With the panic induced by the Reds' historically slow start at the plate, it might be worth first mentioning that the entire team has not been out to sea. The pitching, for one thing, has been decent. Offense is down in the league so far, so the Reds' team ERA of 3.69 - while 0.44 below last season - only puts them in the middle of the pack. But relative to the NL, it's a better spot then the team was in last season.
If the positive and negative regressions - most notably from Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Chapman - all come out in the wash, then this could be a significant improvement once the league-leading team is no longer holds an ERA of 1.99.
As the refrain goes this time of year, it's too early to tell. And that should apply to the offense and defense equally. Still, when a team sets a Century mark (credit: Slyde) for offensive impotence through nine games, it's worth taking a closer look. There are a few factors, beyond the psychological, that might explain the slump.
Last season, the Reds were in the Top 10 in the majors in BABIP at .297, but there was nothing particularly fluky about their performance at the plate. Through 10 games this season, they're currently third-last in the majors at .242. This may have a lot to do with also being second-last in the bigs in line drive rate and third-last in slugging, while sitting behind the likes of the Astros, Mariners and Giants in ISO (isolated power).
This team simply isn't hitting the ball very hard, which is what happens when you're mired in a team-wide slump. The good news is that pretty much all of the aberrant performances are bound to improve. Really the only player with in inflated slash line at this point is Zack Cozart - at .342/.390/.579.
Starting Pitchers Faced: Playing beyond their years (or at least months)
In half of their games so far, the Reds have failed to score more than 2 runs. For those five games, they've faced: Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson. It may not exactly be a murderer's row, but with the exception of Westbrook, every pitcher listed had an ERA below 3.79 this year. Gonzalez and Westbrook are the only two with ERAs above 2.55 in the very early going for 2012.
While I don't think there's much excuse for getting completely shut down by Lohse or Westbrook, the Reds haven't had a ton of success or exposure to the rest. They saw Jackson once last season, Zimmerman twice and faced Gio back in 2010.
The bats have been cold in general against starting pitching. So far, the two situations they've where they've been most successful - from an OPS standpoint - are in their fourth time around against a starter and against relief pitching. The starters may be ahead of everyone in baseball at this early stage - doubly so when you're cold.
This team is currently third-last in the majors in home runs and has a suspiciously low HR/FB% (in the bottom fifth of the majors). For a team that was second the NL in HRs last season and should be hovering above-average in HR% given their home park, this is completely unsustainable. Warmer weather, slump-busting and match-ups with a few more fly ball pitchers should set this right.
Getting little from starting lineup, nothing from the bench
The bench is one of the early issues that is likely to be chronic. While the .600 OPS from the starters has been pathetic, the bench is currently sporting a .174/.208/.217 line. I'm honestly not sure how much better this is going to get, considering:
- Miguel Cairo is injured
- Wilson Valdez projects around a .270 wOBA
- Willie Harris projects around a .300 wOBA, with very little power
- Chris Heisey is fantastic off the bench, but it's really anyone's guess what Ludwick will bring as a PHer or starter.
Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce all have March and April among their least productive months of the season. While Bruce was off to a hot start with three early HRs, he's cooled and is now just 8-39 on the year. I think we'll see dramatic improvements from all three over the next month and a half, probably in ascending order.