Sunday, April 30, 2006
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
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
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.
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):
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.
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% (+/-)|
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.
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.
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Thursday, April 27, 2006
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.
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 season...as 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
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):
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.
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.
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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.
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)
Ken Griffey Jr.
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
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
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:
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).
Update: 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):
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.
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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