of last season and into the off-season. In the comment section of Scott Strandberg’s Bruce piece is a great comment from reader Bobby Mueller. Of particular note is how Bruce’s strikeouts have risen over the years along with the league average while his dipping walk rate is most alarming. Bruce’s struggles the opposite way last season was another contributor to his struggles. Instead of posting his 102 wRC+ the other way, Bruce’s 2014 saw him post a brutal 48 wRC+ to the opposite field. Add in him hitting a 68 wRC+ up the middle last season versus a 122 mark for his career and we get a much clearer picture. The dip in BABIP and home run totals will likely regress closer to Bruce’s career norms, something Strandberg agrees with, though betting on Bruce with early round draft pick isn’t something I’d wager. Right now his 97 ADP and 26th outfielder off the board seem a touch high for my teams.
In the Minors
Yorman Rodriguez may not be able to crack the starting outfield just yet, but did get a late season call-up last year. Kiley McDaniel believes in Rodriguez’s 60-grade raw power, though be cautious of his strikeouts. Looking at Rodriguez’s minor league rates he owns a 25+% strikeout rate against both left and right-handed pitchers. McDaniel also gave Rodriguez an above average speed rating however he is yet to tally more than 20 steals in any minor league season.
While Jesse Winker may not get a single big league plate appearance this season, keeper and dynasty formats should be excited for him. McDaniel vies Winker’s bat and strike zone control very highly and his power is developing as well. While the counting stats may not blow you away, Winker is a safe bet to be an above average major leaguer.
With Bruce looking to bounce back, Byrd aging and Hamilton struggling to make contact, the Reds outfield lacks an early round stud. Even without a super-star, Hamilton brings value with his legs and both Byrd and Bruce figure to pop 20+ home runs each. If you’re able to parlay a team of hitters with good rate stats to balance things out, all three have a place on 12-team mixed leagues.
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