The fine folks here at Heading For The Exits were gracious enough to host my team-by-team baseball previews. Look for a new one every day from March 1st through March 30th. We’re coming down the home stretch now, stopping in the NL Central. We’ll briefly check in with a team who would be well served to look up the word “regression” in the dictionary before the trade deadline.
The Cincinnati Reds are a team that basically exists on another planet for me. They had the second-best pitching staff in the MLB, though a distant second behind the Rays, with breakout performances by Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Aroldis Chapman, a Bronson Arroyo resurgence, and the steady presence of Mat Latos. Given all this, I honestly wouldn’t have placed their pitching staff in the top 10. I reckon I forgot to check my East Coast privilege last season at the door or something.
So why am I predicting them to not repeat as division champions? Well, I don’t believe in Bailey or Arroyo. At all. I expect these guys to give quite a bit back in terms of performance this year. The bullpen is good, but it’s not sub-3 ERA good. If Jonathan Broxton becomes the lynchpin of the relief corps, expect a few games to end in very ugly fashion. On offense, I can see only modest gains over last year’s team, not enough to make up for the regression the pitching offers. All told, I see them giving up enough of a lead to make the Cards, Brewers, and Reds all possible champions in a photo finish.
How’d The Offseason Go?
Well, they quickly and decisively solved the single biggest problem on offense last year by trading underachieving lead-off hitter Drew Stubbs along with Didi Gregorius to the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald. Choo gets on base a full 100 points more than Stubbs, more a testament to how goddamn terrible Stubbs was than anything else. This move alone should boost Jay Bruce’s and Joey Votto’s RBI counts by at least 20 each. They made sure to resign Ryan Ludwick as well after his career year.
Notable departures? Not very many. Considering both Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton were on the roster, it didn’t make sense for them to try to keep Ryan Madson on the roster. He’s signed on with the Angels and will challenge Ernesto Frieri and Sean Burnett for the closing spot there. Scott Rolen, after two straight years of severely disappointing returns, remains a free agent.
The Reds Will Make The Playoffs If
The season comes down to trusting Aroldis Chapman.
The Reds Will Miss the Playoffs If
The season comes down to trusting Jonathan Broxton.
How The Season Will Go
How’s The Farm?
We absolutely cannot start this section without mentioning Billy Hamilton. Hamilton set a professional record for stolen bases in a season (155!) at the high A and AA levels last year, a combination of ridiculous wheels and absolutely no respect for the batteries he faced. So far, he’s demonstrated a good eye and a serviceable bat. It’s only a matter of time before he gets the major league tryout, possibly even this fall.
Outside of him, the offensive prospects are pretty slim over the next couple years. If second base opens up, Ryan Wright would be a pretty solid fill-in, though he lacks the tools to make him a top-10 player there. Outfield has a couple of decent options heading into the ’14/’15 seasons. Ryan LaMarre has the speed and defensive skills of a 4th outfielder, his bat the only thing keeping him from profiling as an everyday centerfielder. Jesse Winker and Kyle Waldrop are both potential solutions at left and right field, respectively, offering good on base skills, decent pop, and serviceable defense.
As for pitching, there is some serious depth for the rotation. Daniel Corcino is ready to play this year, and he offers a potential 3 plus pitches, fastball, slider, and change-up. His command is suspect so far, with a K/BB rate just under 2, limiting his potential as a starter this season. Any improvement in his control, however, should earn him an audition in spot starts. Kyle Lotzkar is in a similar position, a fastball-slider pitcher whose path to the majors currently lies in the bullpen. Injury and control issues have plagued him so far in his minor league career. Finally, Tony Cingrani has demonstrated elite strikeout rates in the system so far, and if he can make some gains on his walk rate, he’s got potential to contribute in the late innings.
Your Brief Fantasy Preview
Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are no-brainers. If they’re around at their average draft position or auction value, spring for them in an instant. Shin-Soo Choo is a bit of a wildcard after being up and down in recent seasons, but I’m expecting an excellent year leading off here. I’ve already drafted him in all of my leagues. Brandon Phillips should be good for an 80-15-80-15 season, making him a top 5 second baseman. I’m not entirely sold on Todd Frazier or Zack Cosart, but they should make good backups if you need them. Ryan Ludwick? Ehhhh. Only if you have to.
For pitching, all signs point to Johnny Cueto’s excellent 2012 being a baseline for this year with further room for improvement. Draft him with confidence. Mat Latos should also contribute another good season, about a 3.50 ERA and a pretty good strikeout rate. I’m not nearly as high on Bronson Arroyo or Homer Bailey. I’d put Arroyo down for an ERA well over 4, and Homer Bailey should regress to around a 4 as well. Aroldis Chapman will provide great stats whether as a starter or a closer, but his price might be unreasonable due to the hype. If he gets a starting role, Broxton will probably be worth owning by default, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.
Projected Finish in the NL Central?
2nd. Life in the Brewers’ and Cardinals’ division ain’t easy, but they’ll do okay.
Oddly Apropos Futurama Quote
“Switzerland is small and neutral! We’re more like Germany, ambitious and misunderstood!”
Body By Bacardi has been making bad sports jokes on Twitter since 2010 and on Deadspin since 2011. If you’re not tired of reading things he’s written, you can follow him on Twitter at @wineaccguy.