Cincinnati has stumbled out of the gate to a 12-21 record, with 150 runs scored and 192 runs allowed. That is second most in the majors, trailing Tampa Bay's 217 figure. Everything looks pretty bleak now, except for one thing: the future, and even the immediate future, is brighter than it seems.
That is Adam Dunn, one of the players most likely to be part of the elite in baseball for the next decade or so.
That is the ever improving Wily Mo Pena, who has started mashing doubles as well as homeruns (10 doubles total last year against 26 homeruns).
And there is the struggling Austin Kearns, who most likely will not stay in this funk forever.
Joe Randa is holding Edwin Encarnacion's spot at third base for now, and is doing an exceptional job at the moment. What is the problem with the offense that was supposed to be this team's strength?
Cincinnati Reds 2005 VORP
Adam Dunn 16.3
Joe Randa 12.2
Felipe Lopez 10.0
Wily Mo Pena 9.9
Ken Griffey Jr. 8.3
Ryan Freel 8.1
Sean Casey 5.3
Austin Kearns 1.0
Jacob Cruz -0.2
William Bergola -0.5
Javier Valentin -0.6
Rich Aurilia -0.8
D'Angelo Jimenez -2.4
Jason LaRue -2.5
We can see here that there are a few players at the top who have already accumulated some very nice VORP scores. So what is the problem?
Felipe Lopez: 20 G, 66 PA, 10 VORP
Wily Mo Pena: 19 G, 51 PA, 9.9 VORP
Ryan Freel: 26 G, 93 PA, 8.1 VORP
Rich Aurilia: 25 G, 101 PA, -0.8 VORP
D'Angelo Jimenez: 29 G, 96 PA, -2.4 VORP
Sean Casey: 33 G, 141 PA, 5.3 VORP
From this we can see that the players who perform poorly are the ones getting the majority of the playing time; luckily I noticed on the Red Reporter that Felipe Lopez has taken over at shortstop and Aurilia has landed on the DL; hopefully that sticks, because Lopez can play. Ryan Freel should not be replacing Austin Kearns in the lineup; he should be playing at second base everyday, and Kearns should play until Wily Mo Pena comes back from injury. The Reds should really attempt to get a starting pitcher from somewhere soon with one of their trading chips.
I hate to add Sean Casey into the mix, because he is not really doing anything wrong. Granted he is not the stick you want at first base, but with the outfielders you have and their power you can let it slide (unless your offense stagnates). The problem is that the best player on this team, Adam Dunn, also plays first base, so the Reds are not being economical with their positioning. I know that Austin Kearns or Ken Griffey Jr. is supposed to get hurt at some point, giving Sean Casey a need to stay, so don't think I'm advocating moving Casey at the moment. The Reds can do one of two things:
One lineup with Casey in it, and one lineup without. Casey can be moved for a necessary piece, but I do not think the returns will be as good as on say, Austin Kearns. Jim Bowden is dying for an outfielder in Washington, and may be able to give you some pitching. As I mentioned yesterday with the Rockies Zach Day is available for trade, and he is a groundball pitcher, so Cincinnati's park will not hurt him like it would Eric Milton. That is one option. As I also mentioned yesterday, the A's are going to need a bat at some point, and will offer up Octavio Dotel when they feel Huston Street is ready to become the closer. I also think they should shop Barry Zito hard to the NL, and try to come up with half of the package that they landed for Mulder and Hudson. The Reds need starting pitching, and Zito is not as bad as he has shown this season at all. He is not the ace he was during his Cy Young year either, but the Reds need someone else in their rotation capable of helping out, and Zito does provide that. His main issue is he is a neutral pitcher, giving up equal numbers of flyballs and groundballs. His numbers should improve somewhat by going to the National League, but they should also suffer by going to an offense laden stadium. Also, his price tag will be higher when the time comes, so I am not so sure that is the road you want to take. Dotel to stabilize the bullpen might be a better move.
Basically what I am saying is that Austin Kearns needs to be moved. He is struggling and has the image of an injury riddled enigma in Cincy, so a change of scenery should not hurt at all. Sean Casey would be a viable option to get moved, but the returns just are not there and it would alienate the fans. I honestly do not care if the media would get mad at this move, but winning doesn't help you if you have no one in the seats.
Lets take a look at the rotation for a moment:
Harang is doing very well so far, and his peripherals are not bad at all. His main problem seems to be that his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is well below league average, so some regression may be coming for him when the hits start falling.
Claussen's peripherals are awful, but his BABIP is above league average as well. Giving up almost 2 homeruns per 9 IP is not a good thing though.
One figure stands out, besides ERA. 3 homeruns per 9 IP...his BABIP is only .285, which is below league average. He's not walking many batters (not striking many out either though) but those homeruns are just killing any attempt he has at success. I will never agree with this signing, and this is exactly why. This is as good as it gets unless Milton suddenly develops his sinker to the point of being Derek Lowe or Brandon Webb.
Well...his BABIP is extremely high, which accounts for much of the ERA. He is walking too many batters though, and his K rate is around league average. He is also giving up too many homeruns, but that seems to be a common theme.
Besides Aaron Harang, no pitcher is doing much. Paul Wilson is not as bad as he has shown so far this year, but he is not the answer either. Eric Milton certainly is and never was the answer, and Brandon Claussen is most likely better than he has shown so far. The Reds are in desperate need of a pitcher who can induce groundball outs; historically, a pitcher like Zach Day could succeed in their park if he can turn his season around. The price of Austin Kearns is not high when you think of the benefits you could reap from an additonal pitcher who could succeed.