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View Full Version : Columbus Dispatch: Passing the Torch, Concepcion to Larkin to ?



redsmetz
08-03-2008, 06:59 AM
From today's Columbus Dispatch, comes this article from their Reds beat writer (I keep forgetting to check the Columbus paper, this guy does some good stuff).


Passing the torch from Concepcion to Larkin to ?
For 50 years the Reds were blessed with stellar shortstops, but that's certainly not the case now

Sunday, August 3, 2008 3:41 AM
By Scott Priestle
The Columbus Dispatch

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have placed four shortstops on the disabled list this season, including Jerry Hairston Jr. twice. It has been a recurring theme in the four years since Barry Larkin was pushed to the bench and ultimately retired.

When Larkin was in town recently to be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame, a fan told him the position was cursed and suggested that Larkin needed to rejoin the Reds in order to break it.

"I said, 'If I come back, there will be one more disabled shortstop,' " Larkin recalled with a laugh.

If the fan's remedy was offered in jest, the symptoms are anything but funny.

For more than 50 years, shortstop was the most stable position in the organization, transitioning with few hiccups from Roy McMillan (1952-1960) to Leo Cardenas (1962-1968) to Dave Concepcion (1970-1985) to Larkin (1987-2004). Combined, they played in 27 All-Star Games and won 12 Gold Gloves.

Since late in the 2004 season, when then-general manager Dan O'Brien and manager Dave Miley decided it was time to audition for Larkin's replacement, the Reds have used 13 different starters at shortstop, including five this season.

Felipe Lopez, who was once viewed as Larkin's heir apparent, held the job for about 1 1/2 seasons and made the All-Star team once before being traded to Washington, which released him Thursday. Alex Gonzalez was signed to a three-year contract before last season but has made only 98 starts; he will miss the 2008 season because of a knee injury.

Jeff Keppinger, who has played mostly second base as a professional, has been the primary shortstop this season.

"It should let the people of Cincinnati know how lucky they were to have basically four mainstays at shortstop -- myself, Davey, Roy McMillan and Leo Cardenas," Larkin said. "It's not an easy position to play. You guys are seeing that."

No gold here
Hairston and Keppinger have played OK in separate stints as the regular shortstop. Keppinger is a good contact hitter on a club generally lacking that ability, and Hairston has hit surprisingly well, with the added benefit of the speed manager Dusty Baker covets atop the lineup.

But each is probably best suited for second base or a utility role. Of the 26 National Leaguers who have played at least 200 innings at shortstop this season, Hairston ranks 24th and Keppinger 25th, according to John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating.

It is a significant reason why the Reds ranked next-to-last in defensive efficiency entering the weekend, turning 68.2 percent of the balls in play into outs. By comparison, Tampa Bay and Oakland convert 72.1 percent into outs. That 4 percent difference will mean about 165 extra hits and errors allowed by the Reds over the course of the season.

"You always want range, but if you don't have range, you want consistency," Baker said. "Make the plays you're supposed to make. Man, you can't afford to give away outs. This game is intended for 27 outs, not 29 or 30. If you don't play defense, or don't make a couple plays you're supposed to, you are actually playing 10 or 10 1/3 innings to my nine."

The Reds would help their pitchers immensely by improving their defense in a few positions, but it is unlikely they will make a change at shortstop. Gonzalez is due nearly $6 million next season, so the team probably will give him every opportunity to win the job, and Keppinger provides steady offense at a bargain price of $402,500 this season and roughly the same next season.

Because there are in-house options, no matter how imperfect, one member of the front office said shortstop is "not a big issue for us right now."

The Tampa Bay effect
Shortstop has always been a premium position because it is so heavily involved in a team's defense. As offenses exploded in the 1990s, more teams looked for offense from the position, and hitters such as Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter changed expectations.

There is still value in defense, though, and Tampa Bay is exhibit A.

The Rays lowered their team ERA from 5.53 last season to 3.75 without overhauling the pitching staff. Instead, they overhauled the defense, acquiring shortstop Jason Bartlett, moving Akinori Iwamura from third base to second, promoting third baseman Evan Longoria from the farm system and allowing B.J. Upton to settle in center field.

Tampa Bay ranked last in defensive efficiency last season but was tied for first entering this weekend. Bartlett ranked fourth in the American League in revised zone rating.

The Reds can easily upgrade their defense in two outfield positions by keeping Jay Bruce in right field and acquiring an above-average center fielder. They also have a very good defensive shortstop in triple-A in Paul Janish.

The challenge for Janish and low class-A shortstop Zach Cozart will be to hit well enough to warrant regular playing time in the big leagues. Double-A shortstop Chris Valaika and high class-A shortstop Todd Frazier are two of the Reds' best hitting prospects but might be more suited to another position. Perhaps one of the four will develop an all-around game to pick up the torch that was previously passed from McMillan to Cardenas to Concepcion to Larkin.

"The shortstop is your main guy," Baker said. "You want to be strong up the middle -- catching, short, second and center field. That's where the majority of your balls go, plus the shortstop is in almost every play. The shortstop is a way important position."

GAC
08-03-2008, 07:10 AM
"The shortstop is your main guy," Baker said. "You want to be strong up the middle -- catching, short, second and center field. That's where the majority of your balls go, plus the shortstop is in almost every play. The shortstop is a way important position."

So your manager acknowledges the vast importance of the position - your SS is the main guy... you want to be STRONG up the middle.

But then a FO type says the following....


Because there are in-house options, no matter how imperfect, one member of the front office said shortstop is "not a big issue for us right now."

People need to get on the same page. It's disturbing that they consider Hairston and/or Keppinger options in such a key position while also acknowledging their "imperfection." So we'll settle?

They also have "imperfect" in-house options at pitching, catching, and in the OF.

So what I would like to know is what does Walt consider as pressing issues in the off-season?

Mario-Rijo
08-03-2008, 07:35 AM
So your manager acknowledges the vast importance of the position - your SS is the main guy... you want to be STRONG up the middle.

But then a FO type says the following....


Because there are in-house options, no matter how imperfect, one member of the front office said shortstop is "not a big issue for us right now."



People need to get on the same page. It's disturbing that they consider Hairston and/or Keppinger options in such a key position while also acknowledging their "imperfection." So we'll settle?

They also have "imperfect" in-house options at pitching, catching, and in the OF.

So what I would like to know is what does Walt consider as pressing issues in the off-season?

Yes that also stood out to me in the article. What a downright foolish thing to say and even worse to believe. That kind of thinking is what's holding us back as an organization. There is no urgency to be as good as possible or complete as a team. It's quite maddening!

I thought that this same writer quoted Phil Castellini in a previous article (although not positive), I wonder if Phil is the same guy quoted here. I believe that whoever was quoted previously they commented on these new defensive metrics being flawed or something as a reason not to give much creedence to them. Keppinger's name and his ability and/or lack thereof at the position was brought up then as well.

macro
08-03-2008, 09:43 AM
While we're on this subject, we should recall this thread from two or three years ago:

http://www.redszone.com/forums/showthread.php?t=35502

BCubb2003
08-03-2008, 10:17 AM
I'm not a big fan of solving problems by moving guys to a new position, because it's never as easy as we think. But... I can't help thinking that the shortstop the Reds are looking for is Brandon Phillips. I know the risks, but I find the logic strange that says that Keppinger is a second-baseman because of his mediocre defense, but is playing short because there's no one else, while Phillips should not be moved to short because there might be a drop-off from his naturally brilliant defense. If Phillips weren't such a natural in the field, I'd be less inclined, but consider how difficult it would be to find a shortstop who hits like Phillips.

GAC
08-03-2008, 09:25 PM
I like Keppinger, but we need to be realistic about this guy. He's probably no more then a super-sub.

Defensively, he seems fairly average. I was looking at some of his defensive numbers on Minorleaguesplits.com. They rate him slightly below average at 2B, and above average at 3B and left field. I took notice that they really didn't have any data at one position - SS. It's one INF position he didn't really have much experience in (until he came to the Reds, and they decided to give him a try).

Baseball Prospectus' defensive numbers are similarly average. He's no defensive specialist, while he is no liability either.

You also have to consider his age. He's 28, which means he has now entered his prime.

BuckeyeRedleg
08-03-2008, 10:18 PM
I like Keppinger, but we need to be realistic about this guy. He's probably no more then a super-sub.

I agree.

klw
08-04-2008, 08:01 AM
I like how the article hints at how most of the Reds shortstops in the majors and minors are best suited to play 2nd but does not mention that the 2nd baseman could be shifted over to play SS.

RedRoser
08-04-2008, 11:35 AM
I'm not a big fan of solving problems by moving guys to a new position, because it's never as easy as we think. But... I can't help thinking that the shortstop the Reds are looking for is Brandon Phillips. I know the risks, but I find the logic strange that says that Keppinger is a second-baseman because of his mediocre defense, but is playing short because there's no one else, while Phillips should not be moved to short because there might be a drop-off from his naturally brilliant defense. If Phillips weren't such a natural in the field, I'd be less inclined, but consider how difficult it would be to find a shortstop who hits like Phillips.

Bingo, bcubb. :)

Roy Tucker
08-04-2008, 11:53 AM
People need to get on the same page. It's disturbing that they consider Hairston and/or Keppinger options in such a key position while also acknowledging their "imperfection." So we'll settle?




The big issue at SS is that I just don't see the Reds willfully eating Gonzalez' $6M for next year and going on the market for a new SS.

Kepp and Hairston are "imperfect" stop-gap solutions till Gonzalez comes back next year.

Now, whether or not that is a wise decision is up for discussion.

GAC
08-05-2008, 08:11 PM
The big issue at SS is that I just don't see the Reds willfully eating Gonzalez' $6M for next year and going on the market for a new SS.

Oh, they are not going to. Not from what I have heard Dusty say on Gonzo. He'll be given every opportunity to lose the starting SS job going into the '09 season.


Kepp and Hairston are "imperfect" stop-gap solutions till Gonzalez comes back next year.

Now, whether or not that is a wise decision is up for discussion.

There just wasn't much else this club could do this year with Gonzo going down. That put them between a rock and a hard place.

And it's not like the market for quality defensive SSs is overflowing with choices either. It's why we got Gonzo in the first place. ;)

smith288
08-06-2008, 01:50 PM
Phillips came up as a SS. Why is moving him over to SS so much harder to do than moving Kepp over from 2nd???

puca
08-06-2008, 02:14 PM
Either the Reds do not believe that Phillips would make a good defensive SS, or Phillips himself is not comfortable with the move. Nothing else makes sense.

Both Krivsky and now Jocketty (along with a plethora of managers) have gone to battle with non-shorstops at that positon rather than moving BP. It hasn't mattered whether the Reds were in contention or playing out the string. Ever since Brandon was acquired the Reds have not had a good fielder playing shortstop and yet at second base he remains.

Maybe it is time to realize that it just isn't going to happen. Maybe we will never know the reason, but rest assured that the Reds are fully aware that Brandon used to play shortstop.

BCubb2003
08-06-2008, 03:39 PM
It seems like some guys get the Golden Hands label, like Alex Gonzales and Juan Castro, whether or not it's warranted, and some guys get the Professional Hitter Who Can Play a Lot of Positions Sort Of, like Keppinger, and some guys get the Erratic Athletic label, like Felipe Lopez and Edwin Encarnacion. Somehow I think Brandon Phillips came up with the Erratic Athletic label, and it's hard to shake a label like that in baseball.

GAC
08-07-2008, 08:28 PM
I was talking with a co-worker last night about the "BP to SS" discussion. He is adamently against it. He states that the reason BP is such a sound defensive 2Bman is because he plays back so far, which increases his range and "enhances" his athletic ability. He wouldn't be able to do that at SS, and would basically become an Encarnacion at SS.