Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review one of the 30 current MLB franchises every other week to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, the Cincinnati Reds are up. If you’re interested in any of our prior installments, you find them here.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. Two WAR calculations were used, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between two players was similar, we considered other factors such as stats and awards to break the tie.
- Only statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player were used. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
Many in Cincinnati claim that the Reds are the oldest professional franchise, forming in 1869. MLB officially recognizes its beginning in 1882, when the Red Stockings joined the American Association. In 1890, they moved to the National League and dropped “Stockings” from their name. The early years of the franchise were filled with primarily mediocre teams – except for the 1882 Red Stockings team that won the AA championship. The Reds didn’t advance to the World Series until 1919 when they defeated the White Sox. Unfortunately, the championship was tainted by the “Black Sox Scandal” that arose in the aftermath.
Over the next 50 years, the Reds would only return to the series three times, winning once. During the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, the team changed its name to the “Redlegs.” The new nickname only stuck for five seasons, from 1954-58, and they returned to the Reds in 1959. The 1970s was the golden age for Reds baseball as “The Big Red Machine” went to the playoffs six times during the decade and four World Series. They won two of the four – in 1975 and 1976. Since the 70s, they have appeared in the World Series only once, in 1990. That team, led by its “Nasty Boys” bullpen, swept the A’s in four games.
The Reds franchise winning % rests at .505 since their inception. The team has won ten pennants and five world championships to go along with 16 trips to the post-season.
Catcher: Johnny Bench
Little thought needed to be given to catcher, as Johnny Bench is our Greatest Catcher of All-Time and played for the Reds his entire career. Bench checked all of the boxes for the position. Great defense? Check. Bench won ten Gold Gloves and was renowned for his handling of pitchers and cannon for an arm. Offense? Check. Bench had tremendous power, leading the league in HRs twice and RBI three times. Only Mike Piazza has more career HRs at the position, and only Yogi Berra and Ted Simmons have more RBI.
Bench joined the Reds late in the 1967 season and became their starting catcher in 1968. He won Rookie of the Year that season, made the first of his 14 All-Star appearances, and won his first Gold Glove. In 1970, Bench was the NL MVP and followed it up with another win in 1972. He led the league in HRs and RBIs both of those seasons. On top of all his personal accomplishments, Bench played for “The Big Red Machine,” which went to four World Series during the 1970s and won back-to-back championships in 1974 and 1975. He was the MVP of the 1975 series, hitting .533 with two HRs and six RBI in the four-game sweep of the Yankees.
After the 1983 season, Bench called it quits and retired. The wear and tear on his body caught up with him, and he mainly played first base during his last few injury-riddled seasons. The following season, his number 5 was retired by the club. Unsurprisingly, he was an almost unanimous addition to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
First Base: Joey Votto
Joey Votto is the only active hitter in our lineup. Only Tony Perez, who we’ll get to in a bit, comes close among Reds’ first basemen to the WAR Votto has achieved with the team since breaking in with the franchise in 2007. Votto was a September call-up that season, but the following spring, he was the starter and finished second in the rookie-of-the-year voting.
Votto’s career seems unappreciated these days. Perhaps this is because one of his greatest assets is often overlooked – his eye for the strike zone. V0tto has led the league in walks five times and OBP seven times. His lifetime .413 OBP ranks second among all-time Reds, just behind Joe Morgan. He’s been an All-Star six times and has a Gold Glove and an MVP on his mantle. The MVP came in 2010, when Votto slugged 37 HRs, scored 106 runs, drove in 113, and batted .324 with a .424 OBP. Votto’s power had been ebbing since 2017 until last year when he turned back the clock and walloped 36 dingers.
Votto turns 39 next month but hasn’t indicated whether he’s contemplating retirement. Once he does, the Reds will likely retire his number 19. He also has an excellent resume for the Hall of Fame if the voters embrace his WAR and OBP and look beyond the HRs, which are on the low side for a HOF first baseman.
Second Base: Bid McPhee
Two second basemen made the All-Franchise team: Joe Morgan and Bid McPhee. Both players needed to be on the team given their high WARs, but we could only put one at second. We went with McPhee here and put Morgan at DH as McPhee’s defensive WAR was considerably higher.
John Alexander McPhee was one of the premier second basemen of the 19th century and is considered one of the best defenders at the position of all time. He debuted in 1882, the Red Stockings’ first season in the American Association, and manned the keystone for 18 seasons. Making his defensive numbers even more impressive is the fact that McPhee didn’t play with a glove for most of his career. He didn’t don one until 1896, at which point he set a record for fielding percentage. Despite the perceived disadvantage, McPhee led all second basemen in putouts and fielding % eight times, double plays 11 times, and assists six times. His defensive WAR on Fangraphs ranks third among second basemen of all time.
McPhee was an excellent offensive player as well and had tremendous speed. He was particularly good at hitting triples, and the 188 he hit in his career are the most by any second baseman in history. In addition, McPhee’s 568 career stolen bases rank third at the position. He retired after the 1899 season at the age of 39 and passed away in 1943. In 2000, the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee finally inducted him into Cooperstown.
Shortstop: Barry Larkin
As one of our Top Ten Shortstops of All-Time, Barry Larkin was the clear choice at the position, though Dave Concepcion deserves mention. Larkin debuted late in the 1986 season and finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in only 41 games. By Larkin’s third season, he was an All-Star, a feat he would repeat 11 more times in his career. He also won nine Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, and the NL MVP in 1995. That season, Larkin batted .319, scored 98 runs, drove in 66, and stole 51 bases. Without a doubt, Larkin was the dominant shortstop in the NL for over a decade.
The Reds only made the playoffs twice in Larkin’s 19 seasons. The first time, in 1990, they won the World Series. Larkin batted .353/.421/.529 in that series which was a four-game sweep for the Reds over the A’s. Despite the lack of team success, Larkin stuck with Cincinnati until the end, retiring after the 2004 season at 40. He remained the team’s shortstop until the end and was still productive when healthy, batting .289 in his final season and making the All-Star team.
Larkin was a great leader off the field, winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 1993 for his charitable work and the Lou Gehrig Award for his character and integrity in 1994. In 2012, the BBWAA elected Larkin to the Hall of Fame with 86% of the vote. A month after his induction, the Reds retired his number 11.
Third Base: Tony Perez
Tony Perez played first base more than third base in his career, but with the Reds, the positional split was relatively even. Perez was the regular third baseman for the team from 1967 through 1971 before changing positions. He debuted a few seasons earlier, in 1964, but was a platoon player his first few years. It was in 1967 that his career took off. That season he hit .290 with 26 HRs and 102 RBI and made his first of seven All-Star teams. His HR in the 15th inning of the 1967 midsummer classic earned him the All-Star MVP in a low-scoring affair that ended 2-1.
Perez was a key member of the “Big Red Machine.” He was on all five of the Reds World Series clubs during the 70s and slugged three HRs in the 1975 series against Boston. On a team full of stars, Perez quietly contributed solid numbers season in and season out for Cincinnati. From ’67 until the end of his first Reds tenure in 1976, he averaged 26 HRs and 103 RBI while batting .286.
The Reds traded Perez to the Expos after the 1976 season. Over the next seven seasons, he played for three different teams, including the 1983 Phillies’ World Series club. In 1984, he returned to the Reds at the age of 41 and played his final three seasons in Cincinnati. It took some time, but after nine tries, the BBWAA admitted Perez into the Hall of Fame in 2000. That same year, the Reds retired number 24 in his honor.
Left Field: Pete Rose
The great Pete Rose played a lot of different positions in his career, which gave us some flexibility. Left field was the best spot for him in our lineup; thus, here he sits. Rose debuted for the team in 1963 and won rookie-of-the-year. In 1965, Rose led the league in hits for the first time and went to his first All-Star game. He would repeat both feats several times as a Red, leading the league in hits six times while a Red and representing Cincinnati at the All-Star game 14 times.
“Charlie Hustle” was durable and one of baseball’s greatest hitters. Part of the reason Rose would eventually break Ty Cobb’s hit record was because he played nearly every day. He played more games than anyone by more than an entire season in his career and averaged 157 games per season in his first stint with the Reds. Of course, he was also a great hitter, winning three batting titles, a Silver Slugger, and an MVP in 1973. In 1978, Rose had a 44-game hitting streak that remains the third-longest in history. Though not known for his defense, Rose also has two Gold Gloves; both won when he was playing primarily right field.
Rose played in six World Series, four with the “Big Red Machine.” His best post-season performance came in 1975 when he was the series MVP after hitting .370 with a .485 OBP in the Reds’ victory over the Red Sox. After the 1978 season, Rose left the team via free agency to join the Phillies. He was traded back to the Reds in August of 1984 and took over as player/manager. He continued in this role through the 1986 season before moving permanently to the bench.
Rose, of course, had his issues as a manager. Eventually, these led to his suspension from the game for gambling in 1989. This has kept him out of the Hall of Fame, though many hope the suspension will eventually be lifted. Despite this, the Reds officially retired his #14 in 2016. Only one other player had worn it since he retired anyway – his son, Pete Rose Jr.
Center Field: Vada Pinson
Vada Pinson quietly handled center field for the Reds throughout most of the 1960s, putting up excellent offensive numbers along the way. Edd Roush was also considered here, but we felt Pinson’s case was a tiny bit stronger.
Pinson made the team out of camp in 1958 at only 19 years old but struggled and spent most of the season in the minors. By the following season, he was good to go out of Spring Training and proceeded to lead the league in plate appearances, runs, and doubles that year. He also played in both All-Star games that season, a feat he duplicated in 1960. Pinson was an excellent hitter with good power and speed. He led the league in hits, doubles, and triples twice and was a 20 HR/20 SB player five times. Pinson also played excellent defense and won a Gold Glove in 1961.
The Reds of the 60s weren’t as successful as the 70s teams, though Pinson did get to one World Series in 1961, which Cincinnati lost in five games to the Yankees. Pinson had a down year in 1968, perhaps due to leg injuries, and the Reds traded him to the Cardinals after the season. He never received serious consideration from the Hall of Fame voters, but his 2,757 hits are among the most of any player not in Cooperstown.
Right Field: Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson is the first player to be featured on two All-Time Franchise Starting Lineups, as he was also a member of the Orioles All-Time team. Robinson began his career in Cincinnati but was traded by the club in December 1965. The Reds likely regretted this decision when Robinson went on to win the 1966 triple-crown.
Robinson started his career by winning rookie-of-the-year in 1956. He was also an All-Star that season, something he would accomplish eight times in his time with the Reds. In his ten years with Cincinnati, Robinson averaged 32 HRs, 104 runs, and 101 RBI per season. He led the NL in SLG/OPS three times, runs twice, and doubles/OBP once. Robinson won a Gold Glove in 1958 and took home the MVP in 1961. That season was the only time in his tenure with the team that the Reds made it to the post-season (losing in the World Series, as mentioned earlier).
Robinson, and Reds fans, were shocked when the team traded him in 1965. The club viewed him as a player on the decline, but they were clearly wrong as he played at an extremely high level for several more seasons. Robinson finally hung up his cleats in 1976, and the BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first attempt. Several years later, in 1998, Frank’s number 20 was finally retired by the club.
Designated Hitter: Joe Morgan
As mentioned earlier, Joe Morgan made the team as our DH. “The Little General” needed to be on the squad despite playing only eight seasons in Cincinnati. Those seasons corresponded with the peak of the “Big Red Machine,” cementing Morgan’s legacy with the franchise.
Morgan began his career in Houston and had some success, but it wasn’t until he was traded to the Reds in 1971 that his career really took off. In his first season with Cincinnati, Morgan led the league in runs, walks, and OBP; and finished fourth in the MVP voting. The Reds also made it to the World Series that year, losing in seven games to the Oakland A’s. The next four seasons were magical for Morgan, especially 1975 and 1976. He was a World Champion and the NL MVP both seasons. Morgan was an on-base machine who could run, hit for power, and play excellent defense. He took home five gold gloves in Cincinnati, was an All-Star all eight seasons with the club, and led the league in OBP four times.
As the Reds’ dynasty began to collapse, Morgan left as a free agent in 1980 and returned to Houston. He played his final five seasons with four different teams. “The Little General” retired in 1984 with a career OBP of .392. The Reds retired his #8 in 1998, and a few years later, the BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Left-Handed Starter: Noodles Hahn
Two pitchers were neck-and-neck for the honor of being our left-handed starter: Eppa Rixey and Frank George “Noodles” Hahn. The two hurlers’ WARs were remarkably similar, with Rixey’s being higher on Fangraphs and Hahn’s on Baseball-Reference. It was a tough call, but ultimately we chose Hahn as his WAR was achieved in one thousand fewer innings than Rixey, thus indicating he was the more dominant pitcher. His ERA, FIP, and WHIP with the franchise were also much lower.
Noodles began his career in 1899 at the tender age of 20 and threw 309 innings with a league-leading 145 strikeouts and 2.88 FIP. He led the league in K’s again the following two seasons and, in 1901, tossed a league-high 375.1 innings with a stunning 41 complete games. The Reds continued to ride their star pitcher hard. Through the 1904 season, Noodles averaged 318 innings per year.
The wear and tear caught up with Hahn in 1905 when an arm injury limited him to 77 innings. He was still effective that season when he pitched, but nevertheless, the Reds released him – in large part likely to his extraordinary salary of over $4,000. Hahn made six more starts the next season for the New York Highlanders of the American League but decided it was time to explore other endeavors and retired in July. He was 27 years old. Hahn was on track for a Hall of Fame career, but unfortunately, injuries and other interests blocked his path.
Right-Handed Starter: Paul Derringer
A similar dilemma pitted Dolf Luque versus Paul Derringer for our right-handed starter. The lifetime stats between these two are remarkably similar. Derringer started three more games than Luque in his Reds career, but Luque threw 53 more innings. Luque had a lower ERA, but Derringer had a lower FIP. Derringer’s WAR is higher on Fangraphs, while Luque’s is higher on Baseball-Reference. Their claims were about as equal as possible. Ultimately we chose Derringer as he had more post-season experience with the club and a better K/BB ratio. But really, you could flip a coin between the two.
Derringer began his career with the Cardinals but was traded to the Reds in May 1933. Despite solid numbers with St. Louis, Derringer and his fiery personality wore thin on Cards management. The Reds were not a good team at the time, but Derringer helped them turn things around to the point where they went to the World Series in 1939 and 1940. Derringer started five games over those two series, winning twice with a combined ERA of 2.63. The biggest game of his career came in Game 7 of the 1940 series when Derringer outdueled Bobo Newsom of the Tigers 2-1, giving the Reds their first championship since 1919.
In Derringer’s ten seasons with Cincinnati, he made six All-Star teams. Twice he finished high in the MVP voting, finishing third in 1939 and fourth in 1940. Before the 1943 season, the Reds sold his rights to the Cubs, where he played his final three seasons. Derringer was known to be an ill-tempered hothead off the field, but on it, he was always in control.
Reliever: Aroldis Chapman
The choice for reliever was once again a two-horse race, this time between Aroldis Chapman and Rob Dibble. Dibble, the best of the three “Nasty Boys,” enjoyed more team success with Cincinnati and spent more time with the team. Chapman, however, had superior numbers pretty much across the board and thus was our choice.
Chapman was a star in Cuba before defecting in 2009. The following January, he signed with the Reds and started the season in Triple-A. His MLB debut didn’t come until August 31, but he finished the season strong and was in the Reds bullpen to start 2011. Chapman wasn’t the closer yet, however, but the following season he assumed the mantle and flourished with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves. Aroldis made his first of four consecutive All-Star games for the Reds that season as well and finished eighth in the NL Cy Young voting.
The Reds considered converting Chapman to a starter the following spring, but Chapman made it clear he would rather remain in the pen, so they relented. He continued to dominate, saving 107 more games for the team from 2013 – 2015. Before the 2016 season, the Reds traded him to the Yankees, fearing they would lose him to free agency the following off-season. Despite only being the closer for four seasons, Chapman’s 146 saves are the second most in Reds’ history. He has remained a top closer until this season and is building a strong case for the Hall of Fame.
In two weeks, we’ll cover another franchise from Ohio – the Cleveland Guardians! If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)