Up until the playoffs, Reds' starters had a force field around them. The five members of the Opening Day rotation started 161 of the 162 games, missing just one to the accident of a rain-delay-induced double-header. As Mark Sheldon discovered, only 7 starting rotations in history have seen five guys all notch at least 30 starts each.*
* Bryan Price, also on the coaching staff of the 2003 Mariners, has been the pitching coach for two of those teams. Whether a coincidence or not, Price - who might is getting shortlisted for managerial openings - gets a healthy dose of credit for this season.
Coming into the year, the lack of starting pitching depth looked like a pretty big potential problem. Instead, the problem was convincing Todd Redmond he wasn't the butt of an elaborate hazing ritual.
But any rotation can be healthy. The Reds pulled the bi-fecta: healthy and really good. Sometimes, they were good in ways that were obvious:
- a Cy Young-caliber season from Johnny Cueto
- A no-hitter by Homer Bailey
- Second in the NL in starters' ERA+
- First in the majors in complete games
And they also succeeded in subtler ways - controlling the running game, for example. Cueto was second in the NL in pick-offs, while Arroyo was in the Top 20.
With the exception of Latos, they were not overpowering in the traditional sense. They succeeded despite being in the lower half of the majors in strike-out rate. Somehow, they allowed home runs at a lower rate than 19 other major league teams, despite playing home games in one of the home-runniest ballparks around.
That's why this season was so impressive, in non-medical terms. When you adjust for park factor, the Reds' had the best pitching staff (relievers included) in the majors.
We know that Johnny Cueto has refined homer-killing to an art. But take Bronson Arroyo: he was giving up wangers at a record-setting pace last year. And along with Bronson, Latos and Bailey were both giving up flyballs around 40% of the time in 2011.
All five members of the staff brought down their fly-ball rates in 2012, over 2011. Including Leake.
I'm not sure how much credit to portion out to Bryan Price and how much to scorer error/global warming/the Astros/the Cubs. Still, I don't count this trend as an accident. The Reds probably can't stay this healthy - or quite this good - but they've systematically gotten better at preventing runs in their ballpark. That isn't going to vanish suddenly.
They've also only got one returning starter who will be over the age of 27 in 2012. And since Bronson Arroyo has inspired Arroyo Studies Departments around the country to unpack the meaning of the "unpredictable workhorse" pitcher, I'm not really sure we should make any assumptions about him.
This really looks like a lightning in a bottle season, right? From the health of the rotation to the once-in-a-Reds-generation performance by Homer Bailey on September 28. Bailey, as much as anyone else, might hold the key to understanding what 2012 meant. This was the best season of his career.
Let's not spoil it by asking any more questions.
Pre-season depth chart & projections
Here's how things looked, according to me, on March 21:
||Zips projected ERA+
||Projected '12 IP
||Expected level on OD 2012
|10||Brett Tomko||39||N||6.33 (ERA)
2012 results/end-of-season depth chart
A few guys dropped off the above list:
- Chapman and LeCure were not used as starting pitchers
- Jeff Francis was released on June 4
- Andrew Brackman was DFA'd in August
- Brett Tomko was injured and then became a free agent
Recently 40-man-added pitchers Josh Ravin, Curtis Partch and Carlos Contreras were not included, under the assumption that they are now relievers.
|| ERA+ (MLB)
||Highest level in 2012