11 May 2007

Reds Preview: They'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good

by Joshua Worley

The Reds lead the National League in home runs slugged with 47. They are right in the middle of the pack with 27 allowed, for a great home run differential of +20. And yet even though they get on base slightly more than their opposition, they have only outscored their opponents 168-159. This mere 9 run advantage is not because they hit only solo home runs: they lead the league with 23 homers with runners on. But wait, there's more inexplicable bad news! Even though they outscore their opponents by 9 runs, they have a record of 15-20, good for last in the NL Central, behind even the Pirates.

If we believe in the runs scored and runs allowed of the Reds, this is a good team. If we dig even deeper and believe the home run differential coupled with the on-base advantage the Reds have of 0.331 to 0.322, this team is as scary as the Braves, if not scarier. I won't go that far, though. The Reds have also been out-doubled and tripled 79 to 60, which helps to explain why their great home run differential hasn't paid off more than it has. Still, this series is not as easy as it might seem at first glance. Last year the Dodgers swept the season series from the Reds: that's not likely to happen again.

The Reds lineup is pretty unstable, so I won't bother with trying to list a typical one. Here are the usual starters at each position, along with home runs hit and Dodger home runs from the same position in italics. ( Betemit's two pinch hit homers aren't counted; Saenz's two are counted for first base, though. )

C -- 2 -- 3 -- Ross
1B -- 3 -- 4 -- Hatteberg / Conine
2B -- 3 -- 6 -- Phillips
SS -- 0 -- 7 -- Gonzalez
3B -- 0 -- 1 -- Freel
RF -- 3 -- 6 -- Griffey
CF -- 0 -- 8 -- Hamilton
LF -- 4 -- 11 -- Dunn

The starting matchups are Arroyo v. Wolf, Lohse v. Penny, and some scrub v. some tall Dodger scrub. Okay, that last one is Hendrickson for the Dodgers, against the disabled Eric Milton's replacement. This replacement could be 21 year old pitching prospect Homer Bailey, who struck out 77 in 68 innings pitched in AA last year as a 20 year old. Wow. I guess it's wrong to call him a scrub.

The ERA is there for Bailey in AAA so far this year, but he has 21 Ks to 15 walks so far. Bobby Livingston, with 33 Ks and 4 walks in 44 innings pitched at AAA is another possibility. I hope they go with Bailey; he'll probably be good eventually but he's likely be hit hard in his first start.

The Reds bullpen is a weakness, with the second worst ERA in the NL at 4.40. This weakness might help save the Dodgers going up against two apparently good starters in Arroyo and Lohse.

And now player capsules:

Bronson Anthony Arroyo

age: 30
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
2.85 -- 47.1 -- 35 -- 15 -- 1

A lot of good that tiny home run rate will do ya, mate, against a team that doesn't hit them anyway! You should have concentrated more on those strikeouts!

Coming back to the NL from Boston has really benefited him. His K-rate in 2005 was a bad 4.5 per 9, and since then it's been around 7.

The thing is, he's a fly ball pitcher. The home runs against him will come, though maybe not in the start against the Dodgers. He even allowed 31 last year when he had the good 3.29 ERA.

The Dodgers need to get the big hit after any walks they can squeeze out of him. In other words, for those of you who don't believe in clutch hitting, they need to get lucky.

Kyle Matthew Lohse

age: 28
throws: right

3.21 -- 47.2 -- 32 -- 9 -- 4

He's setting a career high in strikeouts per walk in early going: that's the big difference in his performance contrasted to his previous bad seasons. He's never had a season ERA less than 4; more often it's above 5. I don't think he's really this good, but the Dodgers still need to prove it. Like Arroyo he's a fly ball pitcher. Pity the Dodgers likely won't take advantage.

Adam Troy Dunn

0.286 -- 0.384 -- 0.635

Wow, that's pretty good. What's not to like?

Well, he's struck out 45 times so far, which means his batting average when he hits the ball is 0.445. If he keeps striking out so much, he may not be able to maintain such a high average, and thus such a high on-base percentage. Also he's a butcher in the field by all popular accounts. Still, he's the cornerstone of the Reds homer attack, and not a man to be pitched down the middle.

David Wade Ross

age: 30
bats: right

0.207 -- 0.228 -- 0.322

Oh dear. Old friend, I hope you enjoy being a starting catcher in the big leagues, because it won't be happening after this year if you keep this up. He had a nice career year last year, with 21 homers. I guess there's still time to turn it around this year, but I don't think so.

Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion

Sent down to the minor leagues with an OPS of 0.519 and many errors. Let this be a warning to you, Juan Pierre! I had to include him just to get the middle name in; love the all E's: too bad he was also all E's in the field.

Ryan Paul Freel

age: 31
bats: right

0.272 -- 0.357 -- 0.377

He is the primary third baseman while Encarnacion is in the minor leagues. Formerly the primary center fielder, where his batting line looked a bit more acceptable.

He's been awesomely bad on the road this year, though his career home-road splits are very balanced.

Brandon Emil Phillips

age: 25
bats: right

0.277 -- 0.331 -- 0.475

To put the Reds in perspective, their somewhat pedestrian second baseman would lead the Dodgers in home runs right now with 6 if he played for them. He's fast, with 6 stolen bases and 3 triples.

Joshua Holt Hamilton

age: 25
bats: left

0.268 -- 0.351 -- 0.588

He's the now famous former drug addict turned redemptive example who missed three seasons because of suspensions. He's the Reds all-purpose utility outfielder, with at least 7 games at each outfield position. He plays somewhere in almost every game, as well he should, with 8 home runs. Now that Freel has moved to third for awhile, he'll likely take over more or less full time in center field.

Alexander Gonzalez

age: 30
bats: right

0.293 -- 0.346 -- 0.552

Another Red, another high slugging percentage. They even get 7 home runs out of this formerly mediocre shortstop; how obscene. If he keeps up this pace he'll have a career year. He's actually hitting much better on the road so far than at home. Small sample size would appear to be the culprit there, as usual. How boring.

Scott Allen Hatteberg

age: 37
bats: left

0.295 -- 0.367 -- 0.409

I bet the Dodgers would take this line from their first baseman. Nomar is at 0.267 -- 0.315 -- 0.351 right now. On the Reds, however, he suffers by comparison with all the slugging players. He and Conine form an ancient platoon at first base: between them they have 4 home runs and 77 years.

Jeffrey Guy Conine

age: 40
bats: right

0.259 -- 0.297 -- 0.466

I bet the Dodgers would take this line from their center fielder. Perhaps not, but the small amount of power would be welcome. Overall first base is a big weakness for the Reds. If they could just get Encarnacion to hit a bit again and play some decent defense, they could move Freel back to center, Hamilton to right, Griffey to left, and Dunn to first base. That would help the offense and the defense. But Encarnacion has been a dud, so they are stuck with their current alignment unless they can grab a better third baseman in trade. Hey, Krivisky, how about Betemit for Homer Bailey?

George Kenneth Griffey Jr.

age: 37
bats: left

0.323 -- 0.436 -- 0.573

He can hit. He just has to stay healthy.

Games played each season since he came to the Reds at age 30:

145 -- 111 -- 70 -- 53 -- 83 -- 128 -- 109

This year he's played in 29 of the Reds 35 games. He missed four of those games because of diverticulitis, which surprisingly is not an injury he suffered while playing the outfield, unless he did something very strange out there. Diverticulitis is an inflammation of the colon.

Griffey missed most of spring training recovering from a broken hand suffered in December. The guy is just injury-prone.

And yet so far the Reds have had him healthy for most of the season. So far the Reds have had many players hitting home runs at higher than career rates, and pitchers giving up home runs lower than career rates. What do they have to show for all this good luck? A 15-20 record. So much for that good luck. The Reds are good, and unlucky. I hope the Dodgers are better, but I really hope the Dodgers are luckier.

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