18 Games at a Time - Capsule 5

Hoping to swing for a home run, the Reds are forced to ask if we’d settle for a double.

 

In what was the most critical stretch of games Cincinnati has faced to date this year, the Reds were in position to make a statement of boot-stomping proportion.  Instead, the team and its fans are left with a bitter 4-game sweep to chew on through the interminable All-Star break.  That the Reds played the Phillies about as evenly as possible over the series is of little consequence.

 

The purpose of this segment, of course, is to take a broader view, and focus less on the up-and-downs of any particular day.  And the long view is this: the Reds have increased the likelihood of October baseball by about 20% over the last three weeks, and are facing a 72 game sprint from now until the end of the season.  From now until either the Reds or the Cardinals fall completely apart, each upcoming stretch of games will be the most important of the season.  The two incidental rivals are more or less in a coin flip scenario, where one of them will win the division, and the other will go home.  And as it turns out, the two teams only meet on the field six more times, and not at all in the final four weeks of the season.

 

Before we get into the details, one quick summary of the latest 18-game stretch: At +30, this was the best run differential of any of the 18-game segments so far this season.  Which, to some extent: LOLCubs.  Still, that’s a healthy run differential in that few games.  So, we’re stuck with the classic baseball fan paradox: is it a sign that the team is rolling, or is it a squandered opportunity that will be remembered with regret?  Maybe it’s both.  More after the jump…

 

 

2010 Reds, Capsule 5

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 10 - 8 (PSA), 49-41 (YTD)

Strength of Schedule: .481, YTD (15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .480 YTD SOS, 15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .497, YTD (10th best in NL; 19th best in ML)

[Prev: .496 YTD RPI, 10th best in NL; 18th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats, YTD): 53.6% [prev: 30.7%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on ELO concept): 53.9% [prev: 30.3%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats + PECOTA projections): 50.1% [prev: 35.6%]

Offense:

  • .265/.332/.430 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compared to NL average of .260/.324/.403
  • Due to Ryan Hanigan's ongoing injury status, and a brief inactive status for Ramon Hernandez, the regular eight for this period actually saw a small change, with Corky Miller being part of the most frequent batting group.
  • To that point, Miller acquitted himself fairly well, hitting 273/314/424 for the period.  In 73 combined plate appearances for the stretch, the three catchers drew 0 walks.
  • The story of the offense over these 18 games can basically be boiled down to a re-telling of Joey Votto and the Seven Dwarfs: His OPS was 1202 for the period; no other regular topped 768.  Ten of Votto's 20 hits went for extra bases, including seven hits that left the park.  His 18 walks more than doubled his next closest teammate.  Perhaps of some surprise is that only one of those walks was deemed intentional.  Of potential interest to those with a soft spot for milestone numbers: Votto is now on pace for 40 home runs.
  • No other regular was really bad per se: Cabrera's 603 OPS was basically in line with what he's done for the season, and no one else posted less than a 685 OPS.
  • There were only seven stolen base attempts for the period, with four of those ending successfully.
  • With 4 hits in ten attempts, Mike Leake (Mike Leake!) continued his pursuit of the elusive .400 mark (now at .389 YTD).
  • Credit needs to be given when and where it's due: Miguel Cairo has now had two great periods, and three awful ones.  This was one of the great ones, hitting 393/438/500 in 33 plate appearances.  Now at a 761 OPS for the year, Cairo has been a pretty decent bench player thus far.
  • I'll stop banging the Chris Heisey drum when he stops being awesome.  Heisey brought down his numbers somewhat by hitting 286/385/429, but it's one more period where he's outhit both Stubbs and Gomes, despite the less frequent usage.  Maybe his numbers go down if he plays everyday, or against some of the tougher right-handers, but it's past time to find out.

Pitching:

  • 14 of the last 18 games were played in hitter's parks, but the pitchers responded with an aggregate ERA of 3.11, compared to the league average of 4.06.
  • The old "pitch to contact" philosophy was back in vogue: the team averaged just 5.6 K/9, compared to the league average of 7.4.  And only one of the pitchers to start a game struck batters out at better than a 5.5 K/9 rate (Travis Wood: 7.4 K/9).  The team's walk rate and home run rate was exactly at league average, so their success depended on forcing batters to hit the ball at defenders (Team BABIP was .238, compared to league average of .296), and by bearing down in key situations (strand rate was 78.7%, compared to average of 73.0%).  Any conclusions on the likelihood of future pitching success via this strategy will be left to the reader.
  • Particularly curious was the tale of Johnny Cueto, who pitched 27 innings over four starts, and gave up just three runs, one of which was unearned. And he did this while striking out only nine batters and walking 11.
  • Honorable mention for pitcher of the period goes to Logan Ondrusek, who threw 8.3 scoreless innings, and gave up only three hits while doing it.  Based on his component stats, Ondrusek's xERA was buried deep in the underworld, somewhere below 0.
  • The best pitcher, however, was Travis Wood, making his season debut.  Wood pitched 20.7 innings in three starts, and gave up only nine hits, also walking five and striking out 17.  On the other hand, he didn't get secure any victories for his record, so never mind.
  • Francisco Cordero: 6.7 innings, 6 walks, 3 K's, closer.
  • Symptom or cause?  Tied to the pitching-to-contact note above, the team's DER shot way up to .700 for the year (as of last time, it was at .686).  Their DER now ranks 8th best in MLB, and 3rd best in the NL.

The next 18:

  • 10 games at home, 8 on the road4 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 6 of the 18 against teams that are on pace for 2010 playoff slots
  • .469 average winning percentage (2010) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • The Reds are almost guaranteed to face Ubaldo Jimenez and Stephen Strasburg in the next 18.
  • The Cardinals will play 19 games between now and the end of the Reds' next stretch, and are facing a group with a composite winning percentage of .483.  Here's to Philly doing unto them what they've already done unto us.
  • The first trade deadline will pass during the next 18 games, thus increasing the possibility that there will be a new name or two on the next 18 game capsule.  You might have heard something about Cliff Lee being traded recently, with the Reds reportedly in on the action.  Not knowing exactly what was being offered, it's hard to know whether or not to be upset that the Reds didn't close the deal.  I am happy that Lee stayed out of St. Louis, and I'm guessing that since Justin Smoak was traded, and since Jesus Montero was supposedly the Yankees' prime trading chit, then the Reds either didn't have a good enough package to be serious contenders, or that Aroldis Chapman was requested.  From this vantage point, I'm currently OK that a Reds/Mariners trade didn't happen.
  • So, the $64,000 question centers around whether a move-any move-will be made.  Obviously, you want to improve the team, but mightn't there also be additional gains to be made from increasing the perception that this team is a contender?  We've pined for a shortstop in this space before, without any evidence that there's actually one for sale.  I remain convinced that no move could impact the playoff chances more than with an upgrade at short.  So, given that we're dealing in the strictest of hypotheticals: we not only don't know that the Reds are shopping for an O-Cab replacement, we also don't know who would be a legitimate target, here's my question to the board: Would you be willing to move Mike Leake?  I've been a big fan of the Mike Leake experience (Mike Leake!), but three realities jump out: 1) Leake has only another 50-60 innings left to pitch this year before the team will feel pressure to sit him down; 2) Leake's numbers have been decidedly pedestrian over the last six weeks or so; and 3) his overall numbers still look pretty good, to the point it may constitute "selling high".  Attach those points to the impending pitching logjam, and if I'm Walt, I look around to see what a Leake + Francisco/Alonso package might buy me.
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