18 Games at a Time - Capsule 4

Deep breaths, deep breaths.  The Cincinnati Reds, after clawing their way to the top of the division with ferocity, fell a bit back to earth in the last 18 games.  And yet, even this recent slide doesn’t quite feel like the black hole of previous campaigns.  For one thing, the team is still in the division hunt.  Secondly, the Reds have won 8 of their last 18, which, while not being a goal for future performances, did include games against some pretty formidable pitchers. 

The Reds now face a critical juncture; the team has been in a bit of a funk, and what is arguably the most difficult stretch of the season is looming.  It’s time for a quick and dramatic turnaround, or it will be time to get ready for college football season.

On a brief personal note: I took in my first game in our nation’s capital this month, finding both the stadium and Brandon Phillips’ ass-kicking tear around the bases to be more than satisfactory.  I met a few RR regulars at the game: also a fine and pleasant experience.  But for my mid-Atlantic road trip, nothing could top the warm welcome exhibited by some local youths on the train ride out of the city.  The genial attitudes, bright and optimistic philosophies on life, and fierce command of the King’s English breathed new life into my outlook on humanity and the future of our nation. 

Moving on, let’s get stat-happy, with all numbers shown through Tuesday’s games…

2010 Reds, Capsule 4

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 8 - 10 (PSA), 39-33 (YTD)

Strength of Schedule: .480, YTD (15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .493 YTD SOS, 14th most difficult in NL; 23rd most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .496, YTD (10th best in NL; 18th best in ML)

[Prev: .513 YTD RPI, 6th best in NL; 9th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats, YTD): 30.7% [prev: 37.2%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on ELO concept): 30.3% [prev: 42.8%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats + PECOTA projections): 35.6% [prev: 55.9%]

Offense:

  • .270/.320/.406 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compared to NL average of .258/.321/.405
  • In terms of filling out the lineup card, this team has been a manager's dream, as for the fourth straight version of this thing the eight players with the most plate appearances have been the same.  In fact, of the 7 non-catchers, four of them played in all 18 games, with the three non-Votto infielders appearing in 17.  The group of 8 accounted for 84% of non-pitcher plate appearances during the period, a remarkable percentage given that the Reds used a DH in five of the last 18 games.
  • As noted above, the rate stats for the period were almost exactly average which, given the home-field environment, means they hit somewhat worse than average.  The claim to "best offense in the NL" can still be plausibly made, with a YTD OPS+ of 108.
  • One troubling note is that the team's walk rate for the period fell to 5.9%, compared to the league average of 8.0%.  Chief conspirators in this matter were Jay Bruce (4.2% walk rate), Orlando Cabrera (4.1%), and Jonny Gomes (1.5%!).  Bruce has a history of patience and should bounce back, while O-Cab is what we thought he was.  For Gomes, this marks the third time in these arbitrary 18-game periods where he has walked three times or fewer (just one walk in this period).  It works when he's hitting .350, but not when he's at .250.  Might be time for some more days off, although he led the team with 14 RBI over this stretch, so I guess he's really raking...
  • BP and Rolen both vied for the role of "Awesome Guy" this period, hitting for OPS levels of 970 and 936, respectively.  Dear Mr. Phillips, I would like to apologize for my Opening Day announcement that I was ready for the BP era to be over.  You're totally OK (until you hit your next slump).  Love, RF76.
  • The counter-weight to those two (and stop me if you've heard this before) was our lovable and cuddly shortstop, Orlando Cabrera.  .171/.205/.257, one RBI.  His BABIP for the period was .194, which indicates either an impending upswing, or that his upper body musculature resembles the consistency of overcooked spaghetti.  I'm not sure which is more likely at this point.
  • The rest of the offense was the very definition of meh.  Votto hit well (883 OPS), but frankly, we're holding him to higher standards.
  • In a reversal of previous efforts, the bench summarily sucked, with one shining exception.  Yes comrades, Chris Heisey raked again: just 25 plate appearances, but .318/.400/.500 in those appearances.  He's been consistent, despite his inconsistent usage, and his BABIP (.323) is not screaming for a drop-off.  YTD, he's at a 987 OPS, and 7.81 RC/G.  He's not that good, probably, but at this point: what are the odds that he's would not out-perform Drew Stubbs?  Samuel L can be heard demanding to get this mother#@$*ing Heisey into this mother#@$*ing lineup.

Pitching:

  • The pitchers, like the hitters, were pure average: 4.11 ERA compared to league average of 4.10 for the period.
  • The bullpen remains on life support.  Arthur Rhodes continues his mathematical exploration of the notion of his ERA approaching a limit of 0, and Logan Ondrusek bounced back nicely from meager beginnings, throwing 7.1 innings of one-run ball in this period.  From an expected ERA standpoint, the next best reliever for the stretch was Jordan Smith (4.46).  The next best was imploding closer Francisco Cordero (4.91).  None of the rest of the motley crew had an xERA below 5. 
  • The starters continued with their stretch of OK-ness, although there are some encouraging signs of life: Aaron Harang has, for the moment anyway, conquered his long-ball demons, allowing just one home run in 21.1 innings.  Johnny Cueto one-upped Harang by not allowing any gopher balls in his 17.2 innings.  And with 16 strikeouts in those same innings, we may be on the verge of some prime Johnny Quest territory.
  • Arroyo is enrolled in the strikeouts-are-fascist school of thought, but hey, whatever, man...it works: 2-0, 3.00 ERA and 30 bullpen saving innings across 4 starts.
  • On the flip side, Sam LeCure has performed admirably, but is proving to be not quite ready for prime time (5.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9 for the period).  We're going to need Homer and/or Volquez in a hurry.
  • And wunderkind Mike Leake (Mike Leake!) may be turning into a pumpkin, or having the league catch up to him, or something.  His strand rate (baserunners allowed that don't score) is over 80% for the year, running almost 10% higher than league average.  And strikeouts are down, and hits are up.  My favorite story of the 2010 Reds is slowly fading, and I'm not liking it.  Hopefully it's just a phase.
  • The defense seems to have settled into what they are, with YTD DER at .686, down from .687 the last time we did this.  This rate is 11th best in the NL, and 20th best in baseball.  If only we had some good defensive players on the bench whose natural positions coincided with starters who aren't very good at defense or offense...

The next 18:

  • 6 games at home, 12 on the road
  • 4 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 7 of the 18 against 2009 playoff teams; 3 of the 18 against teams that are on pace for 2010 playoff slots
  • 4 of the 18 against American League teams, one of which will require a Designated Hitter.
  • .488 average winning percentage (2010) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • If all games are played as scheduled, the next 18 will take us right up to the all-star break.
  • I guess it's a bit incongruous that I'm calling this upcoming stretch the most difficult, when the composite winning percentage of this group is below .500.  Still, the Reds have 7 games against the Phillies in the next couple weeks, and they feel like a sleeping giant, while the Mets have a couple of aces that would be nice to avoid. 
  • Similarly, there is no avoiding the fact that the Reds have played a weak schedule thus far.  But when Greinke or King Felix or Cliff Lee is on the mound, a lot of that goes out the window.  If the Reds run into a Santana-Pelfrey-Halladay road stretch in July, things could get ugly.
  • I had fully hoped and half expected Jocketty to have made a move by now, either to improve the bullpen, or upgrade at shortstop.  At this point, if he doesn't make a move by the weekend, I expect him to wait-and-see how the Reds fare through the all-star break.  If they're still within striking distance of the Cards by then, I think we'll see an aggressive push by Jocketty.  Even more aggressive than signing Gary Mathews, Jr.
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