The Cincinnati Reds are heading into the winter meetings, coming off a disappointing finish to an otherwise great season by all other accounts.
The team's pitchers turned in one of the best performances of any MLB pitching staff in 2012, and the bullpen in particular was a key component in the Reds' success last season.
Mat Latos proved to be worth every bit of the package the Reds sent to San Diego, and Johnny Cueto turned in a season worthy of Cy Young consideration.
In addition to the success of several starters and the overall good play of the bullpen, the emergence of Aroldis Chapman proved to be the most exciting part of the Reds 2012 season. Though the team is looking to make him a starter for 2013,
The offense sputtered, at times. but there were bright spots in the offensive production put forth by the team. Todd Frazier came through with a breakout season, Ryan Ludwick bounced back this year and Brandon Phillips continued on with being one of the most consistent second basemen in baseball.
With a healthy Joey Votto, a presumed increase in the depth of the pitching staff and defined lineup spot and position for Todd Frazier, the Reds look to be a team to beat in 2013.
Joey Votto's the best first baseman in baseball. Call me a homer, or whatever you want, but the numbers prove it. Check out my article and you'll see why.
Votto tore his meniscus and missed 49 games in 2012, but he still had a good season. He finished the season with a .337/.474/.567 slash line, 14 HR, 44 doubles, 56 RBI and 59 runs scored.
Votto never hit another home run after returning from injury so, in total, he had a homer-less streak of 91 games. Prior to that streak, Votto's longest homer-less run was 25 games in 2009.
Votto lost a quarter of his season to injury, and the injury, itself, ruined his power production for 56 percent of the season.
The team did great without him, and there's obviously something to be said for that, but adding in a healthy Votto to a team that won 97 games makes them an instant 100-win contender, likely one-seed in the playoffs and legitimate World Series threat.
Votto's a career .316/.415/.553 hitter with 162 game averages of 30 HR, 102 RBI and 95 runs.
Votto provides ample protection to batters around him, and he makes Brandon Phillips a much bigger power threat in the four hole than he would be leading off. Additionally, a healthy Votto makes Zack Cozart's job a lot easier hitting second.
He's a perennial MVP candidate, and having him in the middle of the Reds lineup makes them a threat to win, and win often.
The Reds have a great one-two-punch with Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto.
Cueto and Latos combined for a 33-13 record with a 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and ratios of 7.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and 3.14 K/BB.
Those statistics put them right in the discussion for the best combo in baseball along with the likes of Verlander/Scherzer, Price/Shields and Strasburg/Gonzalez.
Comparing the two to Verlander and Scherzer, arguably the best duo in baseball, Cueto and Latos hold their own. The Tigers two starters combine for a 3.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and ratios of 9.93 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 and 3.92 K/BB.
Stat guru Bill James has Latos and Cueto projected to combine for a 29-18 record, an ERA and WHIP of roughly 3.34 and 1.18 with ratios around 7.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 and 3.05 K/BB. (Per Fangraphs pages of Latos and Cueto)
The decrease in record, and increases of ERA and WHIP come largely from James' projections for Cueto to regress in 2013.
No matter how good Bill James is, he's not perfect. Even if he were, that's still a solid season from two ace-caliber starters.
With these two at the top of the rotation, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo in the middle, and Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman or Tony Cingrani rounding out the back-end, the Reds should again have a dominant rotation in 2013.
Whatever role he fills in 2013, Aroldis Chapman will be a force on the mound.
I've been advocating Chapman's importance as a closer this offseason in several articles and I firmly believe that he's at his best in that role.
Chapman was the second best closer in the National League last season behind Craig Kimbrel, and he's poised for another great season in 2013.
The 24-year-old fire-baller is just entering the prime of his career and seems to have established some familiarity with late game situations.
Bill James projections have Chapman as the team's closer with a 4-3 record, a 2.42 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 98 K, 32 BB and a whopping 48 saves.
Numerous people are making the assumption that 200 innings are better than 60 innings. While this is generally true, it's far too simplistic.
The problem with Chapman being a starter is that no one knows quite what they're going to get from him. Chapman pitched wonderfully in spring training this past season but that's a very small sample size.
Chapman's numbers in Cuba are the best source to analyze his potential as a starter.
According to an old Baseball-Prospectus article, professional baseball in Cuba is comparable to Low-A ball in the United States. When the same article goes on to show Chapman's stats compared to the Low-A level, they don't fare well.
Chapman over the course of his four years would have compiled a 6.66 ERA, a 1.87 WHIP, 82 HR and 303 K to 243 BB in 294.2 IP.
Now, translating Chapman's ability to the Low-A level is hardly a perfect science. He began his professional career in Cuba as a 17-year-old and finished at 21.
In Chapman's defense, a 17-year-old pitcher in the United States is a high schooler, and a 21-year-old is hardly a polished product in the minor league level so it's unfair to assume that he'll bust because of this.
What we do know about Chapman is that he's shown major progression as a pitcher, and it seems that no matter what role he's in, he will be of great importance to the Cincinnati Reds and a major part of their success in 2013.
For years Homer Bailey was expected to mature into a top starter for the Reds.
Although he struggled early on, Bailey has finally made the jump to being a reliable middle of the rotation starter.
In 2012, Bailey finished the season with a 13-10 record, a 3.68 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 168 K to 52 BB in 208 innings pitched. Bailey also tossed his first no-hitter in 2012, and turned in a brilliant postseason performance in his only start against the Giants going seven innings, allowing one run on one hit and a walk while striking out 10.
Compared to what he had done in his career to this point, this was a phenomenal season. Prior to 2012, Bailey had pitched three nearly-full seasons. Between 2009 and 2011, Bailey was a 21-15 pitcher with a 4.47 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP and season averages of 20 starts, 97 strikeouts and 42 walks.
This year, Bailey made every single start he was scheduled for (33 to be exact). Those 33 starts are 11 more than his previous season high in 2011.
Let me go on record and say that this is the real Homer Bailey we saw in 2012, and he's only going to get better.
Bailey is letting the game come to him a little easier. He isn't concerned with overpowering batters anymore as evidenced by the decrease in his BB/9 rate from 5.6 to to 2.3 in 2012.
His K/9 rate has leveled off at 7.3 in 2012 and that's right where fans should expect it to stay. Bailey may never be a 200 strikeout guy but neither were a lot of pitchers. Greg Maddux topped 200 strikeouts once in his entire career.
The important thing to take away from Bailey's season is that he improved his metrics in a season where he set a new career high for starts and innings pitched. Bailey's 208 innings pitched were 76 innings higher than his previous career high set in 2011.
I use this example, all the time, in reference to Bailey but it's a pretty good one. Roy Halladay took until his age 25 season to finally put it all together. Bailey figured it out at 26.
The 26-year-old Bailey will continue to progress in 2013, giving the Reds one of the best 1-2-3 combinations in the league.
There's something to be said for roster consistency, especially when the team in question is returning young, experienced players.
Presuming Johnny Cueto is the opening day starter in Cincinnati, the Reds would field a team in which at least eight of the team's nine starting players will be under the age of 33.
Take Ryan Hanigan out of the mix, and the oldest Reds' starter is Brandon Phillips at 31 years old.
Though the Reds are a relatively young team, they aren't short on experience. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Drew Stubbs are all under the age of 30 but have played in a combined 20 seasons including two post-season trips.
That's a lot of big-league experience packed into a relatively young group of players.
The Reds' pitching staff is where this team's experienced youth really shines.
The starting rotation will have one starter over the age of 27 on Opening Day. Bronson Arroyo is set to turn 36 prior to Opening Day, but after him, the Reds' starters are young and extremely talented.
Mike Leake was the Reds' first pick in the 2009 draft, and he may not even make the rotation out of Spring Training. With the Reds close to signing Jonathan Broxton (see Ken Rosenthall's article), it appears the team will move Aroldis Chapman to a starting role.
If they do, in fact, move him, the team's pitching staff will get a long-needed dominant lefty. It's also likely to bump Mike Leake to a middle or long-relief role with starting duties coming after Chapman hits whatever innings cap the Reds are sure to give him.
Doing this, shores up both the Reds' bullpen and starting rotation, while keeping the same core pitchers in the team's staff.
If the Reds bring back Ryan Ludwick, every projected Opening Day starter is going to have played with the team last season, and also have made at least one postseason appearance with the team.
Playoff experience, familiarity with each other, the city, management and the ballpark will help the Reds continue their winnings ways next season.
Frazier finally realized some of that top-100 caliber potential in 2012 by finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Frazier slashed .273/.331/.498 with 19 HR, 67 RBI and 55 runs scored in a season where he began starting on Scott Rolen's off days, and only gained everyday player status when an injury forced Rolen off the field on May 12th.
Injury struck the Reds again in July when Joey Votto went down for 49 games, but Frazier stepped in, and did an admirable job replacing one of the best players in baseball.
In that 49-game span, Frazier batted .300 with eight HR, 32 RBI and 26 runs scored. In the same timespan, Frazier raised his batting average 14 points from .278 to .292.
In Votto's absence, Frazier was arguably the most productive player in the Reds' offense, and not only does it speak volumes to his ability as a player, but also to his character and mental makeup.
Frazer is projected, again by Bill James, to play 105 games in 2013. With Scott Rolen on his way out, barring injury, there's no way Frazier plays less than 130.
As evidenced by his 162 game averages of .264/.323/.485, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 69 runs scored and 60 XBH, Frazier has the ability to provide the Reds with an impact bat out of the 5, 6 or 7 spots along with his ability, and willingness to play multiple positions.
Frazier's going to turn 27 prior to the start of the 2013 season and will be entering his physical prime as a player. Providing he keeps up with the adjustments pitchers make against him, the New Jersey native should enjoy continued progress and an increased role with the Reds.
The anchor of the Reds success in 2012 was their stellar bullpen.
Compared to the rest of Major League Baesball, Reds' relievers ranked first in ERA (2.65), saves (56) and total bases allowed (537).
If Aroldis Chapman is moved to the starting rotation, it will have a noticeable effect on the bullpen. However, as I mentioned earlier, the team is rumored to be close to signing Jonathan Broxton, and he's proven he's more than capable of being a shutdown closer for the Reds.
The bullpen is comprised of castaways like Alfredo Simon and Jose Arredondo along with the severely underrated Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, JJ Hoover, and another dominant lefty in Sean Marshall.
The team will also enjoy the return of Nick Masset who missed the entire 2012 season due to injury.
Prior to struggling in 2010 and 2011, Masset showed in 2010 that he's capable of being a very good, if not great set-up man at the big-league level. In said season, Masset provided the Reds with a 5-1 record, a 2.37 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 70 strikeouts to 24 walks in 76 innings pitched.
The team's bullpen was shutdown in 2012, and even without Aroldis Chapman they look to be primed for another run in 2013.