Reds Offending the NL

For those readers without a rooting interest in the National League Central, you might be surprised to learn that the perennially strong St. Louis Cardinals currently have company atop the division standings. Your first inkling might be: Is it the Chicago Cubs and their $147 million payroll? Actually, no. Well, what about the 2008 wild card-winning Milwaukee Brewers? Guess again.

With their 7-5 win versus Pittsburgh on Monday night, the Cincinnati Reds now stand at 26-19, tied with St. Louis. Whether Cincy’s success will last, it’s hard to say. How the Reds have gotten where they are — that’s easier to understand.

The answer is offense.

As you can see in the following table, the Reds are currently scoring runs at a faster pace than they did in 2009. After ranking 11th among 16 NL teams in runs scored last season, the Reds are currently ranked fifth in that category.

Reds' runs scored and run allowed
2009	673	11th	723	8th
2010	217	5th	212	12th

Yet raw run totals don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Otherwise, one might assume — seeing that the Reds have slipped four spots in terms of runs allowed — that they had simply offset their offensive gains with defensive shortcomings.

In fact, that’s not the case. If we look at the club’s batting and pitching wins above replacement numbers (bWAR and pWAR in the table below) for last year and for the season to date, we find that Cincinnati’s pitching has actually stayed relatively consistent (10th last season; 11th this year) while the batting is significantly better.

Reds' wins above replacement
2009	9.5	15th	10.4	10th
2010	6.7	5th	4.5	11th

What does WAR tell us that pure stat of runs scored doesn’t? Well, a couple important things. For one, WAR is park-adjusted. Seeing as Cincinnati’s home field, Great American Ballpark, plays as a hitter’s park, it makes sense that their pure run totals might be inflated. Secondly, WAR is context neutral. That means it only considers what a given batter does at the plate, thus teasing out the effects of so-called “clutch” hitting, which demonstrates high degrees of variance season to season.

In any case, it’s pretty clear that it’s the Reds’ offense that has helped them get where they are.

The logical question then is: From where are the Reds getting all this production? The answer: Basically from everyone. Though OPS+ isn’t a perfect measure — it’s generally acknowledged that it undervalues the importance of on-base, as opposed to slugging, percentage — it’s very helpful for understanding where a player stands relative to league average — and where players stand relative to each other.

The following table gives the OPS+ numbers at each position for Cincy’s batters this year as opposed to last.

Reds OPS by position
Pos	2009	2010	Diff
as C	90	125	35
as 1B	112	134	22
as 2B	106	118	12
as 3B	78	120	42
as SS	77	104	27
as LF	84	126	42
as CF	74	74	0
as RF	105	94	-11

With the exception of right field (where they’ve dropped 11 percent relative to league average) and center (where they’ve broken even), the Reds are consistently improved across the board. In particular, third base (where Scott Rolen is currently hitting .287/.353/.581) and left field (where Jonny Gomes has taken over the majority of playing time) have proven to be significant improvements over their 2009 counterparts.

Monday night was no different. On the strength of 10 hits, five walks and a couple of 3-for-4 performances from Orlando Cabrera and Drew Stubbs, the Reds showed the Pittsburgh Pirates what they’ve been showing the National League these first 40 or so games: an improved ability to push runners across the plate.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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