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Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

[ 0 ] March 28, 2006 |

One of the biggest differences between the Mariners and the Reds is that while the Mariners are guaranteed of 4th place, the Reds merely aspire to it.

Last year the Reds went 73-89, scoring 820 runs and giving up 889. Both of those were the highest in the National League, the latter really a tremendous achievement for any team not playing in Colorado. They were 27 games out of first place and 6 games out of fourth place. Part of the high run totals are because the Great American Ballpark is a solid hitters ballpark, with a factor of about 105 (favorable to hitters). The more important reasons for the high run totals are the Reds’ excellent offense, horrible pitching, and criminally negligent defense. Of the latter, only the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals had worse defensive efficiency numbers.

Not terribly much has changed between this year and last in Cincinnati. The offense remains potent, with plus offensive players at every position except second base (Freel/Womack/Aurilia), and first base (Scott Hatteburg). The defense remains awful, especially in the outfield. Austin Kearns can play a plausible corner outfield, but Adam Dunn really belongs at first base, and Ken Griffey Jr. can no longer play center. BP has him at -18 runs in centerfield last year, and expects a similar performance this year. The infield defense is a lot better, although the right side of the infield has some obvious difficulties.

The pitching staff remains a big problem. The rotation seems to consist of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton, and Dave Williams. Harang was a good pitcher last year. Claussen is decent, as is Bronson Arroyo, although Arroyo’s flyball tendencies probably couldn’t have found a worse home than Cincinnati. Eric Milton, on the other hand, turned in one of the worst performances in the history of major league baseball. A 6.47 ERA in 186.1 innings is a bad thing, and there is no reason to expect him to perform any better this year, as he remains a mediocre, flyball heavy pitcher in a wholly inappropriate park in front of a catastrophically leaky outfield defense. Dave Williams will eat some below average innings. Nevertheless, the rotation will probably be slightly better than it was last year. In the bullpen, only David Weather and Matt Belisle are really distinguished.

The best that the Reds can expect is that Austin Kearns will regain his offensive form and deliver the 4-5 WARP (wins above replacement) that he seems capable of. Griffey will be a net plus if he remains healthy and hits like he did last year. Second base will be a disaster unless Ryan Freel takes over quickly from Aurilia and Womack. Edwin Encarnacion looks like a fine regular, and I’m not so worried about his defense. The pitching staff could achieve its extreme upside of mediocrity. If all of that happens, and if Chicago and Houston collapse, then a third place finish in the division and about 81 wins aren’t out of reach.

The worst that can happen is utter disaster. If Griffey gets injured he’s going to be replaced by Ryan Freel, meaning that Womack and Aurilia will be free to suck at second base all year long. Encarnacion may have trouble developing. Kearns may remain stuck at his current level of sub-par production. Harang could take a slight step back, and Arroyo could completely fail in GAB. Eric Milton will remain Eric Milton. In this scenario, the Reds find themselves firmly in sixth place, behind the (gasp) Pirates.

My guess? About the same as last year, roughly 71-73 wins, and probably fifth place.

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