Table of Contents

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cubs Series Preview: Hendricks, Injuries, and Walks

Kyle Hendricks would be talked about as an ace on many other staffs.
The Cubs may have slowed from their torrid start, but they still have the best record in baseball.  They also have the best projected record over the rest of the season in baseball, and are viewed as a near-lock to make the playoffs--most likely by winning their division.  They have an outstanding offense, they field incredibly well, their rotation has been spectacular, and their bullpen has been at least solid.  They aren't a perfect team, but they're as dominant as you'll find in baseball.  The Reds' goal here is to be as the pesky bad team that delivers a minor setback to a superior team's march to inevitable victory.  It's not a very inspiring, but that's where the Reds are these days.

With the Reds playing at home, one can hope that there will be more Red in the stands than Blue.  But in all honestly, does anyone expect that to happen?  The best thing about this series is that those of us with can tune in to Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, who are among my favorite broadcasting teams in baseball.

Probable Starters

The Cubs are no doubt pleased with the Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, but the rise of Kyle Hendricks has to be a pleasant surprise.  He took a nice step forward in 2015, and has proven it was no fluke by continuing to post excellent strikeout-to-walk rates this year.  He doesn't get a lot of press, but he has done nothing but perform since arriving in the major leagues two years ago.  He doesn't throw hard, but has an excellent change-up, gets ground balls, and avoids the walk.  

Cody Reed's results have been uneven thus far, but he's doing something that no other Reds starter can do: he's missing bats regularly.  His delivery isn't a thing of beauty, but that slider is nasty and I love his velocity from the left side.  He's even getting ground balls!  I'm pretty encouraged.

Position Players

Brandon Phillips' production has dropped to such a degree that he is rated as an equivalent hitter to Billy Hamilton based on wRC+.  His contract runs through 2017. Yes, BABIP, maybe.  But still.

Also, the Reds have exactly one player in the starting lineup with an above-average walk rate.  Walking isn't everything, but this is clearly an organizational philosophy.

The Cubs entered spring training with unparalleled depth in the outfield, and they've been tested.  Jason Heyward is still playing (though he has been very disappointing), but they've lost Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and most recently Dexter Fowler to injuries.  Nevertheless, by shifting Kris Bryant to the outfield to add Javier Baez to the lineup, and then promoting top prospect Albert Almora from AAA, they've largely absorbed those losses and still maintain a respectable lineup.  Almora's scouting report indicates that he'll be a glove-first fielder, but eventually should hit well enough to be a solid-average regular.  He's off to a decent start.

Still, those losses have hurt.  The team still sports three outstanding hitters in Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and Kris Bryant.  But the others, at least this year, haven't been particularly special.  What they can all do, however, is field.  Every single starter on the Cubs rates out as above-average thus far based on fielding metrics, and the only player with negative marks is utility guy and part-time starter Chris Coghlan, recently re-acquired from the Athletics.  That excellence in the field can go a long way in making up any shortfalls with the bat.  Rosters like that don't happen by accident, nor does the fact that six of eight starters in the Cubs lineup have above-average walk rates.  It seems a stark contrast to what the Reds are running out there.


I am a big fan of Raisel Iglesias, and seeing him relegated to the bullpen due to injury concerns is saddening.  He should be excellent out there, however, and should do a great deal to stabilize the back end of the bullpen if that is how Price ultimately uses him.  I'm hopeful he can find a way back into the rotation, but it sounds like the Reds don't think his shoulder can handle that workload.

Michael Lorenzen had a rough first appearance, but he was pumping fastballs at 98 mph and threw strikes.  As a starter, he threw in the mid-90's, but was prone to nibbling, with lots of walks and very few strikeouts.  Maybe he will be the kind of pitcher who really does see his stuff play up in relief?  It might be nice to find a good closer.  But if he does end up in the pen, that basically ends the Reds' experiment with converting college closers.  Cingrani?  Bullpen.  Nick Howard?  Bullpen, if he's lucky.  And now Lorenzen.  It was a good idea, but I guess there's a reason that so few players move from the bullpen into the rotation during their careers.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Astros Series Preview: Cody Reed has arrived!

Jose Altuve is excited to face Cody Reed.
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III
Having parted ways with the Braves, the Reds head to Houston to take on the Astros this weekend.  The big news for this series is the expected debut of Cody Reed, who is arguably, given the struggles of Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker, the Reds' top prospect at this moment.  It's really the most exciting debut of the year thus far, because it could (and should) hopefully be the start of Reed's long tenure with the Reds.  There has been no indication that the Reds intend for his window here to be a short one, like the spot starts they gave to Stephenson earlier in the year.

The Astros have fallen on hard times this year after being the great story of 2015.  Their offense has struggled to put runs on the board, and most significantly, their starting pitching has really struggled this year.  They have had good success with the glove and in the bullpen, but this seems a poor facsimile of the powerhouse team we saw in the playoffs last year.  For all of their struggles, however, the Astros still project pretty well over the rest of the season (0.540 winning percentage), which still gives them a pretty good chance of making the playoffs based on FanGraphs' numbers. 

Position Players

Like a lot of fans, I first heard about Jose Altuve when listening to Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks' old weekly podcast from Baseball Prospectus.  Altuve was Goldstein's favorite.  He was just starting to raise eyebrows with his hitting, but, given Altuve's size, most were still skeptical of his performance.  Kevin described him as "adorable."  It has just been so fun to see him become a legitimate star player for the Astros over these past two years.  He makes great contact, has good knowledge of the strike zone (assuming pitchers can find his!), and somehow possesses legitimate doubles power despite his size.

The guy who was supposed to be the other star for the 'Stros was Altuve's double play partner, Carlos Correa.  The hype on Correa was ridiculous this spring, and it's hard to say the guy hadn't earned it.  His performance has cooled a bit from last year's heights, although he has still turned in an excellent offensive season.  I'm raising my eyebrow a bit at his UZR number; Correa is known as a good-not-great defensive shortstop, and it'll be interesting to see where that number ultimately stabilizes next year.  If he's a league-average shortstop in the field, Correa is a star.  If he keeps racking up deficits, maybe he'll have to move over to third base a lot sooner than expected.

The other guy I find pretty interesting is George Springer.  Springer is a nice all-around player.  He has good power, good speed, a good glove, and enough contact ability to keep the strikeouts from becoming a serious problem.  I'm surprised to see how often he hits the ball on the ground; he leads his team at 52%.  He has the speed to beat out ground balls, but you have to think he might see an increase in his productivity of he can get a few more balls in the air given his power capacity.

So where do they struggle?  Their bench has been a non-factor.  Evan Gattis is basically pure power, without other skills to provide much value.  They still haven't solved first base.  But the biggest disappointment here has to be Carlos Gomez.  Gomez has been a masterful player for years with the Brewers, but he has been abysmal with the Astros this year.  Some of that, and perhaps much of that, can be attributed to injury, and he has missed time already.  But if you have a healthy Carlos Gomez, you might add 3 wins to this team already by this point in the season.  I really like Gomez, and I hope he snaps out of it.

It's good to see Votto back above-average again and in the midst of one of his patented on-base streaks (16 games and counting!).  He looks so much better at the plate these days; gone are the horrifically awkward swings of April, and now he's an on-base machine.  Hopefully we'll start to see the power we saw in the second-half last season again, but I'm already very comfortable when he comes up to the plate again.

Not much else is new, here.  I love Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce.  Love them.  But the Reds need to be working the phones on those guys.  They should each fetch a nice return, if the Reds play their cards right.  I'm looking forward to seeing them play in the playoffs this fall.

Finally, if you told me that Duvall would hit 19 home runs this year, I'd be fairly content with that total on the season.  The fact that he's already done it is astonishing.  I sure wish he would take a walk, but perhaps that will come as pitchers start to avoid the strike zone when he's at the plate.

Probable Starters

Cody Reed is here!  Reed was the lesser-known quantity in the Johnny Cueto trade last fall, but even then the prospect guys were identifying him as arguably the top guy in that deal.  This year, he hasn't disappointing, posting a 3.20 ERA with supporting peripherals across 11 starts in AAA.  With the super-2 deadline likely behind us, it's his time to show us what he can do.  Reed has been nothing but impressive for the past two seasons, with scouts just as impressed as the stat guys.  I can't wait to see what he does.

I haven't analyzed the Astros starters in detail; you can find lots of discussion of that elsewhere.  But I will just note that Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel both have pretty big ERA-xFIP differentials.  Keuchel isn't posting the crazy peripherals that he did last year, but he's still allowing a steady diet of ground balls, striking guys out at a good clip, and at least not bleeding walks.  McCullers is pretty much the same guy, just with more strikeouts and more walks.  There's a lot of reason for hope among those two guys.


When Ken Giles was acquired this offseason, the expectation of many was that he would slide into the closer's role.  Instead, he "lost" that race to incumbent Luke Gregerson (currently on Family Emergency list), and at this point is probably not even among the top three on the depth chart.  Giles has shown a precipitous drop in his ground ball rate (and a massive spike in his home run rate), but everything else about him looks virtually identical.  Furthermore, while his April was brutal, his May we much better, and he's been unhittable thus far in June.  I'd expect him to climb back up the depth chart...although man, Will Harris has been nails so far this year.  Even without Gregerson, this is a really scary bullpen.