2010 Season Forecast: Cincinnati Reds

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 78 – 84 (4th NL Central)
2008: 74 – 88
2007: 72 – 90
2006: 80 – 82
2005: 73 – 89

The Reds haven’t had a winning season since going 85 – 77 in 2000.  It’s time to fix this problem, don’t you think?

Runs Scored: 673 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 723 (8th in the NL)

Season Recap:

Most observers were mixed, but one could see hope on the horizon in guys like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and what looked like four potentially good starters.  I’m sure the Reds fans thought they should have finished better than .500.

The Reds actually got off to a pretty good start.  At one point, Cincinnati was 20 – 14 with Johnny Cueto at 4 – 1, Bronson Arroyo at 5 – 2 and Edinson Volquez at 4 – 2.  And then the bad things started to happen.  Joey Votto got hurt – and his confidence was suddenly shaken, requiring extra time to come to grips with being out of the lineup and being without his father who had passed away.  Volquez went down with an arm injury, taking their ace out of the rotation.  After two months looking like a contender, the Reds fell off in June and then fell APART in July.

Cincinnati was 40 – 39 on the Fourth of July.  And then the roof caved in falling all the way to 45 – 61 after a loss to Chicago on August 3.  The team couldn’t hit – as a group, they batted .240 or less in June, July and August.  In July, Red pitchers had an ERA of 5.58 and while August was better, it was their second worst complete month.

To their credit, the Reds unloaded a few problems (Edwin Encarnacion was traded to Toronto for Scott Rolen, Alex Gonzalez was sent to Boston and Paul Janish played shortstop), and got Willy Taveras and his lousy bat out of the leadoff spot.  Homer Bailey finally started pitching like a winner.  Justin Lehr replaced Micah Owings in the rotation and won five of eight decisions.  The rest of the way, the Reds went 33 – 23, which was better than even St. Louis down the stretch.

Pitchers:

Having looked at the numbers, adjusting for the defense and the park, I noticed this odd fact.  Every pitcher who made a start allowed more runs per nine than the average NL pitcher – a combined 77 runs worse than average.  Bronson Arroyo was the closest to average at -0.95, and having pitched the most innings, he’s the ace.  Johnny Cueto had his second straight season of running out of gas – he needs to step up big time in 2010.  Aaron Harang should be better than this (6 – 14, 4.21)), and yet he’s constantly moving backwards.  Micah Owings is the best hitting pitcher ever, probably, but he would have fit in with the Brewers rotation as badly as he pitched.  Homer Bailey was on the way to positives, but he didn’t quite make it before the season ended.  Even Edinson Volquez didn’t fare exceedingly well in his nine starts.

So, that the Reds went out of the box and signed Aroldis Chapman – who may wind up the fifth starter (crazy, I know it) – was a HUGE step forward.  The 20 year old with a 102 mile an hour fastball might start the year in AA, but in a year or two, he could be a serious ace.

If the Reds want to win, their starters have to step up.  Arroyo has to hold steady, Harang has to find his mojo, Cueto has to become a REAL #2 starter, and Bailey has to make 25 good starts and not 10.  The guy who might make this interesting, but isn’t guaranteed a roster spot is Matt Maloney, who had seven tolerable starts but gave up nine homers.  Everything else looks good (28Ks against 8 walks, for example).

The bullpen was pretty good, though.  Francisco Cordero was great, Nick Massett was solid, and even Arthur Rhodes – who pitched in Baltimore when Mike Flanagan was still pitching – was really good.  If Maloney isn’t going to start, he’s a good long relief option.  After that, you have a few “ifs” in Danny Herrera, Carlos Fisher, and Jared Burton.  These are guys who aren’t bad and would help more IF they could also step forward.

I like Harang to come back some, Cueto and Bailey to improve some more, and Micah Owings to play right field before too long.  I see at least a 25 run net gain.  A streak of confidence might make it 50.  That’s optimistic, though.

Catchers:

It’s the same group as last year – Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  Combined, they provided slightly better than league average catching, and slightly below average hitting.  The hope, I guess, is that Hernandez stays healthy, but he’s turning 34 in May, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Infielders:

Joey Votto is the real deal – like Ryan Braun, Votto is a threat to win a triple crown.  It would be nice if the Reds wouldn’t do goofy things like force Ramon Hernandez to first base, but when Votto went down, Dusty Baker decided that Hernandez was Victor Martinez.  He’s not.  (He’s actually a better fielder, but not a hitter.)

Brandon Phillips remains a great second baseman; durable, a defender, and one of the most productive players in the game.

After a year of letting Alex Gonzalez try to regain his youth, the Reds are going with veteran Orlando Cabrera.  This HAS to go better, wouldn’t you think?  Paul Janish played spectacularly with the glove, but hits like Mark Belanger, too.

Arriving in a trade, Scott Rolen takes over at third base and if he can fight father time will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion.

The bench now includes Aaron Miles and Paul Janish, capable gloves even if the bats aren’t really strong.  Drew Sutton is also around, but likely will wind up at AAA.  And, the ancient Miguel Cairo got a Non-Roster Invite – he could sneak in there.

All told, I like this group to be 30 – 40 runs more productive offensively, and perhaps five runs better defensively.  Only Rolen’s health makes me nervous – but at .255 and some power, he’s an improvement.  And, Cabrera could get old this year – but he’ll be better than Gonzalez.

Outfielders:

This is a young group and I think will be better next year because Willy Taveras is gone.  Chris Dickerson isn’t a huge power threat, but he was an above average hitter at 5.4 runs per 27 outs.  Give him 500 at bats, and that’s a step up.  Jonny Gomes will get at bats (and not catch flies) after hitting 20 homers last season.  And I don’t believe that Jay Bruce will hit .223 again (but he might hit 30 homers).  Add to that Drew Stubbs, who hit .267 with some power after taking over for Taveras in center.  I’m not convinced he’s better than Chris Dickerson (in part because that power isn’t to be expected and he doesn’t have enough patience), but BOTH guys would be better than Taveras.

Arriving from Seattle is Wladimir Balentien, who played well after arriving in late July- but had been disappointing as a Mariner.  I like him as a fourth or fifth outfielder.  Can Micah Owings shag flies?  Put him in left field and let the man hit.  Put him at first base when Joey Votto needs a day off and let him hit.  Sheesh.

I see perhaps 50 more runs of offense in 2010 from the outfield, with the defense holding steady – and improving if Gomes is a pinch hitter and not a regular outfielder.

Prospects:

The best players in AAA already started getting playing time – Stubbs, Maloney, Lehr, Bailey.  Aroldis Chapman may not see any minor league time, and we already mentioned him.  So, if you are looking for prospects, we have to look to the lower levels.

Travis Wood is close.  At AA Carolina, he went 9 – 3 with a 1.21 ERA (!), in part because he allowed just two homers and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He earned a shot at AAA where he had eight decent starts.  His minor league career has been a bit uneven, so look for Wood to start the year in AAA, but get the first shot at the majors if someone falters.  Chris Heisey had an amazing half season at AA, hitting .347 with 13 homers, walking as often as he struck out, and earning a trip to AAA with Wood.  He didn’t quite keep up the same pace, but his four years in the minors have shown Heisey to be a hitter.  He’ll get another shot at AAA because the Reds have outfield options right now.

Another AA prospect is first baseman Yonder Alonso, the 2008 first round pick out of Miami, who smoked his way through rookie, A, and into AA last year.  He’s got some pop, patience, and a .300 average in the minors.  Alonso’s spot would seem to be blocked in the majors, though – so the question will be can he move to the outfield, or will he be moved for a pitcher.  I think he looks like a young Eddie Murray…  Todd Frazier, a 2007 top pick (1A), has hit well, with patience and power, but might not have the range at short and is blocked at second.  Frazier MIGHT get a shot, though, if someone gets injured.

Recent early picks aren’t making the same progress.  Catcher Devin Mesoraco (2007 – #1) hasn’t hit much in the minors.  Kyle Lotzkar walks a lot of batters (24 in 37.2 innings at A Dayton) but, more importantly, has to recover from a broken bone in his elbow that caused him to miss the 2009 season.

Forecast:

I like the Reds to make a splash in 2010.  I think the offense might be 80 runs better than last year, with improvement in the outfield and at two infield positions.  The defense may be a little better – and there is room for improvement on the staff.  I see Cincinnati scoring 750 runs and allowing perhaps 680 – and it could be less.  I have them at 89 wins, which isn’t out of the range of possibility.  If SOMEBODY can pitch like an ace, look out.

If asked to name a sleeper to make the World Series, it’s the Cincinnati Reds.

NL’s Best and Worst Pitchers in 2009 – Hot Stove News…

Quick news hits first before we take a quick look back at pitchers in 2009…

Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million when filing for arbitration – if he wins, it would be the highest amount paid to an arbitration eligible pitcher.  Of course, Lincecum is a bit of a party animal off the field, but between the lines he’s one of the five best pitchers in the National League.  He’s certainly one of the most valuable commodities – a pretty durable arm (so far) who gets a lot of batters out and wins games.  [ESPN/SI]

There’s a rather long list of players and teams avoiding arbitration or signing deals – you can get the list on SI or MLB – but the ones that caught my attention were (a) Jonathon Papelbon getting $9.35 million from Boston – about two million more than the going rate and (b) Bengie Molina likely returning to the Giants.  The Mets pursued Molina but apparently not hard enough, and are now stuck with playing backup catchers every day for another year (unless you consider Omir Santos a budding starter).  [FoxSports/ESPN]

FUN WITH DATA!

Having purchased my copy of the Lahman database, which is invaluable for doing quick queries so that I can plug data into my spreadsheets very easily, I can finally start doing the type of statistical analysis that I like…  I’ve already assembled the NL data and will be doing the AL data later this week.  And, after having knocked out the NL sheets, we get to have some fun with the lists it generates.  Today, we’ll start with the pitchers.

Top NL Starting Pitchers

The first rating system I have looks at how many runs a pitcher cost or saved his team over the course of the year above or below what the average pitcher allowed.  ERA is a pretty simple way to note this, mind you.  Someone with an ERA of 2.00 is two runs per nine innings better than someone with an ERA of 4.00.  However, it’s easier to have a low ERA when you pitch in San Diego, so I modify the runs allowed (not earned runs, but runs allowed) by removing the park effect.  Then, I also try to isolate the advantage a pitcher has in being on a team with a good defense vs. one with a bad defense.  For example, a pitcher on the Giants gets help from having a very solid defense – Randy Winn and Fred Lewis in the outfield are plus defenders at their position, the infielders were rather good as well.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals staff had behind them an injured Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan or Ryan Ludwick in the outfield not catching as many flies as most teams and were playing an injured (and less mobile) Mark DeRosa at third and, perhaps more importantly, an outfielder at second base all year in Skip Schumaker.  Once I figure out how many runs the seven guys in the field affected the team’s ability to prevent runs, you can make a second modification to a pitcher’s runs allowed numbers and compare it with the league average.

The league average pitcher allowed about 4.53 runs per nine innings.  The total number of runs saved is not just dependent on runs allowed per nine, but the number of innings pitched.  The best pitchers in saving runs will usually be starters.  Sometimes, a reliever can sneak in there, but not very often.  Let’s get to the list.

Best Starters:

In terms of runs saved, the best starting pitchers in the National League were…

48.57 – Chris Carpenter (STL)
43.19 – Adam Wainwright (STL)
40.25 – Danny Haren (ARZ)
38.80 – Tim Lincecum (SF)
38.30 – Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
38.16 – Jair Jurrjens (ATL)
36.39 – Javier Vasquez (ATL)
33.68 – Josh Johnson (FLA)
30.62 – Matt Cain (SF)
28.51 – Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
28.09 – J.A. Happ (PHI)
26.14 – Ted Lilly (CHC)
23.33 – Jason Marquis (COL)
22.81 – Tommy Hanson (ATL)
21.32 – Clayton Kershaw (LA)

No other starters saved at least 20 runs more than an average pitcher would have allowed given the number of innings pitched by that player.  The top two guys were Cardinals – two pitchers who were wonderful despite having several players not necessarily having good years with the glove.  Those pitchers DO benefit from having the best catching in baseball (Yadier Molina) – but Carpenter’s 48+ runs saved over the average pitcher might be the largest number I have seen in the five years I have done this.  Based on this criteria, Carpenter deserved his Cy Young consideration.  Among the surprises on this list was Clayton Kershaw who couldn’t get any support from his team but really did pitch very, very well and I think could be a sleeper ace for 2010.  And, seeing how well Jason Marquis pitched for the first four months of the season, one assumes that Colorado will miss that kind of production.

Top Relievers:

18.13 – Kiko Calero (FLA)
17.86 – Ryan Franklin (STL)
16.29 – LaTroy Hawkins (HOU)
16.23 – Jeremy Affeldt (SF)
15.49 – Trevor Hoffman (MIL)
13.89 – Nick Massett (CIN)
13.42 – Rafael Soriano (ATL)
12.98 – Huston Street (COL)
12.57 – Jose Valverde (HOU)
12.36 – Todd Coffey (MIL)
12.15 – Tyler Clippard (WAS)

As has been the case for many years, the top relievers are frequently NOT closers but middle relievers who have really good seasons in less demanding roles.  Kiko Calero, who has never had a season anywhere NEAR what he did in 2009 is the surprise winner here.  That being said, the top closer was Ryan Franklin, followed closely by Trevor Hoffman.  More than any other list, this group will change a lot from year to year.  Any number close to 10 is a great year for a reliever.

Worst NL Pitchers…

-44.28 – Manny Parra (MIL)
-33.36 – Josh Geer (SD)
-32.70 – Braden Looper (MIL)
-31.70 – David Bush (MIL)
-31.25 – Jeff Suppan (MIL)
-27.36 – Chad Gaudin (SD)
-25.35 – Todd Wellemeyer (STL)
-22.83 – Micah Owings (CIN)
-21.95 – Felipe Paulino (HOU)
-21.90 – Brad Lidge (PHI)
-20.53 – Brian Moehler (HOU)
-20.20 – Walter Silva (SD)

-21.31 – Kevin Hart (PIT) – but positive 6.30 in CHC

These are the starters for teams who felt like they had no other option than to give 150 innings to someone with a 5+ ERA.  Or, in the case of Brad Lidge, a manager who kept feeding his closer the ball despite the fact that he was getting hammered all too often.  Rarely does a reliever make this list.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that four of the five worst pitchers in terms of their relation to the average pitcher were Brewers.  Look – they aren’t the worst pitchers.  There were guys with 8+ ERAs who got just 20 innings and were sent packing to AAA, too.  Or were hurt or something.  But the Brewers were hanging in there with four guys who are no better than long relievers.  Three of them had seen better days (Looper, Suppan, Bush), but wow.  One sees immediately where the Brewers should spend their money.  Go find three guys who can pitch.  If that means giving Ben Sheets a deal, do it.  Finding three guys who can give you a 4.20 ERA in 180 innings would move the Brewers up 10 games in the standings.  Is it that hard to find three of those guys?  I can’t wait to do my team overview for the Brewers…

Trade Analysis: Marlins Go Fishing; Hook Nick Johnson for Prospect

I’ve lived in South Florida since 1999, and while we have had our share of selling – giving away established players for prospects – we occasionally do make a run for players.  Sometimes we have gone overboard – like in 1997 – and other times we do a subtle move here or there to finish the product (2003).  In 2009, the Marlins decided they wanted someone with on base skills to replace Emilio Bonafacio – fast but not a leadoff hitter – and found one in Washington: Nick Johnson.

Florida Gets:  One of the hidden gems when he’s healthy, Nick Johnson is a tolerable first baseman and left fielder, but his best skill is working the count for hits and walks.  Johnson has a .399 OBP in his career which started more than a decade ago with the Yankees.  Johnson isn’t going to make the Marlins infield more airtight – and moving Jorge Cantu back to third isn’t an improvement over the mobile Bonafacio – but he is going to help score runs.  The Marlins offense is already potent – not Boston on Steroids potent, but capable of routing people.

Washington Gets:  Well – Nick Johnson wasn’t staying around anyway – he’s a free agent after the season.  Aaron Thompson is a former Marlins #1 pick (2005) who has some control, but seems to be hittable and despite that #1 tag hasn’t moved that quickly through the system.  Thompson may make the Nationals in a year or so, but he isn’t going to make a splash.  Maybe he can become a middle reliever and stick around a while.

Winner:  Marlins, who seem to win on all these deals.  I know Josh Beckett and Lowell for Hanley Ramirez is probably a wash, but Hanley is all that.  If Anibel Sanchez ever comes back to where he was three years ago (not likely, if you ask me), the Marlins would have won that deal, too.

Prospect Week in MLB!

This is prospect week, if you were paying attention. David Price was brought up by the Rays and given a start on Monday. Injuries to just about everybody on the Mets means that their top prospect (according to Baseball America), Fernando Martinez, will get a shot at the outfield. And, the Orioles announced that catcher Matt Wieters will be on the big league roster on Friday.

Price’s first outing wasn’t much to write home about – he couldn’t get through four innings and 100 pitches, but he left with a lead. Wild as all get out – but he’ll be fine.

Wieters – I saw him play and he’s the real deal. Big, strong, good catching instincts. He’ll catch for a few years and then become a first baseman DH hitting a ton. I think Steve has him – he’ll be an impact player. Think Joe Mauer, but bigger (and probably not as good defensively).

Fernando Martinez I know less about. He’s 20, though, which means there’s upside. He’s shown improving power and hits well enough (.282 in the minors, .294 in AAA Buffalo) and he can run a little – though he’s not asked to run much. I can say this, though, if some kid is 20 and performing well in AAA, he’s a prospect. We may not own him this year (but you might consider it), but somebody will own him by 2011.

The Mets keep winning, though. Last night was 1997 Marlins retro night – Gary Sheffield (roid!) homered in support of a Livan Hernandez complete game. Earlier in the day, the Mets finally put Jose Reyes on the DL (calf), and they put Ryan Church on the DL (hamstring). And, Carlos Beltran is day to day – won’t play until the weekend at the earliest. Delgado is already out with a bad hip. So, that’s four of the top six batters in the lineup??? Wow.

Tommy Hanson is expected to join the Braves this week – Hanson is the top pitching prospect for the Braves and is mowing down AAA pitching. 446Ks in 376 minor league innings, good control, and could be Rookie of the Year material if he gets 20 starts. (Nice pickup, Steve.)

I forgot – another prospect got a start last night – Jason Berken of the Orioles. Just 25, has great command and keeps the ball in the park. I think he looks good, and he won last night in his MLB debut. If you are rotating pitchers and he comes up, you might consider giving him a shot.

Too bad Andy couldn’t have taken his kids to the Royals game last night. Another Greinke gem.

Cubs finally win (rain stopped it in six), Padres finally lose (but nearly pulled it out with a ninth inning rally). The days of a Jays pennant seems a distant thought now.

Ryan Braun was hit by a pitch on his right wrist last night; x-rays were negative for the Brewer Bomber.

Roy Oswalt has a bruise on his throwing hand, hopefully won’t miss a start.

People who will miss a turn? Scot Shields has a left knee injury and joins the DL – the Angels can’t keep a pitcher healthy.

Jason Bartlett’s sprained ankle is enough to head to the DL. The Rays infield is now Brignac and Aybar (or Zobrist) instead of Bartlett and Iwamura – which might be a big decline in skills. Bartlett is one of the best, and Aki was playing great this year. Called up? Utility player, Joe Dillon (former fish!).

Lou Montanez, Orioles DH/OF prospect, is now on the DL with his thumb injury. Hope surgery goes well; he can hit.

Brian Bruney, Yankee Reliever, goes to the DL with elbow discomfort – and Joe Girardi was not happy with Bruney’s communication skills.

Braves pitcher Buddy Carlyle heads to the DL, back comes Jorge Campillo. The Reds activated Nick Masset from the DL. The Giants get back Andres Torres, a CF burner, and send Jesus Guzman back to Fresno (AAA).

Hurry Back! Matt LaPorta, Indians 3B prospect, heads back to AAA – which was surprising…

You’re Out of Order – The Whole Lineup is Out of Order!

Fun stuff first – the Houston Astros Michael Bourn batted first and second against the Brewers because Cecil Cooper changed his mind about whether Bourn or Kaz Matsui should bat first or second. The lineup card in the dugout said one thing, the one given to the home plate umpire said something else. So, after Bourn led off with a single, Brewers Manager Ken Macha pointed out the error of the Astros ways, the home plate umpire called Bourn out, and then made Bourn bat again. He made another out.

Scott Schoenweis left Florida to return to his Arizona home yesterday when he learned his wife died unexpectedly in their home. The D-Backs reliever is on the bereavement list, and Arizona players chalked the number 60 on hats and shoes in support.

Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury has fantastic range. Last night he caught 12 fly balls – about four times more than the normal day, and as many as any AL outfielder ever.

Welcome back: Cards Chris Carpenter, who beat the Cubs in his return from the DL last night. Kevin Youkilis returned last night and helped the Red Sox top the Jays. And, the first homer of the season for Big Papi! Now, he can relax. Might be time to go get him.

Andy was asking about stolen bases… Arizona’s Mark Reynolds (who?) had four last night against the Marlins.

ESPN reported that Jake Peavy might be heading to Chicago – but not the Cubs. The White Sox… Say it ain’t so!!!

Injury Updates:

Elijah Dukes hits the DL with a strained left hamstring. Say hello to outfielder Justin Maxwell, a 4th round draft pick in 2005 who has power and speed and a big hole in his swing. He will work a walk, but mostly because some pitchers fear him. He’s never hung around any one level very long, so it’s hard to get a reading, but he might have an impact. In 2010.

Oakland infielder Mark Ellis’s calf injury was worse than though – now on the 60 day DL, where teammate Eric Chavez and his shoulder and back reside.

Rick Ankiel is close to returning to the Cards. When Carpenter was recalled, the Cards sent outfielder Shane Robinson back to AAA Memphis.

Nate Robertson returns to the Tigers, costing Lucas French his spot on the roster.

Nick Massett goes to Cincy’s DL list with a left oblique strain.

Boston’s John Smoltz begins a rehab stint with Greenville. Cliff Floyd works his in Lake Elsinore for San Diego.

Comings and Goings:

I mentioned rookie Wilkin Ramirez the other day. The new Tiger homered last night.

Unhappy with Garrett Mock, the Nationals sent Mock to AAA and recalled Craig Stammen. No prospect. The Nats also designated Alex Cintron for assignment and recalled occasional prospect Jason Bergmann.

Craig Breslow got off to a slow start with the Twins, was designated for assignment, but got claimed by the A’s. This is the first time Breslow hadn’t pitched well in the majors, but his overall career has been pretty good. We’ll see if he can’t put it back together.

Doug Slaten will cover for Scot Schoenweis in Arizona; Anthony Swarzak gets Breslow’s spot in Minnesota. Swarzak fits the Twins’ mold – control pitcher, might get a few striekouts. He was pitching well in Rochester (AAA), so he earned a look. Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004 right out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida (about 20 minutes south of here).