WHO REALLY IS THE REDS ‘ACE’?

In the grand scheme of things, who a team’s ‘ace’ pitcher is really doesn’t matter, except on Opening Day and the first game of a playoff series.  Most Reds fans have considered Johnny Cueto the teams ‘ace’ for the past few seasons.  And he did win 19 last year, leading the Reds in wins, starts and quality starts.   But in the strict definition of ‘ace’, does Cueto fit that criteria anymore?

Let’s first consider Mat Latos, who like Cueto is a power pitcher.  Latos won 14 last season, tying his (short) career best.  More impressive, Latos suffered four blown saves last season, in addition to a whopping 15 no decisions.  If you halve both of those numbers (which of course, you can’t) Latos would have wound up three more wins than Cueto, and certainly would have received enough votes in the Cy Young balloting to challenge or beat Cueto’s fourth place finish.  This season Latos has been just as good, in 19 innings whiffing 19 and walking just three.

Now consider Homer Bailey, who has become as dominating a pitcher as anyone in baseball.  He started 33 games in 2012.  No pitcher in the National League started more games than Bailey.  The Reds, by the way, won 18 of those starts.  A road warrior, Bailey’s road ERA of 2.32 was a National League best.  And then, there was the no hitter he tossed late last season in Pittsburgh.   But now, consider what Bailey has done so far in 2013.  In his three starts, Bailey has walked just six and has struck out 18.  Opponents are hitting just .191 against him.

None of this is to dismiss Cueto’s value.  He’s allowing opponents to hit just .194 through his three starts.  And his strikeout to walk ratio, 18-6, is right in line with what Latos and Bailey are doing.  But his status as the clear cut ‘Ace’ of the Reds staff isn’t so defined as it once was.  It has nothing to do with his performance (or injury).  It has more to do with what Latos and Bailey have been up to, since the middle of last season.

 

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Stuck On The Ludwick Problem

The Reds move onto Pittsburgh for the weekend, always a team and always a venue that give them trouble.  But the Reds have met the enemy, and it is them, in a sense.

They miss Ryan Ludwick.

Look, there isn’t anything the Reds can do to fix what’s happened to them in left field.  Not yet, anyway.  It’s not even May and there isn’t a team in baseball that’s willing to tell its fans it won’t be contending this year.  Trading away a player sends that message.  So the Reds will have to wait, awhile, before that’s a road they can travel.

There really isn’t anyone inside the Reds organization that is a logical fix, either.  For the moment, Derrick Robinson has been elevated to the major league roster.  But he’s a journeyman outfielder, much like another potential fix to the problem, Xavier Paul.  Chris Heisey has been given a chance to win the everyday job in left.  But so far, as in years past, Heisey hasn’t exactly seized the moment.  He’s hitting just .131, with eleven strikeouts in 32 plate appearances.

The Reds can probably live with a combination of Heisey, Paul and Robinson until Ludwick returns IF Jay Bruce will finally become the consistent hitter he was in the minors.  Bruce was a .300 hitter for just about every year in his brief minor league career and hit well, initially in the Majors, when he was called up in 2008.  But he hasn’t had a whiff of a .300 or better season in a Major League uniform.   Bruce has power and is a terrific defensive player.  But with Ludwick out, it’s even more critical for him to hit more consistently, evenly and for better average.  If he does (if he can) then the time waiting for Ludwick to return from shoulder surgery will be a little less trying.

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Sign The Man…NOW!

OK, I have no idea if James Harrison has anything left in his proverbial tank.   It could be one play, it could be one sack it could be one season.  Whatever he has left the Bengals need to do the right thing.  They need to sign him.  Yesterday.

Look, you want guarantees in life?  Here are two:  you’ll be born and eventually you will die.  After that, everything is roll of the dice.  The Bengals have played free agency this season like they do every other.  They wait for desperate teams, teams that want to appease or draw back their fan base (think Dolphins, Browns) to spend silly money on free agents who may or may not help them do those things.  When that part of Free Agent Jeopardy is over, the Bengals swoop in for bargains.  James Harrison is a bargain.  He is something the Bengals desperately need:  a pass rushing specialist.  Yes, they have Michael Johnson and, at times Carlos Dunlap.  Yes they have a terrific interior lineman in Geno Atkins.   But what the Bengals don’t have are linebackers.  Or at least good ones.  How many Manny Lawsons can one team stand?

Harrison will provide an outside edge rusher, the likes of which this team hasn’t had at linebacker in a long, long time.  Maybe it’s for only a handful of games.  Maybe it’s only for this season.  Harrison does have a history of injuries.  But if they have any questions about his skills, all they have to do is fish out their own game tapes.  He’s all over those, wreaking havoc on Bengals offensive linemen.

I’m not one to tell a team owner how to spend his money (OK, that’s a lie.  But it fits the prose and it’s not a bad way to begin bringing this home).  But if Mike Brown really likes to live in Filene’s Basement (for all of your non-Bostonians out there, it’s a deep discount department store) now is the time to pay the rent.

Signs this guy…NOW.   What’s a few million when you’re $58 million under the cap?

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AH, CHOO!

So along about, what? 5:00 yesterday afternoon, you were ranting over how dumb it was for the Reds to  either a: trade for Shin Soo Choo or at least b:  put him in centerfield.  As if Drew Stubbs was some cherished jewel that was traded for a box of pliers.  Choo had a couple of adventures in centerfield that suggested it was his first day in long pants.  A Stubbs, he is now.  And as Marvin Lewis would say, that’s a good thing.

Choo is on this team for one reason and one reason only:  he can get on base.  Stubbs is not on this team for several reasons.  But the biggest reason Stubbs is not on this team is he can not get on base.   Defensively, Stubbs probably saves 9-12 wins per season.  But offensively, he probably costs is team twice that number through his inability to get on base, or drive in runs or do anything with a bat that furthers a team’s cause.

Choo certainly won’t cost the Reds 18-24 wins a season because he’s not the defender Stubbs is.  In truth, he’s better than adequate as a centerfielder.    But his ability to get on base (at a .400  clip last season vs right handed pitching) is a complete game changer.  Joey Votto had 18 home runs before he hurt his knee in late June.  He also had just 47 RBI.  The disparity in that production should tell you how few runners were on base when Votto knocked the ball over the fence.  And with a runner on base when Votto is batting, other things happen that would benefit Votto.  The pitcher will have to pitch out of the stretch.  He’ll be distracted somewhat by the runner.  And because of all that, Votto (and Phillips and Bruce and Frazier after him) will have a significant advantage over the pitcher.  That’s what Choo offers, and what Stubbs could not.

 

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Random Thoughts For A Random Mondayt

I’m back….I know how concerned all my blog-a-files have been.  Thank you….

OK what do we know about this Reds team through six games?  Well, it can beat you a number of ways.  The starting pitchers, save for Mike Leake’s two HR pitches (why is it after a pitcher throws a couple of gopher balls we always hear after the game “I just made a couple of mistakes”?  Any chance the hitters just did a couple of things “right”?  Just askin’) have been as billed.   The bullpen has been strong, despite the overuse of JJ Hoover.

Another thing….why did they have to begin the season with Sean Marshall unable to pitch?  Really?  Guy has to sit out first four games because of ‘shoulder tenderness’?  Didn’t know about that one BEFORE breaking camp?  Just askin’ again.

And despite Joey Votto not really contributing much (except for the game winning hit on Wednesday night) the team has hit well.  And going 4-2 against two teams that seem like post season teams is very impressive.

So far, so good…..

And then, there was that circus act that Shin Soo Choo gave us in the first inning of today’s game in St. Louis….

Not trying to shortcut Chris Heisey or Xavier Paul, but I do think the Reds will have to go outside the organization, eventually, and find someone to play left field until Ryan Ludwick returns from shoulder surgery.   It’s too early for a trade (and the rest of MLB knows that the Reds are in the market for a left fielder).  But don’t be surprised if Walt Jocketty uses some of that excess bullpen (Arredondo and Ondrusek) to bring a left fielder to Cincinnati from a team out of contention later this summer.

And when Ludwick does comeback, will he return as the player he was before ripping up his shoulder?  Ludwick has a violent swing, which is where a lot of his power comes from.  No telling at this point if he’ll be 100% when he returns, which I’m told won’t be until at least August…..

The Yankees have major injury issues.  The Blue Jays are better and the Orioles seem to be better than they were last season.  The AL East may have a division winner with just 85 games.  It’s that competitive…

Andre Smith must know something we don’t.  Because there doesn’t seem to be an NFL team that wants the Bengals free agent except…wait on it…the Bengals.  And according to profootballtalk.com today, the Bengals interest in bringing their right tackle back to Bengaldom appears to be waning…

Anybody having a better week than Ricky P?   His horse wins a huge race out West and is headed to the Derby.  His son gets the head coaches’ job at the University of Minnesota.  Today, Pitino was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.  And Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have this game tonight…..

Just a hunch, but I don’t think Tommy Tuberville will name Munchie Legaux UC’s starting quarterback heading into the pre season camp….

 

 

 

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OPENING AND CLOSING ACT…AND OTHER STUFF

You’ve got to love this.   Apparently Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman spent a few free hours at the MLB Cave in New York City last week.   He starts, Chapman closes in Reds games.  So you’ve got an opening and closing act all in one.
http://mlbfancave.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=22404919&topic_id=19224580&click=fancave_video&width=400&height=254&property=mlb
It would appear that Chapman forgot his cue at one point.  But this is just another example of how valuable a teammate Arroyo is.   He’s the oldest pitcher on the staff, enjoying a resurgence this season and is mentoring a lot of the younger pitchers.  A player like Chapman, very young and somewhat immature, needs what Arroyo offers, a lot.

Saw a very alarming stat on Mat Latos today.  He’s allowed 16 home runs so far this season.  But in the past two seasons, Latos allowed 16 home runs in the ENTIRE season.   That’s not good.  I’m not a pitching coach.  But it seems to me he gets into trouble when his fastball is poorly located (up in the zone a lot last night) or if the pitch comes in ‘flat’.  Every pitching coach in baseball, at any level, will tell you that all big league hitters can hit a fastball, particularly if the location and movement aren’t very good.  Neither was good for Latos last night.

But please, refrain from rushing to judgement on the trade that brought Latos here.  I never thought he’d be a ‘number one’ starter.   But I also don’t think what the Reds gave up for him was a rich as some others think.   If Latos is smart and mature enough to take the proper coaching he’ll be offered, he’ll progress nicely and will be a very effective Major League pitcher, even in GABP.

I took a lot of calls (and some heat) for suggesting that the Reds needed to play Scott Rolen as soon as he came off the disabled list.  If for no other reason, the Reds have to find out if Rolen is truly healthy and can contribute in some meaningful way the rest of this season.  Here’s why.

If Rolen can somehow return to what he was as a player in the first half of the 2010 season, than the Reds have  a Gold Glove caliber third baseman again.   They also don’t have to begin trolling the rest of baseball to find a bat off the bench or a left fielder who can hit.   They’ll have that with Rolen at third base and Todd Frazier in left field, or Rolen off the bench when Frazier will spot start for him.   Rolen shouldn’t play everyday.  He’s not built for that anymore.  But Frazier should, and with his ability to play multiple positions, it should not be a problem for Dusty Baker to find him a spot in the line up.

The real issue is what happens when Drew Stubbs is healthy again.  Honestly, what the Reds should do is send Stubbs to remedial hitting school.  They should find the best hitting coach in their organization and have Stubbs work with him intensely.  Long term, Stubbs is of little value to this team UNLESS he can fix his plate discipline.  He seems to guess a lot, and not approach his plate appearances with a plan.  Stubbs has a few things going for him.  He’s young, inexpensive and has tremendous speed.  He’s a bit better in the field than Chris Heisey.  But Heisey is better at the plate.   If Stubbs has to go away for awhile to finally fix his hitting, the Reds will be just fine with Heisey in centerfield and Ryan Ludwick as a fourth outfielder.  Sometimes, you have to take a big picture approach, even in the middle of a season.   Think of what the Reds pitching rotation would have been like, had they done that with Aroldis Chapman last season.

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TODAY’S POLL QUESTION

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