18 Games at a Time - Capsule 6

Denis Poroy

Treading water, the unattractive way.

It wasn't as bad as it seemed, nor was it as good as the data suggests. This team is exhausting.

The bottom line is that it's time to reset expectations and refocus questions. More on that in a bit.

All numbers through Tuesday's games.

2013 Reds, Capsule 6

Overview:

Wins/Losses: 9 - 9

Strength of Schedule: .504 (1st most difficult in NL; 11th most difficult in ML)

[Prev: .504, 2nd most difficult in NL; 11th most difficult in ML]

RPI (ESPN): .514 (3rd best in NL; 10th best in ML)

[Prev: .517, 3rd best in NL; 10th best in ML]

Baseball Prospectus postseason odds: 88.6% [Prev: 82.0%]

Baseball Prospectus division odds: 11.6% [Prev: 16.4%]

Offense:

  • .258/.333/.402 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for the team, compares to NL average of .247/.313/.376
  • Regulars, as defined by plate appearances: Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Heisey, Choo, Bruce.
  • Be honest: you didn't expect the aggregate team numbers to be better than league average, did you?
  • How about this: Of the 8 regulars listed above, three of them had OPS levels in the 900s, and only one had an OPS more than 10 points below league average.
  • The three aforementioned good guys were the ones you'd expect. Votto had 19 hits and 15 walks en route to a 942 OPS, Bruce bopped four boss-bombs while leading the team in hits and OPSing 964, and Choo did a little bit of everything including being a little better in the same stat (969).
  • The guy who struggled was Brandon Phillips, who: a) is prone to these deep slumps every year; and b) knocked in 17 runs despite the gak-worthy .227/.278/.318 batting line. He's making strong contact, striking out just 7 times, but he's not hitting the ball with a whole lot of authority or hitting the ball with the requisite amount of lucky spin or both, posting a miniscule BABIP of .254. The BP case study will be part of the Advanced Baseball Narratives syllabus this fall ("Students will be expected to simultaneously praise and discredit the Runs Batted In statistic in an effort to make themselves and those around them completely miserable.").
  • The offensive struggles are a measure of good pitching, bizarre timing/lack of clutch hitting, cavernous ballparks, and a terrible, terrible bench: Xavier Paul, Jack Hannahan, and Cesar Izturis combined to go 7-for-50. That's a .140 batting average, homes. Two of those guys know how to take a walk, but at this point I'd advocate trading for Jason Giambi just to guarantee one competent left-handed pinch-hitting swing per game.
  • This is almost certainly linked to most of the games this period having been played in cavernous stadia which are each 7,000 feet below sea level, but the aggregate 12 homer tots hit by the team this stretch were: a) lower than any other 18-game stretch this year; and b) embarrassing. Time to pop more muscle-building pills, kids. On the other hand, the 41 doubles and 5 triples are pretty good numbers. Potentially, this is an offense set to go on a tear, but I've thought that before, too. Maybe don't get your hopes up, I guess.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 2.91, compared to league average of 3.58
  • There's really nothing else for me to write about the pitching. The staff leads the league in strikeouts, which, when you think about playing your ballgames in a small and jumpy yard, makes very strong sense. This is quite possibly the platonic ideal of a Cincinnati staff. And three of the important guys are missing. Good times.
  • Seriously, everybody pitched well, and those who didn't weren't all that bad.
  • Which brings me to an interesting point of discussion. According to the numbers above, the Reds are a very strong bet to be one of the wild card entrants. Roughly a 3-in-4 chance at this point. Regardless of your thoughts on the relatively new wild card system, it exists, and if a team finds itself in a one-game must-win do-or-die contest, it might as well try and win the damn thing.

Now the following paragraphs are definitely putting the cart in front of the horse, but...that's kinda what we do. Behold:

Paradoxically, the Reds may find themselves in a slightly enviable position. There's lots of games left to be played, and the Reds will play many games head-to-head against the teams they're chasing, but realistically, there doesn't seem to be enough firepower to surpass two teams and six games in the standings. I hope I'm wrong, but suppose the Reds continue in this divisional purgatory, where they are several games behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and several games ahead of Arizona. Couldn't they basically use the last week of the season to set their rotation and prepare solely for the one must-win game? All possibly happening while the two divisional contenders are fighting tooth-and-nail for the benefit of not having to play their way in to the postseason? All in all, I'd rather be fighting for the division title, but there might be a way to benefit from the current sitch.

So here's the question. If you have the opportunity to maneuver for the sake of this one ultimate game, who do you give the ball to?

All the starters have ERAs between 2.59 and 3.77, so it's not like there are any bad choices.

Here's my take, in reverse order of desirability:

#6: Mat Latos (3.38 ERA, 3.64 xERA): Seems like the most likely to have one of those all-time classic, blow everyone away type of games, but seems way too likely to be amped up for a do-or-die game. I just don't trust him in this spot.

#5: Tony Cingrani (2.90 ERA, 2.74 xERA): He's saved the Reds' bacon this year, but holds the dual-risk factor of being a rookie and of being the kind of pitcher who *might* not fare well if facing a particular team for the 3rd or 4th time in a season. Besides, this is a moot point, since there's no way Tony would get the ball from Dusty in this spot.

#4: Johnny Cueto (3.33 ERA, 2.94 xERA): Probably the odds-on favorite to get the ball if he were healthy, but not only is he not currently in the rotation, there are just too many recent images of him having to walk off the field way too early in the game in pain. I'm not risking the psychological burden of having it happen again, in a one-game playoff.

#3: Mike Leake (2.59 ERA, 3.44 xERA): He's been the Reds' most valuable pitcher this year, and no one knows how or why. He's earned the right to be on the postseason roster this year, but this feels a bit too much like leaving the game up to chance.

#2: Homer Bailey (3.77 ERA, 3.16 xERA): The Reds' hard-luck tosser has definitely thrown better than the baseball card numbers would indicate. Similar to Latos, there would be value in throwing a guy that you know could blow a batter away in a tight spot in a game likely to contain several tight spots. Seems like a good bet to handle the pressure.

#1: Bronson Arroyo (3.26 ERA, 3.70 xERA): In my mind, this is the only serious choice. Owns the requisite...intestinal fortitude to not be overwhelmed by the situation, would be a solid antidote to a lineup of opposing hitters anxious to be the hard-swinging hero. In the unlikely event that the game was at home, it would be an awesome send-off to what would possibly be Arroyo's last hometown start as a Redleg. Otherwise, it'd be a pitcher well-suited to using the space of a larger ballpark. I'd start Arroyo, and have Cingrani ready to serve as a hard-throwing, left-handed contrast in relief.

The next 18:

  • 10 games at home, 8 on the road
  • 10 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 5 of the 18 against projected 2013 playoff teams
  • 2 of the 18 against American League teams
  • .494 average winning percentage (2013) for the teams in the next 18 games.

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