Opening day is six weeks from this coming Thursday. And if every baseball expert hasn’t bought into the Reds, most if not all have acknowledged they would not be surprised if the Reds win the NL Central.
Talking about something never gets the job done. It’s what you do. And what exactly do your Cincinnati Reds have to do to win their division again this season, and then actually do something once they get into the playoffs?
I have come up with five things I think have to happen if this team is going to be a division winner and a World Series contender. I could have come up with ten things, but I work for Channel 5 so five seems to be a good number. And these are in no particular order. Everyone one of them I think ‘has’ to happen if this is going to be the kind of season we all think it can.
Number one, this team must cut down on the number of strike outs it had last season. I have said time and again, I believe the worst out in baseball is the strike out. It does nothing to advance the game in your favor. Sabermatricians guffaw at that and point to the double play as being the worst out in baseball. It was brought to my attention in an email this week from one of our recurring guests on Sunday Morning Sports Talk, Dave Laurila from fangraphs.com that:
“With runners on first and third & none out, a team will score at least one run 84.6 percent of the time.
With runners on first and third & one out, a team will score at least one run 64.5 percent of the time.
With two out and the bases empty, a team will score at least one run 7.1 percent of the time.
Thus, hitting into a double play with runners on the corners means you score the one run, but are highly unlikely to score again that inning. If you strike out — for the first out of the inning — you will still score the run two-thirds of the time. Importantly, you have a much higher probability of scoring multiple runs with one out than you do with two.”
Dave is a sabermatrician. I value the human element of the game more than numbers. Honestly, you’ve sat at Great American Ball Park. It sucks the air out of the joint when one of the hometown nine stands there and watches strike three go whizzing by him in a clutch situation. It empowers the pitcher and energizes the other team. Here’s the stat: Reds hitters, not including pitchers, whiffed 1,138 times last season. Counting pitchers, 1,250-times. That was seventh worst in the league and other than the Pirates, the worst in the NL Central. None of the seven made the playoffs. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Number two: the Reds must get at least 110 games out of Scott Rolen. Last year they massaged him for just 65, just 269 plate appearances. That won’t cut it this year. They need his right handed bat to break up the lefties in the line up. And where’s the better option for clean up hitter?
With the exception of last season, Rolen has played in at least 112-games every season since 2006. He still retains power. He brings a veteran’s eye to every at bat. In 2010, in 537 plate appearances Rolen whiffed just 82 times. He’ll put the bat on the ball and he’s just a year removed from a Gold Glove year. Now, imagine if he can’t play at least 110-games this season. Who is the answer? Juan Francisco? Well, he was hurt in the minors this past summer and missed a couple of chances at call up. But the Reds couldn’t ship him down there fast enough in mid-April. Todd Frazier can play third. But do you think this team wins with anyone besides Rolen at third base for more than 60 games?
Number three: the back end of the pitching rotation, starters four and five, must deliver 23 wins. I’m guessing Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey will be starters four and five. It depends on whether or not Aroldis Chapman is around by Opening Day. Last year, the fourth and fifth starters, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood combined for eleven wins. Not good enough. The fourth and fifth starters in St. Louis, Jake Westbrook and Edwin Jackson combined for 17. But you also have to factor in Kyle McLellan who had 12 before getting bumped from the rotation. That’s 29 wins from the back end of the rotation for a team that won 90 games.
Can Arroyo and Bailey combine for 23 wins? If they’re both healthy, yes. Arroyo won nine last year, battling a variety of maladies. Bailey missed the start of the season and some time during and won nine. They only have to kick that up five more wins between them. Honestly, if healthy, I think both can combine for in excess of 25 wins. But 23 is the magic number because…
Number four: the top of the rotation has to deliver 43 wins. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and most probably Mike Leake will be the top three. 43 wins is exactly the same number the top three Reds starters delivered in 2010, and that was with Aaron Harang in that third spot. 17-wins from Cueto, 14-from Latos and 12-from Leake. Is that realistic? Cueto won nine last year. But he didn’t make his first start until May 8th and pitched only 156 innings. If he can go an additional 60 innings, not a crazy number for the ‘ace’ of a staff, he could just those nine wins up to 17. He won 12 in 2010 and only pitched 185. Leake won 12 last year. He can win at least that this year, largely because they should be done baby-ing him and watching his innings.
And as for the ability for Latos to win 14, he did that two years ago. And last year, the victim of some bad luck, Latos pitched over 194 innings. 43 wins from the top of the rotation isn’t asking a lot. Pair that with the 23 from the back end, that’s 66 wins from the starters. The Cardinals got 67 wins from their starting pitching last year. Remember, they won 90, total.
In 2010, the Reds got 52 wins from the six pitchers who started most of their games.
Number five: the Reds must find a way to replicate the left field production they got in 2010. Remember, Johnny Gomes and Laynce Nix were a solid combination: Nix hit .291, hit four home runs and drive in 18. Gomes hits .266, drove in 86 and knocked 18 out of the park. Last year, the combination of Gomes, Chris Heisey and Fred Lewis combined for 29 home runs and 100 rbi. Those are solid power numbers from one position. Heisey and Ryan Ludwick must find a way to keep the production coming, while hitting for average. Heisey hit .250 last season. Ludwick, just .237.
So there you have it, my five things that have to happen if the walk will be as good as the talk has been with this team. If any of those five don’t happen, the Reds better hope for a monumental collapse by the Cardinals and Brewers.