So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
Time for the original baseballers, the Cincinnati Reds. The Dusty Baker-managed crew scored 4.35 runs per game, (23rd) and allowed a similarly poor 4.95 runs per game (23rd). That's consistent sub-mediocrity right there, folks. The Reds have a few exciting young stars to build around...and not much else. 1B Joey Votto, RF Jay Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, and, if we're being generous, 3B Edwin Encarnacion make for a solid lineup core, and RHPs Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, and Johnny Cueto are an excellent top three pitchers. After that, it's a big gap down to the next best producers. At least RHP Micah Owings (Green Wave!) is interesting for his bat, and CF Willy Taveras is a great one-tool guy to replace departed no-tool OF Corey Patterson (notable for being the single worst player in baseball last year...except for Coco Crisp who always holds that honor).
Departed slugger Adam Dunn leaves a big hole in the lineup, and a somewhat smaller hole in left field; prospect Chris Dickerson, who OPS'd over 1.000 in his 122-AB showing last season is the favorite to get most of the time there. He will probably some ABs against lefties to former Ray slugger Jonny Gomes, who likes to celebrate winning the division by drinking Bud Light out of Dioner Navarro's cup. And who doesn't? Willy Taveras came over from Colorado, where his skill (speed) served him well; the spacious outfield of Mile High demands a good deal of speed from the outfielders. The bandbox that is Great American Ballpark (beautiful stadium), however, isn't quite so challenging. Sure, Taveras can still use that speed to steal bases (68 last year), only he's never on base (OBP dropped from a very encouraging .367 in 2007 to .309 last year, more in line with his career .331 mark). If he can correct that, and Great American gives his power a helping hand, he could be a useful player. C Ramon Hernandez, acquired in a trade for utility guy Ryan Freel and his partner in crime, Farney, will handle the backstop duties for a year or two while the team searches for a more permanent solution. And on the exciting young prospect front, OF Drew Stubbs and 1B Yonder Alonso are both nearly ready; the challenge will be to find spots for them both. If Stubbs can handle center, he could bump Taveras to the bench, but otherwise left field is going to get very crowded. Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, and either Joey Votto or Yonder Alonso would be in a competition for ABs there. We smell trade bait (and it smells delicious)!
As for the pitching, Volquez, Harang, and Cueto will be expected to anchor the rotation, and Francisco Cordero is on hand (at the low cost of 4 years and $48 million!) to close out games. Cordero's presence on this team kinda confuses us; why spend lots on a closer when you're not a great team? Anyway, RHP Bronson Arroyo will bring his brand of mediocrity to the four spot, and Micah Owings (Green Wave!) and former prospect Homer Bailey will try to piece together 200 innings in the fifth spot. The bullpen has some solid arms, too, so the pitching should be better than last year's subpar showing.
PECOTA projected record: 77-85, 4th in NL Central
KCSD projected record: 81-81, 3rd in NL Central
We think the Reds can be a good sleeper team this year, and we think that PECOTA overvalues the Cardinals. This team, with a couple of breaks, could easily find itself in contention for the division title. Of course, it seems like people are always saying that about the Reds, so take that with a grain of salt, we suppose.
Around the Horn
C Ramon Hernandez: .264/.331/.426, 19 HR. Moving to Great American should help Hernandez's power return to where it was a couple of years ago, and he looks to have the bat to be useful for another season or two. Catchers don't age well, of course, so we may be seeing the beginning of the end of his career.
1B Joey Votto: .295/.376/.528, 27 HR, 11 SB. The Canadian slugger is an exciting young bat who's looking to build on a ROY-worthy campaign. It looks like he's starting to grow into his power potential, so if he can keep up the excellent contact rates he displayed in the minors, we could have a premiere slugger on our hands.
2B Brandon Phillips: .282/.334/.489, 20 HR, 20 SB. Phillips has finally arrived as a consistent regular. He isn't living up to all the hype heaped upon him as a prospect, but 20-20 from a second baseman is more than enough for us. Food for thought: He, along with Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore, was traded from the Expos to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. An underrated candidate in the pantheon of terrible trades, if you ask us.
3B Edwin Encarnacion: .283/.365/.493, 23 HR. Encarnacion could be on the verge of a major breakout in his age-26 season. With any luck, he just might become the best Encarnacion to ever play in the majors! (Sorry, Juan).
SS Jeff Keppinger: .296/.353/.372, 4 HR. This spot might well go to Alex Gonzalez, but we don't like him very much, and think Keppinger is the better player. Hopefully shortstop isn't the cursed place it was last year for the Reds; both Keppinger and Gonzalez suffered knee injuries. Gonzalez is the better defender, Keppinger the better hitter; WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?!
LF Chris Dickerson/Jonny Gomes: .265/.355/.500, 31 HR, 25 SB. Some great counting stats from these two gentlemen. If Dickerson and Gomes are used exclusively according to their strengths, this could be an excellent left field.
CF Willy Taveras: .265/.320/.325, 1 HR, 59 SB. Players like Taveras used to be loved in baseball. We bet they look at old sepia toned photos of similar speedy slap hitters and cry.
RF Jay Bruce: .280/.350/.510, 25 HR, 12 SB. Bruce capped off a meteoric rise through the Reds' system with a fantastic opening week...and then regressed to rookiedom. His ending line (.254/.314/.453) was nothing to be ashamed of, especially for a 21-year old, but he has lots of room for improvement. Expect him to start showing it.
From the Bump: Starters
RHP Aaron Harang: 210 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 200 K, 45 BB. Harang was the most underrated ace in all of MLB for several years, but he struggled with forearm problems last season and his performance suffered. We hope he gets back to his old levels of dominance - at 31, there's hope for a rebound - because he's too ugly to get girls if he's not very good. Chicks dig the long ball - pitchers gotta be real good to impress.
RHP Edinson Volquez: 160 IP, 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 155 K, 80 BB. Volquez was a revelation last year, but we're expecting some regression this year. Plus, the jump in innings pitched (up to 196 last year from an aggregate total of about 160 worries us some, coming from such a young arm. We expect some injury trouble.
RHP Bronson Arroyo: 200 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 155 K, 70 BB. Arroyo has been unexpectedly soild during his Cincinnati tenure; in fact, he was downright dominant in '06. The last two years have been a bit of a regression; they looked a lot like what we're projecting him for this year.
RHP Johnny Cueto: 190 IP, 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 170 K, 70 BB. Like Bruce, Cueto was excellent early in the year, though he did last a couple months before slowing down. The young, undersized Cueto may have worn down a bit; it'll be interesting to see how Dusty Baker runs him and Volquez.
RHP Homer Bailey: 100 IP, 5.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 75 K, 50 BB. Bailey was rushed to the majors in '07, and struggled mightily. Last year was terrible as well; even in the minors, Bailey did little to reassure his believers. But we still count ourselves in that group; he still has the great stuff that caught peoples' attention, and he's still just 23. We're not being very optimistic in our projection, but we're hoping for better things.
From the Bump: Relievers
Closer RHP Francisco Cordero: 60 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 67 K, 27 BB, 35 SV. Cordero still has an electric arm at 34, and we expect him to use it to great effect. Hopefully for the Reds, he'll be around to use it when the Reds are really good.
Setup man RHP Mike Lincoln: 60 IP, 4.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 45 K, 25 BB. We're giving Lincoln the nod as the primary setup man since he just signed a new 2 year contract, but as you can see, he's not a dominant force...though neither is anyone else besides Cordero. The hope for the Reds is that the bullpen can just be competent enough to not blow too many potential wins.