Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bold Predictions for the Reds 2007 Season

The Reds finished last season with a record of 80-82, their best since 2000 (which was, ironically, the last year Griffey had 500 ABs). This was good for third in the NL Central, but was only 3 games back of the World Series Champion Cardinals. The division is just as up-for-grabs this year with no team making any significant changes (well, other than the Cubs but, hey – they’re the Cubs). With the possible addition of Homer Bailey to a slowly strengthening rotation, full seasons from Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, and even a slight rebound from Junior the Reds could look to compete again this season.

What follows is a quick and dirty attempt to predict the Reds end-of-season record. I’ll be relying on the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection system, my own analysis of potential lineups and starters, and Bill James’ Pythagorean Record calculation. While I won’t pretend that my prediction will be accurate, it should give us an idea as to whether they’ll hope to contend this year.

[The Offense]

In 2006 Jerry Narron used 140 different lineups, just five fewer than Tampa Bay’s league leading 145. The number of shake ups was a result of injuries, a few trades, and the strange desire to get Royce Clayton into the lineup. The Reds scored 4.62 runs per game last season (749 total runs), second in the NL Central and 9th (of 16) in the National League. For a team with an offense once feared throughout the NL, that’s a middling result.

Going into the 2007 season the only significant lineup change is the addition of “defensive wizard” and offensive black hole Alex Gonzalez as the everyday shortstop. The Reds could expect significant contributions from Chris Denorfia and would-be rookie Joey Votto, but neither will likely be the Reds opening day starter. Expect more on Votto in another post. The obvious question plaguing the Reds lineup is how much playing time to expect from Junior. Both PECOTA and Bill James see roughly 400 ABS from the Kid this year – but when it comes to Griffey’s availability any projection is a crapshoot.

We can expect the Reds 2007 opening day lineup to look something like this (complete with PECOTA projections):

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

These numbers seem reasonable, though the projection for David Ross was surprising. I would expect twice as many PAs than PECOTA projects. Yes, the Reds (again) have three catchers on the roster, but two of them are clear backups. Ross just got a new two-year contract and I would expect the Reds to play him as long as he’s successful. Bill James (of Baseball Info Solutions) projects Ross to have 404 ABs with 25 home runs – numbers pretty similar to last year. PECOTA also sees a jump in average from Dunn. Projection systems have been predicting averages in the mid-.260s from Dunn over the last couple of years. His career line is still at .245, but each of the last two years his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) has been south of .300, roughly the league average. This indicates he’s been somewhat unlucky (though his lack of speed also plays a role) and a regression toward the mean in this area could portend a higher average. Either way, he still consistently hits for power, gets on base, and plays almost every day. The PECTOA projection seems reasonable.

Using the lineup analysis tool found over at baseballmusings, this lineup is expected to score 4.73 runs per game or 766 total runs – 17 more total runs than last season. NOT impressive. The question is how likely it is the Reds will outperform this projection once bench and replacement players are factored in. I find it unlikely that a bounceback from Griffey and a slight improvement in Dunn would cover for the loss of Kearns and Lopez.

A side note - I made the lineup above based on the "most common" lineup used last year (with some tweaks based on player changes).

[The Pitching]

Projecting starting pitching is notoriously difficult considering the wide variance in performance pitchers not named Johan Santana put forth each year. That being said, I’m going to try it anyway.

Last year the Reds used 11 starting pitchers (Arroyo, Harang, Milton, Ramirez, Claussen, Lohse, Williams, Michalak, Mays, Belisle, and Germano). With any luck, we won't need near that many this year.

PECOTA predicts the following for the Reds starting staff with their projected 2007 IP ERA WHIP:

Aaron Harang -- 191.0, 4.17, 1.28
Bronson Arroyo – 203.3, 4.36, 1.30
Eric Milton – 113.0, 5.34, 1.43
Kyle Lohse – 160.0, 4.96, 1.46
Kirk Saarloos – 81.7, 5.17, 1.56
Homer Bailey – 129.0, 4.60, 1.45

Projecting a pitcher’s performance is significantly more difficult to do accurately. Injuries are more prevalent. A team’s defense and ballpark play significant factors. If the above projection were true the Reds starting pitchers would own an ERA of 4.66 over 878 innings. (Reds starters accounted for 972.2 innings last year) It is important to note that an improved infield defense should help groundball pitching Lohse and Saarloos quite a bit. I expect a better ERA than that projected by PECOTA. You’d think with all the flyball pitchers on this staff the Reds would try to improve their outfield defense.

Deciding who will pitch out of the Reds bullpen is roughly akin to divining which Bengal will be arrested next using only tea leaves and intuition. But based on contract, experience, and performance these pitchers will likely make up the top seven with projected 2007 IP ERA WHIP:

David Weathers – 49.3, 4.47, 1.48
Todd Coffey – 59.0, 4.06, 1.43
Bill Bray – 49.3, 3.74, 1.32
Gary Majewski – 57.3, 4.40, 1.48
Matt Belisle – 56.7, 4.29, 1.44
Mike Stanton – 41.7, 5.11, 1.57
Rheal Cormier – 29.0, 5.07, 1.55

These projected numbers reveal a bullpen ERA of 4.38 over 342.3 innings. (Reds relievers pitched 473 innings last year) Narron has been quoted saying that he'd like to go with only 6 relievers this year. Heh. Yeah, right.

Personally, I find PECOTA’s pitching projections to be a bit pessimistic, but we’ll stick with these numbers for argument’s sake. I understand that putting these projections together only accounts for 1220.3 innings. Last year the Reds pitched 1445.2 innings. There’s a gap there. I understand that. But as I said, this is a “quick and dirty” projection, so I’m going to account for the 225 inning difference by popping in a 4.49 ERA (the NL average for all pitchers in 2006). Throwing these numbers into a blender tells us the Reds will give up approximately 733 earned runs next year. This is 8 runs worse than in 2006.

[The Defense]

In 2006 the Reds gave up 73 unearned runs, third worst in the National League. This was due, in large part, to the below average defense the Reds got from Lopez, Encarnacion, Griffey, and Dunn. Lopez was replaced with Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez, while overrated defensively, will be a significant defensive improvement over Lopez at short. Encarnacion should, hopefully, improve at the hot corner with a year of major league experience under his belt. Every analyst out there says he has the tools to be an above average defender. As for Dunn, well, he can’t possibly get worse. His .960 fielding percentage was 20 points lower than in 2005. In ’07 we’re likely to see him bounce back a bit and, mercifully, receive more time at first base (where he’s at least league average).

Beyond those three the Reds can expect league average to above average defense at each position (with the exception of CF, but that’s only IF Griffey plays the full season there). In all, it would be reasonable to expect a significant improvement in the Reds defense and, for projection’s sake, we’ll bump them up to league average. In 2006, a league average defense gave up 63 unearned runs, I think it would be safe to expect that here.


Based on these rough numbers the Reds can expect to score 766 total runs while allowing 796 runs. Bill James’ Pythagorean Record Equation (I used an exponent of 1.83, as does BaseballReference) tells us that would lead to a 78-84 record. Teams often out or under perform their Pythagorean Record by 3 or 4 games, but the equation has proven to be relatively accurate.

What does all of this mean? It means that PECOTA (the most accurate of the projection systems available) and a few personal conclusions predict a year roughly similar to the last. It also means that with a few well timed career years (Dunn? Encarnacion? Lohse?) and a contribution from a youngster or two (Bailey? Votto?) the Reds should be in contention in an NL Central that isn’t vastly improved from last year. Not looking at projections it would seem that the Reds offense has gotten worse while it’s pitching and defense has gotten better. That was the party line set forth by General Manager Wayne Krivsky. Is this necessarily the truth? Not according to these projections, but in baseball there’s always uncertainty. If I had to guess, I’d say the Reds outperform this projection by a few games. And with a few good decisions the Reds could push themselves past .500 and into playoff contention. There’s reason to hope Red’s fans. There’s reason to hope.

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