I have semi-randomly chosen to start with the Reds, and will write a piece about each of the thirty teams, talking about what they’ve done in the offseason up to this point and how that projects for the upcoming season. I know there are moves yet to be made, but with most of the impact moves in the books, I think enough has happened to be able to gauge expectations for the upcoming season. If they make any major moves in the coming days, I'll amend this article.
I thought it might be fun to begin with the playoff teams from last year, then go on to the teams that finished in the basements of their division before finishing with the most exciting bunch—the teams who were/are/should be on the cusp of contention. So, we begin with Cincinnati.
A lot of people liked the Reds this time last year, myself included, but I think most of us were expecting them to contend for the wild card. The fact that they went on and won the NL Central was exciting for Cincinnatians and for baseball fans looking to witness some new blood in the playoffs. Their speedy defeat in October indicated two things: primarily, they couldn’t hang with the Phillies, as everyone except Kevin Millar seemed to think, and that perhaps the Reds have some work to do if they want to make a run at another playoff appearance.
Their rotation is the part of the team that I thought was most overrated last year. Bronson Arroyo’s value comes mostly from his durability, but also partly from the fact that he can occasionally spin an ERA in the threes. If you look at his FIPs, he’s probably a 4.40 guy, but give him a good offense (and a little luck) and he becomes a 17-game winner. Edinson Volquez is a wildcard. He could strike out more than a batter per inning and will walk a guy about once every two innings. I like Johnny Cueto the best out of the Reds’ top three. He’s cut down on the walks and developed an effective cutter, but it remains to be seen whether he can put it all together for a solid 200+ IP campaign.
The team’s ace-in-waiting will start the season in the bullpen, and we have not seen how well Aroldis Chapman’s excellent stuff will translate to the rotation. I hesitate to crown him his generation’s Randy Johnson just yet. The other two spots in the rotation should go to some combination of Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Travis Wood. Homer Bailey seems to have been around forever, but his 2010 gives reason for optimism as he cut the walks, raised the strikeouts, increased the first-pitch strikes. He’s a hard-throwing groundball pitcher and has the natural ability to be successful in the big leagues. Leake struggled after a phenomenal start to his rookie season. He’s a soft-tosser who needs to keep the ball on the ground. Wood seems to have the best control of the three, and I think he gets a shot at starting unless he falls apart this Spring, if only because the Reds already have two or three lefties in their pen and none in their rotation.
I have to say the Reds rotation will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010, if nothing else, because Aaron Harang’s starts will go to one of three guys who each have the potential to be productive major league pitchers. Cueto, Arroyo, and Volquez combined for an ERA of 3.84 last season, and I would expect the trio to be around there again, maybe closer to 4.00. They will need to combine for more than 464 innings this time around though, otherwise undue strain will be placed on the other three, none of whom will probably be allowed anywhere near 200 IP. I expect a few starts for Chapman somewhere down the line, and I expect him to be good, but his value will primarily come from what he does in relief this season. The Reds will field a competitive rotation but they lack any real ace-caliber pitcher (Chapman excluded for now) and only have one guy I consider a lock for 200 IP.
Bullpen: Declined (slightly)
The Reds’ bullpen ranked in the middle out of all MLB teams in most categories (ERA, strikeouts, walks, HR), but shouldered a heavier workload than 21 of the teams. Their closer is a classic seventh-inning guy. Francisco Cordero (don’t ignore his lucky HR rate in 2009) had the second-lowest K/BB rate of any closer in baseball, and the K’s are falling by the year. Yes, he was decent, but the Reds have better pitchers for their toughest situations.
They have arguably lost their best reliever with Arthur Rhodes jumping ship for Texas, but they expect to be competent against lefty hitters with Chapman and Bill Bray. Matt Maloney is another lefty who will get a chance though he lacks the strikeout ability of Chapman and Bray. Maloney made two solid starts for the Reds in 2010 and it will be useful for them to have as many guys who can start a game on hand as possible. Nick Masset was their most-used reliever and he’s an essential component of their late-inning game plan. He gets tons of grounders and can strike guys out. Jose Arredondo will try to come back from Tommy John surgery and Logan Ondrusek was decent, but the latter benefited from a favorable BABIP-against and the it's hard to know what to expect from the former. Jordan Smith and Sam LeCure were both solid for the team in 2010.
Assuming Ondrusek’s luck neutralizes, Cordero doesn’t turn in another 2009, and Chapman doesn’t post an ERA of 1.00, I don’t think this bullpen will improve on what it did last year. That said, I don’t see them being that much worse. There is some depth, some talent that will need to prove itself, and at least one guy who will start games someday will be working from the pen.
The same catching team from last year returns in 2011. Ramon Hernandez’s 2010 BABIP was a good 35 points above his previous career-high, so he won’t hit .297 again. If he can stay healthy for more than 100 games for the first time as a Red, he could contribute 12 home runs and a league-average OBP. Considering where he’ll hit in their lineup, however, his batting average is more important than his OBP, and I’m projecting it to be around .260.
Ryan Hannigan does have more walks than strikeouts in his career (even if you get rid of the intentional ones) and he actually saw more pitches in the zone (47.7%) than the average major leaguer. Over a full season, he’d probably produce about what Hernandez could be expected to, but as long as he’s the team’s backup, I cant expect him to influence games as much as their starter does and I think Hernandez declines from his 2010 form. If pressed, I do think Hanigan is the better offensive player.
Corner Infielders: Neutral
Joey Votto and Scott Rolen make for one of the best corner infields in the game and both are coming back in 2011. Rolen is nearing his 36th birthday and showed he can still hit (.285) and hit for power (20 HR), both of which are about what we should expect this season. Joey Votto deserved his MVP award but his HR/FB rate was 25%, which is insane. I would expect no more than, say, 32 home runs from him. He hit more home runs on the road last year, so I wouldn’t say his power came entirely from Great American Ballpark but there was some luck there. His BABIP was high too, at .361, but it always tends to be around there for him so I am not expecting it to fall precipitously as he plays his age-27 season. Clearly, he is still a tremendous hitter and will be great. In addition his defense is solid and he can steal bases (16 in 2010). Scott Rolen was outstanding in the field last year as usual.
Middle Infielders: Improved
I like Paul Janish better than Orlando Cabrera for several reasons. Firstly, the two showed very similar batting averages (.260 for Janish, .263 for Cabrera) but Janish did a much better job getting on base despite seeing more pitches in the zone. Secondly, Janish has more power, and though neither has much, Janish could potentially hit 10 HR or so if he lasts the whole season. Janish hits the ball in the air while Cabrera is a groundball machine. The Reds will replace a guy who got on base at a clip of just over .300 with a guy who will probably do an average job of it. Janish also comes much cheaper than Cabrera. Edgar Renteria could step in if Janish struggles but I wouldn't necessarily call him an improvement. Brandon Phillips has more power than most middle infielders, which makes up for his iffy walk rate and steal success rate. If he had better plate discipline, he could be a star, but as it is he should contribute another .270/.330/.440 line or something like that. Because of his OBPs, he looks more like a number six hitter than a leadoff guy to me, so hopefully Drew Stubbs or someone else steps up and takes that role.
The Reds’ middle infield is not outstanding, but should be serviceable. They will probably struggle to hit .280 as a pair, but with the team’s corner infielders hitting for average, that shouldn’t matter. The entire infield is good with the glove.
Outfield: Slightly improved
Jay Bruce’s extension got a lot of press earlier this offseason and he should continue to develop over the coming years. His is the best bat in this outfield and he could make a run at 30 HR but his BABIP might have been a bit on the lucky side last year when he hit .281. Drew Stubbs strikes out too much, but he’s very fast and has good power and would make a good leadoff man if he improved his contact rate. Another 20 HR is very possible from him. Jonny Gomes has tons of power but wont hit above .270 either. He doesn’t know how to hit groundballs, so he is a perfect fit for that ballpark, even if his defense is awful. The same three guys make up the 2011 Reds outfield, and I could see Stubbs getting a little better while Gomes and Bruce do more or less what they did last year. I think the Reds did the right thing bringing these guys back, letting the youth develop, and if it goes as planned, they will build on their success in 2010.
Fred Lewis is the new fourth-outfielder and he should easily out-hit the duo of Chris Dickerson and Jim Edmonds who struggled in 2010. His defensive range is limited but the small outfield in Cincinnati will suit him well. Chris Heisey will also see time in the outfield. As a 25-year-old rookie last year, he hit 8 home runs in about half a season while striking out too much. He’s a much better fielder than Lewis though and should get some playing time for that reason. Laynce Nix wasn’t going to repeat his .291 average from last year, and I probably would have chosen Lewis over him as well. Miguel Cairo brings defensive versatility back to the Reds’ infield for two more seasons, and Edgar Renteria is always capable of a good week at the plate.
I like the Reds’ bench mainly because they have a few guys who have played that role in the past and done it well enough. It’s hard to evaluate benches as they shouldn’t be expected to have enough playing time to really make a huge difference. I wouldn’t want any of their bench players starting for me on a regular basis, but that’s ok. What their bench lacks is pop, but they have every one of their starters spotted in case of injury. The interesting thing here is, if anyone (except their shortstop) gets hurt, the replacement is a pretty big step below talentwise. Therefore, if the Reds lose a regular player for the season, they’re going to be hard-pressed to replace him. Fortunately, theirs is a fairly deep lineup.
Lineup: The Reds’ lineup is arguably the most complete in their division. It lacks major holes, but could stand to improve in some ways. Its heart (Votto, Bruce, Rolen) is especially strong and is supplemented with talent preceding and following it. Like last season, they probably could stand for more production from the first and second spots. These guys sacrifice some genuine on-base skills for better-than-average power, playing to the ballpark they call home. The 2010 Reds hit more home runs than any non-AL East team, and they continue to be a group that lives and dies with the longball. The also strike out a lot and don’t draw walks with the best of them. Playing to their ballpark is not an unwise strategy, but these guys would be so much better with a couple of really good contact hitters in front of Votto, Rolen, and Bruce. Drew Stubbs remains the best candidate for leading off, and someone should work with him on drawing walks.
Where do you think The Reds will finish in the NL Central in 2011?
Expected win total: 84–89
I know that may seem kind of low. Last year’s 91-win club should have won 92 according to Bill James’ Pythagorean winning percentage. James’ formula doesn’t take over- or under-achieving players into account though. While I think the pitching is better as a whole, I am counting on it being less productive for them and thus the entire team being slightly worse off. In most cases, I’m expecting the Reds offense to be about as good or better than they were in 2010. The pitching is where I think they slightly overachieved, and I’m not ready to label Bailey or Wood the ace of the future just yet.
Their offense will need to score runs since all of their starters either can be beat or are relatively unproven. There is a lot of talent in that rotation, and the bullpen is competent, but there is no one that a good offense should fear having to face. I remain open to the possibility that a couple of these guys emerge and start winning games for them, and that will make the team that much stronger.
I see no way The Reds possibly regress to their pre-2010 form. They didn’t catch lightning in a bottle in 2010, they developed home-grown talent and it all came together for them. It wont fall apart that easily. The Reds should have no trouble posting a winning record again, but it remains to be seen whether the young guys develop further and how much they do so.
If you agree or disagree with what I’ve said, please let me know and say why. What do you think of the 2011 Cincinnati club?