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Friday, June 30, 2006

Chris Hammond Released

After a horrific April and June (spaced by an excellent May), Chris Hammond has been designated for assignment. He'll be replaced by Shackelford.

Hammond's final numbers: 28.2 innings, 6.91 ERA, 7.4 k/9, 1.6 bb/9, 1.6 hr/9, 0.318 BABIP, 4.32 FIP

Unfortunately, as I in mentioned in my profile on Hammond earlier in the year, his decline this year was rather predictable based on last year's performance. While his ERA remained a solid 3.84 ERA, his BABIP was an extremely lucky 0.228, and his HR-rated doubled, resulting in an FIP of 4.75. That's a dramatic decline from his sub-3.00 ERAs of the prior three years. Interestingly, Hammond's strikeout rates have actually been up this season, though his hr-allowed rate is also up (higher even than last year), and that is almost certainly part of the reason he was hit so hard this year.

It's a shame to see him go, but I think Shackelford is capable of doing at least as good a job as Hammond has done this year. Shackelford's not a stud, but he should be able to hold down the fort. When the bullpen has been as big a disaster as the Reds' have been this season, you have to try something different and see if you can find something that works.

Mid-season Defensive Statistics

SG over at Baseball Think Factory posted some initial Zone Rating-based fielding stats for games through June 22. Here's how our Reds look so far (qualifier=200+ innings at a position):
Position Name Innings Runs Saved RS/150 Games
C LaRue 226.3 1.5 9
C Ross 229.7 -1.4 -8
1B Hatteberg 467.3 3.5 10
2B Phillips 497.7 3.3 9
3B Encarnacion 425.7 -5.4 -17
SS Lopez 611 -7.5 -16
LF Dunn 578 -13.9 -32
CF Freel 233.7 1.6 9
CF Griffey -354.7 -4.8 -18
RF Kearns 596.7 2.8 6
A disclaimer should be made here, of course, in that these are only a half-season's worth of data, and fielding stats can fluctuate just as much as hitting stats over the course of a season. Furthermore, I'm not happy with Zone Rating as a means of capturing information about defense at catcher or first base, as it just measures the number of balls a fielder gets to off the bat. There's a lot more that goes into being a catcher or first baseman than fielding balls hit to you. Finally, this is only one fielding metric. It's decent, but is not my favorite--hopefully John Dewan will release some of his fielding bible plus-minus stats at some point this season...

Nevertheless, the aren't a lot of surprises here. First, the good. Phillips' excellence at second shows up here nicely, though to be honest I almost expect him to be better. Freel and Kearns continue to show excellence in the outfield, and Hatteberg has been picking the ball off the bat (at least) better than usual for his career.

Unfortunately, Lopez hasn't shown much improvement this year, and if anything may even be worse than last year. I was really hoping he might turn the corner this year, but what I've seen of him while watching games is pretty consistent with these numbers. Encarnacion's errors have led to a negative rating at third this season. I still think the kid has a chance to be a good fielder, but he definitely needs to become more consistent. Hopefully, when he returns from the DL, he can start fresh defensively.

Nevertheless, these data say once again that our biggest defensive liabilities are in the outfield. Despite his series of webgem catches, Griffey is still not covering ground like a centerfield should and is on pace for a league-worst -18 runs saved. And Dunn has been catastrophic in left field, on pace for -32 runs saved. It seems to me that he has been better of late compared to his disastrous start to the year, so maybe this number will come down a bit by season's end.

The conclusion is that the Reds are still not a very good defensive team. The right side of the field has been decent to good, but they've been bad to the left side and in centerfield. I'm going to continue to hope that the Reds will try to shift Griffey to left and Dunn to first base. Hatteberg's bat has made that a harder thing to root for, but I think a combination of Denorfia and Freel in center could make up for any loss in offense with their defensive performances.

EdE will probably still come around, but I'm honestly not sure what to do about Lopez. I wouldn't be opposed to trying to switch Phillips and Lopez between second and short, as Phillips has performed well at shortstop in the past. But that's probably not a practical solution at this point...

Recent Reds minor league player tidbits

First off, I want to highlight, a blog run by Doug Gray, for his excellent coverage of the Reds' minor league system. I've somehow largely overlooked him 'til now, but he's done a great job of keeping everyone current on day to day progress, news, and analysis of our minor league prospects. Other sites that feature excellent Reds' prospect information, of course, include Raising Reds, Redleg Nation, and Reds (and Blues).

A few tidbits on Reds prospects that I've noticed recently that weren't reported elsewhere (I think):

Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein had this to say about Reds prospects in his Midpoint National League Report:
Great Leap Forward: First baseman Joey Votto has returned to 2004 form, batting .315/.387/.563 at Double-A Chattanooga and competing for a Triple Crown in the Southern League. 2005 first-round pick Jay Bruce has exceeded expectations at Low Class A Dayton, batting .290/.346/.537 with 39 of 75 hits going for extra bases.

Not What We Expected: A second-round pick in 2004, outfielder B.J. Szymanski is a lesson in why you take raw, athletic high school players, but not college ones. At 23, Szymanski is only in Low Class A, batting .231/.310/.455, and has a strikeout for every 2.49 at-bats. Catcher Miguel Perez is hitting just .223/.283/.287 at Chattanooga, and while he doesn't have to hit a ton because of his outstanding defensive skills, he certainly has to hit more than that.

Open Questions: 2004 first-round pick Homer Bailey has two no-hit outings, has allowed fewer then two runs in six of 13 starts at High Class A Sarasota, yet has also given up four or more runs six times. With that kind of inconsistency, why rush him with a promotion to Double-A? Can the team resist the urge to also push Bruce and lefthander Travis Wood?

Who Will Be Number One: It's between Bailey and Bruce. While Bruce has closed the gap some, it's probably not enough to pass up Bailey, one of the few pitching prospects with true No. 1 potential.

It's good to see Goldstein praising Bailey more often lately, because he's been rather hard on him most of the season.

I will say that the comment about raw athletic college players is mildly distressing, as some might argue that this is precisely what we did with our #1 selection this year...

John Sickels on Jon Coutlangus, in his update on the Giants' top preseason prospects:

16) Jon Coutlangus, LHP, C+
Claimed on waivers by Cincinnati. Currently has a 2.09 ERA and 36/17 K/BB in 39 innings for Double-A Chattanooga. Having a fine season and could contribute in the bullpen soon if his command improves a bit.
Let's hope he improves fast, along with the rest of his AA-cohort. I'm eagerly awaiting Sickels' upcoming update on the Reds' other top prospects...not on his schedule yet, but maybe next week..

Speaking of Sickels' site, a guy in the diaries there named mowwer rated Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey as among the top 10 prospects in the minor leagues. And no one argued with him on our two guys. For what that's worth. I gotta say, I'm pretty thrilled with Homer Bailey's first two starts in AA. I'm not ready to say he's the next Cole Hamels, but it's pretty exciting to see him catch fire like he has since his promotion. As I ventured recently, maybe a challenge was what he needed to bring his game to the next level. Kudos to Krivsky et al for promoting Bailey when they did.

Krivsky, Narron get extensions

Per Marc (yeah, I know, it's not exactly breaking news):
The Reds today extended Jerry Narron's contract through the 2008 season with an option for 2009 and exercised the 2008 option on general manager Wayne Krivsky's contract. Narron was signed only through this season, so this certainly should put all the Lou Piniella silliness to rest. From the very beginning, there has been a very good working relationship among these two and Bob Castellini.
I'm very pleased to see this development. It's a huge vote of confidence in what those guys have been able to do so far this season. Furthermore, it's is a statement that the tumultuous times of the past 5 years are in the past. Krivsky and Narron will be the guys to lead this team for at least the next three seasons. And I'm very pleased to hear that.

Obviously, Krivsky's moves have looked brilliant thus far. There's a certain amount of luck that goes into this sort of thing, but like Freel said recently, where would we be without the likes of the big three Krivsky acquisitions--Arroyo, Phillips, and Ross? Even more impressive to me has been his willingness to cut bait with players who are not performing, despite what we paid for them: Dave Williams, Tony Womack, Rick White, and perhaps even Brandon Claussen and Jason LaRue. It always seemed as though past leadership would just hang with a veteran guy no matter what. There is something to be said for being patient, but you can't go on waiting forever either. The one mark I'd hold against Krivsky to this point is that he hasn't been able to solve our catching logjam, nor bring in some meaningful bullpen help. Of course, if LaRue had actually hit this season, that might be different.

Now Narron is a slightly more controversial character, at least among the online circles. I often do scratch my head over his lineups, and sometimes have been known to scoff at his in-game strategic decisions. But he does a lot of things right. He seems to be an excellent communicator with his players, and has done a great job managing all the personalities on this team, keeping players fresh, etc. Furthermore, despite his absolutely miserable interview voice (the people in my office groan every time he comes on the radio with Marty--though I still think he's more interesting than Miley ever was), he is very good at communicating with the media and fans, and seems to consistently promote his players' virtues.

Finally, for an "old-school baseball guy," Jerry is surprisingly cognizant of modern strategic thinking. He likes to be aggressive on the basepaths, but always emphasizes success rates over attempt rates. He has rationales for his lineups that are based on strategy rather than just tradition (high on-base percentage at the top of the lineup, the need for a versatile batter in the #5 hole, the need for contact in the #8 hole, etc), even if I sometimes disagree with how heavily he weights certain factors. No, he's not Davey Johnson or Earl Weaver. But he strikes a balance between old-school strategy and modern analysis that I find to be pretty comfortable. His players trust him and like him, and he's been successful in striking a balance between a focused and a loose'n'easy clubhouse.

So kudos to Castellini for this move. Let's hope they can bring some solid playoff ball to Cincinnati soon...if it doesn't happen this year, they've set an expectation that the Reds will be serious contenders next year. And that's far more than I'd hoped for when the season started almost three months ago.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Better Know a Red #20 - Ken Griffey Jr.

As part of our ongoing promotional efforts to help him earn a starting spot in the All-Star Game, and as part 20 of our 27-part series, Better Know a Red, we profile the true star of the Cincinnati Reds, George Kenneth Griffey, Junior. Griffey, the son of Big Red Machine star Ken Griffey Sr., was the first overall selection in the 1987 amateur draft out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He ripped up low-A ball in Bellingham his first half-season in the Seattle Mariners system, and continued that success in high-A San Bernardino and AA-Vermont in his second year. He was awarded the starting centerfield job with Seattle in 1989, and by 1990 at only 20 years old, Griffey had come into his own. He hit 0.300/0.366/0.481 that year and just got better the following years, in what is certain to be a Hall of Fame career. He has hit over 40 home runs in a season 7 separate times and driven in over 100 runs 8 times, including doing both for 5 consecutive years from 1996 to 2000. On June 19th, Griffey tied Mike Schmidt for 11th place on the all-time home run list. Next on the list is Reggie Jackson at 563, which Griffey is likely to reach by season's end.

The Reds acquired Griffey in a massive deal prior to the 2000 season, sending Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez, and Jake Meyer to Seattle in exchange for The Kid. Griffey promptly signed to a long-term extension that was considered well below market value, with much of the money deferred to subsequent years, all but guaranteeing him the opportunity to play centerfield for his home town team for the rest of his career. The first year was a smashing success--Griffey slugged 40 home runs and drive in 118 in 2000--but in 2001 was hobbled by the first in a long series of leg injuries that have marked his time with the Reds.

Griffey never was legitimately healthy again until the start of last season. Nevertheless, he proved that his bat is still a potent weapon. Despite a miserable April and missing the most of September with a minor injury, Griffey hit 0.301/0.369/0.576 and slugged 35 homers in 491 at-bats, leading the best offense in the league. This year, the Reds are praying he can stay healthy and continue his offensive excellence as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

Historical Stats (for explanations of the statistics used here, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet):
1989/SEA 505 6.1 11.5 31.6 16/70% 0.329 0.420 0.748 --- 0.253 --- 22.1
1990/SEA 666 8.2 10.6 30.3 16/59% 0.366 0.481 0.847 --- 0.285 --- 42.0
1991/SEA 629 7.7 8.9 28.6 18/75% 0.399 0.527 0.926 --- 0.311 --- 67.8
1992/SEA 617 9.2 14.0 22.9 10/67% 0.361 0.535 0.896 --- 0.296 --- 54.0
1993/SEA 691 7.6 7.2 15.4 17/65% 0.408 0.617 1.025 --- 0.338 --- 86.4
1994/SEA 493 6.8 8.8 12.3 11/79% 0.402 0.674 1.076 --- 0.349 --- 71.3
1995/SEA 314 5.9 6.0 18.5 4/67% 0.379 0.481 0.860 --- 0.291 --- 20.5
1996/SEA 637 6.1 8.2 13.0 16/94% 0.392 0.628 1.020 --- 0.333 --- 78.7
1997/SEA 704 5.8 9.3 12.6 15/79% 0.382 0.646 1.028 --- 0.334 --- 90.0
1998/SEA 720 6.0 9.5 12.9 20/80% 0.365 0.611 0.977 --- 0.317 --- 76.1
1999/SEA 706 6.5 7.8 14.7 24/77% 0.384 0.576 0.960 --- 0.317 --- 64.8
2000/CIN 631 5.4 6.7 15.8 6/60% 0.387 0.556 0.942 --- 0.313 --- 47.0
2001/CIN 416 5.8 9.5 18.9 2/100% 0.365 0.533 0.898 --- 0.298 --- 33.8
2002/CIN 232 5.9 8.3 29.0 1/33% 0.358 0.426 0.784 --- 0.268 --- 6.4
2003/CIN 200 4.5 7.4 15.4 1/100% 0.370 0.566 0.936 --- 0.308 0.301 16.3
2004/CIN 348 5.2 7.9 17.4 1/100% 0.351 0.513 0.864 0.913 0.286 0.285 22.1
2005/CIN 555 6.0 10.3 15.9 0/0% 0.369 0.576 0.946 0.964 0.310 0.309 52.3
While I typically only examine a player's most recent 3 years, I wanted to be able to compare last year's success to that of his peak numbers, so I included his entire Major League career. In his prime, Griffey was a guy who hit for high average, maintained a superb on base percentage via a good walk rate, and hit home runs at a ridiculous rate. In 1994, '97, and '98, he hit home runs more often than every 13 plate appearances, and has achieved a 0.900+ OPS 10 separate seasons, including four in which he topped 1.000. Truly, a special player.

The story since his arrival in Cincinnati, unfortunately, has been one of disappointment thanks to a series of leg injuries that prevented him from appearing in even half of the Reds' games from 2001-2004. Last year, 2005, was the first time he had managed to remain "healthy" for most of the season since 2000. And 2005 was a great year. After an April in which he struggled terribly (0.244/0.315/0.366), Griffey caught fire and steadily improved throughout the season, culminating in an amazing August in which he hit 0.355/0.397/0.682, slugging 10 home runs in 107 AB's. Griffey proved that he is still among the most dangerous hitters in the game.

'03-'05 Splits:
vs Left 383 5.0 8.9 19.2 0.339 0.494 0.833 0.276
vs Right 581 5.9 8.8 14.9 0.387 0.589 0.976 0.322
Home 483 6.2 8.1 15.6 0.402 0.593 0.995 0.329
Away 610 4.8 9.4 16.5 0.339 0.525 0.864 0.284
Griffey remains a dangerous hitter against lefthanders, but not nearly to the extent that he is against righties. This has been the one "fault" you could draw about him throughout most of his career, although when he has great years he does tend to hit lefties better. Last year was a good example: he hit lefties to an 0.890 OPS, while he hit righties well enough for a 0.974 OPS. Most players show a platoon split--what separates Griffey is that he can remain effective against lefthanders, removing any temptation to pinch-hit for them in key situations.

Like most long-ball hitters, Griffey has enjoyed hitting in Great American Ballpark. Like his lefty/right split, however, the difference between these two splits was smaller last year, indicating that his resurgence was not due to his home park: he had a 0.902 OPS away from home, while sporting a 0.990 OPS at GABP last year.


Range Arm
Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) Dial ZR (runs/yr) Gassko (runs/yr) D*G (runs/yr) Pinto (runs/27ot) Davenport (runs/yr) DewanHold (% held) Walsh (runs)
CF 2003 MLB 356 -23 --- --- --- --- -15 -8.6 ---
CF 2004 MLB 657 -51 --- --- --- --- -6 2.7 ---
CF 2005 MLB 1066 -34 -28 -29 -28 -2.3 -22 3.7 -0.1
And now for the bad news. While Griffey's bat speed and ability to hit the longball remains strong, his ability in the field is now a far cry from what it once was. Despite his protests to the contrary, as well as the claims of play-by-play announcers everywhere, the 10-time gold glove winner's leg problems have destroyed his previous outstanding range. Every single fielding statistic I routinely reference is agreement on this point. Last year, Griffey placed 33rd of 35 in John Dewan's fielding system (only Preston Wilson and Bernie Williams were worse), second-to-last according to David Pinto's system (only Jose Cruz was worse), and dead last in baseball according to David Gassko's fielding system.

When I watch Griffey play, I see a guy who still gets good reads on balls. He takes good routes to the ball, plays the ball off the hop or the wall very well, makes smart decisions, and can make the diving, dramatic catch with the best of them. But he just can't close ground like he used to. It's a shame, but it's very damaging to the ballclub's defense. The Reds would be very well served in Griffey moved to left field, putting Dunn at first and either Freel, Denorfia, or Kearns in center. In left field, Griffey could probably become a defensive asset once again, rather than a liability. But that's ultimately going to have to be Griffey's idea, and his comments with the media earlier this season indicated that he's not ready to accept his loss of skill in the outfield just yet.

2006 Season Projections:
PECOTA75 504 5.60 8.54 16.26 1/50% 0.376 0.564 0.940 0.310 0.307 45.5
PECOTA 515 5.60 8.58 17.17 1/50% 0.367 0.541 0.908 0.300 0.299 34.9
PECOTA25 423 5.57 9.00 20.14 1/50% 0.347 0.487 0.834 0.278 0.278 21.2
ZiPS 451 5.64 9.40 16.11 0/0% 0.359 0.548 0.907 0.299 --- ---
Both PECOTA and ZiPS project something of a decline for the 36-year old centerfielder, though it's not a dramatic decline--both expect he'll slug his way to a ~0.900 OPS and a ~0.300 GPA. A good-case scenario PECOTA projection indicates he'll approximately repeat his numbers last year. I think it's reasonable to expect Griffey's short and beautiful swing will continue to remain productive for at least the next few seasons.

So far this season, Griffey has yet to really get it going. After a spectacular showing in the World Baseball Classic (0.524/0.583/1.048 w/ 3 HR's in 21 AB's), he missed most of April with a mild though nagging leg injury. He returned to hit only 0.253/0.286/0.481 in May, although he did show enough late-inning heroics that netted him my May Impact Hitter of the Month award. Signs in June are positive--through June 28, Griffey was hitting 0.264/0.330/0.540 for the month--but he's still not the same Junior we saw in the second half last season. All signs are that he is healthy, so I fully expect that we'll see a return to form in the second half.

As Griffey's career winds down over the next several years, I think most Reds fans will look back on his time with the Reds and be glad to be able to call him our own. It has been frustrating to watch injuries prevent him from achieving all he could. But even so, when all is said and done, Griffey will still be recognized as one of the best to ever play the game--a genuine first-ballot Hall of Famer. I find it hard to be disappointed by that. Moreover, Griffey will be remembered as one of the kindest, most charismatic, and easy to love individuals that our sport has ever seen.

And best of all, Baseball fans can take heart that he's not done yet. He still has a lot of game in him. Let's enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Vote Red for the All-Star Game

I got an e-mail from the Cincinnati Reds marketing department today. Excerpt:

As you probably know, online voting for the 2006 All-Star Game ends this Thursday at 11:59 p.m. Updated vote counts were announced yesterday, and Ken Griffey Jr. is currently ranked fourth among NL outfielders. We need to move him up one spot for a starting position.

The Reds recently kicked off a campaign to encourage last-minute votes from the fans. I've attached our logo, which was used to create stickers and ballpark signage. Feel free to use it on your blogs if you want to encourage people to vote. Here's a direct link to the ballot:

This means two things to me.

Number one, I need to plug Griffey Jr. and the rest of the Reds for consideration on this year's all-star ballot. So go vote!

Number two, someone in the Reds organization actually reads my blog -- or at least found it when looking around this morning. And that makes me happy. :)

Update: Stay tuned for Griffey's Better Know a Red feature sometime in the coming few days. Hopefully it'll help people remember what a special player he really is.

Update #2: Since we're talking about votes, here's my quick'n'dirty selections for the all-star game this year:

Mauer, Joe (38.2 VORP, 0.444 OBP, 0.524 SLG)
Ross, Dave (17.1 VORP, 0.397 OBP, 0.697 SLG)
Hafner, Travis (45.6 VORP, 0.450 OBP, 0.625 SLG)
Pujols, Albert (40.3 VORP, 0.441 OBP, 0.732 SLG)
Roberts, Brian (17.8 VORP, 0.376 OBP, 0.395 SLG)
Phillips, Brandon (20.7 VORP, 0.357 OBP, 0.461 SLG)
Rodriguez, Alex (21.3 VORP, 0.393 OBP, 0.494 SLG)
Cabrera, Miguel (40.8 VORP, 0.447 OBP, 0.573 SLG)
Tejada, Miguel (31.9 VORP, 0.366 OBP, 0.513 SLG)
Reyes, Jose (31.9 VORP, 0.361 OBP, 0.495 SLG)
Wells, Vernon (40.2 VORP, 0.388 OBP, 0.622 SLG)
Beltran, Carlos (33.8 VORP, 0.395 OBP, 0.607 SLG)
Sizemore, Grady (36.6 VORP, 0.375 OBP, 0.548 SLG)
Holliday, Matt (32.7 VORP, 0.395 OBP, 0.606 SLG)
Suzuki, Ichiro (32.6 VORP, 0.409 OBP, 0.450 SLG)
Griffey Jr., Ken (8.7 VORP, 0.311 OBP, 0503 SLG)
Granted, the Phillips and Griffey votes are pure loyalty votes. Phillips is deserving of consideration, but it's pretty hard to ignore what Dan Uggla (29.1 VORP, 0.366 OBP, 0.532 SLG) is doing this year if you're not a Reds fan. Griffey...well, this is more a salute to his career, and unfortunately results in a slap in the face to Jason Bay (29.7 VORP, 0.407 OBP, 0.562 SLG).

But frankly, I think the Dave Ross vote is totally legit. The guy has been totally unreal, and there really aren't many other good options in the National League. Ok, sure, Brian McCann has a higher VORP (20.0), but he's also played a lot more and his percentage numbers (0.412 OBP, 0.519 SLG), while very good, aren't as fantastic--I mean, look at Dave Ross's slugging percentage! Even though Ross only has 117 plate appearances this season, he's SECOND in the league in VORP, just edging out Michael Barrett (17.0 VORP, 0.370 OBP, 0.508 SLG). So I'm writing him in, and I don't feel guilty about it.

Other comments -- Derek Jeter's offensive numbers justify his inclusion, but I gave my vote to Tejada because I think defense should matter. Brian Roberts barely made the cut over Mark Derosa for AL second basemen...mainly because I've never heard of Mark Derosa. :) But AL second basemen are an even weaker position than NL Catchers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Woo Phillips! Woo Coffey!

I got home just in time to watch the thrilling 9th inning of tonight's game vs. the Mets. Just wanted to say WOO! Phillips comes through again, and Coffey closes the deal. Heck of a comeback, especially after Hammond gave up the big inning (again). Standridge seemingly had a good inning, though I didn't get to see it.

Speaking of Standridge, Christina Kahrl at Baseball Prospectus had this to say about his promotion, as well as Krivsky's roster manipulations in gneeral:
The Reds’ reconfiguration takes another permutation, making this probably my favorite team to follow where transactions are concerned. This isn’t a case where Wayne Krivsky is watching his new charges win games and leaving the team that Dan O’Brien built alone. Instead, Krivsky’s operating with a pleasant amount of freedom, ditching mediocrities who can’t reach even that high and doing whatever it takes to keep the team’s slender bid at contention in play. Maybe I’m too much the transactions junkie, but where most teams are reshuffling because of an injury or to extend their roster to 27 or 28 players over a week’s time, the Reds are honestly cutting bait. True, guys like Dave Williams and Tony Womack and White are among the definitions of cutability, but rather than sit back and take stock, Krivsky’s working the margins of the talent pool instead of getting overly attached. If I’m Kent Mercker or Chris Hammond, I’d start thinking about going month-to-month on my apartment, or start looking around for subletting candidates.

Standridge is a recovering Devil Ray (the MLBPA may well have to sponsor DRAY-Anon to help clean up), and did solid enough work in a middle relief role with the Reds last season. In Louisville, he was pitching well, striking out 33 in 34.1 IP while allowing 28 hits and 13 walks, posting a 2.62 ERA while generating more than twice as many groundball outs than on flyballs. He was also particularly tough on right-handers, and in a pen that needs some of everything, he should prove handy.

I don't always agree with Kahrl, and in this case, I think she's basing her opinion on 34 Louisville innings in isolation, rather than in context of his last three years in professional ball. But obviously, I hope she's right, and I hope he does well with us. His high-ground ball:fly-ball ratio explains the low HR-totals he's shown in AAA the last three years. That's definitely a good sign for Great American Ballpark, which is kind to fly balls but very tough on ground balls.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Prospect reports

I'm in quick catch-up mode... Here are two recent statements about Reds' prospects from Kevin Goldstein's Future Shock column that I found particularly interesting:

Joey Votto

Baseball Prospectus
Votto established himself as one of the few real hitting prospects in the Reds system with a big 2004 season, but the Florida State League proved to be a tough challenge for the Canadian, as he struggled to a .256/.330/.425 campaign at Sarasota last year. That performance is beginning to look like a bump in the road now, as Votto went 7-for-14 with three home runs over the weekend, and is now batting .321/.392/.567 overall in his first taste of Double-A. If he stays put, he's got an outside shot at the Southern League Triple Crown. He's currently 3rd in batting, tied for first in home runs (13) and 2nd in RBI (43), with the leader, Dodgers third baseman Andy LaRoche (46) now playing in Triple-A with no chance to add to the total.
It's great to see Votto doing so well this year. He really struggled last year both in Sarasota and in the Arizona Fall League, but now seems to be back on the prospect radar. We could use a first baseman, and if he's playing in Double-A now, he could potentially be ready for the major leagues by the end of next season. We could use a first baseman too...

Update: PW reports that Votto was listed #3 on Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet today. I love how everyone always jumps on the bandwagon at the same time. 'Course, in the credit where credit's due department, we have to credit Chris W with leading the Votto charge. :)

Homer Bailey

Baseball Prospectus:
In Homer Bailey, the seventh overall pick in 2004, the scout saw a potential ace who still has plenty of work to do. Bailey has allowed just 49 hits this year in 70.2 innings for Sarasota while striking out 79, but he's been dogged by inconsistency, allowing five or more runs four times. "He's sitting at 94 mph, and he's still going to fill out a little, so there's more in there," said the scout. "And when the curve ball is on, it's just unhittable." As for Bailey's occasional struggles? "He's young and he's used to dominating and his approach ends up hurting himself," he said. "Instead of being convinced he can get anybody out any time, he needs to start getting ahead of the count more often."
Goldstein has often been critical on Bailey in regard to his make-up, but this scout he is citing is more complementary. I think this may be a very good justification for Bailey's recent promotion to AA--he may need a bigger challenge to help him learn the importance of getting ahead of hitters and throwing strikes.

White out, Standridge promoted

After more than two months of ineffectiveness, Rick White was designated for assignment. As a veteran, he should have the right to refuse assignment to the minor leagues, which I figure he will. So this is probably the last we'll see of Rick White in a Reds' uniform.

In his stead, the Reds have promoted 27-year old Jason Standridge. Standridge is a guy who has had good success in AAA, but has yet to do anything terribly positive in the major leagues. Stats:

2003/TB-AAA 60.0 5.6 4.2 0.75 0.285 4.50 4.45 5.65 -0.3 --
2003/TB 35.1 5.1 4.1 1.79 0.267 6.37 6.02 6.17 -1.4 47%
2004/TB-AA 10.0 7.2 3.6 0.90 0.353 3.60 4.10 --- --- ---
2004/TB-AAA 119.1 5.7 3.3 0.53 0.287 3.85 3.80 4.63 11.5 --
2004/TB 10.0 6.3 3.6 4.50 0.281 9.00 9.50 9.00 -3.2 50%
2005/TEX-AAA 76.0 5.6 4.3 0.36 0.307 4.50 3.90 4.76 1.1 58%
2005/CIN-AAA 1.2 30.0 7.5 0.00 1.154 16.20 -0.97 --- --- ---
2005/TEX 2.1 8.6 4.3 0.00 0.619 11.57 2.72 --- --- ---
2005/CIN 31.0 4.9 4.6 0.87 0.315 4.06 4.91 5.06 4.9 52%
Standridge has played for an insane number of clubs over the past three years, and has been bouncing between AAA and the majors every year. In AAA, he's been a guy with extremely low HR-allowed rates, but also extremely high walk rates and only average strikeout rates. In two 30-something inning stints in the major leagues in '03 and '05, Standridge has shown below-average strikeout rates and well above average walk rates. Hr-rates have been less stable, which is not surprising given the relatively low inning totals he's achieved so far. If anything, so far he's been average in that category.

I'm honestly not sure what to expect from him. The only time he's shown even average walk rates was in his 100+ inning stint in AAA, but if anything that looks like an abberation. I don't see him as being much of an upgrade over White. But at least he has a chance to be an improvement, and at 27 is at the time in his career where he should start peaking. We'll see.

There have also been a number of other transactions over the past month that I haven't had a chance to note. Most importantly, Joe Mays appears to be our #5 starter now after Claussen's latest meltdown vs. the White Sox over the weekend. Look for my initial take on Mays here. Needless to say, I don't see much help coming from him--his strong '01 season seems to be the result of a great deal of good fortune (0.243 BABIP). I hope I'm wrong. I also hope that whatever is wrong with Claussen is fixed before season's end. I still have high hopes for him in our rotation.

Mike Burns has also returned to the bullpen (and promptly given up lots of runs), Ray Olmedo has bounced up and down, as has Justin Germano. The Reds also signed their first-round draft selection, Drew Stubbs, to a contract and have him at rookie-league Billings ready to start the season.

Basically, the Reds are at the point where they have to be willing to try anything with their bullpen. Coffey, Weathers, and Hammond have been pretty solid (though only Coffey has been outstanding), Mercker has been pretty hit and miss, and everyone else has been miserable. I do hope that when Belisle returns from the DL that he'll be given a chance at a more important role. But I don't see much help coming from inside the Reds' system at this point, which means a trade may be necessary to get some decent bullpen help. Fortunately, we're nearing the time of the year when the bad clubs start to sell off their spare parts, and bullpen help can be had. Unfortunately, we also don't want to give up too much of our already-thin farm system, so we'll have to see what we can get.

Better Know a Red #19 - Rich Aurilia

After a month-long delay (babies...), I'm pleased to release the next installment of our, 27 part series (thanks Dave Williams & Rick White), Better Know a Red. Today we turn our attention to 34-year old veteran Reds infielder, Rich Aurilia. Aurilia was a 24th-round selection by the Texas Rangers in the 1992 amateur draft out of St. John's University, New York, New York. As a side-note, St. John's alumni also includes former Reds John Franco, Frank Viola, and C. J. Nitkowski.

He played well his first two years as a professional, but struggled in AA-Tulsa and ended up being dealt with Desi Wilson for John Burkett prior to the 1995 season. He quickly rediscovered his stroke and soared through AA and AAA to make his major league debut with the Giants that season at age 23. Three years later, he began a six-year run as the Giants' starting shortstop, which included one of the best offensive seasons by any shortstop not named Alex Rodriguez, hitting 0.324/0.369/0.572 w/ 37 home runs and 97 RBI's in 2001. His production dropped off quickly after that season, however, and he was allowed to leave as a free agent following the 2003 season. His 2004 season with the Mariners and Padres showed even poorer offensive production, and he ended up signing for only $600,000 with the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2005 season -- a far cry from the 6+ million salary he was sporting with the Giants.

Much to the outrage of many in the blogosphere, Aurilia won the starting shortstop job out of spring training in '05, but then got hurt a month into the season and lost the job thanks to a brilliant month at the plate by Felipe Lopez in his stead. From that point on, Aurilia served as a spot-starter around the infield, getting most of his starts at second base. Even so, Rich ended up having one of the best four seasons of his career. He re-signed with the Reds in the offseason and currently plays a valuable role as a solid offensive and defensive infielder who can play at all four infield positions.

For additional biographical information, please see Rich Aurilia's profile in Red Hot Mama's human league.

Historical Statistics (for explanations of the statistics used in this profile, please see the Baseball Statistics Quicksheet):
2003/SFN 545 6.6 15.1 41.9 2/50% 0.325 0.410 0.735 --- 0.249 0.254 19.0
2004/SEA 286 6.7 13.0 71.5 1/100% 0.304 0.337 0.641 0.701 0.221 0.237 -0.8
2004/SDN 157 5.6 10.5 78.5 0/0% 0.331 0.384 0.715 0.723 0.245 0.254 1.4
2005/CIN 467 7.0 12.6 33.4 2/100% 0.338 0.444 0.782 0.794 0.263 0.269 20.6
The dramatic surge in Aurilia's offensive performance last year is most striking in the resurgence of his power. In 2004 he was downright anemic at the plate, but he rediscovered his stroke last year and managed an 0.444 slugging percentage. This also corresponded to an increase in his contact rate (higher batting average and lower strikeout rate), although his walk rate remained constant. Low walk rates and a relatively low OBP has been the main downfall of Aurilia's game throughout his career--the only time he topped a 0.340 OBP was his career season in '01. Nevertheless, as a middle-infielder, Aurilia's season was good for 20 runs above replacement level last year, which is a heck of a return on a $600,000 salary.

Today I'm debuting the use of a new stat with Aurilia's entry, PrOPS, which is the brainchild of J.C. Bradbury at The Hardball Times (see his article in this year's Hardball Times Annual, as well as this article online). PrOPS is simply the regression-predicted OPS of a hitter based on the batted-ball types (ground balls, fly balls, line drives, strikeouts, walks, etc) of the hitter. One can think of it as analogous to defense-independent pitching stats, in that it removes the effects of bad luck and variation in fielding success against a hitter. This is particularly important when examining hitters who have had unusually bad or good seasons. For example, Rich Aurilia's miserable 2004 season appears to be at least in part due to some bad luck, as his Seattle 0.641 OPS was much lower than his (still rather bad) 0.701 PrOPS. Furthermore, his improvement in 2005 seems to be based on honestly getting better, as his OPS and PrOPS were very close. As we'll see, however, Great American Ballpark may have played a role in his resurgence last year.

'03 to '05 Splits:
vs Left 414 7.8 10.9 27.6 0.341 0.458 0.799 0.268
vs Right 614 6.1 12.8 47.2 0.324 0.397 0.721 0.245
Home 726 7.2 13.2 36.3 0.350 0.457 0.807 0.272
Away 720 6.1 13.1 55.4 0.306 0.349 0.655 0.225
Aurilia has traditionally been a far better hitter vs. lefties, with lower strikeout rates, higher walk rates, and much higher HR-rates. Such a skew is not uncommon for a right-hander, though it's not always to such an extreme. Given Felipe Lopez's rather severe struggles against left-handers, one could make the argument for platooning them. :)

More surprising is Aurilia's home/away splits over the last three years, especially because he has called four different ballparks "home" during that time. Looking at the individual years, this was driven primarily in 2003 and 2005, when he dominated at home and struggled on the road. Last year, in particular, Aurilia had an 0.380 OBP and 0.561 SLG (0.941 OPS) at home, but only a 0.296 OBP and 0.325 SLG (0.621 OPS) on the road. Therefore, a big part of his apparent resurgence last year appears to be strongly related to hitting in GABP. Aurilia isn't a severe flyball hitter (25% fly ball : 31% ground ball ratio), so it's a bit surprising that GABP had this big of an effect on him. I'm guessing some of this is due to small-sample size issues, but it could also explain why Aurilia had so much trouble finding alternative employment last offseason.

Fielding Statistics:
Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) Dial ZR (runs/yr) Pinto (runs/27ot) Davenport (runs/yr) DP% (+/-)
2B 2005 MLB 547 -2 6.2 .11
7 0
SS 2003 MLB 1064 --- --- --- -4 ---
SS 2004 MLB 47 --- --- --- -6 ---
SS 2005 MLB 238 0 -12.7 --- -6 -11

Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) Dial ZR (runs/yr) Pinto (runs/27ot) Davenport (runs/yr) Bunt (+/-score)
3B 2004 MLB 232 --- --- --- -17 ---
3B 2005 MLB 129.3 -41.8 1 --- --- 51
Aurilia has a reputation, at least from what you hear from the Reds, as being a superb defender. The numbers don't quite back this up. At second a short, Aurilia looks to be an average to slightly below average defender. I wouldn't be afraid to run him out there, but he's not going to save you a lot of runs out there. The alternative at shortstop, Felipe Lopez, also has defensive troubles at times, although the Fielding Bible rated both as exactly average last year.

On the other hand, in his somewhat limited playing time at third base over the past two years, Aurilia has been well below average. We often hear about Edwin Encarnacion's defensive struggles at the hot corner, but we always hear how great Aurilia is there by comparison. These data indicate that Aurilia is a very poor alternative defensively. Just today while I was typing this (6/17/06), I saw Aurilia miss a fairly easy ground ball down the line off Paul Konerko's bat. While Encarnacion makes errors at an alarming rate at this early date in his career, he has excellent range that makes up for this. In contrast, I can't begin to justify putting Aurilia there on a regular basis. Granted, he could and should improve, but at this point the numbers indicate that Freel is a much better option at the hot corner when EdE needs a rest.

2006 Season Projections:
PECOTA75 417 6.62 11.91 34.75 2/67% 0.343 0.441 0.784 0.265 0.266 20.2
PECOTA 399 6.65 12.47 39.90 2/67% 0.328 0.408 0.736 0.250 0.251 10.2
PECOTA25 338 6.76 13.52 56.33 2/67% 0.304 0.359 0.663 0.227 0.227 0.4
ZiPS 467 6.49 13.34 42.45 1/50% 0.317 0.396 0.713 0.242 --- ---
Given that he is now 34 and is coming off a resurgent year, it's not surprising that the projections predict a decline. According to PECOTA, a good-case season for Aurilia is one that roughly matches his season last year. A bad-case season is something more on par with his miserable 2004 season. In all likelihood, it'll be something more in the middle.

So far this season, Aurilia has shown very impressive power for an infielder, hitting 0.258/0.313/0.497 (0.810 OPS) in semiregular appearances. Aurilia's playing time has surprisingly been mostly at first base, a position he played for only three innings prior to season's start. The emergence of Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion as solid offensive players, as well as Lopez's continued excellence at shortstop, has shut down the rest of the infield to him. Nevertheless, Jerry Narron has managed to find starts for Aurilia at least 3-4 times per week, and he's generally been a solid if unspectacular performer.