There is a reason why Joey Votto collected just 56 runs batted in in 111 games in 2012.  That reason is the guys hitting in front of him and not getting on base.  The Reds had a league worst .254 OBP from their leadoff hitters in 2012.  That problem was quickly solved in a deal that centered around outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.  He was acquired, along with infielder Jason Donald and $3.5 million, from the Cleveland Indians in a trade that involved three teams and nine players overall.  The Indians receive outfielder Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati and pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks.  Arizona gets minor league shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first baseman Lars Anderson from Cleveland

                With few weaknesses remaining on the major league club, the Reds have finally found their guy to bat leadoff.  Shin Soo Choo has consistently shown the ability to get on base at a high level throughout his career with a .381 career OBP.  After being injured in 2011, he came back strong in 2012 with a .283/.373/.441 batting line.  Along with getting on base, Choo has good power and speed numbers as well with 43 doubles, 16 long balls, and 21 stolen bases in 2012.  Additionally, he was a 20-home run, 20-stolen base guy in 2009 and 2010.  The one hole in Choo’s overall offensive game is the strike out.  He did that 150 times in 2012, which is not ideal from a leadoff hitter.  However, Choo’s walk rate (10.6%) and ability to get on base is what the Reds are looking for when they traded for him.  However, one major question Choo's acquisition presents  is who will replace Stubbs in center? He was a below average right fielder in 2012, with -12 defensive runs saved and limited experience in center (83 innings). It has been documented that Choo will be the starting center fielder next season, but should continue to be a below average outfielder as he makes this positional transition.  Also, the Reds got utility infielder Jason Donald from the Indians.  Donald has never played more than 88 games in his 3 year career.  Overall in 170 career games, Donald has hit .257/.309/.362 with 7 home runs.  The Reds can use Donald to play multiple positions as he has played shortstop, second base, third base, and even 8 games in the outfield (5 in LF, 3 in CF) in 2012.  Statistically however, it is shown that he is a below average defender with -12 defensive runs saved for his career. 

                Now, for the players the Indians received.  Outfielder Drew Stubbs is a player who has flashed crazy tools, but has never compiled those numbers in a single season.  Stubbs has shown to be a good speed threat with at least 30 stolen bases in his last 3 seasons.  However, the trouble for him is getting on base.  He has also struggled to hit for a consistent batting average with a career stat line of .241/.312/.386.  Stubbs has not been able to walk much either, with just 44 in 544 plate appearances in 2012.  A league-leading 205 strike outs in 2011, Stubbs' propensity to miss will not help his OBP as well.  Throughout his career, he has just one defensive run saved and just two alone from last year, making him about an average defender in center.  The Indians are hoping he can bounce back from a career worst -0.2 WAR in 2012 and add speed to their outfield and offensive game.  Trevor Bauer may end up being the biggest piece of this trade, but he has yet to prove anything at the big league level.  Bauer was drafted third overall in 2011, and was ranked as Arizona’s number one prospect in 2012. He has an extremely deep repertoire with a plus low-mid 90's fastball, elite 12-6 curveball, solid changeup, and his personally created "reverse slider" (as seen below for your viewing pleasure). Yet, he has shown little ability to throw strikes consistently, as evidenced by his below average 4.2 BB/9 rate in the minors.
               Statistically speaking, Bauer struggled in 4 major league starts (6.06 ERA, 7.2 BB/9), but had very effective minor league numbers with AA and AAA.  In 130.1 innings, he compiled a 2.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 157 strikeouts.  Bauer will just be 22 years old in 2013 and the Indians are hoping he can live up to hype and be a productive starter for them in the future.  The Indians will also receive bullpen help from Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.  Albers has struggled throughout his career with a career ERA of 4.68 and ERA+ of 94.  However, still just 29 years old, Albers posted career-highs with the Red Sox and Diamondbacks in 2012.  In 60.1 innings, he had a 2.39 ERA with a 181 ERA+.  A hard thrower, Albers may have benefited from a lower walk rate in 2012.  He walked walked 3.3 batters per 9 innings in 2012, compared to his career mark of 4.1 BB/9 and previous career high of 4.0 BB/9 in 2008 and 2010.  Shaw, 24, is a young reliever with just 2 years of MLB experience.  However he has shown he can be very productive in his 87.2 career innings pitched.  He has an ERA of 3.18 and ERA+ of 129 for his career.  

                As for Arizona, they acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius, lefthander Tony Sipp and first basemen Lars Anderson in this deal.  Gregorius, just 22 years old, has put up average numbers throughout his minor league career.  He has batted .271/.323/.376 in 5 minor league seasons.  Last year with AA and AAA he batted .265/.324/.393 with just 7 home runs and 3 stolen bases.  He has the reputation of being a glove first, bat second, player capable of being a highlight film in the field. Lars Anderson, former Red Sox top prospect, has only played in 30 games in the big leagues and has hit .167/.268/.188.  In the minor leagues he has hit .272/.369/.432 for his career with solid plate selection and a good glove.  He has shown the ability to hit for power, although his home run total dropped to just 9 in 111 games in AAA.  Lefty Tony Sipp has shown the ability to be productive, although very inconsistent during his four year stint in the majors.  His ERA+’s from 2009-2012 have progressively worsened from 146 to 96 to 130 to 89.  This inconsistency is a problem because of his wildness with a walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings.

First Impressions: 

Winners: Reds, Indians: Reds added the leadoff they desperately needed, even if he might not be the best suited to play in center field. By dumping Choo, who had just one year remaining on his deal and would not have resigned with the Tribe, the Indians acquired an extremely talented arm in Bauer and decent outfield option in Stubbs with a combined 9 years of team control remaining. 

Loser: Diamondbacks: Arizona acquired the young shortstop they so desperately coveted, except that Gregorious profiles most likely as a glove first shortstop. Nothing against defensive first shortstops who are young and have potential, but usually the price does not involve dealing a top pitching prospect, which is the downfall in this deal. If Gregorious can correct his offensive  issues, this trade could work out for the D-Backs, but seems unlikely given his scouting and statistical profile. 

By: Nick Rabasco
 
 
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          Yesterday, reliever Jonathan Broxton inked a three year, $21 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. While this is relatively uneventful news in itself, the ramifications for this signing are significant. Earlier in the offseason, Cincinnati General Manager Walt Jocketty  has stated that 2012 all-star and relief ace Aroldis Chapman would make a transition into the starting rotation if the club signed a proven closer. Now, with Broxton in the fold,  all signs point to the Cuban defector starting for the 2012 NL Central Division Champs. This past year, Chapman posted all-time great relief numbers with 15.32 K/9 (44% of all batters faced struck out), a miniscule 4.42 hits allowed per 9 innings, and 38 saves. Now, let's not forget, that fastball either. According to Fangraphs' pitch value statistic, Chapman had the single best fastball of any reliever in baseball, one of which routinely sat in the high 90's. He was not even the original closer for the club as Chapman graduated into the role after season ending Tommy John surgery to initial closer Ryan Madson and ineffectiveness from Sean Marshall. From then on, he was lights out for a bullpen that lead all of baseball in ERA and finished the season himself with a sparkling 1.51 ERA. He was the definition of a shutdown closer after years of inconsistent performances from the likes of Francisco Cordero and David Weathers. Now, with the signing of Broxton, arguably the game's most dominant pitcher is taking his talents to the rotation. Why?

                Quite simply, throwing 200 innings is more valuable than throwing 70. For instance, Orioles closer Jim Johnson lead all of baseball in saves (50), but only threw 68.2 innings and produced 2.3 WAR. White Sox starter Gavin Floyd threw 168 innings, went a mediocre 12-11, had a 4.29 ERA and still managed to produce 2.3 WAR. As the evidence would have it, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball was just as a valuable as a league average starter. There are myriads of other examples that reflect the same notion that there is more value in innings than in closing. Even though relief pitchers throw innings of higher stress and leverage, that value just does not add up to what starting pitchers accumulate throughout the season. This realization of where the true value is has caused clubs to carry out their own experiments with their young pitchers. During the World Series runs of the 2006 Cardinals and 2008 Rays, Adam Wainwright and David Price were utilized as late-inning weapons while also gaining invaluable big league experience. However, in the following years, each of their respective clubs realized their potential as starters and let them mature into the aces they have become today. For additional evidence, Chris Sale's evolution from bullpen arm to legitimate frontline starter further exemplifies the possible benefit of such a move. However for every success, there have also been some been blatant mistakes (Daniel Bard, Joba Chamberlain, Neftali Feliz) in pushing this transition on these pitchers.  Even after returning to the bullpen, Daniel Bard and Joba Chamberlain have been unable to recapture their previous dominance. What differentiates the successes and failures? Simply, it boils the ability to throw strikes.

                Among the first legendary fastball pitchers was "Rapid Robert," Bob Feller
. Feller claimed he threw 108 mph in his prime and in addition to throwing hard, he also had the reputation of having little idea where that ball was going. Feller posted poor walk numbers throughout this career, even leading the league on four separate occasions. How does this relate to Chapman? While you would not expect a guy who can throw over 100 to be a control artist, Chapman made serious progressions with his control in 2012. After a 2011 season in which he walked 41 batters in 50 innings (7.38 BB/9), he walked 18 fewer batters in 71.2 innings of work (2.89 BB/9). The thing most in common with the failed relievers turned starters is that most of them struggled with their control. For example, Bard had a 3.5 BB/9 and just last year, Neftali Feliz had a poor 4.3 BB/9 rate before moving into the rotation. If these pitchers could not stop walking batters as relievers, why would that change while dealing with diminished stuff and stamina as starters? Hint: it wouldn't. Pitchers such as Wainwright (2.6 BB/9) and Price (2.1 BB/9), who could control their pitches as relievers, have suggested that control over sheer force is more likely to lead to success in such a transition.

                Also, another matter to take into account would be how much time was given to each pitcher in order to prepare for the upcoming season. A pitcher who knows immediately that he will be a starting pitcher the following year would in theory, have more time to get into "starting pitcher" shape so his body could handle the inning increase. For instance, Daniel Bard was in limbo for much of the offseason last year. Would he replace Jonathan Papelbon as closer or would he indeed become a starting pitcher? Not until December 29th (the day Andrew Bailey was acquired to become the closer) was it clear that Bard would transition to the rotation. Although this is just speculation, the late decision could very well have any ruined Bard's chance to condition well enough in time for the season. In addition to this increased time and preparation, Chapman also has the benefit of starting ballgames before. Chapman started in 63 of his 76 games in Cuba's Professional League, Serie Nacional as well as 13 games for triple-A affiliate Louisville. However, this is the case with most pitchers to begin with, since most make the transition into the bullpen during the travels throughout the minor leagues. Regardless, Chapman has all the necessary tools: experience, command of his stuff, time to prepare,and a flat out dominant arm that should be ready to start for the Reds come 2013.

-Aidan Flynn


 
 
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      As evidenced by the predictions on the homepage, the Cincinnati Reds were my pick to win the World Series. Lead by a strong staff, excellent bullpen, I expected the offense to hit enough to claim baseball's most coveted title: World Series Champion. After all, former league MVP Joey Votto was now healthy after missing nearly a month with an injured knee, as well as veteran Scott Rolen. Overall, the Reds seemed poised to make a postseason run with its impressive collection of  talent. Just by reviewing the past several world series winners, one would notice that strong bullpens were prevalent in the successes of the '08 Phillies (3.22 ERA), '10 Giants (2.99 ERA), and '11 Cardinals (3.31 postseason ERA). The Reds' pen had the best run per game ratio (3.63) and had the lowest rate of letting inherited runners score (23%). Closer Aroldis Chapman himself put up crazy numbers (15.32 K/9, 1.51 ERA, 1.55 FIP). Just by looking at historical precedent, as well as the current state of the bullpen, in my opinion this advantage would be instrumental in prolonging the Reds' October survival. In addition to one of the best pens in baseball, the Reds rotation was also among the tops in the league. Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto (2.78 ERA, 152 ERA+), acquired ace Mat Latos (3.48 ERA, 122 ERA+), and Homer Bailey (Sept. 28 no-hitter, 115 ERA+), all aided a deep staff capable of withstanding the October grind. After finishing the season with the second best record in baseball (97 wins), all signs pointed to playoff success for the Cincinnati Reds…

            The first two games in San Francisco for the National League Divisional Series were nothing but complete domination from a team evoking memories of the mid-70's Big Red Machine Dynasty. A 5-2 victory over Giants ace Matt Cain in Game One, followed by a Game Two 9-0 drubbing over southpaw Madison Bumgarner set the tone early and seeming as if it was a foregone conclusion that the NLCS would stop in Cincy. Besides, the Reds had the next three games at home, and there was no way they could blow a 2-0 series lead while at home, right? However, in the games that followed, the Reds exhibited specific flaws, flaws that would prove fatal to their season. Game Three provided a differing quality of game in that the pitching that carried each team was on full display. The game was a 1-1 stalemate until a crucial Scott Rolen error in the 10th allowed the game winning run to score. For good measure, the research of Fangraphs Jeff Sullivan showed that the Giants offensive performance that night was the worst ever for a winner in the postseason. Game Four involved a poor showing by Cincinnati emergency starter Mike Leake and its usually strong bullpen that was finalized with a score of 8-3. Lastly, in the deciding Game Five, Reds' starter Mat Latos gave up six runs in the 5th inning, culminating in a grand slam by potential MVP Buster Posey. The Reds were unable to catch the red-hot Giants, as their season ended that day with a 6-4 loss. So how could a team surrender such a major series advantage to a team seemingly devoid of any momentum?

            First off, let's look at the major reasons as to why they did not win those games as simply as possible. Game 3 was because of an untimely error and poor hitting, Game 4 was because of poor pitching and poor hitting, and Game 5 was because of poor pitching (which was essentially one bad inning). Now, it seems a theme here is uncharacteristic pitching and inconsistent hitting. Yet, when looking at the overall numbers for the series, the Reds pitching was better (3.13 ERA/32 Hits/1.04 WHIP vs. SF's 4.11/47/1.35) and the Reds offense was better (.261/.327/.389 vs. SF's .194/.266/.339 triple slash).  Yet, the key to the Reds collapse was its inability to capitalize with runners on base. In Games 3-5, the Reds batted .125 with 28 runners left on base while the Giants batted .250 with only 14 runners left on base. Just because the Reds had better overall numbers, its failure to drive in runs with players on base was its undoing. Additionally, losing Johnny Cueto in Game 1 due to back issues, ultimately forced the Reds regular season fifth starter, Mike Leake, to throw Game Four. By having Cueto (2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP) in the game instead of Leake (4.58 ERA, 4.42 FIP) , the Reds lost its best pitcher at arguably the worst possible time. Lastly, key errors by Scott Rolen and rookie Zack Cozart had great impact in the final results of the game. Rolen's Game Three error resulted in a 32% win probability increase for the Giants, the single most influential moment of the game (according to WPA). Cozart's Game Five error only had a 6% WPA for the Giants but allowed a run to score and prevented the Reds from getting a key second out of the inning.

            So how can the Reds improve its team for 2013? They are not a whole lot of glaring weaknesses for a team that won 97 games but the most evident flaw is low on base percentage toward the top of the order. Shortstop Zack Cozart and outfielder Drew Stubbs both had sub .301 OBPs, numbers which are unacceptable when potent hitters such as Joey Votto,  Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick are unable to drive in runners since no runners are on base. By implementing a steady source of OBP production, more opportunities to drive in runs should arise, even if the team had a runner in scoring position problem during the postseason. Possible free agent solutions include Giants outfielder Angel Pagan (.338 OBP) and Michael Bourn (.348 OBP). Also, other than perhaps replacing Leake with a more dependable fifth starter, the Reds have little holes again look like a strong team for 2013. However, its often the little things that matter the most in October, something the Reds were unable to do this year.


 

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