18 Games at a Time - Capsule 9

 

I'm willing to wager that 100% of Reds fans are currently more interested in looking forward that back right now.  This is justifiable, of course.  Most of us are rolling this word "playoffs" around on our tongues, trying it out in private so it sounds just perfect when we confidently and publicly say: Hey, the Reds are going to the playoffs!!! 

It's exciting, and it's been a long time, and all that.  The realist in us knows that our team has a stiff draw.  The analyst in me has been tempted to look at specific matchups and arrive at a best guess for odds and percentages in the Philly series.  The fan in me says screw that, let's see some wins.  I like the fan in me better right now.

Vegas says the Phillies are clear and heavy favorites.  Objectively, this makes sense.  Subjectively, the Phillies carry the fear factor with them and can act like they've been there before without even acting.  But, it's still baseball.  Being a heavy favorite means you are looking at a likelihood of victory of maybe 65%.  Math being what it is means that the Reds are in the 35% neighborhood.  I saw someone, somewhere put it like this: that means that the chance of the Reds winning is akin to the probability of a hit by Ichiro in one of his at-bats during his peak.  I'll take my chances, how about you?

Before officially entering postseason mode, let's take a quick look back at the last 18 games...

2010 Reds, Capsule 9

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 9 - 9 (PSA), 91-71 (YTD)

Strength of Schedule: .486, YTD (16th most difficult in NL; 30th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .482 YTD SOS, 16th most difficult in NL; 30th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .505, YTD (5th best in NL; 11th best in ML)

[Prev: .504 YTD RPI, 7h best in NL; 14th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats, YTD): 100.0% [prev: 98.6%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on ELO concept): 100.0% [prev: 98.3%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats + PECOTA projections): 100.0% [prev: 99.5%]

Offense:

  • .269/.339/.439 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compared to NL average of .244/.318/.381
  • Look, Dusty has been a fine, fine manager this year.  The man has strengths, the man has weaknesses, and even the most in-tune fans don't have a full handle on the extent of Dusty's pros or his cons.  I've learned enough about baseball over the years to know that I don't know everything, and I don't even always know what I think I know.  Where am I going with this?  In this, the final stretch run of the season, where the team basically had the season wrapped up with two weeks to go, and definitely had it wrapped up with one week to go, during the proverbial "rest ‘em up" period, our team leader posted lineups such that our regulars as determined by plate appearances were the same guys as they were back in April: Hernandez, Votto, Phillips, Cabrera, Rolen, Gomes, Stubbs, and Bruce.  The famous saying is "Dance with what brung ya," but this feels something along the lines of "Dance with the first one you saw on the first day of kindergarten."  Good, bad, or indifferent, this just feels so Dusty.  I'm tending to give the benefit of the doubt.
  • Three of these regulars (Votto, Stubbs, and Bruce) posted OPS numbers above 1000.
  • Stubbs, in particular, is worth giving more print to, as he led the team in HR (5), RBI (11), runs (12), stolen bases (6), and walks (11).  And strikeouts (20).
  • Three of the regulars (Hernandez, Cabrera, and Rolen) posted OPS numbers below 700.  Of these, Cabrera is simply matching his YTD numbers, and Hernandez is best considered as part of an entirely effective platoon.  Rolen, on the other hand, needs to be more than an automatic out if the Reds are to succeed this week.
  • As a team, the Reds finish the season with a 108 OPS+.  Not only is this good for best in the NL, only three teams finished with a team OPS+ greater than or equal to 100 (Milwaukee and Atlanta were the others), and there was some breathing room between the Reds and #2 Milwaukee at 105.

 Pitching:

  • The pitchers were solid: team ERA of 3.44 for the period, against a league average of 3.69.
  • Those of you with strong memories and/or unhealthy stalking tendencies will remember that in our last capsule, we highlighted seven pitchers with the K/9 > 6, K/BB > 2, and HR/9 < 1 trifecta, and made a bit of a deal about it.  This period, saw nine pitchers match or better those marks.  Starters Arroyo, Bailey, Volquez, and Wood all did it, as did relievers Bray, Chapman, Cordero, Masset, and Rhodes.  Pitchers pitching well.  Word.
  • In fact, as a team, the staff struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.8 K/9), struck out 3 times as many batters as they walked, and only allowed 12 homers.
  • For the year, the team had a staff ERA of 4.02, which exactly matched the league average.  Somehow, the ballpark must have played as offense-neutral, since the calculated ERA+ for the team is 100.
  • Two numbers that jump off the page: Cordero didn't walk a single batter over this period, and Homer Bailey struck out 28 batters in 21 innings.  One can imagine Bailey being used as a right-handed complement to Aroldis Chapman during round 1.  You know, when Nick Masset is busy.
  • Once upon a time, I did some research that suggested that during the playoffs, a starting pitcher was expected to go 0.5 innings less than his regular season average.  Since research was involved, this constitutes science, and cannot be disputed.  There are a bunch of factors that contribute to this, but the net effect is that in October, bullpens mean more.  And ours is humming right now.  Minus Aaron Harang's relief efforts, the Reds composite bullpen threw 56.3 innings over the period at an ERA of 2.40.

Other:

  • For whatever reason, I was surprised to look back and see the team finish the last stretch of games at 9-9.  It felt worse, for some reason.  Perhaps because I basically stopped paying full attention for the last couple series.  Here's the rub, though: the team's offense was one full run (according to RC/G) better than league average, and the team's xERA was 65 points lower than league average.  This could have easily been a 13 win stretch, which would have made the standings look different, and the pundits sound different.  There's lots of caveats about strength of schedule, and expanded rosters, and games of varying degrees of meaningfulness.  One of the things that these capsules show is that if a player is hot for a couple weeks, that tends not to have much bearing on what he'll do next week.  But all things considered, this team is playing really well leading into the playoffs, and that seems like a better trend than the alternative.
  • The last time the Reds were in the playoffs, I was living in a state adjacent to Ohio.  Despite my relative proximity, not all of the Reds' playoff games were available on television, and so I tuned in The Big One on my Walkman.
  • I found it somewhat surprising that none of the RR authors wrote an essay marking the end of the Reds' 15 year tour in the wilderness, but maybe each of them went through the same thought process as I did: 1) it's awesome that this team I spend a lot of time following did something good; 2) that brings up a whole lot of memories which I have mentally stored as being connected in some way to the good and bad events of recent Reds history; 3) that stuff is way too personal to convey in a way that is interesting to other people.  Ultimately, that's part of what is great about sports: a lot of people with wildly disparate backgrounds, beliefs, and personalities put down all those things for a few moments to cheer for the same thing.  We're bordering on the hokey, so I'll leave it at that.
  • This is just the 13th visit to the postseason in team history.
  • Rational baseball fans tend to downplay the importance of the postseason.  Much better to focus on the long grind of 162 than the volatile short series.  I get the sentiment, but it's time to get irrational.  And loud. 
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