The Reds have positioned themselves for a run in 2010. After win totals of 72, 74, and 78 over the past three seasons, we might finally see them break the .500 barrier for the first time since 2000. Even more, we could even see them make a run at the NL Central if a few things break their way. GM Walt Jocketty’s moves in late 2009 and this past off-season should certainly give Reds fans reason for hope.
The team features a nice blend of young and veteran players. Three of the team’s projected starters will be 26 or younger, while another two will be under 30. Leading the young crop is first baseman Joey Votto, who produced the fourth highest wOBA in the majors last season. He could prove even more valuable in 2010, at the same rate stats, if he plays more than the 131 games he did in 2009. That alone would be a huge boost to a Reds’ offense that scored just 4.15 runs per game last season.
Drew Stubbs presents the Reds with a chance to improve in center field, though almost anyone would be an improvement over Willy Taveras’s .259 wOBA. He got the call last August and hit well in his 196 plate appearances, posting a .335 wOBA while tracking down most everything hit towards center field. The eighth overall pick in the 2006 draft, Stubbs hit .269/.364/.401 through parts of three minor league seasons. Even if Stubbs can maintain his short-sample 2009 numbers he’ll be a huge positive for the Reds.
The final under-26 player is one who the Reds hope can pair with Votto and create and indomitable 3-4 combination. Jay Bruce has shown all the promise in the world. The 12th overall pick in 2005, Bruce posted monster minor league numbers everywhere he played. This earned him a late-May call-up in his age-21 season and he performed reasonably well, posting a .328 wOBA. His 2009 started off poorly, as he hit just .207/.283/.441. Dusty Baker benched him for a few games in early July, and in his first game back he broke his wrist on a diving play in the outfield. That caused him to miss two months. Upon his return in mid-September he hit well, but that was just 54 plate appearances against expanded rosters. Bruce still has a lot to prove in 2010, though the talent is certainly there.
To supplement this young core, the Reds have a few veteran players. At last year’s trade deadline they acquired Scott Rolen and then re-worked his deal over the off-season. He started the season with the Bue Jays and hit very well, posting a .367 wOBA over 373 PA before the trade. He stumbled once he moved to Cincinnati, though he did miss time after suffering a concussion in early August. A return to his early 2009 form would be a huge boost to the Reds not only on offense, but also on defense. Rolen is considered an elite defender at third and UZR measures him that way. Over his career he has posted a 15.5 UZR/150.
Two veterans finish off the Reds’ infield, Brandon Phillips and Orlando Cabrera. Phillips, entering his fifth season with the Reds, recovered a bit after posting a sub-par 2008. He lit up the league in 2007, hitting .288/.331/.485 with 30 home runs, but hasn’t reached that level since. In 2009 he posted a .337 wOBA, which would be fine production for a second baseman with his defensive skills. His double play partner, Cabrera, has seen declining offensive numbers over the past three seasons. Worse yet, his UZR dipped horribly, from 14.0 in 2008 to -15.3 in 2009. A recovery on that front could help offset his declining offensive value, though.
While the offense looks like it should improve on its 2009 season, the pitching staff is a bit more in doubt. Its best 2009 performer, Bronson Arroyo, has had a strange run as a Red. Acquired in 2006 for Wily Mo Pena, Arroyo immediately impressed, pitching 240.2 innings to a 3.29 ERA, though his FIP was 4.15. His ERA rose over the next two seasons, and in the first half of 2009 it looked like that would trend for a third straight year. In the second half, though, he shined, allowing just 27 runs over 108.1 innings, good for a 2.24 ERA. Can he repeat in 2010? His 4.78 FIP and 4.56 xFIP suggest otherwise.
Perhaps the strangest case in the Reds’ rotation is Aaron Harang. He established himself as an ace from 2005 through 2007, pitching 667.2 innings and allowing just 284 runs, a 3.77 ERA and 3.64 FIP. In 2008, however, he disappointed with a 4.78 ERA in just 184.1 innings. We all know the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but it’s tough to ignore the turning point in Harang’s 2008. In a May 25 extra innings game, Baker called on Harang in relief. He had pitched just two days prior. Managers have done this before, but Baker took it a bit far, using Harang for four innings in the eventual loss. He left that appearance with a 3.32 ERA and 3.75 FIP. For the rest of the season he had a 5.88 ERA and 5.62 FIP. That came down to a 4.21 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 2009, though his season was cut short when he needed an appendectomy. A strong performance from Harang could be key to the Reds’ 2010 season.
A pair of youngsters, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto, will also have to step up this season if the Reds are to succeed. Cueto, 24, enters his third major league season. He’s struggled a bit to this point, posting a 4.61 ERA and 4.79 FIP over 345.1 innings. His strikeout rate dipped in 2009, though he did improve his walk rate. The most important thing for him, it seems, is keeping the ball in the park. He had the sixth worst home run rate in the NL last season, though Harang and Arroyo were worse. Bailey, also 24, struggled in his first two major league seasons. His 2009 started off poorly, too, but after allowing nine runs (six earned) against the Padres on July 27 he allowed just 31 the rest of the season in 82.2 innings. He’ll have to pitch more like that for all of 2010 for the Reds to have a chance. In his favor, he did have a 3.96 FIP in that late-season run.
Cincinnati’s bullpen last season was right around league average, though they could see that production regress a bit in 2010. Francisco Cordero, Nick Masset, and Arthur Rhodes all posted ERAs of 2.53 or lower, a tough mark for a reliever to maintain. Danny Herrera also had a good season, though his walk rate could stand to improve. If Jared Burton returns to his 2007 and 2008 levels while another young pitcher steps up, the Reds could again have a serviceable pen. As with all pens, though, it’s tough to project them with any degree of accuracy.
The 2010 Reds could be an exciting team. They feature a number of young, promising players who, if they move closer to their potentials in 2010, could provide the team with a much needed boost. A number of quality veterans fill the lineup and rotation as well. The combination should have fans in Cincinnati excited. The NL Central could be theirs if a few things break that way.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.