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Spring Training Week 3: Control problems

The only "true" outcomes a pitcher can exert a measure of control over, according to sabermetric wisdom, are walks, strikeouts and home runs. Even this might overstate the case, given the constant threat of injury and low margin for error that pervades everything a pitcher does and allows small glitches to become big problems.

Dusty Baker reports that Cueto will "probably not" start the year on the active roster. While we wait to hear more about the severity of his injury - which, as of press time was being described as a more local pain to the bicep rather than farther down the arm - the Reds' pitching depth is being tested much earlier than anyone would have hoped. The spring performances turned in by several important members of the staff have not exactly inspired confidence. Edinson Volquez and Aroldis Chapman - candidates to be aces in the rotation and bullpen, respectively - have been all over the map. Chapman has walked nearly a batter an inning over 10 IP, while Volquez has walked 7 in 4.2 innings (not including a BB, 3 hit batters and 2 wild pitches in an outing against minor leaguers). We know that a wild streak runs through both pitchers. "Effective" wildness, leading to potential brilliance, is bound to come, but the Spring sandbox is quickly turning into a perfectly-manicured Opening Day diamond.

The vital signs from the other pitchers besides but Cueto have been positive. They're feeling good. Arm, body and soul. The offense is waking up, as the regulars are hitting more regularly. The pattern is generally the same every spring, though some players are especially slow starters.

As a fan, you exert (virtually) no control over any of the spectacle on the field. Sometimes, players appear to be in complete mastery of their game, which makes this arrangement completely sensible. Other times, this illusion is shattered, which makes the average fan restless and irritable. In either case, we know the players are fallible and subject to overwhelming forces beyond their control. It can be affirming to identify with that vulnerability, even if it's hard to admit that Superman can injure his rotator cuff.

This week's findings:

  • Even with the Spring qualifiers of "working on stuff" and "holding stuff back," Edinson Volquez has control issues. But let's not pretend this is a surprise. At least Volquez is capable of walking 5, strikeout 7 and hold the opposition to one run.
  • With Cueto out of the rotation to start the season, Leake, Bailey and Wood are probably all in. But how long will Leake stay in the rotation if he can't steady himself?
  • The composition of the bullpen is still uncertain, but Maloney and LeCure may both be kept stretched out in AAA to hedge against the rotation uncertainty.
  • Only Aroldis Chapman and Dontrelle Willis (1.000 AVG) are out-hitting Dave Sappelt.

Position Battles

Back-up OF

  • Basically in: Chris Heisey
  • Not as "in" as he seems: Fred Lewis
  • Bubble: Jeremy Hermida
  • Cinderella scenario: Hermida makes it, pushing Lewis out
  • Outrageously Grimm-like Cinderella scenario: Dusty changes his mind about Sappelt, installs him as Opening Day lead-off hitter

Back of the rotation:

  • Most likely: Travis Wood, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake
  • Bubble: Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure
  • Cinderella Scenario: Leake has crisis of confidence, LeCure or Maloney beat Leake out for fifth spot

Last three bullpen spots:

  • Most likely: Logan Ondrusek, Dontrelle Willis, Jared Burton
  • Next three: Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo
  • Cinderella scenario: Jordan Smith or Danny Ray Herrera make the bullpen

Overall record: 14-11

Top Performers to date

  • Dave Sappelt: .531/.543/.875 (32 ABs)
  • Travis Wood: 3.21 ERA, 13 K, 3 BB (14 IP)