First Quarter Grades for Cincinnati Reds

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2013

First Quarter Grades for Cincinnati Reds

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    The Cincinnati Reds have been through so much early in the 2013 MLB season, and it's time to see how the team grades out at each unit.

    In the first two weeks of the season, the Reds lost their cleanup hitter, ace and a setup man all to the disabled list. With a few other injuries added onto those key injuries, the team could have struggled mightily through the first six weeks. Instead, it battled through adversity to stay in contention.

    Playing the Washington Nationals and St. Louis a combined 13 times already—10 of which have been on the road—and playing 20 games in 20 days is no easy task, especially when injuries have come into play.

    Not many teams would be able to pull off a 23-16 record under those circumstances, but Cincinnati has managed to stay strong.

    Even the bat boy, Teddy Kremer, has given the team some life and energy.

    Each unit on the team was able to pull off exceptional grades, so check out how the team did in different aspects of the game through six weeks.

     

    *All stats are from MLB.com as of 5/14/2013

Offense

1 of 5

    Grade: B+

    For a team that leads the National League in runs scored, this grade probably seems a little low. 

    Cincinnati has scored at least 10 runs in a game six times already this season, but it has struggled to be consistent. The team has been held to one run or less nine times so far, including back-to-back games of being held to one hit against the Washington Nationals.

    This team is starting to become more consistent at the plate. Early on the pitching carried the team, but the offense is beginning to take over. It ranks first in the NL in OBP and walks and is one behind the Colorado Rockies for the most runs.

    Shin-Soo Choo (.456) and Joey Votto (.454) own the best on-base percentages in baseball. Choo has been hit by a pitch 12 times already, which would put him in a tie for No. 16 among all major league teams. On the other hand, Votto leads the majors in walks. 

    With guys getting on base ahead of him, Brandon Phillips has turned into a candidate for NL Most Valuable Player. The second baseman leads the NL in RBI, and he has provided Votto with protection. Teams are paying the price by pitching around Votto and facing Phillips.

    All-Star right fielder Jay Bruce is starting to heat up at the plate, so teams are going to have to keep throwing strikes to Phillips. Bruce has hit two home runs and three doubles in his past four games.

    Votto and Bruce have combined for only seven home runs this season, so the team will take off as they begin to drive the ball out of the park.

    The key to the offense is Todd Frazier. The sophomore has come through many times for this team, but his .229 average needs to come up behind Bruce. With six home runs and 25 RBI, teams need to watch out for Frazier's power. 

    The reason for a low grade is the rest of the lineup. The No. 2 spot and the bottom of the order have been struggling for much of the season.

    Phillips had to leave the No. 2 spot when Ryan Ludwick went down, and the left fielders have not done much on offense. At .223, the Reds have the second-lowest average out of left field in the NL. 

    Catcher Ryan Hanigan struggled before he landed on the disabled list. With a combination of Hanigan, Devin Mesoraco and Corky Miller, the Reds own the lowest average (.181) and fewest RBI by catchers in the NL. 

    Cincinnati pitchers lead the NL in average at .200, which is over 30 points higher than the next team.

    Injuries have hurt the lineup tremendously. When Ludwick went down, it left a gaping hole in both left field and the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He's supposed to be out for two more months, so other players need to step up.

    Now that Hanigan is back from an injury, his contributions to this lineup should become more frequent. The Reds no longer have to put Miller in the lineup twice every turn in the rotation, so the production will only get better.

    The Reds have been nearly unbeatable at home. They are 16-6 at Great American Ball Park, and the team has lost only one series at home. In 22 games, the Reds are averaging 5.5 runs per game and have hit 28 home runs. They lead the NL in OBP at home with a clip of .345. 

    When they hit the road, it's a totally different story. The team is averaging only 3.8 runs per game and a home run every other game away from home. The team's average on the road is .228, and they own the lowest road slugging percentage in baseball. Both times the team has been shut out has come on the road. 

    Once the bottom of the lineup starts to contribute, the Reds will find their groove on the road. They have had to squeak by in some games so far, but that will change as players begin to heat up.

Bench

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    Grade: B

    The Reds lead the NL in average by pinch hitters. Players coming off the bench for the Reds have combined to hit .310 through the middle of May. 

    Not only has the bench gotten hits, it has been the most productive bench in the league. It leads the league in both home runs and RBI. Xavier Paul leads the way with two homers and six RBI off the bench.

    Jack Hannahan has been a good pickup for the bench. He is hitting .333 with four RBI when coming off the bench, and he has a .333 average with runners in scoring position.

    Those two players have carried the bench, and the Reds need other players to come off the bench and produce.

    Mesoraco has gone 2-for-2 off the bench, including a game-tying home run. However, he's not going to be used off the bench very often.

    Reserve outfielder Derrick Robinson has gone 2-for-8 as a pinch hitter, and rookie Donald Lutz has gone 2-for-5, but veteran Cesar Izturis is only 1-for-9. None of these hitters will be used as first options in key situations, but it would help the team immensely if they could come through.

    When Chris Heisey comes back, Lutz will most likely be sent down if Robinson is healthy. That should improve the bench as either Heisey or Paul will give the team experience in clutch situations.

    Cincinnati had mainly right-handers off the bench last season, but that has changed in 2013. The team currently has two switch-hitters and three left-handed batters on the bench.

Rotation

3 of 5

    Grade: A-

    After losing Johnny Cueto in his third start, the Reds looked like they could be in trouble. Instead, Mat Latos stepped up and rookie Tony Cingrani came up ready to go.

    Before a rough stretch for most of the past two weeks, the rotation would've had a higher grade. However, it went through a nine-game stretch without a quality start. It can be a misleading stat, but it shows that the pitchers either weren't going deep enough into games or just allowing runs.

    The rotation ranks third in the NL with a 3.47 ERA and third in strikeouts.

    Latos is currently 4-0, but he should have two or three more wins. Blown saves and lack of run support hurt his cause early on, but he has managed to win four straight starts.

    He saw his 21-inning scoreless streak and string of six consecutive quality starts come to an end in Chicago two starts ago thanks to a defensive lapse.

    Entering his last start, Homer Bailey had been the victim of little run support. His ERA is inflated thanks to a 15-0 shellacking of the Washington Nationals. Since that game, the Reds had given him a total of six runs in six games (while he was still in the game). That includes three games in which they were held scoreless.

    His 2-3 record is misleading as he has been good for most of the season.

    The former first-round pick has crazy numbers. He has allowed 16 runs in five bad innings, but he has allowed only eight runs in his other 46.1 innings in 2013. Once he eliminates those big innings, he will be tough to beat.

    Bronson Arroyo's only issue has been consistency. He has gone at least six innings in seven of his eight starts, but he has had some rough patches. The veteran has already given up at least four runs in three starts. Despite his inconsistency, he has allowed only six home runs this season.

    Cingrani and Mike Leake are battling for the No. 5 spot in the rotation now that Cueto appears to be ready to return. Leake, for the most part, has been good this season. He gave up some unlucky hits that forced him out of his last start, but he has gone at least seven innings in three of his last five starts.

    On the other hand, Cingrani lasted only four innings in his last start. He was also bumped back a day in the rotation due to shoulder soreness, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

    Leake has a chance to make a statement against the Miami Marlins, which is who Cingrani was scheduled to face. Now the rookie will take on the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, and it could be for a spot on the 25-man roster.

    Too much pitching is a good problem to have. The Reds made the right decision by keeping Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, and they are getting strong outings from their starters.

    Once Cueto comes back, this rotation will be even better. 

Bullpen

4 of 5

    Grade C+

    Easily the biggest disappointment for this team has been the bullpen. After having the best bullpen in the majors last year, the relievers have taken a huge step back.

    Cincinnati's bullpen is currently No. 16 with a 3.69 ERA, so there is a lot of room for improvement. Last year the bullpen finished with a 2.65 ERA.

    Not having Sean Marshall for most of the first month definitely hurt the club. He was charged with his first run of the season last week after walking the only batter he faced and the next reliever failed to keep him from scoring. Other than that, he has been a shutdown southpaw.

    However, Manny Parra made the roster because of Marshall's injury. As his track record indicated, he was a complete disaster. He had an 8.10 ERA with a .444 average.

    He made Reds fans miss Jose Arredondo.

    Even Aroldis Chapman has had his struggles in 2013. The left-hander had not allowed a run through this point last season, but he has allowed a run in three different outings this year. He's getting into trouble by using the heater too much, but it's still good enough to get hitters out.

    The biggest disappointment has been Jonathan Broxton. Cincinnati signed him to a big deal in the offseason, but he remained the setup man. He's allowed only one fewer run this season than he did in his time with the Reds last season. His numbers are inflated by the collapse in Pittsburgh, but he hasn't been as dominant as he was last season.

    J.J. Hoover had three losses and an ERA of nearly 8.00 within the first two weeks. The right-hander has not allowed a run in 11 of his past 12 appearances.

    Veteran Sam LeCure has been a pleasant surprise. His 1.59 ERA leads all relievers in this bullpen, and he is averaging a strikeout per inning.

    With the Leake-Cingrani decision quickly approaching, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon should be on alert. If Cingrani gets the nod in the rotation, Leake could wind up in the bullpen.

    The logical choice would be to send Ondrusek down. He has the worst ERA in the bullpen in each of the last two seasons, and he can easily be replaced. Simon eats innings for the Reds, which is something Leake could do as well. Simon is a better option than Ondrusek because he can still blow hitters away, including striking out all six batters he faced in a game.

    Cincinnati has options to choose from, but it needs to figure out how to fix its weak links in the bullpen.

Coaching

5 of 5

    Grade: B+

    This is mainly Dusty Baker, but the rest of the coaching staff has done a good job. 

    Pitching coach Bryan Price continues to get the most out of his young pitchers. He has helped Homer Bailey flourish into a great pitcher, and it looks like he is helping Tony Cingrani do the exact same thing.

    The offense has been inconsistent, and fans want to blame hitting coach Brook Jacoby for the struggles. It's tough to blame the coach when the lineup is young and missing pieces. 

    All of that leads to Dusty Baker.

    No matter what he does, the manager gets the blame.

    Broxton allowed six runs in less than an inning of work because Baker didn't get him enough work that week. Chapman is rusty because he wasn't used enough—yet he appeared in 14 of the team's first 29 games. Leake goes up to bat in a key situation in the seventh inning and allows two runs the next inning, but Baker should have known better.

    Bailey threw 125 pitches in a complete game on Tuesday (game recap via MLB.com), so he's going to end up like Mark Prior. Well maybe not, but that will be questioned if Bailey struggles in his next start.

    Everything is always Baker's fault. When in actuality, he's doing a pretty good job of handling this team.

    Cincinnati played 20 straight days in April and had five extra-inning games in the first month. The injuries didn't help, but Baker was able to keep his players fresh.

    Baker has had to use Bruce and Votto nearly every game because of the injuries. He's done a great job of not overusing relievers. Fans want Chapman used more, but it doesn't make sense to waste him just for fun. 

    Yes, Baker's managing has led to 77 losses since the beginning of last season. He has also led the team to 113 wins during that time, but that's probably just the players.

    Like him or hate him, Baker is doing just fine as the skipper. His moves will continue to be questioned, but the wins will just keep coming for him.