18 Games at a Time - Capsule 5

I started to profess my hatred for the whole 25 man roster, until I remembered how impossible it is to not love Sam. - Jamie Sabau

The story underneath the story is the wrong story.

A team's baseball season, best as I can figure, is a series of 162 independent binary events, which are functions of player quality, player health, weather patterns, and random biorhythmic fluctuations. These binary events are intertwined with 29 other sets of binary events, resulting in a schedule of events to be televised in October on TBS and Fox. There is not necessarily a narrative dictated by the specific order of success and failures recorded in the binary events.

OK, I can't really keep up writing in that voice much longer; for one thing, I've used up all the smart-sounding words I know. The point of the above paragraph is not that everything is meaningless, in some Ecclesiastical paradigm, but rather that way too much emphasis is placed on the wrong types of context by the baseball scribes, especially this season, with this ballclub.

A short recap of events:

1) The team is on pace to win 90 games.

2) 90 wins is, in most years, good enough to win the NL Central.

3) 90 wins is, in even more years, good enough to qualify for a wild-card spot.

4) Nobody cares about who the *best* team in any kind of philosophical construct; the singular goal, since divisional playoffs were created in 1969, is to be playing well in October. If you doubt this, ask yourself how many "Power Ranking" articles you've saved from past seasons.

5) The Reds have won only 7 of their past 18 games.

6) The Reds are in 3rd place in the NL Central.

Unless you believe that the Reds are fundamentally changed from who they were in May (which: maybe, what with injuries to Cueto and the pen), then the angst surrounding this season is a reflection of the surprising success of the Cards and Bucs, not a reflection of lack of intestinal fortitude by the Reds, nor a lack of moral character. Don't get me wrong...complaining about St. Louis and Pittsburgh is absolutely a legitimate exercise, but at least recognize that if both teams had won 4 or 5 fewer games this year than they actually have, you'd be feeling rather satisfied, regarding Los Redlegs.

The story, should you be looking for one, is simple. Cincinnati's cumulative strength of schedule went from 11th most difficult in the NL to 2nd, in the matter of just three weeks. Winning games against good teams is harder than winning games against bad teams. A series of binary events, most of which are completely out of our favorite team's control, have conspired against us, and the cards are stacked against us. Wild card qualification is significantly less desirable than divisional conquest. The good news? Time is still plentiful, and the ultimate goal hasn't changed a bit: get hot in October.

All stats and related nonsense through Tuesday's games...

2013 Reds, Capsule 5

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 7 - 11

Strength of Schedule: .504 (2nd most difficult in NL; 11th most difficult in ML) [Prev: .494, 11th most difficult in NL; 24th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .517 (3rd best in NL; 10th best in ML)

[Prev: .520, 3rd best in NL; 7th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus postseason odds: 82.0% [Prev: 90.2%]

Baseball Prospectus division odds: 16.4% [Prev: 33.6%]

Offense:

  • .238/.309/.379 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .256/.316/.402
  • The regulars, as defined by highest number of plate appearances: Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Robinson, Choo, Bruce.
  • Let's look for positives first. The walk rate was better than average (8.4% vs. 7.4%). There you go.
  • This is probably another weird place to go, but I'm just trying to delay the inevitable. The Reds stole five bases successfully in ten attempts, bringing their YTD stolen base percentage to 57%. I'm glad that their attempt total correlates with their success rate (both rank 14th out of 15 teams), but they should probably toss that club out of the bag altogether. Shin-Soo Choo, for what it's worth, is the team's worst offender (15 out of the team's 46 attempts, 60% success rate). As a thought exercise, the reader is asked to think of reasons why Choo has attempted 15 steals and Zack Cozart has yet to attempt one.
  • Oh hey, Zack Cozart! .177/.221/.258. Four runs scored, batting in front of Votto, Phillips, Bruce.
  • Brandon Phillips was almost as bad (.213/.279/.311), but in his partial defense he was recovering from an owie, and he does this at least once or twice every year anyway, only to bounce back and carry the team for a stretch.
  • The Reds' best hitter was Joey Votto (.294/.388/.471), but this makes three of the five 18 game capsules in which Votto's OPS was under 900. I'm not being an alarmist, but sub-900 used to never happen.
  • Remember when we used to talk about the advantage of having pitchers who could hit? On the season, Bronson Arroyo with a 214 OPS; Mike Leake with a 333 OPS. These aren't misrepresentative of how other pitchers hit, which is kind of the point.
  • Shin-Soo Choo was hit by just one pitch, but he still got on base 36% of the time. It would appear, given our short but meaningful time together, that Choo's early season power outburst was more the exception than the rule, but he's still a mighty fine leadoff guy.
  • Chris Heisey played a little bit, and hit well in the shortiest of short sample sizes (1335 OPS in 26 PA). Again, grain of salt, but two walks in roughly five or six games worth of action represents a huge increase for Heisey. If he learned any kind of patience while he was away, he'd become the guy we all want Todd Frazier to be.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 3.51, compared to league average of 3.63
  • Homer Bailey, pitching the first no-hitter I've ever seen in real-time. 27-to-6 K/BB ratio. It's kind of funny, in a not-so-funny way, how Bailey had a higher batting average against for the period (.220) than the staff in total (.212).
  • Manny Parra, JJ Hoover, and Sam LeCure: 24.1 innings of scoreless baseball.
  • Mat Latos is pitching in the fun zone right now: 20.1 innings, 33 strikeouts, 8 walks, 1 dinger. Unfortunately, the fun zone has some of those weird mirrors that skew everything, with a .396 BABIP against.
  • Apparently, these BABIPs balance out. Mike Leake, .138 BABIP against. Just ride the ride ‘til it stops.
  • Badroyo: 13-to-7 K/BB; 4 bombs.
  • At this point, it's basically a guarantee that team ace Johnny Cueto will not rank in the top five starters for the year, in terms of games started or innings pitched. He's also a near-lock to not hit triple digits in innings pitched. Whatevs; just be healthy in October.
  • The DER keeps going up. YTD of .712, up from .708 last time we did this. It's the 2nd best defense in the NL, based on this metric. Who knows.

The next 18:

  • 3 (!) games at home, 15 on the road
  • 4 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 7 of the 18 against projected 2013 playoff teams
  • 0 of the 18 against American League teams (woot)
  • .511 average winning percentage (2013) for the teams in the next 18 games.
  • We'll run into the trade deadline by the end of the next stretch, but it sure doesn't seem like there's any trade juice out there with Cincy's name on it, which probably indicates a lock that a blockbuster is coming.
  • If you're like me, and under the assumption that the Cardinals have only been scheduled to play the Marlins, Astros, Mets, and Cubs this year, take heart: they have an 11-game stretch (all on the road) against the Braves/Pirates/Reds starting later this month. And a 17 consecutive game stretch starting in late August against the same teams. Moreover, and perhaps a bit paradoxically to the sentences immediately preceding, I continue to operate under the assumption that the Pirates will fold until they prove otherwise. It's entirely possible that the Cards are a better team than the Reds, but there's still many opportunities left for them to prove otherwise.
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