Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again...

Sorry for my extended absence from the blog, I had out of town things to attend to over the weekend. Suddenly, the Reds are playing some pretty good baseball. They are 2 games above .500, have been clicking on offense, and the pitching has been stellar. Here's some thoughts from the weekend and last night:

  • Holy strike outs! Reds pitchers have been on fire the last 2 games, striking out 29 batters in the last two games alone. Strike outs are awesome, any high strike out rate for a pitching staff is going to not only mean a higher likelihood of winning ballgames, but also a high likelihood of sustainability. I'd like to see a higher strike out rate from staff ace Johnny Cueto, but I'm more than pleased with everyone not named Mike Leake. Speaking of Mike Leake, last year he had awesome run support, with his offense providing him with 5.13 runs per game. This year, the offense is only providing him with 3.06 runs per game. And that number is even inflated by an 8 run game, in his other 4 starts they've provided him with 1, 1, 2, and 4 runs. But hey, maybe he should work on giving up fewer runs too.....maybe?
  • Not only is Todd Frazier a great young baseball player and the possible future at 3rd base, he is also a master of air guitar.

  • The Reds have given up 101 runs so far this season, 3rd in Major League Baseball behind the Nationals (82), and the Cardinals (96). This would be great news if the offense didn't shit the bed in the first few weeks of the season, as their runs scored is only slightly above that at 111. But just last week the Reds had a negative run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) and the further they move into the positive, the better the record will become.
  • The Reds face Yovani Gallardo tonight. Reds batters have fared well against him in the past.
    • Jay Bruce: 8-17, .471 AVG, 1 HR, 5 K's
    • Ryan Hanigan: 3-11, .273, 1 2B
    • Ryan Ludwick: 4-11, .364, 2 HR, 0 K's
    • Brandon Phillips: 7-25, .280, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 K's
    • Scott Rolen: 7-13, .538, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 K's
    • Drew Stubbs: 4-14, .286, 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 K's
    • Joey Votto: 7-21, .333, 3 2B, 1 HR, 1 K
  • On the Cole Hamels thing, I think that's bush league. And by "that" I mean the fact that he threw at Bryce Harper to begin with. There is this stupid mentality out there that just because things have always been done a certain way, that we should keep perpetuating that thing for "tradition" sake, without ever asking ourselves "is this dumb?" Baseball has always been at the forefront of change, despite the game remaining largely unchanged for the past 100+ years. Where would baseball be right now if Branch Rickey, who decided to take a chance and sign a great young player named Jackie Robinson, had said to himself "Well, it's baseball tradition to not allow black players on Major League teams, and I'm pretty old school so I think I'll pass on signing this Robinson kid." Not to hammer home this point, but chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a very real problem, as evidenced by former NFL players blowing their brains (or chests) out left and right. Baseball is not immune from this either. It has been argued that Lou Gehrig's ALS was perhaps brought on by a blow to the head from a pitched baseball. Being the iron man that he was, of course Gehrig never sat out any games after the blow to the head (or any games ever for that matter), and some modern researchers who study concussions in sports and CTE have concluded that either ALS can develop from repeated concussions, or simply that symptoms develop that mimic ALS. Enough research and rambling, the point is, its the 21st century and players shouldn't have to intentionally throw baseballs at one another to prove who is tougher or show some sense of respect for the "old school ways". It's as dumb and outdated as a practice as pitcher wins is as a statistic. Call me crazy, but anyone who would claim that cracking down on beaning batters is taking anything away from the game is a freaking 19th century neanderthal. Haven't we evolved to the point where "macho" is an archaic sexist stereotype? 
  • Thanks for reading again, sorry for the lull in blog updates, I'll try not to let life get in the way again! Music fans, check out Ohio band Red Wanting Blue this Saturday night at Bogart's!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Step Back from the Ledge.....Again

Well yesterday was fun. Proof that it ain't over until Marmol goes all Marmol. But dear Lord, again with the negativity even after a win. This team is not there yet, that much is clear. But what is it that we should expect from this team? Are they even any good? To answer those questions, we have to look to the only place we can to help predict what this team might do: last season.
  • Last year, this team scored the 2nd most runs in the National League with 735. So why did they finish under .500? The answer is, they gave up nearly as many runs with 720, good enough for 12th place in the NL. Let's take a look at the offense first.
  • 10 players out of the 2011 Reds top 15 players in number of plate appearances are on the team again this year. Here's what has changed:
    • Shortstop: Paul Janish (who had the 5th most PA on the team) sported a slash line of .214/.259/.262. He has been replaced by Zack Cozart who ANYONE would consider an upgrade. Ninth in plate appearances was Edgar Renteria with a slash line of .251/.306/.348, and he and Janish's plate appearances will almost all be picked up by Cozart. So anything that Cozart does at the plate above the combined .238/.285/.316 slash line that the Reds got from their Shortstops last year is an improvement. Don't forget those SS offensive stats were even boosted slightly by Cozart's .324/.324/.486 in only 11 games played. So we have to ask ourselves: Did we upgrade at shortstop?
    • Left Field: Even though Chris Heisey had more plate appearances than Jonny Gomes last year, Gomes had the most PA as a left fielder. Gomes sported a .211/.336/.399 slash line in 2011 for the Reds. He clearly dragged down the combined LF numbers of .242/.321/.412. In the offseason we went and signed Ryan Ludwick who even with his bad season in 2011 still managed to bat .237/.310/.363. So if Heisey doesn't regress at all, all we have to ask ourselves is: Did we upgrade in left field?
    • Catcher: Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan of course split time at catcher last season. They combined for a .267/.339/.401 slash line at a traditionally weak offensive position. Replacing Ramon Hernandez was perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the offseason. Devon Mesoraco is, as of yet, an unknown entity. We know he has pop, just like Ramon Hernandez did, and so far this season I've seen nothing to show me that we have downgraded at all at Catcher. That leads to our question: Did we upgrade at catcher?
    • Beyond those 3 positions, the team has remained largely the same. Sure, everyone is a year older, but that may be better for some (Jay Bruce) than for others (Scott Rolen, although he seems to be a lot healthier this year). So now that we've looked at this, we have to ask ourselves: Can these guys score as much as the 2011 team did? Ignore what you've seen so far because no ~20 game stretch is ever indicative of an entire season. Simply look at the career norms for these players and ask yourself if they can perform as much as they did last year offensively.
  •   The rotation this year looks a bit different from last year, as does the bullpen. So our pitching (which is the reason we did not compete last year) is the real key to success. Here are the top 5 starting pitchers in innings pitched last season:
    • Bronson Arroyo: Pitched 199 innings in what was the worst year of his Reds career. In those 199 innings he sported a 1.367 WHIP, second only to Edinson Volquez among the top 5 starting pitchers. He also gave up by far the most runs of any Reds pitcher in 2011, with 119. Ditto with hits (227). It looked at the time that Bronson was washed up, he was giving up home runs like it was batting practice. But not all was as it seemed, since we know that Bronson suffered from Mono all season. You can take or leave that diagnosis if you want, and I'm not doctor, but I've always heard that Mono is hard to recover from without rest, and Bronson went out there every 5 days for better or worse. So far in 2012, he looks like a brand new man. So we have to ask ourselves: Will Bronson be better in 2012 than he was in 2011?
    • Mike Leake: Ahhhh Mr. Leake. The true question mark of this blog post. Leake pitched the 2nd most innings for the Reds in 2011 with 167.2. To be honest, he was a solid, reliable pitcher. ERA below 4, decent WHIP at 1.175. But herein lies the question: Will Leake be as good as he was last year? This is probably the toughest question to answer "Yes" to because of how bad he has been so far in 2012. His problem has been just giving up a ton of hits this year, not necessarily control or anything else. He may be a tweak away from returning to form, or batters may have figured him out. It remains to be seen. Of course, if he continues on this path we'll ask ourselves: Can Aroldis Chapman do better than Mike Leake? I think that day might come.
    • Johnny Cueto: Ah yes the "Ace". Johnny was 3rd in innings pitched with 156. He was phenomenal last year. He looks phenomenal so far this year. Last year he missed the first month of the season though. So we have to ask ourselves: Will Cueto be as good as he was last year? If he is, and we get an entire year of what we had last year, that's awesome.
    • Homer Bailey:  Homer gets a bad rap. Maybe it was the lofty expectations heaped upon him from the moment he was drafted, but Homer had a decent year last year. He pitched 132 innings and had the highest SO/BB ratio of any of the starting pitchers with 3.21. That ratio isn't due to an unusually high strikeout rate, but a combination of high strikeouts and low walks. He looks to be continuing his career progression this year, and he has not looked bad at all so far. The question is: will he be as good as or better in 2012 than he was in 2011?
    • Edinson Volquez: Oh boy. Here's the guy we traded for Mat Latos. He clocked 108.2 innings in 2011, and also sported the highest WHIP of any of the starters with 1.574. He was just awful last year, walking a ton of batters and just overall letting the team down. Now, a lot of people look at the Mat Latos trade, and then they look at Edinson Volquez's numbers with San Diego and wonder if we made the right choice. Can't do it that way. We have to look at what we expect to get out of Mat Latos, and compare it to what we got out of Volquez last year and ask ourselves: Will Mat Latos be better in 2012 than Edinson Volquez was in 2011?
    • I'm not going to break down the relief pitching in too much detail, but I can say this: Right now we have the best bullpen in the NL. If we can keep this up, I won't be worried at all. The bullpen wasn't terrible in 2011, but I think its better in 2012. Marshall is better than Cordero I think, Arredondo and Ondrusek continue to get better, Chapman will dominate as long as he is in there, LeCure does what he does and does it well, and maybe Bill Bray and Nick Masset get healthy and look good when they come back. I know I've made jokes on Twitter about Alfredo Simon, but I think he's better than Carlos Fisher at the very least. Bonus: J.J. Hoover!
If we ask ourselves all of these questions, the pieces of the puzzle add up to this: this team is equipped to score as many runs as they did last year, and give up less. The numbers haven't quite added up to that yet this early in the season. But past performance is the only tool we can use to predict future performance, and past performance again tells us: this team will score a ton of runs, and hopefully give up way less. If we score the same amount of runs, and each starting pitcher gives up 10 less runs (Not literally, but a total of 50 less runs from the SP), and the bullpen gives up 20 less runs (combined), it would give us a run differential of +75, and an expected win-loss record of 89-73. Last year 90-72 got the Cardinals the Wild Card.

So what's the lesson here? I'm not sure. I think it's "Don't panic".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reds Fan Checklist After Loss

  1. Completely blame Reds hitters for lack of offense without ever acknowledging the fact that sometimes opposing pitchers can be really good.
  2. Make bold general statements that don't jive with statistics about how (insert player) needs work and maybe we should send him down to AAA. 
  3. Tweet angrily at Dallas Latos who has nothing to do with the games.
  4. Declare the season lost.
  5. Lament the Reds lack of bunting skills despite statistics that show bunting lowers the chances of scoring a run.
  6. Propose a completely unrealistic trade in which the Reds give up 3 players who have absolutely no value and receive a future Hall of Famer.
  7. Tweet more angry hateful things at Dallas Latos.
  8. Make several statements of regret regarding past trades the Reds have made.
  9. Blame the umpires.
  10. Call for hitting coach's job on nights Reds don't hit well.
  11. Call for pitching coach's job on nights Reds don't pitch well.
  12. Call for Dusty Baker's job every night.
  13. Blame a bench player who struck out in his only at-bat of the game, even though the rest of the lineup fared no better.
  14. Complain about the batting order as if place a batter in a certain position in the batting order magically makes him an All-Star.
  15. Call for minor league prospect to be called up from A ball.
  16. Make anecdotal reference to (insert player) who has done nothing this year, without bothering to visit baseball-reference.com to check if you're right.
  17. Ask John Fay a stupid question that could be looked up easily by typing the same thing into a Google search.
  18. Ask Jamie Ramsey if (insert player) is being negatively affected by his at-bat music.
  19. Tweet something to Dallas Latos, again blaming the loss on her.
  20. Overreact to every loss as if it is the end of the world. Don't acknowledge any of the games in which the Reds have looked good, don't give the players time to perform, don't let anyone talk you out of it.
We're only 23 games into the season, but that gives us 139 more opportunities to use this list

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.