Cincinnati Reds

Posted by Baseball Bob at 14:03
Jan 212011

The Reds opened the season amid quiet optimism, fueled by the presence of potential future stars Joey Votto and the hoped-for emergence of Jay Bruce, along with the signing of young flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman, though he would start the year in the minors. The rotation featured some young arms, including the best-hitting pitcher in the majors in a long time in Micah Owings.

They dropped 2 of 3 to the Cardinals, won 2 of 3 from the Cubs and won 2 straight from the Marlins to be 5-3. But 2 losses to Florida put them back to even and a sweep by the Pirates put the losing streak at 5 and fans began to talk about a lost season. They had scored only 51 runs in those 13 games, just not enough for a team playing in the hitter’s paradise known as the Great American Ballpark (I often call it the Smallpark). They took 2 of 3 at home from the Dodgers, scoring 23 runs but allowing 23 as well, and lost 2 straight to the Padres (also at home) to move to 7-11 and last place in the Central. Salvaging the final game of the SD series, they swept Houston on the road to jump from 6th to 2nd in a compressed division, a place they would hold for a while, hovering around .500.

At 14-15 on May 7 they beat the Cubs two straight at home, then swept the Pirates on the road to move to 19-15. They won 2 of 3 from SL to claim first place by a half-game at 21-16. They went back-and-forth between first and second, for a few days, reclaimed first on May 24 and held it until losing 2 of 3 in SL to fall back into a tie with the Cardinals, when a loss in Washington put them back into second for a pair of days. SL obliged with a losing streak, however, and they reclaimed first on June 6, but lost 4 of 5 June 11-16 to allow the Cardinals to catch them again on June 15. A sweep by the lowly Mariners made the fall 7 of 9 and put them 1½ out, but a 5-game win streak against the A’s and Indians put them back on top. I remember clearly thinking that this Reds team didn’t have the pitching or second-line hitting to last, and confidently predicting that the Cardinals would win.

Micah Owings season effectively ended on July 4th, though he made one more try on July 20th, ruining his stats with a 2/3 IP, 4ER outing that raised his ERA an entire run (from 4.41 to 5.40) and he was done for the year.

On July 7 they had moved to a 3-game lead as the Cardinals had another losing streak, but a 4-game sweep in Philadelphia leading to the all-star break evaporated all but a game of the lead, and at 49-41 they were the weakest of the division leaders. The Cardinals started the second-half hot, so that taking 2 of 3 from the Rockies cost them first place, taking 2 straight from Washington still saw them there, and losing a pair to the Nats dropped them 1½ behind, their biggest deficit in a month plus. Late July and early August saw a seesaw at the top of the Central, as the Reds won series (all 2 of 3) from the Astros, Brewers, Braves and Pirates, putting them up by ½ from August 3-5. They extended the lead to 2 games with a sweep of the Cubs, and then hosted the Cardinals in a crucial series, only to lose all three games, their offense shut down by the Cardinals’ starters, and they were back in second place.

At this point, I think EVERYONE thought the run, fun though it was, was over. They had needed only ONE win to stay in first, and it was like the “Boston Massacre”. But Cincinnati this year was made of sterner stuff, and this was indeed the turning point of the season, but not for reasons that were expected. The Reds swept the Marlins at home, then the Diamondbacks on the road, and the Cardinals were losing. A win in LA suddenly put the streak at 7, the lead at 4½, and the Reds 2 off the best record in the league. They were for real. Not only did they never surrender the lead again, but a 7-4 record over the next 11 games combined with a SL slump to push the lead to 8 games on September 1st, and the race was essentially over. The Cardinals beat them 2 of 3 to make it 7, the September-only Rockies swept them four in Colorado (but this cost them only ONE game in the standings) and after THAT they coasted in, winning by 5 despite gong only 12-15 down the stretch.

Aroldis Chapman and his unworldly fastball (104MPH in his first game) appeared on August 31st, with an eye to the postseason, and he was great, but he was NOT the difference in the race: first, the race was mostly over when he got there, second, the Reds did not play so well while he was there, and third, in the 9 close games in which he pitched he had a blown save and two losses, so he wasn’t ALL that effective. Still, he figures to be a great pitcher for a while (he is 22).

The faced the unenviable task of meeting the Phillies in the best-of-five NLDS, facing Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, and they were not equal to the challenge: they scored just 4 runs in the three games (getting no HITS in one game), and so the storybook season ended on a sour note, which did not diminish what they had accomplished. I don’t know too many that predicted the Reds to win, or even contend (certainly I didn’t) and the oldest franchise in MLB history did its [relatively] small town proud.

Let’s look at how it was done.

Overall 91-71 B

The Reds scored 790 while allowing 685, one game off their Pythagorean projection of 92 wins. They were 49-32 at home and 42-39 on the road, a solid record. They had a winning record every month of the year except September, and they did in THAT month, too, until they had things sewn up. They struggled against their competitor, St. Louis, going 6-12 vs. the Cardinals, but otherwise dominated the division, including 12-4 against the Cubbies.

After doing two losing teams, I wanted to do a winner, and a surprising one, and the Reds certainly qualify. And none of the overall indicators suggest it was a fluke (for example, they won exactly half of their 1-run games, as you would statistically expect).

Hitters 79.75-82.25 C

Runs Times
<3 36
3 29
4 16
5 21
6 16
6+ 44

Even a championship team in a hitter’s park couldn’t push my non-normalized stat above a C – this was, in “absolute” terms, not a great hitting team. Better by far than the Orioles and Cubs, the Reds still did not put runs on the board at a clip that would suggest they would win a lot of games. The “Year of the Pitcher” was real: scoring was down a lot, and everywhere. Still, the Reds DID get some good hitting years out of their players.

Only ONE Red was below 100 in OPS+, and he is the ONLY regular not returning to Cincinnati next year: 35-year-old shortstop Orlando Cabrera (.263/.303/.354/657 OPS+ 78). Cabrera earned 0.4 bWAR, not the fewest by a Reds regular, but worthy of replacement (so the Reds signed Edgar Renteria, we’ll see how that goes).

The next weakest hitter in the lineup was left-fielder Jonny Gomes at .266/.327/.431/758 OPS+ 104, whose fielding was so bad that B-R gives him -0.4 WAR; a replacement left-fielder who can’t really hit (Gomes can) would theoretically have been better. Oddly, Laynce Nix played 97 games for the Reds but only 182 PA, clearly a sub and pinch-hitter, but out-hit Gomes (OPS+ 116) and was a far superior fielder. I think he might have been on the DL late in the season (no games played between August 26 and September 22) but otherwise was available, but his game log makes it clear that he was never the starter, but only a utility outfielder. Nor is it a platoon, as NIX is the lefty – he would have the majority of the starts in a platoon arrangement. Nix earned 1.7 bWAR in 182 PAs, while Gomes earned -0.4 in 571. Color me confused.

Brandon Phillips at second base compiled an OPS+ of 105, which is great for a second-baseman, and along with solid if unspectacular fielding earned him 2.3 bWAR. Ramon Hernandez, a 34-year-old catcher, surprised everyone by hitting an excellent .297/.364/.428/792 OPS+ 114 and playing plus defense, with his 2.4 bWAR his best in 5 years, after three consecutive seasons below 1.0. Don’t expect a repeat.

Veteran Scott Rolen, former Phillies great, was down a bit from his fabulous 2009, still posting a .285/.358/.497/854 OPS+129 season that did NOT catch us by surprise. He also played plus defense, and earned 3.9 bWAR. This is a great ballplayer, a HOF candidate, and I am sad that he doesn’t still play in Philly.

Now we come to the really exciting players:

25-year-old sophomore (barely, 196 PAs in 2009) Drew Stubbs plays an outstanding centerfield, and showed in 2009 the promise of a hitter, batting .267/.323/.439/762 OPS+ 99, which is fine for a centerfielder with a great glove, but no star. In 2010, given the every day job, he did essentially the same thing over a full season, batting .255/.329/.444/773 but that was good for an OPS+ of 108 in the run-starved environment, and with his defense earned 4.1 bWAR, near all-star value.

23-year-old rightfielder Jay Bruce has long been touted as a future superstar, but formerly disappointed as his OPS of 767 (2008 in 452 PA) and 773 (2009 in 345 PA) and his fragility (no more than 108 Games in either season) were worrisome, even though his age suggested big improvement. Well, improve he did, posting a .281/.353/.493/846 OPS+ 127 line that had Reds fans giddy, and his improving defense was rated very highly as well, resulting in a 4.3 bWAR and a long and lucrative contract, which was probably favorable to the Reds if his 2010 is in any way indicative of his future performance. If he is really a 4 WAR (or better) player, he is an absolute STEAL, as the contract would pay dividends if he averages TWO WAR over its 7-year life.

And 26-year-old Joey Votto exploded with a .324/.424/.600/1024 monster season, good for an OPS+ of 174 and an MVP despite shaky defense at first base. Votto’s 6.2 bWAR was 5th best in the NL, B-R doesn’t think he earned the MVP, but he was 2nd in batting average (he was 5th in 2009), 1st in OBP (2nd in 2009), 1st in SLG (2nd in 2009), 1st in OPS (3rd in 2009), 4th in Runs, 3rd in RBI, 1st in WPA (4th in 2009) which means a lot of clutch hits, 3rd in HRs, well, you get the idea. Yes, perhaps the MVP voters still don’t put as much emphasis on defense as they might, but Votto had a heck of a year. FanGraphs has his WAR as 7.4 and best in the NL, for the record.

The Reds had a good bench, too, with backup catcher Hanigan outhitting Hernandez (OPS+ 127), Infielders Janish and Cairo near league average in hitting and outfielders Heisey and Nix above league.

One of the things you need to do to win, as I have mentioned before, is to combine solid play at every position with a couple of real stars, and the Reds implemented exactly this formula in 2010.

Starters 91-71 B

Starter GS IP ERA W-L Deserves
Bronson Arroyo 33 215.2 3.88 17-10 21.75-11.25
Johnny Cueto 31 185.2 3.64 12-7 19.25-11.75
Mike Leake 22 138.1 4.23 8-4 11.75-10.25
Aaron Harang 20 111.2 5.32 6-7 8.25-11.75
Homer Bailey 19 109.0 4.46 4-3 9.25-9.75
Travis Wood 17 102.2 3.51 5-4 10.75-6.25
Edinson Volquez 12 62.2 4.31 4-3 6.75-5.25
Sam LeCure 6 48.0 4.50 2-5 2-4
Matt Maloney 2 20.2 3.05 2-2 1.25-0.75

According to my theory, this rotation, combined with an average offense and an average bullpen, should win 91 games, EXACTLY as many as the Reds actually won. Sadly, for me, while I rate the offense as average, I rate the bullpen as slightly above average, so the numbers don’t work out perfectly. So sue me: they are pretty darn close.

The Reds featured as their #1 starter erstwhile Red Sox hurler Bronson Arroyo, who, at 33, started 33 times and was not that ace-like, with an ERA+ of only 103. This is, in my opinion, misleading – my metric, which goes start by start instead of the accumulated runs allowed (like ERA) suggests that he was really very good – he deserved to win 66% of his games, which, if not an ace, is still a VERY good pitcher. Most analysts would say that his 5.0 K/9 (2.5 BB/9) suggests he will not be able to do this again, and it may well be true, as his FIP was 4.61. Still, he had an ERA of 3.84 in 2009, with a FIP of 4.78 so he may be one of those who stays below his FIP every year. And his ERA was wrecked by a few bad starts, which is what my metric is supposed to show.

The rotation also contained 32-year-old Aaron Harang, gone via free agency, and HE was bad: ERA+ 75 and a deserved winning percentage of .413 in 20 starts. He will not be missed.

The rest of the rotation did not have a starter over 24 years old! Young pitchers can break your heart is a valid principle (Fletcher’s rule) but there is a counterbalancing principle: miracle teams (defined as teams coming out of nowhere to win) such as the 1969 Mets, the 2008 Rays, the 1961 Reds, the 1914 Braves etc. generally share the following characteristics: 1) a compressed division or league (OK, Tampa Bay bucked this trend), 2) a star player or two having a breakout season, and 3) young pitching that gels. The Reds had all three conditions, though their 78 wins in 2009 is not few enough to be a true miracle.

Johnny Cueto made 31 starts in 2008 as a 22-year-old, but in 2010 had his first season above league average, with an ERA+ of 110 in 31 starts and 181 innings.

Homer Bailey made 9 starts as in 2007 as a 21-year-old, and 8 in 2008, before starting 20 in 2009. He is still not league average (OPS+ 90) but deserved by my metric (remember, it is NOT park-adjusted) about a .500 record, is a solid fifth starter, and at 24 has a huge upside.

Mike Leake at 23 was a true rookie, and made 22 starts for the Reds. His ERA+ was 94, a natural 4th or 5th starter, and his peripherals are not great (5.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 4.68 FIP) but he was deserving of a winning record, and is very young.

And Travis Wood was also 23 also a true rookie, and made 17 starts (not in the original rotation) with an ERA+ of 114 and a deserved winning percentage of .632 which over 25 decisions (in a full season) would be 16-9. He has solid peripherals (7.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.43 FIP) and is a very exciting young picture.

Thus the Reds rotation was overall VERY solid despite the lack of an ace, and a big (and surprising) reason for the Red’s (surprising) success in 2010. And it should be a strength for some time to come.

Relievers 111/491 B

Reliever Games IP ERA Value Grade
Nick Masset 82 76.2 3.40 23 A-
Francisco Cordero 75 72.2 3.84 16 B
Arthur Rhodes 69 55.0 2.29 30 A+
Logan Ondrusek 60 58.2 3.68 17 A-
Jordan Smith 37 42.0 3.86 13 A+
Danny Herrera 36 23.0 3.91 -2 F
Bill Bray 35 28.1 4.13 13 A+
Micah Owings 22 33.1 5.40 -1 F
Mike Lincoln 19 19.2 7.32 -8 F
Carlos Fisher 18 22.1 5.64 1 D+
Aroldis Chapman 15 13.1 2.03 7 A+
Sam LeClure 9 48.0 4.50 2 B
Enerio Del Rosario 9 8.2 2.08 0 D-
Matt Maloney 5 20.2 3.05 2 A+
Jared Burton 4 3.1 0.00 4 A+
Mike Leake 2 138.1 4.23 -4 F
Aaron Harang 2 111.2 5.32 -2 F
Russ Springer 2 1.2 5.40 0 D-

The Reds had a lot of relievers who had good years. The best of them, unfortunately, by either my metric or ERA+, was 4-year-old Arthur Rhodes, who is old, a free agent, and may well retire. Also good, and a bit worrisome, was 35-year-old closer Francisco Cordero, but not as good as in years past. His ERA+ was only 104, slightly above league, but he delivered frequently enough to score as B by my metric.

The rest of the bullpen was young, and some of the youngsters were pretty good.

28-year-old Nick Masset appeared in 82 games and was fine (ERA+ 118 A-) but not as good as last year (178 A+). He continues to strike out a ton (10K/) but walk too many (3.9 BB/9) and the last two years has kept the ball in the park well.

25-year-old Logan Ondrusek (doesn’t he sound like he should be from Canada and play hockey?) also scored A- on my metric (ERA+ 109) as a rookie, and may improve, though his FIP of 4.32 suggest a possible rise in ERA.

24-year-old Jordan Smith, also a rookie, scored A+ on my metric in limited play (ERA+ 104) though HIS FIP was worse, 4.94 (ERA 3.86) and so his ERA will very likely go up. Against this he is still very young, and both his ERA and FIP were adversely affected by a couple of bad outings (his very first appearance he gave up 3 ER, on 2 BB and a HR, which blows both ERA and FIP out of the water). I haven’t done the study, and may never get to it, but I wonder when FIP and my relief metric collide, which is a better predictor. Anyway, youth is also a predictor of improvement, and I wouldn’t bet against Smith being a good one.

And then there’s Chapman, which you will all have heard about, unless you get your baseball news under a rock somewhere. He is 22, throws 104 MPH but also has a decent (some say devastating) curve ball, and a changeup that is faster than many a ML fastball, but still enough of a change to blow hitters away. He struck out 12.8 batters per 9 innings, while walking 3.4, in 13 1/3 electrifying innings at the end of the season. His only appearance in the postseason (they brought him up August 31st in order to add him to the postseason roster) was a loss in the second game of the NLDS.

The rest of the bullpen was ordinary-to-bad, as often happens, but overall it was a solid if unspectacular unit. If one of the kids (Smith?) can take over the closer role, this could be an excellent group going forward.

Summary

The Reds won 91 games, and deserved it, by combining an average offense with a fine pitching staff. They were pretty solid defensively, and got great years from Bruce and Stubbs and a superstar year from Votto. All three are young and especially the first two could improve significantly into the star or superstar categories. Their pitching also features a lot of young pitchers, and their roster has a lot of players under control, including essentially all of the key contributors. The future in Cincinnati looks bright (sorry, Cub and Cardinal fans).

What do we expect in 2011?

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, here is the probable roster:

Ramon Hernandez C $3M
Yasmani Grandal C $0.75M
Ryan Hanigan C Pre-Arb
Joey Votto 1B $5.5M
Yonder Alonso 1B $0.6M
Brandon Phillips 2B $11M
Scott Rolen 3B $6.5M
Edgar Renteria SS $2.1M
Paul Janish SS Pre-Arb
Miguel Cairo UT $1M
Jonny Gomes LF $1.75M
Drew Stubbs CF Pre-Arb
Jay Bruce RF $2.75M
Fred Lewis OF $0.9M
Bronson Arroyo SP $6.5M
Edinson Volquez SP Arb
Johnny Cueto SP Arb
Homer Bailey SP Pre-Arb
Mike Leake SP Pre-Arb
Matt Maloney P Pre-Arb
Francisco Cordero RP $12M
Aroldis Chapman RP $1M
Nick Masset RP $1.545M
Jared Burton RP $0.75M
Bill Bray RP Arb
Daniel Herrera RP Pre-Arb
Sam LeCure RP Pre-Arb
Logan Ondrusek RP Pre-Arb

This is actually 28 players, some of these guys will not make it to opening day. I project Janish at short with Renteria as backup, so the lineup looks almost the same as 2010. The real question is, how many of the gains are real. I project Janish as a 1.5 WAR player primarily because Renteria projects as a 1.0 (in more or less full-time play) so I figure if the Reds are going with Janish, it should be because he is better. But even with this, the 5-4-3 system I use, with age adjustment, does not paint a rosy picture:

Name Pos 2011 2010
Ramon Hernandez C 1.1 2.4
Joey Votto 1B 5.6 6.2
Brandon Phillips 2B 2.0 2.3
Paul Janish SS 1.5 -0.4 Cabrera
Scott Rolen 3B 3.5 3.9
Jonny Gomes LF -0.1 -0.4
Drew Stubbs CF 3.0 4.1
Jay Bruce RF 3.0 4.3

The real question is, how many of the gains are real. I project Janish as a 1.5 WAR player primarily because Renteria projects as a 1.0 (in more or less full-time play) so I figure if the Reds are going with Janish, it should be because he is better. But even with this, the 5-4-3 system I use, with age adjustment, does not paint a rosy picture:

It actually projects the Reds hitters to LOSE 3 games over last year’s performance. Gomes should clearly be replaced – perhaps Lewis is ready to take that spot, as Gomes is still a ML hitter, but not a great one, and no longer a ML outfielder, according to the numbers. fWAR has his 2010 at 0.1 (rather than -0.4) but also shows him as a really poor fielder, though not quite so bad as Baseball-Reference.

The real question in these projections is: are they fair to the youngsters. If you don’t give Stubbs a zero for 2008 (when he didn’t play at age 18), or Bruce a -0.3 for 2008 (when he DID play, even finished 5th in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting, but was seen as below replacement by B-R for his immature defense), the projections for these players go up. But using my methods, you NEVER assume that a huge jump forward will be sustained – there is always regression to the mean. I do add back something for a player still young enough to be developing (15% for Bruce, 10% for Stubbs) but this is what you get.

I actually think that the Reds lineup as a whole will indeed take a step backwards in 2011. Janish is going to be 28, and has not really demonstrated an ability to hit ML pitching (career OPS+ 69) though last year it was 96 in 200 PAs, which probably has earned him the job. Bruce and Stubbs may have had career years, hard to repeat (Votto, too, but I don’t expect too much regression there), and Hernandez and Phillips aren’t getting any younger, nor have they shown this level of play recently.

I look for the Reds offense to decline to C- or D+ by the runs scored distribution metric.

Starters

Volquez, Arroyo, Cueto, Leake, Bailey

The loss of Harang has to help, and the return of Volquez could help a lot – you could easily project him as the ace of the staff, as he was before the injury. If the youngsters can grow (remember the Rule!) then this staff, already awfully good, could suddenly be REALLY good.

I can easily see the starters picking up the losses from the hitters, and perhaps more, but I can also see possible steps backward by some of the young hurlers – it is NOT easy to pitch in the majors at 24 or 25 years old, and not everyone who does it can do it year after year.

And in addition, I expect a significant decline from Arroyo.

Therefore, my actual prediction is that the starters will wind up rating about the same as 2010, which is pretty darn good.

Relievers

Closer: Cordero

Chapman, Masset, Ondrusek, Bray, Burton

On paper, most Reds fans would argue that this bullpen is BETTER than 2010, but I don’t see it. Cordero is getting older, and while I realize that 35 is not old for a top reliever (see: Rivera, or for that matter Rhodes) he is showing all the signs. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that he loses the closer job this upcoming season. And costs the Reds some games before they figure it out.

Chapman could be a monster, and may well be the closer (I think I might try him there on opening day, myself) and Masset has two good years behind him, so he should be fine. I am not sure what to expect from the other kids, though, and so I see the bullpen as taking a step backwards, as well.

Summary

Overall, then, I see the Reds winning several fewer games than in 2010, looking at about an 88-74 record. Of course, this could still win the division, and is likely to be competitive (remember, no OTHER NL Central team won more than 86 in 2010).

What could make it better would be if the youngsters (both hitters and pitchers) make serious strides forward, or (in the case of Stubbs and Bruce) consolidate the gains made in 2010. In that case, this could become the Rays of the NL, a team that wins a LOT of games with exciting young talent.

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