Monday, January 4, 2010
2010 Team Analysis: Cincinnati Reds
2009 Record: 78-84
General Manager: Walt Jocketty
Manager: Dusty Baker
Organizational Philosophy: since his hire before the 2008 season, GM Walt Jocketty has made simple moves designed to offload veteran players and payroll. The club saw its attendance decrease from 2.05 milion in 2008 to 1.7 million last season which has directed a lot of the team's current decision making. Next season the Reds plans to become cheaper while following the philosophy and whims of current manager Dusty Baker which stresses speed at the top of the order and free-swinging aggressiveness along with having the reputation of bringing the most out of his players.
Some critics have pointed to Baker being better equiped to handle a veteran team. His years as manager of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs present us with two very different conclusions. When Baker led the veteran-based Giants, he won three manager of the year awards before stepping down after eight seasons. Many applauded Baker's professionalism and his ability to create and maintain a positive team atmosphere. In 2003, the Cubs persuaded Baker to leave his cushy job as an announcer and take over a once hapless organization and turn them into contenders. The results in Chicago weren't too positive. A young pitching staff and inability to harness clubhouse disputes left Baker looking inept and unqualified; after his contract expired in 2006 the Cubs decided not to bring him back.
Before Walt Jocketty was named GM of the Reds, the club hired Baker in order to reclaim any previous glory. The results have, so far, been unfavorable and many of the previous criticisms especially his handling of young pitchers have creeped back into the conversation. The team recently hired Bryan Price as their pitching coach and is expected to be very hands on in terms of directing the pitching staff and possibly counter any of the perceived negative effects Baker has in 2010. This should be interesting especially from a pitching coach who isn't afraid to be vocal.
Aaron Harang ($12.5M)
Edison Volquez ($440K)
Bronson Arroyo ($12.25M)
Johnny Cueto ($418K)
Homer Bailey ($405K)
Matt Maloney ($400K)
It's become obvious that Aaron Harang isn't quite the same pitcher from 2006-'07. He did suffer from a strained forearm in 2008 and an appendectomy last season did take him out of action for about a month. During that time, his flyballs allowed have been treading upward but his K rates seem to be returning (8.47 in '07; 7.47 in '08; 7.87 in '09 including a strong second half). During the offseason there was talks of trading him but I think selling him low would be a mistake especially with him pitching during a contract year.
Edinson Volquez will begin the season on the DL after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August and already the blaming of you-know-who has begun. Reds officials estimate that Volquez could be out as long as 12 months and may not be seen much in 2010 unless the Reds are in the post-season and Volquez is used in the bullpen (probably not happening).
Bronson Arroyo has become dependable as an innings eater. Last season he did rebound in the second half in terms of getting his K/BB up to respectable levels. He did benefit from a relatively low BABIP (.270) and a high strand rate last season. I would expect those numbers to bump up a bit next season. Arroyo does have a club option after this season but his days of pitching like a $12 million dollar a year pitcher seem to be gone.
Johnny Cueto experienced a bit of a layoff during his second full season in '09. After throwing a career high 174 innings in '08, Cueto nearly matched it last season with 171 IP. He did experience a bit of a hangover as his K/9 fell from 8.17 to 6.93 and his velocity decreased a bit from averaging 93.4 mph in '08 to 92.7 last season. At the start of the 2010 season Cueto will be 24 years old and will be expected to shoulder a large chunk of next season's rotation. Cueto has tons of promise and if he can stay healthy and continue bringing down his BB/9 (3.52 in '08, 3.20 in '09) and keep more balls on the ground than in the air (GB% increased from 38.6% to 41% last season) he should be impressive.
After posting a solid September last season, many analysts thought Homer Bailey finally turned a corner. Bailey, himself, was quick to cite mechanical adjustments made by Skip Johnson, a pitching coach at the University of Texas, but given the lofty projections placed upon this 23 year old - many skeptics are still waiting to see if this can translate into a full season.
In the second half, Bailey was successful in keeping his flyballs down but he always had fluky FB% to HR/FB correlations (31% FB's to 18.6% HR/FB!) to begin with. Last season Bailey pretty much abandoned his changeup (only thrown 1% of the time in '09) and relied more on his curveball and slider as offspeed pitches. One major reason to get excited is Bailey's returned velocity. After peetering around 91 mph, Bailey was able to touch 98 mph on a number of starts late last season. However, he must do something about his high BB totals if he ever wants me to think of him as an ace instead of being just another updated version of Daniel Cabrera.
With Volquez on the mend, I would expect the Reds to take a good look at rookie Matt Maloney sometime this season. Maloney is a pure finesse lefty with excellent command (1.77 BB/9 in 40 MLB innings last season) but his penchant for inducing flyballs (53.1%) doesn't give him much wiggle-room. Maloney is a contact pitcher who projects to be a #4 or #5 starter at the MLB level.
Francisco Cordero ($12M)
Arthur Rhodes ($2M)
Daniel Ray Herrera ($400K)
Mike Lincoln ($2.5M)
Nick Masset ($418K; arb eligible)
Jared Burton ($420K; arb eligible)
Micah Owings ($420K; arb eligible)
Pedro Viola ($400K)
It was no secret that the Reds were looking to move Francisco Cordero this offseason in an effort to free up the $24+ million he is owed until 2012. So far talks have died down involving Cordero since not too many teams have been keen on signing closers to 8-figure multi-year salaries. Cordero has found success in Cincy mainly by keeping most of his hits on the ground. Over the past few seasons we have seen his FB% drop from 42.5% in 2007 to 37% in '08 and 35.7% last season. Over those same three seasons we have seen a dramatic decrease in his K/9 (12.22 in '07; 9.98 in '08; 7.83 last season) while his BB/9 has risen and stayed in the 4 category.
LHP veteran Arthur Rhodes is committed for another season. Last season Rhodes kept his walks down while finding new life with his fastball by increasing its average velocity. After tossing a lot of flyballs in previous seasons with the Marlins and Mariners, Rhodes made the adjustment in a park that sees a lot of FB's turn into HR's by increasing his groundballs. Since the 2000 season Rhodes has been quite stingy in the HR department and if he continues to keep his K/BB in the mid-2's he should be quite successful, again, in the setup role.
Daniel Ray Herrera in a baseball uniform has to rate slightly above Eddie Gaedel and Ted Turner (his managerial stats can be found here) in the category of baseball's visual "deviations." Standing at 5'6" and with a fastball that tops off at 84 mph, Herrera seems to have no businesss being on an MLB mound but his ability to eat up left-handed hitters (.178 BA against) and keep the ball on the ground (50+%) keeps him in a Reds uniform as a functional LOOGY.
For all the jokes and derisions thrown at Herrera, the real head scratcher and all-around injustice is the $2.5 million dollars committed to Mike Lincoln next season. If one could imagine a pitcher failing so magnificently, so dramatically in every possible way then look no further than the 23 gut-wrenching innings Lincoln threw in 2009. It was so bad (3.52 K/9; 7.43 BB/9; 2.74 HR/9; 9.27 FIP) that I had to look and see if he was playing hurt or later reported an injury (no records show this). In terms of hope I don't see much, Lincoln has always been a meddling, mediocre pitcher and at the age of 35 I would expect a release sometime early next season.
Groundballer Nick Masset pitched last season like he was worthy of the closer job. After languishing in the Rangers and White Sox organizations this 28 year old seemed to finally put it all together. He found new life in his fastball (previous average velocity was 91 mph in '07 and '08, last season it registered at 94.5 mph) some of this could be attributed to him fully developing a quality cutter and split-finger fastball (both pitches allowed Masset to not rely on and overuse his standard fastball.
This new repertoire helped Masset post his best K/BB (8.29 K/9; 2.84 BB/9) in 76 MLB innings pitched and with his healthy serving of GB's one can see why the Reds organization and its fans view him as the next Reds closer. The only criticism I could find was his low BABIP (.205) and high strand rate (80%) last season, if he struggles a bit next season this will be the reason why.
Jerad Burton wasn't quite the groundball specialist everyone was hoping he'd be but he did keep the ball in the yard in 59 MLB IP and his cutter did prove valuable in middle relief.
Micah Owings is mediocre arm who may be called on to start 10 games next season. Pedro Viola was once an OF prospect for the San Francisco Giants until it was discovered he was a bit older than previously advertised. The Reds snapped up the soon to be 27 year old and tried his services as a LHP. Viola has a lively arm and could play a significant role next season as a middle reliever. Viola does have a solid fastball (91-94 mph) with movement but his lack of secondary pitches limits him a bit.
On the field:
C: Ramon Hernandez ($3M)
C: Ryan Hanigan ($400K)
1B: Joey Votto ($437K)
2B: Brandon Phillips ($6.9M)
SS: Paul Janish ($400K)
SS: Chris Valaika ($400K)
3B: Scott Rolen ($7.6M)
INF: Adam Rosales ($400K)
LF: Chris Dickerson ($400K)
CF: Drew Stubbs ($400K)
CF: Willy Taveras ($4M)
RF: Jay Bruce ($417K)
OF: Wladimir Balentien ($405K)
OF: Laynce Nix
The Reds brought back Ramon Hernandez for another season after battling knee problems through most of 2009. Hernandez has experienced a bit of a power outage over the past three seasons and his propensity to hit groundballs doesn't help.
Despite battlings depression and anxiety after the sudden death of his father, Joey Votto put together a fantastic 2009 season. His ability to draw walks and hit for outstanding power makes him elite but I do expect a bit of a regression as his high BABIP (.373 in 2009) and HR/FB (18% and 17% the past two seasons) should make its way down south. Next season will be an arbitration year for Votto and with Yonder Alonso advancing through the minors the Reds will have a slight dilemma as to what direction they should go at 1B.
In 2009, Brandon Phillips posted a respectable line of .276/.329/.447 despite battling a wrist issue in the second half. His three year trends have been interesting, since 2007 his power numbers have slightly declined (.197, .181, .171 ISO) but his ability to draw walks and make contact have improved. I think he has another 20/20 season in him and (with a little luck in terms of a higher BABIP) could see a battling average approach .300.
Paul Janish seems likely to be given the green light at SS despite hitting a paltry .211/.296/.305 in 256 MLB at bats in 2009. His defense has been exceptional but his inability to get his bat going says a lot about the Reds lack of solid middle INF options.
Walt Jocketty favorite Scott Rolen is set to man 3B for the next two seasons. He will be 35 at the start of next season and his shoulder woes have sapped his power but at 7 to 8 million dollars a year, the Reds could do worse.
Currently the Reds have major logjam developing in the OF. The team would do themselves a service by seeing if they could flip a few pieces for a capable middle infielder but as it stands Chris Dickerson looks to take his marginal skills (high K rate, frequent GB% along with promising BB% and good minor league power numbers) as the starting LF. Dickerson does struggle vs. LHP so a platoon option would seem best.
Dusty Baker favorite Willy Taveras could see himself going head-to-head against upper-management favorite Drew Stubbs. Both have excellent speed and above average defense but Stubbs (at the age of 25) does have the higher ceiling despite his high strikeout numbers. More power is expected from Stubbs, whose body and frame suggests a power-hitting build, but his career ISO is only .135. Stubbs is able to work the count well and has shown the ability to get on base. In order to develop into the protypical leadoff hitter he will need to find a way to cut down on his strikeouts; however, his K rate may be more of a contact issue rather than a chasing-bad-pitches issue which may make his progression a bit more complicated.
Taveras, on the other hand, is 28 and doesn't promise anything more than a fourth or fifth OF option. Taveras struggles to get on base and his power is nearly nonexistent. Hopefully, common sense comes to this organization and it's decided that Stubbs starts and Taveras is sent elsewhere.
A few seasons ago, Jay Bruce came in with a lot of hype. His early 2009 struggles and wrist and groin injuries did limit his number of games while his output registered with a line of .223/.303/.470, which was nothing to get too excited about. However, Bruce did improve on his ability to draw walks (7.3% to 9.8%), cut down on his K's (26.6% to 21.7%) while seeing an improvent in his ISO (.199 to .246). Last season, Bruce lifted the ball a bit more (14.3% increase in flyballs) and he did see an increase in his overall contact. I wouldn't be surprised if he swatted 35 HRs and hit around .270 next season.
Next Season's Forecast: Starting pitching will be a focus with Edinson Volquez going down. This is a glaring hole but if Homer Bailey pitches anywhere near the level he did last second half, the Reds rotation should be fine. The bullpen seems a little weak but the rise of Nick Masset is promising. I'm expecting Masset to regress a bit (based on his "luck factor" in 2009) but he should hold down the set-up position until Francisco Cordero is no longer a Red.
Offense may be lacking this season from a few key positions (namely SS, LF, and C) but the real test will be how Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen bounces back for a full season. Due to the team's lack of payroll flexibility, success for the Reds will depend on a lot of the young players and this is something, I'm sure, Dusty Baker isn't too comfortable with.