One statistic report we have here at Baseball Prospectus that merits a look is the Pitcher's Quality of Opponents report. It gives you an idea of how well a pitcher has performed relative to the competition they have faced–for instance, pitchers in the American League East are going to allow a less impressive looking line than pitchers who are in other divisions, but that's because if you're on say, the Orioles (and your name is Brian Matusz) you have to face the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays in a large number of your starts. That starts to wear on your numbers after awhile, but this report can help you see that as it happens since it tells you just how good the competition has been.
There are unlucky pitchers like Matusz and Jeremy Guthrie, who have to face the juggernauts of the east on a consistent basis, but there are also pitchers who have it much easier. The Cincinnati Reds have four starting pitchers with 100 innings pitched, and all four of them are in the top 12 in lowest quality of opponents OPS, with three of those (Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and Mike Leake) residing in the top six:
|Bronson Arroyo||127 1/3||.673||.697||-.024|
|Aaron Harang||100 1/3||.808||.698||+.110|
|Mike Leake||109 2/3||.746||.704||+.042|
|Johnny Cueto||116 2/3||.713||.707||+.006|
In a division with the light-hitting Astros and Pirates, this isn't a surprise. The most productive team at the plate in the National League is in this division in the Brewers, but other than that the Reds don't face many challenges–the next best lineup in the NL belongs to Cincinnati, after all, and these guys don't have to pitch against themselves. The Cubs have an average lineup and the Cardinals aren't much better than that, which means that, in baseball's lone division with six clubs, weak opponents becomes one of your strengths by default.
The thing is, this may be a situation where there is no need to be worried about second half decline. The Reds have 68 games remaining, and 39 of them come against NL Central opponents: nine versus Houston, 12 against Milwaukee (a Brewers team that could trade Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder within the next two weeks) and six a piece against the Cubs, Cards and Bucs. Houston is a better hitting team than they were, but they still aren't good, and there's a chance Lance Berkman will be in another uniform for some of those games as well. Out of the other 29 games, no one is that much of a juggernaut offensively–the Rockies could be trouble (they have four in Colorado as well) and the Diamondbacks can be problematic if they are more in a homer hitting mood than a whiffing one, but the second half may be as kind to the Reds as the first half in this regard.
This makes recent callup Travis Wood an attractive fantasy option as well–Wood has tossed 26 2/3 innings in the majors this year, with 7.8 K/9 and 3.0 walks per nine. He's been a bit of a flyball pitcher, which can be worrisome given his home park, but he could be a worthwhile risk given his competition. Edinson Volquez, who made his 2010 debut this weekend with six innings, nine punch outs and just one run allowed, is also worth a look given he's healthy, though people were waiting for his return for months so that's no surprise.
The one worry is that when Aaron Harang comes back, no matter how poorly he has pitched this year–yes, looking at adjusted ERAs makes him look unlucky, but he's also performed far worse than you would think given he's had the second-easiest competition of any pitcher min. 100 innings pitched–someone is going to have to leave the rotation, and it could be someone worth more in a fantasy sense. Keep an eye on that, but otherwise, it looks as if all of the Reds pitchers (excepting the aforementioned Harang) can be of use in any format.