Table of Contents

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Reds win 6th straight

Great win for the Reds again today. It's hard to believe they've set the team record for April wins. That's really amazing. Today's win clinched a series win vs. Houston, which gives them a final series record for the month of 6-1-1. Can't get a lot better than that. Get out the brooms tomorrow for me!

Hopefully they can maintain this momentum and at least split vs. the Cardinals. Once that's done, however, the Reds are headed west to Colorado and then Arizona(!!). My plans are to see the Friday (5/5) and Sunday (5/7) games here in Arizona. As of now, Elizardo Ramirez is on schedule to pitch on the Friday game against Brandon Webb (yikes), and Bronson Arroyo is on schedule to pitch Sunday vs. Orlando Hernandez. Really looking forward to seeing this team in person. Thanks to interleague and unbalanced schedules, it's my one chance all year!

...unless, of course, the D-backs and Reds square off in the playoffs this year. A guy can dream.. :)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Today in Baseball (4/28/06)

It's an all-Reds news day, as I'm declining to comment on the Delmon Young fiasco as I haven't seen any photos/video of the actual bat toss (he's off-screen, and I don't feel like I can judge exactly what happened without seeing him). Pretty scary stuff though.

Reds have the best record in baseball
What a month this has been so far. The Reds achieve the best record in baseball by defeating their long time master, Roy Oswalt. It may not get any better than this in '06. But I sure hope it does.

Reds likely to stay in Sarasota
As a Reds fan in Arizona, I was bummed to see this in the Post, though I won't argue that it's probably in the best interests of the team:
The Reds' desire to upgrade their spring training facilities got a boost Tuesday when the Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to help provide funding for such projects. In a 117-0 vote, the House signed off on a measure that would provide about $15 million in tax rebates over a 30-year span to the spring homes of five teams, including Sarasota and the Reds.
::sigh:: I was really getting excited about the rumors that the Reds might move their spring training to the Cactus league.

Reds starting to get some notice
Ben Jacobs has a decent little article at The Hardball Times investigating the surprisingly good play of the Astros and Reds this season. Jacobs was among the many who picked the Reds to finish last in the division prior to this season, but he's beginning to re-examine his decision:
Of course, they could do that and still finish below .500 if they allow around 900 runs as well. Despite that possibility, an offense that could have as many as seven quality hitters (Dunn, Griffey, Kearns, Encarnacion, Lopez, Phillips and Jason LaRue) gives the Reds a definite shot at being significantly better than I gave them credit for at the beginning of the season.
He makes the point in his article that while the Reds' offense is overperforming, our hitters are so good that most aren't overperforming by as large a margin as one might initially expect. Reds fans won't really be surprised by any of this. Our offense is going to hit. The only question is whether our pitching can get up toward league-average levels, allowing our offense to carry us to the playoffs. But it's nice to see some acknowledgement of the Reds' talents among some of their harshest critics. This sure has been a fun month to be a Reds fan.

Friday, April 28, 2006


I just wanted to wish the Reds luck tonight. This is a huge homestand for them. If they can at least split the games, they'll have proven a great deal to the two best teams in the division. If they can win...well, I'm not sure they could really be said to be "for real," but it'd be a huge step toward being an important player this year. Go Reds!

Update: Heck of a start tonight! Now begins our streak of 15 consecutive defeats over Oswalt! Glad Weathers didn't blow it entirely in the 9th.

Better Know a Red #12 - Felipe Lopez

In part 12 of our 25-part series, we turn our attention to the Reds' exciting 25-year old shortstop, Felipe Lopez. Lopez was originally drafted as the 1st-round pick (8th overall) of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1998 amateur draft out of Lake Brantley High School, Altamonte Springs, Florida. Interestingly, he was drafted only one slot behind now-teammate Austin Kearns. Lopez rose quickly through the Toronto minor league system, reaching the majors in only four years at age 21. He never secured a full-time job in Toronto, though he was generally adequate at the plate when he was given playing time.

On December 15th, 2002, the Cincinnati Reds acquired Lopez as part of a wild 4-team deal. The Reds sent Elmer Dessens, who had been their best pitcher in '02, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the deal. Throughout the '03 and '04 season, Lopez struggled to get playing time. His progress was slowed by the continued presence of Barry Larkin, as well as other shortstop prospects. In spring of '05, with Barry's retirement, Lopez competed with the newly-acquired Rich Aurilia for the starting shortstop position. Though he played very well in the spring, manager Dave Miley ultimately gave to job to Aurilia on opening day.

Nevertheless, when Aurilia was forced out with a minor injury in early May '05, Lopez was given the job and absolutely exploded at the plate. He hit 0.304/0.359/0.565 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI that month, and followed that up by hitting 0.333/0.364/0.543 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI in June. By the end of June, Lopez had secured his job beyond any doubt. He went on to win the Silver Slugger award among NL Shortstops, as well as make his first All-Star appearance. This year, the Reds are counting on Lopez to continue his reign as the best hitting shortstop in the National League.

For additional biographical information, please see Lopez's entry in Red Hot Mama's Human League.

Historical Stats (for explanations of the statistics used in this profile, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet):
2003/CIN-AAA 156 3.17 2/29% 0.333 0.399 0.732 0.250 0.229 0.4 ---
2003/CIN 227 2.11 8/62% 0.313 0.299 0.612 0.216 0.223 -4.3 ---
2004/CIN-AAA 325 2.84 2/40% 0.329 0.423 0.752 0.254 0.237 2.0 ---
2004/CIN 293 3.24 1/50% 0.314 0.405 0.719 0.243 0.243 4.3 ---
2005/CIN 645 1.95 15/68% 0.352 0.486 0.838 0.280 0.282 45.8 39/14/18
In previous years, Lopez often struggled to make contact, with very high K/BB ratios even at AAA. His OBP and SLG were not terribly good, showing at best a mid-700's OPS. The thought among many onlookers was that he could hit well enough to be a slightly-above replacement level shortstop, but his propensity to make throwing errors might negate his offensive production. He was a guy who had great potential, but a lot of people, myself included, wondered if that potential would ever manifest itself.

He answered his critics with his amazing 2005 season. Finally getting substantial playing time, he dramatically lowered his k/bb rate (primarily by reducing his k-rate), and substantially elevated his OBP and SLG. Lopez's OPS and GPA were very respectable, especially considering his position. This showed in his enormous VORP, which, at 45.8 runs, was second only to Ken Griffey Jr. on the team, topping even Adam Dunn's position-specific production.

Overall, Lopez has proved to be a very dangerous hitter. He gets on base via hits and walks at a high enough rate to be well-suited to the top of the lineup, and also has enough power to hit in the middle of the order. There are a lot of teams on which Lopez would be a great #3 hitter; as it is, the Reds usually bat him second to take advantage of his special combination of OBP and power. It's a great spot for him, and he is truely a key member of the Reds explosive offense.

One potential weak part of his overall offensive game is his base running. While clearly he possesses good speed, his stolen base percentages have not been good over his career. Last year, his percentage fell just shy of the break-even point. However, he may have already improved this aspect of his game: at the time I write this, Lopez is 7-0 in stolen base attempts this season.

'03-'05 Splits:
vs Left 255 3.67 0.306 0.399 0.705 0.237
vs Right 842 2.06 0.349 0.453 0.803 0.270
Home 571 2.29 0.342 0.449 0.791 0.266
Away 585 2.28 0.333 0.412 0.745 0.253
Like many switch-hitters, Lopez is best as a left-handed batter. In the '05 season, Lopez hit 0.312/0.377/0.543 with 18 home runs against right-handers (407 AB's), but only 0.243/0.291/0.353 with 5 home runs against southpaws (173 AB's). Clearly his performance against lefties is one place where Lopez really needs to improve. One place to start is his contact; the 3.67 K/BB ratio vs. lefties over the past three years is really unacceptable. At this point, I'd consider pinch-hitting Aurilia for him if he were to come up against a left-hander in the 9th inning of a critical game. Nevertheless, one must remember that for all its brilliance, last year was Lopez's first full season of play at the major league level. The guy will turn just 26 on May 12. He has enough ability that he absolutely can improve this part of his game.

Lopez also hits better at GABP than away from it. A lot of this split was driven by last year's performance, when he hit 0.305/0.368/0.536 at home and 0.277/0.335/0.435 away.

Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) DialZR (runs/yr) Gassko (runs/yr) D*G (runs/yr) Pinto (runs) Davenport (runs/yr) DP% (+/-)
3B 2004 MLB 32 --- --- --- --- --- -7 ---
SS 2003 AAA --- --- --- --- --- --- -18 ---
SS 2003 MLB 397 -27 --- --- --- --- -27 -13%
SS 2004 AAA --- --- --- --- --- --- -20 ---
SS 2004 MLB 391 -24 --- --- --- --- 7 -12%
SS 2005 MLB 1175 +0 -2.7 -20.1 -8.44 -0.750 -12 -5%
Fielding, unfortunately, is not Lopez's strong suit. Last year, all fielding statistics indicated that he is, at best, an average fielder (Dewan+-, DialZR), and many indicated that he was well below average (Gassko, Pinto, Davenport). Gassko's stat, in particular, indicated that Lopez was the third-worst defensive shortstop in the major leagues last year, with only Russ Adams and Michael Young being worse. The statistic I favor the most, John Dewan's Plus/Minus statistic, is kinder, ranking Lopez 18th out of 32 starting shortstops last year. Lopez's biggest problem appears to be moving to his right (toward third base), where he is rated at -19 plays over the past three years. In contrast, he has a positive rating on balls hit straight to him or to his left (up the middle). One has to wonder if this indicates he should play a bit closer to third base than he traditionally has. Another way in which Lopez has struggled is in turning the double play, converting 5% less chances than expected last year.

There is reason for hope, however. Dewan's statistic reported a substantial improvement in his performance between his '03-'04 numbers and his 2005 performance. With more experience, he may be able to continue to improve, particularly in terms of his positioning and anticipation. He also improved in the conversion of double plays, though still performed at below-expected levels. For their part, Baseball Prospectus's '06 Annual also predicts improvement in Lopez's defense this year:
Having an excellent arm and other plus defensive tools has not yet translated into being a good all-around defender in Lopez's case, as he has shown minus range; better positioning and experience should help in that regard.
I think the best we can hope for from Lopez this year is an average fielding performance. Occasionally one hears rumors of a desire to move Lopez to second base, where he might have a shot at being a plus defender. I think it's a good idea to consider, particularly with guys like Brandon Phillips and Rich Aurilia on the roster, both of whom can play an adequate to plus shortstop. Unfortunately, it's hard to move a guy from shortstop once he establishes himself there in the way that Lopez did last year, so I'm doubtful that this will ever be seriously considered.

PECOTA75 562 1.95 11/65%) 0.352 0.459 0.811 0.273 0.274 34.4
PECOTA 545 2.12 10/67% 0.336 0.426 0.762 0.258 0.259 21.2
PECOTA25 466 2.33 8/73% 0.313 0.380 0.693 0.236 0.238 7.1
ZiPS 611 1.98 10/58% 0.338 0.444 0.782 0.263 --- ---
I'm surprised that the projections are so hard on Lopez. Even the good-case PECOTA projection (PECOTA75) indicates a decline in his power production. Of course, Lopez's numbers last year represented what is arguably his best season in professional baseball--majors or minors--so I guess this is somewhat understandable. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that he's going to regress as severely as these numbers indicate. It's not like he doesn't have this level of talent; scouts have been expecting this sort of performance from Lopez since his first-round selection in '98. Indeed, even Baseball Prospectus's commentary in their '06 annual seems inconsistent with PECOTA:
Lopez had the breakout season we predicted last year, and, at 26, should be headed for even better numbers if the hammerheads in his organization stop focusing on his strikeouts and instead focus on ways to help him improve his hitting from the starboard side of the plate.
I would not be surprised to see Lopez to regress a bit against right-handers as pitchers are more careful with him. Nevertheless, I'm also expecting an improvement in his performance against left-handers as he gains more at-bats and experience against major league southpaws. Overall, I'm looking for a repeat of his overall numbers this season. I see the chance that he could fall back, but I think it's more likely that he will continue to improve. He's young, talented, and seems to have a new double-play partner for the next several years in Brandon Phillips if you believe the early returns. While Lopez has struggled defensively thus far in his career, he may still improve--and even if he doesn't, Lopez more than makes up any defensive shortcomings with his outstanding offensive production.

Baseball Archive, The
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Fielding Bible
Hardball Times '06 Annual

Thursday, April 27, 2006

On the Use of Coffey

Thus far, Todd Coffey has easily been our most effective reliever:
Shackelford 1.7 5.3 0.0 0.00 0.196 0.00 2.02 1.1
Coffey 12.0 7.5 3.0 0.00 0.316 0.75 2.53 6.2
Weathers 9.7 8.4 5.6 1.86 0.090 2.79 5.88 3.6
Mercker 5.1 12.4 5.3 1.76 0.265 3.38 4.77 1.7
White 10.7 5.0 0.8 2.52 0.315 5.06 6.00 -1.6
Belisle 10.7 6.7 4.2 0.84 0.350 5.06 4.32 1.3
Burns 8.3 5.4 3.3 1.08 0.475 7.56 4.65 -1.2
Gosling 1.3 6.9 6.9 6.92 0.000 13.50 13.97 -1.1
Hammond 5.0 12.6 3.6 1.80 0.529 16.20 4.20 -5.5
It's still quite early in the season to be drawing much from these numbers, but some in the blogosphere and elsewhere are clammoring for him to be enshrined as our closer. While I completely can understand this view--I'm also more comfortable with Coffey in the game than any of our other relievers right now--I'm not immediately convinced this is necessary.

Joe Sheehan wrote an article earlier this month at Baseball Prospectus about how most teams are using their best relievers (closers) very inefficiently. He makes a pretty straightforward argument: "a manager wins baseball games by getting his best players into the highest-leverage situations." Just as you structure your lineup to get runners on base when your best hitter comes up to bat, you should also use your best pitchers in those situations when the game is most likely to be lost.

Let's consider an example: it's the 8th inning of a 4-2 game. Your team is ahead and your starter has pitched well all game, but he just allowed a single and a walk to start the inning, bringing up their best hitter with the tying runs on base. With a pitch count of 102 and the game on the line, it's time to pull him. You have your setup man and your closer in your bullpen. Which pitcher would you choose?

Almost all major league managers these days will use their #2 reliever in this situation, saving their best reliever to start the 9th inning when no one is on base. This defies all logic. The game is on the line, and yet you don't bring in your best pitcher to extinguish this threat? Wouldn't it be better to have your best reliever take care of that problem, and then turn the ball over to a lesser pitcher to start fresh in the 9th? Why save your best pitcher until after the principal threat has passed?

To his credit, Jerry Narron really seems to understand this:
"Some people have the mindset that you bring in your best pitcher in the seventh or eighth inning, because that's when the games are won or lost," Narron said.

"I have all the confidence in the world in bringing Coffey into games with men on base. That's what might keep him in that seventh- and eighth-inning role — his ability to do that. It's not easy coming in with men on base and face the middle of the order."

I have a feeling that there are a number of managers out there who feel the same way. The problem is most likely that the pitcher who finishes the 9th inning gets a save, and that the save statistic equals money and prestige. So long as you have a guy who can fairly reliably pitch a scoreless 9th inning--David Weathers, for instance--it makes a great deal of sense to keep your best pitcher in a set-up type role. Coffey can shut down the other team when they start to rally. If that's happening in the 8th inning, that's when I want to see him.

Today in Baseball (4/26/06)

On Brandon Phillips
Check out the air that Brandon Phillips got in this shot (from Cinci Post). Awesome. The kid is exciting.
Phillips has been very impressive thus far, and has completely outperformed my expectations. But really, who could possibly have predicted that he would win the NL Player of the Week award when we acquired him on April 7th? Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro, who is a very good general manager, has to be in agony over this deal in these early goings.

While Phillips can't possibly keep playing the way he has--and he may be starting to slow, as he ended his nine-game hitting streak today--I'm optimistic that he can continue to have a reasonably productive season at the plate. It looks to me like he's won the majority of starts at 2B this long as he doesn't go into a terrible slump.

But that's what concerns me. When he first arrived, Phillips talked about how, in 2003, he got wrapped up in being in the major leagues, hitting home runs, etc, and that's what got him in such a bad funk. After his success these past weeks, not to mention the PotW award, I'm concerned something similar may happen. Granted, he's older and probably wiser now, but Phillips has never hit more than 15 home runs in a professional season. That was an otherwise weak 2005 AAA performance in which his K/BB nearly doubled from the prior year, going from 1.27 to 2.31 (bb-rate stayed the same, k-rate doubled). I'm just hoping that he can maintain the approach the Reds talked about when they acquired him: going to opposite field and concentrating on getting on base, all the while playing great defense.

And yeah, I know I've said it before, but I wish he'd take a walk now and then. In AAA over the past few seasons, Phillips has walked every 12 or so at-bats. I was sure he was going to walk today when Mike Stanton went 3-0 on him today, but Stanton came back to get a strike and then induce a flyout to centerfield. It's not that taking a walk necessarily makes you a better hitter, but there are very few hitters who can perform well swinging at balls well out of the strike zone. If you force pitchers to throw you strikes, you have a better chance of hitting balls with authority...and hopefully a better chance at avoiding deep slumps.

On Castellini and Krivsky
I'm sure the importance of this could be blown way out of proportion, but I love that Bob Castellini visited the Reds in DC this week. It's just so nice to have an owner take such an active and interested role in the ballclub. I'm sure it means a lot to the players. The guy (and his P.R. consultant) has tremendous media savvy, and also seems to have a knack for surrounding himself with competent people.

Case in point, of course, is Wayne Krivsky. He is certainly seeming to be a very capable GM thus far. He's clearly not a stat-oriented guy, but he seems (thus far) to have a good balance between decisiveness and the need to have good justifications for whatever moves he makes. He has also shown the clear ability to lead with humility. It will be interesting to see what he does between now and when Griffey is activated this weekend (possibly Friday). Meanwhile, he's drawing some praise from Baseball Prospectus transaction-guru Christina Karhl:
Scratch one old administration mistake, and kudos to GM Wayne Krivsky for making the right call. The decision to pick up Womack was indefensible from day one, especially since it cost the team Kevin Howard, when at most it should have been doing the Yankees a favor. To Krivsky's credit, he nabbed Brandon Phillips when the Tribe gave up on him, giving the Reds an equally interesting prospect at the keystone. Add in that the Reds are replacing Womack on the active roster with a decent fourth outfield candidate in Ross, and it's a roster move with all sorts of nice little gains to brag about. Ross isn't like Phillips, a potential regular picked up before he hit the discard pile, but he does have more upside than any of the veteran stiffs the organization has had to use to stock the upper levels of their farm system. Since they're comfortable with Ryan Freel in center, I wouldn't second-guess their decision to leave Chris Denorfia in an everyday role in Louisville.
On ESPN's Gary Thorne
As I'm writing this, I'm watching ESPN's coverage of the Pirates/Cardinals game. It's the first ESPN broadcast in the new Busch Stadium. While driving out from Ohio to Arizona with my father (and all my worldly possessions), I visited the old Busch Stadium in very early August 2001. Nice park, great atmosphere, Edmonds made a terrific diving play--typical day at the park. This new park looks spectacular though, with great views of the St. Louis skyline and, of course, the Arch in the background. It also looks like they have some sort of interesting webcast-like display in the right-field scoreboard.

But one thing about this broadcast is driving my crazy. Gary Thorne, ESPN's Hockey/Baseball play-by-play man, has always been as clear and professional of an announcer as I've heard. He has good emotion in his voice as well as a consistent sense of urgency and vividness in his descriptions. But my goodness, the guy cannot pronounce Juan Encarnacion's name (from MLB's site: en-car-NAH-see-own). Steve Phillips and Steve Stone both pronounce it correctly...well, ok, so they don't do the inflection on the "r", but at least it's approximately right. But Gary Thorne says "Arn-Cah-Nae-See-Own." He did the same thing while announcing the World Baseball Classic games, and I'm beyond astonished that this hasn't been corrected yet. It's very unprofessional, not to mention irritating. And I'm not the only one to notice.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Better Know a Red #11 - Brandon Claussen

In part 11 of our 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we profile the Reds 26 (for a few more days) year old left-handed starting pitcher, Brandon Claussen. Claussen was signed by the New York Yankees in the 34th round of the 1998 amateur draft out of Howard College, Texas. For a late-round pick, Claussen had surprising and immediate success, showing a staggering 7 k/bb rates in rookie, low-A, and A-ball his first year. He worked up the system quickly, and in 2001 was pitching brilliantly for AA-Norwich when arm trouble hit. He missed the 2002 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but went to AAA in 2003 and had good success there, albiet with much reduced walk rates.

The Cincinnati Reds acquired Claussen along with Charlie Manning for Aaron Boone in 2003 right after Jim Bowden's departure, a move that ultimately resulted in the New York Yankees winning the World Series. Claussen broke in with the Reds in 2004, and in 2005 he pitched his first full season with the big league club with decent success. This year he is considered our #3 starting pitcher, and as such the Reds are counting on him to pitch fairly deep into ballgames and keep the team in games.

For additional biographical information, please see Red Hot Mama's profile on Brandon Claussen in her Human League.

Historical Stats (Please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for explanations and definitions of the statistics used in this profile):
2003/NYY-A+ 22.0 10.6 1.2 0.00 0.286 1.64 1.25 3.05 2.9 --
2003/CIN-AAA 15.2 9.5 3.6 1.78 0.321 7.47 4.84 6.60 -3.7 ---
2003/NYY-AAA 68.2 5.1 2.4 0.53 0.228 2.75 3.61 4.62 8 --
2003/NYY 6.1 7.4 1.5 1.48 0.345 1.42 4.18 --- --- ---
2004/CIN-AAA 100.1 10.0 4.2 0.90 0.317 4.66 3.69 4.78 4 --
2004/CIN 66.0 6.1 4.8 1.23 0.317 6.14 5.20 5.19 -8.9 42%
2005/CIN 166.2 6.6 3.1 1.30 0.290 4.21 4.65 4.85 14.9 36%
For some reason, it seems to me like Claussen has been around forever, but last year was his first full year in the major leagues. The difference between his ERA and his FIP & PERA indicates that he was a bit lucky, though his BABIP was not unusually low. In the minor leagues, Brandon Claussen has always been a strikeout pitcher. Even as recently as 2004, he posted 10 k/9 inning numbers in AAA. Unfortunately, he hasn't reached anywhere near those numbers in the major leagues. His walk rates have been inconsistent, particularly since his surgery, but he has shown that he is capable of displaying good control in the minors and did get his walks under control last year with teh Reds.

His HR-allowed rate is a recent phenomenon, and seems to correlate well with his time in the major leagues. Claussen is a fairly extreme flyball pitcher; 36% of all balls hit into play off him last year were hit into air. The reason for the increased HR-allowed probably has a lot to do with the ability of major league players to hit for power and less to do with some sort of change in Claussen's pitching strategy, though I haven't seen this addressed anywhere. By and large, however, one has to declare his 2005 campaign a success and hope for further improvements this season by the still-young southpaw.

'03-'05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 48 7.7 3.7 2.06 0.294 5.61 5.90
vs. Right 184 6.2 3.5 1.07 0.300 4.54 4.64
Home 127 6.8 3.5 1.34 0.294 4.60 4.93
Away 110 6.1 3.5 1.22 0.306 4.81 4.89
As with all players with limited major league experience, these splits should be treated with little more than a grain of salt. In terms of innings, they are dominated by the 2005 season. Nevertheless, Claussen was roughed up so badly the year before that the 2004 season is more influential than you'd otherwise expect. Since we're dealing with a limited sample, I'll treat these numbers as an indication of how he has performed, rather than an indication of his tendencies. Even so, these data are interesting.

First of all, the left-handed Claussen has performed better against right-handed batters. While he has struck out lefties at a higher rate, they have hit an absurd number of home runs off of him--11 homers in ~50 innings against lefties, vs. 22 homers in ~150 innings against righties. I don't expect this trend to continue, but I think it is reasonable to suspect that Claussen enjoys no particular lefty/righty advantage.

Overall, Claussen has pitched about equally well at home and away. However, looking at his individual year splits tells a different story. In '04, he pitched quite well at home (3.96 ERA), but was miserable in away-games (8.80 ERA). In '05, it was just the opposite. He struggled at home (4.81 ERA), but was very effective on the road (3.48). Given his tendencies as a fly ball pitcher, he is a poor fit for GABP, which allows an above-average number of home runs. Therefore, I would expect to see him continue to perform better on the road in this and coming years. Nevertheless, I strongly hope that he can improve his performance at home to be the consistent guy in the middle of the rotation that we all hope he can become.

PECOTA75 179.7 6.5 3.0 1.20 0.286 4.14 4.49 4.58 23.7 39%
PECOTA 171.3 6.4 3.2 1.31 0.294 4.70 4.72 5.04 11.5 40%
PECOTA25 154.7 6.3 3.4 1.45 0.305 5.43 5.02 5.64 -3.1 40%
ZiPS 156.0 7.1 3.5 1.21 0.289 4.85 4.55 --- --- ---
Despite his relative youth, the projections are not forcasting much of an improvement for Claussen this year. None project any real improvement in his peripheral stats, and this translates into a predicted performance much like that of last best. I am not sure what Claussen did to strike out so many batters in AAA, and I realize that AAA-strikeouts do not always translate into strikeouts for the better MLB hitters. Nevertheless, he has struck men out at high rates at every level except the big leagues. If he can recapture some of that magic and get his strikeout rate up in the 8k/9 inning range, all of the sudden we are looking at projected FIP's in the low-4's. The Reds really need that sort of performance out of him over the next few years.

Baseball Archive, The
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Hardball Times '06 Annual

Reds clinch series against Nationals

Nice to see the Reds pull out a tight game today. Still not a very encouraging game from Dave Williams, but at least his ERA went down a bit. Peripherals are scary-bad though: 1 walk, 2 hr allowed, 0 strikeouts in 5 innings? Ahh, whatever, we won. EdE is sure playing well right now. He's even contributed some dandy defensive plays over the past few games!

The Reds are now 5-1-1 in series in this young season (lost series to Cards, split 2-game set with the Cubs). They haven't swept anyone yet (get yer brooms out tomorrow!), but I'll take this sort of dominance in 3 and 4-game series any day. Hopefully they can continue to win vs. Houston this weekend -- those Astros have been wicked-hot lately.

Requests for "Better Know a Red" Series?

I'm really enjoying doing the Better Know a Red series--I've received good feedback on it from the community, and I've been learning a great deal about our players while putting it together. If you haven't seen these features, they are all linked via my side-bar. It's also been great to collaborate with Red Hot Mama and her Human League, as she provides a very different, but also quite valuable alternative perspective on our players.

The order of the series was determined initially by a random draw, with players acquired subsequently being tacked on at the end (I've been doing a mini-profile of all our new acquisitions as they arrive anyway).

The current planned order is as follows:
Brandon Claussen (mostly finished; to be posted tomorrow)
Felipe Lopez
Rick White
Aaron Harang
Ryan Freel
Rich Aurilia
Matt Belisle
Ken Griffey Jr.
Paul Wilson
Jason LaRue
Eric Milton
Dave Ross
Bronson Arroyo
Brandon Phillips
Quinton McCracken
Brian Shackelford
Cody Ross

But I was wondering: is there a player on this list that you folks would like to see profiled sooner rather than later? Feel free to comment. I would still prefer to do the Dave Ross and below players at the end, as I've already written some things about those players. But I'm even flexible on that, so don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Today in Baseball (4/24/06)

Three things to comment on:

First, big props go to Brandon Phillips for an amazing debut with the Reds that has netted him the National League Player of the Week Award. Thus far, through 12 games, he has hit 0.372/0.372/0.698/1.070 for the Reds. Absolutely fantastic numbers. ... though I am concerned that he hasn't walked yet: he can't produce at this level all season--heck, I'm not sure that anyone can--and a decent walk rate will help you maintain productivity through slumps, and will be correlated with working the count to get good pitches to hit. But whatever. I'm enjoying his hot streak while it lasts!

Second, props to Elizardo Ramirez for overcoming a somewhat shaky first inning to pitch seven strong innings for the Reds today and pick up his first big-league win. It's always great to see young guys come in and have success. He did walk his first batter of the season (triple-A and MLB), but also struck out 4 and did not allow a home run in a very impressive season debut. That should secure him the #5 starter job, for now.

Finally, via JD, are these comments by Keith Hernandez during a Mets broadcast Saturday after Mike Piazza high-fived trainer Kelly Calabrese in the San Diego Padres' dugout:
Who is the girl in the dugout, with the long hair? What's going on here? You have got to be kidding me. Only player personnel in the dugout.
I can understand his fretting if he thought this was a fan or a family member in the dugout--I agree that those folks don't belong in there--but he should have realized that a woman can work for a major league team. When he was informed later that the "girl" is a member of the Padres' training staff, Hernandez showed even less class:
I won't say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don't belong in the dugout ... You know I am only teasing. I love you gals out there - always have.
He may love you, but he sure as hell doesn't respect you. He owes her a substantial and direct apology. Nevertheless, I do want to give props to Bruce Bochy for his comments:
Kelly is a part of this ballclub. She's a part of the training staff. I don't know the actual comments, I just heard about it, but she's been here for a while and played a major role with this club in getting guys ready to play a ballgame...I didn't think gender was even an issue anymore.
It shouldn't be, but sports, unfortunately, are a place sexism is still often seen as perfectly acceptable. Comments like Hernandez's really irk me.

SportsNet New York has reprimanded Hernandez, and he issued a fairly unapologetic "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" sort of apology during Sunday's game. But I'd hope that it goes a little bit further than that. I'm not saying he should be fired, but a suspension wouldn't be inappropriate if he's not willing to make a stronger statement in support of women in baseball.

For her part, Kelly Calabrese appealed to Hernandez to use his position in the public eye to "bring some positive light and give kids, give women, give boys, anybody, the encouragement they need to follow their dreams." Well said.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reds Acquire Cody Ross

As initially reported by Red Hot Mama, and then confirmed by Marc Lancaster, the Reds have acquired 25-year old outfielder Cody Ross for a player to be named later. In order to clear room for him on the 25-man roster, the Reds designated Tony Womack for assignment.

Ross, in addition to having bright, pearly-whites, was a 4th-round selection out of high school by the Detroit Tigers organization, and most recently was a AAA/bench player for the Dodgers. He was out of options and the Dodgers had no room for him, so they were forced to trade him for cheap to avoid losing him for nothing via waivers. Some stats:
2003/DET-AAA 516 2.69 15/71% 0.333 0.515 0.848 0.279
2003/DET 21 3.00 0/0% 0.286 0.421 0.707 0.234
2004/LAN-AAA 259 2.39 2/100% 0.328 0.538 0.866 0.282
2005/LAN-AAA 448 2.10 4/67% 0.348 0.509 0.857 0.284
2005/LAN 26 10.00 0/0% 0.192 0.200 0.392 0.136
Looking at his AAA numbers over the past three years, we can see that Ross is a guy with some good power (0.509+ SLG each of the past three years in AAA), but is not someone who will get on base at a very good clip. I heard on the game broadcast today that Ross is particularly tough against left-handed pitchers, but I haven't found minor league splits yet to confirm this and I certainly wouldn't put any stock in his 47 major league at-bats. He is only 25, and has steadily improved each of the last three years in AAA in his OBP, his GPA, and his K/BB rates (see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for details on stats). It should be cautioned, of course, the Las Vegas' Cashman Field is considered a hitters' park. Nevertheless, Ross did have a dramatic game with the Dodgers on April 13th in which he hit 2 home runs and drove in 7 in a 13-5 rout over Pittsburgh, so the anecdotes indicate there's something to those AAA numbers.

I haven't had much luck finding verbal scouting reports on Ross. Baseball Prospectus says: "Cody Ross has got some pop (56 HR in 299 Triple-A games over the last three years), and upped his walk rate. Another shot at a bench role isn't out of the question." John Sickels has never covered him in one of his online prospect reports, but wrote this in response to a reader comment: "Yeah, Ross is an AAAA guy it looks like. His vegas numbers aren't that impressive." It should be noted the latter comment was made last June prior to the completion of Ross's excellent 2005 AAA campaign.

In sum, as a hitter, he looks like a guy who could bring some power off the plate in a key situation. I've seen people mention that Ross is a good fielder, but I haven't seen any reliable data on this (in 52 total innings in right field last year--just under 6 full games--the Fielding Bible rated him as +1 play above average). Ross does appear to have a little bit of speed, as he did steal 15 bases (71% success rate) with Detroit in '03, so I can see him being able to cover ground in the outfield. Not a bad pick up by any means, particularly given that he is young and (apparently) cost very little.

The talk between Marty Brennaman and Hal McCoy today in the 2nd-inning conversation was about what the Reds will do come Friday when Griffey returns from the DL. Their conclusion was that Ross would be the one who was designated for assignment, at which point the Reds will risk losing their new acquisition as he passes through waivers. It seems to me that they are overlooking an obvious alternative solution (beyond, of course, a trade of one of our catchers) -- they could DFA Quinton McCracken. Ross looks to have a better bat than McCracken (McCracken ~= Womack at the plate, with less hype and a bit better patience). If the reports are right that Ross can play center field passably in addition to right field, there's little that Quinton brings that Ross can't duplicate. Furthermore, I'm not sure that we would actually lose Quinton if he were to pass through waivers, and the guy might accept a minor league demotion. The only downside is that it does make our bench a bit more dominated by right-handers, but we often do have either Valentin or Hatteberg on the bench in a given game, so I wouldn't worry much about that. I'd be surprised if the Reds don't go this route.

As for Womack, it's always a shame to see a guy's career in dire straits. But from a baseball perspective, the only thing that the 36-year old Womack brought to the Reds was that he could be a contact-type left-handed batter off the bench as well as a solid choice for a late-inning pinch runner. Last year he played at a level well below replacement level (-12.3 VORP in 344 plate appearances), and while you'd expect him to improve from those depths this year, he really can't compete with Freel or Aurilia's track records, or Brandon Phillips' potential. Hopefully he'll catch on with someone else in need of a speedy infielder off the bench. It's just a shame that his time with the Reds cost us Kevin Howard (who, by the way, is currently struggling at 0.226/0.273/0.355 for AA Trenton Thunder).

Better Know a Red #10 - Kent Mercker

In part 10 of our ongoing 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we turn our attention to the Reds' veteran left-handed reliever, Kent Mercker. Mercker was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round (fifth overall pick) of the 1986 amateur draft. He made it to the Braves' major league team in 1989, and was an important cog out of their bullpen during the initial years of the Braves' amazing NL East dominance. In 1995, his free agent year, Atlanta gave him 26 starts. Mercker responded by going 7-8 with a 4.15 ERA, and then left as a free agent. With that move, he began 5 years as a journeyman starter/long reliever with varying success. His best year during that time was probably with the Cincinnati Reds in 1997, when he went 8-11 with a 3.92 ERA in 25 starts. His success soon dropped off, however, and after a difficult season with the Angels in 2000, Mercker found himself unemployed and without work at 32 years of age.
: As per usual, RHM does a much better job with biographical information: apparently a big part of the reason that Mercker sat out the 2001 season is that he had a brain hemorrhage. Missed that. Yikes.

Mercker broke back in, with very limited success, as a reliever with the Rockies in 2002, but soon followed that with an outstanding year for the Reds and Braves in 2003. After another successful season with the Cubs in '04, Mercker resigned with the Reds for 2005 and became one of our few reliable relievers. The Reds are really counting on him for more of the same this year.

As always, additional biographical information on Mercker can be found in his profile in Red Hot Mama's Human League.

Historical Stats (for explanation of the stats used in this profile, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet in the sidebar):
2003/CIN 38.3 9.6 5.9 1.17 0.265 2.35 4.71 4.70 10.9 45%
2003/ATL 17.0 3.7 3.7 0.53 0.241 1.06 4.38 4.32 7.6 37%
2004/CHN 53.0 8.7 4.6 0.68 0.254 2.55 3.95 4.15 18.8 41%
2005/CIN 61.7 6.6 2.8 1.17 0.295 3.65 4.50 4.62 10.8 44%
Rather unusual numbers for Mercker. First, his ERA has been well below both his FIP and his PERA in each of the past three years. My guess is that we're dealing with small sample size/chance issues here, but it is also possible that he's one of the rare pitchers who "beat" the curve and performs better than you'd expect him to perform based on his peripherals. The other thing that's interesting is that while the result, in terms of ERA, has been roughly the same, his peripherals have been very inconsistent. While in '03 and '04 he was very much a strikeout pitcher (~9 k/9), last year his strikeouts were significantly down. And yet his control was also dramatically better, dropping from a fairly poor 4.5-5.5 bb/9 to an above-average 2.8 bb/9. He also varies from roughly average to well below average in terms of home runs per nine innings. I think what we're seeing here is a pitcher who is slowly fading in ability, but has been able to make adjustments to have continued success. He is 38 this year, and therefore is unlikely to get much better. But if he's able to maintain his improved control from last year, Mercker should be able to have continued success despite the decline in his stuff evidenced by his reduced strikeout rates in 2005.

'03-'05 Splits:
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 76 8.5 3.8 0.71 0.270 2.36 3.79
vs. Right 92 7.0 4.5 1.17 0.263 3.12 4.86
Home 90 6.8 3.8 0.90 0.260 2.70 4.39
Away 65 7.6 5.0 0.41 0.302 3.31 3.86
Mercker is a left-handed reliever, and like many lefties he has been dramatically more effective against left-handed batters. His strikeout rates have been higher, he's walked batters at a lower rate, and hasn't allow as many home runs. He is still mostly serviceable against right-handers, although his walk rates across the last three years are unacceptably high given his more pedestrian strikeout and hr-rates. Last year, his primary drop-off in terms of strikeouts was against righties, against whom he struck out only 5 per 9 innings (he also allowed 1.6 hr/9 innings against righties, which is unacceptably high).

Typically, the Reds use Mercker as a late-inning set up man and occasional closer. As he ages and continues to decline, more and more of his value will be in the left-handed specialist role. He clearly can still be very effective in that role, but he should be watched closely--and probably replaced--against right-handers when the game is on the line.

PECOTA75 40.0 6.8 3.4 0.90 0.277 3.33 4.13 4.01 8.6 44%
PECOTA 34.3 6.8 3.4 1.31 0.296 4.40 4.72 4.84 3.5 44%
PECOTA25 34.0 6.9 3.7 1.32 0.310 5.23 4.82 5.49 -0.4 44%
ZiPS 57.0 6.9 4.1 1.11 0.274 4.74 4.62 --- --- ---
Both projection systems predict a decline for Mercker this year. Given the drop in his strikeout rate last year, this is not surprising. All the projections predict that his k-rates will stay at his '05 levels, but that his walk rates will hike back up toward his '03-'04 levels. It's cause for concern, but Mercker has been very good in his role for several years in a row now and I'm not convinced that he won't be able to get the job done this year as well.

The most troubling thing, however, has to be the PECOTA IP-projections, which show him dropping to between 34 and 40 IP this year compared to 50-60 IP the last three years. PECOTA bases its innings pitched projections (as well as all other stats) based on age-specific comparable players. That it predicts 34.3 innings pitched indicates that a number of Mercker's most comparable pitchers had substantially fewer innings pitched at age 38--most likely due to injury, but possibly due to ineffectiveness. We have already seen Mercker's back act up a little bit this season... I just hope he can beat the odds and stay healthy for us this year. If he does that, I look for him to continue to be our most reliable left-hander out of the pen.

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