The Reds finally have a shortstop! Well, kinda…
Last week, Reds manager David Bell announced that All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suárez — a former shortstop — would shift one position to his left on the Reds infield:
“Geno’s (Eugenio Suárez) going to be playing short tomorrow. He’s been working throughout camp, off and on, still focusing on third base as well. But we’ve seen enough in camp and knowing his background, that is his original position being shortstop, we’re going to take this opportunity in camp to see him play a little bit at short and kind of just go from there. If nothing else it’s good for him, and it also creates more flexibility for our infield. We’ve all seen him play a lot of shortstop over the last couple of years in the shift, but obviously starting the game there it’ll be his primary position there tomorrow. We’re looking forward to seeing it.”
As you may have heard, Suárez showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, fifteen pounds lighter after giving up beer (and beef, pasta, and rice) over the off-season. There have been rumors that Suárez has been angling to play more shortstop, and has worked out there occasionally over the last couple of years. Plus Suárez was a shortstop when the Reds acquired him from Detroit (in exchange for the bloated corpse of Alfredo Simon), though he has played fewer than 25 innings at the position since 2016.
Can he still play the position well enough to be a big league shortstop? It’s a big question that suddenly has become central to the Reds chances this year. Let’s unpack it a bit.
First of all, we need to address the elephant in the room: this move smacks of complete desperation on the part of Reds management. Ownership steadfastly refused to permit GM Nick Krall to spend money to acquire, you know, an actual shortstop, so Bell’s hand was forced. With no other shortstop on the roster, Bell had to make the best of a bad situation.
As I’ve said, I love Geno unconditionally, but let me tell you something: if he could have legitimately played shortstop, he'd have been there years ago. No one is openly pretending that Suárez is going to be anything other than a below-average defensive shortstop.
On the other hand, what's sad about this is that Geno may literally be the best option on this current Reds roster. David Bell isn’t wrong: this move makes complete sense given the way the team is constructed. (And that's an indictment of Bob Castellini and no one else.)
But, despite the fact that it was a decision born of desperation…it could work! You saw how terrible the Reds offense was last season; this move will permit the club to get another bat into the lineup, and that’s important. As things stand now, Mike Moustakas will shift from second base to third, which is his more natural position. Second base will presumably belong to rookie Jonathan India.
I don’t have a lot of expectations for India this year (other than the fact that he’s guaranteed to have the best hair in town). There were reports that India looked great last year in practice out at the Reds alternate site (lovingly known as The Ketchup Factory on my Reds podcast), so that’s something. And he’s performed pretty well this spring, though you never want to put too much stock in spring stats. I’m withholding judgment until I see him actually perform on the field at a level commensurate with a player who was a top-five pick in the MLB draft.
However, I fully expect India to be a better hitter than last year’s shortstop, Freddy Galvis. It’s nearly certain that he’ll be a better offensive player than the other names that were in the mix earlier this spring to be a regular infielder, guys like Kyle Farmer, Dee Strange-Gordon, and Kyle Holder. Those players have their merits, and I expect one or two to be on the Opening Day roster, but it’s not a stretch to say that none will likely hit as well as we can expect from India.
Hey, maybe this is my traditional spring experience with squinting at the Reds and trying to see the best-case scenario. But it sure looks like the Reds lineup just got better, even if only marginally.
I know what you’re thinking, though: what about the defense? It’s an excellent question. Perhaps India will be an above-average defender, but he’ll be surrounded by some not-so-gold gloves in Moustakas, Suárez, and Votto (though Votto does actually own a gold glove, to be fair). It could be one of the worst defensive infields we’ve ever seen in Cincinnati.
On the other hand, who cares? As Mike Petriello noted over at MLB.com, what even is a position anyway? With the prevalence of defensive shifts, teams are able to hide poor defenders — or at least minimize the problems associated with a poor defender — more effectively than ever before in baseball history. So this might be the best time ever to have a bad defensive shortstop! (How’s that for seeing the glass as half-full?)
Further, we actually have a little recent evidence of Suárez’ performance at short. Thanks to the shift, Suárez has had to move over to the traditional SS position a number of times:
In 2020, Suárez played zero games at shortstop, but he had 46 opportunities in the shortstop area of the field. An average shortstop would have been expected to convert 28 of those, based on Statcast metrics that evaluate the difficulty of those plays, and Suárez made 29. He was fine.
In 2019, Suárez played zero games at shortstop, but he had 82 opportunities in the shortstop area of the field. An average shortstop would have been expected to convert 53, based on those Statcast metrics, and he got to 51. That’s below average, but not terrible; you get the idea.
Go read Petriello’s entire piece; it’s good.
So maybe Suárez won’t be too bad defensively? Maybe, maybe not. He wasn’t a good defensive shortstop back when he was actually a shortstop, when he was younger, and that’s something we can’t ignore. We shouldn’t expect him to magically transform into a gold glover just because he stopped drinking beer. But good defensive shortstops have never been less valuable. And there’s a chance he can hold his own, right?
Let’s not take our eyes off what is most important, however. Even if he can’t, this is all about the offense which was, again, the biggest weakness on the 2020 Reds. If we look back at his last full season (2019), Suárez hit .271/.358/.572 with a .381 wOBA and a 133 wRC+. If he had been playing shortstop that season, Suárez would have been the best-hitting SS in the National League.
Can Suárez duplicate those numbers, from his fantastic 49-homer campaign? I’m not going to bet the ranch on that proposition (though he says he wants to hit 50 home runs this year). But he will almost certainly be the best offensive shortstop we’ve seen in Cincinnati since Barry Larkin. That’s not nothing, as they say.
It’s not difficult to see why Suárez would want to give this a try. If he establishes himself as one of the best hitting shortstops in the league (while not embarrassing himself defensively), it makes him a far more valuable commodity on the baseball landscape.
It could work. Cross your fingers and hope it does, because the Reds have no other options.
What I’m Reading
Earlier this week, I finished “Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction” by Chuck Klosterman. It’s…different, but if you like Klosterman (he’s one of my contemporary favorites), you’ll enjoy.
C. Trent Rosecrans: After clearing MLB’s COVID-19 protocols, Joey Votto eager to make up for lost time ($)
Geoff Hobson: Joe Burrow Puts His Stamp On Bengals' Rebuilt Roster
What Chad’s Watching
College hoops took up most of the oxygen in the room this week, but I did rewatch two of my all-time favorites in late-night sessions. What prompted the selection of these two is the fact that I’m currently reading a biography of Cary Grant. The author noted that Grant did not like “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which surprised me because I remembered loving it when I saw it for the first time, at age 12 or so. I had only seen it once in the intervening years, so I decided a rewatch was imperative.
It holds up. Very funny. Highly recommended.
When the biography reached Grant’s roles for Alfred Hitchcock, it reminded me that I have been meaning to rewatch “Rear Window” (and yes, I know it stars Jimmy Stewart, not Grant). So I, you know, rewatched “Rear Window.” One of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Five stars, as you see above.
The World’s Most Dangerous Reds Podcast
Jason Linden and I discussed a busy week for the Cincinnati Reds, including the move of Eugenio Suarez to shortstop. What does it mean for the club?
Also, Reds owner Bob Castellini gave a disastrous interview this week, and we broke it down.
We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.
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