A lot of stuff happened during the first half. Here is some of it, using a conceit that is probably too cute:
Todd Frazier played jail when the team was in San Francisco. But he may face a prison of another kind (aka Dusty Island Correctional Facility) with more bench time in the second half, as Rolen is "back" and Heisey & Ludwick are hitting more they were early on. Hope not, though.
Phillips recovered from an early-season hamstring injury + slump and got into respectable territory. Back in May, the second most popular poll answer here was that BP would post numbers similar to his 2009 season (.272/.322/.433). He's eerily close right now (.280/.322/.428). Will he turn it on in the second half or is this a regression year?
He was an indomitable force, then struggled in June - with a stretch that saw him give up 8 ER in 7 appearances. But he's been dominant again since his "A-Rolls." He's made four straight scoreless appearances since June 26 (1 H, 1 BB, 10 K). He's thrown his slider a little more often to righties in July (17% of the time). Flashing some secondary stuff, at least against RHBs, could keep the rest of the league in a Chapmanic Depression.
There are usually Homers when Bailey is on the mound, but he's only 29 innings away from the most he's thrown in a major league season, while posting the best ERA+ of his career. Innings shouldn't be a concern for a pitcher of his age and professional experience, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward.
Even with the middling offense, this team has exceeded mine so far. Right before Opening Day, I thought a team ERA in the high-3.00s was the upper bound. I said a 4.06 team ERA, .331 wOBA, sounded about right. The team is third in the majors in team ERA (3.39) - 1st in ERA+ - and middle-of-the-pack in team wOBA (.315). Projections are just trivial exercise that let you be annoying if you accidentally get something right, but the Reds are in a good position with respect to regression. I can't imagine the pitching getting better, but their hitting certainly could.
Fielding, Art of
Pitchers tend to get almost all the credit for a low team ERA, but run prevention is a Team Effort. As a low walk team with only one starter over 7.0 K/9, the Reds put the ball in play a lot. The fielders take over from there. By most indications, the Reds have been an above-average fielding team. It's hard to say just how good they've been using only a half-season of highly-flawed data, but there's no reason I can't just say "really, really, really good."
Joey Votto (natch) gave us the high-water mark of the first half with his walk-off salami on Mother's Day. His third shot of the day, you really couldn't have rolled up more good things into that moment without being over the "personal use" limit.
Homers (non-Bailey. See also: wangers, honkers, crackers, pankos, diamond fun, SYS ERROR)
Despite losing their closer for the season and Nick Masset for at least a half-season, the Reds have been pretty lucky with in-season injuries -- especially with pitchers. They've only used 13 different pitchers so far and there hasn't been even a whiff of injury to the starters. They're living on the edge, with very little SP depth in the minors, but maybe Bronson passed around a really good all natural supplement.
The Reds are getting from Jay Bruce roughly what they got last season. The problem with this, other than over-inflated expectations, is slightly-less-inflated expectations. Reds and friends expected to get something starting at his 2010 benchmark and rising as he approached his prime. They may not get the meteoric rise they expected - Bruce's walk rates and K-rates have remained steady for the past three seasons ('10-'12). Still, his BABIP is lower than it's ever been, while is Isolated Power is higher than it's been.
There's plenty of room for improvement in the second half alone. He went 4-4 against Matt Cain.
Brandon Phillips has yet to be caught stealing this season (in 5 attempts), but his two base-running gaffes against the Padres were very costly. A win in the series opener would have the Reds tied for 1st at the Break. Everything about the first half says this is going to be a close race, even if one team drops off.
Luddite Movement, 2012
I've been pleasantly surprised with Ryan Ludwick, at least with his power and defense. A lot of us will have to eat crow to say it, but there's probably not a better configuration for the Reds right now than giving Ludwick most of the starts in LF (w/ Frazier at 3B).
His grand slam against in the Braves on May 24 was the highlight of his young career, but it's been a slow start for Devin Mesoraco. There's no cause for alarm. He's shown good plate discipline (almost a 10% walk rate), with some rotten batted ball luck (.227 BABIP). It's his first full season at a position with a steep learning curve and Dusty has managed him prudently.
Three non-Votto highlights from the First Half:
- Slick Valdez
- A HR, another HR and then another after that last HR
- Through the wickets, the right way
The bullpen has been really good, with a 2.77 ERA and opposing batters hitting just .215/.301/.332. Sean Marshall has given up a few high-profile HRs, but his K/BB rate is right up there with Chapman.
Until the end of July, it's "Who can they get to improve the team?" On the one hand: "the Pirates were buyers last season, so we have to outmaneuver them." On the other, a lot of deadline buying is fool's gold. You can let your rivals walk into a trap.
There's been a lot of thinking/re-thinking about the Latos trade, especially after 4 of its 5 chips were on display during the Padres series. Despite Latos' poor start and Grandal's call-up, I don't think we're seeing something radically different from what was expected. Edinson Volquez might be the biggest surprise, but his big dip in HR-rate pitching at PetCo (almost 1-per-nine lower than last season) really isn't.
No longer a Blaze, Billy Hamilton was promoted to Pensacola. But being a Blue Wahoo somehow still fits the absurdity of Hamilton's baserunning feats. He's stolen 104 in 82 games. And his legend grows, with every tag-up on an infield fly, SB on a pitch-out or excursion into the deep OF to field a pop-up.
Toddfather: Part I
Like Michael Corleon,Todd Frazier didn't expect to take over for the Old Man, but he stepped in and showed an aficion beyond his years. In a legit sample of 200 PAs, Frazier is the 2nd most-productive hitter on the Reds.
The Reds don't have a lot of it thus far. Along with injuries, that makes things tenuous in the Second Half. They might have just enough untapped potential in the outfield not to worry.
About the only hole in Joey Votto's game is his baserunning - he makes some ugly slides, baserunning mistakes and steals below the break-even. A more important soft spot with the best hitter in the game is beyond his control. He comes to the plate with a runner in scoring position less than once every four PAs (24.9%). Carlos Beltran is in RISP situations 31.2% of the time. Not a massive gap, but it's going to be differences like that which would win the future.
The Reds don't have any overwhelming weak spots in their win distribution. Their Pythag exactly matches their actual record. They aren't overachieving in close games. They've played contending teams at about a .500 clip (depending on what your definition is of "contending.")
I would have had to scrap the piece if this signing didn't come in under the wire. The Reds picked up Paul, released by the Nats, because their advanced minor league depth had put the volunteer citizen players on high alert. Between AAA and the majors (outside the starters), the only healthy Reds hitting semi-acceptably are Chris Heisey, Paul Janish and Dioner Navarro. I'm sure it's made Walt's white board by now.
Yonder, Yasmani, Yorman
After the Latos trade, Yorman is the top Y-Man in the org. He's .310/.338/.563 since being sent back to Dayton, though he's shown no signs of walking at anything above a Franciscan rate. Yasmani Grandal - quite possibly the linchpin of the Trade for the Padres - is still in search of his first big-league walk.
Chapman picked up his first save of the year on May 20 as newly-minted Last Inning Guy against the Yankees. The road series win against a team that now holds the best record in baseball was a turning point (if you're into those). The Reds followed it up with a 4-game sweep of the Braves, vaulting into 1st place in the process.
Stubbs' brutal 0-32 streak ended mercifully on July 6th with a double in the 9th off the Padres' Ross Ohlendorf. The slump firmly planted Stubbs as the Reds' least-productive (non-Rolen) regular. Chris Heisey should find at least another start per week in CF, though that's not a CDC-recognized cure for Zombie-ism.