Can the Reds contend or (dare we ask) even win the NL Central? Stat gurus say yes - if the team makes the right choices.
As the Reds take shape in Sarasota, no doubt you are wondering a lot of things. But mostly you're wondering: Do the Reds finally have enough talent to contend, after seven straight losing seasons?
Today, with the help of a couple of stat gurus known as sabermetricians, we produce reasonable answers to those questions through the use of objective analysis.
If you're a baseball fan, you've been using stats your whole life.
Statistical analysis is just utilizing a few more stats and a few new stats to augment what you already know. It's just turning the diamond under a slightly different light to get a closer look.
Why should you care about statistical analysis?
Because you care if the Reds win.
The decisions the Reds brass make in the next few weeks will have a big influence on whether the team is a surprise contender or again has a losing season.
A STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Every March, hope springs eternal for the fans of 30 Major League Baseball teams.
But what happens to hope when you put the cold, hard numbers to it?
Can the Reds break the streak of seven straight losing seasons? Can they crash the playoff party for the first time in 13 years?
We turned loose a couple of sabermetricians - numbers gurus who use statistics as evidence for objective analysis - and were surprised to see what they came back with.
They aren't predicting the Reds will contend, but rather that the Reds could contend if certain projections take place allowing them to score 70 more runs than they allow. (An explanation of that follows.)
Their biggest point? That the Reds' best shot occurs if they play and pitch the youngsters.
The bromides still apply - the pitchers must come through; key players have to stay healthy; some guys need to have breakout seasons - but consider the specific, numerical analysis:
The projections - that is, "the probabilities" - say the Reds would be much better off with talented but unproven slugger Jay Bruce in center field than Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper or Corey Patterson. The point: Always play a guy somewhere because he's the best player, not because you "think" somebody else would make a better leadoff hitter.
The Reds would be considerably better off with Jeff Keppinger anywhere in the lineup, as long as it's full-time, because he provides what this lineup desperately needs: a batter who gets on base. One way to do it would be to play the right-handed Keppinger at first base against left-handed pitchers, and at shortstop against right-handers. (Such a platoon is unorthodox, but then Keppinger is an unusually valuable piece. He adds more runs with his bat than fellow shortstop Alex Gonzalez saves with his glove. Despite the raves you read about Gonzalez's defense, all the fielding services indicate his range is average. At best, he would save 10 more runs over the course of an entire season than Keppinger, who the projections say would generate 10-18 more runs on offense than Gonzalez, not to mention how much more Keppinger provides on offense if he gets first baseman Joey
Votto's at-bats vs. left-handers).
The Reds are better off with Votto, also relatively unproven, at first base than veteran Scott Hatteberg, although Hatteberg has been a valuable contributor throughout his Reds tenure with excellent on-base percentage and consistent hitting.
The Reds should take a hard look at batting Votto leadoff against right-handed pitchers, and Keppinger leadoff vs. left-handed pitchers. Don't sweat Votto's strikeouts. Votto has a good on-base average. So does Keppinger. Not speedy enough, you say? Beware the leadoff hitter with good speed, good batting average and low on-base percentage. Reds manager Dusty Baker had such a leadoff hitter in 2006 with the Cubs. Juan Pierre played every game, hit .292, stole 58 bases and yet scored only 87 runs thanks to a .330 on-base percentage. Adam Dunn has scored more runs than that in each of the last four seasons.
It wouldn't kill the Reds to bat Brandon Phillips leadoff - maybe 5-8 fewer runs over the course of a season (which equates to maybe one victory) - but don't do it just for his speed. On-base percentage - not speed - is the most important single factor in scoring runs, say the sabermetricians. They are adamant about this, and they have the math to prove it.
The Reds are on the right track with their bullpen. New closer Francisco Cordero's presence allows for last year's closer, David Weathers, and eighth-inning setup man Jared Burton to be used in whatever late-inning roles the manager wants. There are also better arms available to handle the sixth and seventh innings compared to last season. The numbers support what you already suspect.
No. 3 starter Matt Belisle should be better than last season even if all he does is become a "neutral luck" pitcher as opposed to the "bad luck" one he was in '07.
And it's nearly impossible for any combination of candidates for the Nos. 4 and 5 starting rotation spots (Josh Fogg, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Jeremy Affeldt and Edinson Volquez) to be as bad as the 4- and 5-hole pitchers from last season.
What's it all mean when it comes to winning games? Today's analysis explains that, step by step.
This is pretty much exactly what I've been saying for awhile. It's almost like they copied my thoughts. I'm surprised a place like the Enquirer put out an article like this, but it's very good. Hopefully logical thinking becomes more mainstream, as oppose to this...
Take a look