A red-hot debate: A comparison of Indians and Reds hitters
A few weeks back, I wrote an article about the Indians having nine players from Baseball America's top 100 from 2009. it was well received, and it received a lot of great comments. Still, there was one comment that stood out: Dennis said it would be interesting to see how high all stars had peaked on the top 100 lists. While I liked this idea a lot, I wanted to adapt it a bit.
So, that is how this column was born, where I will look at the Indians vs. the Reds, position by position, and compare where these players peaked on the top 100. The Reds have the second best record in baseball and being the in-state rival with a similar economic model, it seemed like a natural comparison point. For this article, I am going to use the player who has the most at-bats, and I will be skipping DH, since it would be an unfair comparison.
So here it is, the battle for Ohio broken down position by position. For this article, I am going with the bats, and next week I will break down the pitchers.
Casey Kotchman (6) Vs Joey Votto (43)
So right off the bat, we see the problem with BA top 100 lists. Kotchman was ranked four times, and the worst rank was 22nd. He seemed like a future star while Votto seemed more destined to be a good player. I remember talking to Reds fans, who were thinking he might end up in the outfield to make room for Yonder Alonso. This matchup shows the major problem with these ranks as the future star is thought of lightly, but the borderline player is thought to be the major star. It shows me that maybe it is more important to be ranked than where a player is ranked. So we are one position in and the Indians are up 1-0 in BA ranks, and the Reds are up 1-0 in actual production.
Jason Kipnis (54) vs. Brandon Phillips (7)
Kipnis only had two years he could have been ranked, and his first year, he was a second round pick with little fanfare, so he had no chance to be rated. Phillips was a young player, who had done very well at Triple-A, in spite of being years younger than most players there. He was a super athlete with major upside. He was rushed to the majors, and well, the rest is history. In this case we see very similar rankings to the first basemen, but in this case, the future star became well, a star. As for Kipnis, the jury is still out. After a great first two months, he has struggled offensively. This allows the Reds to tie it up at 1-1 for BA and to go up 2-0 for actual production
Asdrubal Cabrera (UR) vs. Zach Cozart (75)
Asdrubal gives us our first unranked player, and that player is one of the top five players at his position over the last two years. There is some rational for this, he was rushed by the Mariners. Then the year after the Indians traded for him, he was in the majors. Still, he had a good season as a 19-year-old player in the rookie leagues and low A, but he was an unheralded player, so unless he was dominant, there was little chance for him to be ranked. On the other hand, Cozart while showing great power this year, has a sub 300 OBP, but has shown enough to look like he should lock down the SS position in Cincinnati for awhile. This match up gives the Reds a 2-1 lead in BA, and the Indians get on the board, trailing with a 2-1 score in actual production.
Jack Hannahan (UR) vs. Todd Frazier (43)
I don't think that anyone is surprised to that Hannahan is unranked. He was a 3rd round pick but never put up giant numbers in the minors to stand out. Frazier, on the other hand, was well-thought of and ranked multiple times in the top 100. This season he has really helped the Reds fill the gap that was left by Votto's injury. The question becomes has he taken the leap or is this a career-best run? I tend to think it is a leap because the power has always been there. In comparison, Hannahan has always been up and down with the bat, some alright seasons, some awful. Yet his defense is beyond question and should keep him in the majors for awhile going forward. This was a harder position to judge because Frazier has played 99 games this year and been great, but he is still unproven to a degree. Still, it's hard to ignore that in almost four times as many games played than Frazier, Hannahan has only four more home runs. I think that Frazier right now looks like a potential above average third basemen while Hannahan should be no more than a back up. This means the Reds go up 3-1 in BA rankings and 3-1 in actual production.
Carlos Santana (10) vs. Ryan Hanigan (UR)
For those who aren't familiar with Hanigan, he is a guy who took five years to get a cup of coffee with the Reds and seven years to really stick. Still not bad for a guy that no college wanted and went undrafted. Hanigan is really a player who is easy to pull for with a great story. He is an solid player, no power at all, but doesn't strikeout or really walk either. He is hitting near 300, but advanced stats show he has been a bit lucky. He, much like Hannahan on the Tribe, is a solid hard working vet, who is an ideal back up on a team. Santana had a horrible stretch this season but is still 7th in OWAR ahead of such names as Napoli, Weiters and Avila. People were upset at his production, but he is still third on this team in OWAR and OPS. He might never be the star that everyone envisioned, but he would still be a starter at catcher for almost every team in baseball right now. Indians win this battle both ways. The score is now, 3-2 Reds in actual and BA ranks.
Shin-Soo Choo (51) vs. Jay Bruce (1)
As I write this, these two players have nearly identical walk and strikeout totals. Bruce has more power, but Choo has more hits and gets on base at a higher percentage. They are two excellent players, who are easy to compare, but one thing that should be noted. I know most people would say that Bruce is the better player; he has made more all star games and shown great power. Yet Choo grades better in WAR, both with and without defense included. When you use a stat like OPS+, which is ballpark adjusted, Choo is the 11th best hitter in all of baseball over the last 4 years (credit stat to Grant Brisbee of SBNation). I feel like Choo is so underrated, he is not even fully appreciated by the fans in Cleveland. He is a legit star playing for us every day in right, and I don't think he will be ever be fully appreciated because he doesn't post monstrous numbers in any one area. Instead he is just very good in everything. In the best and toughest comparison, I think Choo is the better player. BA rank is 4-2, actual rank is 3-3.
Michael Brantley (UR) vs. Drew Stubbs (88)
I got to think at this point, Drew Stubbs is one of the more disappointing Reds players in the past two years. He was a third round pick out of high school, went to school and the Reds made him the 8th overall selection in 2006. Three years later, he was in the majors and looked primed to be a solid to above average regular. But since then, he has posted sub 700 OPS, and led the National League in strikeouts last year with 205. Brantley, on the other hand, has posted OPS over 700 the last two years, including a 759 this year, which is 9th best among centerfielders in baseball. He has already past his plate appearance total from last season and has cut down his strikeouts by 27 while increasing his doubles by 10 thus far this year. He has really shown improvements in all aspects of his game. Brantley easily takes this one as Stubb's metrics show him to be a player who is below league average. Indians gain the lead in actual ranks at 4-3, while the Reds run up the BA score to 5-2.
Shelley Duncan (UR) Vs. Ryan Ludwick (81)
Ryan Ludwick had been a solid to great player since 2007, up until last year where he seemed to fall apart. The Reds signed him on the cheap for 2 million, and he has been one of the better free agent signings this year. The Reds have a 5 million dollar option on him for next season which they will surely pick up after Ludwick's year. In 100 games, he has 25 homeruns, 23 doubles, a 908 OPS and a WAR of 2. He has been arguably the second best hitter this year on the Reds. I know a lot of Indians fans judge him still on his 3-year run with the Tribe. In the first year, he actually performed solid but then over the next two seasons was given less than 100 at-bats. For everyone thinking that he is just benefiting from his home ballpark, his road OPS is 883. So wherever Ludwick is, he is hitting. The Indians are paying Duncan a quarter of what the Reds are playing Ludwick, I just wish he had provided a quarter of the production. Instead Duncan is showing why at the age of 32, he has never be given much of an extended look as a starter and why he was let go by the Yankees. So this ends the battle, actual at 4-4 and BA score at 6-2.
So the question should be, how the heck can these two teams on much different paths spilt positional talent? The reason is simple. When the Indians won for the most part, the Reds had a player who was still a solid regular. When the Reds won at a position, it was in a dominant fashion because they have star-type players, and the Indians have bench guys. The Indians are starting a few players who should be no more than backups. If nothing else, this shows the importance of having players who are capable starters and not retreads.
The other aspect of this listing is that it shows that while many often chide Baseball America and other sources, frankly, the best chance for forming a winning team is by collecting players who are thought to be the most talented. Even if the flame out rate is high, the teams who have the most blue chippers end up often being the ones whose windows to contend open longer. The Reds have one starter who was never ranked in the top 100, but he is merely a seat warmer, who is splitting time with Devin Mesoraco, who was ranked 16th last year and widely considered the best catching prospect in the game.
This is a case of two teams whose window for contention was both supposed to be this year. Both teams traded way their picks from the 2010 draft (Pomeranz and Grandal) to acquire a potential ace (Jimenez and Latos). One would actually give the Indians the advantage over the Reds since the Indians were such free spenders in the baseball draft, and neither team is a landing place for free agents. Yet it is the Reds who sit with one of the best records in baseball, and whose players are the ones who make the leap as they develop. Some might claim it's a degree of luck, and this is partially true. Yet after this season, I think the real story is more about selection and development.
Keep your eyes open in the next two weeks, the second half of this article will be posted, and it's where we 'll go over the top five starters and the main three pen arms.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org