The best Reds defensive players of the decade

As the end of the decade approaches, we shift our attention to the leather and attempt to rank the best Reds defenders of the 2010s. Most of these names will not surprise avid Reds fans, but it is still a fun exercise. Defense could be argued as the most exciting aspect of the game, and it is safe to say the Reds had their share of exciting players over the last ten seasons.

The numbers that are referenced are DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings). Although neither are perfect, they are two of the better defensive metrics available today. There are some more in-depth articles in relation to the 2019 Reds posted here. I would have also included Statcast numbers for more recent seasons, but I wrote this on a plane to Thailand and was not able to get online before taking off. Luckily, I do keep a data dump from FanGraphs handy on my computer. Definitely not nerdy at all. I will also add I did not have access to Gold Glove data, but since Billy Hamilton never won a Gold Glove, I am going to disregard them for this analysis.

The Pitchers

Pitcher defense (along with catchers) is even harder to measure than other position players, as there is not even UZR data available. I also cannot claim to remember any particular pitchers with standout defense. That said, one of these names surprises me and the other does not.

#2 — Johnny Cueto If you had told me Cueto would be on this list, I probably would not have believed you. He never really exuded athleticism and considering the first Cueto moment that pops into my head involves him dropping a ball (too soon?), it just didn’t seem to add up. But numbers have a funny way of showing new perspectives, and that is exactly what happened here.

Coming in behind Leake with 24 DRS for 2nd most among Reds pitchers makes sense given his longevity, but his DRS per 150 innings is very strong as well, essentially tying Leake and coming in ahead of nearly every other Reds pitcher. His totals are not quite on par with the rest of the league, but his best year defensively did clear the top 25 performances for all MLB pitchers. So not only was he a great pitcher, he was apparently a pretty good defender as well. All this does is make me miss Johnny even more.

#1 — Mike Leake Leake qualifies as the non-surprise, given his general athleticism and decent hitting ability, I almost would have expected him to show up in this list. There never seemed to be a grounder or bunt that he could not make a play on. And with the 2nd most innings pitched for the Reds this decade (8 behind Homer Bailey), it makes sense that he accumulated a lot of defensive value. His 25 DRS are not all driven by volume though, it does translate to a good DRS per 150 innings. And while Leake was good with the Reds, he has gotten better since leaving.

Having racked up 18 additional DRS with Seattle and St. Louis, Leake’s 43 total DRS rank 4th among all MLB pitchers. While this doesn’t make him any more valuable to the Reds, it certainly validates what we had seen for those six years that he was with the team. Given Leake’s impressive durability and less-stressful pitching strategy, he could very well continue adding to that total as his career progresses.

Position Players: Fourth Tier

10 — Joey Votto Votto deserves a spot here for his sheer cumulative value (50 DRS, 3rd among the Reds) but his lack of one great year (yes, I know he won a Gold Glove. See Intro) limits him to honorable mention. He also had a few below average years, which none of the above players can claim. He might be getting a bit of the positional adjustment here, because he does boast a season in the top 30 for MLB first basemen and the 5th most DRS. His weighted numbers really weigh him down though (pun intended), so I do have to leave him off. I think there is another list that he should be included in though, just a hunch.

#9 — Jay Bruce Bruce had two crazy good seasons, including the highest UZR/150 of any Reds player since 2010 (18.2). In 2010 and 2013 he drove 32 DRS. In the other seven seasons, he drove -16. So yeah, that’s all I have to say about that.

#8 — Chris Heisey Heisey sneaks in here with some sneaky (can you tell I have been on a plane for 8 hours) good seasons. He bounced around an awful lot, so some of these metrics are probably skewed given the smaller samples. But in one of his larger stints (315 innings) he drove 6 DRS and 11.1 UZR/150 as a LF in 2014. All said he earned 18 DRS and a weighted average 6.1 UZR/150, which is above average and should be commended, especially while playing all three outfield positions.

Third Tier

#7 — Scott Rolen I almost left Rolen off on principle because of his connection to the Cardinals and his error in Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS. Prior to 2012 though, his first two seasons were very strong, driving 20 DRS and 11+ and 13+ UZR/150, clearing the “Great” designation. Those seasons both rank in the top 10 for the Reds and 2011 was even a top 20 year for all MLB players at the hot corner. Rolen was certainly one of the better players/defenders of his time before he came to Cincinnati, and he did maintain that level for a couple seasons. His drop off in 2012 is upsetting for one major reason, but even with that factored in, he still provided a lot of defensive value for a team that ended the playoff drought.

#6 — Todd Frazier Frazier was a solid defender who platooned with and then replaced the man just ahead of him in the list, which was no small task. It could have only helped having Rolen to learn from in the early days of his career. Frazier cashed in during the 2013 season, his first year playing full-time. Despite only 5 DRS that year, his UZR/150 of 11+ cracked the top 10 for a Reds season and top 30 for all MLB third basemen. He dropped of a bit after that, though he was never below average. Definitely not the cream of the crop for the league and helped a bit by his longevity with the Reds, Frazier nonetheless earned his spot here with five strong years.

Second Tier

#5 — Brandon Phillips If Billy Hamilton takes the cake for the most exciting player, Brandon Phillips would certainly be the flashiest. From behind the back double plays to forcing players to slide into his behind, ‘DatDude’ could turn a routine 4-3 putout into the most exciting play of the game. Despite the observational evidence, the majority of his value came from his range and positioning (similar to Cozart), with negative value coming from double plays and very little being given towards making the extraordinary play.

Coming in with the 6th most DRS for the Reds at 33, Phillips shows up as an anchor for the franchise. While his weighted average UZR/150 of 6.55 equates to slightly above average, he posted four seasons in the top 25 for every Reds player this decade. He also boasts a top 30 MLB season for second baseman with his 2010 performance and cracks the top 10 for overall defensive value, hovering around Chase Utley, Sean Rodriguez and Whit Merrifield. While his numbers are pretty good, Brandon is a player who cannot be defined by numbers alone, as those who watched him can certainly attest to.

#4 — Adam Duvall Despite only playing two full seasons in the Queen City, Duvall put up some strong numbers in LF while also racking up 170 innings in RF, 3B and 1B. Strong range combined with an above average arm made for a surprisingly good corner outfielder considering he was the lesser prospect in the Mike Leake trade. Hitting 30 home runs a year would have sufficed with just average defense, but Duvall came in and played well in left, and the numbers back it up.

Rounding out the top 5 for the Reds with 39 DRS and a nearly 7 weighted average UZR/150, Duvall is no fluke to be mentioned in the best Reds defenders of the last ten years. His 2016 and 2018 seasons are both in the top 15 for the Reds and for all MLB left fielders. He outperformed Yoenis Cespesdes, Gerardo Parra, Christian Yelich (MIA only) and Marcell Ozuna despite playing fewer innings. He was definitely not as much of a snub as Billy Hamilton for not winning a Gold Glove, but he was rightfully nominated. The Reds have not had much to get excited about the past three years, but Duvall was one of the bright spots.

#3 — Ryan Hanigan Hanigan may (or may not be, depending on how well you remember) the first and only big surprise on here. I personally do not remember much in particular but looking at the numbers makes me feel like I should. His 48 DRS ranks 4th among all 2010s Reds players, and that number looks even better when factoring in the low number of innings he totaled. Both DRS’s strike zone metrics and FanGraph’s Framing Runs metric viewed him as a great framer for his entire tenure with Cincinnati, though his above average pitching staffs could have influenced those numbers a bit. His base stealing prevention was nothing to write home about but didn’t hurt the team either.

While his decade total of 48 DRS ranks 12th in all baseball, his phenomenal 2012 season comes in as the 7th best individual season with a whopping 23 DRS. Yadier Molina’s 2013 season with 30 DRS is tops, so he really wasn’t all that far off. Pretty impressive from a guy that I do not often think about, and definitely played a key role in the success of the 2010-2013 Reds.

First Tier

#2 — Billy Hamilton Hamilton’s name was a guarantee to show up on this list. Since I did not have the pleasure of watching Eric Davis play, I can safely say that Billy is the most entertaining defender I have ever watched. He produced a highlight seemingly each and every night, flying in all different directions to make plays that just did not seem possible. Somewhat surprisingly, Billy’s value was very balanced and not reliant just on his incredible speed leading to crazy catches. He was rated almost equally well for his range and positioning and arm strength. Really just an all-around treasure to watch patrol center.

While he never broke through and won a Gold Glove, the metrics do support what we all witnessed. Hamilton’s 58 total DRS (51 with the Reds) ranks 5th among all CF for the decade, and his 11.4 weighted UZR/150 just trails Kevin Kiermaier but puts him ahead of Lorenzo Cain, Juan Lagares, Jarrod Dyson, Byron Buxton and Ender Inciarte, to name a few. His 2016 campaign, a top 30 season for all MLB centerfielders this decade, ranks 2nd of any Reds in the 2010s with 15.3 UZR/150.

#1 — Zack Cozart Given how well Cozart hit during the last two seasons with the Reds, it is a bit odd to look back and see how bad he was at the plate in his early years. He certainly had his struggles offensively but there was a reason the team kept him as their starting shortstop for so long. Not only were his defensive standards extremely high, he held them up for quite a long time. This makes sense considering most all of his value came from his range and positioning, which is essentially making more plays than other shortstops when comparing balls with similar hit profiles. Both DRS and UZR rated him below average at turning double plays, and UZR gave him a bit more credit for his small number of errors. He was not a flashy player who would make incredible plays often, but he made more plays than most and did not make mistakes.

His cumulative DRS (56) and is the best of any Reds player and his weighted average UZR/150 (8.15) is 2nd to the spectacular Billy Hamilton. Cozart’s 2014 stands out as his crown jewel at short. In over 1274 innings, he amassed 19 DRS and posted a 14.1 UZR/150, just shy of “Gold Glove Caliber”, according to UZR’s scale. That is a top 15 season among all shortstops over the past ten years, and six of those seasons belong to Andrelton Simmons. While Cozart did decline a bit in the following years, he was still average, if not above average according to the metrics. He may not have been a defensive wizard, but all-in-all he was an incredibly talented and reliable defender that served the Reds very well.

Matt Habel

Matthew Habel was born and mostly raised in Cincinnati and was always a Reds fan growing up. Ironically, he did not become die-hard until moving to Pittsburgh after college and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game behind enemy lines. While the "Cueto Game" is one of the worst sports moments of his life, he became enamored with the analytics side of the game after reading Big Data Baseball and watching the Pirates organization end their postseason drought. He started writing for Redleg Nation in 2017 and has enjoyed continuously learning more about the sport. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon where he loves exploring the great outdoors. Find him on Twitter @MattadorHeyBull