The goal: A 1961 reprise
By John Erardi • firstname.lastname@example.org
• April 3, 2009
How could the 2009 Reds reprise the 1961 miracle? Here's a few ideas:
It would help if Jay Bruce has a “coming-out” type of year. One statistical system predicts he’ll hit 37 home runs, another says 30, so it’s possible.
But even with a big year, Bruce probably won’t touch the MVP season of Reds right fielder Frank Robinson (37 HR, 124 RBI, .323 batting average). So it would help if Joey Votto improves on his solid 2008 season (24 HR, 84 RBI, .297), and Brandon Phillips regains his 2007 offensive form (30HR, 94 RBI, .288).
It’s also important that the left-field platoon of Chris Dickerson and Jonny Gomes, and utility man Jerry Hairston not turn into a black hole of offense.
The fifth starter
Whoever pitches fifth would help matters greatly if he shaved 1-1.5 runs off the eight runs per nine innings that the Reds allowed in that spot in 2008, good for worst in the National League.
That could get the Reds about four more wins than they had in that spot in 2008 (4-21). The 1961 Reds, back in the days of a 4-man rotation, got a terrific first-half season from Ken Hunt (9-4), and a wonderful second half from the newly acquired Ken Johnson (6-2).
Ever notice that “surprise” teams always have starters emerge in a big way, even if it’s only for a half season? Can you say Jack Armstrong, 1990?
Nice year from Cueto
Nobody’s expects Johnny Cueto to be Joey Jay. Jay, the 25-year-old starting pitcher who was acquired by trade in December 1960, went on to win 21 games in 1961 and 1962. But if Cueto shaves the walks and home runs, he could have a breakout season like Edinson Volquez did last year.
That said, pitching projections are harder than hitting projections. It would help if Cueto shaves his walks by 1.5 a game and gets his ERA into the low 4.00’s. With enough run and bullpen support that could translate into 12 or 13 victories in a good year.
The offseason acquisition of catcher Ramon Hernandez from Baltimore may turn out to be the 2009 team’s most important addition. Hernandez, now 33, represents an upgrade over 2008 starting catcher Paul Bako. If Hernandez can be an average-fielding catcher, and hit as projected, that boost in offense, plus defensive gains in the outfield, would help negate the loss of left fielder Adam Dunn.
We’ve heard a lot about “speed and defense” this entire offseason. The Reds must run smart. Last year, the Reds’ stolen-base success rate was 64 percent – that’s awful, given that the league average was 73 percent. The 2009 Reds cannot afford to throw away outs. Considere the 1961 Reds – their stolen-base success rate was 68 percent, compared to a league average 62 percent.
What must Dusty Baker do? Three things.
Don’t pull a Corey Patterson. If Willy Taveras is not getting on base, find somebody else.
Give 7th and 8th inning work to the best arms – Jared Burton and Bill Bray – whenever possible.
Don’t bat Alex Gonzalez second. Try Edwin Encarnacion or Joey Votto there because of their high on-base percentage. (.340 and .368)
Statistical analysts Greg Gajus, Joel Luckhaupt and Justin Inaz, contributed to this piece.