Sunday, April 1, 2007

Pre-Season, Post-Spring

I posted my 2007 Reds analysis at the end of February, just before spring training began. Here's a look at a couple of changes that could play a significant role as the season progresses.

[The Lineup Change]

It looks like Jerry Narron is going with a slightly different lineup from what I expected (complete with 2007 PECOTA projections):

Ryan Freel (CF) -- .271/.361/.404 32 SB
Adam Dunn (LF) -- .267/.390/.574 40 HR, 94 BB, 151 K
Brandon Phillips (2B) -- .273/.331/.419 13 HR, 16 SB
Ken Griffey Jr. (RF) -- .275/.344/.506 415 PA, 21 HR
Edwin Encarnacion (3B) -- .277/.350/.482 31 2B, 20 HR
Scott Hatteberg (1B) -- .285/.372/.416 41 BB, 31 K
Alex Gonzalez (SS) -- .258/.309/.426 13 HR
Dave Ross (C) -- .240/.324/.459 186 PA, 9 HR

I have no complaints at all about Dunn in the two-hole - it gets Dunn more ABs and puts two of our three most patient hitters at the top of the lineup. Yes, it's going to set up more complaints about Dunn hitting a lot of bases-empty home runs, but his 4.25 pitches per plate appearance are going to wear down a lot of starters. If I had my druthers I'd rather see a Freel (4.02 P/PA) - Hatteberg (4.02 P/PA) - Dunn top of the order. If just one of those guys were to get on in the first inning, we're looking at the opposing team's starter having to use upwards of 20 pitches in just the first inning. The quicker this team can get to the soft underbelly of the bullpen (and all the fastballs that entails) the more runs they'll score.

Popping this lineup into the Baseball Musings Lineup Tool (with the '07 PECOTA numbers) reveals an offense capable of scoring 4.943 runs per game. Running that out over 162 games pushes the total up to 801 runs scored on the season. That's 52 more runs than last year Reds fans.

[Who's On First?]

The Hatteberg/Conine platoon at first should be effective, but will still sit below league average. Conine has a 303/375/487 career line against LHPs which will be paired with Hatteberg's 280/367/424 line against RHPs. Last year's average NL first baseman hit 290/372/507. The upside here is that the Reds have a capable replacement down in AAA. If Joey Votto can keep on slugging his way through the minors he should be called up within a couple of months. PECOTA sees him hitting 284/366/510 with 26 home runs and 16 stolen bases. Two of his top comparables are Brad Hawpe and Travis Hafner. Thank you sir, may I have another?

[Outfield Defense]

Swapping positions between Freel and Griffey is an automatic upgrade. Hands down. No debate. There wasn't a defensive statistic or metric in which Freel did not outperform Griffey in center.

Old-Fangled Statistics
Junior (870 innings): 229 putouts, range factor of 2.43, .979 fielding %, 6 assists
Freel (400 innings): 127 putouts, range factor of 2.95, 1.00 fielding %, 4 assists

New-Fangled Statistics
Junior: zone rating of .764 and reached 28 balls outside his zone
Freel: zone rating of .826 and reached 27 balls outside his zone

In less than half the innings Freel had more than half as many putouts and assists. Freel's fielding percentage was perfect, though I wouldn't expect that to hold up with all the chances he takes diving for balls. He's going to miss a couple. The difference in zone rating (ZR) and balls out of zone (OOZ) are where the most significant differences lay. Zone rating measures the proportion of balls a player reaches in his zone that he converts to an out. Freel trounces Griffey in this category. Equally telling, Freel reached almost the same number of balls outside his "zone" as Griffey, in less than half the innings.

There is no question. Freel will reach more balls than Griffey did. Griffey's lack of range will not significantly affect his play in right since a right fielder's zone is significantly smaller than that of a center fielder. The defensive upgrade, and thus the number of runs saved, can be significant. Our flyball pitchers should be happy with the result.


I can see nothing bad coming out of the addition of Coutlangus and Burton. I'll take youth and ability over age and experience any day. Releasing Hermanson shows that we're willing to take a chance on talent, but aren't afraid to cut bait when it doesn't pan out. Milton on the DL hides a serious weakness for just a little bit longer and gives some of the young guns a chance to show their ability and knock Milton from the rotation. It probably won't happen, but a fan can dream, right?

[The Last Spot]

The night before opening day there's still an open spot on our roster. We're (stupidly) carrying three (really four with Hatteberg) catchers. Moeller is a black hole on the bench, I don't see what he could possibly add to the team. With 24 spots filled we have only four outfielders (plus Conine) and eleven pitchers. I'd expect the open spot to go to either Santos or Livingston, but wouldn't be surprised to see a sighting of the Joel Pineiro Experiment if Krivsky has managed to pull off another trade.


It's Opening Day friends and neighbors. Celebrate.

An Appropriate Time for a Classic

I remember watching this with my grandparents when I'd go over to visit. I'd rewind the tape and watch it again and again. It's still funny.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Remebering Bailey

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. I don't "remember" Ed Bailey. I'm 24 years old. He played in the 50's and 60's. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a quality former Redleg.

Bailey started with the Redlegs (they were actually the Redlegs at that point) in 1953 at the age of 22 after five years spent in the minors, Korea, and the University of Tennessee. His first couple of years in the majors were spent as an inadequate backup until he was sent to the Pacific Coast League in 1955. He got his swing figured out and in 1956 he and Smoky Burgess provided a solid catching platoon for a Redleg team on the verge of contention.

1956 was Bailey's best year in the majors as the Redlegs won 91 games. Unfortunately, those 91 games were only good for 3rd place in the NL. The (still) Brooklyn Dodger's Boys-of-Summer finished with 93 wins after (finally) beating the Yankees in the '55 series. The Milwaukee Braves, driven by Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette, finished one game ahead of the Redlegs with 92 wins.

Still the '56 Redlegs team remains one of my favorites. Bailey posted a .300/.385/.551 line in 385 ABs. That year he played with 20 year old Frank Robinson, the Rookie of the Year, in LF (Frank and Bailey led the team with OPS+s of 142). Gus Bell (CF) and Wally Post (RF) rounded out a fantastic outfield. Bell was an excellent defender in center with an OPS+ of 120. Post was the weakest link both with the glove and bat, but still had an OPS+ of 107 and 36 home runs. '56 was also the last effective season from my all-time favorite Redleg, Ted Kluszewski. It was his fourth straight year with more home runs than strikeouts. Roy McMillan and Johnny Temple were the double play tandem who had an excellent defensive year contributing decent OBPs. Joe Nuxhall and Brooks Lawrence anchored the pitching staff in an offensive era of the game.

Bailey was one of five Redlegs in '56 to hit more than 25 home runs, including three in one game, as the Redlegs paced the league with 221 home runs. They averaged an even 5 runs scored per game for a total of 775 runs, which led the league. Their pitching allowed 658 runs (4.25 per game), which put them directly in the middle of the pack. Still, the Redleg defense committed only 113 errors, which was only two behind the defensive minded Dodgers. Bailey would finish 18th in the MVP voting that year.

Bailey stayed with the Reds until 1961, when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for catcher Bob Schmidt, second baseman Don Blasingame, and pitcher Sherman Jones. While the move kept him from playing a large role with the pennant winning '61 Reds, he did wind up playing a significant role with the pennant winning 62' Giants. With the Giants Bailey split time with Tom Haller, and was on a team set up very much like the 56' Redlegs. They had a great outfield (Mays, Alou, Kuenn) and an excellent first baseman in Orlando Cepeda (well, basemen really, Willie McCovey also played there).

Bailey was a five time all-star, three of those with the Reds. He hit 94 of his 155 career home runs in a Cincinnati uniform and was above average both with the bat and the glove. His bat suffered a bit after leaving the friendly confines of Crosley Field, but he still managed a career OPS+ of 110. He spent his entire career as a catcher and pinch hitter with a batting line of .256/.355/.427. Beyond the Reds and Giants Bailey also spent short periods at the end of his career with the Braves, Cubs, and Angels. The 2001 Edition of Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract has Bailey as the 39th best catcher of all time by win shares.

After baseball he moved back home to Tennessee and became a Knoxville city-councilman in 1983. He held the position until 1995. Ed Bailey passed away at the age of 75 on March 23rd, 2007.

According to Stan Musial in Sport Magazine in June of 1964:
Watching this strong, beautifully built man hit, I've often felt that if he didn't try to pull every pitch, but just met the ball, his natural power would carry it out of any ballpark - more often.

According to Jules Tygiel in Baseball's Great Experiment, while in Tampa for Spring Training in 1955:

...after being removed from a game, [pitcher Brooks Lawrence] and catcher Ed Bailey entered the stands to watch the remainder of the contest. A rope separated the black and white sections and while Bailey sat on the white side, Lawrence sat next time him on the black. "Boy, this is stupid,' exclaimed Bailey, a Tennessean. "I'm gonna change this." The catcher removed the rope and, according to Lawrence, no one ever reattached it.
NOTE: This will likely be my last post before Friday. I have a final paper due on Friday that will likely take up most of my week. Stupid law school.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble...

Chris from Redleg Nation posted this question regarding my "Wither Denorfia" post:
Are they going with 12 pitchers for certain?

That is certainly the question. I predicated my analysis in that post on the assumption that the Reds would be carrying seven relievers. But my assumption is just that - an assumption. Divining the 2007 contents of the witch's brew that is the Reds bullpen - even a week before opening day - is no easy task. That said, let's try it anyway.

On February 23rd Jerry Narron said he would like to go with an 11 man staff. Specifically he said (regarding having several versatile position players):
"It helps a great deal and it may even help at some point that we can go with 11 pitchers instead of 12," Narron said. "I know that everybody thinks we're going to carry 12, and it probably looks that way. But if we can keep as many versatile guys as we can, maybe we can possibly go to 11."

While I agree in theory, I have a hard time seeing this carried to fruition. For all of the optimism we have as Reds fans we aren't the Twins, Angels, or even the Braves. Our bullpen just isn't that good. Krivsky has worked (a little too) diligently to cobble together a decent combination of young guns with potential and veterans that were the mid 1990s. But as it stands Narron isn't going to have enough reliable options to only carry six relievers. There's going to be lots of mixing and matching Reds fans.

Let's take a look at the pitchers that have a shot at making the 25-man roster. As of this posting the Reds have 16 pitchers on the active roster and Victor Santos & Dustin Hermanson as non-roster invitees. All of them have a shot. Conveniently, they can also be lumped into categories for analysis.

[Locked-In Starters: Harang, Arroyo, Lohse, Milton]

These four will make up the top of the rotation. I'm not particularly happy about that, but we've made our bed so-to-speak. Someone with a brain the size of a quark decided a $9.8 million dollar extreme fly-ball pitcher would be a good idea in a bandbox ballpark with a defensive outfield made up of two rhinos and a gazelle that likes to run into walls. I have snot smart enough to realize that was a bad idea. But hey, it is what it is.

[Potential Fifth Starters: Saarloos, Belisle, Ramirez, Livingston, Santos]

One of these guys will get the spot out of the gate, but there's a chance most of them could see some rotation time throughout the year. Spring training has been an audition for these guys, so let's see how it's been going:

Saarloos (11.1 IP, 6.35 ERA)
Santos - (10.2, 0.00)
Livingston - (9.2, 1.86)
Belisle - (9.0, 1.00)
Ramirez - (5.0, 1.80)

What does this tell us? Not much. 1) It's spring training. 2) There is very little differentiation in the numbers (almost). Of these five names Livingston is the only one without any major league starting experience. Because of this I'd expect him to wind up in Louisville to start the year - though he has the potential to be the best of the bunch. Saarloos has likely pitched himself into the bullpen. I don't see him being cut because of his experience and contract ($1.2 million). Ramirez is likely to start the year in Triple-A according to John Fay - he's had shoulder issues. Santos has pitched well this spring and has 84 career starts. Unfortunately those starts have all been pretty bad. Reds fans shouldn't weep when he's cut, despite his spring. That leaves Belisle as the last man standing and your likely candidate for the 5th spot coming out of the gate.

[Locked In Relievers: Weathers, Stanton, Cormier, Coffey, Bray]

Combined Stanton, Weathers, and Cormier are making $6.5 million in 2007. They're all old. They're all experienced. They have the biggest contracts. I know a contract doesn't guarantee you a spot on the 25-man, but no GM wants to look like they made a bad deal. Those guys will likely have to pitch themselves out of a roster spot. They'll all make the team for Opening Day. Coffey sprints to the mound. He'll make the team. Bray may have the best stuff of the bunch and has pitched well so far this spring. He'll make the team. Yes Virginia, there are three lefty's in the pen.

[Not-So-Locked-In Relievers: Burton, Coutlangus, Majewski, Hermanson]

By all accounts Burton has a great arm, but the only way the Reds can keep him is if he stays on the 25-man roster. With all the competition I just don't see that happening. Frankly, I'd rather have cheap-with-potential than expensive-and-old. Based on his spring (6.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 3 BB, 9 K), age, and ability Burton deserves a spot. He just won't get it. Coutlangus has been lights out this spring (5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 BB, 5 K), but I doubt it will get him anywhere. He's yet another lefty on a team that already has three pretty well locked in. At 26 he's pitched 144 minor league innings with a 2.88 ERA and a .213 BAA. There just isn't much else for him to prove. That said, only 3 of those innings were at the Triple-A level. Expect him to start the season in Louisville. Majewski pitched a bullpen session on Saturday, but is still having some arm trouble. John Fay says he'll likely start the year on the DL. I expect him to be pitching for the Reds at some point this year though. Hermanson has seemingly been anointed the new closer - still riding the waves of his 2005. As I wrote when we signed him, he's a good low-risk/high-potential-reward kind of guy. If he can harness some of his 2005 we're golden. If he pitches along his career line we're only out $500,000. The back problem is scary, but doesn't seem to have affected him this spring. He'll make the team's 25-man roster.

[Cliff Notes]

Based on my count that's a 12-man pitching staff:

1) Harang
2) Arroyo
3) Lohse
4) Milton
5) Belisle
6) Saarloos
7) Weathers
8) Stanton
9) Cormier
10) Coffey
11) Bray
12) Hermanson

Belisle and Saarloos could easily be starters 5A and 5B. The front office will likely not part with their higher priced veterans (Weathers, Stanton, Cormier). Coffey and Bray have both proven themselves with this club already. Hermanson has been anointed closer without really earning it.

Burton is a wildcard. The Reds thought enough of him to make him a Rule 5 pick. They knew that he'd have to make the 25-man roster. There's a chance he could stick. If he does I'd expect either Cormier or Stanton to be dropped. They're nearly identical pitchers. I just don't see that happening.

I'm not saying that these are the best options we've got. But it's likely what we'll see. If you have an argument to the contrary please, by all means, make it.

So to answer the initial question: Yes, I expect the Reds to carry 12 pitchers.

Edit: This all lines up with what Mark Sheldon guessed in this Reds Mailbag article.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bruce 1, Schilling 0

Curt Schilling talks (briefly) about the home run he gave up to Reds uber-prospect Jay Bruce:
Fourth inning sees me give up a run. A pretty good sized kid [Jay Bruce] puts a real good swing on a 2-0 fastball that’s up on the outer half, and drives it over the wall in left for an opposite field home run. I’ll claim the wind helped, but he hit the ball a ton.
It's clear that Schilling wasn't pitching specifically to Bruce, by which I mean he wasn't pitching to a scouting report. But there were still more good things than bad about this. It's good that Bruce worked the count to 2-0, making the pitcher actually pitch to you is a positive. He hit it to the opposite field. I like a hitter who isn't hung up on pulling the ball and can hit it to the opposite field with some power. But, it was a fastball. The majors are littered with guys who can hit fastballs. What does Bruce do with a good breaking ball?

Whither Denorfia?

Assuming the Reds carry 7 relievers they'll have 5 bench spots available. Four of those roles are pretty much locked up:

Jeff Conine (1B/OF): The looong-time Marlin will spend most of his time as Scott Hatteberg's platoon partner at 1B while occasionally filling in at the outfield corners. Hatteberg has never been able to hit LH pitchers and at age 41 Conine is expected to be slightly above average against southpaws (.303/.375/.487 career against LHP). PECOTA sees him hitting .268/.336/.403, but those numbers could jump higher if Narron sticks to the platoon. Conine fits the "grizzled veteran who knows how to win" cliche to a tee.

Javier Valentin (C/1B): Javier followed up his career year of 2005 with a fantastically mediocre 2006. Swinging both ways (as a switch hitter), Valentin is the team's backup catcher and go-to pinch hitter. However, he'll only be useful as a pinch hitter if he actually remembers how to hit. 2005 was his age 29 season and will likely stand as his best year, but at 31 he's still young enough to improve on his below average .269/.313/.441 line of 2006. Catchers tend to mature as hitters a little later in their careers. Last year he threw out 6 of 14 basestealers and was above average behind the plate.

Juan Castro (3B/SS/2B): Assuming Freel gets an everyday spot in the outfield Castro is the Reds' only backup at 2B, 3B, and SS. He's well above average defensively at all three positions. He's well below average with the bat. Yes, he hit .284/.320/.421 with the Reds last year. That was over only 95 ABs. He's 35. He won't repeat that. But he's still one of the best late-inning defensive replacements in baseball.

Josh Hamilton (OF): His talent is superlative, but with only 89 ABs above A-ball the only reason he's on the team is because he has to be. If he isn't on the 25-man roster he gets a one-way ticket back to Tampa Bay. He's got speed, power, defense, and an incredible arm - but in his brief (89 AB) stint in AA he put up a .180/.221/.236 line...and that was six years ago. It would be in everyone's best interest if the Reds could put a deal together with Tampa Bay that would allow the Reds to send him down to the minors. But that's not going to happen, especially after his blistering spring (.487/.543/.692 in 39 ABs). He'll provide good outfield defense and the only plus power on the Reds bench as the go-to lefty pinch hitter. Here's hoping he gets a lot of fastballs this year.

That leaves one spot open for Chad Moeller, Bubba Crosby, Norris Hopper, Mark Bellhorn, Dewayne Wise, and Chris Denorfia. I'm here to say that Deno should get the spot.

No, he doesn't blow you away with any of his tools, but there's little he can't do. He can play any of the three outfield positions and play them well. He hits for a high average, has good control of the strike zone, is patient and has a decent line drive percentage (17.1% in the majors). In the minors he hit right handers to the tune of .368/.435/.502 and hit lefty's at a .303/.343/.438 clip - showing no major platoon split. He played intermittently for the Reds last year posting a .283/.356/.368 line in 120 plate appearances, but really put it together in September during which he hit .345, got on base 40% of the time, and slugged .466 over 64 PAs.

Let's take a look at the number of pitches each of the 2007 Reds starters saw per plate appearance in '06:

Dunn - 4.2
Freel - 4.1
Hatteberg - 4.0
Denorfia - 4.0
Ross - 4.0
Encarnacion - 3.8
Junior - 3.7
Phillips - 3.7
Gonzalez - 3.7

That sort of patience wears down pitchers and Deno's 4.01 P/PA would look damn good in either of the top two spots of the Reds batting order. PECOTA predicts a .291/.359/.445 line in 2007 with 37 extra base hits and 9 stolen bases. That prediction puts him just behind Dunn, Junior, and Encarnacion in '07 OPS...and ahead of everyone else.

Defensively Deno has yet to commit a fielding error in almost 300 major league innings. His zone rating in center is better than Junior's (.789 to .764). His range factor in right is significantly better than league average.

There are those in the blogging community who feel the final bench spot should go to Bubba Crosby or Norris Hopper - the only two with a realistic shot at supplanting Deno. Bubba can be summed up by his career batting line of .216/.255/.300. His zone ratings are lower than Deno's and he's 4 years older. "Scrappy" can only get you so far. Hopper's minor league body of work is largely inconsistent (other than his consistent lack of power - only 4 home runs in 9 years of professional baseball). Hopper's patience doesn't come close to Deno's and his '07 PECOTA line reads .270/.312/.313.

Oddly, no one seems to be talking about carrying three catchers any more. There's no need. Let Moeller play in Louisville until he's needed.

Bellhorn is a non-roster invitee. Let's hope he doesn't get invited. We don't need an old, poor-fielding infielder who strikes out 95% of the time.

I'll be the first to admit that Cincinnati is sometimes overly infatuated with "scrappiness" and "hustle" in their ball players. Bubba and Hopper have already earned these labels from Reds fans. I only ask that we give Chris Denorfia the opportunity to do the same.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

No One Likes a Smartass Chicken

Now if only they'd do the same thing to Gapper.