Table of Contents

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

April 2007 Reds Review Part 1: Overview

April 2007 in Brief
Overall Record: 12-13 (0.480, 3rd place, 4 games behind Brewers)
Series Record: 4-4-1
Expected Record: 12.5-12.5
Runs Scored: 109 (4.4/g, 10th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 109 (4.4/g, 8th in NL)
Team OBP: 0.319 (11th in NL)
Team SLG: 0.393 (9th in NL)
Team FIP: 3.29 (1st in NL)
Team DER: 0.684 (12th in NL)

What Happened
After the first enjoyable season in years, the Reds began the 2007 series with high hopes. The NL Central again seemed wide open, and the Reds' 2006 team, which finished only three games out of first, was largely intact. Strong spring performances by Adam Dunn, Brandon Phillips, and rookie Josh Hamilton gave hope that the offense, which failed down the stretch the previous season, might rebound with authority, while the bullpen was almost completely revamped from last year's Opening Day (only Weathers and Coffey remain). Here's what happened:
While the Reds started the month reasonably well, the 7-game home stand against the Brewers, Astros, and Phillies dropped them from two games over 0.500 to one game under, which is where they would end up at the month's end. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers won seven of their last nine to finish the month a full 5 games over 0.500, three and a half games over the second place Pirates. It wasn't a terrible month by any means, but I think most observers--and undoubted the Reds as well--felt the Reds could have done much better.

To take a closer look at team performance, below is a graph of cumulative win probability added for the team, broken down by hitters, starting pitchers, and relievers (inspired by SoxWatch, data from FanGraphs):
The starting pitching was nothing short of outstanding, showing steady, positive performance to ultimately net 1.337 WPA, which would account for just shy of three full wins over 0.500 on their own. Overall, Reds starters maintained a 3.55 ERA on the month in 159.7 IP. Even more impressively, they had a combined 3.11 FIP, indicating that they were actually a bit unlucky(!). It was a very encouraging beginning for a rotation that most analysts described as extremely shaky after the 1-2 of Harang and Arroyo.

The bullpen started brilliantly, actually out-pacing the rotation through the end of the first road trip. But they absolutely imploded during the 7-game home stand from April 16-22, which is when the Reds dropped below 0.500 on the month. In the end, the bullpen's net effect was only moderately negative (-0.378 WPA), but given the amount of effort put into revamping the pen over the past year, and the promise they showed over the first few weeks, this was an major disappointment. Overall, the bullpen sported a 4.59 ERA on the month, with an even-worse 4.71 FIP.

As the WPA graph illustrates so plainly, however, the biggest problem on the month was the offense. The Reds ended the 2006 season in a horrific slump, scoring only 3.3 runs per game in September as they fell away from the stumbling Cardinals. While April 2007 improved on that rate by over a run per game, this team looked nothing like the offensive powerhouse we knew in early 2006. In fact, prior to the final two games this past month in which the Reds scored 17 runs, the Reds had scored a meager 4 runs per game--and that was despite a brilliant showing by the incredibly surprising Josh Hamilton. Reds hitters' total win probability on the month was -1.408, completely negating the outstanding performance of the starting rotation. Now, 4.4 runs/game isn't all that bad, so a major part of the problem was that Reds didn't hit well when the game was on the line. If the Reds are going to contend in 2007, it was clear that the offense would need to step up in a big way--or at least be more timely with the hits they do get.

April Transactions:
LHP Eric Milton (from DL--missed only the first week of the season)
OF Norris Hopper (from DL--would otherwise have made the club out of spring training)
RHP Brad Salmon (from AAA--adds a power right arm to the bullpen)

RHP Jared Burton (to DL--a very "convenient" injury to get Milton on the roster)
C Chad Moeller (to AAA--only made the club initially due to injuries to others)
LHP Rheal Cormier (DFA'd--Narron had no confidence in him, and rightly so)

In the coming days, we will look more closely at Reds' hitting, pitching, and defense. Stay tuned...


  1. J, honestly - where do you get the ideas for these concepts? That "cumulative WPA" segregated by hitters/relievers/starters is just beautiful.

    For comparison on those performances by the different parts of the Reds, how would it divide out for a typical MLB or NL team? I wonder if a typical bullpen - not an exceptional one, just an average kind - would tend to have a higher aggregate WPA due to the higher leverage situations a bullpen is typically placed in.

    I'm just trying to understand how the Reds bullpen, which for the month had the fourth worst relief ERA in baseball, came out the other side with only a slightly negative WPA. Does the average bullpen boast a significantly positive WPA?

  2. Ah, I see - credit to SoxWatch for the concept. I hope we can look forward to graphs of individual WPA contributions in the detailed analyses to come. Don't burn yourself out though.

  3. Hey--yeah, I can't take credit for the idea. :) I should have also given Dave Studeman at hat tip, as I would have never seen that stuff if he hadn't highlighted it in a column last season. I've been wanted to make one of those graphs every since. I'll try to do one for each monthly review this season, as I'm in love with the concept now.

    As far as what is typical for bullpens, I haven't looked at this closely, but my guess is that good bullpens tend to be above-average, while bad bullpens tend to be below average. Here are the Reds' bullpen WPA's over the past several seasons (via fangraphs):
    2006 -2.07 (~-4 wins)
    2005 -1.57 (~-3 wins)
    2004 -3.11 (~-6 wins)
    2003 +3.76 (~+7-8 wins)
    2002 +5.43 (~+11 wins!)

    As far as how a bullpen with that bad an ERA could be only slightly negative on the season, it all has to do with the situation in which those runs were scored. For example, if the game is tied and win probability is about 50/50 in the 9th inning, and then the bullpen gives up 15 runs, you'll lose about 0.50 WPA. But if you're ahead in the 9th by one run, and suddenly your closer gives up 2 runs, you might lose close to 0.90 WPA.

    So, perhaps, the Reds 'pen didn't do as much damage you might have expected them to do based on the average rate at which they allowed runs...

    Differences between average performance (ERA, Runs Created, etc) and situational performance (WPA) probably get less substantial the longer the season progresses.

    I'm just going to do RC vs. WPA (or ERA vs. WPA) in the hitting and pitching sections for now. Those day-by-day graphs take too long to put together to do it for each player! :D