Rabu, 29 Februari 2012

Season Previews, Part Fourteen: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

2011 Record: 79-83
Pythag Record: 83-79
Games out of First: 17.0

2011 Recap:

You may be surprised to know that the Reds were pretty ill-stricken in 2011.  Their drop in performance from 2010 wasn't simply them coming back down to Earth from one great campaign.  The team, undoubtedly, had great expectations for the season.  They had plenty of young talent, the reigning NL MVP, and were competing against a noticeably weak division.  Well, things did not go anywhere near as expected, and on top of that, the team finished four games below their pythag record, which is rather remarkable.  The Reds relied on their offense to do the bulk of the work last year, but since everything is relative, we aren't allowed to think their finishing 2nd in runs in the NL meant they had the 2nd best offense.  They were 5th in the NL in OPS at .734 and finished with a 98 OPS+.  They finished 11th in MLB in wRC+ (also a 98), which is just 2 points above the league median.  Their offense was just good, not anything great.  However, the Reds were a great base running team and a great fielding team if you check out this board on fangraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=6&season=2011&month=0&season1=2011&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&players=0
With good offense, great base running, and strong fielding, the Reds certainly had a good starting eight.  Where they failed miserably was in their pitching performance.  Four starters threw 100+ innings of 4.43 ERA (or higher) ball, and the only really strong end-results performance was Johnny Cueto (who, let's be real, was one of the luckiest guys in all of baseball in 2011- I'll expand on that later).

Top Five Position Players by WAR:

1. Joey Votto: 6.5
2. Brandon Phillips: 4.1
3. Drew Stubbs: 2.9
4. Ramon Hernandez: 2.0
5. Ryan Hanigan: 1.8

Top Five Pitchers by WAR:

1. Johnny Cueto: 2.8
2. Mike Leake: 1.5
3. Homer Bailey: 1.5
4. Travis Wood: 1.1
5. Dontrelle Willis: 0.8

Off Season Overview:

Walt Jocketty took Doug Melvin's model from the 2011 off season and did it much better, in my opinion.   He made it clear that he was going for it all with two major acquisitions: Mat Latos and Sean Marshall.  The pitching staff was a huge problem in 2011, and it appears that Jocketty was hellbent on not letting that happen again.  Sure, the farm system took a little bit of a hit, but the prospects moved were blocked.  With Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco on the 40-man roster, the Reds weren't going to get a whole lot out of Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal unless they used them to acquire front line talent.  So, in a trade with San Diego, both were shipped off, along with Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez for Mat Latos.  On top of that, the Reds went out and massively improved their bullpen.  In a trade with the Cubs, the Reds shipped out Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes in order to obtain Sean Marshall (who is a candidate for being the best reliever in the game right now).  However, the Reds weren't done, as they also signed reliever Ryan Madson to a one-year deal to be their closer.  These moves bolster the pitching staff and make what could be the deadliest duo at the back end of the bullpen in all of the Major Leagues.

Notable Additions:

SP Mat Latos
RP Sean Marshall
RP Ryan Madson

Notable Subtractions:

1B Yonder Alonso
C Yasmani Grandal
RP Brad Boxberger
SP Edinson Volquez
SP Travis Wood
RP Francisco Cordero
OF Jonny Comes

Projected Lineup:

1. Drew Stubbs, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Jay Bruce, RF
5. Devin Mesoraco, C
6. Scott Rolen, 3B
7. Ryan Ludwick, LF
8. Paul Janish, SS
9. Pitcher

This lineup truly features it all.  Tons of power and speed at the top of the lineup, great on-base skills in the 3 and 4 spots, and then more power at the back end.  This lineup is the lineup I expect to lead the National League in runs in 2012.  I expect Votto to put up end-results more in line with his peripherals and independent performances, I think Jay Bruce is a fantastic candidate to take the leap from good to great, and I think Mesoraco is ready enough for the big leagues to consistently produce at the MLB level.  To go along with offensive prowess, this lineup can also field the ball well and will run the bases very well.  It's hard to find a more overall valuable starting 8 than what the 2012 Reds could produce.

Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Mike Leake
4. Homer Bailey
5. Sam LeCure/Aroldis Chapman

This rotation is...well...curious.  Dusty Baker has a terrible reputation for misusing starting rotations, so it's hard to develop accurate predictions for his starters.  I dislike Cueto being the #1 over Latos, but it's a pretty insignificant difference during the regular season.  Cueto had a 1.59 difference between his xFIP and his ERA last year (in the wrong direction, mind you), so I think his performance will drop off a good bit (once again, explained more later).  I think Latos and Leake have a ton of potential, and they could very well be two of the best pitchers in the NL Central next year.  However, the Reds' success could rely a lot on what the 4 and 5 spots are able to produce, given that each consists of a major wild card.  I think everyone would agree that Homer Bailey's past potential won't be met consistently and that the experiment with Aroldis Chapman could either be phenomenal or disastrous.  With those two spots, predicting success relies on how likely you think it is that someone can have a breakout or fluke year.

Roster Strengths:

Offense, defense, baserunning...it's all there.  The bullpen will be strong, and the top of the rotation should be strong.  It's impossible to pin any one thing as a true strength, since this Reds roster will be so good at it all.

Roster Weaknesses:

Depth.  The one glaring weakness on this Reds roster is that if one guy goes down, they could be completely screwed.  All it takes is for Joey Votto to break a hand on a bad pitch or Latos to feel something funny in his elbow for the Reds' season to be virtually done.  They don't have the guys to come in an fill those gaps, and it would be hard for them to trade for guys at the deadline after what they did to their farm system this off season.  They need to pull what the Brewers had last year and avoid major injuries to their star players.

2012 Outlook:

I love this team.  I think the roster is structured almost flawlessly for a team competing on Cincinnati's budget.  Offense, defense, and fielding will all be strengths with the starting eight they feature.  The bullpen has improved massively with Madson and Marshall, and their rotation features much more top-line talent than before.  The team doesn't have very much pitching depth, and their back end of the rotation is composed of complete wild cards, so their pitching success could vary greatly depending on how those guys perform.  At the end of the day, I think this is the best roster in the NL Central.  I think they'll score the most, run the bases the best, and field the best.  I think they'll have the best back end of the bullpen, and I think their rotation will be good enough to help them win an elite number of games.  As I mentioned before, the biggest key is going to be avoiding injuries.

Potential Breakout Player:

Jay Bruce: we are not talking about breaking onto the scene, here.  We are talking about breaking out and becoming one of the game's biggest stars.  He has a ton of power, gets on base well, and the ball explodes off of his bat.  He fields well, he runs the bases well, and there are very few flaws in everything he does.  He posted a 5.4 fWAR in 2010, and I think he can easily improve on that this year.  He'll be 25 this year, and this will be his 5th year in the majors with 100 or more games played if he stays healthy, and I think he's ready to take the leap.  I think he hits 35 homers, drives in 110 guys, and posts an OPS+ in the range of 132-137.

Potential Bust:

Johnny Cueto: With Cueto, I don't think the question is "will he fall?"  I think the question with Cueto is" how far will he far?"  Cueto has one major flaw as a pitcher: he doesn't strike anyone out.  His K rate of 6 is rather bad, and his walk rate of 2.71 is barely below the league average rate.  This makes for a marginal K/BB rating, and didn't help his fielding-independent metrics at all over the last 4 years.  Cueto's 2010 and 2011 performances were so close to identical that it doesn't make a lot of sense to predict anything besides what happened in his peripherals during those years.  He's more likely to be a high 3's ERA pitcher than a low 2's, and that's just the reality of the situation.

Prospects Who Could Contribute in 2012:

Zack Cozart, SS (AAA Louisville in 2011): Cozart is a rather old prospect, and will be 26 years old at the start of the 2012 season.  He got in 11 games in 2011, and it's likely that he and Janish will compete for the starting shortstop job out of spring training.  If he doesn't win the job, I think Cozart will be on the bench in the majors this year making spot starts all across the infield.


Projected Record: 95-67
Projected Finish: 1st Place
Projected MVP: Joey Votto (7.4 WAR)

Final Thoughts:

This team is not just a contender for the NL Central title.  After winning in 2010, I think the team and the organization have bigger goals than that.  I think the argument could be made that the Reds are the 2nd best team in the National League, and it would not surprise me at all if they finished with home field advantage in the NL, given how tough the NL East is.  Bold predictions?  Possibly, but I feel confident in them.  I think this team will easily be the most improved from 2011 to 2012, and I think they are legitimate World Series contenders.  Of course, injuries can always aid in making predictions look completely worthless, but this Reds team has all the talent necessary to win a World Series if they can stay healthy.  Watch this team early in the season, and you're likely to see what I am talking about.

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