Table of Contents

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Out of town 'til Tuesday

I'm off to Pittsburgh to take the kid to visit all her grandparents, aunts, and uncles over the long weekend (it's time for her first birthday party), and I won't be back until Tuesday. So no updates 'til then....I'm sure you folks will get on without me. :)

Heh, funny thing about yesterday's post--I forgot it was a 4-game series. But I probably could just change the date on it to today's date, and it would make perfect sense!

I fully expect the Reds to be on a 4-game winning streak next time I check in.

Justin least they didn't get swept

I refuse to call a season lost beyond all hope before the end of May. Come June 1st, however, I think I will look back on tonight as the night that I knew.

Photo by AP/David Kohl

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Josh Hamilton Profile

The Hardball Times just published a profile I wrote about Josh Hamilton. It was written before his gastroenteritis pushed him onto the DL, but that means that the stats are pretty much current. I don't expect him to have any lasting troubles when he returns from his vacation, and hopefully he'll just pick up where he left off!

Many thanks to Dave Studeman for both letting me contribute to that wonderful site, and for coming up with the idea to profile Hamilton in the first place. I look forward to sending more stuff their way in the future.

Photo by Getty Images/Stephen Duncan

Evaluating Wayne Krivsky

There's been a lot of criticism around the Reds' blogosphere, including my own, of Reds' general manager Wayne Krivsky this season. It's certainly true that the Reds haven't been very good under Krivsky's reign, particularly this year. I don't agree with all the moves he's made, both last year and this year. But at the same time, it's worth noting that: a) Krivsky inherited a pretty terrible ballclub from his predecessor, particularly in terms of pitching and defense, and b) the Reds, according to their run differential, are actually better this year than they were last year (2006 Pythagorean record 76-86, 0.469; 2007 Pythagorean record prior to tonight 22-23, 0.489). The latter point doesn't mean that the Reds couldn't have done better, of course. But given the number of times we've heard calls for Wayne's head already this season, I think it's time to try to put forth some sort of objective evaluation of his overall performance.

One way to more objectively evaluate Krivsky's short-term impact (I'm ignoring player development, or trades of prospects coming back to haunt us--too short a time period here) on the Reds is to take a look at player transactions. If he's had a net positive effect, then players who have been acquired under Krivsky's reign should have made a greater contribution than players who have left under Krivsky's reign.

Let's take a look. Below are the players currently on the Reds roster that Krivsky has acquired, along with their VORP (Value Above Replacement Player, units are given in runs) since arriving. Next is a list of players that have left the team since Krivsky took over the team, along with their VORP for other MLB teams since they were discarded. Stats current through 5/21/07.

Players Added VORP Since
Players Discarded VORP Since
Bronson Arroyo 73.8
Wily Mo Pena 16.3
Brandon Phillips 34.1
Josh Hancock 16.2
Scott Hatteberg 25.1
Rick White 11.7
Dave Ross 18.6
Felipe Lopez 10.7
Kyle Lohse 9.5
Austin Kearns 10.1
Schoeneweis 8.6
Justin Germano 9.7
Josh Hamilton 8.0
Ryan Franklin 9.3
Alex Gonzalez 5.5
Brendan Harris 9.2
Victor Santos 5.0
Luke Hudson 4.4
Eddie Guardado 4.5
Cody Ross 2.0
Jeff Conine 3.9
Royce Clayton 1.3
Estaban Yan 3.2
Dave Williams 1.2
Bill Bray 2.9
Mike Burns 1.2
Jon Coutlangus 2.8
Tony Womack 0.3
Rheal Cormier 2.5
Chris Denorfia 0.0
Ryan Franklin 1.5
Brandon Claussen 0.0
Jason Johnson 0.9
Jason Standridge 0.0
Sun-Woo Kim 0.6
Zach Ward 0.0
Jeff Keppinger -0.2
Todd Hollandsworth 0.0
Todd Hollandsworth -0.4
Quinton McCracken 0.0
Cody Ross -0.6
Estaban 0.0
Bobby Livingston -0.8
Chris Michalak 0.0
Kirk Saarloos -1.2
Rheal Cormier 0.0
Chad Moeller -1.4
Jason Johnson 0.0
Mike Stanton -1.5
Sun-Woo Kim 0.0
Quinton McCracken -2.1
Chris Hammond 0.0
Juan Castro -3.3
Joe Mays 0.0
Gary Majewski -3.7
Rich Aurilia -1.5
Royce Clayton -3.8
Scott Scheneweis -2.6
Joe Mays -4.6
Ryan Wagner -2.7

Jason LaRue -5.8
Totals 187.4
Totals 91

Overall, even if you ignore the so-far lopsided Arroyo/Pena trade (57.5 run difference, relative to a replacement player), Krivsky's acquisitions have vastly outperformed the players he has discarded, at least thus far. In the short term, he's helped the Reds score/prevent just under 100 runs above replacement level compared to what they might have otherwise, which is good for almost 10 marginal wins. I don't see any way to describe that other than solid if not very good performance by a general manager.

  • Brandon Phillips, Scott Hatteberg, Dave Ross, Scott Schoeneweis, and Josh Hamilton were all acquired as free agents or in what look like severely lopsided trades, at least right now.
    • The common thread I see is that they were or are surprise performers. This seems to be where Krivsky has excelled: identifying players who have talent and ability, but have yet to perform (or haven't recently performed), and then acquiring them for little in return.
    • Lohse might also fit into that category, though we did give up a good prospect to get him...though it looks like Zach Ward is mostly just throwing relief this season in high-A ball, so maybe it was lopsided too.
  • Where has he gone wrong? Two main items stand out:
    • The Trade currently has netted the Reds -4.6 runs above replacement level. The Nationals and Devil Rays (who picked up Brendan Harris for nothing), on the other hand, have gotten 27.3 VORP out of former Reds associated with that deal. Granted, very few players of the players involved have performed like I thought they would after the trade, but that deal looks hideous right now. Just think how bad it might look if Kearns and Lopez had hit like we all thought they would (tonight excepted, of course...dangit).
    • Several of the Reds' discarded pitchers have been pretty good after leaving the Reds. We could sure use performances like that right now...
      • The late Josh Hancock was predictably solid, but who would have expected Rick White or Ryan Franklin to pitch like they have this year? Honestly, I think the latter two are bound to fall back to earth soon.
      • Justin Germano, who Wayne traded for Cormier last season, has had three brilliant starts in his homecoming to San Diego this season. He's bound to decline as well, though he should be a solid enough big league starter.
Now, all this is not to say that Krivsky has been perfect. Obviously, he has not. And obviously, any changes he has made to the Reds have not been good enough to meet the expectations of a team that is, according Bob Castellini, supposed to win (not just "be competitive"). But the guy's first year+ has been, on the whole, encouraging. I don't always agree with his moves, but so far, Krivsky's proven me wrong more often than right. That doesn't mean I'm not going to continue to watch his moves with a critical eye, but it does mean that he's earned at least some benefit of doubt.

The other thing I'm going to say is this: except in rare cases (Dan O'Brien was one of these, unfortunately), I think a general manager should have about a 5-year period before his work can be completely evaluated and a real decision about firing him should be made. This gives him time for his player development efforts to bear some fruit, time to overhaul the team to his own specifications, etc.

Krivsky's Twins model of a winning ballclub, which focuses on pitching and defense, with secondary attention to offense, is almost completely opposite to the team he inherited. The transition will take time. But my hope is that we're seeing the most painful period right now, because we, as Reds fans, have gone too long already without a genuinely good team to be proud of.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Eddie's hitting again

As Doug Gray pointed out, Edwin Encarnacion is hitting 0.359/0.375/0.590 with 2 HR's in 39 AB's since arriving in AAA. Sounds to me like he's ready to come back...starting Juan Castro at 3B every night certainly isn't getting the Reds anywhere fast, and at this point the Reds are so far behind that they need to put their best potential offense on the field each night, defense be damned.

Update: Eddie's back and starting, as it should be. He earned it. I did support sending him down to get him a jump start and to put a bit of fear into him, but at this point the Reds need to rally around the kid and help him be what he can be.

Hope Hamilton's tummyache gets better soon.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why have the Reds deviated from Pythagoras?

One of the puzzling things about the Reds' record this season is that they're well below where they should be according to their Pythagorean Record, which estimates where the record should be based on a team's runs scored and runs allowed. Here's the breakdown (thanks to The Hardball Times):

Actual record: 16-25
Runs scored: 181 (4.4 r/g)
Runs allowed: 189 (4.6 r/g)
Pythagorean record: 20-21

In Dave Studeman's column today, he uses a simple method that he developed last season to assign the blame (and credit) for deviations from a team's Pythagorean record based on win probability data. Basically, he uses a regression to estimate what a teams' batting (or pitching) win probability should be given how many runs it has scored (or allowed), and then compares that to its actual win probability. If a team scores a lot of runs when it doesn't count, but does not score runs when it does count, they will show up in this analysis as underperforming.

Studeman's analysis put the majority of the blame (2.4 wins below expected) on the Reds' offense. Pitching was tabbed with "only" 1.0 wins below expected, given the number of runs they have allowed. This goes a bit against conventional wisdom in the Reds' blogosphere right now, which seems to assign most of the blame to the Reds' bullpen. Of course, if the Reds' starters have had a more positive influence than is typical for their runs allowed, while the bullpen has had a more negative influence than is typical for their runs allowed, the effect of the bullpen might be hidden in his analysis.

To tease the effects of starters and relievers apart, I replicated Studeman's procedure, regressing batting WPA on runs scored, starter WPA on runs allowed by starters, and reliever WPA on runs allowed by relievers. All WPA and runs data came from, and were current through May 16 2007. Here's how it breaks down:
Teams Batter Deviation Starter Deviation Reliever Deviation Predicted Pythagorean Deviation
Pythagorean Deviation
ATL 1.7 -0.9 2.4 3 3
DET 0.9 0.8 1.3 3 3
CHA 3.1 -1.2 0.6 3 3
TBA 1.8 1.0 -0.4 2 3
MIL 0.2 0.4 1.6 2 2
CLE 2.2 0.4 -0.7 2 2
SEA 2.2 -0.4 0.0 2 2
ARI 1.0 0.4 0.3 2 2
LAN -0.3 -0.4 2.4 2 1
STL 1.8 -1.4 1.1 1 2
COL 1.4 0.6 -0.9 1 2
PIT -0.7 -0.6 2.2 1 2
LAA -0.3 1.2 -0.1 1 0
NYN 0.5 0.2 -0.2 1 0
WAS -1.4 -0.5 1.5 0 1
BOS 1.2 -0.6 -0.1 0 0
HOU 0.3 -0.6 0.3 0 0
FLO -0.8 -0.8 0.7 -1 -1
TOR 0.0 1.9 -2.7 -1 -1
BAL -1.5 0.8 -0.6 -1 -1
MIN -1.7 -0.6 0.9 -1 -1
SDN -2.6 0.5 1.3 -1 -2
PHI 0.8 0.3 -2.6 -1 -2
TEX -1.3 -1.3 0.9 -2 -1
KCA -1.7 0.5 -0.6 -2 -1
SFN -0.4 0.6 -2.1 -2 -2
OAK -1.5 0.7 -1.5 -2 -3
CHN -2.0 0.3 -1.6 -3 -4
NYA -0.3 -2.2 -1.3 -4 -4
CIN -2.6 0.8 -2.0 -4 -4
The deviations noted above are essentially the differences in expected wins attributable to hitters, starters, and relievers, given the number of runs they've scored or allowed. As you can see, there is good agreement between the predicted deviation in wins from my regressions and the calculated Pythagorean record. There are inconsistencies, but they are never by more than a win...and keep in mind, we're dealing with only ~41 games here, so we'd expect a few more misses we might later in the season due to the small sample size. Also, if you compare my hitter deviations to Studes', they match up well--I think the small differences you see are probably just due to the fact that I have an extra day's worth of data in my dataset.

This analysis shows that the Reds' offense and bullpen are both to blame for the team's under-performance of its Pythagorean record. In fact, the offense is tied with SDN for the largest negative residual in WPA of any team in the majors right now, while the bullpen ranks 4th from the bottom.

There is a 2.8 win difference between the performance of Reds starters and relievers, relative to where their overall rate of allowing runs predicts they should be. This is not uncommon, indicating that it is useful to consider starters and relievers separately. Other teams with equal or larger differences between starter and bullpen effects on Pythagorean Record include Toronto (4.6 wins), Atlanta (3.3 win difference), Philadelphia (2.9 win difference), Pittsburgh (2.8 win difference), and the LA Dodgers (2.8 win difference).

Here are the data graphically. The deviations listed above refer to distance above or below the regression line (i.e. the residual):

Hitters (R2 = 0.66)
Starters (R2 = 0.73)Relievers (R2 = 0.35)The good news is that this probably means that the Reds can be better than their record indicates over the rest of the season, as deviations from season-average performance in high-leverage situations don't tend to be consistent over time (i.e. "clutch" players in the past don't tend to be clutch players in the future). The bad news is that bad performance in the most important situations by the offense and the bullpen already has the Reds down 4 wins below where they should be, which makes a playoff run a fairly low probability venture at this point in the season.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How bad is it? A look at the Reds' Record

Last night, the Reds completed their 40th game of the season, just shy of 25% of the 2007 schedule, with an overall record of 16-24 (0.400). It has not been fun. Nevertheless, there are still 122 games to be played this season, so is it too early to throw in the towel? Let's run some numbers:

Here is what the Reds would need to do over the remaining games to get to the following win totals (playoff chances are pulled from Nate Silver's article in Baseball Between the Numbers, p.192):
  • To get 100 wins (99.5% chance of making playoffs, on average): 84-38 (0.689)
  • To get 95 wins (94% chance of making playoffs): 79-43 (0.647)
  • To get 90 wins (56.5% chance of making playoffs): 74-48 (0.607)
  • To get 85 wins (9.3% chance of making playoffs): 69-53 (0.566)
  • To get 82 wins (0.500 season): 66-56 (0.541)
  • To get 80 wins (last years' total): 64-58 (0.525)
For perspective, here are the Reds' month-by-month winning percentages going back through the '06 season:
  • April 2006: 0.680
  • May 2006: 0.429
  • June 2006: 0.556
  • July 2006: 0.440
  • August 2006: 0.414
  • Sept/Oct 2006: 0.464
  • April 2007: 0.480
If we ignore the dream-like fantasy of April 2006, the next best Reds month in this time span was June 2006, when they went 15-12, for a 0.556 winning percentage. If we take that as a good-case scenario for what the Reds might reasonably do over the entirety of the remaining season, we predict that the Reds could potentially finish with a respectable 16+(0.556*122)=84 wins.

That would be enough for the Reds to have won in 2006. It's not out of the realm of possibility that it would be enough this season (the Brewers would have to go 59-63 [0.484] from this point on to win only 84 games this year), but 84 wins will get you into the playoffs only about 6% of the time, on average.


The numbers aren't looking good, but 6% is still more than one time in 20. So I guess I'm not quite ready to give up hope yet. If the Reds go on a big-time tear in the coming weeks and win 8 of 10 or something, they could be back in the mix. Furthermore, a season over 0.500 would be a moral victory, and something the Reds haven't done since 2000. So I think I'll give them a bit more time before I start recommending that they start preparing for 2008. ... But the window of opportunity is disappearing fast.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Keppinger and Livingston out; McBeth and Moeller in

Here are my profiles on our new arrivals:
My thoughts on the day's moves:

I'm interested to see what McBeth does. I agree that it's worth a go. I mean, really, why not? Maybe he'll rock the house.

I don't have a clue what Moeller is doing back with the squad. Well, ok, I do, I just don't like the move. From Narron:
“The catching situation, Chad Moeller is going to get a chance to catch some for us. It will put (Javier Valentin) back in a role where we can use him anytime during the game to pinch hit. The catching part of it; Moeller and David Ross will do the bulk of it.”
So, basically, this move means that Valentin is going to get fewer plate appearances than Moeller, with Ross returning to the starting role. Granted, Valentin's appearances will be in higher-leverage situations, but again, this still means that Moeller will probably get more plate appearances and thus more opportunities to add runs than Valentin. All so that Narron doesn't have to worry about an emergency situation in which he has to use Valentin to pinch hit and then Ross gets injured after Valentin's out of the ballgame.

Wasn't Hatteberg a catcher prior to moving to Oakland? I know that his arm isn't what it was, but why can't he be the emergency catcher? I just don't get this. Instead of carrying a high-contact hitter like Keppinger, much less a quality young (albeit slumping) third baseman like Encarnacion, the Reds are keeping a catcher on the squad who can't hit and has a substandard throwing arm. Not the move I'd make.

It will be interesting to see what happens the next time the Reds need a 5th starter. That Livingston isn't staying with the club is a bit surprising, but given that they won't need a 5th starter until May 22, it does make sense. It will be interesting to see what they do at that point. Bailey has to be in the mix, though I'm concerned about his walk rates at AAA (hopefully the time off with his groin problem will help)...but even so, it might be time to see what the kid's got. It's not like they'd have to worry about pushing him too hard in the middle of a pennant race.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Great American Ballpark a model "green" facility

Well, the Reds on the field haven't been much fun of late.

Fortunately, there's an excellent article by Will Weiss at Baseball Prospectus (subscription) about everything the Reds are doing to reduce the ecological footprint of their operations at Great American Ballpark. The timing of the article is good--we fans need something to feel good about. Kudos to Declan Mullin and the rest of the Reds' operation for making this happen. The only thing they need to do more of now is advertise their efforts a little better. I know Cincinnati is a conservative town, but sustaining life (including ours) on this planet isn't (or shouldn't be) a partisan issue, as this group helps demonstrate.

Some highlights:
  • GABP has a variety of energy-efficient technologies in place, which reduce energy consumption by about 29% compared to comparable ballparks without these systems.
  • The Reds are working with Duke Energy to purchase Ohio-generated "green energy." Though it is more expensive, the Reds hope that purchasing local green energy will facilitate development of more expansive and efficient systems in the area, eventually reducing cost.
  • At select home games, the Reds have purchased carbon offsets to negate their carbon emissions. Thus far, they've done it on Opening day and Earth day this season, with more dates planned.
  • All paper trash in the Reds offices is recycled, and all napkins and paper products sold in concessions are from recycled materials.
There are more things that the Reds could do, particularly in terms of water management, and I hope they continue to push forward with their green initiatives. But they should be applauded for their efforts to date, as they're among the few professional sports organizations (along with the Philadelphia Eagles, among others) who have really focused on this important issue.

Some things that we can do to help out the next time we visit the park:
  • Take advantage of the Park and Ride system made available via Cincinnati Metro. This may ultimately save you money, time, and stress.
    • As an aside, the past few months, I've started taking the bus most days on my commutes here in Phoenix. I'm finding it to be a great alternative. It saves money, helps me avoid the stress of dealing with Phoenix traffic, and I feel better about myself knowing that I'm not burning as much gas as I drive to and from the office. Plus, I can get some reading done and listen to ballgames on my xm radio.
  • Make sure that you only throw recyclable materials into the recycle bins at GABP. Non-recyclable trash, like food-soiled cardboard, not only cannot be recycled, but can contaminate other materials in the bin, thus preventing any of it from being recycled.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Encarnacion and Milton out, Burton and Keppinger in

Lots to talk about today.

First, I did profiles on Burton and Keppinger prior to spring training, and they are still relevant, as their performances this year haven't changed my take on them. You can also read about Jared Burton's spring training performance in my spring training pitching review. I like both of them, and think they can help the Reds--though I'm more confident (short term) in Keppinger than Burton. In a good-case scenario, Keppinger could a Gregg Jefferies-type of hitter for a few years. That's useful, especially off the bench. Burton might be an ok middle reliever this year if he can maintain control of the baseball.

Second, Milton's injury is a bit convenient, but from the sound of things is legit. Bobby Livingston is the most likely candidate to pitch on Sunday. I hope he pitches so well that they can't get Milton back into the rotation--I think Eric could turn out to be valuable out of the 'pen, especially if Stanton continues to struggle.

The biggest news, however, is Eddie Encarnacion's demotion. Last season, the 23-year old Encarnacion had a fine offensive season, hitting 0.276/0.359/0.473, and was the team's best clutch hitter, leading the Reds with 1.95 offensive win probability added. Writing for The Hardball Times Season Preview this spring, I said this about him:
While perhaps not as surprising, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (.276/.359/.473) had an excellent first full season from an offensively despite receiving a lot of
negative attention for making errors....

...I also look for improvement from Encarnacion, who had a great offensive year but still can improve as a hitter. With continued improvement on his footwork, Eddie should become an asset in the field as well.
I still don't see how I could have said otherwise. Everything he'd done thus far in his young career pointed to great success in the future, a point that was echoed by some of the top prospect evaluators on the net. Unfortunately, he just hasn't gotten it done this season. He was awful in April, hitting 0.221/0.294/0.260(!). Over the first week+ of May, he's been slightly better (0.208/0.321/0.375), but still at a pace well below what he showed last year. It's not just bad luck either--his PrOPS on the season is just 0.709--better than his actual 0.588 OPS, but still unacceptable.

Furthermore, Encarnacion's defense has continued to be substandard, which was emphasized in his last game of the season, when he made two critical errors that led to yet another loss. On the season, his two errors dropped his fielding percentage below even last year's low mark (0.914 this season vs. 0.916 this season). More importantly, his Zone Rating, which measures ability to convert balls hit into his zone into outs, was also lower, at 0.700 this season vs. an already below-average 0.741 last year.

I'm a big fan of Encarnacion, and, like Narron and Krivsky, I still think he's going to be a key part of our team moving forward. One and a half bad months isn't going to change my view on that. But the guy hasn't been getting it done. Period. Hopefully, a month in AAA is what he needs to get his career back on track. I look for him to go down to AAA and rake for a month (or less) before getting called back.

Hopefully that will be the case. Freel, who will start most of the time in his stead, is most valuable as a part-time super-utility player and is not a good solution at 3B for the long-term. His line of 0.261/0.344/0.360 is darn near replacement-level for a third baseman, and even if he gets his OBP back up to the ~0.370 range that we expect from him, he'll be marginal at best at a position that should be contributing some pop. The good news is that Freel has historically been good defensively at 3B, so at least he'll make positive contributions there. ... I will say that I'd expect Keppinger to get a start a week or so at 3B while Eddie is in AAA, because Freel needs that sort of rest to stay fresh. I'm keen to see how Keppinger does.

Demoting Eddie is a regrettable move, but a necessary one--and hopefully one that the Reds can reverse within a month's time.

Update: I seem to be in the minority in supporting this move. Fair enough. Here are some alternative perspectives:

Christina Kahrl
The organization threw a similar tantrum over Encarnacion's fielding problems last year, and nobody was impressed when they punished him and themselves by sitting him down. It's just not very bright to make yourself worse because you're unwilling to accept one of the prices of playing someone who's an offensive asset. You run the risk of giving yourself a complete zero in the lineup (a desultory 'mission accomplished' there when the likes of Keppinger or Castro are penciled into starting roles), and scapegoating Encarnacion because he had the misfortune of being the only everyday player to get off to a slow start seems juvenile. Last I checked, Encarnacion didn't spend the better part of a year obsessed with the intricacies of building the league's worst bullpen, but then I guess a five-week slump on the field is more expensive than a multi-month bad run in the front office. Except in the standings, of course, but that's all Encarnacion's fault too, right?
JD Arney:
The point is the Reds aren't going to be a serious contender for the NL Central this year, so there's no reason not to stick with your long term future at third base. If this decision was made in a vacuum maybe I could see it, but when you pair it with Narron benching EdE earlier this year for idiotic reasons and Narron playing guys like Rich Aurilia over EdE last year it just seems obvious that Encarnacion isn't getting a fair shake. It's sad that he's struggling, but it's not altogether surprising. It can't be easy to perform at such a high level knowing damn well that your club's management isn't behind you at all, and that at the drop of a hat you could be sitting on the bench. Or in AAA.
I don't really disagree with the above excerpts. My take on it is based on the assumption that sending Eddie down to AAA will be good for his long-term development as a ballplayer, and that he'll be back up with the Reds in about a month--similar to what was done with Kearns in 2005, though perhaps better justified. There's a reasonable argument that he'll be just as well served playing in the majors with the unflinching support of his manager. I do think that his offense and defense have been unacceptable this season so far, but at the same time, I also have a lot of faith that he'll return to where he was last season even if left alone--and might even improve.

I don't buy the argument that if the bullpen is the biggest problem, Krivsky et al. can't make other moves to try to improve the offense and/or starting rotation. ... But it doesn't excuse Krivsky from doing something to improve the pen. I still wonder what might happen if Livingston would stay in the #5 spot (why was he demoted?) and Milton was used as a situational lefthander out of the 'pen. Might be good.

The Reds are in a tough situation, and I don't pretend to have a solution at this point. All I know is that it's a pretty miserable time to be a Reds fan, and must be an even more miserable time to be a Reds player.
Photo by AP/Al Behrman

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pinto's Radical Realignment

David Pinto had an interesting column at BP today talking about a possible radical realignment idea for Major League Baseball, which, he argues, would solve a lot of the problems with the current scheduling absurdity. Here are the highlights:
  • Combine the AL and the NL teams into one league, and set up five six-team divisions.
  • Each division would play 90 games within the division each year (9 home, 9 away vs. each team), and then 72 games outside the division.
  • The games outside of any one division would be against only two of the other four divisions. Which divisions you play against rotates each season.
  • Teams currently in the AL would keep the DH at their home games. That should keep the player union happy (maybe).
  • Playoffs would include 5 division winners, the 2nd-place team with the best record, and then two short 3-game series among the remaining four 2nd-place teams to determine the final two of the 8 playoff spots (an alternative that I'd prefer would give the five wild card slots to remaining teams with the best records, rather than the 2nd place teams. That way, strong divisions are rewarded for excellence in interdivision play with more playoff spots).
This proposed system has a lot to like about it. It would set up some great rivalries between teams that currently are in different leagues (e.g. CIN v. CLE). It would cut down on travel for both intradivision and interdivision away games (at least it would if they clustered interdivision series on the schedule--and that should possible). It would avoid the disparities in how often division rivals played each other that currently exist. And, perhaps best of all, it would allow even more teams to have a shot at the playoffs--10 teams (33%) instead of the current 8--while rewarding the teams that performed the best with a bye in the first round.

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge--and what Pinto didn't try to do in his article--is to come up with good divisions. After all, if you're going to do something this crazy, you want the end result to make sense. I've been staring at Cbssportsline's map of MLB teams for a bit here, and this is the best possible solution that I came up with (forgive the division names--best I could come up with):

Western DivisionMountain DivisionMidwestern Division
Eastern Division
New England Division
Some things to like:
  • Most natural and historic geographic rivalries share divisions: LAA/LAN, SF/OAK, SF/LAN, TEX/HOU, CHA/CHN, STL/CHN, CIN/CLE, CIN/PIT, FLO/TB, NYY/NYN, NYY/BOS, BAL/WAS. That'd be fun. :)
  • The division rivals tend to be of similar market size, more so than they are currently.
    • Using Nate Silver's data from his recent BP article, here are the average attendance spheres (=market size, except for TV) of teams within each of the five proposed divisions, plus/minus standard error:
      • Western: 7.0 M +- 1.5 M
      • Mountain: 3.6 M +- 0.5 M
      • Midwestern: 5.4 M +- 0.9 M
      • Eastern: 3.8 M +- 0.4 M
      • New England: 9.6 M +- 2.1 M
    • That's an average intradivisional standard error in attendance spheres of 1.1 M. The current divisional alignment in MLB has an average within-division standard error in attendance spheres of 1.6 M. So, the new plan would have a more level playing field within most divisions.
  • Each division has 3 teams that would have the DH, save for the Eastern, which has only two. This means there's little bias across divisions in terms of which teams need to have viable options for the DH (of course, my preference would be to get rid of it altogether, but the players' union would never allow that).
  • Again, travel would be much easier...and yet, teams would still get the benefits of an unbalanced schedule as well as the opportunity to see different teams every year (effectively, it has interleague play).
But it's not perfect.
  • Obviously there are some potential rivalries that remain untapped in this, particularly: KC v. STL, MIL v. MIN, PIT v. PHI, and ARI v. SD and the rest of California.
  • It sets up two divisions that both get far less travel than others: the West gets games in SF/OAK, and LAN/LAA, while New England gets games at NYY/NYN and BAL/WAS.
  • In contrast to the short-travel divisions, this alignment requires two divisions to travel far more than others: the Mountain division would have to fly from Phoenix to Minnesota frequently, while the Eastern division would fly from Cleveland to Miami.
...of course, all of those issues are no worse, and are often better, than the status quo. Would you miss the Reds playing any of our current division rivals? I think St. Louis is the only team that I feel a particular rivalry with as a Reds fan. And I kind of miss the Atlanta-Cincinnati rivalry.

I think there's a lot to like about this idea. Bud Selig has talked about trying to push for some sort of geographic realignment before his tenure ends.. I'm pretty skeptical that something as wild as this could realistically happen, but I think it could be a real boon for the game if it did. Not only would it improve scheduling, but it would also set up a bunch of new geographic rivalries that could make for some exciting series throughout the season. And on top of that, 10 teams would make the playoffs each season, even though four of them would be forced to go through a wild 3-game series to compete with the more successful teams.

For fun, here are what the division rankings might look like in this realignment based on last years' W/L record. Bold-faced teams would have made the playoffs, those with asterisks would get a bye past the first round. The number indicates 2006 win totals--obviously, w/l records would change when the teams played change, but this is just for fun anyway:
Western DivisionMountain DivisionMidwestern Division
Eastern Division
New England Division
OAK - 93*
LAA - 89
LAN - 88
SD - 88
SEA - 78
SF - 76
MIN - 96*
HOU - 82
TEX - 80
ARI - 76
COL - 76
KC - 62
DET - 95*
CHA - 90
CHN - 66
TOR - 87
STL - 83
MIL - 75
CIN - 80*
ATL - 79
CLE - 78
FLO - 78
PIT - 67
TB - 61
NYN - 97*
NYY - 97*
BOS - 86
PHI - 85
BAL - 70
WAS - 71
(btw, I didn't realize that the Reds would come out on top in this table until I finished it--but I think that Cleveland would have fared a lot better in that division than they did in the AL Central, so I doubt the Reds would have actually won).

It's funny...I've toyed with the idea of a major geographic realignment for years as a fun "what if" scenario, but I never found anything that seemed to work. But this system that Pinto came up with really could work. The scheduling makes sense, and with the possible exception of the midwest teams, MLB teams really do seem to naturally fall out into five 6-team divisions. I like it. So add my name to the list of those who support this plan. :)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

April 2007 Reds Review: Pitching & Defense

Reds pitching was so good in April that it led the National League in FIP at 3.29! Unfortunately, that success was almost entirely confined to the starting rotation. While I'd probably rather have a good rotation and a bad bullpen than the other way around, it will probably take both to make a serious playoff run this year. Let's take a look at Reds pitching and see if the starters can keep it up, and if the bullpen can regain the form it showed during the first two weeks of the season.

How they got hit - OBP against vs. HR/9
An analog to the OBP v. ISO graph I use for hitters, this shows how different pitchers on the Reds staff got hit. Vertical and horizontal lines represent league averages in April--note the league-wide depressed HR/9 rates (typically 1.0-1.2 hr/9)!
  • The best place to be is in the bottom-left, and the Reds happily have 7 of their 12 pitchers in that quadrant. Not coincidentally, those have been our top pitchers.
  • Todd Coffey had a really rough month. As we'll see below, however, that might not all have been his fault.
  • Coutlangus gave up 2 homers in 7 1/3 innings in April. Prior to that, he'd given up only 4 in ~155 minor league innings in his entire career. He generally keeps the ball on the ground, so I wouldn't expect this of him every month.
  • Milton's right where he usually is. Stanton is something of a fly ball pitcher, but historically hasn't given up a lot of home runs. Otherwise, those two had a nice month.
Strike Zone Management - BB/9 vs. K/9
Walks and strikeouts are two of the most important peripherals underlying pitcher performance. National League April averages are noted by the horizontal and vertical lines.
  • The place to be in this figure is the lower-right quadrant (high K, low BB), and again, the Reds are looking pretty darn good.
    • Here we start to see some of the weirdness of Todd Coffey's month. His strikeout and walk rates were phenomenal--and not completely out of line with what he showed he could do last season. He did have some problem with hit batsmen in key situations, but that seems likely to be a temporary issue as long as his walk rate remains solid.
    • Stanton, Belisle, Lohse, and Weathers, all came in at under 1.5 bb/9. All are likely to regress a tad, but I'll say a word about the latter three in particular:
      • Belisle's walk numbers are very encouraging, mainly because the show a completely reversal of his terrible 4.3 bb/9 last season. Prior to 2006, Belisle's control had always been excellent (2.73 bb/9 in 85.7 IP with the Reds in 2005, 2.24 bb/9 over his minor league career).
      • Lohse has been less consistent over his career, but the years that he's been good (2003 and 2005), he's had walk rates in the 2-2.2 bb/9 range. This would seem to be the key to his success, and I hope he can keep something like this up all season.
      • Weathers had his worst walk rate in the past 6 years in 2006, and it historically has been his weakest peripheral (4.0 bb/9 career). He's likely to regress substantially from this number.
  • I'm mildly concerned to see Arroyo on the left side of the strikeout line, as his success seems most tightly coupled to that rate. But then again, his k-rate varied all over the place from month-to-month last season, so I won't be concerned until this starts to become common...and furthermore, it's nothing like his miserable 3.4 k/9 in the second half of 2005.
  • Milton's k-rate was lower than I'd like as well. And the results speak for themselves.
  • Saarloos's walk rates were out of control, but surprisingly, his k-rates were extremely high--especially for a guy who entered the season with a 4.3 k/9 career rate. I'm more encouraged by the k's than discouraged by the walks.
  • Finally, you have to be a bit concerned that Santos is about to fall apart. The guy was amazing in the spring, but has never shown himself to be more than a mid-high 4's ERA kind of guy. I'm hoping that his move to the bullpen will bring his ERA down to the ~4.00 range on the season, but it's more of a hope than anything.
Performance When It Counts -- VORP vs. WPA
VORP is an indication of the total run value above a replacement player that an individual contributed to his team. Different replacement-level standards are used for starting pitchers and relievers. Win Probability added refers to the cumulative affect on win probability of each batter the pitcher faced over the course of the year. Good or bad performance in high-leverage situations will have a larger effect on WPA than in less crucial situations. Individuals with higher WPA than their overall performance would predict are identified as "clutch" in this figure. Regression line is solely a comparison between Reds WPA and VORP in April, nothing more.
  • Despite his relatively high ERA (4.91), Mike Stanton shows up as the most "clutch" pitcher on the club in April relative to his overall performance--he was at his best when the game was on the line.
  • Coffey also shows up on the good side of the line, even though his net WPA was negative. This identifies that there were times in the month when he did come in a shut down the opposition. Unfortunately, there were times like this game...
  • David Weathers maintained a 2.70 ERA on the month and converted 5 of 6 save opportunities, yet had a negative WPA on the month. What gives?
    • His blown save was a doozie, and yet didn't involve giving up any earned runs of his own.
    • He also lost a game when he was entrusted with a tie ballgame.
    • Most of his successful saves haven't been high enough leverage situations to net him much WPA.
    • Overall, while his basic numbers don't look too bad, he was not a very good closer. Unfortunately, given everyone else's struggles, there's no obvious choice to try in his stead.
  • Saarloos was absolutely terrible when it mattered most. I still like him as a bullpen guy who can come in and get a ground ball out, but he didn't get the job done in April.
Bad performance, or just bad luck? -- FIP vs. ERA
FIP, or Fielding-Independent Pitching, is an estimate of what a pitchers ERA should be given his peripherals: his strikeout, walk, hit by pitch, and home run rates. The diagonal line indicate a perfect match between ERA and FIP. Individuals above the line underachieved, meaning that their peripherals indicate that they pitched better than their ERA shows. Overachievers may have gotten lucky.
  • First, the Overachievers:
    • The biggest over-achiever, by far, was Victor Santos. His strikeout (5.6 k/9) and walk (4.8 bb/9) rates were both substantially worse than the league average, and only a rather lucky 0.250 BABIP saved him from what FIP estimates should be a 4.70 ERA. He will be one to watch for signs of collapse as we move forward this season.
    • Coutlangus also shows up here, but that is largely due to his alarmingly high HR/9 rate. However, that is probably an aberration given his propensity to be a ground ball pitcher--his HR/F ratio was an unusually high 28%, indicating some bad luck. So I'm less worried about him than this figure indicates we otherwise might be.
  • And the Underachievers:
    • Weathers' excellent k/bb ratio this month puts him above the line, but I worry that is unlikely to continue. His BABIP (0.281) actually indicates he experienced some luck.
    • Belisle is similarly rated where he is due to his superb walk rate in April. I think he has a better chance of keeping that up--or, at least, something close to it--than Weathers.
    • FIP indicates that Harang should have had an ERA closer to 3.04, which is a nice improvement from the 4.23 ER/9 he actually recorded. A 0.336 BABIP might be to blame...
    • Finally, Todd Coffey comes in as the biggest underachiever of them all. Yet, even his FIP (4.74) is substantially higher than we'd expect from him. Also notable in his April performance was that his home run per fly rate was 24%, which is unusually high. xFIP, which attempts to correct for varying HR/F rates as well as the other peripherals, indicates that his ERA should have been 3.22. Finally, his April GB% was the best on the club at 66%, which is a great sign that he was doing what he could to try to succeed. I really think that he'll be ok, and, in fact, that he wasn't throwing the ball all that badly in April.
Home Runs Allowed - True v. Standardized Distance
This graph shows data HitTracker in April, comparing actual distance the home runs allowed by Reds pitching traveled versus a standardized distance correcting for wind, temperature, and altitude. Diagonal line indicates a perfect match between actual and corrected home run distance. Strangely, two of Aaron Harang's home runs allowed in April have not been plotted in HitTracker.

Of those recorded by HitTracker, only one home run allowed by Reds pitching seemed particularly helped by the elements: Kyle Lohse's first allowed, hit by Mark DeRosa at Great American Ballpark on April 5th, which HitTracker believes would have only traveled 392 feet instead of its actual 423 feet. It might still have cleared the fence, but would have been a much closer play than it otherwise was.


There are two basic questions about Reds' pitching over the rest of the season:

1. Can the starting pitching keep it up?
Harang and Arroyo seem to be performing just as well as we'd expect them to, with Harang perhaps even getting a bit unlucky. Lohse and Belisle have been surprises, thanks primarily to amazing walk rates. I'd expect both of them to decline a bit based on what they've started, but if they can maintain their control over the rest of the season in the 2-2.5 bb/9 range, they should continue to be effective.

2. Is there any hope for the bullpen?
I think so. Coffey looks to be coming off a really unlucky month, and I think we'll see him return to grace as a quality set up man over the rest of the season. Having him in good form would be a huge boost. We can also look forward to the imminent returns of Gary Majewski (recovering from a weak shoulder, apparently just about ready at the time I write this) and Bill Bray (threw some today, out with a broken finger)...and perhaps even Eddie Guardado, who threw batting practice today.

However, there is cause for concern. Santos's peripherals were scary in April, and I worry about whether he can put it back together. And Weathers, while he had good stats in April, did so with uncharacteristically-low walk rates. I'm skeptical about whether he'll continue to maintain that level of control. Finally, Saarloos is another key guy in the pen who hasn't pitched very well. His strikeout rate is encouraging, but k's are not his game--he needs to get the ball over the plate to induce ground balls in order to be successful.


This section will be abbreviated compared to what I hope to do in future months. The reason is that the Hardball Times isn't yet updating their ZR stats for the 2007 season (in an e-mail they told me that they think it will be operational sometime in June), so we'll have to settle for their overall team ratings on ground balls (mostly the infield) and fly balls (mostly the outfield). Here's how the Reds stack up against other teams in the National League:
The Reds are located in that cloud of points at the center of the graph. Given how terrible they were last season in both the infield and the outfield, being squarely league-average has to be considered a huge improvement. Unfortunately, until the ZR data are released, we won't know the degree to which any of the various defensive changes have caused this improvement. But moving Griffey to right, splitting Hamilton and Freel in CF, starting Gonzalez at short, and perhaps even improvements from Encarnacion at 3B(?), might all have contributed to this trend. Now, if they can just keep improving...

Relevant pitching stats for April:
Harang 38.3 8.5 2.1 0.7 7% 43% 0.336 4.23 3.04 3.21 4.0 0.13 0.301 0.395 0.311
Arroyo 34.7 6.0 2.3 0.3 3% 38% 0.271 2.86 3.03 3.79 5.9 0.59 0.265 0.282 0.274
Lohse 34.3 6.8 1.0 0.8 7% 34% 0.315 2.88 3.17 3.55 8.6 0.71 0.283 0.397 0.301
Belisle 31.3 6.3 1.4 0.0 0% 45% 0.289 3.45 2.27 3.08 6.9 0.24 0.260 0.304 0.251
Milton 21.0 5.6 2.1 1.3 8% 26% 0.301 4.71 4.53 4.70 -0.2 -0.34 0.316 0.456 0.352
Coffey 12.3 10.2 2.2 1.5 24% 66% 0.441 6.57 4.74 3.22 -2.7 -0.12 0.388 0.419 0.379
Saarloos 11.3 7.2 4.8 0.8 11% 58% 0.250 4.76 4.62 3.96 -1.3 -0.41 0.321 0.349 0.340
Santos 11.3 5.6 4.8 0.8 10% 52% 0.250 2.38 4.70 3.99 3.6 0.14 0.307 0.373 0.303
Weathers 10.0 7.2 0.9 0.0 0% 34% 0.281 2.70 1.90 2.91 0.9 -0.26 0.238 0.317 0.286
Coutlangus 7.3 11.1 2.5 2.5 28% 39% 0.222 4.91 5.94 3.50 -0.6 0.09 0.304 0.415 0.345
Stanton 7.3 7.4 1.2 1.2 11% 29% 0.238 4.91 4.57 3.98 0.3 0.48 0.291 0.358 0.292
Cormier 3.0 3.0 3.0 3.0 32% 44% 0.300 9.00 8.87 5.54 -1.2 -0.34 0.400 0.615 0.431
Burton 0.3 0.0 90.0 0.0 N/A N/A --- 0.00 33.20 30.02 0.2 -0.01 0.769 0.000 0.554