Don’t Let Cincy Surprise You

Pretty much every year, there’s a team that the projection systems are optimistic about, relative to the general feel of baseball fans and analysts at large. This year, it looks like that team may be the Reds, who haven’t been seriously talked about as contenders by too many folks, but who look like they could be pretty good on paper.

Despite winning just 78 games last year, there’s quite a bit of talent on the roster. Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips are established All-Star caliber players, while Joey Votto certainly looks like a guy who should be able to perform at that kind of level, given how well he played in 2009. Beyond just those three, the roster is littered with upside.

Jay Bruce, as we’ve talked about, was a league average hitter despite a fluky .222 BABIP last year. His skill metrics suggest he’s a premium power hitter, and just needs more balls to find holes in order for everyone to realize it. Drew Stubbs has been regarded as an elite defensive center fielder since his days in college, and his first appearance in the majors did nothing to diminish that reputation. Chris Heisey and Wladimir Balentien have destroyed minor league pitching in the past.

Not even counting the useful Chris Dickerson or somewhat-less-useful Jonny Gomes, that outfield has a chance to be really good. And we’ve already mentioned three potential all-stars on the infield. Even their weak spots, catcher and shortstop, are manned by not-horrible players in Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Hanigan, Orlando Cabrera, and Paul Janish.

On the position player side of things, the Reds stack up well with just about any team in the National League. And while the pitching staff lacks an ace, the quartet of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey are far from disastrous. As a group, they’re roughly league average. Micah Owings is coming off a bad season, but of course, makes up for some of his problems on the mound by hitting well, and few teams have a reliable #5 starter anyway.

I guess I’m just surprised at the level of, well, surprise surrounding talk of the Reds as contenders. They have some good hitters, some good fielders, and some good enough pitchers. They were nearly a .500 team a year ago while wasting at-bats on the likes of Willy Taveras, and he’s thankfully been excised from the roster.

The Reds have the makings of a pretty good team in 2010. We shouldn’t be all that surprised to find them right in the thick of things come September.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


46 Responses to “Don’t Let Cincy Surprise You”

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  1. Joe R says:

    Here’s to being doomed to Dusty Baker praise

    /chugs Everclear 190

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  2. OremLK says:

    Don’t let [insert NL Central team here] surprise you.

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    • The Hit Dog says:

      I tried this game, but I lost when I got to, “Don’t let Houston surprise you.”

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      • OremLK says:

        I don’t know; PECOTA has Houston pegged for 76 wins. Didn’t they project in the upper-60s this time last year?

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      • wobatus says:

        xfips last year for possible prospective starting 5:

        Harang 3.95
        Arroyo 4.56
        Cueto 4.57
        Bailey 4.58
        Owings 5.63

        Rodriguez 3.63
        Oswalt 3.88
        Paulino 4.10
        Myers 4.32
        Norris 4.38

        Past isn’t prologue. Do your own DD. Reds have a lot to like and a better line-up, but ‘stros have potentially a nice starting 5.

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      • wobatus says:

        Hmm, I love the thumbs down for merely posting the xfips of the possible starting 5s of the Reds and Astros in 2009. Those are the numbers here on fangraphs for those guys. Not the projections, and I’m not making any predictions. It is what it is, take it for what it’s worth (not much), yada yada. I just found it interesting.

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      • OremLK says:

        Yeah, I’m sensing more than a little bias here.

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      • wobatus says:

        Well, I think I will keep fishing for those thumbs down:

        Career xfips for the same possible starting 5s:

        Harang 4.02
        Arroyo 4.47
        Cueto 4.47
        Bailey 4.92
        Owings 5.09

        Oswalt 3.58
        Myers 3.90
        Rodriguez 4.18
        Paulino 4.23
        Norris 4.38

        Norris and Paulino have very small sample sizes. Oswalt hasn’t been quite as good recently. Myers has been hurt and ineffective and hasn’t pitched to his xfip. Cueto and Bailey were highly thought of coming up. Bailey seemed to be getting the hang of it somewhat last year, etc. But it is at least interesting to me that all 5 of the Astros have better career xfips than all but one of the Reds starters (and Volquez is not on this list, although he may be back mid-season someone mentioned).

        Now, projected fips for these pitchers from CHONE narrows the difference (both are in home run parks but cincy a little more so and minute maid supresses runs overall, I think, not sure-xfip is nice since it regresses homers to league average per outfield fly so we can sorta get away from the home run home park thing, at least my understanding of it).

        Harang 4.25
        Cueto 4.58
        Bailey 4.65
        Arroyo 4.79
        Owings 5.22

        Oswalt 3.81
        Rodriguez 3.80
        Norris 4.40
        Paulino 4.75
        Myers 4.76

        Half a run better roughly in 3 slots and roughly equal in 2.

        I get the article. Reds have a lot of nice young hitters. Overall better than the ‘stros. The way the rotations stack up just struck me. With Norris, Paulino and Myers, a lot has to click for the Astros. And I really like Cueto to step up this year. Maybe Bailey will continue to improve. Harang has had some great years. Just feel like I better appease the Reds fans or ‘stros haters out there.

        For the record, I am not an Astros or Reds fan. The comment about the Astros and this thread being about the Reds just got me thinking about the comparison of their staffs.

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      • wobatus says:

        @ Oremlk, bias from my post, or bias against the ‘stros?

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      • OremLK says:

        Bias against Houston, it seems to me.

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      • wobatus says:

        It’s interesting that the CAIRO team projections Dave linked to in his projections vs predictions article the other day has the Reds allowing about 50 fewer runs than the ‘stros. Given the CHONE projections for the possible starting 5 starters for each team, and the parks, that much of a difference seems a little unlikely. Could be the fielding effect. Manzella is supposed to be a good fielder and likely a step up from Tejada. Cabrera may have lost a step. Feliz isn’t really an upgrade on Blum at this stage fielding wise.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        “It’s interesting that the CAIRO team projections Dave linked to in his projections vs predictions article the other day has the Reds allowing about 50 fewer runs than the ’stros. Given the CHONE projections for the possible starting 5 starters for each team, and the parks, that much of a difference seems a little unlikely. Could be the fielding effect.”

        Wobatus, partly a fielding effect, but I think that a difference in bullpens is entirely possible too. The Reds’ pen is seriously under-rated; they’ve got much the better closer, some decent lefty arms, a couple of good youngsters, and arguably the best set-up-guy-that-nobody-outside-his-family-has-ever-heard-of in Nick Masset.

        The ‘Stros will be running out Brandon Lyon’s 4K/9 and Matt Lindstrom’s flyball-pitcher-with-control-issues-in-a-bandbox production in the last couple of innings, which looks like something of a chasm between the two teams.

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      • wobatus says:

        Felonious, I thought of that, the bullpens and the fielders. If you look at the CHONE runs predictions on a per 9 inning basis, the teams are roughly even, with the Reds main 5 doing it over more prospective innings, so there is a fielding difference (not sure if that was before the teams changed their shortstops from janish to Cabrera and Tejada to manzella apparently, or if that even factors in).

        To get Houston up towards 162 starts based on CHONE, you need to toss 27 Moehler starts up there as well, which brings them to 154 starts from 6 starters. CHONE also projects 22 starts for Volquez. That gets Cincy to 160 starts. That ain’t gonna happen. But if Cairo is expecting about that many starts for Volquez and for Moehler, Houston would be slightly behind in runs allowed per 9 from their starting staffs, with Houston slightly more reliant on its bullpen to make up a slight innings deficit to the Cincy projections.

        But that would mean Cincy’s bullpen would still have to be 30-40 runs better.

        Cincy won’t get very many Volquez starts this year. He had surgery in August last year, so at best I could see 10-12 starts. Other starts might come from Maloney, etc. And if Houston doesn’t need or have Moehler start more than a few, the bullpen advantage needed by Cincy to get to allow 50 fewer runs than Houston as per CAIRO needs to be a lot.

        Cordero over Lyon, agreed. Masset over Lindstrom. Although Gervacio looks promising (check out his ability to get swinging strikes).

        All in all, I could see Cincy projecting a little better in run prevention, but 50 runs is quite a lot. I suppose I could go through every pitcher including relievers and see how CHONE projects it.

        It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Paulino 2009 xfip was way below his e.r.a., for example. More than 2 runs. Be interesting to see if 1) they give him and Norris a starting job over Moehler and 2) if they can keep the homer totals down. Is he really that unlucky on flyball/homer rates, or is he just tossing batting practice some days?

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      • wobatus says:

        This has turned out to be pretty interesting.

        To date, the Reds have allowed 505 runs, the Astros 567, so CAIRO even underestimated the runs allowed differential between the Reds and Astros it seems (the prediction was for 50 runs).

        But the xfip of the Astros’ starters is 4.02, the Reds’s starters are at 4.53. The Astro starters’ fip is 3.75, the Reds 4.44.

        There is a bullpen differential, but the real difference must be fielding. Reds team UZR is +36.9, Astros -18.5. Carlos Lee, Berkman, Keppinger…yeah, that makes sense.

        The Astros indeed appear to have had a better starting staff than the Reds this year. The Reds were just much better fielding the ball (as well as at scoring runs). Janish, Rolen, Phillips, Stubbs. Makes sense.

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    • adohaj says:

      Don’t let the [Pirates] surprise you

      hmm not so sure about that

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  3. Chris says:

    I still think they’ll end up no better than 3rd in the NL Central. I think STL has a much better rotation and a solid lineup, not to mention the Cubs are always a threat, then you have the Brewers to contend with, so yeah, I think 3rd is a very reasonable call should the Brewers pitching staff continue to struggle.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      not to mention the Cubs are always a threat,

      A threat to disappoint.

      Would anyone really be surprised if any NLC team other than PIT or HOU won the division?

      The surprise would be if the NLC winner posted 95+ wins.

      If CIN does well in 2010 we’ll have to endure similar types of slogans such as “In Dusty We Trusty”. I nominate ” ‘Pick Power” ( ‘pick = toothpick). Please, no.

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      • Chris says:

        I would be surprised if Cincy did make it. The only team right now that wouldn’t surprise me if they took the NL Central would be the Cards, they seem to be hands down the best team on paper at the moment.

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  4. mykalmorgan says:

    2 words: Dusty Baker

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    • Joe R says:

      But what crappy, low-OBP, no power speedster does he have to singlehandedly ruin his team’s offense?

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      • odbsol says:

        Maybe they’l pick up Corey Patterson for old time’s sake.

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      • Joe R says:

        BEST CASE SCENARIO!

        But right now it’s looking like

        Stubbs
        Cabrera (it always has to go CF-SS at 1-2 in a Dustyorder)
        Votto
        Phillips
        Rolen
        Bruce
        Balentien/Dickerson
        Hernandez/Hanigan (once again, Dustyorder requires the catcher in the 8 hole, Hanigan walks too much for Dusty’s approval anyway)
        Pitcher

        And in the NL Central, idk how much Dusty can do to botch this. Outside of LF, that’s an average to above average hitter for his position in every spot of the order.

        Of course Dusty could always decide that Chapman needs to man up and average 2-3 CG’s / month.

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  5. Glanzer says:

    Despite this warning, I’ll think I’ll still be surprised if the Reds are contenders. 81-84 wins wouldn’t surprise me, but any better than that and I’d be surprised.

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  6. TLB says:

    Was Edinson Volquez omitted from the article due to his TJ surgery rehab? Iirc he’s expected to return sometime near mid-season.

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    • philosofool says:

      That would put him on a 12 month rehab schedule, which is usually the minimum for a starting pitcher. 18 months is probably more reasonable. Alternatively, he might return to a bullpen role for the rest of the season. I don’t know enough about TJ recovery to say whether the reliever workload would be good or bad for his rehab.

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      • 198d says:

        well, 12 months and reliever workload certainly didn’t bode well for BJ Ryan and various other “fringe” Jays pitchers who have been rushed after TJ recently. (Zambrano comes to mind) however, they’ve been much more careful with their “upside” pitchers, so it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions; the “rushed” guys might have been just as bad with 18-24 months of rehab as they were with 10-12 *shrugs*

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  7. Rick says:

    And that’s no mention of a bullpen that had the 4th lowest ERA in baseball last year and should only improve this year. The Reds may very well have the best defense in the NL. The question is whether the offense will rebound enough.

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  8. Cincy consistently looks good on paper, but something always seems to go wrong. But they are a well-rounded team for once. Add in a mid-season return by Volquez, and that’s one strong rotation.

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  9. FlimtotheFlam says:

    It seems like every year that the Reds are the team that is about to bust out. But they never do.

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  10. Jason461 says:

    Dave, I hope your right. It’s been a heckuva slog lately for we Reds fans. I do think, while we’re being optimistic, you should mention the upside of the rotation. Harang and Arroyo are what they are (average-type innings eaters), but Cueto and Bailey could both really be something. Bailey, especially, seemed to figure it out. Remember it wasn’t that long ago that he was the top pitching prospect in baseball and he’s still quite young.

    Of course, all of what I just said is invalid if the Reds pretend to be good for two months and then crush my soul in June and July.

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    • Steve says:

      Harang used to be more than just an average innings eater but ever since that game that he was called in from the bullpen to pitch like 4 innings of relief he’s been a mess. I’m still not convinced he’s done. He was one of the most underrated pitchers in Major League Baseball for a while and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he were to bounce back to his old form this year.

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      • Jason461 says:

        I feel pretty much the same way, I’m just trying to not to be too optimistic.

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      • philosofool says:

        ???

        Harang was a 7.9 k/9, 2.4 bb/9 pitcher with a 4.14 FIP and an ERA to match in 2009. He gave up a lot of line drives, but he always has. He didn’t pitch a lot of innings, but Harang has been a good but not great pitcher for several years.

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  11. Jimbo says:

    Bailey could be one of the best pitching values in 2010 drafts. He’s made 37 starts, and around 40 is where starters usually blossom or reveal perpetual mediocrity. Can’t remember the source of that benchmark, but it’s stuck with me.

    This is why I won’t touch Tommy Hanson this year. He’s a front-line starter for sure, but even look at Felix Hernandez’s sophomore season. He struggled bigtime, even after a studly debut.

    Very few pitchers excel from day one. Bailey looked great in some of his stretch starts, and him going 14-6 vs 8-12 could be the difference between Cincy contending or not.

    Well, that and what J Cueto does this year. Is he going to look more like Oliver Perez or Ervin Santana?

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  12. deckholm says:

    Not that it changes the article much, but I thought Jonny Gomes was a free agent?

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  13. B N says:

    While I would not be surprised if the Reds excelled this year, I would also not be entirely shocked if they fell straight into the basement. We know the positional players are there, but the pitching is a huge wild card- lots of potential but also lots of risk. I could see Bailey and Cueto both hitting an ERA under 4 or both of them having an ERA over 6 before being replaced by somebody else in the rotation. In the former case, the Reds make a run at the division. In the latter case, they are fighting desperately with a slightly improved Pirates club to try to stay out of last place.

    So if you want to talk about variance, sure- I would not be surprised if the Reds won the division. But if you want to talk about expected performance, I think the Reds still are a middle-of-the-pack club. I actually have not changed my impressions of the Reds from last year very much. I mean, last year their rotation had all these options plus Volquez. I think you have to call that a pretty significant loss, with him being out.

    I also don’t really see Rolen as being as much of a difference-maker as the article says. It sounds nice calling him an all-star, but it’s been quite a while since Rolen has been all-star material. He’s an aging, plus 3B.

    So I mean…
    Rolen, Stubbs, and O. Cabrera in
    Encarnation, Taveras, and Volquez out

    Even counting Taveras as a minus and Encarnation as so-so, the surplus value from Volquez alone over a season has to be close to what the new acquisitions are adding. So while I see the Reds as improved, I still feel like I’m seeing a very similar team as last year.

    The only difference is, last year people were hopeful about the Reds and this year they’re pessimistic since any optimists got burnt last year.

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    • Steven Smith says:

      Health will be the biggest factor as to how much the Reds improve. Last year Votto was out for a long time and so was Bruce and Hernandez. Not to mention all the ab’s taveras garnered (it was a long time into the season before the Reds were playing Stubbs) I’m not sure we ever played a full game with all of our starters but since the Reds married Rolen look at the record. E.E. didn’t work for us and it is a prime example of addition by subtraction.

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