Central Intelligence

NL Central Preview: Part 1 of 2

Welcome to Central Intelligence, the column covering the National League Central posted every Monday morning.  I will give you news and notes from each team, weekly power rankings, along with an award for the best pitcher and position player in the NL Central from the previous week.

Quickly, a little bit about myself. My name is Nick Kirby, and I have been writing for Redleg Nation since last season.  As a full disclaimer, I am a big fan of advanced statistics and sabermetrics.  I will use them quite a bit in this column, but I will do my best to explain some of the different stats as I go to those of you who might not be as familiar.  I will also do my best to be as unbiased as possible in this column covering the NL Central, but of course it will be from a Reds perspective.

This week we will break down each team (in alphabetical order):

Chicago Cubs

2013 Record: 66-96, 5th place, 31 GB.

2014 Baseball Prospectus Projection: 73-89, 5th place, 14 GB, 3.8% chance of winning division, 8.3% chance of reaching the playoffs, 0.2% chance of winning the World Series.

The Cubs are continuing to rebuild.  While they are making major strides towards putting a winner on the field, their chances of being in the division race in 2014 are slim.  Their lineup is young, and will have to heavily rely on Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo for production.  The Cubs starting rotation is strong though, and will keep the Cubs competitive.

2014 ZiPS projected lineup via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
1 Starlin Castro SS 13 61 16 .280 .319 .413
2 Luis Valbuena 3B 11 50 3 .241 .325 .376
3 Anthony Rizzo 1B 27 96 6 .255 .336 .464
4 Nate Schierholtz OF 14 47 5 .260 .312 .453
5 Junior Lake OF 10 41 20 .252 .295 .380
6 Ryan Sweeney OF 6 30 1 .264 .321 .408
7 Welington Castillo C 11 40 1 .248 .323 .393
8 Darwin Barney 2B 6 49 7 .253 .299 .349

Justin Ruggiano had a really great spring, hitting .323/.364/.548 with 2 HR and 9 RBI.  He could find a way into a spot in the Cubs outfield.  Top prospect Javier Baez was the talk of the spring, and put on a show, hitting .310/.310/.738 with 5 HR.  He is going to be sent down to the minors to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him up with the big league club later this summer.

2014 ZiPS projected rotation via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Starter Player POS IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Jeff Samardzija SP 184 11 9 3.56 1.22 179 56
2 Travis Wood SP 183 11 10 3.88 1.27 136 61
3 Edwin Jackson SP 174 11 11 3.99 1.33 139 54
4 Jason Hammel SP 135 7 7 4.01 1.34 103 48
5 Carlos Villanueva SP 114 7 6 3.79 1.25 96 37

The Cubs rotation will be really solid.  Samardzija and Wood at the top bring a good 1-2 punch, and are legitimate rising aces. The other three starters are solid, and will keep the Cubs in a lot of games.

2014 ZiPS projected bullpen via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS IP W L Saves ERA WHIP K BB
Jose Veras RP 62 4 2 22 3.35 1.26 68 28
Pedro Strop RP 63 5 3 6 3.29 1.30 64 29
Wesley Wright RP 58 2 2 1 3.43 1.23 57 20
Justin Grimm SP 135 8 9 0 4.27 1.39 95 47
James Russell RP 60 4 3 1 3.92 1.27 44 17
Arodys Vizcaino RP 58 3 4 0 5.12 1.57 40 27
Blake Parker RP 54 2 2 1 3.83 1.33 55 24
Hector Rondon RP 31 1 1 2 4.10 1.34 25 12

Cincinnati Reds

2013 Record: 90-72, 3rd Place, 7 GB, lost as the second wild-card team to the Pirates.

2014 Baseball Prospectus Projection: 82-80, 2nd Place, 5 GB, 22.7% chance of winning the division, 38.4% chance of reaching the playoffs, 2.4% chance of winning the World Series.

The Reds had a very disappointing 2013.  After being the preseason favorite to win the NL Central and the team that many picked to win the NL Pennant, the Reds finished third in the division and lost in the wild card game to Pittsburgh. That lead to Dusty Baker being fired and Bryan Price being promoted. A disappointing season turned into a disappointing offseason. The Reds lost out on the Shin-Soo Choo sweepstakes and made virtually zero improvements. It has gone from bad to worse for the Reds in Arizona. The Reds will most likely start the season without Chapman, Latos, Marshall, Broxton, Schumaker, and Hannahan. To make it even worse, Bailey, Cueto, and Mesoraco are also dealing with injuries, and could also possibly not be ready for opening day.

2014 ZiPS projected lineup via RottoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
1 Billy Hamilton OF 6 48 68 0.264 0.319 0.362
2 Brandon Phillips 2B 16 87 9 0.269 0.317 0.405
3 Joey Votto 1B 25 81 7 0.289 0.416 0.506
4 Jay Bruce OF 32 111 8 0.254 0.329 0.485
5 Ryan Ludwick OF 13 52 0 0.244 0.306 0.416
6 Todd Frazier 3B 21 78 9 0.243 0.313 0.439
7 Devin Mesoraco Catcher 13 52 1 0.251 0.313 0.421
8 Zack Cozart SS 13 54 5 0.254 0.290 0.395

The Reds lineup will be below average overall, just as I wrote back in December: The Reds will have to rely heavily on Votto and Bruce, but will still need other contributors.

Billy Hamilton at the top will be key.  Hamilton only hit .256/.308/343 in 546 PA at AAA last season, but did show some promise in a limited sample size last year when he was called up in September. He has also had a fantastic spring, hitting .341/.420/.500 in 50 PA.

Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick are both coming off disappointing 2013 seasons,  and haven’t shown any signs in the spring of improvements. Phillips hit .190/.292/.524, and Ludwick hit .250/.250/.341 this spring. Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco will need to have improved seasons for the Reds, and both players certainly have enough upside to do so.

The players to watch are Chris Heisey and Rodger Bernadina. Both have had an outstanding spring, with Heisey hitting .356/.356/.911 with 6 HR and 12 RBI, while Bernadina hit .417/.533/.833 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. Both have shown flashes of greatness at the major league level. Heisey hit 18 HR in only 308 PA in 2011, and his 15.5 HR/AB was the 4th best in the NL that season among players with 300+ PA, only trailing Prince Fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, and Matt Kemp. Bernadina hit .291/.372/.405 in 129 games with the Nationals in 2012. I fully believe either Heisey or Bernadina would be a better option in LF than Ludwick.

2014 ZiPS projected rotation via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Johnny Cueto SP 136 11 6 3.17 1.17 102 35
2 Homer Bailey SP 192 13 9 3.56 1.17 163 46
3 Mike Leake SP 179 11 9 4.02 1.25 119 41
4 Tony Cingrani SP 138 9 6 3.46 1.25 153 59
5 Mat Latos SP 208 13 7 3.28 1.17 186 57

The Reds starting rotation is by far the strength of this team, and if they stay healthy could arguably be one of the best in the MLB this season. There are however many injury concerns. Cueto was scratched from a start earlier this week, but will pitch a minor league game on Tuesday. Bailey is dealing with a groin injury, but will start a minor league game today (Monday, 3/24).  Bryan Price said earlier this week that Latos will most likely start the season on the DL.

It appears that Alfredo Simon will be in the Reds rotation to start the season.  Simon has been very good for the Reds in the bullpen the last two seasons, posting a 2.78 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP between 2012-2013.  Reds fans have to hope their starting rotation can get back to full health early in the season, and stay healthy.  If the Reds starting rotation has injury concerns for the majority of 2014, it will be very difficult for the Reds to compete for a playoff spot.

2014 ZiPS projected bullpen via RotoChamp:

Player POS IP W L Saves ERA WHIP K BB
Aroldis Chapman RP 65 7 2 21 2.21 1.04 107 29
J.J. Hoover RP 66 5 3 7 3.26 1.21 72 27
Sean Marshall RP 40 4 2 2 2.68 1.09 44 11
Alfredo Simon SP 72 4 3 0 3.51 1.24 55 22
Logan Ondrusek RP 61 3 3 1 4.13 1.36 50 25
Sam LeCure RP 60 3 1 1 3.15 1.18 63 21
Manny Parra RP 44 2 2 1 3.50 1.26 45 17
Jonathan Broxton RP 37 3 2 4 3.65 1.27 31 13

There are more injury concerns for the Reds pitching in the bullpen. Chapman took a line drive off his forehead, and will start the season on the DL (should be out 4-6 weeks). Marshall and Broxton are also both expected to start the season on the DL. Simon will likely start in the rotation, so what looked like a strong bullpen in the off season, will start the season depleted.

Milwaukee Brewers

2013: 74-88, 4th place, 23 GB

2014 Baseball Prospectus Projection: 80-82, 3rd place, 8 GB, 17.2% chance of winning the division, 28.8% chance of reaching the playoffs, 1.6% chance of winning the World Series.

The Brewers are the most intriguing team in the NL Central heading into 2014. They are coming off a bad 2013, and the Ryan Braun suspension. They bring a good lineup top to bottom into 2014, and their best starting rotation in quite some years. Their bullpen however will certainly be a weakness for this team.

2014 ZiPS projected lineup via RotoChamp:

Player POS HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
1 Carlos Gomez OF 19 58 32 0.260 0.313 0.462
2 Jean Segura SS 12 59 35 0.284 0.322 0.422
3 Ryan Braun OF 33 116 22 0.300 0.367 0.540
4 Aramis Ramirez 3B 18 74 2 0.275 0.338 0.473
5 Jonathan Lucroy Catcher 15 75 7 0.276 0.331 0.437
6 Juan Francisco 1B 18 60 1 0.246 0.295 0.465
7 Khris Davis OF 19 65 7 0.249 0.330 0.450
8 Scooter Gennett 2B 10 52 10 0.276 0.309 0.387

If Gomez, Segugra, and Lucroy can put together seasons similar to 2013, this will be a very tough lineup. The Brewers also added slugger Mark Reynolds, who could easily hit 30 HR if he gets a chance to play every day.  Ricky Weeks is still on the team as well, and there is always the chance that he could figure it out. Weeks hit .323/.488/.484 this spring. The biggest question of course is Ryan Braun. Will he get back to the MVP caliber player he was before the suspension, or not?  He certainly shown no signs of a decline this spring, hitting .440/.548/.800.

2014 ZiPS projected rotation via RotoChamp:

Player POS IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Yovani Gallardo SP 185 13 10 3.89 1.30 170 64
2 Matt Garza SP 153 10 7 3.70 1.23 146 45
3 Kyle Lohse SP 165 10 8 3.87 1.21 111 33
4 Marco Estrada SP 135 8 6 3.92 1.19 125 35
5 Wily Peralta SP 164 11 11 4.40 1.47 129 76

The Brewers rotation might be very under appreciated coming into 2014.  They might not feature the aces like the Reds are Cardinals, but 1-5 they could be very good.  The two back-end starters, Estrada and Peralta are coming off promising 2013 seasons, and their success will be key if the Brewers want to make a run at the postseason.

2014 ZiPS projected bullpen via RotoChamp:

Player POS IP W L Saves ERA WHIP K BB
Jim Henderson RP 62 6 4 26 3.50 1.30 73 29
Brandon Kintzler RP 58 3 2 4 3.74 1.30 43 18
Will Smith RP 138 8 8 1 4.25 1.31 121 45
Jimmy Nelson SP 132 7 9 0 5.06 1.63 99 80
Alfredo Figaro RP 87 4 4 0 4.66 1.30 60 20
Tom Gorzelanny RP 81 4 4 1 4.13 1.33 77 30
Frank Francisco RP 31 1 1 2 4.10 1.34 31 13

The bullpen is the biggest weakness on this team. Their starters going deep into games will be important, so the bullpen doesn’t have to be so exposed. Henderson and Kintzler have already penciled themselves into the back-end of the pen, but they will need guys like Smith to step up and assert themselves.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2013: 94-68, 2nd place, 3 GB, lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals.

2014 Baseball Prospectus Projection: 79-83, 9 GB, 11.3% chance of winning the division, 19.7% chance of reaching the playoffs, 0.9% chance of winning the World Series.

The Pirates are the most difficult team to project in the NL Central in 2014.  They are coming off their breakthrough season in 2013, where the reached the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.  The question is of course, will the Pirates have a sophomore slump like the 2011 Reds this season, or will they continue to improve?  I don’t know the exact answer to that, but I can tell you that 2013 was no fluke.  The Pirates are here to stay, but I’m just not sure if they make the playoffs or not this year.  The Pirates will return the majority of their lineup that helped them from April to August, but lose key pieces in Marlon Bryd and Justin Morneau that helped them beat the Reds in the wild card game last season.  Baseball Prospectus thinks they will be a below average team with 79 wins.

2014 ZiPS Projected Starting Lineup: via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
1 Starling Marte OF 13 54 29 0.265 0.318 0.430
2 Jordy Mercer SS 9 48 5 0.252 0.302 0.385
3 Andrew McCutchen OF 24 86 23 0.288 0.375 0.484
4 Pedro Alvarez 3B 32 95 2 0.234 0.303 0.465
5 Neil Walker 2B 16 74 5 0.261 0.330 0.418
6 Russell Martin Catcher 14 50 7 0.234 0.326 0.384
7 Gaby Sanchez 1B 12 53 2 0.252 0.333 0.401
8 Jose Tabata OF 6 38 12 0.265 0.329 0.381

The Pirates projected starting lineup features all eight players who are above average in 2013, using wRC+.  That stat is the best way to evaluate a players complete offensive value, and all eight Pirates had a wRC+ above 100 (100 = average).  McCutchen was the NL MVP in 2013, and I would be surprised if he slows down.  Alvarez is the big slugger, and I would expect him to continue to hit a lot of bombs.  The key will be for Marte and Mercer to have good years for the Pirates.  The Pirates bench is also pretty weak, with the best hitter being Travis Snider.  A player to watch would be former Red, Chris Dickerson.  He hit .355/.429/.419 this spring.  The lack of offensive depth could be a serious issue for the Bucs.

2014 ZiPS Projected Starting Rotation via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Francisco Liriano SP 161 14 10 3.13 1.22 151 59
2 Gerrit Cole SP 163 12 10 3.48 1.26 134 52
3 Wandy Rodriguez SP 119 8 7 3.63 1.22 83 32
4 Charlie Morton SP 121 6 7 4.01 1.39 78 43
5 Edinson Volquez SP 165 8 11 4.48 1.45 130 73

The Pirates rotation has a great 1-2 punch with Liriano and Cole.  Rodriguez and Morton battled injuries nearly all of 2013, and their health will be very important for the Bucs.  Former Red, Edinson Volquez will likely be the Pirates #5 starter.  While that is puzzling, considering Volquez has posted 5.17, 4.14, and 5.17 ERA’s in each of the last seasons, the Pirates believe in his stuff.  The Pirates still have other solid options for the rotation in Jeff Locke (who was so good early in 2013 he was named to the NL All-Star team), Brandon Cumpton, and Jameson Taillon.

2014 ZiPS Projected Bullpen via RottoChamp (as of 3/22/14)

Player POS IP W L Saves ERA WHIP K BB
Jason Grilli RP 50 3 1 26 2.68 1.09 64 16
Mark Melancon RP 69 4 2 8 2.75 1.08 64 14
Tony Watson RP 63 4 3 2 3.27 1.17 54 19
Stolmy Pimentel RP 142 6 7 0 4.17 1.36 87 49
Jeanmar Gomez SP 128 7 8 0 4.00 1.33 75 43
Vin Mazzaro RP 77 5 4 0 3.49 1.27 53 24
Bryan Morris RP 75 4 5 0 4.22 1.35 48 26
Justin Wilson RP 72 4 3 1 3.38 1.32 62 34
Jared Hughes RP 63 3 3 1 3.88 1.34 43 23

The Pirates bullpen will be a major strength for this team in 2014. Grilli, Melancon, and Watson are as good of a back-end of a bullpen as any team in baseball. This pen should give Clint Hurdle plenty of options to work with. The Pirates pitching overall will keep them in a lot of games in 2014.

St. Louis Cardinals

2013: 97-65, 1st place, lost in the World Series to the Red Sox

2014 Baseball Prospectus Prediction: 88-74, 1st place, 45.0% chance of winning the division, 57.8% chance of reaching the playoffs, 5.5% chance of winning the World Series.

The Cardinals are on paper, far and away the best team in the NL Central. Basically, picking anyone else to win the division would be silly. They bring a great lineup, full of above average players 1-8, and great rotation, and great bullpen. Coming off a loss in the World Series, I am sure the Cardinals are hungry for more.

2014 ZiPS Projected Lineup via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
1 Matt Carpenter 3B 537 79 10 69 4 0.272 0.351 0.413
2 Peter Bourjos OF 347 54 9 41 12 0.259 0.314 0.424
3 Matt Holliday OF 506 79 21 85 5 0.277 0.360 0.468
4 Allen Craig OF 458 61 16 84 3 0.284 0.338 0.454
5 Matt Adams 1B 358 45 17 56 1 0.265 0.309 0.464
6 Yadier Molina Catcher 501 54 13 73 6 0.293 0.342 0.433
7 Jhonny Peralta SS 476 49 12 64 2 0.267 0.320 0.412

This is a lineup that has no holes. The only question in the lineup is Kolten Wong, but he has had a tremendous spring, hitting .372/.426/.674. Matt Adams getting a chance to play everyday, by moving Craig to RF will make this team a lot stronger on offense. Defense could be a little bit of a question, with Craig in RF, and Peralta at SS. Overall though, this lineup is the best in the NL Central. The Cards have a nice bench too, with Jon Jay and Mark Ellis headlining, and top prospect Oscar Taveras could join the club at some point this summer.

2014 ZiPS Projected Starting Rotation via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14):

Player POS IP W L ERA WHIP K BB
1 Adam Wainwright SP 208 17 9 3.20 1.13 183 39
2 Shelby Miller SP 175 15 9 3.30 1.20 171 55
3 Michael Wacha SP 155 10 6 3.54 1.20 135 45
4 Lance Lynn SP 174 13 9 3.52 1.28 166 62
5 Joe Kelly SP 147 9 7 3.87 1.37 97 51

This rotation is really good.  Wainwright at the top is a true ace, and the rest of the young rotation figures to be tough.  The question is if the young studs Wacha and Miller will be able to continue on their incredible 2013 seasons, or if they will have sophomore slumps.  The Cards said they won’t limit Wacha (pitched 180 total innings in 2013), but it will be interesting to see how his arm reacts to his first full MLB season. Carlos Martinez pitched well this spring, as was said to be competing for a starting spot. He could join the rotation if someone gets hurt or struggles, and be a great option. Jamie Garcia is recovering from an injury again (shoulder), but he could also join this club early this season.

2014 ZiPS Projected Bullpen via RotoChamp (as of 3/22/14)

Player POS IP W L Saves ERA WHIP K BB
Trevor Rosenthal RP 80 5 2 33 2.37 1.05 103 24
Carlos Martinez RP 108 7 5 2 3.74 1.34 84 39
Kevin Siegrist RP 55 4 2 1 3.25 1.28 58 26
Seth Maness RP 78 3 3 1 3.91 1.24 45 14
Sam Freeman RP 71 4 4 1 4.33 1.50 50 35
Jason Motte RP 50 4 2 1 3.08 1.13 50 14
Pat Neshek RP 47 3 2 0 3.83 1.30 37 15
Randy Choate RP 31 1 1 1 3.48 1.26 26 11

The Cardinals have a lot of good bullpen arms.  Rosenthal and Martinez can both throw 100+, and are a scary back of the bullpen combo. Siegrist and Maness are two other nice young arms, but that is the theme of the Cards pen. They have great arms, but they are young arms.  How will they hold up when being relied on for an entire MLB season?

COMING NEXT WEEK: Next will will feature my preseason NL Central Power Rankings (something that will be updated weekly) and team by team predictions, my preseason All-NL Central team, preseason NL Central Offensive Player and Pitcher of the Year, and more.

25 thoughts on “NL Central Preview: Part 1 of 2

  1. I have to agree. It’s the Cards this season. However, it was the Reds last season, and look what happened. They still have to play the games.

    I had essentially had no problem with the off-season activity. Small market teams can’t be going out every couple of months and bring in the next great fan craze just to satisfy the fans. They have to spend their money more wisely than that. That’s one reason why I would “almost” not have a problem seeing the Reds let this season go and work extra hard on developing the minor league players.

    As shown now, health and injuries are going to play a factor for the Reds this season. Also, I believe it is going to be the little things, things that a new manager would/could/may bring in. For example, under Baker, we rarely saw Devin. Under Price and with no Hanigan, we will see more Devin and see just what can he do at this level as the regular catcher. And, Price has already encouraged the players to steal more.

    If needed by mid-season, I’m not sure who we could have for any trade deadline possibility, if we needed to bring someone in. I mean, no one would want Ludwick if he doesn’t perform. I don’t see us letting Hamilton, Bruce, Votto, BP, or several of the others go. If we do anything, I can’t help thinking it’s going to be some sort of “player for player” (probably including other players) trade. For example, if we trade Cozart out, we would only trade him out to bring in a better SS. I can easily see LF being the position that needs improvement. But, if Ludwick doesn’t have a season like 2012, I don’t think any team would want him. And, if Ludwick does have a season like 2012, I wouldn’t know why we would want to trade him. As of now, I can easily see Heisey and Roger getting more time out there. But, I still think Ludwick is going to be the main guy, possibly just on a short leash. I just hope for no 3 headed monster platoon like Baker had in, what was it, 2011.

    • I agree with what you say but Jocketty was a complete disaster last year overpaing Broxton, Marshall, Phillips and even Hannrahan. He put the Reds in this position and he should answer for it. Also He resigned Baker. He needs to bring in someone like Giancarlo Stanton to be competitive otherwise they won’t compete this year.

      • Stanton??? Do you know how much it would take to get him AND to keep him? We’re forced to develop. But I understand your beef with the contracts he handed out.

      • Oh and to give a solution rather than just picking on your point… (sorry didnt mean to come off that way.) I’d pull the trigger on someone affordable (not perfect) like SD did with Carlos Quentin – platoon him with the better half of ABs. OR I would target someone with some upside like SD’s Blanks and then give the majority of AB’s to Heisey. Just using SD as an example, there are lots of players that can fit those two bills I mentioned.

      • I agree on the Broxton, Marshall, and BP. Not so sure on Hanrahan. The thing is with BP, if not him, then who? I would rather have a Plan B instead of BP myself. But, who would the Plan B have been? There was no one ready. And, no one would have been able to fill 2nd like BP does. And, we wouldn’t have been able to save enough money with who we could have brought in to spend it on someone else.

        Stanton would have cost way too much. You are talking about overpaying? To get Stanton, we would have to pay “in equivalent” what Broxton, Marshall, and BP got. People really need to get off the Stanton boat. He’s not going to be available.

  2. Looking forward to your post every Monday morning this season, Nick. If this starts the week off, I can’t wait to see what unfolds for Tuesday through Saturday.

    Phillips and Ludwick are scaring the daylights out of me with their pitifully weak spring training performance. Ludwick is a traditionally slow starter in spring so my angst is somewhat tempered, but Phillips is not a traditionally slow starter in spring and he is performaing even worse than he did in the 2nd half of 2013 when the excuse profered by many was injury. If Ludwick does not perform, having Heisey and Bernadina as options in LF is some comfort after the really strong spring training both have enjoyed. The key there is how much of a leash does Bryan give Ludwick if he is not performing. There simply isn’t a replacement option for Phillips, so the Reds must ride that horse, but that doesn’t mean the Reds have to ride the horse in the #2 hole if Phillips is not producing (and Cozart can not be an option for the #2 hole!). I’m afraid that the offensive problems, combined with the injuries to both the starting and relief staffs, may make even a 2nd place finish a challenge and a playoff appearance a pipe dream in 2014. I’m gaining more and more convidence in Hamilton’s ability to perform as a leadoff hitter, but there are still too many holes in the lineup.

    With that said, hope springs eternal as opening day approaches and the Old Cossack will be pulling for the Reds all season. Things could fall into place nicely making the Reds a serious contender to unseat the Birds.

    • You’re right that Cozart can’t be the backup #2 hitter plan… I think Frazier might be it. Don’t know anyone else who takes enough walks to hit up that high. He’s not a burner, but he’s probably as fast as if not faster than BP on the bases. It might even be argued that Frazier should be batting 2nd regardless of BP. Last year Frazier had a higher OBP by .004 than BP despite hitting .047 lower than him.
      That means his isolated OBP skills (is that even a thing? If not, someone needs to get on it.) was .051 higher than BP last year. Now lets just hope Frazier’s average on balls in play raises back up and he hits back around .260-.270 and his OBP rises accordingly.

  3. This is going to be a a fun read. Thanks for the explanation on the advanced metrics. I like the teams chances. The Cardinals are clearly the favorites but I think the race will be fun to watch as the Pirates, Reds and Brewers all have a chance.

  4. I suspect that the #2 hole will continue to be a hot topic for complaint/suggestion all year as it has been for a while now. Lots of options to fix it if it is indeed an issue (I think it will be but you never know, BP has surprised me enough that I won’t count him out.) We could just move everyone up a slot, Votto hitting #2 and Bruce #3 wouldn’t be the end of the world. It will still come down to the #1 slot being the key regardless. If Billy gets on a lot then we can gripe about the guy behind him. If he doesn’t then it’s all moot anyway.

    Left field as stated we have some really viable options and hopefully Price doesn’t hesitate to try them out. I can’t imagine what kind of ego herding must be involved at that level of the game but those things are so hard to quantify as a fan that I just ignore them. If we have to platoon out there then let’s do it, it can and has worked for other teams under good management.

    The biggest issue of the entire season though will be pitcher health for us. Our offense is what it is. Our pitching though has been a sublime dream among an otherwise bleary few years of trudging through the NL Central to a disappointing postseason and I for one do not want to see a regression to the days of shaking my head when I see who is starting that particular day.

    • Let’s hope that Price don’t start platooning in left like Baker did. Because of Kocketty’s gaffe’s in the payroll, he must start Ludwick. But if he don’t work out (and that is my guess) then you must play Heisey and let him in there until you trade for Stanton or someone like him. Hamilton will be fine as long as the media don’t put too much pressure on him, but Votto still needs to bat second. If you still haven’t learned anything from last year then your doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

      • Respectfully disagree. A properly managed platoon is a good thing. I don’t know the splits on Heisey/Ludwick but if the splits dictate that a platoon is good then it can be done. Dropping one guy for another guy and not getting much out of it isn’t the way to go. This all assumes that Ludwick struggles though, which while I think that’s going to happen it may not. Payroll should have nothing to do with who plays. Payroll determines who stays on the team and for how long, not who starts or who hits where or pitches when. That type of thinking holds a lot of teams back in my opinion. That goes back to managing egos though.

      • I do not think Ludwick can be on too long a leash. Reputation for slow starts or not, if he cannot get in going Heisey has to get a shot. He might only be a 4th outfielder, but the 2011 performance suggests there might be some upside there. That is not the case with Ludwick,

      • Problem is, it looks like Ludwick will be the guy in LF to start the season.. and I can’t help but think payroll does indeed have a bearing on why. Look at the last couple days. Ludwick started on the 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, and now 24th.

        In that time span Heisey started the 15th, 17th, 20th, 21st, and now 24th. The 15th, 17th, and 24th were all days Hamilton wasn’t starting.

        That smells an awful lot like “Heisey will spell Hamilton when he needs days off, DH, and be a late game defensive replacement in LF when he doesn’t.”.. which is ridiculous that someone leads the league in HRs and then proceeds to get LESS playing time while a lesser player gets more. Before today he had 8 AB in 6 days. Can’t keep a hot streak going like that.

        If that’s not payroll related, then I don’t know what it could be.

  5. Really nice preview Nick. I’ve been working on my own but yours is so much better. What is out there is pretty much what I expected to see. It’s good that teams don’t win divisions and pennants on paper because if that was the case, the Cards are going to run away and hide in the NL Central. The Reds right now have lots of questions in the lineup (Ludwick, Hamilton, Mesoraco, Cozart) and already have some serious injury concerns. Add in a tough schedule to start the year and the Reds may find themselves in a hole pretty quickly.

    Hamilton has looked great this spring and I’ve liked how he’s worked counts. I can’t help but think that during the season though, pitchers aren’t going to just go right after him. I really don’t know about Ludwick and although I like his fire and determination, his age and coming off his injury worries me. I’m pulling for him though. I think Mesoraco will be good enough but I don’t think he’s an offensive force. On most teams he wouldn’t have to be but on this Reds team, it is so very thin after Bruce and Votto. As for Cozart, he hits well enough for a plus defender at SS. But I go back to what I just said about Mesoraco above about this lineup just not being good enough to produce enough runs.

    When you add in all the injuries to the pitching staff and a brutal early schedule, I have serious doubts about my beloved Reds this year. I’ll be cheering from opening day until the end of the season but my expectations are pretty low.

    Looking forward to reading Part 2 of your preview and the rest of your posts throughout the year.

  6. In reply to Todd since the new system limits # of replies: I agree, they’re probably making that decision based on payroll or ego or whatever other factors. I think a lot of baseball decisions start there. I’m just saying that in an ideally run system it shouldn’t. You use your payroll to get the best guys to camp or on your roster that you can and after that it needs to be just purely based on playing ability in the given situation.

    Rarely works out that way but oh how nice it would be.

  7. I think the Francisco brothers (frank and Juan) will be the key to the brewers division title hopes… Nice job on your depth chart research.

  8. Nice analysis. The NL Central is going to be a pretty brutal proving ground. Here’s to hoping the Reds land the first few punches against the Cards in the early April match ups they have.

    Agree that the Brewers are difficult to project. Even if they aren’t “class of the division” good, in any given game they will probably be a tough beat. Keep the ball down to those bats!

  9. Just read that Juan Francisco is not going to make the Brewers. They’re going with Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds to man first base.

    • Good catch! I was just going off what Baseball Prospectus had. That is a pretty solid platoon at 1B, IMO. Reynolds is such a hot/cold hitter. When he is hot, that Brewers lineup is pretty freakin good.

  10. Nice Analysis. Looking forward to reading it on Mondays after a Reds series win for the next six months!
    Please, let’s agree that projections are just that, projections. Stating it as fact that the Reds offense will be worse then last year is a guess, possibly an educated guess, but a guess none the less. The negativity throughout the site for the upcoming season has kept me away over the off season. I am not suggesting that we should just drink Walt’s Kool-Aid but the constant moping and wishing we had the sexy team that the pundits were all cooing over is tiring.
    One player (Choo) didn’t push them over the top last year, in fact you might say they underachieved. Although his bat will be missed I have always been of the mindset that this team would be better off building from the bottom up and not seeking the quick fix.
    If it were up to me neither of the big trades or big contracts of the last few years would have been done. It’s an emotional game no doubt, but from my point of view, the Reds should view themselves as bigger then anyone player or manager and when the time comes, let them walk away or preferably go via trade and keep developing your talent.
    So I for one am okay that they had Choo for just one year. It shows that there is at least some plan for the future and they are sticking to it for now. Will Billy H flop or fly? No one on this earth can say that with certainty. We’ll just have to wait and see.
    Good luck Redlegs, play hard, play smart and let the chips fall where they may!

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