Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, December 1, 2023 -- "NL Central Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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Cincinnati Reds

There’s a thing where teams that feel constrained by their budgets will go out and spend money on the silliest things in an effort to buy “what they can afford” and make it seem like they’re doing something. Buying relief pitchers, which tend to be the cheapest talent, is the quickest path to my ridicule. Relievers, in today’s game, are common talents. You don’t need to buy them, you just need to find them.

So signing Emilio Pagan for two years and $16 million just makes me shake my head. This is what the Reds and teams like them do, and it never works out. Pagan had a stone fluke year with the Twins in which he had a 51% flyball rate and managed to allow just five home runs. Let’s look at some stat lines:

        Brl    AVG    SLG    wOBA   HR
2021     24   .833  2.917   1.513   15
2022     16   .875  3.000   1.610   10
2023     14   .571  1.857    .982    5

In 2022 and 2023, Pagan allowed about the same number of barrels and barrel rate, with wildly different outcomes on those batted balls. As you can see based on his 2021 stats, his 2023 is quite the outlier. The league as a whole hit .742 with a 2.492 SLG and a 1.290 wOBA on barrels in 2023, so Pagan’s numbers are well below both his norms and league norms. Pagan’s expected stats on those barreled balls are basically identical through the three-year sample.

        Brl   xAVG   xSLG   xwOBA
2021     24   .751  2.635   1.369
2022     16   .736  2.465   1.335
2023     14   .725  2.541   1.317

That’s a lot of jargon and stats, but what it comes down to is this: when Pagan got hit the hardest last year, he got lucky and the batted balls turned into outs more than they should have. That is highly unlikely to continue. With the move to Great American Ball Park, I set his 2024 line at 11.5 home runs allowed, with concomitant changes to his ERA and FIP. The Reds set money on fire by signing him.

I’m not here to just dunk on the Reds, though. The other move they made, signing Nick Martinez to a two-year deal, has a better chance to work out. Brought back from Japan by the Padres two years ago, Martinez was a big part of the team’s postseason run in 2022, and in two years allowed a 3.45 ERA (4.17 FIP) in 216 2/3 innings. He didn’t fail as a starter, either: a 3.41 ERA in 19 starts, though his walk rate spiked when asked to start. The Reds, who were down to pitching volunteers in September, needed to fill out the rotation given the health questions that surround all their young pitchers. Martinez should be able to hold down a low-volume #4 role. 

At some point, though, the Reds have to get serious about picking the guys who are going to play and picking the guys who will be traded for pitching. Right now, they have a strong young infield of rookies and sophomores, plus Spencer Steer tasked with playing left field, plus Cam Collier and Edwin Arroyo in the minors. Jonathan India, a perfectly adequate starting second baseman, has no real role. The Reds need the talent these hitters can bring back, but perhaps more importantly, they need to avoid a situation where nine players are competing for six spots and no one ever gets established. (See below, the 2023 Cardinals.) Making those choices is what this offseason is about for the Reds.