18 Games at a Time - Capsule 7

 

We were talking hope in this space last time around.  Unfortunately, reality.  I will choose my words carefully lest I venture into newspaper columnist territory, but watching this team leaves the viewer with the impression that they don’t much care what happens.  I realize this is not the case.  I realize that these paid professionals have pride, dignity, and future dollars on the line.  I realize that the front office is constantly assessing the team with one eye on the immediate landscape and one on the horizon.  I realize that this is a mind-bogglingly difficult game and that driving in runs or shutting down a rally is not as simple as really, really hoping something good happens.  Give me a stoic run producer over an energized mediocrity any day.  I will maintain the focus on the big picture, but hot damn if this team doesn’t look bored.  The common belief was that an easier stretch of games would translate to wins and winning streaks.  Well.  Buckeyes open with Akron on September 3.

 

All stats through Saturday’s games, after the jump…

2011 Reds, Capsule 7

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 8 - 10

Strength of Schedule: .496 (9th most difficult in NL; 21st most difficult in ML)

[Prev: .500, 7th most difficult in NL; 15th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .493 (9th best in NL; 18th best in ML)

[Prev: .498, 8th best in NL; 16th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus playoff odds: 0.1% [Prev: 4.6%]

Offense:

  • .248/.319/.429 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .261/.324/.410
  • The regular 8, as determined by plate appearances, would make for a twisted defensive alignment, especially on the left side of the diamond: Hernandez, Votto, Phillips, Renteria, Janish, Frazier, Stubbs, and Bruce
  • Frazier's batting line for the period was in the highly improbable bucket, in that he produced at a near-average rate (725 OPS, 4.1 RC/G) despite a BABIP of .138.
  • Votto reached base in half of his plate appearances, aided considerably by the 18 walks.
  • Other standout stats: Bruce drove in 18, Stubbs struck out 27 times, BP had more walks than whiffs and failed to hit a double.
  • Backup extremes: Fred Lewis hit 120/154/120 in 26 PA; Yonder Alonso hit 333/417/524 in 24.
  • Speaking of, Dave Sappelt was hoping that Lewis's bad stretch would remove any attention on his numbers.  No such luck: 209/227/233, one walk, 9 K's.  He fell one plate appearance short of being consider a "regular" for this period.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 4.56 for the period, compared against a league average of 4.08.
  • I admit I haven't really been paying attention to the team lately.  I assumed, given the 8-10 record, and the strong offensive output by Votto/Bruce, that much of the blame fell on the starting pitching.  But none of the five guys put up ERAs that would make you gasp and long for Edinson Volquez to come back: 2.90, 3.81, 3.91, 4.64, and 4.76.
  • Of those previous numbers, you know which one is Johnny Cueto, but shame on you for thinking Bronson Arroyo was the last one (he posted the 3.81).
  • Last time around, the YTD DER was .709.  Now it's .704.  When I was in Little League, I had a coach who implored us to "hit it to right field; you'll run forever."  One can only assume that similar instruction is given to Cincy opposition, but with the field polarity reversed.  Get well soon, Scott and Chris.
  • For those wondering where the ugly pitching numbers came from, LeCure, Ondrusek, Bray, and Masset combined for 24 earned runs allowed across 23 innings pitched.
  • Aroldis Chapman struck out 13 batters in seven innings; Francisco Cordero recorded the same number of total outs, but acquired just one via the K.  We have dodged a major bullet with CoCo's contract, as he has been meaningfully useful this year while teetering on the edge of disaster.  It should happen on someone else's watch next year.

The next 18:

  • 7 games at home, 11 on the road
  • 7 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 4 of the 18 against projected 2011 playoff teams
  • .515 average winning percentage (2011) for the teams in the next 18 games.

Loquacity (or, Counting by fives):

I took a road trip recently with my seven year old son, taking a day out of a short family trip and spending it in our nation's capital.  We saw a baseball game and some other stuff and it was the best day trip I've ever had.  Here are some basic notes and observations inspired by the trip.

***

One, two, three, four, Cueto.  One, two, three, four, Cueto.  One, two...

I started counting about a month before the game was scheduled to occur.  Most of you have done it a week or so before a game you were planning on attending, wondering which starting pitchers you'd be subjected to.  I started much earlier since the team was already skidding towards obscurity and the feast vs. famine ratio was so pronounced re: Cueto and the other four.  Sure enough, Johnny C was scheduled for August 17, and so I was introduced to a new phenomenon called "rain out paranoia". 

I couldn't remember the last time I had attended a game where both teams were so hopelessly out of it, and if it had happened before, going to the game was a spur of the moment decision, ‘let's go see baseball because hey why not the sun is shining.'  The planning of the trip three months prior had not even contemplated this scenario.  StubHub, of course, had: why else were front row seats being offered below face value so early in the season?  Stupid free market...always considering something that's out of your range of vision.

Anyways, Cueto.  In the old days, before the internet and BaseballReference, I would have hand calculated some made-up junk stat that would have purported to be authoritative and meaningful.  Now, I just pull WAR lists.  Less fun, more efficient (and accurate).  Cueto has 4.0 WAR so far this year, is averaging 6.8 innings per start, is due for 7 more starts on the year...so he projects to 5.5 WAR given the same rate of effectiveness.  This would rank as the...43rd best Reds' pitching season ever?!?  OK, he missed a month or so, but what if he pitched the whole year?  216 innings at this quality would work out to be 6.7 WAR.  20th best Reds pitching season.  It'd be 7th best since the second World War, however.  Still seems low, given that his 210 ERA+ will be the best such value by a starting pitcher in franchise history.  Sign of the times, I suppose.

The best pitching season by a Redleg in your lifetime was and will continue to be Jose Rijo, 1993.  36 starts, nearly half an inning deeper per game than Cueto this year.  All told it was 257.3 innings at an 163 ERA+.  Two years later, he was finished.  I'll trade Cueto's claim on history for several more years of pretty dang good.  Yes, I know the peripherals and other things suggest Cueto's not this good, but in the desert summer of malaise the mirages can be plenty satisfying.

***

The new ballparks are great, granted.  No one would voluntarily go back to the days of the cookie cutters.  Something magical has been lost, however.

The new stadia are about access and openness.  Gone are the days of approaching a park, immense and intimidating.  Up the ramps you walk, into a concourse seemingly designed to obscure any views of the diamond.  A quick glance up the tunnel to the various seating sections offered fleeting views of the bright green field, in sharp contrast to the dull gray concrete concourse walls.  A jewel, hidden, worthy of the effort to be uncovered.

That one first view was breath-taking, every time.  No more, for better and worse.  I truly do wonder what my son really saw in his first glimpse of Nationals Park.  Does he see the magic, too?  Or is he more impressed by the bells and whistles?  He had his picture taken by a statue of Honest Abe, saw four Presidents race each other, interacted with a mascot, and amused himself with various scoreboard displays.  None of which were part of what I remember from going to games. 

At any rate, the boy is part of the club now.  There's a guilt that washes over me as my son, full of enthusiasm and free of cynicism, happily informs me that the Reds are in 3rd place, no longer behind the Pirates.  I hadn't even noticed, so disgusted was I with the ongoing affairs of Middling-ville.  Soon he will learn disappointment and coping mechanisms, but even experienced fans have trouble explaining this group.

We took our seats, witness to a great deal of talent on the field.  Cueto, sure.  Also the power of Votto and the glovework of Phillips and the speed of Stubbs.  And for all the talent, it still ended up a not-so-well-played 2-1 victory marked by fielding errors, baserunning gaffes, untimely anti-hitting, and shaky relief.  I felt a little bit sorry for the couple sitting next to us, in the midst of a summer-long trip around the country; visiting every MLB park as they go.  I wanted them to see the 2010 team, or a different team altogether.  "We're not usually this bad," I wanted to say, but what a whopper of a lie it would have been.  "Just Dusty being Dusty," I did say after the gentleman questioned a strategic decision.  By the end of the game, he was openly rooting for the home team. 

For three hours, I forgot about the big picture, and rooted for a win.  Immersed in the Power of Now, I didn't scoreboard-watch to see how the Brewers or Cardinals were faring and I didn't harbor mixed feelings about rooting for players who were on the field in lieu of the rookies that should be getting every opportunity to show what they can do.  The magic of the ballpark, I guess.

In the end, the bases were loaded and CoCo was struggling to preserve a one run lead.  And while I was contemplating how much worse the team is as compared to the sum of its parts, and how did this all come to be, and are we going to be heckled when the Reds blow this game, and how will I break the news to the kid that if the game headed to extra innings we were going to have to leave prematurely, Cordero threw the right pitch to the wrong hitter and in a Phillips to Janish to Votto flash, the game was over.  "What happened?" asked the boy.  "Exactly," I thought.

***

Where do you go if you're taking someone to the nation's capital for the first time?  What if you'll only be there a few hours?  When we got off the train and walked the stairs into daylight we were somewhere in the middle of the National Mall.  "Turn around," I said.  "Whoa," he said, looking up at the Washington Monument for the first time.

It was evident, walking in and around this beautiful real estate, that a high percentage of our fellow tourist walkers do not live in this country.  We saw and heard a cornucopia of skin hues and languages, tones excited by the bright sun and the significance of what was being viewed, respectively.  I wondered if these foreign visitors knew how the very name of the city being immortalized on film by the cameras strapped around their necks has long been a epithet to the nation's residents.  "Washington" either causes many of the problems in this country, or stubbornly refuses to solve the many problems, or some combination of the two, depending on where you fall on the political spectrum.  (I suppose I'm bordering on the boundaries of proper public discourse by mentioning politics at all.  I promise to remain non-partisan.)

It was a proud father walking the length of the Mall.  My son, offered the opportunity to see any one place of interest in the city, chose the Lincoln Memorial.  We were hungry, so we ate first (while also taking in the magnificent ode to human accomplishment that is the Air & Space museum).  Then, the long stroll: the boy, keeping up in 90 degree heat; the father, prouder still. 

There have been three different presidents since I entered the age of voting eligibility.  I voted for two of them (no, you can't know which ones), but it will still be taken as a given that none of the three will be memorialized in spectacular fashion in this city.  In fact, I pondered the confluence of baseball and the city's primary industry, namely the Rushmore Presidents who we would watch race later that night.  It struck me that at least three of the four would never be elected to the highest political office today.  Washington was too proud and reserved, Jefferson eschewed public speaking almost completely, Lincoln was too unattractive.  None of the three would survive or even submit themselves to today's process. 

I was heavy with sadness, but perhaps I had a plausible explanation for why Teddy never wins the race.

We made it to the Memorial, in time.  We gazed, rested, took pictures.  The words of Reverend King still echoing off the walls, including the wall inscribed with the sermon-esque address marking Lincoln's second inauguration, I declared this temple to be a worthy alternate for the National Cathedral and I submitted a prayerful request: may there be an equivalent leader in my lifetime.

***

Like I said at the top, it was the best day trip I've ever made.  The magnificent side of DC followed by a win by the good guys, all marked by quality time with my favorite seven-year-old.  A good chat with Brendannukah, who constantly amazes me with his ability to write interesting and witty game recaps, even after the games start to look the same.  The best sporting event seats I've ever had.  And more memories than I'm able to list.

The rest of the family was staying in the oh-so-humble Upper Allen Township in central Pennsylvania, and when all the day's events were over, we made our way towards them.  The boy asked that the car radio be turned on, and I complied.  We were pushing 21 hours of lapsed time since we last slept, and the little guy was soon unconscious.  Knowing him, knowing his genetic ancestors, I was sure that his dreams were more about baseball than monuments and spaceships. 

The radio began to play a song by one of my favorite bands.  Oh, give us your vote.  Give us your vote.  If you know what's good for you.  I turned the volume up, depressed the accelerator that much further, and sped away into the night.

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