The best Reds run-producing seasons of the decade*

We’re taking a look back at the decade of the 2010s and how the Reds played baseball in it — both the good and the not good. This first post looks at the best ten individual seasons in run production by the Reds in the decade. But for this list we’re excluding Joey Votto for a reason we’ll get to in a minute. 

Part of the sabermetric revolution in understanding baseball has been the creation and use of new statistics for both pitching and hitting that isolate the player’s role independent of how his teammates perform. On the run production side, one of the best composite stats can be found on the FanGraphs site. It’s called wRC+ (weighted Runs Created Plus). It weights plate appearance outcomes based on empirical contribution to run scoring. It’s expressed on a 100-point scale, with every percent above or below meaning a percent better or worse than league average. If a batter has a wRC+ of 105, he produced runs at a rate 5% better than average.

wRC+ is also adjusted for the ballpark and run environment, so it can be used to compare hitters across time. That’s important for an exercise like this given the huge variance in run scoring the past few seasons. wRC+ does not account for base running. FanGraphs has a separate stat for that (of course they do). Using that metric wouldn’t have changed this list in any meaningful way. 

Because wRC+ is a rate stat not a compiling stat like home runs, I’m using a threshold of a minimum of 502 plate appearances for the season, which is the PA criteria used by MLB to qualify for league statistics titles.

These are the ten best non-Votto run production seasons for the Reds in the decade 2010-19: 

10. Jay Bruce (2012) — 120 wRC+

The Reds selected Jay Bruce out of Beaumont, Texas in the first round of the 2005 draft. He debuted in the majors in May, 2008 as the top prospect in baseball. 2012 was his best power-hitting season for the Reds, with 34 homers, .263 isolated power and .514 slugging percentage. Bruce maintained an above average walk-rate (9.8%) and good on-base percentage (.353). Bruce’s batting average (.252) kept his overall run production down. 

The Reds had won the NL Central in 2010 and missed the postseason in 2011. 2012 ended up being the Reds best season (97-65), winning the division by 9 games. It was also the year of Joey Votto’s ill-fated and ill-managed knee injury. The Reds first baseman was having his best season by far when he mangled his knee sliding into 3B in San Francisco. Votto never hit another home run that year. It was left to Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips to carry the offense.

The Reds traded Jay Bruce, who had 1.5 years of team control left on his contract, to the New York Mets for Dilson Herrera in 2016. A year later, the Mets traded Bruce to Cleveland. Bruce has been back to the Mets a second time, then Seattle and now plays for the Phillies in the final year of his $39 million contract.

8-9 (tie). Brandon Phillips (2011) and Todd Frazier (2014) — 122 wRC+

DatDude played for the Reds from 2006-2017 and 2011 was his only season with an wRC+ above 105. In 2007, he’d hit 30 homers and batted .288, but his overall run production was held down by a super-low walk-rate. In 2011, Phillips produced career highs in batting average (.300) and on-base percentage (.353). His sterling defensive numbers that season (one of his four Gold Glove seasons and his only Silver Slugger award) led to a 5.1 WAR, which was also a career high. In the spring of 2017, the Reds traded Phillips for two players you’ve never heard of. Phillips played briefly for Atlanta, the LA Angels and Red Sox and is currently a free agent. 

Todd Frazier got the debut call-up for 41 games in 2011 and played for the Reds most of the 2012 season, although he split time with Scott Rolen in Rolen’s final season. Frazier was the Reds everyday third baseman from 2013-2015. His 2014 season stood out because of the league’s low run environment. Frazier hit 29 homers and walked 7.9% of the time, which was close to league average. His batting average (.273) was tied for his career best and on-base percentage (.336) was the highest in his career. Frazier was traded to the White Sox in a three-way deal that brought Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler to the Reds from the Dodgers. Frazier has played with the Yankees and Mets and is now a free agent.

7. Jay Bruce (2010) — 124 wRC+

We all remember Jay Bruce’s dramatic home run off the Astros that clinched the Reds first NL Central division championship in 15 years. That bomb was part of Bruce’s best overall season (5.1 WAR) with the Reds. He hit 25 home runs in 2010, a number that Bruce would surpass 7 times in his career, including 4 with the Reds. His 2010 walk-rate (10.1%) was well above average, which helped produce his top OBP (.353). 

But what stood out about Bruce’s run production in 2010 was his career-best batting average of .281. Jay Bruce had risen through the Reds minor league system as a .300+ hitter. In 2008, when he had become the consensus #1 prospect in baseball, his batting average at AAA-Louisville was .364 before his May call-up to the Reds. But Bruce was never able to continue that aspect of his game at the major league level. He has a career .245 average and that .281 mark in 2010 was by far his top AVG. Second-best was .262 for the Reds in 2013. 

In December 2010, following this season, the Reds and Bruce reached agreement on a contract extension for $51 million through 2016 plus a 2017 team option.

6. Scooter Gennett (2018) — 125 wRC+

Scooter Gennett has to be one of the least probable players to make a Reds list like this. Gennett was in the Milwaukee Brewers system from 2010-2016 until he was cut by the Brewers in the final week of the 2017 spring training. I remember being in Goodyear, watching a Reds game when we learned the club had picked up Gennett. He proceeded to have two terrific seasons for the Reds. 

In 2018, Gennett hit 23 homers and batted .310. That was the highest batting average of his career. Paired with his slightly below average walk rate (6.6%) he had a career high .357 OBP. His power (.180 ISO) dropped quite a bit from 2017 (.236 ISO), but a strong BABIP held his batting average up and therefore his overall run production.

Gennett’s 2017 missed by 5 plate appearances from qualifying for 8th on this list (wRC+ 123). That season he didn’t win the 2B job from Jose Peraza outright for a while and then continued to be used in a platoon. In 2017, Gennett hit 28 homers including his monumental 4-homer, 10-RBI night in May.

In 2019, Gennett struggled with an injury and then ineffectiveness. The Reds unloaded him to the Giants for practically nothing at the trade deadline. He finished the season batting .226/.245/.323 and 2 HR. That’s a wRC+ of 44. Gennett is currently a free agent. 

5. Scott Rolen (2010) — 126 wRC+

Scott Rolen had played 13 seasons in the major league before coming to the Reds. He’d been with the Phillies and Cardinals for long stretches and briefly with Toronto. Rolen had amassed a great career, with 6 Gold Gloves and 5 All-Star game appearances before he came to the Reds. Rolen was one of the more successful Walt Jocketty “former Cardinals” projects. The Reds acquired Rolen at the 2009 trade deadline. 

To show how great Rolen’s career had been, his 2010 season that reached #5 on this list of Reds best of the decade was merely career-average for him. Unlike other guys who qualified for this list with their career-best, Rolen’s 2010 season was just more of the same. Compare his 2010 line (.285/.358/.497) with his career numbers (.281/.364/.490). Rolen earned another Gold Glove and All Star game in 2010.

Rolen’s positive influence on the Reds went beyond stats. His quiet leadership was widely credited by others in the locker room — from Joey Votto to Brandon Phillips — of raising standards of performance and expectations of effort for the young Reds roster. This quote from Jonny Gomes puts Rolen’s influence in perspective: “You’ve got the loud guys, the vocal guys, but with him, it’s the eye contact, the silent treatment. He’s 6-5, 250, and he looks right through you when he wants to. It’s kind of like when you’re 8 years old and you disappoint your dad.”

Rolen retired after the 2012 and is now on the Baseball Writers Hall of Fame ballot.

4. Eugenio Suarez (2019) — 133 wRC+

Eugenio Suarez was a light-hitting, good-glove shortstop who had put together half of a major league season for the Detroit Tigers when the club traded him to the Reds before the 2014 season for Alfredo Simon. With Zack Cozart entrenched as the Reds SS and Todd Frazier at 3B, the club saw Suarez as a utility infielder and organizational depth. Pitcher Jonathan Crawford, who also came to Cincinnati in that trade, might have been considered of higher value.

Indeed, Suarez began the 2015 season at AAA-Louisville and was hitting .256 with 8 homers when a season-ending elbow injury to Cozart on June 10 gave him an opportunity. An injury to Tigers’ SS Jose Iglesais had given Suarez major league playing time the year before. With the Reds, Suarez struggled at shortstop. The organization moved him to 3B in 2016 after trading Frazier. Suarez was among league leaders in errors both seasons. His combined wRC+ for 2015 and 2016 was 100. 

But Eugenio Suarez began to become the hitter he is now in 2017. He blasted 26 homers and batted .260. Importantly, Suarez’s walk rate had risen from 4.3 to 8.1 to 13.3 from 2015 to 2017. That set the stage for his breakthrough 2018 season. (See #3 below.)

Suarez backed up 2018 with another terrific campaign in 2019. The Reds’ third baseman belted 49 home runs, setting numerous club and NL records. It broke the record for most home run in the NL by a 3B and the most homers by a player from Venezuela. Yes, with the super ball baseball 2019 was a homer-filled season across the league. But Suarez trailed only one player, Pete Alonso. Over 159 games, Suarez’s isolated power (.301) ranked 7th in baseball. His above average walk-rate (10.6%)  and batting average of .271 produced an outstanding OBP of .358.

3. Eugenio Suarez (2018) — 135 wRC+

The third best season of the Reds decade (non-Votto) belongs to Eugenio Suarez. But it didn’t start off that well. A week into the season, a pitch thrown by the (no surprise) Pittsburgh Pirates fractured Suarez’s right thumb. He missed two-and-a-half weeks. But Suarez made the most of the rest of his 2018. Playing in 143 games, he hit 34 home runs, a career high at the time. He batted .283 and an outstanding 10.6% walk-rate put his OBP up to .366. That production combined with  his defense produced a 3.9 WAR season. Suarez accomplished the #3 Reds run producing season even with a September slump that saw him hit .227 with a wRC+ of 84.

Before the 2018 season, the Reds and Eugenio Suarez agreed to a $66 million/7-year deal running through 2024, with a team option for 2025. He made $7 million last year and will earn $9.25 million in 2020. 

2. Zack Cozart (2017) — 139 wRC+

I bet most of us were surprised to find Zack Cozart on this list at all, let alone in the #2 spot. The Reds second-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Mississippi was known for his glove work far more than run production. That’s the beauty of these decade reviews, they help us remember terrific Reds accomplishments.

In 2017, Cozart had career bests in every hitting category: 24 home runs, .297 batting average, 12.2% walk-rate, .385 on-base percentage, .251 isolated power. Not only was 2017 a career-year for Cozart, it was his best by far. In his 5 other seasons with more than 500 plate appearances, Cozart never came close to a wRC+ of 100. His next-highest walk rate was 7.5%; next highest batting average .258; next highest OBP was .310. Add all that together with an excellent year at shortstop and Zack Cozart put together a 5-WAR season. 

Cozart’s timing was impeccable. He became a free agent at the end of 2017 and parlayed his career year into a $38 million/3-year contract with the LA Angels. Research on whether there is a “contract year” boost is mixed, but Cozart’s 2017 season provides one strong data point for its existence. 

1. Shin-Soo Choo (2013) — 150 wRC+

I doubt Shin-Soo Choo’s appearance at the top of this list is surprising. Batting leadoff in 2013, Choo and Joey Votto provided an awesome one-two punch to the Reds offense. Votto and Choo were #1 and #2 in the NL in on-base percentage. The pair were also #1 and #2 in baseball in walk rate. Choo reached base 300 times in 2013, with 162 hits, 112 walks and a painful 26 hits-by-pitch. Choo was miscast by necessity playing CF for the Reds, but his strong arm, solid instincts and a small GABP kept his defensive liabilities limited.  

The Reds traded Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs for one year of Choo, who had been playing in Cleveland. I think the Reds had planned to make a good-faith effort to sign Choo to a long-term contract, but the outfielder simply had too great of a season and priced himself out of the Reds 2014 budget. Choo’s 2013 season with the Reds was good for 6.4 WAR, a career year. Choo signed a $130 million/7-year contract with the Rangers.  The best he’s done with Texas since then is 3.5 WAR in 2015.


*  To keep it interesting, this is the non-Joey Votto version of the list. He would have posted the top seven seasons. Behold Votto’s brilliance:

  • 2010 (172 wRC+)
  • 2011 (157 wRC+)
  • 2012 (178 wRC+)
  • 2013 (155 wRC+)
  • 2015 (174 wRC+)
  • 2016 (158 wRC+)
  • 2017 (163 wRC+)

And for good measure:

  • 2009 (155)

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.