The Tao of Dusty (18 Game Capsule #9)

Greg Fiume - Getty Images

What, philosophically speaking, is a season, and does it matter? Does the past ever matter, even what happened just last week? Short answer: maybe.

While in college, I enrolled in a class on Eastern Philosophies, taught by a man who neither practiced nor held in high esteem the subject matter of the class. Other than the disconnected space between professor and textbooks, the one thing I retain all these years later was an analogy used to describe one of the mindsets of Buddhism. Imagine, he said, a long road between two cities. There is a section of asphalt at mile market 50 and there is a section of asphalt at mile market 100. Because of our labeling and need for continuity, we describe these two sections as being the same road. From a strict physical standpoint, however, these are two completely separate pieces of matter, independent from one another, such that a pothole at mile 50 has no bearing on mile 100's road quality.

Analogies tend to be strained in one way or another, and despite my three collegiate credit hours, I'm not an expert on the Buddhist way. The road metaphor was a construct for an Eastern view on human life itself. Our individual experiences are loosely tied with one another in that they happen to the same lump of flesh, but I am not the same me that I was a year ago, or a month ago, or 35 seconds ago.

Whether you buy it or not, there is a certain parallel between this metaphysical viewpoint and the path of baseball, as we know it.

At a macro level, we are fans of the same franchise, first drawn in by our infatuations with Big Klu, or Charlie Hustle, or Eric the Red, or The Mayor. These four, or others spanning the years, have little to do with one another, and have essentially nothing to do with the current team. At a more micro level, and more to the point, it becomes easy to see that the annual parameters of a season can be misleading and irrelevant, when describing the moment.

Spoken a bit more plainly, everything is fluid and nothing is permanent. Consider for a moment the well-regarded and highly available ZiPS projections for these 2012 Reds. The bottom line analysis was that the Reds could be a viable contender if you squint hard enough, but the team really needed to add pitching quality/quantity (this was post-Latos, mind you) to really make an impact. Instead, 3 of the 5 starting pitchers blew away their pre-season projections, as did virtually all of the bullpen. The hitters, by contrast, were roughly equal parts good, bad, and neutral relative to their individual projections. By this measure, we might say that the 2012 Reds in October are not the same team they were in January.

We can make this more granular. The team enters the NLDS with 97 victories, none of which are relevant to the next five games, save for the chance to play the penultimate game in Cincinnati. The team that won 15 of 16 in July and August scored over 5 and a half runs per game. This is not that team.

The 18 game summary that typically follows this section is still coming. The raw data will show that the Reds won 10 of 18, but this is hardly the profile of a winning squad. At best, it's a middling team, hoping to scratch out a few runs. Hitters likely to continue to struggle, but subject to change fortunes at a moment's notice.

Conversely, the Giants come into the series off their best collective month, hitting-wise. The batters that ARE are better than they WERE, and they already had the best team OPS+ in the league. Their pitching staff, inflated by one of the better pitching parks in the league, has been scuffling a bit, but still good enough to secure victories in 20 out of their last 30.

It's the best hitting team in the NL vs. the best pitching team. Traditional roles have been reversed and momentum is simultaneously relevant and irrelevant. More complete, coherent, and colorful previews will be written, but for me the series probably comes down to whether or not the Reds can score a handful of runs off of Matt Cain at least once. Unless, of course, it comes down to something else. We are all now seeking Nirvana, so whatever. Wooooooo!

****************************************************

2012 Reds, Capsule 9

(All stats, opinions, and offenses through Wednesday's games)

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 10 - 8

Strength of Schedule: .486 (15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .484, 15th most difficult in NL; 29th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .514 (4th best in NL; 10th best in ML)

[Prev: .514, 3rd best in NL; 9th best in ML]

Cool Standings postseason odds: 100% [Prev: 100%]

Cool Standings division odds: 100% [Prev: 97.4%]

Offense:

  • .222/.293/.307 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .252/.318/.396
  • The regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Hanigan, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Heisey, Stubbs, Bruce
  • With all the subtlety of an amplified record-scratch sound effect in a bad comedy, this offense fell completely off the elevated rail, destroying buildings, automobiles, families, and fire hydrants in its wake. I do not have the words to adequately express my feelings at this time <\Tim Gunn'd>
  • Hey, it gets worse: if you take out Joey Votto who, despite the loss of his customary power hitting, put up a line of .327/.500/.455, the offense dropped a line of .212/.267/.292. To put that into meaningful context, that's even worse than Drew Stubbs has hit this season.
  • FYI, that composite line sans Votto is good for 2.0 runs/game, per the Jamesian theoretical construct.
  • It's not even worth calling out individual non-contributors, since they all sucked (non-Votto division).
  • That last one isn't technically true. Xavier Paul and Ryan Ludwick hit well in limited opportunity. Navarro and Rolen were also respectable, also in part time duty.
  • The team hit 7 home runs in 18 games. Seven!
  • Outside of Votto, no one had more than five walks.
  • The team was thrown out four times in nine SB attempts.
  • It's not even worth blaming this stretch on the vagaries of BABIP, as the team level was not significantly worse than league average. If you really want to blow your mind, consider: Drew Stubbs was fairly close to having a higher BABIP for the period (.321) than OPS (392).

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 2.83, against league average of 3.82.
  • I had this idea, with no real mathematical foundation or evidence to support it, that it might be interesting to compare the starting pitching staff, not on full season ERA, nor on a recent subset's ERA, but on a time-weighted ERA that covers the full season. Since I already have the data for these nine 18-game stretches, I calculated a back-loaded average for each starter, such that the 9th and most recent period got a weight of 9, the 8th period a weight of 8, and so on. I chose to ignore that: a) ERA is not a perfect describer of pitching quality; and b) the periods themselves are not evenly weighted by innings pitched for each pitcher. I kept it simple, since it's not even a real stat, but I supposed this might be how I would attempt to answer the question of which pitcher, assuming all we had at our disposal was 2012 pitching statistics, is most likely to pitch well in the postseason. And my premise was that the whole season matters, but more recent starts probably are slightly more indicative of current quality than starts from two months ago, and quite a bit more indicative of current quality than starts from six months ago. Got all that? All that said, here's how the staff lines up, by full year ERA and back-end weighted ERA

Full Year

Back-weighted

Cueto

2.78

3.27

Latos

3.48

3.02

Bailey

3.68

3.53

Arroyo

3.74

3.64

Leake

4.58

4.41

Does that mean anything? There are many variables in selecting a rotation order for a 5-game series, but frankly, the only two decisions that really matter given that you've decided to start four different pitchers over five games are: 1) who's the odd man out; and 2) who's the guy who might pitch twice? They nailed question 1, and question 2 is probably too close to call. I'm good with Cueto, but there's certainly an argument to be made that Latos is the team's best starter right now. If Cueto and Latos are that close, it makes sense to start the more homer-prone pitcher in the larger park, and right now that's Cueto.

  • When it comes to the bullpen, specifically the bullpen in the playoffs, the most important thing is that the most likely-to-be-called-upon names are in good shape. So: in this latest period, Chapman + Broxton + Marshall = 17.7 IP, 9 hits allowed, 6 walks, 18 K's. And that's with Chapman working himself back into shape. We good on this front.
  • Of note is Alfredo Simon recording a save, giving the team seven different relievers at least one save this year. Is that a record? Idon'tevenknow.
  • YTD DER jumped from .696 to .699. Leather.

Coming up:

  • Giants

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