Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crowded in the Middle

I can't really recall a situation like the Reds face right now with their starting rotation.  In my mind, they've got ten decent starters, both for the remainder of this year and in future years, but none of those guys really stand out as top of the rotation kind of guys.  What should they do?  Let's look at what they've got to work with.  Several of the pitchers have some striking similarities, which, in my opinion, only makes it more difficult to figure out what to do.

The Veterans

Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang are the first guys to discuss.  They've been around the block, and we know pretty well what we're getting with them.  Both are free agents after this year, provided the Reds don't pick up their $13M options.  (Cot's Baseball Contracts has some nice salary information which helped me put this together.)  To this point, Arroyo has been worth 1.2 WAR and Harang 1.0 WAR this season, so they're not exactly living up to their current contracts at the moment.  Despite that, they continue to give the Reds more or less average production, as they have for several years.  They don't overpower guys; their stuff is basically average.  In fact, Arroyo's fastball only clocks in at 88.0, which is faster than only a dozen or so qualified starters in the majors.  Harang's is a more respectable, but still below average, 90.5.  

I've always thought of each of them as "innings-eaters", but after looking at the stats, I can see that's only really true of one of them.  Arroyo is working on a streak of five straight 200+ inning seasons and appears likely to get there this year as well.  In looking at the stats, I was surprised to find that Harang hasn't been so reliable these last few years.  Depending on how long his current back injury keeps him out, he could be looking at his third straight year of failing to hit 200 innings.  I tend to think that Harang is more likely to give you a big game, while Arroyo is more consistent and less likely to throw out a stinker.  The bottom line is, of all the guys on the staff, these two are the known quantities.  They're basically average pitchers who are going to give you six innings and keep you in the game more often than not.  Harang's inability to stay healthy at this stage of his career appears to make Arroyo the better bet going forward, both this year and in the future.  I think it is pretty safe to say that Harang's option will be declined next year.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Reds try to bring Arroyo back on a two-year $16-18M contract or something like that.

I'm Back...

I've been out of town for while at my brother's wedding, so I haven't posted anything in a while.  I missed the atrocious string of heartbreaking losses to the Phillies, the near-perfect game by Travis Wood, the Cliff Lee trade, the All-Star Game, all the second-half previews and first-half reviews, and the seemingly endless break where nothing was going on.  There were a few posts worth making there, but it didn't happen.  I'm back now though.

To kick things off after the break, Bronson Arroyo pitched a great game, leading the Reds to a 3-2 victory over the Rockies.  Arroyo was dominating early, giving up only a single that Brandon Phillips usually fields cleanly through the first 6 innings.  He allowed a run in the seventh on a Jason Giambi RBI double (that I'd bet Chris Heisey would have caught if he'd been in for Gomes), but the wheels didn't come off until the eighth.  Miguel Olivo led off with a homer, but it was questionable enough to require a replay.  That could have been it for Arroyo.  At that point in the game, the Rockies were starting to get a read on Arroyo, and the break for review may have had an impact too.  In any case, Baker left Arroyo in, allowing him to walk Ian Stewart and give up a single to Clint Barmes.  If not for another awesome performance by Arthur Rhodes, Arroyo could well have been saddled with a loss in this game.  Baker could have prevented that possibility from ever coming up, but Arroyo only threw 93 pitches.  Even though the situation probably dictated that it was time for a change, I understand why Baker would have wanted to give him a chance to keep going.

Of course, Arroyo did get the win, and he can think Arthur Rhodes for that.  Rhodes walked the first batter he faced to load the bases with no one out and a one run lead.  He got Dexter Fowler (who earlier in the game robbed Jay Bruce of a three-run homer that would have made this situation moot) to fly out to Jay Bruce.  Ian Stewart wasn't about to try to run on Bruce.  Rhodes then struck out Jonathan Herrera and Carlos Gonzalez to end the threat and lead the Reds to victory.

On the offensive side, the Reds scored two of their three runs in the third inning.  I was watching the game on the iPod Touch, and I was amused by the Reds TV crew's description of what happened.  Brandon Phillips doubled to lead off the inning, and then "stole" third when he was caught going too far on Orlando Cabrera's bunt attempt.  (Why bunt in that situation?  It's the third inning!  The leadoff man is on second, the heart of your lineup is coming up, and you play in Great American Ball Park!  Start a rally, don't play for a single run.  But I want to rant on the TV guys, not Dusty, so back to it...)  With Phillips on third and no one out, Cabrera grounded out weakly to second.  The TV guys lauded Cabrera for professional hitting and making sure to get the run in, as if he shouldn't even have tried to get a hit in that situation.  What a load of bull.  Joey Votto doubled just after that play, and later came around to score on a Johnny Gomes single.  Had Cabrera got a hit, instead of a weak ground out, perhaps the Reds would have scored more.  With the recent power outage against the Phillies, giving away outs at the top of the lineup ought to be a definite no-no.  When you keep penciling Cabrera in up there though, you can't really avoid it.  (I don't even care that he had a RBI double later.  He needs to be moved down in the lineup, if he plays at all.)

OK, venting done, let's turn the page.  Edinson Volquez makes his first 2010 start tonight against the Rockies.  Here's hoping that he becomes the ace we need, especially after losing out on Cliff Lee.  The Reds have a bunch of good but not great pitchers right now.  They've got to figure out who their starting five will be going forward, and they'll need to figure out who they should be counting on if the playoffs roll around.  I'll work on getting my thoughts together about what they should do, but I've been struggling with it all week, and really have no idea what they should do.  It's a good problem to have right now.