Heading into 2011, the general perception of the Cincinnati Reds was that their great young pitching staff and solid lineup featuring Joey Votto and Jay Bruce would lead them back to the playoffs and possibly even to the World Series.
The Reds even won their first five games of the 2011 season, sweeping the eventual NL Central Champion Milwaukee Brewers in the process. The Reds were back!
But, something happened on the way to the playoffs.
The Reds hitters stopped hitting in clutch situations, Jonny Gomes was terrible, Scott Rolen barely played, Bronson Arroyo was worse than terrible and, all the while, the Brewers just kept winning baseball games.
Reflecting on the 2011 season has caused many fans and supporters of the Reds to clamor for them to go after a front-line starting pitcher like C.J. Wilson in the offseason.
However, after performing my own autopsy on the dead body that once was the Reds' playoff hopes, I've determined that the cause of death wasn't pitching at all.
In fact, the Reds should focus their free agent spending almost exclusively on hitting. Here are six reasons why the Reds don't need starting pitching in free agency.
Johnny Cueto officially made "the leap" in 2011.
Cueto was outright dominant at times against National League hitters. He finished the year 9-5, with a 2.31 ERA, a 1.090 WHIP and allowed only eight home runs in 24 starts.
If he can stay healthy, and if the Reds hitters can provide just the tiniest bit of run support, then Cueto absolutely has the make-up of a 20-game winner in 2012.
C.J. Wilson or even a C.C. Sabathia type would be a welcome addition of course, but with Cueto ready to step into the elite ace role next season, I don't think it would be smart to spend money here.
I'm a big believer that good pitchers—important to emphasize this only applies to good pitchers—tend to drastically improve during their second season, and then the results become evident in the third season.
Starters need one season to learn the art of pitching in the major league level, and two seasons to learn how to pitch to the specific big league hitters.
Once they understand how to pitch, and then how to pitch to the individual hitter, it all comes together in that critical third season.
Mike Leake is coming into his third season with more success than most pitchers.
Greg Maddux was only 8-18 with an ERA in the mid-fives after his first two seasons in the majors. He went 18-8 with a 3.18 ERA in his third season.
Roger Clemens was 16-11 with an ERA in the high threes after his first two seasons. He went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA in his third.
Tom Glavine was 9-24 with an ERA in the high fours after his first two seasons. He went 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA in his third.
Leake is far ahead of those greats, which isn't to suggest that he's as good or better than them, but it's just to point out that he's handled the learning curve a little better so far.
His 1.175 WHIP in 2011 suggests hitters are really struggling to get on base against him. If he can pitch a full season and get his home run total down a bit, then he could be on a track towards Johnny Cueto territory and that would effectively get the Reds an elite 1-2 combination at starting pitcher.
Homer Bailey has slowly improved each of the past three seasons, and if his progress continues at this pace, then he could be developing into a very solid No. 3 starter on a very good Reds team.
Bailey was 9-7 in 22 starts and just needs a full season under his belt to approach the 15-win category.
His WHIP has improved every year since coming to the majors and his K/9 ratio has been very solid the past two seasons as well.
The only thing Chapman has to learn to do is throw strikes more consistently.
That's going to come with confidence and coaching. He might not come out as a dominant, elite starter next year, but he certainly has the "stuff" to develop into that type of pitcher.
If he had cut his walks in half in 2011, then he would have had a 0.8800 WHIP which would put him in Pedro Martinez territory.
His K/9 numbers are off the charts, and he only allowed two home runs in 50 IP last year.
If Chapman progresses through the season the way Reds fans expect him to, then this could be a very special starting rotation.
The key to the pitching rotation's success in 2012 is going to be finding a way to make sure Bronson Arroyo isn't apart of it.
Arroyo has never been a great starter, but he's always been a medicore innings-eater that generally didn't take too much away from the team.
Unfortunately, last season Arroyo was a completely different man. Someone could make a strong case that Arroyo was the worst starting pitcher—player?—in all of baseball last season.
Arroyo led the league in earned runs with 112, and also in home runs allowed with 46.
In fact, 46 home runs allowed is the third-most in the history of baseball.
The. Third. Most. In. The. History. Of. Baseball.
To make matters even worse, baseball has been seeing a severe decline in the number of home runs hit over the past few seasons.
The steroid era is over, and hitters aren't routinely hitting 50 home runs anymore. It takes a lot of bad pitches to give up 46 home runs in one season.
I have no doubt that the Reds would be better off simply releasing the 34-year-old starter and eating his enormous salary—for small-market standards—than allowing him to pitch 32 of their games again.
Frat boys at a frat-sorority mixer aren't as desperate for protection as Joey Votto is right now.
Here's a quote from Votto
"I probably have gotten half—legitimately half—the opportunities I had last year or three-quarters," he said. "You can't compare. I'll go an entire game without seeing a pitch sometimes. It's been difficult at times. I've made plenty of mistakes. I've learned. I have different perspective on the game now and how I'm treated in the game."
That sounds like someone desperate to see some pitches. Can Yonder Alonso provide the necessary protection? I don't know.
The Reds need to be active on the free agent and trade market in acquiring a bat to hit directly behind Votto so that he can showcase his almost unbelievable talents.