The Cincinnati Reds should feature a productive offense and a strong defense in 2011, but will Dusty Baker’s lineup construction optimize either asset? Looking at recent history, which includes poor OBP at the top of the order and his best defensive shortstop on the bench, that may not happen without a few helpful suggestions. So Dusty, If you’re reading this,here are four moves to help improve your run production and run prevention alike.

1. Ryan Hanigan should be the primary catcher and hit in the two-hole.

This should not be a difficult decision. Hanigan is better defensively than Ramon Hernandez and he possesses better plate discipline and on-base skills than Baker’s other top-of-the-order options.

Hernandez logged more plate appearances [352] than Hanigan [243] last season, but the latter was more productive, hitting .300/405/.429 to Hernandez’s .297/.364/.428. Going forward, the 30-year-old Hanigan should be able to at least approximate his 2010 performance, while the 35-year-old Hernandez, given his age, track record over the past four seasons, and .332 BABIP, is likely to regress. Hanigan, who had a .313 BABIP, has a career .379 OBP in the big leagues — 50 points higher than Hernandez — and at this stage of their careers their power numbers are comparable.

A move from the eight-hole to second in the order may result in Hanigan’s walk rate [13.6] decreasing somewhat, but with a speedy Drew Stubbs on first base [more on that in a minute] and Joey Votto at the plate instead of the pitcher, he will also see more fastballs. That should only help his team-best 20.8 line-drive rate, while his combination of patience and contact skills [10.3 K rate] will aid the running game. Brandon Phillips, who spent time in the two-hole last year when not leading off, had inferior walk [6.7] and K [13.3] rates and is better suited to hit lower in the lineup.

2. Drew Stubbs should be the leadoff hitter.

Yes, the young outfielder struggled when put in this role last season, but unlike Phillips [career .316 OBP], we don’t yet know what he is capable of. We know that in a short sample size as a leadoff hitter, early in his first full season, he wasn‘t impressive. But we also know that he reached base at better than a .390 clip over the last two months and that his on-base numbers in the minor leagues were consistently above average. His 2010 walk rate was a solid 9.4, so he is by no means averse to accepting a free pass.

Stubbs strikes out more than you’d like from a leadoff hitter, but Dusty Baker loves speed at the top of the order — Corey Patterson and Willy Taveras, anyone? — and Stubbs certainly has wheels. He led the team with 30 steals last year and that number should only rise as his on-base skills mature. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see him steal 50 bases as early as this season.

Many Reds fans will look at Stubbs’ 22 home runs, and potential to hit 30-plus, and say that he should hit behind Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen. There is merit to that argument, but given Baker’s limited options — and the fact that starting a game with a 1-0 lead isn’t a bad thing — there really isn’t anyone on the current roster who profiles better as a leadoff hitter. The only one who comes close is the player who should get the lion’s share of time in left field, and no, he isn’t named Gomes.

3. Fred Lewis should platoon with Jonny Gomes.

Gomes is a popular player, he hits for some power and had some timely RBIs last year, but he simply isn’t that good. That isn’t to say he can’t play a valuable role on the 2011 Reds, but it shouldn’t be as the full-time left fielder. Gomes does one thing well — hit left-handed pitching — and everything else below average.

Playing a position that demands offensive production, Gomes hit .266/.327/,431 last year — essentially replacement level — and his splits were striking. He hit .285/.378/.479 against portsiders, but against right-handed slants he went just .257/.301/.408, which is shortstop-hitting-in-the-eight-hole territory [on this team, that would be Paul Janish; more on him soon]. Add in the fact that Gomes is sub-par defensively, and what you have is a situation that screams for a platoon.

The left-handed-swinging Lewis is by no means an impact player, but he counterbalances Gomes’ weaknesses. He plays far better defense, runs well, and doesn’t suck against right-handers. He provides better OBP [.348 over his career], and while he possesses less raw power than Gomes, he did go deep 8 times in 335 at bats against right-handers last summer. Great American Ballpark is friendly to balls driven to right field, so Lewis could reach double digits given the same amount of playing time, putting him on a par with the 12 Gomes hit versus righties. All of that said, Chris Heisey would probably outperform a Lewis-Gomes platoon, but given the unlikelihood of him being given that opportunity, Lew-Go is Baker’s best option in left field.

4. Edgar Renteria should be nothing more than an afterthought.

One year ago, Paul Janish appeared poised to take over the shortstop position, only to see 35-year-old Orlando Cabrera signed to a contract and handed the job. While Janish and his gold-glove-quality defensive skills subsequently languished on the bench, Cabrera’s hack-tastic hitting approach [.303 OBP], minimal power [.354 SLG], and not-what-it-once-was defense added sparse value. Cabrera has since departed and been replaced by another aging shortstop whose best days are long behind him.

It is a well-accepted fact that Janish won’t hit much, but does he really need to at the bottom of the order on a National League club? What he does is play spectacular defense, and a Phillips-Janish keystone combination would be among the best in the game. Run prevention will play a huge role in the team’s chances this season, and Baker will be doing his pitching staff a huge favor if he plays talent ahead of what is left of Renteria.

If Janish gets hurt — or if he hits like Ray Oyler instead of approximating the .260/.338/385 he put up last year — there are better fall-back options than Renteria. Zach Cozart is waiting in the wings, having provided strong defense, 17 home runs, and 30 stolen bases in Triple-A last year, while Chris Valaika is a good young hitter who catches what he gets to. Janish, Cozart and Valaika all have promise, and 37-year-old Miguel Cairo already provides greybeard infield depth, so Renteria should be deemed superfluous. Trust the kids, Dusty.

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Agreed on all 4 counts, but unfortunately the odds of Dusty batting Hanigan high in the order is less than him giving Heisey the full-time gig in LF. While Dusty loves speed at the top of the order, he hates slow even more. Hanigan is your standard catcher on the basepaths and Dusty does not wanting him "clogging the bases".

Regarding Janish, I've contended that his 2010 line is completely repeatable. He suffered from an extremely low BABIP in 2009 and 2010 (.230 & .247) and spent much of the 2010 offseason working on his wrist strength so he could drive the ball more. His BABIP was merely reasonable last year (.283) while his other peripherals stayed steady. He's still no big threat, but I'd put his over/under at .260/.330/360, easily enough for a guy who's a top defender.

If Dusty does platoon LF, I imagine you'll see Lewis leading off when plays. I do have to ask, why is a high strikeout rate a bad thing in a leadoff man? Isn't the value of making contact highest when there are men on base? Therefore, doesn't the leadoff spot minimize the cost of the strikeout relative to other outs?
Really good article.

Quick question (something that's been bugging me for a while). This piece is on the BP Unfiltered blog, yet is long and meaty enough to have been a full-fledged article. That's true of about 1/2 of what I wee on unfiltered. Why the distinction?
Pretty much agree with everything you're saying. Although I also think that Dusty will have Lewis will lead off when he plays, though. Hanigan has a good eye, good contact skills, and to me would be a great choice for the two hole. He SHOULD catch 120 games. Check the team ERA when he was in vs. Hernandez... it was the better part of a run per game LOWER.
When I clicked through I expected a discussion of how Baker should choose among the rotation candidates, or at least what would happen with Aroldis Chapman. Still a good blurb, and this omission may in part be why it's found in Unfiltered instead of being a comprehensive article.
Though I'm no BP writer, here's the rotation lowdown:

Arroyo, Volquez, Cueto:
These guys are the locks. Arroyo will most likely be the opening day starter due to his veteran status. I'm guessing Voqluez will be given the #2 slot since he's seen as have the higher ceiling, but it could go either way between he and Cueto.

Bailey, Wood, Leake:
Homer Bailey is out options and has not taken well in past attempts to pitch out of the bullpen due to difficulty in getting warmed up quickly. And though it wasn't really talked about nor reflected in his ERA, he really took a big step forward performance-wise last year, especially after coming of the DL in August, as his 3.74 FIP will attest. Travis Wood was stellar after replacing Leake mid-season. Due to his being a lefty and demonstrating he can handle a full workload (202.2 IP last year), he's got the inside track on the 5th starter role. Leake was good while he was fresh, but wore out mid-season. He relies on pinpoint control and good movement, so he's prone to falling off the cliff when he's fatigued. Expect him to start in AAA.

He is not considered a candidate to be a starter this year and will serve as the LH setup man. This is due to both giving him more time to adjust to the culture in a lower stress environment and allowing him to hone his control against major league pitchers.

Maloney, LeCure:
Both guys have pitched well in AAA (Maloney especially), have had successful cups of coffee and have clearly shown they belong in the majors. But they're more back of the rotation type guys and even a great spring wouldn't put them in the major league rotation picture. One of them could find himself in long relief. But most likely, they're organizational depth who will only get an extended opportunity in the case of multiple injuries to the guys above them.
Nice article. From what PECOTA is saying, I've got them in line for about 99 wins this year, given the across the board above average pitching staff.

I dont think Baker will take any of your recommendations to heart, and I wouldnt be shocked to see Renteria playing 120 games and hitting 2nd all year.
Regarding the question of Unfiltered versus “full-fledged” articles, the primary difference is that the former doesn’t go through the editorial process; they are simply posted by the author [there are exceptions]. In this particular case, knowing that we have a backlog of articles just now, I opted to put it up as an Unfiltered.

As for not writing about Aroldis Chapman, my original plan was to do so, but I ultimately opted to stick with lineup issues. What I’d have written about Chapman, in a nutshell, is that Dusty should use him like a 1989 Norm Charlton: sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes three innings. The long-term plan is to make him a starter, so work him toward that by giving him innings that would otherwise go to inferior relievers.

As for the starting rotation, that would be a full article by itself, and a challenging one at that. There are a lot of hard-to-answer questions. Will Homer Bailey be this year’s Clay Buchholz or will he completely flame out? Will Travis Wood log the most wins on the staff -- I think it’s quite possible -- or will he spend just as much time in Louisville as he does in Cincinnati? That is just the tip of the iceberg.
Okay, I confess. I totally missed the six weeks of Homer Bailey's season in which he suddenly turned into a real-live major league pitcher. Just didn't see it. And clearly something wonderful and magical happened. Because now everything I read has Homer Bailey firmly anchored in the rotation and Mike Leake, well, y'know, whatever, he doesn't really, y'know, his stuff is, didja see Homer?

Mike Leake's debut was one of the most impressive things I've seen in I don't know how long. Straight from college to a major league rotation and damned sharp from day one. Meanwhile, seventh time's the charm for Homer?

Leake is Maddux-lite. An actual student of the game, the kind of guy who makes every other pitcher on your staff smarter and better. Who do you want Volquez and Cueto talking pitching with ... Mike Leake or Homer Bailey?

How in the world do you send Mike Leake to Louisville?

So do you cut Bailey? How do you send Travis Wood to Louisville? How do you put any of them in the bullpen on long relief duty? It may not be fair, but it makes the most sense.
In not going after Tsuyoshi Nishioka the Reds missed a chance to solve two problems at once - an everyday shortstop and a switch-hitter that can bat in one of the top two sloots in the order. Janish had a high line drive percentage and was still mediocre at the plate. And DBake seems clueless as to which guy he wants to lead off (in an interview on the Reds site he gave four different names then basically threw up his hands and said it would work itself out)... Too bad as Hishioka wasn't all that expensive - probably less than the Renteria/Hernandez combo...