The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Cincinnati Reds

Barry Larkin is part of a very stacked Reds starting lineup. (via RDikeman)

Barry Larkin is part of a very stacked Reds starting lineup. (via RDikeman)

Paul Moehringer’s Pyramid Rating System & All-Time Teams

Aug. 27, 2015: The Pyramid Rating System: JAWS on a Career Scale

March 15, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System: The Results

Aug. 12, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System All-Time League and the All-Time Baltimore Orioles

Sept. 2, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Boston Red Sox

Sept. 28, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Texas Rangers

Oct. 19, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Brooklyn Dodgers

In our latest installment of the Pyramid Rating System’s all-time team series, we take our first look at the toughest division in the National League, the Central, which includes such historic powerhouses as the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and the team this article will be feature,  the Cincinnati Reds.

A winner of five World Series and nine pennants, the Reds, as we will soon see, feature one of the most potent lineups of any team that will be featured in this series.

Parts of a perennial power in the ’70s, members of the Big Red Machine will be prominently featured on this squad, but having been in existence since 1882, the Reds are able to pull from over 120 years of franchise history to round out the squad.

Franchise Included: Cincinnati Redlegs (1954-1959); Cincinnati Reds (1890-1953, 1960-Present)

Hall of Famers on 25-man roster: 7

Manager: Sparky Anderson

Although Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie won 744 games with the Reds over the better part of nine years, including two NL pennants and a World Series title, there is little doubt that Reds achieved their greatest success under Sparky Anderson.

Over his nine seasons managing Cincinnati, Sparky Anderson’s Reds finished lower than second in the NL West only once, and posted more 100-win seasons than they posted losing seasons (just one).

As good as the Reds were in the regular season; Anderson actually had a higher winning percentage in the playoffs, 26-16 in five appearances. It’s that .619 winning percentage that enabled the Reds to win four NL pennants and two World Series in addition to going down as one the most dominant teams in baseball history.

As dominant as his teams were in Cincinnati, if not for our one-team only rule, Anderson would also be the manager of the Detroit Tigers, since he’s the all-time leader in wins for that franchise as well. Only one other manager is taken out because of this rule and it is due to the domino effect caused by Sparky Anderson being on the Reds instead of the Tigers.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Overall, I consider Sparky Anderson to be one of the 10 greatest managers in baseball history and in a division as tough as this one, Anderson could prove to be a huge asset.

Best Overall Player, Position Player and Hitter: Joe Morgan (Honorable Mention: Johnny Bench)

The main cog in the Big Red Machine, in my opinion, Joe Morgan is no less than the greatest second baseman in National League history since Rogers Hornsby.

He was a two-time MVP and won five Gold Gloves. Morgan’s numbers are plastered all over top ten leader boards of the ’70s. Between 1972 and 1977, Morgan finished no lower than fourth in the NL in on-base percentage and led the league four times. He also finished in the top 10 in slugging every year from 1973 to 1976 and led the NL in the category in 1976. Until Daniel Murphy this year, Morgan was the last second baseman to lead the category.

Along with Hornsby, Morgan is the only second baseman to lead the NL in OPS in two or more consecutive years. He led in the category in ’75 and ’76 and finished in the top 10 every year from 1972 to 1977.

In addition, Morgan presents one of the biggest stolen base threats in the league. Although Morgan never led the league, he finished in the top five in steals every year from 1972-1977. In fact Morgan has the most stolen bases of any player in major league history who never led his league in a single season.

Behind the plate, the Reds have no less than the man  many regard as the greatest defensive catcher of all-time in Johnny Bench. But the defense tells only half of the story.

Over a 17-year career in Cincinnati, Bench led the National League in RBIs three times, which speaks not just to his power, but his durability. He played in 140+ games four times, behind the plate for the vast majority of those games. With another Hall of Famer in Ernie Lombardi backing Bench up, the Reds will not need to be as reliant on Bench’s durability as the Big Red Machine was.

Had Bench played more games at other positions, he might have been even better.  Although I disagree with the notion that Bench is the hands down greatest defensive catcher of all-time, I would still  consider him the favorite to win the Gold Glove, as he did 10 times in his career.

The number of catchers in either league who can match Bench’s combination of offense and defense could be counted on one hand with more than one finger left over.

Best Pitcher: Bucky Walters (Honorable Mention: José Rijo)

Although there are few all-time teams where Walters and Rijo would qualify as being the No. 1 starter, this might be the most underrated one-two combo.

Walters was the unquestioned staff ace for the late ’30s early-’40s Reds led by Bill McKechnie, twice leading the NL in both ERA and WHIP and helping to led the Reds to the NL pennant in 1939 and 1940  and a World Series title in ’40.

One of the most durable starters in the game while he was active, Walters led the NL in innings pitched every year between 1939 and 1941 and posted three other top-10 seasons during his tenure in Cincinnati.

Walters was also no slouch at the plate. A converted third baseman, he batted .235 with Reds and in his MVP season of 1939, batted .325 to go with a .790 OPS. Five times, Walters posted double-digit RBI totals and would have to be considered a leading contender to win the Silver Slugger.

Like Walters, Rijo is underrated. Over a 10-year career in Cincinnati, Rijo posted an ERA+ of 138. To put that number in context, Sandy Koufax’s career ERA+ with the Dodgers was 135.

Rijo  finished in the top five in Cy Young voting only twice, but he was in the top five in the NL in ERA four times, strikeouts four times, WHIP twice and innings pitched twice.

Perhaps he’s not a Hall of Fame candidate, but his career has been overlooked by writers and fans who downgrade modern-day starters not named Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson or Pedro Martínez. Rijo may not have been the most dominant starter of his era, but I would put him right there with pitchers like Jim Kaat and Lefty Gomez whom most would regard as being hands-down better.

Best Player Not on the Roster Due to the One-Team-Only Rule: Nobody.

There’s nobody even close. The closest is Tom Seaver, who became the staff ace for the Reds immediately after coming over from the Mets, but I’m not sure I would put Seaver in the top 20 for best Reds starters of all-time.

Offensively, Sam Crawford established himself in Cincinnati as one of the most dominant hitters in baseball leading the NL in doubles and home runs in a four-year tenure with Cincinnati, but as with  Seaver, it’s obvious which team Crawford will be ending up with. Like Seaver, he doesn’t  come close to making the 25 or 40-man roster.

CINCINNATI REDS COACHING STAFF
Position Person
Manager Sparky Anderson
Bench Coach Bill McKechnie
First Base Coach Gary Redus
Third Base Coach Bob Bescher
Hitting Coach Johnny Temple
Pitching Coach Don Gullett
Bullpen Coach Harry Gumbert
tht-field-design-nl-reds
CINCINNATI REDS STARTING LINEUPS
vs RHP vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
2B L R Joe Morgan 3B R R Heinie Groh
1B L R Joey Votto LF R R Frank Robinson
CF L L Vada Pinson RF R R George Foster
LF R R Frank Robinson SS R R Barry Larkin
RF R R George Foster  C R R Johnny Bench
SS R R Barry Larkin 1B R R Tony Pérez
3B S R Pete Rose 2B L R Joe Morgan
 C R R Johnny Bench CF L L Vada Pinson
 P R R Bucky Walters  P R R Bucky Walters
DH vs RHP DH vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
2B L R Joe Morgan 3B R R Heinie Groh
DH L R Joey Votto DH R R Ernie Lombardi
CF L L Vada Pinson  C R R Johnny Bench
LF R R Frank Robinson LF R R Frank Robinson
RF R R George Foster SS R R Barry Larkin
1B R R Tony Pérez CF L L Vada Pinson
SS R R Barry Larkin 1B R R Tony Pérez
 C R R Johnny Bench RF R R George Foster
3B S R Pete Rose 2B L R Joe Morgan
CINCINNATI REDS EXPANDED ROSTER
Pos B T Name
 C L R Ed Bailey
1B R R Frank McCormick
2B L R Lonny Frey
2B R R Bid McPhee
3B R R Chris Sabo
SS R R Buck Herzog
OF R R Eric Davis
OF L L Bobby Tolan
SP R R Ewell Blackwell
SP R R Johnny Cueto
SP R R Dolf Luque
SP S L Johnny Vander Meer
RP R R Joe Beggs
RP R L Billy McCool
RP R R Frank Smith

Strengths

The Reds are built around offense. Top to bottom there is not an easy out. The lowest OPS+ posted by any regular in the Reds lineup comes from Barry Larkin, who still managed a very solid OPS+ of 116 over a 19-year Hall of Fame career, all spent with the Reds. In my opinion, he is one of the top three shortstops you’ll find in the National League. If that’s one of your easier outs, you know you’re dealing with one of the scariest lineups that will be featured in this series.

On the infield against righties, the Reds feature a former MVP at every position, and that’s including the man behind the plate.

At first base we have a situation similar to the Brooklyn Dodgers’: two outstanding first basemen being split up via platoon, with Joey Votto against righties and Tony Pérez against lefties. On their own, both make for fine starters, with Pérez being a Hall of Famer and Joey Votto on track to be. While little difference lies between Votto and Pérez offensively against righties, I view Pérez as a bit of a defensive upgrade, having played a significant portion of his career at third base, although, as a one-time Gold Glove winner, Votto is by no means a defensive liability.

At third base we have another super-platoon in the form of Pete Rose and Heninie Groh. While Rose was a switch-hitter, at the height of his career Rose was far better against righties than he was against lefties. Groh also fared better against lefties, and was arguably the best defensive third baseman of his era in the National League.

Perhaps the strongest element of the infield is its versatility. The Reds are capable of throwing a dizzying number of infield combinations at teams, helped by Pérez’s ability to play the corners and Groh’s to play both third and second.

Their flexibility pales in comparison to that of one of the most defensively versatile players that will be found in either league. Even though Rose just misses out on qualifying for first base with the Reds, he does for four other positions. His ability to bat from both sides of the plate and move from infield to outfield gives the Reds a utility player few other teams have.

One I try to show how these all-time teams would function as actual teams rather than simply ranking players position by position is because of guys like Rose. Although he was at his best as a left fielder, especially defensively, it wouldn’t capture his true value as a player.

The main reason Rose was asked to move from left field to third base is ironically the same reason why he’s playing third on this team: to make room for George Foster in the outfield. I have Foster playing out of his natural position of left field, as a better defensive option than Frank Robinson. With  one of the best arms possessed of any left fielder in major league history, I think this would be a pretty easy move for him. And unlike what he would be with the Orioles, Robinson is not a defensive liability.

Robinson, in left, led the NL in OPS every year from 1960-1962 and represents the Reds’ best RBI threat plus speed: as evidenced by his 161 steals over 10 years with the club, including a career high of 26 in 1963.

With Robinson, Larkin, Morgan, Vada Pinson, Groh and Dave Concepción all on the 25-man roster, the Reds are possibly the fastest teams in the league and a serious threat to lead both leagues in stolen bases. Even their “slow” runners, such as Votto and Rose, posted decent stolen base numbers through their careers and with Bench’s arm looming large, it’s hard to imagine any team being able to consistently steal more bases than the Reds.

Behind the plate the Reds have the best catching situation in the National League. Most would consider Bench an easy call to be the full time Reds starter, but a solid argument could be made that this should  be a platoon.

Before Bench, there was Ernie Lombardi, another former MVP winner and a Hall of Famer. While Lombardi did not posses anywhere near the defensive skills of Bench (few catchers do) he could match him at the plate, posting an OPS+ of 127 over his 10 years with Cincinnati.  Against lefties, Lombardi has the edge. As good a hitter as Bench was against lefties, he never had a season where he batted .467 against them, or another where he batted .374, as Lombardi did. With the DH in effect, you can see Lombardi with a prominent place as the second hitter in the lineup.

Catcher isn’t a platoon because of Bench’s defensive ability behind the plate, although with Lombardi’s ability to bash lefties the Reds will not need Bench to play 140-plus games as he did with the Big Red Machine. A more rested Bench will also probably mean a more effective player when he does play, a scary thought. It’s likely that Lombardi would actually be seeing the majority of starts against lefties, but in a one-game situation I would rather have Bench in the field.

Defensively the Reds don’t have a weak player at any position and one of the finest teams in either league. Although the strength of the defense clearly lies in the infield, the outfield does one of the finer  center fielders of all-time in Pinson. While no César Gerónimo in the field, Pinson is more than an acceptable option at the position and provides a far better bat, being a career .297 hitter with Cincinnati, and twice leading the NL in hits.

Weaknesses

As great as the Reds are offensively and defensively, the pitching leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s no surprise that a team with no Cy Young award winner in its history does not feature a strong starting rotation. Walters and Rijo were solid starters throughout their careers, but in a league such as this one. with some teams having two or more Hall of Famers in their rotation, they are less than desirable options to have at the top of the rotation.

Arguably the most dominant starter the Reds ever had is their No. 5, Noodles Hahn, but with just seven years of experience and the idea that each era should be represented proportionally against him (being the third-best pitcher in the league in 1903, does not mean as much as it does in 2013) he is a very pedestrian staff filler.

Mario Soto and Jim Maloney experienced brief runs of success, but were unable to maintain it over an extended period. Both were essentially done by the time they were 30, possibly victims of overwork early in their careers. Both were high-strikeout , high-walk pitchers who threw 200-plus innings for multiple seasons.

The saving grace of the rotation is that the Reds will be able to handle potential staff injuries, with  guys like Dolf Luque and Ewell Blackwell, as well as the balance of lefty and righty starters provided by  Eppa Rixey as a spot starter.

Rixey is not in the rotation in spite of being the Reds’ only Hall of Fame pitcher because of his pitch-to- contact approach. He was tremendous at keeping the ball in the ballpark, but never had to face power hitters the quality of Willie Mays or Mike Schmidt. Against strong right-handed power hitters such as that, I doubt he would have nearly the same kind of success.

The bullpen is fairly decent, but doesn’t possess the late-inning shutdown ability of the Nasty Boys. John Franco may come as somewhat of a surprise on this team seeing as he spent 14 years with the Mets and is featured far more prominently in historical retrospect with New York, but he was a far more dominant and durable pitcher with the Reds. The six seasons that Franco pitched with the Reds are also the six highest inning totals he ever posted in his career and three of his four All-Star appearances came with Cincinnati.

As we’ve seen before with David Ortiz with the Red Sox and Nolan Ryan with the Rangers, being a sentimental favorite doesn’t gain you a lot of points and such is the case with Franco.

The most frustrating part of this team for Reds fans will probably be Arolids Chapman. Although he’s not listed as a late -inning setup man, this could change over the course of the season, especially if Ted Abernathy is not able to duplicate the success of his ’67 and ’68 seasons. Chapman could have been so much more had he not left Cincinnati. Another two or three seasons and not only would Chapman have been the unquestioned closer for this team, but he would also be one of the best relievers in the NL and would give the Reds the true shutdown option they are lacking.

Even though Chapman was as dominant as someone like Billy Wagner ever was, playing only six years with the team automatically takes him out of the running for being in that category of reliever. If Chapman ever returns to Cincinnati, this could change, but it’s equally as likely that he could be off the team entirely in few seasons, which would make him the first player on the team affected by the one-team only rule.

Conclusions

There’s no doubt that the Reds are one of the most loaded teams in the National League, but they’re also playing in the toughest division in the NL. Like the Reds, the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates will not be at a loss for hitting, not to mention the quality of starting pitching that the Atlanta Braves will be featuring.

In the West, the Reds would be the favorite to win the division and in the East the they would probably be neck and neck with Philadelphia. However, in a division as tough as this one it’s hard to imagine the Reds being much more than a 90-win team, and they could just as well finish .500 or even below. Not having a true staff ace and have a somewhat vulnerable late-inning bullpen undermine what is a near- perfect starting lineup. Even though the Reds are in the top third of teams that will be featured in this series, it still may not be enough to make the postseason.

Nevertheless this a team built for the long haul of a 162-game regular season. Even players on the 40-man roster such as Eric Davis would be good enough to start on a lot of other teams and if there ever was an injury to somebody like Vada Pinson or George Foster, I wouldn’t expect the Reds to miss a beat. Whether their highly potent lineup would be enough to enough to make up for their lack of elite pitching is a question we’ll never answer.


Paul Moehringer is a data analyst, a SABR member and inventor of the Pyramid Rating System; originally from Mount Olive, NJ, now living in Westwood, MA. Follow him on Twitter @PMoehringer.
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Carl
5 years ago

Another fascinating article Paul. Love this series.

Couple of comments and questions:

1) Could Don Gullett (youngest pitcher to 100 wins prior to Gooden) make the starting 5 rather than being pitching coach? If not, how close was he to making the cut?

2) How close was Pedro Borbon to making the team as a RP?

3) With Bench/Lombardi you state that the Reds have the “best catching situation in the National League”. Two HoFers but do the Mets with Piazza and Carter not surpass them?

Paul Swydanmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

RE: 3, I would assume that Gary Carter will be on Montreal.

Quinn
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Carl,

In regards to the catching situation, I think the Reds still get the edge because Carter played only one great year and one good year with the Mets. His best days came with the Expos. While Piazza had 5-6 solid years in New York, his three best years came in Los Angeles.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Thanks for the feedback.

1. With regards to Gullett, he’s top ten in ERA once and top ten in WHIP and top ten in strikeouts once, and was never top ten in innings pitched, so at no point do I ever see an instance where Gullett could be regarding as one of the games most dominating pitchers.

He won a lot games and when he was on he could be as dominating as anybody, but the consistency just isn’t there for what it would need to be in order to be taken seriously to make the team.

That being said, after spending close to 20 years as both a player and a coach in Cincinnati, I’m happy I was able to find a place for him.

2. Borbón was a lot closer to making the team than Gullet was and I’ll admit even I was a bit surprised he didn’t make the team even after a 10 year career with the Reds.

The highest ERA+ Borbón ever had with the Reds in a season was 159. For his Reds career John Franco’s ERA+ 153. With Rob Dibble its 139, so in terms of the 25-man, he’s not that close, but in terms of the 40 I think there’s a number of ways you can go. You also have Scott Sullivan, Danny Graves and Jeff Brantley right there as well as Clay Carroll and I don’t really see a ton of difference between them and someone like Billy McCool.

The Reds bullpen was a challenge for me and I think that speaks to amount of quality relievers they’ve had over the years.

3. That’s not who the Mets have at catcher due to the one team only rule, but even if it was I would still put the Reds ahead, and because I would only be looking at what both Piazza and Carter did with the Mets and nothing prior. With Bench its his entire career and with Lombardi its most of it.

I think there’s teams in the NL with backups as good as Lombardi, but none of them have a starter as good as Johnny Bench to go with it.

87 Cards
5 years ago

“The main reason Rose was asked to move from left field to third base is ironically the same reason why he’s playing third on this team: to make room for George Foster in the outfield.”

Spot-on and secondarily, Rose’s move to third base improved the Reds’ glove-work. After Dennis Menke’s trade to Houston in 1974, Dan Driessen kicked 24 errors at third-base in 1974 and John Vukovich’s .211 BA for the first five-weeks of 1975 wasn’t the best answer for Sparky either. Rose made 13 errors the rest of the way for the ’75 World Champions; about what Menke was doing with the glove before his departure.

Patrick Jeter
5 years ago

There is little difference between Tony Perez and Joey Votto against RHP? Seems we might have different views of the phrase “little difference.” Also, Votto is one of the three LHH against LHP in MLB history who have amassed a .395+ OBP and .500+ SLG (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds). I loved the article, but I don’t see much of an argument for Tony Perez ever batting when Joey Votto is available.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Patrick Jeter

Thanks for the feedback. First of all I meant to say against LHP and not RHP. For that slight typo I apologize. Against righties obviously Joey Votto is getting the call.

With lefties though I do think its fairly close. Career OPS against lefties Votto is .900 while Pérez is .859 and I would say is player is a much more pitching dominating era which works in Pérez’s favor to help close the gap.

Also as mentioned in the article part of it is defense as well, not that I view Votto as a liability by any stretch. I just think Pérez is slightly better defensively.

I think either or would be a fine option to have. If you want to say Votto is better than Pérez even against righties, I’m not going to put up too much of a stink., but in terms of it being a slam dunk case, I don’t see it.

Carl
5 years ago

Paul,

Gary Nolan: 110-67 3.02 era, 119 ERA+ w Reds 26.3 bWAR

Mario Soto: 100 – 92 3.47 108 ERA+ w Reds 26.9 bWAR

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

I think Nolan has a much better case to make for getting on this team than Don Gullet does. Unlike Gullett, Nolan was someone I very seriously considered for a spot on the 40-man team and he didn’t miss out by much.

When it comes to Soto all I’m really looking at is the stretch he had from ’81-’85. He was top ten every year in innings pitched, strikeouts, and three times he was top ten in ERA. I see Nolan putting up much of the same numbers in terms of averages for his career, but in terms of durability Nolan was never top ten in innings pitched, which is why he isn’t on the roster.

If they didn’t pitch him 200+ innings out of the gate before he even turned 20, Nolan would probably be on this team. In terms of talent, I’m not sure if there’s been a better Reds pitcher in history. The fact that he managed to have the kind of career he did while essentially being a fastball pitcher without a fastball I think speaks to just how great he could have been.

He could and should have been far better than his numbers would otherwise indicate.

Herbert Smith
5 years ago

Very fun series of articles.
But Bobby Tolan over Edd Roush?

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Herbert Smith

Think you may be misreading something because Roush is on the 25-man roster.

He’s just only listed on the depth chart as being a center fielder.

Chris Kruschke
5 years ago

Love this series. I bookmarked this article when it was posted and have been waiting for a good time to read it straight through. The Reds obviously have alot less “hard decisions” than say the Rangers which I’m sure was good for you, but they have the opposite problem of so much history to choose from. As you can tell from the comments, the questions are on the fringes of the team (the #4/5 starter, bench/bullpen filler, and the like) which I think speaks to how well the article was researched.

Greatly looking forward to the next installment!