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Thread: Nice series of articles from John Erardi

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    Nice series of articles from John Erardi

    Can they do it again?

    By John Erardi • jerardi@enquirer.com • April 3, 2009

    Even though the reigning pitching phenom Johnny Cueto has yet to throw a pitch that matters ... and slugger Joey Votto has yet to line a hanging curveball into the right-center field gap that counts ... and second baseman Brandon Phillips has yet to dive headlong into the first-base hole to rob somebody of a hit, “Wait Till Next Year” already seems to be the mantra for Reds fans.

    The season hasn’t even begun yet, the experts are telling us the best Cincinnati can realistically expect this year is to break its streak of eight straight losing seasons.

    The Sporting News , for instance, thinks the Reds are a year away from serious contention. Sports Illustrated is a bit more optimistic, saying the team is poised to finish with a winning record, and possibly contend for a playoff spot. Still, the magazine predicts the team to finish fourth in the NL Central.

    The head says the pundits are right.

    But then, they said the same thing on the eve of Opening Day in 1961, when another new, young and promising president had just been sworn into the nation’s highest office.

    Those Reds were picked to finish sixth in the eight-team league. But somebody failed to convince the players, who won 26 more games than in 1960, took the pennant, and played in the World Series.

    “There’s nothing wrong with flying under the radar,” said Frank Robinson, the Reds Rookie of the year in 1956 and National League Most Valuable Player in 1961. “Let ’em say whatever they want to say about you, just put it in your heart and in your head and at the end of the year you can say, ‘Well, we showed ’em, didn’t we?’

    “I like this club. I like their energy. They’ve got some good young talent. Their pitching is going to be good. I feel good about them. Maybe it’s going to be another ’61.”

    Take that , pundits.

    And as for you, Reds fans, open wide. We have just what the doctor ordered:

    Ten cc’s of the tonic every fan needs on the eve of Opening Day:

    “Hope Springs Eternal.”

    A huge turnaround

    Nobody gave the 1961 Reds a chance.

    They went 67-87 in 1960, good for sixth place in the eight-team National League. The Reds finished 28 games behind Pittsburgh, which would shock the New York Yankees that October to win the World Series.

    “I remember thinking as spring training (of 1961) went along, ‘We’re going to be better than they think,’ ” recalled Robinson. “Our pitching staff was young (25.8 years on average) and talented – pitchers, not throwers.

    Robinson said he wasn’t sure what to expect from players like Gordy Coleman, the young first baseman. But those players showed a hard-nosed quality that people didn’t appreciate.

    “That’s what it takes to have a good year – your veterans to do just a little better than they normally do, and your young guys to pleasantly surprise you, because nobody knows exactly what to expect of young guys.”

    So could it happen this year? Nothing’s impossible – but remember now, we’re talking 10 cc’s of “hope springs eternal” here.

    The ’61 Reds had a pair of star players in Robinson and Vada Pinson, and some very good role players, but otherwise largely won the pennant with their pitching and defense.

    Indeed, baseball teams that shock the world usually have a surprising pitcher or two. In the case of the 1961 Reds, they had three or four.

    Joey Jay, a 25-year who couldn’t elbow his way into the Milwaukee Braves starting staff, won 21 games here.

    In the first and second halves, respectively, a couple of near-nobodys – Ken Hunt and Ken Johnson – won nine and six games. The end of the bullpen guys, Bill Henry and Jim Brosnan, were lights out.

    Have you read all that, Micah Owings and Homer Bailey? Have you put it in your head and your hearts, Jared Burton and Francisco Cordero?

    Do you believe ? Because, if it’s 1961 all over again, some or all of you are going to be sprinkled with magic dust.

    “Somebody has to emerge on this pitching staff and be a pleasant surprise, because that always happens when a team isn't picked to win but does,” said Reds team historian Greg Rhodes.

    “The difference this year is there are some bona fide candidates – it isn't wishful thinking.”

    Luck is needed

    Yes, the 2009 Reds have to be lucky. Not just in the sense of staying healthy, but in something that statistical analysts refer to as the Pythagorean Theorem, which essentially says that if you score the same of runs for the season that you allow, you will finish .500, give or take a game or two.

    But, if you’re lucky, like the 1961 Reds, you can score only a few more runs than you allow, but win enough one-run games to be 8-12 games better than your Pythagorean Theorem.

    The 1961 Reds were 34-14 in one-games. In baseball vernacular, that’s sick. In other words, that’s off-the-charts lucky and good.

    A typical team is about .500 in one-run games over the course of a season, although it can vary from year to year.

    The 2009 Reds need to be lopsided good. A very good year from the bullpen is important. And they’ll need to score at least as many number as they allow over the course of 2009. That means scoring roughly 50 more runs than last year, and allowing 50 less – or some variation thereof – to balance things out.

    They’ll need some help from others. The Cubs, for instance, must come back to the pack a little bit in the NL Central.

    And just for fun, because we’re looking at 2009 through these oh-so-rose-colored, crystal-ball glasses, let’s go all the way. The Reds’ Edinson Volquez needs to beat the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano in a one-game playoff to rocket the team to its first postseason since 1995.

    Presto, 1961 lives again.

    That’s a lot of ifs. But where does it say you aren’t allowed to dream?

    Didn’t the 1961 Reds set out on a real dream-bender?

    “You better believe it,” Robinson said. “We won our Opening Day game and I remember the feeling to this day.

    “Hey, we can do this. We’re good. Let’s go.’.”

    Must have dreams

    They didn’t “go” right away – they started the season 5-10 – but were 20-6 in May.

    “I don’t know at what point they called us the ‘Ragamuffin Reds,’ said Robinson. “But we took it to heart. We knew nobody was giving us a chance ..... But we knew we were better than everybody thought.”

    Starting pitcher Jim O’Toole, no longer bound by the pitch-calls of veteran catcher Ed Bailey, who’d been traded early in the season, ultimately found his way to newly acquired catcher Darrell Johnson, who encouraged him to move the ball in and out as O’Toole saw fit. The lefthander won 13 of his last 15 starts.

    The Reds nipped and tucked and brawled through the season with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Coleman, who didn’t hit left-handers very well, nonetheless hit the great Warren Spahn like he owned him (16-for-31 with three home runs). Newly acquired third baseman Gene Freese had a career offensive year and a decent defensive one. He and Coleman cut up on one another the entire season and kept everybody loose, O’Toole remembered.

    In mid-August, the Reds went into Los Angeles trailing the Dodgers by two games, but won the first game when Frank Robinson threw out Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax at first base on a single to right, and Koufax retaliated by drilling Robinson with a pitch. Reds starters Bob Purkey and pitcher Jim O’Toole then shut out the Dodgers in a doubleheader, and the Reds moved into first.

    “I remember thinking, ‘God, we’re gonna do it,' ” O’Toole recalled.

    Reds manager Fred Hutchinson fumed and fussed and fueled the Reds to the finish line, once even making his charges stay overtime for batting practice after a doubleheader loss early in the season, and then bed-checking and fining them that night, moves that turned things around, O’Toole recalled.

    “We said, ‘Man, this guy is serious ,’ and we picked up on it,” O’Toole recalled. “We went out and really got after it, holding back nothing.”

    Are you taking notes, Dusty Baker? Whatever the 2009 equivalent of that is, you’d better go out and do it.

    Because that is how you win a pennant, miracle-style.

    “Things have to go your way,” Robinson said. “But it can happen. It did happen.”

    The 1961 team turned around not just a year, but an era.

    "It was a watershed year," historian Rhodes said. "The franchise had only one winning season (1956) since the end of World War II - but after they won in 1961, they had the best record in the National League over the next 40 years (through 2000).

    "No, there aren't any Frank Robinsons or Vada Pinsons on this team, but Jay Bruce has a huge upside and Joey Votto is a very solid player," Rhodes added.

    "You're always hoping for great producers, run-generators. But there are different ways to win a pennant. One thing's for sure - this is the best starting rotation the Reds have had going into a season since (their last World Championship in) 1990."


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    Re: Nice series of articles from John Erardi

    The goal: A 1961 reprise

    By John Erardi • jerardi@enquirer.com • April 3, 2009

    How could the 2009 Reds reprise the 1961 miracle? Here's a few ideas:

    The sluggers

    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.

    Ramon Hernandez

    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.

    Base running

    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.

    The manager

    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.


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    Re: Nice series of articles from John Erardi

    The keys: Pitching and luck

    By John Erardi • jerardi@enquirer.com • April 3, 2009

    The Reds need 17 more wins victories than last year’s 74 to get to 91 and have a good chance for contention.

    The expected defense and pitching improvements could provide the Reds half of that, and luck could provide the rest.

    The “more runs they score than they allow” – known as “Run Differential” - means the less luck that will be necessary.

    Here’s what we mean:

    In baseball, the “Pythagorean Theorem” provides that for every 10 runs more that you score than you allow, you will finish one more game above .500 (81-81).

    So, if you score 100 more runs than you allow, that’s 10 victories over .500, or 91-71. Old-fashioned baseball calls 91-71 “20 games over,” but it really is 10 games over.

    OK, here we go, category by category.

    The fifth starter

    If the Reds are solidly in the fourth quartile of 5-hole ERA, it’s a 2-game improvement; Upgrading to a mere “league average” fifth starter would be another 1-2 game improvement.

    Put another way: In 2008, the Reds’ fifth starters combined for 36 starts, a 4-21 record and gave up 150 runs in 168 2/3 innings during their starts (8.00 runs per 9 innings).

    Cutting that to 6.00 runs per 9 innings would drop the total runs allowed to 112 runs (38-run difference, i.e. about 4 wins, because for every 10 runs, a team usually gets another win – that’s the Pythagorean Theorem).

    Cut it to 5.00 runs per game, and that would take it down to 94 runs -- 56 fewer (5.5 to 6 wins) better than last year.

    That is how the Reds did it in 1961.

    They were second in the league in “ERA+” and all 5 starters had ERA+ above 100.

    Catcher Ramon Hernandez

    The statistical analysts project that Hernandez could be a 2-win improvement over the Reds’ 2008 catchers, and that’s no small thing.

    Here’s why. The Reds need to make up for the loss of Adam Dunn’s offense. Factoring in his defense, Dunn was only a three-win player for the Reds in 2008.

    Hernandez is only one win away from that, which means Hernandez means more to this team than what he gives it behind the plate. By the way, the Reds new catcher in 1961 -- Johnny Edwards -- was much more a Paul Bako-type than a Hernandez-type that season. Edwards gave the Reds almost nothing with the bat.

    Defensive improvement

    A relatively new category of objective analysis is called Defensive Effiiciency Ratio, or DER.

    It is the percentage of batted balls that stay within the ballpark that the defense turns into outs. The Reds' DER last year was 67.4 percent, worst in the league. If – and this is a big if – the corner outfield play improves as much as we suspect and shortstop Alex Gonzalez is healthy, the Reds could get close to the league average of 69.2 percent in 2008.

    The 1961 Reds traded away their aging, but longtime slick-fielding shortstop Roy McMillan after the 1960 season, and moved second baseman Eddie Kasko to short, who was a nice offensive upgrade and not too much worse defensively than an aging McMillan.

    Even mere league average defense at shortstop would be a one-two win upgrade for the Reds, even if all Gonzalez does is field well, and doesn't hit much.

    The improved outfield defense is probably worth three-four games as long as Chris Dickerson gets a lot of time in left field, Willy Taveras is comparable to Corey Patterson in center, and Jay Bruce is solid in right.

    The ’61 club did it with defense. They improved themselves defensively by trading their shortstop, moving their second baseman to short and acquiring a good fielding second baseman in Don Blasingame.

    Their newly acquired average-fielding third baseman Gene Freese had the best fielding year of his career. The ’61 team’s DER was 71.1 percent , ranking No. 2 in the NL. In 1960, their DER was 699, which was in a 3 way tie for fifth.

    The speed and base-running factors

    In 2008, the Reds' total baserunning - including stolen bases, advancing first-to-third, and not getting thrown out at the plate, etc - was 13 runs below average, which was the third worst in MLB.

    Only Washington and Baltimore were worse.

    Edwin Encarnacion was the best on the team with a net of +1.2 runs above average. Joey Votto was by far the worst at minus 6.6 runs. He’s no basestealer, and he’s not much at advancing on hits and wild pitches, either.

    But also at the bottom of the list were Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and David Ross - at minus 2 runs each - all of whom are gone.

    So, the Reds’ baserunning should be better this year. How much better we don’t know. But it will be as good as the players make it. This truly is one area in which there is room for the sort of visible, tangible upgrade one hopes to see in the Reds on a day-to-day basis.

    Taveras was second best in baseball last year at +12 baserunning runs above average, thanks largely to his outstanding stolen base total and ratio. If he can repeat that success - it’s a big if: in 2007 he was "just" +1.4 runs - his addition, plus the departures of Dunn and Griffey, and improvement by Votto, could net the Reds 1-2 wins.

    Two wins has got to be the best case scenario ceiling, but it’s a difference-maker.

    Statistical analysts Greg Gajus, Joel Luckhaupt and Justin Inaz, contributed to this piece.


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    Re: Nice series of articles from John Erardi

    Well without all the statistical analysis that's pretty much how I see things also. I have outlined a couple times that we have to improve on defense, pitch like we expect too, and get some late game timely hits. The baserunning issue I knew needed to improve but wasn't quite sure how to quantify it.

    FWIW I see the 5th spot improving to between a 5.00 and 5.50 era at worst. I see Cueto slashing his BB's a bit but I doubt he cuts his HR's much. Harang (even if he has slipped) will be better than last year. I think the defense will indeed be the biggest improvement on the field and expect it to come close to what we need it to be. The offense does have one thing going for it, the divisions pitching (especially the bullpens) aren't exactly the Nasty Boys and their likely aggression vs. that pitching could result in some luck towards the end of games. That aggression could (and mostly will) also work against them but I expect that to be a bigger problem later in the season.

    I kind of expect a big breakout from Bruce, but I happen to feel the opposite of most on EE. I think EE has a rough season and I'll say it again I'm not so sure his increased discipline last year was a result of patience but perhaps moreso indecision/good fortune (not all his BB's but a good handfull of them). The thing that worries me most at this point is that the bullpen won't be as good as last years version. Call it a gut instinct but I have feeling age, injuries and overall ineffectiveness might hurt us.
    Last edited by Mario-Rijo; 04-03-2009 at 06:16 PM.
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