Reshaping a team core comes with reshaping team analytics – or, at least the goal is to craft players within a certain subset of principles. Each player will have natural talent they are inclined to favor (power, getting on base, choice of stat here), and in that nature, the team principles taught might be best thought of as a way to control the random chaos of baseball. Creating an orderly lineup within a game of disorderly results.
Thus, one of the underlying theories of evaluating a team reshaping the core is to analyze those players they are shaping; players who have the talent to subtly manage their own game. The Reds are one of those teams rebuilding with a split between stark promise and those who, bluntly, are roster spots. In some regards, Cincinnati is a universe revolving around the Joey Votto-style of baseball – low rate of outside swings, high contact, the simplicity of getting on base. Overall, they have the fourth lowest swinging-strike percentage in the MLB (9.6 percent), are tied for the fifth lowest outside-swing percentage (29.1 percent) and are tied for the second highest-contact rate (79.5 percent) with the Boston Red Sox.
There is sensibility of principled baseball despite their slight record. Effectively, however, the main separating point between teams such as the Red Sox and Reds is visualized in their spray chart on base hits; Boston with a wide range, Cincinnati lacking viability of power. There is something to be said about Cincinnati having the MLB’s fifth-best batting average (.259), but that average is held back by a .144 ISO and a .401 SLG mark (bottom third of the MLB). Cincinnati’s range of contact is quaint, more akin to a peaceful breeze than a bombastic wind.
Philosophically, the peaceful wind of contact is bound to the style of pitches attacked, their underlying method of creating order. Further defining that order (and leading with summation), they have a knack to lead pitchers into throwing them a favorable pitch with foul-balls and an inclination for avoiding weak contact. And while Votto might be the veteran tangentially modeling an established career, the success of Scooter Gennett, Jesse Winker, Curt Casali, and Jose Peraza reflect effectiveness seasons from now.
To note, if any player can be removed from this group, it would be Gennett, who has intrinsic power and might be termed the most natural player. However, he still falls into the binding theme of an academic plate-approach under the adage of leading pitchers into contact and lowering swinging-strike percentage. Between all four players, they have only 724 swings outside of the zone. Not surprisingly, the aberration pitches far outside are mostly Gennett swinging – remove his partiality to power, and the chart loses wild swings and the knuckle curve.
Moving inside the zone, the Cincinnati four have only 10.3 percent whiffs, with 39.1 percent fouls, 32.6 percent balls batted into plays, and 18 percent hits. One of the most impressive aspects of the inside contact has been the lack of weak contact opposed to the flare, solid, or barrel contact. Hence, within their categorized principles, Cincinnati has shaped the type of pitches which need to be attacked inside the zone. Again, that point of avoiding handing a pitcher a quick-out, instead creating foul balls and probability in launch-angle. Although they overwhelmingly have better contact than average, their lack of deep power (exit velocity) is seen in the classic moon-shot of under contact.
Principled swinging might be best reflected in the evolved in-game attack. As the game progresses, these players make contact in a tighter range with higher exit velocity. The results in innings one through three have been a method to create more power contact, albeit, at the risk of weaker contact. Hence, a method of sorting through how to attack during the remainder of the game while taking a risk on some intrinsic fastballs. From innings four through six, the contact group becomes smaller, and thus the spray chart also becomes more oriented toward singles with less power. They become more principled to find the average rate of success. Even though power is lost, they are becoming better at capitalizing on simplicity.
Inning seven through nine are the most evident of how Cincinnati is shaping their players to hit for the average rate of success. Regard, this is a team which overwhelmingly has found a way to chip away late in games. (The Cincinnati four have combined for a .304 AVG; 128 wRC+ split in high leverage, .289 AVG; 111 wRC+ in innings seven through nine).
Their attack becomes tuned for breaking pitches (or finding the breaking pitches which do not break) and thus into making less powerful contact but creating more functional contact on average. They remove the risk from themselves by avoiding wild swings, and thus force pitchers to throw breaking balls into the zone. 28.7 percent of their swings in the late innings have gone into play, while another 37.8 percent have gone for fouls. That punctual ability to create foul balls and chip away at pitchers creates long-at bats to reveal weak-points, wears down relievers, and eventually lead to a swing-worthy breaking ball.
Cincinnati may not be the most successful or powerful team within the moment. But, this is only the moment of crafting. The Joey Votto way of baseball might be a grinding and dying way of baseball. The Votto way of baseball might even be a misnomer for power-hitters such as Gennett. Yet, in the end, the underlying philosophy of Cincinnati’s baseball is to remove intrinsic risk in swinging and create order by forcing the pitcher to make the first risk.