Three’s A Crowd: The battle to start in the Cincinnati Outfield
By Christopher Schlueter
I hear people say that they will “trust their gut” or “go with their gut” when they have to make a tough decision. In that vein, the Reds’ front office will soon be forced to make difficult roster decisions in relation to their outfield. A recent article by Dr. Brady Salcido noted that when you are trusting your gut, you are actually trusting your brain. The “gut feeling” is an instinctual response from your brain to protect you from making what it perceives to be the wrong decision. As it stands now, the Reds are considering six outfielders for five available roster spots. There are two safe bets, Yasiel Puig will be the Reds’ starting right fielder on Opening day and Nick Senzel will tuning up in AAA as a member of the Louisville Bats on March 28, 2019. It is naïve to think the Reds will place Senzel on the opening day roster and allow him to become a free agent in 2024, instead of 2025.
Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, Phillip Ervin and Matt Kemp are competing for two starting outfield positions (LF and CF) and one reserve outfield roster position. To better forecast their 2019 performance, I visited baseball-reference.com to review their 2018 seasons:
2018: .299 BA, 7 HR, 84 hits, -0.1 WAR (0.4 career WAR), .404 OBP, .836 OPS, 281 at bats
2018: .255 BA, 17 HR, 97 hits, 1.1 WAR (3.3 career WAR), .337 OPB, .777 OPS, 380 at bats
2018: .252 BA, 7 HR, 55 hits, -0.4 WAR (-0.3 career WAR), .324 OPB, .728 OPS, 218 at bats
2018: .290 BA, 21 HR, 134 hits (1.1 WAR) .338 OPB, .818 OPS ,462 at bats
Prior to evaluating the stats from 2018, my gut was telling me that Phillip Ervin should make the Reds’ opening day roster. I was impressed with his hot start in Spring Training (.368 BA, 3 HR, .478 OBP and 1.373 OPS). However, given Ervin’s 2018 season, those numbers will not be sustainable against better pitching during the regular season. I envision Schebler being the Reds’ opening day centerfielder, he is a solid defensive outfielder, hits with power as a left-handed hitter, has a respectable OBP of .337 (the equivalent of a .300 BA is a .360 OBP) and is tied with the best WAR (1.1) among the four players.
Jesse Winker and Matt Kemp should platoon in left field until one player establishes themselves as the every day starter. Matt Kemp’s production declined significantly in the second half of last season which should cause the Reds to take a measured approach with him. Out of the four outfielders evaluated above, Winker posted the highest BA, OBP and OPS. The ability of a player to both get on base and to hit for power is represented by OPS. An OPS hovering around .900 or higher establishes the player as elite. Historically, the league leader in OPS will score close to the 1.000 mark.
In Ervin’s defense, he has improved at every level of professional baseball and is posting the best offensive numbers of any Reds’ hitter in camp. The Reds still maintain options with him, because of this, he will start the season in AAA. Ervin has a future with the Reds given the uncertainty of injuries, trades and free agency – his time is just not now.