Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Reds Rewind

Well, here we are May 1st. After an off day Monday, we can successfully turn the page on a roller coaster April and see what sort of conclusions we can come to from some of the numbers we've seen. Being at .500 at the end of the first month is a favorable spot to be in considering some of what the Reds went through the first two weeks of the season, and some of the pitching they saw. Being only 3 games behind the Cardinals, who had a pretty amazing (and pretty unsustainable) April is another thing to be thankful for. So here's some random thoughts and stats for April:
  • After scoring only 1 run six times in the first 12 games, the Reds have only scored less than 4 runs once in the 10 games since. As I tweeted a few days ago, the Reds averaged 2.75 runs the first 12 games, and 5.4 runs in the 12 games since.
  • After 12 home games, the attendance at GABP totals 309,874 or an average of 25,823 fans per games. In 2011, after 12 home games the attendance at GABP totaled 275,335 or an average of 22,945 fans per game. Attendance is up, so that's a good thing.
  • The whole "Joey Votto's slow start" thing was a bit stupid and overblown. We've seen Joey strike out more than we're used to, sure. But we've also seen him walked more than we're used to. His SO% (percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout) is 23.5%. His career average is 18.6%. But his BB% (percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk) is 20.4%, up from his career average of 13.2%. We may see both of these even out as the year goes on, and that's fine. If we get what we expect to get out of Joey Votto, I will be a happy camper. Don't forget that he had an awesome April last year with a slash line of .372/.504/.628 with a 1.132 OPS, and he ended up coming back down to earth (if you can even call it that) to .309/.416/.531 and .947 OPS. That's not THAT far off from his current .289/.439/.500 and .939 OPS. If he has a month or two like last April in him this season, I'd prefer it to be September and October. Until then, I'll take his career averages, which is almost what we're seeing.
  • Speaking of Joey Votto, please stop measuring his numbers against the amount of money he is making/is going to make. First off, in no sport do you pay a player in direct correlation to how well he performs. If this were true Mat Latos would be making a hell of a lot more than $550,000 this year. Or Zack Cozart's $480,000. A contract acts two-fold: You pay them the amount of money its going to take to keep them (i.e. as much as or more than a potential free-agent suitor), and that number has something (but not everything) to do with what they have done in their career so far, and what they can be expected to do the rest of their contract (or in Joey's case, career). The contract is done, over with. As Stevie Wonder would say, "I can't see!" "Signed, sealed, delivered". It is now what economists like to refer to as a "sunk cost" meaning as long as he plays, that's what he's going to be paid regardless of performance. Since the money is already committed, complaining about it will do us no good. And comparing his numbers to the $$$ is even more futile.
  • Jay Bruce is off to the fastest start of his career. His current line of .296/.337/.617 and .954 OPS is far away his best April ever. Of course, last year's start (.237/.306/.381 and .687 OPS) was followed by an unbelievable May (.342/.402/.739 and 1.140 OPS) in which he tore the cover off the ball. I hope we see a repeat of that success. But I'd rather see it sustained than the drop off he experienced in June (.217/.301/.348) and July (.256/.363/.442). Maybe Jay being in better shape this year will mean more sustained results, but we'll have to wait and see. May is by far the best month throughout his career with a .292/.375/.577 slash line and .953 OPS over his career. No other month even comes close to that, so I hope that maybe whatever he's been doing in May the past 4 years, he does every month this year. His April this year is almost identical to his lifetime May numbers so maybe he's figured something out. It remains to be seen. In case you didn't hear, Jay won National league player of the week honors.
  • Brandon Phillips has been playing below 100% for over 2 weeks now, and his slash line of .254/.302/.407 is not THAT far below his career .271/.321/.433 numbers. I'll take that.
  • Last week I talked a little bit about team BABIP or Batting Average on Balls in Play. The Reds team BABIP has risen to a much more normal .282, up about 40 points from the last team we discussed it. It is important to remember that BABIP is, under almost all circumstances uncontrollable. It is what a lot of people refer to as a "luck factor". That means that over a long enough period of time, it will always even out to the normal levels of between .290 and about .310. So again, we must realize that BABIP has nothing to do with strikeouts or homeruns. It only looks at balls put in play, and what percentage of those balls put in play result in a hit. Right now for the Reds, about 28% of the balls put in play go for hits. We can probably expect this to rise slightly more as the season wears on. (Also note: the Cardinals' BABIP is still sitting above average at .329 and can be expected to drop a bit further as they come down to earth)
  • So what about the pitching? So far we've gotten more than we expected from Bronson Arroyo, less than we expected from Mat Latos and Mike Leake, and about what we expected from Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. I like what I've seen from Bronson Arroyo so far, and I think the biggest thing we can assume from his good start is that he is back to his healthy and reliable self. 2011 was no doubt the worst year of Arroyo's career. But a comparison of his 2011/2012 numbers shows just how much he has improved with a healthy offseason. 
    • H/9 (hits per 9 innings): 10.3/9.1 
    • HR/9 (homeruns per 9 innings): 2.1/0.7 
    • BB/9 (walks per 9 innings): 2.0/0.7 
    • These 2012 numbers will probably drift upwards a bit towards his career norms, but I don't see them coming even close to his 2011 numbers, barring injury. Arroyo is another guy that if we get what we've gotten from him most of his years in Cincinnati, I'll be happy.
  • Johnny Cueto continues his career progression and we may be seeing him transform into an elite MLB pitcher. The awesome thing about looking at Johnny Cueto's career stats is that he has gotten better every year so far in his career, in almost all areas. Despite that fact, looking at the 2012 numbers compared to 2011, not too much has changed (which is fine, he had a great year last year). BUT, his current BB/9 rate is 1.9, compared to 2011 at 2.7. This equates to basically one less walk per game so far this year, and that makes all the difference in the world. If he keeps this up AND starts 30 games, expect to see Johnny Cueto at year's end with an ERA around 2 and him in consideration for a Cy Young Award. Johnny's real progress last year, and it is continuing into this year, has been his progression from a strikeout/flyball pitcher to more of a ground ball pitcher. His groundball/flyball ratio jumped last year from an average of 0.71 his first 3 years, to 1.18 last year. This year he's a little below that at 0.83, but don't forget SSS (small sample size). I fully expect that rate to go up as the year goes on. Becoming more of a groundball pitcher does a lot of things for Johnny. It has cut his Extra Base Hit rate in half, as well as the % of hits that go for extra bases in half. This translates to "When Johnny gives up hits now, they're usually singles". That is the key to his continued success and career progression.
  • We've been down the Mat Latos road already, and if you haven't driven with us down that road, you should remember that Mat sucks in April and pretty much owns the rest of the year. That's about all we can ask for from him. The percentage of his starts that go for Quality Starts the past two years has been about 66%. Right now we're sitting at 20%. As long as he starts 30 games, we'll get another 19 Quality Starts from him. 19 more potential wins from him? I'll take that.
  • I don't really even know what to say about Homer and Mike Leake. Whatever we get is what we'll get, and not a ton is expected of 4/5 starters to begin with. More than likely, by this summer one of the two will be replaced with Chapman, so really its important to just get as much out of them as possible. PLEASE remember that EVERY team has 4 and 5 starters, and they all typically range from average to shitty, with very few exceptions. I know we get pissed whenever a starting pitcher blows up, but we just need these guys to keep us in games, not throw quality starts, and not strikeout 12 batters per 9.
  • So what about the competition? Well, the Cardinals are off to a hot start and people as always are worried that we can't keep up. Here is where I attempt to ease your worries. 
    • Kyle Lohse has been awesome so far! Oh noes! Check out his 2011:
      April/March 4 1 1.64 1 38.1 23 7 7 1 5 24 0.730 4.80
      May 3 1 2.57 0 42.0 36 12 12 2 10 23 1.095 2.30
      June 1 2 4.55 0 29.2 34 15 15 7 5 11 1.315 2.20
      July 1 3 5.53 0 27.2 30 23 17 2 7 13 1.337 1.86
      August 3 1 5.92 0 24.1 30 18 16 4 10 18 1.644 1.80
      Sept/Oct 2 0 1.37 0 26.1 25 5 4 0 5 22 1.139 4.40
      Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
      Generated 5/1/2012 
    • Yeah, that's right. He always is awesome in April and then slowly regresses throughout the year. Jaime Garcia's best month throughout his career is also April. The lesson here is, don't overreact. The Cardinals are good, and will continue to be good throughout the year, but more than likely not THIS good. Oh yeah and pray that Wainwright keeps sucking.
So what can we gather from all of this information? Mostly that its still early. But the Reds are good, and in a pretty good spot right now. Sooner or later certain players will go on a tear, and we'll start to see this team closer to how we expected them to be. After such a slow start, where we are right now is a good place to be in. And the Reds need to win games and (sorry for the cliche) not worry about what the rest of the division is doing. And even though it would be awesome to win 110 games and be the favorite to win it all come playoff time, remember that the best team in baseball rarely wins the World Series in the Wild Card era. In fact, its only happened twice: 2007 and 2009. All we need is for this team to get to the playoffs however they can do it. They don't have to beat the Cardinals or the better teams in baseball X amount of times to prove that they can hang. That's what dumb sports fans say because they think its true. So what if the Reds go 4-11 vs. the Cardinals this year? It only takes 3 or 4 to win a playoff series. The moral of this story is don't expect or hope for anything other than the Reds making the playoffs, anything above and beyond that is icing on the cake. And how they played in April won't matter then. Just how they play in October.

So maybe you came to this blog expecting me to hand out grades. Well, that's not me. There are plenty more well-written Reds blogs out there that can give you eloquently written gradebooks for the Reds' April. There is nothing wrong with that, I just prefer to look at numbers, convey them to my fellow fans in a way that people will understand, and extrapolate ($5 word right there) some theories as to what is going on, and give an educated guess as to what will happen the rest of the way. For the most part I loathe sports journalism because most of it is pretty meaningless, and a lot of it seems so formulaic. So I hope you enjoy my style and keep reading, I will always try to bring you relevant information and hopefully generate good discussion. But my ulterior (and unrealistic) motive is to create a better sports fan. One who doesn't say stupid things that aren't true. One who doesn't take a small sample size and overreact. One who understands why things are the way they are and will pass it on to other sports (especially baseball) fans.

And here's the most important thing you can do: go down to the ballpark and cheer on your Reds.

Here's a little Moody Blues for your Tuesday afternoon....until next time folks.

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