Phil Ervin said he was in shock after hearing Thursday night that the Cincinnati Reds would be calling him up to the majors. Wochit
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Phillip Ervin has a decent shot at making the Reds as a fifth outfielder this spring.
That would be significant progress for Ervin. But he doesn’t want his progression as a player to end there.
“I guess like most people I’m happy to fill that role now,” Ervin said. “But any person wants to be the guy. I don’t want to accept it. I feel like eventually I’ll win a spot.”
But, again, if Ervin can make the team out of camp, that’s a big step. Ervin was the team’s No. 1 pick and 27th pick overall in 2013 out of Samford University. But his ascension has not been smooth.
He had a sensational first year as a professional. He hit a combined .331 with nine home runs and 35 RBI in stops at Billings and Dayton. He came out that year as the third-ranked prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America.
But he struggled to hit for average the next three seasons, hitting .237/.241/.239. That dropped him to 18th on BA’s Reds prospect list. The bust label was starting to be attached to his name.
Last year was better. He hit .256 at Triple-A Louisville. He earned four call-ups to the Reds. He hit .259 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 58 at-bats.
And he learned a ton.
“It helped a lot. It was a learning experience,” Ervin said. “I won’t be overwhelmed. I know the speed of the game. I kind of know what to expect now. I enjoyed it.”
This is Ervin’s second big league camp. Reds manager Bryan Price has seen growth from last year.
“He looks much better,” Price said. “Much better plan. He looks terrific in the outfield. His throwing accuracy is much better. His base-running instincts have been terrific. He just looks like he has a better plan at the plate.
“He showed up in shape and he’s aggressive with everything he does. He does everything with great intensity. I think he’s had a good camp.”
Ervin is competing with non-roster outfielders Ben Revere and Patrick Kivlehan for the fifth outfield spot. Price has been clear that he’ll use Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton and Jesse Winker in the four-man rotation.
Ervin can play all three outfield positions. He runs well – he’s had three 30-or-better steal seasons in the minors. But to achieve his goal of being a regular, he has to hit more than he has in the minors. He knows that. That’s what he worked on this offseason.
“I tried to get more fundamental in my swing,” Ervin said. “I’ve worked on my balance, my mechanics of my swing. Just little stuff. Try to overall get better.
“Every year, I’ve learned something. I’ve learned what I need to get better, to become an every-day player.”
It will be Farrell’s first job since the Red Sox dismissed him as their manager last October with one year left on his contract. He posted a 432-378 record over five seasons with Boston, including a World Series championship in 2013 and two last-place finishes.
The 55-year-old Farrell is expected to report to the Reds spring training camp in Goodyear, Arizona, on Thursday.
Bailey allowed six runs on seven hits against the Chicago White Sox. The Enquirer/John Fay
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – If you want clarity with a pitching rotation, you’ve come to the wrong team. The Reds aren’t ready to announce the Opening Day rotation – or even the Opening Day starter.
“I have a general ideal,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “But before we announce anything we better get further down the road. Better safe than sorry at this point.”
It’s a very good bet that it’s going to be Homer Bailey. The other choices were likely Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo. DeSclafani is on the shelf with a strained left oblique, and Castillo left camp to be with his wife in New York who is about to deliver a baby. To complicate things further, Brandon Finnegan is dealing with a biceps strain.
“We have a lot of balls in the air right now,” Price said. “Finnegan’s pending. Castillo’s pending. With Castillo, it’s pending which game he would start. I don’t think we’re worried about his ability to start the season active.”
Finnegan was feeling better Wednesday and was cleared to play catch. Price still holds out hope that Finnegan could start the year on the active roster.
“I think so. It just depends,” Price said. “With the fifth starter, if he went into that position, it would be easier. It will also depend largely when he’s back in game competition. He does need to be built up. He does need to strengthen and build up resilience and tolerance. Multiple innings, multiple pitches. The sooner he gets back on the mound the more probable he could break with the club.”
In the meantime, the Reds will continue to backstop themselves by continuing to prepare right-handers Michael Lorenzen, Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson and left-hander Amir Garrett as starters. Price said left-hander Cody Reed, heretofore competing for a bullpen spot, will get a start as well.
To open up some innings, Sal Romano and Bailey will start in the minor league game Friday and Saturday. (Romano hasn’t officially been awarded a spot, but all indications are that he’s won one).
“We’ll continue to stretch out these other guys,” Price said. “A lot like years past, where we’re trying to keep a lot of starters in competition simply because of the recent turn of events. We know Disco won’t be ready to go, and Finnegan is a question mark at this point.”
ON THE ROSTER: The Reds opened a spot on the 40-man roster Tuesday when they optioned Dilson Herrera to Triple-A Louisville after he cleared waivers.
That would seem to open a spot for veteran Cliff Pennington, who’s in camp on a minor league deal. Pennington, 33, can play shortstop as well as second and third.
But Price isn’t ready to commit to position player spots either.
“For me, this thing is going to go a lot further,” he said. “I don’t want to say longer than originally anticipated, but I think it’s going to go down to the wire. I really do – trying to define our best 25-man roster. I think there’s a lot of baseball yet to be played. It’s (March 14). We’ve got two more weeks of spring training games and exhibitions. I don’t know how soon we’re going to be able to define a 25-man roster.”
If you walked up to me and said “Joey Votto is the best player in baseball”, I’d have a hard time finding a good argument against that. Heading into his twelfth season, Votto has been one of the most consistent players in the league. From 2007 on he’s played at least 110 games each year, with the exception of his rookie year and the injury-shortened 2014 season.
Using a summary of his last three years, you’ll see he’s been at or near the top in almost every major statistical category used to evaluate players.
Fourth in overall WAR
Second in Batting Average
First in On Base Percentage
First in BB/K rate
Third in Win Probability Added
Second in Weighted Runs Created Plus
Does Votto leave anything to be desired? Well, of qualified first basemen, he ranks 12th in DRS (3) and 16th in UZR/150 (2.6) since 2015. So if you could get on him for anything, it would be his fielding.
Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest feats to accomplish in any sport. I would venture to guess, whether you’re the pitcher or hitter, that a full count creates the most tension on the baseball field. I don’t think it takes a Bill James-like brain to figure out that 0-2 is a very tough situation to be in at the plate; the scales tipped heavily in the pitcher’s favor. Game tension is a fun energy to experience in baseball, which leads me to stick with looking into the more balanced full count.
Would you be surprised if I told you that no one has performed better in recent seasons under those conditions than Votto? But first, behold the predictable OPS under all two-strike counts!
Digging into the specifics of a full count, 30% of hitters get walked and 46% reach base. Votto is one of those 46%-ers. In fact, since 2015, no other hitter had a better wOBA under a full count than Votto.
Pretty impressive at the plate to begin with, every aspect of Votto’s at-bats are above average; needless to say, you’re going to have your work cut out for you when he comes to bat.
Votto has an advanced eye, which you can tell by only looking at his swings out of the zone; at least 10% lower than league average. On the other hand, he seems to make contact more than average when offering at those pitches. But, only achieves a paltry .219 when putting the ball in play. Regardless, pitchers have to be pretty careful with what they do to get him out lest he ends up on base and/or putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Getting back to his production with a full count, we have three other hitters within reach of Votto. The qualifying threshold is 200 at-bats (regular and postseason), of which 28 hitters qualified. The following are tops in wOBA when faced with a full count. After that foursome, there is a very sharp drop off.
Votto and Carpenter are very close, 1 one thousandth of a point, but Votto has been in this position 111 times more. The averages keep them close but there is no way to be certain Carpenter could keep that number consistent as his at-bats go up.
No real correlation there but Votto and Bryant are the clear outliers; Carpenter and Trout are with them as well but are a bit further back in terms of pitches.
Votto also has the highest percentage of 3-2 counts in terms of pitches faced with 7.12% of his pitches being delivered in that situation; again with a minimum of 200 ABs. That’s an attribute to his plate discipline but here’s where things get interesting.
When Votto is faced with a 3-2 count, look where the pitches he has to work with are concentrated.
Furthermore, take a look at his career batting average based on zone location.
For whatever reason, pitchers seem to be content delivering a 3-2 pitch right into Votto’s butter zone. To be specific, the three pitches thrown at him the most in a full count are:
34.8% Four-seam Fastballs
17.2% Two-seam Fastballs
Almost half of the pitches thrown are fastballs of the two and four-seam variety. Guess what Votto eats up?
Those are the pitches Votto has seen the most since 2015. Coincidently, they are not only the four he sees most in 3-2 counts but also, with the exception of the slider, the pitches he has the most success against.
There are some pitchers don’t throw a slider but what I don’t understand is why they try to beat him with a fastball almost 50% of the time. It obviously doesn’t work. I’ll try to quantify as best I can, the situations Votto comes to bat under. Just going on what I have in the previous charts, maybe there aren’t many high-leverage situations when its Votto’s turn to hit.
For his career, he’s come to the plate 2,683 times with runners on base; 1,528 of those are with runners in scoring position. For the former, his OPS is 1.026 and the latter 1.079.
To give context to how much more/less Votto comes up with runners on base, I used the 2015-2017 average season numbers of total at-bats and divided that by 750. The 750 is 25 players per 30 teams. That’s a loose guesstimate but I would presume that through a given season a team holds at least that many (different) hitters on average, taking into consideration promotions/demotions/injuries/etc. That gave me 107 plate appearances per season with runners on base for the average hitter.
Then I used Votto’s career 2,683 PAs with runners on and divided it by his 11 seasons to get an average of 244 PAs per year. So, he has runners on about 44% more than the average hitter each season. Where he hits in the order DOES help but you have to remember he’s been playing on, for his career, a pretty mediocre Reds offense.
And, as a footnote, his worse performances are with runners on second and third followed by bases loaded; he excels with runners only on second, third, or first AND second.
That tangent we just went on only answered part of the question. We can’t know what the score was, the leverage index and other minor variables. All of those could change the way Votto is pitched to given the particulars. But, for whatever reason, the best hitter in baseball under a full count does not seem to be challenged much at all.