Table of Contents

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Answers for Reds Blogger Roundtable

This week, Blog Red Machine has organized a roundtable discussion of sorts that included many of the major Reds blogs.

Anyway, the nature of the beast dictated that many of the answers that I submitted were never published.  If they published everything that everyone submitted, the post would be too long.  So, since the original pieces have already run, I decided to publish all of my answers for those who may be interested.

The National League Central Division

1. I am of the opinion that the Pittsburgh Pirates are the division’s biggest surprise and that our Reds are the biggest disappointment. Would you agree or disagee? If you disagree with either, please state why.
The Pirates are hands-down the biggest surprise.  Unfortunately, I think they're unlikely to continue their success. But it's nice to see Pirates fans having fun in July for once.

The Reds have been disappointing, no question. But I think they are tied for disappointing-ness with the Cubs. I think most had the Cubs around .500 this year--not in the hunt, but respectable. Instead, they've been nothing short of dreadful.

2. What one player that plays for an NL Central team do you feel is the most underrated player within the NL Central and why?

Can I cheat and go local with Drew Stubbs? All I hear about when I watch broadcasts is his strikeouts. And they're frequent, no question--the Reds knew that they would be when they drafted him.  I see people talking about sending him down to AAA. But even so, his hitting line of .252/.323/.391 is better than league average (wRC+ of 102) in the lower offensive environment we're experiencing, and he plays outstanding defense in center field. FanGraphs has him as a 2 WAR player while B-Ref has him as a 1.6 WAR player already this season.
I think Drew Stubbs certainly has some room to grow on his performance this season, especially in the power department. But even as he has been this year (and last!), the guy has put up above-average major league numbers. I don't think that's the current perception.
If you want non-Reds, you can pick one of the other NL Central Center Fielders: Andrew McCutcheon, Colby Rasmus, or maybe even Marlon Byrd!
3. For the first half of the season, if you had to select an MVP just from the teams in the NL Central, who would that be?

There are about 7 guys that I think have a good case, but I'll go with Andrew McCutcheon.  He leads the division in both fWAR (fangraphs) and rWAR (at baseball-reference).  I'm a little skeptical of the WAR data, as I don't know if the fielding numbers that you see at FanGraphs or B-Ref are real.  In past seasons, his UZR, TZ, etc, have not been good.  But even so, he's leading the division in oWAR (WAR, ignoring the fielding), plays a premium defensive position, and is arguably the biggest reason that the Pirates are where they are.

4. And what about a Cy Young type candidate from those in the NL Central...Is there one?
There are a bunch of guys in the mix as tops in the division, but none of them holds a candle to Roy Halladay or his ilk. I'll go with Shaun Marcum in the Central, though. While Greinke got more press when he arrived, Marcum has been outstanding this year. He gets more than his share of strikeouts, doesn't walk anyone, and even hit a home run in his start last weekend. And he does all of it despite only having an upper-80's fastball. Also in the running: Johnny Cueto, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter and maybe even Kyle Lohse?

5. Finally, who is the division favorite for the remainder of the season and why...

There is no clear favorite.  BPro's playoff standings have the Cardinals odds to win the division at 46%, with the Brewers at 40%.  The Reds, meanwhile, have division-winning odds of 11%.  Interestingly, the Reds have the highest 3rd-order winning percentage in the NL Central (barely).  But their current win deficit, coupled with the fact that they're so close in quality level with those other teams, makes it pretty tough to compete.

I think the Brewers' rotation is being underrated in those rankings.  Greinke, in particular, is a major puzzle, and I think is likely to have a monster second half.  I don't see any team competing with that rotation, their offense is top drawer, and they even seem to be catching the ball better this year than in years past.  That's the team to beat, as I see it.  

That said, I also think the Reds have a run left in them.  Four games back is just not that big of a deficit, and Walt has done some interesting things at the trade deadline.  

Baseball In General

1.  No question that year after year we see at least one ASG starter voted in due to his popularity with the fans. And this year more than ever, we see many players pulling themselves out of the midsummer classic due to various reasons, ala the NFL Pro Bowl. Now, players that have no business playing are now participating. Is the ASG now migrating into a joke like the Pro Bowl?
It sort of depends on what you mean by "no business playing." Depending on the data you use, some guys can go from ridiculous selections to perfectly legitimate. Are you talking about performance in 2011? Most seem to think this should be the measure by which we judge worthiness, but I think it's ridiculous to put that much weight on 2-3 months of data.  Using only first half data means you're guaranteed to have guys riding lucky streaks into the All Star Game, which makes any complaints about worthiness seem silly to me. I'd prefer to at least use past calendar year stats (at least then we're not ignoring half of the players' work!), if not projections to pick the best players in baseball to represent in the game. But I realize I'm in a strong minority on that one.
As for guys bowing out, I really don't mind in the slightest. It's an exhibition game, and a player's season has to take precedence. No one should really care about who actually plays in the game or what actually happens anyway. I'd be concerned if one of my team's players played in the game out of some feeling of obligation when he really just needed to rest. The guys bowing out are doing their job.
2. Not many people like the fact that the ASG determines home field advantage for the World Series. What’s you best way to award home field for the WS?

I'd just give it to whichever team had the better regular season record, like they did from 1998-2002.  That makes it something that teams have to earn.  I also liked that wild card teams could never have home team advantage in the playoffs.  The current system is beyond stupid.

3. A big discussion was waged over that of interleague play. For or against and why...

I may be in the minority among blogger-types, but I've always enjoyed interleague. I like seeing new teams and players from the other league. And I enjoy playing the Indians every year. And it's fun to see teams have to adjust to a new set of rules for a handful of games, be it AL teams having to bench Travis Hafner and David Ortiz, or NL teams looking at their bench of defensive replacements and trying to find a DH in there.
Also, I love the wild card, and support adding a second one to the playoffs--especially if it screws up the wild card team's pitching rotation for the Division Series. And I think realignment is always fun to think about, although I didn't like the most recent proposal. But the DH sucks (see? I have some traditionalism in me!).
4. So it looks like the Los Angeles Dodgers could be yours in the not too distant future. Would you have a problem if Mark Cuban were to buy the team because apparently...a) he might be interested and b) baseball has not wanted him in the past. Mark Cuban as an MLB team owner. Thoughts...

People seem to love Mark Cuban because he lives a more public life than most owners and is apparently friendly to sabermetrics (at least, based on his basketball ownership this seemed to be the case).  I think most of the excitement about him is just hype.  He's clearly very good at manipulating public opinion.

I really don't have a strong opinion on him either way.  My goal for major league baseball would be to make sure that whoever is allowed to buy the team would buy it and run it as a viable business rather than breaking it into pieces and extracting all of its value like the McCourt's did with the Dodgers.  I'm not in a position to know whether Cuban would be good in that respect or not.  Probably.  But is he the best option for the Dodgers?  I have no clue.

5. You’re a GM of a team. You can make a deal for one player for your team, no restrictions. Who ya got and why?

Is this completely open ended, i.e. pick the player you'd most want in baseball and don't worry about who you have to send away to get him?  If so, I'll go with Evan Longoria.  He's probably the best (offense + fielding) third baseman in baseball moving forward, and his position has become unbelievably shallow.  And he has the most team-friendly contract in the history of major league baseball.  The guy is in his fourth year, and is making $2 million.  Next year, he's making $4.5 M.  He'll make a total of $12.5 million over the next three years, and then the Rays have three MORE years of very reasonable club options at $7.5 million, $11 million, and $11.5 million.  If you're going to build a team around a guy, get the guy who is both awesome at baseball and is locked into a deal that is waaaay below market value.

The Reds

1. We’ve all thought (or most of us anyway) that the Reds are just a move or two away from repeating as NL Central champs. What are those moves?
I think we're all going to have the same answer: starting pitching and shortstop. I don't know if Zack Cozart is going to hit--hope so, but he's not elite-level talent. I do wish we would have had a few months to figure that out. But shortstop has been a huge black hole in the line-up, and upgrading to someone like Jose Reyes could mean a 3 win boost to the Reds in just a half-season. That's an enormous upgrade.

The Reds could also use a top of the rotation starter. I think the Reds' rotation is better than it has shown thus far, so if it's going to be upgraded I think you really need a top-flight talent. A #3 starter isn't really a meaningful upgrade as I see it, because the Reds may well get that kind of performance in the second half from the guys they already have. Erik Bedard should be available, but he's hurt (though with a leg injury, not arm), expensive, and will only have a start or two before the trade deadline to show he's healthy.  
Rumors surfaced yesterday that the Reds are interested in Ubaldo Jimenez. I don't think the Rockies would be interested in trading him, as he's done well in Denver, has a good contract, and the Rockies should be good next year. But if he can be had, I'd give pretty much anything in the Reds' farm except for Devin Mesoraco for him. Would Leake/Grandal/Alonso/Frazier do it? I'm not sure, but I'd pay that for a guy like Jimenez. 8+ career k/9, 50% career GB%, and an acceptable walk rate? Yes please.
2. Most frustrating aspect of the 2011 Reds is...
The fact that their rotation has just not come together like it should have. This is a talented group of pitchers, and they have as a group underperformed both their projections and their peripheral statistics. I expected the Reds' starting depth to overcome their lack of an ace, but instead of a bunch of #3's we've had a bunch of #4-5's. That's the biggest difference between what they've done and what I expected to see this year. Maybe we'll get something else in the second half...hope so.

3. Assign a letter grade for the following (and yes, you can explain your grades):

a. Dusty Baker: B. I really don't hate the guy like so many seem to. I think he's a terrific clubhouse presence, and has done a good job of defending and supporting his young players throughout his time with the Reds. While I disagree with some of his moves, I haven't been consistently frustrated with something this year like in years past. I'd like to see Heisey get a lot more PA's than Gomes over the rest of the season, and I'd like Cordero to not pitch when the Reds have more than a three run lead (warmed up or not). But those are really my only complaints.

b. Walt Jocketty: B-. I don't like making moves for the sake of making moves, and Jocketty isn't someone who does that. I think they've done well in using a patient approach to handle both Volquez's struggles and Chapman's. Willis has looked like a good find, and I think the Reds' outfield situation has been a best-of-a-bad-situation thus far. He hasn't made any desperation trades (yet). I think you have to give him credit for building what he has, and sticking with it. But I doubt I'll ever understand what the heck took so long with Cozart. That move came at least a month late. I don't know if it really will matter, but it's frustrating. I also would hope we'll see him make a move soon to bring in some talent...this grade is based on the assumption that he will do something.
c. Bob Castellini: A. For the most part, he's cheered the team on and kept his bottom out of the front office's business. That's what I want from an owner.
d. the Reds fans: C. I'll just say despite it all, we're four games back people!

4. You’re Walt. Brandon Phillips: extension or no? Why?

I love Brandon Phillips. Good bat, good fielding, important position. So yes, I'd be interested in extending him. But the question is the price tag, right?

Without doing anything rigorous, I'd project Phillips to be something like a 3 WAR player next year in his age-31 season. If we do a five year contract extension, and apply a "standard" 0.5 WAR/yr aging curve, and include inflation, Phillips would be worth somewhere in the vicinity of five years/$60 M. That's a big chunk of change, but he's probably worth that price. Assuming there's room in the Reds' budget for it...

That's pretty similar to Dan Uggla's 5 yr/$62 M deal, of course. I'm sure that deal will be front and center in Phillips' negotiations, and so far, that's not going very well for the Braves (which might be good for the Reds). But Phillips is a very different kind of player than Uggla: Phillips has some power, but is also very athletic and gets a lot of value from his fielding. Hopefully he won't drop off a cliff like Uggla apparently has.

Even if not extended, I pick up Phillips' option. If he's a 3 WAR player next year, he's probably worth $16 M or so, and the Reds would "only" have to pay $12 M. It's a pretty obvious move, I think.
5. It’s highly unlikely Francisco Cordero will be back next season (and I suppose a decent portion of the fanbase is glad for that), who’s the closer for 2012 and going forward?

Who's available as a free agent? I could survive with Nick Masset or Logan Ondrusek as a closer, but ideally you'd like someone who has a bigger arm. Maybe the Reds could acquire someone like Matt Thornton...?

I'm sure the Reds will probably look to Aroldis Chapman to be the closer next year provided he doesn't stink in the second half. They shouldn't. See below.

6. Should Aroldis Chapman be in the minors working on becoming a starter (provided you did NOT say Chapman was the answer for #5)? Is the starter’s role where he would benefit the organization the most?

Yes.  If a pitcher has a shot to be a successful starter he should be used as such until such time that he proves he's incapable of doing that.  Even average starters are as valuable as most of the better closers.  Closers pitch during important times in ballgames, but the number of innings they throw is so small compared to the number of innings starters throw that it's really no contest.  If a closer throws 70 innings and a starter throws 210, the closer's innings would need to be THREE TIMES as important as the starter's.  We can measure that with Leverage Index, and, in general, closers' innings are roughly twice as important.  

Chapman should be starting.  That would give the Reds a guy who is capable of being a top of the rotation pitcher if he can find a change-up.  Don't the Reds have to see if that can happen?

7. A silly question, really. Who wins a Reds only HR Derby?

Bruce!  Votto's got tremendous power, but I think Bruce has him beat in terms of raw muscle.  I'd love to see this.  The Reds should do this sometime...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why fandom?

One of the things that came up in the Reds Blogger Roundtable today was a grade for the Cincinnati Reds' fans.  Generally speaking, the bloggers were not particularly complementary of ourselves.  Too impatient, too much complaining, bitching... etc, etc, etc.

That's probably all true.  I'm not sure that other fanbases are all that different, but I've seen a tremendous about of griping and complaining this year.  I've run across people who use their twitter accounts to do nothing but rant about the team, and put down anyone expresses anything positive about the team.  It really makes one wonder why they even follow the team when it clearly causes them so much anguish.

That's a question I've been asking myself lately.  Following Wayne Krivsky's firing in 2008, I sort of stepped back from the Reds for a while.  I'm always going to be a fan; the team is basically family, and being a Reds fan is a part of my identity.  But it's definitely the case that I didn't pay nearly as much attention to them on a day to day basis during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  I'm sure I checked the score every day, and watched the few games that came onto TV.  But I was spending at least as much time being a baseball fan as I was being a Reds fan.

Last year, it probably took until July before I really started to believe that this team might win.  That's when I started following every inning again.  And this year, I went all in with an package, which I have used to watch at least part of almost every game this season.

It's been a lot of fun.  But it's also been mind-bogglingly frustrating at times.  Maybe I don't scream quite as loud as some others, but when the Reds are losing it can put me in a pretty negative mood.  There are other things that I enjoy doing besides watching the Reds blow it...things that are pretty much guaranteed to make me happy and put me in a good mood.  So why do I bother?

I guess the answer is that the good times, when they happen, are just so incredibly good that they keep you around during the bad times.  It's sort of like an abusive relationship that way.  But when Jay Bruce hit that home run last September, I don't think I've felt that amazing since I saw Todd Benzinger jumping up and down after he caught the ball in 1990.  At least, not from a baseball game.  That's the kind of payout you're looking for when you emotionally invest in a team.  But when you do it, you also open yourself up to anguish when they utterly and completely fail.

As I write this, the Reds are now parked 4 games behind the Brewdinals.  I'm trying to gear myself up for the second half.  So I look at the numbers, and I see that the Reds' overall performance, as measured by run differential or their component statistics, is right there with those two teams.  And I know that a four-game deficit just isn't that much when there are still two and a half months of games left.  And that the Reds have some terrific depth from which they can deal to upgrade the team.  The Reds' losses have been painful lately...but a couple of big series, and they can be right back in this.

The question is, am I ready to go all in with this team in the second half?  I honestly don't know if I can.  But I'm going to try.