May 5, 2006
Reds, Indians, Marlins
As Borges may have written, "Time forks perpetually into countless futures. In one of them, the Reds win the NL Central." Almost universally viewed as the division's doormat this season, the Reds are in the unlikely position of looking down on the rest of the league. But despite their 20-9 record, Clay Davenport's Playoff Odds have them behind the Brewers and Astros--both with worse actual records--because of their underlying performances. Joe Sheehan has already looked at a few reasons why that is, but today, let's take a closer look at a player who's getting a lot of press as being partly responsible for that hot start.
Todd Helton and Scott Rolen aren't the only baseball figures battling illness as of late. More than a few baseball analysts have come down with a bad case of the Aprils, particularly where Bronson Arroyo is concerned. On ESPN the other night, John Kruk mentioned that the Reds would remain in the hunt for the Division crown all summer because Arroyo was "a proven winner." Even GM Wayne Krivsky has shared his $.02, saying:
"Here we were, trying to fly under the radar. It's true we have had a lot of good things happen so far. Arroyo's been terrific, but we were only able to get him because the Red Sox had an excess of starting pitching and they needed an outfielder. The naysayers said he was a fly-ball pitcher coming to a fly-ball ballpark, but he knows how to pitch."
We can all probably agree that this is more diplomacy than analysis. But that doesn't change the fact that it's obviously not really naysaying when you have a fly-ball pitcher--one who recently lost a few K's from his strikeout rate--moving to a home run park; that's just pointing out some history, however unfortunate. Also unfortunate is that the Reds haven't exactly had great success with that kind of pitcher before.
The drop in strikeout rate from 2004 is what's worrisome, since that means more balls in play. The Reds haven't fielded a good defensive team since 2000 (when they ranked 3rd in the majors), and they didn't figure to be a top-shelf defensive team this year. Bringing a league-average pitcher into a park that inflates home runs to play in front of a suspect-to-competent defense is just asking for it. But lost in all of this is the fact that, when Krivsky made these remarks, Arroyo had exactly one start at Great American Ball Park. He's since made one more. But he's not succeeding despite GABP; he just hasn't had to deal with it yet (the Reds, as a whole, have also faced below-average offense so far-that helps, too).
In addition to this home/road discrepancy--and the uber-low .193 BABIP that Joe Sheehan mentioned the other day--Arroyo has seen a marked improvement in his L/R splits. From 2003-2005, opponents mustered the following performances against him:
AVG OBP SLG OPS ----------------------------- vs. L .275 .338 .455 .793 vs. R .228 .281 .366 .647
AVG OBP SLG OPS ----------------------------- vs. L .171 .222 .303 .525 vs. R .193 .239 .386 .624
Arroyo's performance against righties isn't that out of line with what he's done in the past. His performance against lefties, though, is another symptom of the Aprils, and a case where we should probably side with history until given a compelling reason not to.
Sparked by Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and Ben Broussard, Cleveland's offense is on top of the world. Scoring 6.6 runs per game through May 3, their lineup was lapping the rest of baseball. An 18-hit parade in Oakland Wednesday night bumped the team's batting average to .309.
After five-plus months of Notebook neglect, the Tribe needs some attention. Let's get to it:
As a May 15 deadline approaches for the Marlins to commit to San Antonio, and the Florida legislature mulls a tasty bit of subsidy swag to keep the team from moving, it would be easy for folks to forget that they're still playing ballgames and not just politics in southern Florida. Judging by the attendance, many have forgotten.
For those few who have braved a trip to Pro Player/Dolphin/Wayne-Huizenga-Sucks-Away-All-Your-Profits Stadium, the Marlins have certainly put a forgettable product on the field. The team is 2-9 at home, 8-18 overall, a hair below the Washington Nationals for the bottom spot in the NL East, just above the Pittsburgh Pirates for worst record in the league.
What's gone wrong? It starts with the pitching. Going into last night's game, the Marlins had the worst pitching in the league, by
Last year, we marveled at the pitching of Brian Moehler, who at that time had pitched less than 85 major league innings over the previous four years, and still managed to provide the Fish 158 innings of league-average work. Unfortunately, thus far Scuffy's the fourth-worst starter in the NL. Sometimes, we'd write this off under the heading "only May, small sample size," except that Moehler's been awful for a bit longer than that--he posted a 6.67 ERA after the All-Star break last season, compared to 3.27 prior. That shiny thing sticking out between the numbers on his jersey may be a fork.
Top lefty prospects Scott Olsen and Jason Vargas haven't been able to harness their stuff in the Show--allowing a combined 35 walks in 43.2 innings. Even Dontrelle Willis has been underwhelming, although his peripherals this year are not far off his career marks.
On offense, two of the key players from whom we expected big production, Jeremy Hermida and Mike Jacobs, haven't contributed much so far. Hermida's been suffering a sprained hip flexor, which curtailed his production prior to landing him on the DL; Jacobs has simply not shown the form that netted him 11 homers in 100 at-bats last season. It's early yet for Hermida and Jacobs, but the team can't afford for those two to slack off, because the lineup's been loaded with players whose offensive contributions are expected to be minimal. Reggie Abercrombie and Eric Reed are the kind of guys PECOTA expected to perform below replacement level; Chris Aguila and Miguel Olivo were expected to do better, but not by much. Only Olivo is living up to even that modest expectation.
Now that we have you thoroughly depressed, let's get to the good news. So far, the Marlins' middle infielders have been the rookie surprises of the season. Second baseman Dan Uggla--yes, the guy the Marlins picked up in the Rule 5 draft--has a .279 EQA (.286/.340/.469) in the early going, and has shown a nice glove at second base. He's actually the eldest member of the Marlins' core infield group, which includes star third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Jacobs, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is a tools guy who snagged an honorable mention on our top prospects list, and is doing Uggla one better with a .290 EQA (.287/.368/.455) out of the leadoff spot. The most impressive thing about Ramirez's performance so far has been the jump in his walk rate--Ramirez drew one walk every 13.2 plate appearances last year in Double-A, but he's walking once every 9.9 PA at the major league level this season.
In the outfield, Josh Willingham is living up to the touts we've given him going back to the 2005 prospect list, with a .342 EQA (.326/.415/.607) in 106 PA. Willingham's ten doubles and 22 RBI lead all NL rookies, and his five home runs have him tied with Prince Fielder. While Willingham is raking as predicted, the Marlins seem to have abandoned any idea of keeping him as a full-time catching option, which is a shame, since Willingham is an awful outfielder. With Hermida on his way back from his injury, and new acquisition Joe Borchard in the fold, Florida's outfield could quickly become a crowded place. At the very least, Willingham has shown that they have to find some place for him in the lineup.