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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Reds Preview: Introductions

2014 Reds Season Preview

The Reds are hoping Cueto spends far less time
watching from the sidelines this year.
Photo credit: twistedmoments
The +Cincinnati Reds are entering the 2014 season with largely the same cast of characters from 2013, with two major deductions: Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo.  Choo is being replaced by speedster prospect Billy Hamilton, whereas Arroyo is being replaced (hopefully) by full seasons of Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani.

I think a lot of Reds fans, myself included, were disappointed after a fairly uneventful offseason.  There were rumors early on that the Reds would trade Brandon Phillips, but they apparently found little interest in him.  My favorite rumor was a Brett Gardner for Phillips swap, but the Yankees seemed uninterested in parting with their player--and justifiably so, given his superior production and cheaper contract.  That would have permitted the Reds to slot in either Hamilton or acquire a lower-cost 2B like Omar Infante (who would sign with the Royals) or Mark Ellis (who would be sign with the Cardinals).  None of that came to pass, and so the Reds will have to make do with what they have.

2013 Overall Team Performance

The chart to the left primarily reports 2013 season totals, but also shows projected winning percentage from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.  You can see that both publications project a drop in performance this season from the Reds.  BPro is slightly more optimistic than FanGraphs, projecting 83 wins using PECOTA vs. just 80 wins using a combination of Steamer and ZIPS (note: FanGraphs recently updated their projection and now have the Reds at an even 0.500).

Overall, the 2013 Reds had great pitching and excellent fielding that was let down, to a degree, with a middle of the pack offense.  The hitting wasn't terrible, but played like a fairly extreme stars and scrubs.  On one hand, they got brilliant performances from Votto and Choo, and another solid year from Jay Bruce.  And Frazier, despite his big slump, turned in a league-average year.  But left field, shortstop, and catcher were all offensive black holes, as was second base after Phillips' hand injury.
What saved the season, almost unquestionably, was the starting rotation.  Of particular note was the surprising success of Tony Cingrani, who filled in amazingly well for the oft-injured Johnny Cueto.  Cingrani helped Latos, Bailey, Leake, and Arroyo hold down the fort despite the staff ace only registering 60 innings on the season.

Why the big drop in projected wins?  My first thought was that perhaps the Reds overplayed their Pythagorean record.  But a glance at Baseball Prospectus's 2013 Adjusted Standings page shows this to clearly be wrong:
The 2013 Reds might have come in third place, but their Pythagorean record indicated that they might have played better than they looked.  In fact, their 1st-order winning percentage (just straight PythagenPat) is right there were their second- and third-order wins, which estimate runs scored and allowed based on component inputs.  In most years, you'd expect a team that put up the numbers the Reds did to win about 93 games.

So what gives?  There are two main explanations: loss of talent (free agent departures) and a combination of regression & aging.  Over the next several posts in this series, I'll walk through projections for the position players and pitchers, and try to understand what we can reasonably expect for this team.  I'll say this in preview: I'm seeing a team that, on the surface, looks a lot better than the 0.500 team forecasted by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.  The offense looks surprisingly solid, and the pitching looks strong.  But it's also a team that has very little depth, be it on the bench or in the minor leagues.  If injuries come fast, the Reds may have a hard time compensating.

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