Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The One That Got Away

The Reds got back on the horse tonight with a 3-1 victory over the Mets.  Bronson Arroyo threw eight innings of one-run ball.  Brandon Phillips homered and drove in two runs.  Chris Heisey hit the go-ahead-homer in the seventh.  (He should really play more!)  This was a welcome change after Johan Santana shut the Reds down last night.  Of course, it could have been worse...

When I went to bed last night, the Reds had lost, and the Cardinals were winning 9-3 in the ninth inning.  I was resigned to the Reds' lead in the Central shrinking to a game, and just hoped that things turned around tonight.  Well, I was stunned to wake up this morning to find out that the Cards had lost in an epic meltdown (or "Meltdown", for the fangraphs followers in the audience) by Ryan Franklin.  The Cardinals have to be kicking themselves over that loss, and if they fall a game short of making the playoffs, they'll certainly look back to the game and wonder what could have been.

Of course, this just makes all of us Reds fans that much happier.  Not only did this loss by the Cardinals keep the Reds atop their perch in the NL Central by two full games (three if the Cardinals choke away tonight's game, which is currently tied 7-7 in the 8th.), but it also provides some psychological relief for the Reds own meltdown at the hands of the Braves back in May.  If my memory serves me correctly, the score of that game was also 9-3 going into the bottom of the ninth.  Mike Leake had pitched a solid game and was in line for the win.  Seven runs later, the Reds had been handed a shocking defeat. 

It all happened so quick too.  I remember where I was.  I had spent the day downtown in DC for work, and I came home on the Metro.  I got in my car just in time to hear the sports report on WTOP radio at 15 after the hour.  They announced that the Reds had a 9-3 lead going into the ninth inning.  I was thrilled.  The next WTOP sports report came just as I was pulling into my garage at 45 after the hour.  They announced that the Reds had lost 10-9.  I was disappointed to be sure.  Still, even though it was very early in the season, I had high hopes for the Reds this year.  I thought the Wild Card was not out of the question, although I really didn't think we could hang with the Cardinals like we have in the division.  I just couldn't shake the feeling that the Reds were really going to want that game back come September. 

Now?  I'm not so sure.  The Cardinals have their own game that they flushed down the toilet, and the Reds are serious threats (if not favorites at this point) to win the division now.  In fact, suggests that the Reds have better than a 60% chance of winning the division at this point.  The chart below (from shows how the Reds division, wild card, and playoff chances have changed over the season.  On June 12, I posted that I was concerned about the disparity between the Reds and Cardinals upcoming schedules through the All-Star break.  I was just hoping the Reds would stay within hailing distance over this stretch, but they've really turned it on, particularly over this road trip.

I wouldn't go so far as to label the Reds front-runners, but the longer this lasts the more legitimate the Reds appear to be.  I'm still not to the point that I expect the Reds to win the division, but I'm definitely expecting them to be playing for it right up to the last week of the season.  If they lose the division by a game to the Cardinals, I'll no doubt be crushed.  At the same time, I'll probably be less inclined to dwell on that collapse against the Braves now, knowing that the Cardinals had to overcome a very similar meltdown just a couple of months later.  On the other hand, if the Reds come up a game short of the Wild Card it will be very tough to swallow.  Hopefully they'll keep putting "W"s in the books, and we won't have to worry about it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Drew Stubbs Big Day

Drew Stubbs set off some 4th of July fireworks on Sunday against the Cubs, hitting three home runs in the Reds 14-3 romp.  The three home runs broke Stubbs out of a big slump.  The slump was so bad, in fact, that Dusty Baker met with Stubbs on Saturday morning and sat him out of the game that afternoon according to Mark Sheldon, basically saying that Stubbs needed to be more aggressive at the plate.  So, did Dusty's pep talk do the trick?  Obviously, he's not going to hit three home runs every game, but did Stubbs suddenly learn something that will push his game to a new level?

I suspect that this is all just a combination of lucky timing and bad Cubs pitching.  If you recall, a couple of weeks ago, I posted about the relationship between Contact %, Z-Swing%, wOBA, and ISO.  The impetus for that post was the frequency with which Stubbs strikes out.  I ultimately concluded that while Stubbs really struggles to make contact, he'd be better served by simply swinging at more pitches in the strike zone, echoing what Baker would later tell him.  When Stubbs went off yesterday, I wondered if he had changed his approach to be more aggressive.

Take a look at these charts from  First, here are the pitches that Stubbs has swung at this season.

Maybe it's me, but this chart looks fairly sparsely populated on the outside corner (the right side).  Now, take a look at the pitches Stubbs has taken.

It appears to me that Stubbs rarely swings at pitches down and away.  The called strike picture tells a similar story.

The red points on this chart (the called strikes) certainly appear to be much more prevalent down and away in the zone.  It appears that Stubbs has trouble pulling the trigger on those down and away strikes.  I imagine teams would look to take advantage of that.  The Cubs?  Not so much.

Here are the same three charts from Stubbs game yesterday.  First, here are the pitches that Stubbs swung at.

Stubbs took eight swings in five trips to the plate, three of which ended up as home runs.  All eight of the pitches that Stubbs swung at were up and in the zone.  The home runs came on the two sliders and the curve ball.  I guess he was really on the breaking pitches.  What did he take?

It looks like Stubbs took eight pitches as well, five of them fastballs, and two of those down and away at the edge of the zone.  Go back and look at the first chart above.  See any red points down and away in the zone?  Not really.  Here, Stubbs got a couple, and just like the rest of the season, he didn't swing at them. 

If you ask me, the Cubs either didn't do their homework or executed their pitches very poorly.  Stubbs won't swing at fastballs down and away, and the Cubs pitched him up and in.  I doubt that Stubbs really did anything all that different yesterday.  He was a little more aggressive than usual on pitches in the zone, swinging at eight of ten strikes while his Z-Swing % on the year is just 63.2% (according to   Ultimately though, the pitches he saw were not the ones he struggles to swing at, so with such a small sample size, it's pretty hard to conclude that Stubbs had some kind of epiphany and will suddenly begin playing at a whole new level.  I hope he proves me wrong.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

No Votto?!

Wow...  So the MLB All-Stars were just announced, and three Reds made the team: Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and Arthur Rhodes.  I was hoping for four All-Stars for the Reds, but I really thought Arthur Rhodes wouldn't get the honor because his work is done in middle relief.  The other three were locks though.  Except one of them didn't make it!

I couldn't fathom the possibility that Joey Votto would be left off the team.  Granted, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez are very good and deserving of All-Star spots in their own right, but in an AL park where the DH will be used, there MUST be a third spot on the roster for a 1B, right?  It's not even clear that Pujols and Gonzalez should have been given a spot ahead of Votto.  According to fangraphs, Votto has the highest WAR for NL first baseman with 3.6, a full half-win ahead of both Pujols and Gonzalez.  It's a bit different on where Gonzalez sits at 3.7 WAR to Votto and Pujols' 3.2.  It's pretty clear that the three have performed similarly well this season.  Plus, as I mentioned, the NL needs a DH.  The highest wOBA in the NL belongs to...  Joey Votto!  In fact, Votto's .425 wOBA is well ahead of Gonzalez' .386.  If Votto isn't the NL's starting first baseman, he should at least be the starting DH, right?  How did Charlie Manuel miss this?

Wait, I see how...  On my first read through the roster, I missed a player: Ryan Howard.  Yes, Ryan Howard, currently 8th in both wOBA (.367) and WAR (1.2) among NL first basemen was named an All-Star over Votto.  I guess Manuel didn't feel like he could pass up his own first baseman.  That's just wrong, but we know that managers do it every year.  It doesn't make it any easier to stomach though. 

OK...  Venting complete, let's look ahead.  Votto was at least extended the courtesy of being put of for the final vote for the NL, along with Heath Bell (Padres), Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Billy Wagner (Braves), and Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals).  Obviously, I think Votto deserves the spot, but let's make sure the numbers support that position. While Wagner (0.9 WAR) and Bell (1.3 WAR) have been pretty good as relievers, they don't compare to the hitters, so let's focus on Votto, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman.  Votto has been worth 3.6 WAR with a .425 wOBA, while Gonzalez (1.5 WAR, .356 wOBA) and a definitely solid Zimmerman (3.0 WAR, .372 wOBA) trail a fair bit behind.  (Gonzalez's numbers lag just a hair behind Jay Bruce.  Can you seriously make an argument that Bruce would deserve a spot on the team over Votto?)  Votto must be the pick here, right?  Well, maybe not.  The team already has three first basemen, but just two third basemen and four outfielders (and whatever Omar Infante is).  One of those other guys may fit the team's needs better.  My gut tells me that either Votto or Zimmerman gets the final spot.  It's a shame that those two guys aren't already assured of their spot.  They've both earned it, especially Votto.