April 2007 in Brief
Overall Record: 12-13 (0.480, 3rd place, 4 games behind Brewers)
Series Record: 4-4-1
Expected Record: 12.5-12.5
Runs Scored: 109 (4.4/g, 10th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 109 (4.4/g, 8th in NL)
Team OBP: 0.319 (11th in NL)
Team SLG: 0.393 (9th in NL)
Team FIP: 3.29 (1st in NL)
Team DER: 0.684 (12th in NL)
After the first enjoyable season in years, the Reds began the 2007 series with high hopes. The NL Central again seemed wide open, and the Reds' 2006 team, which finished only three games out of first, was largely intact. Strong spring performances by Adam Dunn, Brandon Phillips, and rookie Josh Hamilton gave hope that the offense, which failed down the stretch the previous season, might rebound with authority, while the bullpen was almost completely revamped from last year's Opening Day (only Weathers and Coffey remain). Here's what happened:
While the Reds started the month reasonably well, the 7-game home stand against the Brewers, Astros, and Phillies dropped them from two games over 0.500 to one game under, which is where they would end up at the month's end. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers won seven of their last nine to finish the month a full 5 games over 0.500, three and a half games over the second place Pirates. It wasn't a terrible month by any means, but I think most observers--and undoubted the Reds as well--felt the Reds could have done much better.
To take a closer look at team performance, below is a graph of cumulative win probability added for the team, broken down by hitters, starting pitchers, and relievers (inspired by SoxWatch, data from FanGraphs):
The starting pitching was nothing short of outstanding, showing steady, positive performance to ultimately net 1.337 WPA, which would account for just shy of three full wins over 0.500 on their own. Overall, Reds starters maintained a 3.55 ERA on the month in 159.7 IP. Even more impressively, they had a combined 3.11 FIP, indicating that they were actually a bit unlucky(!). It was a very encouraging beginning for a rotation that most analysts described as extremely shaky after the 1-2 of Harang and Arroyo.
The bullpen started brilliantly, actually out-pacing the rotation through the end of the first road trip. But they absolutely imploded during the 7-game home stand from April 16-22, which is when the Reds dropped below 0.500 on the month. In the end, the bullpen's net effect was only moderately negative (-0.378 WPA), but given the amount of effort put into revamping the pen over the past year, and the promise they showed over the first few weeks, this was an major disappointment. Overall, the bullpen sported a 4.59 ERA on the month, with an even-worse 4.71 FIP.
As the WPA graph illustrates so plainly, however, the biggest problem on the month was the offense. The Reds ended the 2006 season in a horrific slump, scoring only 3.3 runs per game in September as they fell away from the stumbling Cardinals. While April 2007 improved on that rate by over a run per game, this team looked nothing like the offensive powerhouse we knew in early 2006. In fact, prior to the final two games this past month in which the Reds scored 17 runs, the Reds had scored a meager 4 runs per game--and that was despite a brilliant showing by the incredibly surprising Josh Hamilton. Reds hitters' total win probability on the month was -1.408, completely negating the outstanding performance of the starting rotation. Now, 4.4 runs/game isn't all that bad, so a major part of the problem was that Reds didn't hit well when the game was on the line. If the Reds are going to contend in 2007, it was clear that the offense would need to step up in a big way--or at least be more timely with the hits they do get.
LHP Eric Milton (from DL--missed only the first week of the season)
OF Norris Hopper (from DL--would otherwise have made the club out of spring training)
RHP Brad Salmon (from AAA--adds a power right arm to the bullpen)
RHP Jared Burton (to DL--a very "convenient" injury to get Milton on the roster)
C Chad Moeller (to AAA--only made the club initially due to injuries to others)
LHP Rheal Cormier (DFA'd--Narron had no confidence in him, and rightly so)
In the coming days, we will look more closely at Reds' hitting, pitching, and defense. Stay tuned...