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2010 Cincinnati Reds: Will the Baseball Gods Now Let Them Win Again?

BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 1, 2010


Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Scott Rolen 3B
Orlando Cabrera SS
Aroldis Chapman SP
Mike Leake SP
Aaron Miles INF
Departed Pos.
Willy Taveras OF
Alex Gonzalez SS
Edwin Encarnacion OF
Wladimir Balentien OF
Jerry Hairston OF/INF
This time ten years ago, Cincinnati appeared to be in the dawn of a second Big Red Machine. In the spring of 2000, the Reds had just added Ken Griffey, Jr., arguably the game’s biggest star, to a roster that had gone 96-67 and missed the playoffs by one game the previous season. With Griffey just 30 years old, the whole world expected to watch one of the greatest players in the history of the game spend the second half of his career leading his hometown team to the promised land and racking up historic numbers that would beat all others.

But it was not meant to be.

If the Griffey debacle had been the only trouble to befall the Reds during the last decade, the team probably could have had success. Unfortunately, the Reds were essentially plagued during the decade of the aughts, watching players like Sean Casey and Adam Dunn refuse to fulfill their potential, players like Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena display extraordinary talent but also consistent debilitating injuries, players like Edwin Encarncion, Luke Hudson, and Ryan Wagner refuse to develop into major league players, players like Eric Milton, Ramon Ortiz, Paul Wilson, and Bronson Arroyo give up homeruns in droves, and finally, at the end of the decade, players like Homer Bailey refuse to live up to their hype.

There is a possibility that what happened to Griffey and the Reds was a form of baseball karma. It is easy to forget this, but the Griffey move at the time was a dirty deed. Griffey publicly informed the Seattle Mariners that they would not be able to re-sign him when his contract ended, and that he would exercise his no-trade clause to veto any trade to a team other than the Reds. The Reds took advantage of this and sent the Mariners a relatively paltry package of Jake Meyer, Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez, and Brett Tomko for a player who was, simply put, The Face of Baseball.

2009 Standings - NL Central
Central W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
St. Louis Cardinals 91 71 .562 0 46-35 45-36 730 640 .560 63-50 28-21
Chicago Cubs 83 78 .516 8 46-34 37-44 707 672 .523 67-62 16-16
Milwaukee Brewers 80 82 .494 11 40-41 40-41 785 818 .481 59-64 21-18
Cincinnati Reds 78 84 .481 13 40-41 38-43 673 723 .467 59-59 19-25
Houston Astros 74 88 .457 17 44-37 30-51 643 770 .418 57-67 17-21
Pittsburgh Pirates 62 99 .385 29 40-41 22-58 636 768 .415 44-73 18-26

And never forget that while Griffey and the Reds got off to an ignominious beginning to a nightmare decade, the Mariners won 116 games in 2001. Karma indeed.

And so it would seem, ten years later, with Griffey gone (back to Seattle, ironically) that perhaps the Cincinnati Reds have paid their debt to the baseball gods, who have chosen to once again lavish the Reds with wonderful baseball talent. Heading into the next decade, the Reds look to put the Griffey Decade behind them, and look to do so with talented young hitters, well-traveled and accomplished veterans, and an embarrassment of pitching that only Dusty Baker could kill. Good thing he isn’t their manager.

Oh wait.

1. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce



Joey Votto
Holy left-handed hitting, Batman! These two Reds Stars of the Future look to become the hottest duo of left-handed hitters this side of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. In their second full major league season together, they each improved from 2008 to 2009, though Bruce’s improvement was not nearly as dramatic as Votto’s.

Votto was a 3-4-5-er in 2009 and would have had elite numbers if he hadn’t missed 30 games over the season. His .981 OPS was good for third in the National League, while his .322 batting average was fifth. At the age of 26, a healthy Votto could be ready to join the Pujols-Gonzalez-Fielder-Howard pantheon of first basemen.

I suspect that Bruce has less overall talent than Votto, but Bruce is also almost four years younger and has hit the majors at a much earlier age than Votto did, so who knows? Bruce has Votto’s power but none of his discipline, though it was encouraging to see his K/BB ratio improve dramatically from over 3-to-1 to just under 2-to-1 from 2008 to 2009. A full season and another season-to-season improvement for Bruce would give the Reds two elite hitters right smack in the middle of their order.

2. Scott Rolen, Orlando Cabrera, and Brandon Phillips

This will be the middle infield for the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. Make no mistake about it – this could be a group of three All-Stars or it could be chaotic mess defined by injuries and ineffectiveness. And make no mistake about it – the success or failure of this group will dictate the success or failure of the Reds in 2010.

I have a hard heart when it comes to Scott Rolen, and it has been that way since before I moved to Philadelphia. It always bothers me when elite players demand to be traded to a winner; to me, elite players make teams winners. All that said, Rolen has been a special player for fourteen seasons, an elite offensive player and even better on defense. However, I have questions about what the Reds are asking from Rolen. They are asking a 35-year-old third baseman to anchor the infield defense around a young pitching staff and to provide protection in the lineup for two developing young hitters. Plus, they will be depending on him to play every day. The task may be too tall for a guy who played over 130 games once in five years.

I’ve gotten to a funny place with defensive statistics – basically, I blindly accept the statistic without understanding it. This approach obviously has its limitations, but whatever. The point is: Fangraphs.com has lots of defensive statistics for shortstops, and two years ago Orlando Cabrera played 161 games for the White Sox and finished at or near the top in the majors in most of those categories. Then, in 2009, Orlando Cabrera played in 160 games for the A’s and the Twins and finished at or near the bottom in most of those categories.



Scott Rolen
I won’t draw a lot specific conclusions from that except to say – the Reds better hope that Cabrera is in his 2008 form, and that his numbers had something to do with playing on turf in Minnesota, because they need 2008 Cabrera. The good news with Cabrera, though, is that he has played 160 or more games each of the last two years, and played 153 and 155 games in the two years before that. He appears to be a rock at shortstop, and he doesn’t kill you with the bat. He’ll be an offensive upgrade over Paul Janish, for sure.

Brandon Phillips enters his fifth season as the Reds' second baseman, and he has been an asset to this team. He is in the top echelon of defensive second basemen, and he has an exciting bat. Three years ago, he was in the 30-walk/100-strikeout category of hitters, but in 153 games last season, he went 44/75, a vast improvement. He has 30/30 capability, and now appears to be automatic for 20/20. At present, the Reds bafflingly have Phillips set to bat fourth behind Votto and ahead of Rolen. While I disagree with this decision, it would nevertheless have a wonderful effect on Phillips’ numbers.

As much as I don’t like the age and recent track record of this infield, I love the pedigree. Phillips has been one of the Reds' most consistent performers for four years now. Rolen, in addition to being one of the greats, has been to the World Series twice and won it all in 2006 with the Cardinals, while Cabrera has been to the playoffs five times with four teams in six years and won the World Series in 2004 with the Red Sox.

3. Jonny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, and Chris Dickerson

Last season, the Reds' outfield consisted of various combinations of Jay Bruce, Willy Taveras, Laynce Nix, Jerry Hairston, Jonny Gomes, and Chris Dickerson. This was a colossal mess, and in 2010 the outfield should be much stabilized.

Reds Team Capsule

January 9, 2012: Larkin Heads to Cooperstown: Today, Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin joined Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo as players inducted to the 2012 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Both Larkin (2010) and Santo (2006) gained entry into the Baseball Evolution Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.


Jeff Bagwell increased his voting percentage from 41% in 2011 to 56% in 2012, his awesome lifetime numbers offsetting the controversy of his era. Jack Morris, who received two-thirds of the vote up from 53.5% last year, has two more seasons of Hall of Fame eligibility. His lackluster career numbers are being offset by feel-good intangibles.


To begin the 2010 season, the Reds will be starting Drew Stubbs in centerfield and batting him leadoff. Stubbs is everything Taveras was not: he is a Big Texan (six-foot-four, 200 lb, Texarkana), he has power (eight homeruns in 196 plate appearances) to go with his speed (10 stolen bases), and he can get on base (.323 OBP; .364 OBP in 423 minor league games). Stubbs isn’t going to be a 3-4-5-er in the majors, but he’ll be better than Taveras, and may steal just as many bases while doing far more to make the team around him better.



Jonny Gomes
Left field will be patrolled by Jonny Gomes to start the season. Gomes had quite the comeback year in 2009, hitting 20 homeruns in 98 games and going .267/.338/.541 for a 127 OPS+. This should not lead to overconfidence, however; if you listen carefully, you can hear Tampa Bay Rays fans saying “Yeah, we fell for that once, too.” In 2005, of course, Gomes broke out with a .906 OPS and 21 homeruns in 101 games for the Rays and looked like a star of the future before being mediocre for the following three years. Don’t get me wrong – Gomes has earned the start for the beginning of the year, but Dusty Baker needs to be attentive to how Gomes progresses, and be willing to make a change before August if need be.

The wild card in the outfield is definitely Chris Dickerson. Dickerson is currently listed on my depth chart as the primary backup to both Stubbs and Gomes; if either falters early, Dickerson should see plenty of playing time. Dickerson has not been a great hitter in the minors, but his on-base percentage has been consistently in the “100 points higher than batting average” range, which means he knows how to take a walk. He can hit for power and steal bases. The downside is that Dickerson is now 28 years old, indicating that his window may be closing. He could play 100 games for the Reds in 2010, or he could be the next great Oakland Athletic waiver wire pickup.

Nevertheless, the Reds currently have three solid-to-good outfielders for two outfield slots, and if platooned properly these guys could be very effective.

The Pitching Staff

If I were a Cincinnati Reds fan right now, I would be so stoked over the breadth and depth of the talent on my pitching staff that I wouldn’t be able to sit still. This is what it was like to be a Cubs fan in 2003, when the Cubs had Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, Carlos Zambrano, and (who was it again? Oh, right) Shawn Estes. Very exciting times. That staff fell apart, of course, but that was just because Dusty Baker was the Cubs’ manager. No big deal.

Oh wait.

(All kidding aside, it may be time to lay off of old Dusty. Carlos Zambrano was the same age as Mark Prior in 2003, and he pitched more innings and faced more batters, and he is still pitching today. There is no reason Dusty could have known that Wood and Prior were on the verge of collapse. Dusty has just been made a scapegoat, and probably unfairly. If you can’t ask a 26-year-old pitcher (Wood) to pitch 211 innings, what good is he?)



Aaron Harang
The Top Two

None of this is to say that the Reds’ pitching staff doesn’t have question marks, because it does. First and foremost, will Aaron Harang ever be a good pitcher again? Harang will make his fifth opening day start for the Reds this season, but that is sugar coating what has been a far fall for a guy who led the NL in wins, starts, complete games, strikeouts, and batters faced in 2006. The good news for Harang is that his 12-31 record the last two years is misleading; Harang has had essentially a league-average ERA the last two seasons, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been 3.17. Harang’s problem is hits – he gives up a lot, to the tune of 10.2 per nine innings the last two seasons – and homeruns. But it would certainly appear that he could still be a very good pitcher if he can get those two things under control.

To put Harang’s numbers in perspective, consider Bronson arroyo. In the last two years, Arroyo is 30-24, but his ERA is not considerably worse than Harang’s (4.28), and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is far worse (2.18). He has also given up more homeruns (60). But Arroyo is giving up almost an entire hit less per nine innings than Harang (9.3), and that has quite literally made all the difference.

The Excitement



Most of the Excitement
After Harang and Arroyo, the excitement comes in the form of Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Edinson Volquez. Johnny Cueto is the Reds’ answer to Carlos Zambrano. Like the Cubs with Wood and Prior, the Reds were looking to Homer Bailey as their stud prospect when, out of nowhere, Cueto was the one who emerged as the legitimate major league starter. Cueto has had an up-and-down first couple of seasons with the Reds (pitching in the Great American Ballpark has really killed him, as his 4.91 home ERA can attest), but has displayed, at times, all the talent in the world. Maybe with a more solid defense behind him, Cueto can stabilize.

Edinson Volquez is a legitimate superstar in the making, but went the way of Francisco Liriano and Kerry Wood in 2009 and underwent Tommy John surgery. He is supposed to be back by August, but who knows?

Cuban refugee Aroldis Chapman is one of the most exciting stories in baseball this spring, as he has struck out fifteen batters in 10.2 innings and has shown electric stuff at times. He may start the season in the minors, but won’t likely be there long.

And finally

After the exciting limitless-potential guys, the Reds pitching staff returns to earth a bit with Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake. Homer Bailey is the can’t-miss prospect of yesteryear - a guy who dramatically failed to live up to the hype the first two times he was called up to the big team before finally showing some stuff over his last six starts, when he went 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 51.1 innings pitched. Bailey hasn’t proven anything yet, however, and will need to be ready to actually contribute before September for the Reds to be competitive.

Travis Wood had a rather unbelievable year in Double-A and Triple-A last season: 13-5, 1.77 ERA, 121 hits in 167.2 innings, and 135/53 K:BB ratio. The numbers comes with lots of caveats: a) the year before last, he had a 7-13 record with a 5.47 ERA; b) he allowed seven unearned runs, which means his ERA is misleading; c) his low hits/innings numbers were mainly accumulated in Double-A Carolina, which as a team allowed only 1137 hits in 1223.2 innings, meaning he probably had a good defense behind him. Wood will likely be the fifth starter until Chapman and Volquez are ready to join the club (in May and August), so he’ll get his shot, but his type of pitching may get him lit up in the Great American Ballpark.



Mike Leake
The Reds drafted Mike Leake out of Arizona State in the 2009 draft, and he has yet to play minor league ball. All Leake did at ASU last season was go 16-1 with a 1.71 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 142.0 innings pitched. He also walked only 24 batters. This spring, Leake actually made a pretty good run at the fifth spot in the rotation, allowing six runs in 16 hits in 18 innings while striking out 10 and walking four. He may not be back this year, but Leake look like a future starter for this team.

Bullpen

The Reds bullpen was its strong suit in 2009, with the inimitable Francisco Cordero leading the way with 39 saves and a 2.16 ERA (199 ERA+). Cordero has quietly accumulated 250 saves over the course of his career, but he had a startling 1.93 K/BB ratio last season, easily the worst of his career; a closer doesn’t succeed for long with K/BB numbers like that.

Nick Masset was the Reds' primary setup man in 2009, and he went 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA while striking out 70 in 76 innings pitched. Cincinnati is somehow this guy's third team in the four seasons he’s been in baseball, but he appears to have finally found a role, and a home.

Danny Herrera has a secret. The left-handed pitcher went 4-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 61.2 innings of relief in his first full season last year. He’d like you to know that he is short, but I am not sure he wants you to know how short. His baseball-reference.com page and his baseball-cube page say 5’8”, but the Baseball Analysts (.com) say that he is 5’7” while mlb.com, ESPN.com, and baseball-reference.com’s minor league page all say 5’6”. Then comes this nugget, from The Sports Xchange last September: “ LHP Danny Herrera, who is only 5-foot-5 and features a screwball, is making a strong bid to be a prominent player in next year's bullpen. In 66 games as a middle relief pitcher and situational left-hander, he is 4-4 with a 2.87 ERA and has given up no runs and only one hit in his last six appearances.”

I don’t know how tall the dude is. All I know is that if he can continue to pitch sixty innings of 141 ERA+ ball every year, the Reds will take it at any height.

Outlook on the Season

The NL Central belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, and they will have to physically hand it to another team if they aren’t going to win it themselves. However, second place in the division, and perhaps even the wild card in the NL, are up for grabs, and if the Reds manage their pitching right, they could give the Brewers and Braves a run for the playoffs.

And what could possibly stand in the way of the Reds managing their pitching correctly? It’s not like Dusty Baker is their manager!

Oh wait . . .




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