Thursday, October 16, 2008

2008 Season Review: Infield

Well, in the beginning you project and in the end you review. We've already projected for the infield, so it's time to look back on what was.

So, it's time to look back at what was a most disappointing season for the Reds in 2008. Right off the bat, it's obvious that things didn't go as expected. Alex Gonzalez and David Ross were presumptive starters when I did my season preview, but clearly things changed in a hurry. Ross was bumped by the mighty Paul Bako and A-Gon missed the entire season. Unfortunately, the only player who lived up to expectations was Joey Votto.

C: David Ross

Here is what the ZIPS and Bill James projections looked like for David Ross.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .233/.311/.458/.768 in 330 ABs with 19 HRs, 50 RBI, and 38 Runs.
ZIPS: .203/.275/.369/.644 in 187 ABs with 8 HRs, 24 RBI, and 18 Runs.

Actual 2008: .231/.381/.366/.747 in 134 ABs with 3 HRs, 13 RBI, and 17.

So, it's time to look back at what was a most disappointing season for the Reds in 2008.

Even in hindsight, it's difficult to know what to make of David Ross, as he remains an enigma even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Looking ahead to 2008, I expected Ross split the difference between his 2007 and 2008 seasons. His 2007 BABIP was a paltry .228, so I expected his batting average to rebound to the .225-.230 range. He managed to hit .231 for the Reds, but I won't break my arm patting myself on the back, because I also expected him to sustain his power production, which clearly didn't happen. His AB/HR dropped from 18.3 in 2007 all the way to 44.7 in 2008.

While his power vanished, his on base skills took a big jump forward. His BB/PA increased from .087 in 2007 to an absurdly good .190 in 2008.

Ultimately, Ross never fit in with the new regime in Cincinnati and the Reds cut ties with him in August. Thankfully, I won't have to try to figure him out for 2009.

1b: Joey Votto

2008 Projections
Bill James: .307/.388/.533/.920 in 460 ABs with 24 HRs, 71 Runs, and 81 RBIs.
ZIPS: .281/.357/.466/.823 in 556 ABs with 23 HRs, 55 Runs, and 88 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .297/.368/.506/.874 in 526 ABs with 24 HRs, 69 Runs, and 84 RBIs.

Bill James was pretty solid with his projection for Votto, though he overstated his slash line a bit.

The big question with Joey Votto heading into 2008 was whether the Reds would actually give him the job. Scott Hatteberg was the consumate professional hitter and had years of experience on his side, which Dusty Baker had always favored during his managerial career. Even so, the Reds did the right thing and gave Votto the bulk of the playing time, ultimately parting ways with Scott Hatteberg in early June.

Votto rewarded their confidence with a stellar rookie season. In 2009, the Reds should expect to see better a better on base percentage from Votto unless Dusty Baker really is trying to make him a more aggressive hitter. However, there is some evidence that Votto was more aggressive in 2008.

In 2007, he swung at the 1st pitch 33% of the time, while in 2008 he swung at the 1st pitch 38% of the time. In 2007, he saw 3.81 pitches per plate appearance, but in 2008 he saw 3.70 pitches per plate appearance. In 2007 the percentage of Plate Appearances that resulted in 3-0 counts was 7%, but in 2008 it was down to 5%.

It'll be interesting to see what approach Votto brings to the table in 2009. It's possible that the Reds wanted him to get more aggressive in 2008 or it's possible that his 2007 approach was the result of a small sample size. Still, Votto's minor league numbers indicate better plate discipline to come. If it doesn't happen, then maybe you have to look at the coaching staff.

However, it's hard to be at all disappointed with what Votto did in 2008 and better days should be on the horizon. Votto should continue to improve his on both his on base percentage and his homerun rate, as power is often the last tool to develop.

The Reds did "set it and forget it" with Votto and they were rewarded.

2b: Brandon Phillips

2008 Projections
Bill James: .268/.316/.438/.754 in 630 ABs with 23 HRs, 90 Runs, and 79 RBI.
ZIPS: .271/.325/.435/.760 in 568 ABs with 21 HRs, 87 Runs, and 79 RBI.

Actual 2008: .261/.312/.442/.754 in 559 ABs with 21 HRs, 80 Runs, and 78 RBI.

In 2008, Phillips took a step backward that I expected, especially the significant decline in on base percentage. To me, Phillips was overrated offensively after his 30/30 season in 2007 and he struck me as a very strong sell-high candidate. While Phillips did some nice things in 2007, his most impressive feats were largely driven by playing time. By and large, he achieved his 30/30 season because he rarely walked. Personally, I'd rather trade some homers for a more disciplined approach and a bump in walk rate. In 2008, Phillips' slash line really wasn't very impressive, as his on base percentage was driven by batting average and hit by pitches, and his OPS was only .816.

Phillips' defense was stellar as usual, but it'll be interesting to see what Phillips brings to the table offensively in 2009. He clearly needs to make some adjustments, as pitchers took advantage of his aggressive approach last year.

3b: Edwin Encarnacion

2008 Projections
Bill James: .287/.355/.476/.831 in 494 ABs with 19 HRs, 66 Runs, and 79 RBIs.
ZIPS: .291/.361/.460/.821 in 506 ABs with 18 HRs, 70 Runs, and 78 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .251/.340/.466/.806 in 506 ABs with 26 HRs, 75 Runs, and 68 RBIs.

This offseason, my perspective on Edwin changed. As he came up through the minors, I thought he might be our version of David Wright. For me, after several seasons of waiting on Edwin, the presumption on him flipped. No longer was I expecting him to be a quality player until he proved otherwise, now I am expecting him to be a mediocre, inconsistent player until he proves otherwise.

Unfortunately, Edwin seems to be what I presumed him to be. He has yet to put it together for a full season and maybe next year will AGAIN be the year. But, I'm done waiting on him. For me, he is what he appears to be. A solid hitter with an iron glove.

SS: Alex Gonzalez

2008 Projections
Bill James: .254/.308/.416/.724 in 425 ABs with 13 HRs, 51 Runs, and 55 RBIs.
ZIPS: .257/.317/.417/.734 in 432 ABs with 14 HRs, 57 Runs, and 58 RBIs.

Actual 2008: --None--

The only thing that can be said about A-Gon's 2008 season is that we may need to take a serious look at our medical staff. I've been unimpressed in the past with our team's injury track record, but it just doesn't seem reasonable for Gonzalez to have never set foot on the field because of a compression fracture in his knee. It just doesn't seem like the type of injury that should sideline a player for an entire season.

Inf: Jeff Keppinger

2008 Projections
Bill James:
.321/.380/.430/.810 in 365 ABs with 5 HRs, 49 Runs, and 36 RBIs.
ZIPS: .307/.360/.408/.768 in 449 ABs with 6 HRs, 60 Runs, and 48 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .266/.310/.346/.656 in 459 ABs with 3 HRs, 45 Runs, and 43 RBIs.

Keppinger was one of the real surprises in 2008 and not in a good way. Keppinger's offensive game is driven by his batting average and if his batting average is down then he just doesn't bring much to the table.

Keppinger's component stats in 2008 weren't far off from his 2007 season, which makes his fall off the cliff a bit unusual.

Line Drive%: 2007 (21.3%) 2008 (21.0%)
Groundball%: 2007 (46.5%) 2008 (51.0%)
Flyball%: 2007 (32.2%) 2008 (28.0%)
HR/FB: 2007 (6.8%) 2008 (2.4%)
AB/HR: 2007 (48.2) 2008 (153.0)
Contact%: 2007 (93.57%) 2008 (93.48%)
BABIP: 2007 (.335) 2008 ( .275)

The clear difference is he traded in some flyballs for some groundballs, which also helps explain why his homerun rate fell. Still, Keppinger managed to walk (30) more than he struck out (24), which is impressive, but needs to be combined with more production. I'd expect a rebound in 2009, as his stellar linedrive rate and below average BABIP points to a substantially higher batting average next year. He needs to get the ball in the air a bit more, but he'd be hard pressed to have such an astonishingly low percentage of his flyballs stay in the park.

Unfortunately, Keppinger may have revealed himself to be more of a utility player. One of the unfortunate aspects of professional baseball is that players often get unfairly labeled early on and aren't able to shake off that label to get the opportunity they deserve. For Keppinger, 2008 may have been his best chance at claiming a starting job.

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