18 Games at a Time - Capsule 8

 

I suppose one possible definition of a good life is that even when things are going poorly, they're still going pretty well.  Confused?  Consider that in a stretch which: was hammered by injury, saw the complete meltdown of the opening day starting pitcher, witnessed a closer's implosion, and identified Denver as the absolute nadir of civilization, the Reds still pulled together a winning record over the 18 games, and increased their playoff odds significantly.

This team has clinched a winning season with 18 games yet to play, and is on the cusp of breaking through to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.  That's a difficult sentence to comprehend for a long-time Reds fan, especially with this team.  This unpredictable, volatile, boot-stomping, out-of-nowhere, division-leading team.

It's the practice of this capsule to look back before looking ahead, but I'll make one exception before moving on to the numbers.  The next stretch of 18 games will be the longest of the year, either due to the time-stretching qualities that come with anticipation, or due to the time-stretching qualities that come with being repeatedly kicked in the gut.  These are two wildly different roads that greet us, comrades, but have heart: math is on our side.  All numbers below are through Monday's games...

 2010 Reds, Capsule 8

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 10 - 8 (PSA), 82-62 (YTD)

Strength of Schedule: .482, YTD (16th most difficult in NL; 30th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .483 YTD SOS, 16th most difficult in NL; 30th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .504, YTD (7th best in NL; 14th best in ML)

[Prev: .505 YTD RPI, 8th best in NL; 14th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats, YTD): 98.6% [prev: 77.7%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on ELO concept): 98.3% [prev: 78.1%]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds (based on team stats + PECOTA projections): 99.5% [prev: 89.2%]

Offense:

  • .277/.351/.464 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compared to NL average of .254/.320/.405
  • If anyone has seen the curse of Sports Illustrated, please contact the magazine's service desk at once, for the curse has gone missing.  Joey Votto: 313/432/627 for the stretch, with 5 HR, 17 RBI, and 3 SB.
  • The regulars for the stretch, based on plate appearances: Hanigan, Votto, Phillips, Janish, Rolen, Gomes, Stubbs, and Heisey.
  • No one has rung the Chris Heisey bell louder than me, so let me be the first to say "my bad."  Heisey's power, contact, and plate discipline all left the building just as Jay Bruce's oblique got weird.  Heisey for the period: 211/237/316, 1 BB, 17 K.  Still got your back, lawya.  Lottie Nelson fo' life.
  • Jay Bruce, have you ever read the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf?  20 at bats, 11 hits, 7 home runs, 1 "side injury".
  • There had been a long while where Drew Stubbs had forgotten the power of the walk.  As it turns out, good things happen when you combine a powerful swing with only swinging at hittable pitches: 309/392/515, and a season-high 9 walks in the 18 game stretch.
  • If I believe in any one facet of what Dusty Baker brings to the table, it is this: I believe he understands the grind of the season, and how to manage it for all his players-stars and scrubs alike.  Like most of us, there are some blind spots that pop up from time to time, but this seems to be where he earns his keep. Why do I bring this up?  Because it's time for Dusty to work whatever magic he has on Brandon Phillips, who is currently lost at the plate: 160/236/180.  This season has been a strange one for Phillips: on one hand, he seemed to kick-start the offense back in May when he was getting on base like a top-notch leadoff man.  On the other hand, he's been a bit of the forgotten celebrity: once the face of the franchise, now clearly a cut below the prime offense generators of VottoRolenBruce.  The notion of an X-factor has always seemed a bit off to me, since it pre-supposes that a team's best players will continue to be great, and then assigns a disproportionate amount of value to a lesser player.  HOWEVA, should the Reds advance to the playoffs, I have a hard time seeing them lose any series in which BP gets on base at a rate approaching proper levels (say, .360+).  Not to say they can't win without the guy, but when he's locked in, he can bring a 4th impact bat to the lineup.  BP has been an organizational soldier, and he has the most plate appearances on the team so far this year.  It may be time for a few off days as he prepares for a battle that matters more than the rest.
  • It must be nice for a manager to be able to plug in all kinds of different options and not see a whole lot of difference among them.  Following are eight players, starters and reserves alike, who have not yet been mentioned, and who produced at least an 800 OPS for the period: Ramon - 852, O-Cab - 947, Rolen - 805, Hanigan - 831, Janish - 800, Cairo - 820, Francisco - 875, Valaika (pronounced Va - Laik - A) - 800.  That's a damn good job, and a big reason why the team averaged nearly 5 runs per game for the stretch.

Pitching:

  • The pitchers more or less matched the league average: team ERA of 3.95, league average of 4.01.
  • I'm a fan of the Ron Shandler method of evaluating pitchers: if a guy's K/9 is > 6, and if a guy's K/BB > 2, and if a guy's HR/9 is < 1, then that's a guy I want pitching on my team.  All the other numbers we look at will work themselves out in the long run.  Each time I run one of these capsules, I take a look at how many pitchers on the staff hit all three of those marks for the period.  As they do with most areas of life, small sample size warnings apply, but check out the count of said pitchers over these capsules: 4 - 5 - 1 - 4 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 7.  When more than half of your staff is missing bats, finding the plate, and keeping the ball in the yard, good things will happen.  The seven that met the mark: Cueto, Bailey, Masset, LeCure, Maloney, Volquez, and Chapman.  A couple of those (Maloney and Volquez) benefited from the lower bar of only having one or two appearances over the period, but good pitching is good pitching, and for the second time in the last three capsules, the team as a composite whole met Shandler's three benchmarks.  Your pitching is only as good as your next outing or your next call to the bullpen, but healthy trends are better than the alternative.
  • Aroldis Chapman made his debut.  He pitched good.
  • Johnny Cueto is entering the Ace Zone: 27 innings over 4 starts, 21 hits allowed, 5 earned runs allowed, 5 BB, 22 K.
  • Homer Bailey nearly matched Cueto's peripherals, but not his results: Bailey allowed 27 hits and 5 walks over 24.3 innings, and struck out 21, but allowed 14 more earned runs.  Some of this is good luck / bad luck, and although Cueto clearly pitched better, the difference is not as stark as the ERAs of 1.67 and 5.19 would lead you to believe.
  • Please, oh please, oh please, oh please: may Volquez's one dominant start foreshadow the rest of his season.
  • When your closer is credited with 30% of a team's victories over any length of time, that's maybe a sign that: A) he's not pitching that well; B) your team is catching some breaks; or C) see A and B.  While in southern California next week, perhaps CoCo can learn some Jedi mind tricks to make him think he's still a viable and reliable closer.  KeepItTogetherKeepItTogetherKeepItTogether...
  • The team's DER took a bit of a beating over these 18 games falling from .708 YTD to .704.  The team now ranks 3rd in the NL and 8th overall in this metric.

The next 18:

  • 9 games at home, 9 on the road
  • 12 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 3 of the 18 against teams that are on pace for 2010 playoff slots
  • .474 average winning percentage for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • The Cardinals will face a 20 game schedule (if necessary) over the same time frame, with average opponents' winning percentages equaling...eh, who cares.
  • The Reds, barring disaster, will contemplate strange and foreign phrases such as "lining up their starters", and "resting players for the post-season".
  • Speaking of, the Reds have had nine different pitches start at least one game this year.  Only three of those have ERAs under 4 (Cueto, Wood, and Maloney), and one of those (Maloney) has received two spot starts.  If we look at xERA, the Reds have had four pitchers under the arbitrary 4.00 line: Wood (2.83), Cueto (3.59), Arroyo (3.63), and Bailey (3.98).  It's the last one that has caught me off-guard, and filled me with optimism.  Bailey has been victim to high BABIP rates, and low strand rates, meaning he's a bit of an under-the-radar pitcher right now.  The first two playoff games will be started by Cueto and Arroyo.  The next two will be some combination of Bailey, Wood, and Volquez...depending partly on how badly they want a LH starter to pitch, and partly on how all three of them pitch over the next couple weeks. 
  • In the final homestand, Aaron Harang will start one last game for the Redlegs.  His outing will be relatively short, but will be solid.  He will receive a tremendous ovation.
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