2010 NL Playoff Rotations: Cincinnati Reds

With one more win or a Cardinals loss, the Cincinnati Reds will be the second National League team to clinch a playoff spot. That gives them time to rest their guys and line up their playoff rotation. But unlike the Phillies, the Reds don’t have a dominant top three — they don’t even have a dominant top one. That makes their playoff rotation decisions a bit more interesting. We could see them go a number of ways, though it does appear clear who will start the first two games.

1) Bronson Arroyo CHONE: 4.55 nERA, 4.70 FIP
2010: 1.8 WAR, 4.65 FIP, 4.65 xFIP, 4.67 tERA, 3.97 ERA

I think Stan McNeal of The Sporting News put it best when he described Arroyo as, “the Reds’ No. 1 for his experience more than his stuff.” Chances are he’ll get the ball in Game 1, and given the results he has produced this season that might not be a bad thing. He has kept his ERA under 4.00 through 208.2 innings, a remarkable feat given his DIPS numbers. His 5.05 K/9 ranks seventh worst among MLB starters with at least 170 innings, and his 1.21 HR/9 ranks ninth worst among the same group. Yet his 3.97 ERA outpaces his 4.65 FIP, in no small part because of his .249 BABIP. That’s the lowest in the NL and second lowest in MLB.

With BABIP it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing it off as luck and expecting a regression. In Arroyo’s case that has to be somewhat true. Last year Randy Wolf and Ross Ohlendorf ranked among the league’s lowest in BABIP, and both have seen a nearly 30 point rise this year. But that overlooks two points: 1) a regression won’t necessarily occur in the playoffs, and 2) Arroyo might have changed something that has aided his low BABIP. It does appear that he is going to the changeup and curveball more often and the slider far less often than in year’s past. I’m not sure if that has made a difference in his BABIP, but it’s more constructive, I think, to ponder these possibilities than to write it off to luck and assume he’ll regress.

Arroyo might not be anyone’s prototypical No. 1 starter, but he’s done well by the Reds in the past few years. They might have a physically more capable pitcher on staff, but it appears they’re comfortable giving the ball to the veteran in Game 1.

2) Johnny Cueto CHONE: 4.58 nERA, 4.32 FIP
2010: 2.7 WAR, 4.07 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 4.40 tERA, 3.73 ERA

Good things can happen when you allow fewer home runs. In many ways Johnny Cueto’s 2010 season looks like his 2009 one. His ground ball and strikeout rates are fairly close, while his BABIP is nearly identical. There are two noticeable differences, though, in his rate stats. First is his walk rate, 2.82 per nine down from 3.20. That has moved his WHIP from 1.36 to 1.28. That might not seem like a lot, but it does mean fewer base runners. That plays into the next change, his home run rate. Thanks to an 8.8 percent HR/FB ratio, down from his 11.2 percent rate from last year, Cueto has reduced his home run rate from 1.26 per nine to 0.96 per nine. If, all other aspects being equal, a pitcher puts fewer runners on base and allows fewer homers, it stands to reason that his ERA will drop. That is the case with Cueto, whose 3.73 ERA is a stark improvement over his 4.41 mark from last year.

While the Reds will clinch in the next day or so, they still have something to play for in the season’s final week. Finishing ahead of the NL West leader means they’ll start the NLDS at home, which is favorable with Cueto on the mound in Game 2. He has fared much better at home this season, striking out more batters, walking fewer, and allowing fewer home runs. This is all the more remarkable because The Great American Ballpark ranks eighth in ESPN’s HR Park Factors. That trend might not carry over into next season, but that doesn’t matter right now. As long as it carries over into the playoffs the Reds will be in a good position.

3) Travis Wood CHONE: 4.29 nERA, 4.31 FIP
2010: 2.2 WAR, 3.39 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 3.89 tERA, 3.46 ERA

I had originally planned to put Wood in the question marks section, but then I read Redleg Naton, where Chad Dotson convinced me otherwise:

Travis Wood is a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned. He’s the only lefty, and he’s earned it.

Earned it he has. Though he’s thrown just 96.1 innings this year, Wood has shown the Reds plenty. While CHONE isn’t so optimistic about him sustaining his current production, his fielding independent numbers suggest otherwise. As you can see, his FIP and tERA aren’t too far off of his actual ERA, though his xFIP is a bit higher. That’s because of a 6 percent home run to fly ball ratio. It’s tough to say at this point in his career whether that’s a sustainable mark, but Wood has given us little reason to doubt he’ll continue keeping balls in the park for the rest of the season.

What’d odd about Wood is that he hasn’t gotten much experience at his home ballpark. Of those 96.1 innings, only 16 have come in Cincinnati. The results in those 16 innings have been fine, but that’s not to say that they’ll stay that way. A few unlucky breaks on fly balls could break a playoff game. I do wonder if this, combined with Cueto’s home numbers, would move the Reds to ensure that Wood starts on the road. That would be easy if they start the NLDS at home. But would Baker and Co. start Wood in a Game 2 on the road and Cueto in Game 3 at home? It seems like an odd move based on relatively small samples, but we’ve seen odder things.

Question marks

The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs, though it appears that Edinson Volquez has the upper hand.

4) Edinson Volquez CHONE: 4.12 nERA, 3.98 FIP
2010: 0.7 WAR, 4.35 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, 4.25 tERA, 4.45 ERA

While Volquez’s 2010 numbers appear above for the sake of uniformity, they don’t really tell us anything about what we can expect in the playoffs. He didn’t get a start until later in the season and so had pitched just 56.2 innings. Yet even that is misleading. After an excellent season debut against Colorado, Volquez stumbled a bit. The breaking point was a 0.2-inning, 5-ER start against the Giants on August 23. On August 31 the Reds optioned Volquez to class-A in hopes that he could rediscover his form. They recalled him in time for a September 11 start, and since then he’s been quite strong: 21.2 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 23 K. The only problem is that he’s faced three non-playoff teams in that span.

When he’s good Volquez is the ace of this staff. He does have trouble with control, but his stuff helps make up for that. If he comes anywhere near his 2008 levels he will provide Cincinnati with a favorable matchup in any Game 4. The only question remaining is of whether he’s really back or not. He’ll get another audition tonight against Houston, though again that’s not the most strenuous test. Still, it seems as though the Reds will give him a shot in case of an NLDS Game 4.

5) Homer Bailey CHONE: 4.56 nERA, 4.43 FIP
2010: 1.8 WAR, 3.89 FIP, 4.07 xFIP, 4.32 tERA, 4.59 ERA

While the top of the Reds rotation has outperformed its fielding independent numbers, Bailey has fallen short of his. That has evened out a bit in September, as he sports a 3.72 ERA, but to trust September numbers is a folly. Three of the five teams he faced were out of the race, and so had no reason to put out the A lineup. He did fare well against the Padres last time out, striking out six and walking just run in a seven-inning, two-run performance. But one start does not a postseason campaign make.

Maybe a move to the bullpen for the playoffs will be good for Bailey. The Reds have to hope it will be, because that seems like the move they’ll make. It’s tough to make a case for trusting Volquez at the moment, but at least he’s had success in the majors. Bailey has yet to experience a sustained run of good starts. He still has some promise, but in terms of this year’s playoff rotation it appears he’s the odd man out. Maybe a strong final start, combined with a Volquez implosion, will change Dusty Baker’s mind. But I doubt it.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Anon21
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Anon21
5 years 7 months ago

Assuming the Braves manage to squeak through, it seems like this is a group they could handle. Only one lefty, and no one dominant. I like this matchup.

Alec
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Alec
5 years 7 months ago

Minus M. Prado…then I think this group handles the offensively struggling Braves.

Anon21
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Anon21
5 years 7 months ago

I’m wrong about who the Braves would face anyway…it would be the Giants. But I don’t think losing Prado kills the Braves’ chances. They’ve been stumbling along without real production from him for a month or so. Not stumbling so well, but I just don’t think it changes things.

blackout
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blackout
5 years 7 months ago

No disrespect, but as a Reds fan the Braves are by far my preferred LDS opponent of all the options.

TexasRanger
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TexasRanger
5 years 7 months ago

Not that I disagree but to point out one minor thing, Homer Bailey has experienced a sustained run of great starts, last year in the second half he was otherworldy. Not to say he belongs in that playoff rotation but he has had some major league success before.

blackout
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blackout
5 years 7 months ago

Agreed. Most dismiss Bailey’s late season 2009 run as a function of weak opposing offense, and that’s not unreasonable, but those watching the games can attest that his stuff was top-notch at that time, as he routinely maintained FB velo of 96/97 into late innings and threw his curve and splitter for strikes. Bailey was as close to that against the Pads as he has been all year — 94-96 (lots of 96 FWIW) with the FB and again spotting the curve — and I don’t think there’s anything clear cut between him and Volquez. Volquez pitched well last night, and assess his FB/Change/CB arsenal as more complete than Bailey’s, but he was also a Drew Stubbs web gem from being down three runs in the early going, and his control isn’t completely back.

As for Wood, I suspect that the Reds aren’t really perturbed by his innings increase under the circumstances, even with his injury history. If by some miracle we make it to the WS they’ll have some decisions to make, but at this point you’re looking at one more regular season start and an LDS start as the only guaranteed innings added. I do know that I wouldn’t want to be the member of the coachign staff who informed Wood that he was being shut down for the LDS because of an innings limit. lol

Doug Gray
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5 years 7 months ago

The thing you are missing with Bailey is how good he has been since coming off the DL.I am sure that his numbers in those 9 starts matter a whole lot more than the starts he made in April and May. The Reds are 8-1 in his 9 starts and he has 3.71 ERA in that time frame with a better than 3-1 K-BB rate. In one start he had a bout with dizziness and left the game after struggling, if we take out that start, he has a 3.40 ERA with a better than 4-1 K-BB rate.Toss in that Bailey is notorious for taking a while to loosen up, and I think he gets a better case into the rotation than you are giving him credit for.

With Travis Wood, the glaring problem is that he is currently 1 inning short of reaching +30 innings from last season. I would be surprised if he made the rotation, even if the Reds drew the Phillies and their lefty lineup because of how many extra innings would throw out there.

GregD
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5 years 7 months ago

Have the Reds said they are keeping Wood on an innings limit this year? I like Wood vs. the Phillies. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench or off the roster against some of the other opponents, depending on matchups.

Depending on when their first round starts, they may only need 3 starters with everyone going on normal rest. If they start Thursday, they will need 4 starters (or pitch someone a day short.)

Whoever they go with, Baker will need to have a quicker hook than he has shown this season. And he could afford to do that if they keep a starter in the bullpen.

Doug Gray
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5 years 7 months ago

They haven’t said it, but they were pretty careful with Leake, so I imagine they at least watch it somewhat.

blackout
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blackout
5 years 7 months ago

LeCure and one of Bailey/Volquez in the ‘pen is a good Plan B in the event one of our starters melts down. Maloney’s not a bad option either if there’s room. I think if Wood starts in the LDS and the Reds advance that he also starts in the LCS, but you play it one series at a time. It’s worth calculating whether it makes sense to skip his last regular season start (subbing in Maloney or LeCure) to save him for the LDS, but I think we’ve all seen situations where taking a guy off schedule backfires.

I think Baker’s quicker hook applies to bullpen management more than his starters, but I agree that it will be necessary. His leaving Masset in to face Tejada the other day, when Masset had struggled mightily to get two outs, seemed like a clear mistake at the time an the results didn’t help Dusty’s case. Those decisions will be vastly amplified.

Oscar
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Oscar
5 years 7 months ago

Why would you expect Arroyo’s BABIP not to regress? It’s not (or is only marginally) a skill-driven peripheral; it really is driven by luck. So it’s not like he’s on a good streak of getting poor contact, he’s just been getting lucky. And there’s no reason to expect luck to continue.

James
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James
5 years 7 months ago

Because he has a relatively low LD rate and the Reds have a good infield defense and are pretty good in the OF other than Gomes?

jinaz
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5 years 7 months ago

It’s not just this year. Arroyo, at the career level, has outpaced his DIPS numbers by roughly a half-run. I think some of what we’re seeing this year is luck, but I’d wager that a half-run of it is skill. If there ever was a crafty right-hander, Arroyo is that guy. He’s precisely the sort of pitcher that you would expect to outpace his DIPS numbers.
-j

WY
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WY
5 years 7 months ago

“Why would you expect Arroyo’s BABIP not to regress? It’s not (or is only marginally) a skill-driven peripheral; it really is driven by luck. So it’s not like he’s on a good streak of getting poor contact, he’s just been getting lucky. And there’s no reason to expect luck to continue.”

We’re talking about one or two starts. Why WOULD you expect it to regress? Also, the previous commenters make good points about why it is he has outperformed his DIPS numbers. I credit Joe Pawlikowski for not mindlessly trumpeting the usual BABIP/regression/luck motif, which has been run into the ground. It’s nice to see someone challenge these assumptions now and then and instead take a look at why someone’s ERA might differ from thier FIP, xFIP, or whatever.

WY
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WY
5 years 7 months ago

*their, not thier.

JWTP
Member
JWTP
5 years 7 months ago

The Giants have and will continue to crush anyone the Reds put out on the bump, bring them on.

Doug Gray
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5 years 7 months ago

The Giants are 4-3 vs the Reds this year. Lets not get carried away.

blackout
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blackout
5 years 7 months ago

Now that’s the cogent analysis I’ve come to expect from Fangraphs commenters! lol

The Giants are a good team, no doubt. I have nothing but respect for them.

MBT Sapatu Sandals
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5 years 1 month ago

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