Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati Reds’

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: 
mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: MRubio52

Yesterday I took a look at the AL Central and gave a prediction of how I think the teams will finish the year. Today I’ll be looking at a historically weak division, the NL Central. The tempting thing about the NL Central is that it’s attainable. The Cubs are blessed to be in a relatively easy division. The powerhouse teams lost two key contributors in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The temptation will be there if the Cubs manage to find themselves in contention early in the year to sell off the farm and go for it now. I know a few Cub fans that would fully endorse that strategy, but they should begin to understand that the Cubs aren’t going for it this year. So with that, here’s how I think they stack up.

1. Cincinnati Reds –  Dusty is gonna Dusty. He’s already pushed two young Reds pitchers to the limit and it’s scary to give him control over Mat Latos, a guy who is getting over shoulder trouble. The projected 5 starters for the Reds are Cueto-Latos-Arroyo-Leake-Bailey. Latos is coming over from a park that suppresses offense, but he was a guy that missed bats. Throughout the minors Latos was consistently above 8 with his K/9 rate. His command was spotty last year, and he lost a tick on his fastball, but he still oozes potential. He’s 23 and he has to work on some things to become the elite pitcher he hinted at becoming 2 years ago. I think he delivers on some of his potential but the GABP will mask some of the gains that he’ll make this year. The real reason I have the Reds winning the division is on the back of that offense. VottoRolenBruce is a bitch of a row to get through. Bruce is displaying the power potential that will eventually make him a star. He improved his road splits last year. Votto should be the MVP of the league this year with both Prince and Albert gone from the NL and a slight regression from Matt Kemp. If the Reds can get any production from the SS position they’ll be a historic offense. Zack Cozart is slated to be the starting shortstop. After last year’s shortstop debacle Cozart will have a longer grace period than most to produce, but he’s 25 and you usually know what a player is at that age. The bullpen will be missing Ryan Madson who is out for the year and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Sean Marshall becomes the closer and he should fill in nicely in that role. The rest of the bullpen is shaky, even phenom Aroldis Chapman will have his “Oh God” moments, but it shouldn’t keep them from competing.

2. Milwaukee Brewers – Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke should be battling for Cy Young votes next year. The rotation after those two gets a little bit shaky, but if Marcum keeps the gains he’s made over the past few years, he’ll remain the solid #3 option that the Brewers need to compete for both the division and the extra wildcard spot. Where they fall into trouble will be offense, which is strange to say of this team. They are replacing Prince with Mat Gamel at first, but Fielder’s production will be sorely missing from this lineup. If Corey Hart isn’t healthy (he’s dealing with a knee issue) it further compounds the issue. Fielder was an OPS machine, and the Brewers brought in Aramis Ramirez to help mitigate the effect of his departure. Braun and Ramirez will be productive, but they won’t replace the production that both Prince and Hart brought to the team. The pitching will keep them in contention, and that bullpen is solid. Axford established himself as a reliable closer, and I expect a disgruntled K-Rod to be traded by the deadline this year. The offense needs to figure it out if they want to win the division, as it stands they should win the second Wild Card spot.

3. St. Louis Cardinals – No Albert, limited Carpenter, limited Wainwright and no Magic Pixie Dust from the old man means a slide back for the Cardinals. St. Louis is depending on too many older players for them to win this division. Carlos Beltran has to stay healthy for the offense to be potent enough to compete with the Reds. Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are a decent 1-2 punch, but the Machine isn’t looming in this lineup anymore. Rather, World Series hero David Freese and Yadier Molina will be their protection in the lineup. The pitching is going to suffer the loss of Carpenter, who is only supposed to miss a month, but older pitchers with shoulder issues aren’t something to be treated lightly. Wainwright will help, and the bullpen will be solid, but the Cards offense will limit their ceiling in 2012. They will be competitive, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them either win the division or make the playoffs, but I don’t see it happening.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates – They don’t have enough to be taken as a serious contender. Andrew McCutchen is a great player, but the front offices inability to surround him with talent is a concern. Their starting 3B, Pedro Alvarez, has lost his way at the plate and he wasn’t very special to begin with defensively. There’s an ugly hitch in his swing now and he tends to have happy feet in the box. Neil Walker is a good player, but the Pirate offense can’t be taken seriously at this point. They don’t have a front line starter, they’re relying on the corpse of Erik Bedard to be productive, and while they have an ok bullpen, there won’t be too many save opportunities. This is another lost year for a lost franchise, and I bet they’ll still finish ahead of the Cubs. Speaking of which…

5. Chicago Cubs – I did an in depth series on their depth. You can read it here. There’s three parts to it, so take you’re time. I’ll wait.

They’re gonna be awful this year, and that’s part of the grandiose plan that TheoCo has drawn up. The next few years are about two things, accumulating good prospects and getting rid of bad contracts. The Cubs have famously shot themselves in the foot when it comes to spending in the hopes that a World Series trophy would render these next few years as a honeymoon period as the team tries to restock and retool. Well, the Cubs choked all that away in 2007 and 2008, fell spectacularly on their face in 2009, had their manager quit on them in 2010 and hired the cryptkeeper for 2011. Then that Boston craziness happened and we somehow ended up with a competent front office that has a concrete plan for building a serious contender for years to come. It doesn’t look like they’ll stray from that plan either, so get ready for a 70 win season folks, because Soriano is the only established offensive threat the Cubs have right now. The division is certainly gettable for the next few years, but the Cubs won’t bite. They’ll wait, and I’m fine with that.

6. Houston Astros – This franchise is awful. The offense rates below average as it will center around an old fat 1B and a young OF prospect with a flat swing plane. Well, that’s not fair to JD Martinez, he is a legit hitter, but his power will be limited because of his swing, and that’s a bit of an issue at The Ballpark Formerly Known as Enron. The opposition will certainly knock the ball out of the park, but the Astros can’t do it on a consistent enough basis to be taken seriously. The starting rotation is headlined by Wandy Rodriguez, but after that it’s a collection of bad. The bullpen is meh and there’s no hope down on the farm. They’re gonna be bad for awhile.

“Isn’t it strange? The same people who laugh at gypsy fortune tellers take economists seriously.”

I think it’s important for baseball fans on both sides of Chicago to understand that neither the Sox nor the Cubs will be seriously competing this year. The Sox have a better shot at catching lightning in a bottle this year if they get great years from their roster, but it’s a big if at this point and oddly enough it can all hinge on Jake Peavy’s health, which is a scary proposition. The Cubs have virtually no hope, the rosters of the teams in front of the Cubs are all better. The Reds, Brewers and Cardinals will fight for the Central lead leaving the Cubs in a slap fight with the Astros and the Pirates to avoid the cellar.

So a lot of people are going to tune out without properly understanding what you’re watching. For the Sox this is Kenny’s last stand. His acquisitions all have a strange propensity to blow up in his face. Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn were all massive faceplants to this point. He let fan favorites Ozzie Guillen and Mark Buerhle take their talents to Miami. He hired a manager that no one knew was a serious candidate and took full control of this team moving forward. Any success the team enjoys will be his, but so will the failure. Not many GM’s get to fire 2 managers, so Kenny’s on the clock

Epstoyer is enjoying a honeymoon currently, but they’ll have to work efficiently to rebuild a decimated Cubs organization. The Cubs have almost no pitching help in the minors. There are a few Cub fans that will want the Cubs to win now . When Cubs start getting traded most of these will get restless and wonder what the aim of the organization is. There are even a few that believe Theo and company only won because they spent Yankee money. This is true to an extent, but the Red Sox also drafted wisely and had good talent come up from their farm system. The make over the Cubs are going to get will be impressive, but the clock will start once the Cubs trade a marquee name.

Which brings me to the purpose of these two pieces. AL/NL Central “Predictions.” I’m placing the teams in order of believed finish, but I’m not going to place a W-L value on it. We’ll start with the AL Central. NL Central will go live tomorrow.

1. Detroit Tigers – They are the favorite to win the division and they are a candidate tot make some noise in the playoffs. They added Prince to Miggy and have a potent offense. The lose of Victor Martinez will hurt as Ryan Raburn will get more burn in the lineup, but Prince more than makes up for that. We all know what Prince can do with the bat, ditto with Miggy. The real question is how awful that IF defense will be. Prince-Raburn-Peralta-Cabrera has a serious chance at being the worst IF defense of all time.

Especially considering that this dude played third 60 lbs ago.

It would be pretty astounding to see what Verlander would do with a good defense, but as it stands the defense shouldn’t affect him too much. He probably won’t be as great as his 2011 season, but he’ll still be a Cy Young candidate in 2012. The rotation guy that might suffer is Doug Fister. Verlander and Scherzer both strikeout batters at an above average clip, but Fister’s career SO/9 is 5.5. He upped it to 7.3 in 70 ip with the Tigers, but I would expect that rate to fall. The ‘pen is solid and a name to look for is Daniel Schlereth. If he can gain some semblance of control he can become a high leverage pitcher.

2. KC Royals – It’s hard to predict a 2nd place finish for a team that boasts Bruce Chen in it’s rotation, but here they are, on the back of what should be a rather impressive offense. The kids can play, Hosmer is legit and should emerge as KC’s best player overall this year. Alex Gordon is going to be a great leadoff hitter this year, and Moustakas should make some positive gains at the big league level this year. The question with this team is when will the pitching help get here? All of their starters are projected to be below average this year, the only pitcher that may be worth his salt will be Jonathan Sanchez. Daniel Duffy is a few years away and like I said, Bruce Chen is an important part of this rotation. A lot of what this team does moving forward will depend on what they can do to solidify the starters. The bullpen has some names to keep an eye on, but losing Joakim Soria hurts. I think the Royals take a major step forward but the rotation will hold them back from competing for a wild card spot.

3. Cleveland Indians – Carlos Santana is the damn truth. He will emerge as the best catcher in baseball this year. He’s great with the stick and he’s a good defender. The Indians should surprise people this year, but a bad offense will keep them from really making noise in the central. Shin-Soo Choo is key for the Tribe. If he can get back on his star track this year the Indians can scare the Tigers for a few months. If not, the Indians will be relegated to fending off the Sox and the Twins in third place. Ubaldo Jimenez won’t be competing for Cy Young’s anymore, but he is a solid top of the rotation pitcher. He should emerge as the ace over Justin Masterson this year. Josh Tomlin needs to increase his K rate to his minor league levels to have a breakout year, but he should still remain as a decent mid-rotation option. The Bullpen will keep this team from being a complete cellar dweller.

4. Chicago White Sox – It’s not an awful rotation. Danks should have a rebound year, Gavin is a candidate to have a great year, Chris Sale will make some noise in the rotation, but their success or failure all depends on the offense. Adam Dunn was historically bad and that saved Alex Rios from more criticism. Gordon Beckham lost his swing and will have a difficult time getting it back. AJ Pierzynski is hitting second in the lineup. Brent Morel will get significant playing time. It’s just a bad offense. Dunn should rebound somewhat, he’s currently crushing fastballs which is a good sign considering how slow his bat looked last year. Dayan Viciedo has light tower power but we have to wait and see how his game translates in the MLB. Rios is likely to hit 3rd for most of the season. The Sox have too many questions regarding the offense to be a serious contender, you have to hit HR’s in the Cell to compete, because everyone else will.

5. Minnesota Twins – This team is awful. Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham will carry the load on offense, and their pitching rotation will be flat out awful. Carl Pavano’s K-rate might dip below 4 this year. They have no frontline starter in their rotation. The bullpen will be using gasoline to put out the fires this year, there’s little help down on the farm, Justin Morneau is probably done playing baseball, they will be in the cellar this year. They have a long rebuild ahead of them and Gardy should probably get fired this year.

After all, My erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was no love,
Just because it perished?

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

America had a love affair with baseball. It was a slow burning love that lasted generations, a constant companion during hard times. Baseball was there everyday, during the depression, during WWII, during the communist scare, baseball was always there, giving you living legends. Williams, DiMaggio, The Holy Trinity, Koufax, Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx, Rose, Aaron, the list goes on and on.

Of recent vintage, the love affair has cooled as a sleeker, much faster sport has taking it’s place as sports king of America. Football reigns supreme and that’s fine. It’s the hot one. Football gives you collisions and car crashes, but with human bodies. Football gives you the cheap quick entertainment that the twitter generation enjoys so much. It’s the most popular sport in the US by a mile, nothing else really comes close to it.

We’ve forgotten about baseball, and it’s because it strayed away from the one thing that made it personable. We loved baseball, but we loved its players even more. They weren’t steroid infested freaks in the past. The bodies weren’t cartoonish. Ted Williams looked like a butcher at the corner store.

Yep, greatest hitter of all time.

For years you could imagine yourself playing baseball and it wouldn’t look clownshoes ridiculous. You can still kinda do it now, but this was especially true in an era before off-season training and, well, steroids.

I understand the drive to become the greatest player you can be, the drive to make the most money, I really do. While I don’t despise roided up players, I do not like them for the negative contributions they’ve made to a game I adore. The relationship between baseball and it’s fans is fractured. An entire generation of fans is growing up not knowing if their favorite player is a cheater or not. See, this doesn’t matter in football. Those guys are just things in helmets that run into each other for our personal enjoyment. They’re like NASCAR vehicles to us. Their personal health matters little because if it did, we’d outlaw the sport.

Baseball on the other hand is a game that is married to history and context. It’s the only game where you can compare players now to players of a generation ago. George Mikan would get destroyed in the modern NBA. Red Grange would be knocked out on his first snap in the NFL. Babe Ruth would still mash in the modern MLB.

History and relatable stars are the main draws with baseball. The true legends of today are awe inspiring because of the legends that they walk with. Greg Maddux is a living legend, a giant in the historical baseball world. The man has amassed 355 wins, he can hang his hat with legends like Warren Spahn (363), Steve Carlton (329), Christy Matthewson (373), and Pete Alexander (373). When you think about Maddux, it’ll be in the context of Greatest Players of All Time. His name is intertwined with players from the aughts, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and the fifties and sixties. What other sport does that?

In a roundabout way, that brings me to Ryan Braun.

He did indeed test positive for performance enhancing drugs. He did indeed get off on a technicality. He did not, however, exonerate himself whatsoever from being a steroid cheat. The thing with urine is that it doesn’t magically grow testosterone when it’s refrigerated.

Crazy, I know.

Ryan Braun had a 20:1 ratio, which means whatever it means to you. It was high, but it wasn’t the highest in history as he’ll have you believe. There have been 70:1 positive results in the past. The sample was not tampered with, the seals were intact, and while they did sit in the collector’s fridge over the weekend, the alternative was to have them sit at Fed-Ex for the same amount of time. Again, I have yet to hear of the case where testosterone grew in urine because it was cold.

The crime Ryan Braun committed doesn’t just taint his legacy. The continued use of performance enhancing drugs has driven away fans. Baseball is slowly recovering from the steroids scandal, and it finds itself in an odd place. It is trying very hard to actively eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs, but the athletes themselves are finding exotic ways to cover up the use.

Ryan Braun, baseball is partially at fault for the “Guilty until proven innocent,” stance that the general public has taken in past years. More to blame are the players, however, like yourself and Rafael Palmiero, that use and deny so fervently. Baseball has lost a lot of fan credibility, and that’s unfortunate. Living legends are more difficult to identify, I have no idea who’s clean now. I can make my assumptions, but the last round of “damn he’s juicing too?” was too damn painful to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Yeah, everyone in baseball is guilty until proven innocent. It’s not really safe to point at anyone and say “He’s completely clean.” It’s not the era we live in.

That still doesn’t give players an excuse to use. You’re hurting my game man, and I’d appreciate it if you cut that shit out.

I’ve been there before, down that path, feeling that same sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s the feeling you get deep within your being when you have so completely failed to live up to the expectations of people that support you. The sensation is truly nauseating. You begin to realize that people put their faith in your ability to perform a task, or to get a job, or to be special.

Yes, I’ve failed miserably before, odds are that I will again.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Adam Dunn. He is the type of slugger that I appreciate nowadays. Low average, walks a lot, hits monster home runs, strikes out quite a bit as well. I’ve drafted him to every fantasy team I’ve owned since 2006. There are three true outcomes when it comes to Adam Dunn, and I can appreciate that.

Last year was painful for me as well.

When you fail, when you fall down, it’s usually not in front of 20,000 people. To watch Adam Dunn last year was to watch the slow death of a confused animal. One who is not completely sure why it is dying, but one that is certain of it’s fate. Dunn knew he was going to fail towards the second half of last season. He looked lost in a mire of his own personal doubts and the pressures to perform a duty that used to come so easy to him before.

Perhaps that is the issue, it was easy before. There were little to no expectations for Dunn in his previous stops. Cincy was never in contention with him, Arizona had a brief stint as a contender when he was traded there, and the Nationals weren’t ready to contend when he landed there. His destiny as Sox DH was predestined, it’s a home run happy park, one where Dunn could exercise his prowess and become something more. He was traded to a team that was supposed to contend.

And then 2011 happened.

Historically, there has never been a full season collapse like this in baseball history. Think about that, baseball records have been reliably kept since 1885. Since then, no one has fallen on their face harder than Adam Dunn.

Dunn’s bat looked slower, and statistical evidence seems to back that claim up. From 2007 through 2010 Dun averaged 536 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 87 times pers season. In 2011, Dunn had 411 AB’s and struck out on a fastball 100 times. Pitchers threw fastballs to Dunn 62% of the time from 2007-2011, but in 2011 Dunn saw fastballs 69% of the time.

Pitchers aren’t afraid of Dunn, and that’s an issue. Adam Dunn needs to figure out if he truly loves baseball, because he didn’t just fail to live up to expectations, he set a record for failing.

There is one silver lining in his numbers.

Despite being historically bad, Dunn saw an uptick in his BB ratio. You can take this as a sign that his patience could help in 2012, or that he is too afraid to swing at anything and he lucked into a few walks. Either way, it’s something positive that he did.

Dunn wasn’t alone in failure on the south side. Rios and Beckham were supposed to be two very good hitters for the Sox. Rios was claimed off waivers by Kenny Williams in 2009 and had a respectable 2010 year. Beckham was a first round pick with a hitting pedigree from Georgia. He was a College World Series hero and many argued that he should have been the rookie of the year in 2009.

Both players were expected to have good years for a contending team in 2011, and both failed to meet expectations. Here is a graph of the trio’s wOBA

Or if you want more traditional stats:

Those three players had 1623 combined PA’s and severely under performed last year.

Rios looks like a gifted athlete. He patrols centerfield with grace and speed, he makes it all look so easy. His tools are apparent and that’s what makes his struggles so infuriating. He can be a good baseball player, but there is this odd mental block with him that is impossible to describe. He should be a 30 home run guy, but he isn’t. He should hit .300, but he doesn’t. He should be a gold glove centerfielder, but he never will be. Perhaps it is lapses in concentration that leads to his poor play, but he needs to play better.

Beckham looks like a lost cause. He was a stellar fielder at second base in the first half, but his fielding dipped as his bat never really got on track. He has regressed every year he’s been in the league, and that’s a terrible sign for a rookie phenom. Beckham collapsed in the second half last year, but the dip wasn’t as visible because he wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire in the first half. He struggled to hit .213 after the All-Star break as his K-rate shot through the roof.

Beckham will never be an OBP machine, he doesn’t walk enough and his swing looks lost, but he can be somewhat valuable since his glove could theoretically justify his bat. He needs to be around .270-.280 for that to happen.

The White Sox have an outside chance at competing in 2012. The Tigers IF defense will be awful and there is a slight chance the the Sox will pitch enough to stay in the race. The mitigating factor will be the bats. 3 of the 4 times the Sox have made the playoffs in New Comiskey the team has belted 200+ home runs. That’s the magic number, if the Sox can hit, the pitching might hold up enough to stay relevant into September. For that to happen, these three players will have to play well.

Dunn is the wild card, if he can return to form, the Sox will do well. The question with him will always be about his love for the game. Picking up a bat this offseason was a healthy start, but he’s going to have to mash for the Sox to compete.