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Transaction Roundup: Reds/Red Sox

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I'm going to review the Pena-Arroyo trade, but I had a couple of housekeeping things I wanted to take care of first.

1. I had a few minutes last night and I was watching Around the Horn. One of the panelists closed the show with a monologue about how important veterans are in the NCAA Tournament and how all the remaining teams had proven veteran experience.

Now, let me pose a question, I may or may not be right. Couldn't they have made that argument about pretty much anybody in the field? Basically everyone has seniors, right? And what about senior-heavy teams that lose? what's wrong with them?

My assumption is that this panelist worships at the altar of the proven veteran. I don't mind that. But I can't be happy with a random assertion that, in my mind, seems far too... I don't even know the right word.

2. Polling analysis:

Who has the AL's best starting rotation?
Out of 89 votes cast:

? Boston 2%
? Chicago 30%
? Cleveland 8%
? Los Angeles 2%
? Minnesota 12%
? New York 0%
? Oakland 39%
? Toronto 1%
? Other 3%
Online polls are by no means scientific, but I think we can get a lot out of them if we dig into them a bit, especially at a site with a somewhat limited readership.

First of all, Oakland came out on top at 39%. As a sabermetrically-inclined site, I would hazard a guess that we have a share of readers who are Beane disciples, in a way. Also, AN is the biggest blog on the network, so it's a fair bet that we do have a sizeable share of A's fans reading.

Chicago comes in second. This might be because people liked my case for the quality of their pitching staff, which was posted at the same time as this poll. Also, other blogs on the network have been linking to us for these previews and because of the roundtables that Marc Normandin is moderating. This is applicable for the AL Central teams, particularly the Twins and Indians.

I put Boston and New York as more "token choices" because they have huge fanbases. But I couldn't see either as an... common choice. We had no one vote for the Yankees (sensible), but 2 people voted for the Red Sox. I am curious if they were just fans supporting their team in this poll, or if they really think the Sox can be the best in the league.

Toronto got a vote, and that interested me as well, but I can see that selection, especially if you're a fan of A.J. Burnett, like Rany Jazayerli. Halladay + a superstar Burnett + 3 random scrubs is a pretty good rotation, and the Blue Jays don't really have 3 random scrubs.

I'm MOST interested in the "Other" choices. I would have put every team in the league, but the limit for choices was 10. I picked 8 teams and then the other option. Who were people picking? Seattle? Texas? Baltimore? I'm curious.

So, anyway, I think that the poll shows a pretty good spread of ideas. I think that Oakland and Chicago are probably the two best rotations in the AL, but you'd have a case with Minnesota. Those are probably the Top 3. Oakland and Chicago got substantial support (almost 70% of our "electorate"), and I think that's sensible.

OK, onto the trade.

What does it mean to be dysfunctional?

You see the word tossed around in medical circles and in family crises. But can it apply in baseball?

Generally, no. I threw the word around initially when I thought about this trade with regards to the Reds, but it's really unfair. They do function as a unit. "Illogical" doesn't quite cover where I'm going with this, either.

Basically, the Reds have no plan. While spontaneity may work wonders on an economic system, it doesn't go very far when you're running a baseball team.

There are two major instances of this.

I'll go back a bit.

The Reds moved into their new digs in 2003, and 2005 was their third season there. It quickly earned a reputation as a bandbox, one where power flourished and pitchers struggled mightily. This was somewhat untrue, and three years later, component-based park factors give us a little clearer picture: over the past three years, the park has been a slight hitters' park. It has allowed a substantially higher number of homers than most parks, though, and it has a notoriously small outfield.

Basically, flyball pitchers die in Cincinnati. Balls that would normally be warning track flyballs hit off the top of the wall at Cincy, or worse, wind up in the stands.

The 2003 Reds' rotation had the following four guys make more than 15 starts:

Paul Wilson
Danny Graves
Ryan Dempster
Jimmy Haynes

From a standpoint of G/F ratio:

  • Wilson had a 1.28 G/F ratio in those days, and he'd been roughly neutral throughout his career.
  • Graves was a dramatic groundball pitcher, and, although he only posted a 1.36 G/F ratio in 2003, he was consistently around 2 in previous years of his career. In 2002, he posted a 2.20 G/F ratio.
  • Dempster, in those days, was close to netural. He posted a 1.22 in 2001, and a 1.24 G/F in 2003. His career G/F ratio at this point is 1.26.
  • Haynes was between at 1.29 in 2001 and 1.70 in 2002. He had slight groundball tendencies at that point, it appeared, and he posted a 1.30 in 2003. That's right about average.
So, the initial rotation of guys in Cincy were, generally, neutral or groundball pitchers. I don't know if this was coincidental or not, but they were somewhat more appropriate for their home environment than another cast of characters.

The 2005 Cincy rotation saw the following 5 pitchers post more than 15 starts:

  • Eric Milton
  • Aaron Harang
  • Ramon Ortiz
  • Brandon Claussen
  • Luke Hudson
This is an entirely new group of guys from the '03 club. What about these guys through a standpoint of G/F ratio?
  • Milton has been one of the game's most dramatic flyball pitchers, posting G/F ratios of .67, .50, and .58 in the three preceding years. The Reds gave him a three year deal.
  • Harang's on the lower-end of the spectrum. While he's not Milton with flyballs, he was a 1.05 G/F guy in 2004 and a .95 G/F guy in 2005.
  • Ortiz, in '03 and '04, posted G/F ratios of .91 and .86. He bumped that up in 2005 to 1.16, which is still below average.
  • Claussen is another flyball pitcher. He posted a G/F ratio of .77 in 2005, which was lower than his 2004 total, possibly marred by a small sample size.
  • Hudson? So far, a .77 G/F ratio in the bigs, in 139 innings.
Now, groundball/flyball ratio is by no means some tell-all statistic. And it's not necessarily a wise strategy to construct your entire team around what works best in a park (sometimes, this form of "park determinism" can lead to picking worse players simply because they have one desirable attribute). But do you think that anyone could have looked at the construction of this pitching staff and thought that it wasn't suitable for their park? Where was everyone?

Now, new management took over recently, so it's fair to give them a clean slate. But the recent offenses bring this all together.

In 2005, the Reds had a surplus of players at the right end of the defensive spectrum: Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Sean Casey all fit the bill on that one, and, really, Griffey is there at this point, too. Five players, really should be occupying three spots.

I'll excuse Griffey playing in centerfield; Griffey occassionally makes a "web gem" and there was once a time where Griffey was one of the greatest who ever played the position. But these other four... not as excusable.

The reasonable thing would have been to trade one of them, even with the injury concerns. Considering how much they needed pitching and how well they hit, it was an obvious move. Management sat on its hands, though, and didn't make a move. Even when Austin Kearns got sent down to the minors.

They finally wised up and dealt Casey in the offseason to Pittsburgh, trying to add pitching. Now, Dave Williams and his 0.90 G/F was not the most sensible choice, but I can accept the strategy here... they're finally starting to make openings for their many other talented hitters, of which Sean Casey was probably the most overrated and the least valuable. (I like Sean Casey; I think he fits into the mold of a Mark Grace-type hitter, but that doesn't mean that he's Adam Dunn).

Sensible. They signed Scott Hatteberg to back-up Dunn, who moved to first base. Hatteberg was once a very good player, but he hasn't aged well. He's a good bench bat at this point. I still like his eye.

O'Brien was fired after this move (I assume not because of it, but I don't know for sure), but this was something, at least. They tried to make an opening, move Dunn to a more logical position. On Edit: Krivsky signed Hatteberg to a contract, hat tip Anonymous.

And then this. They traded Wily Mo Pena, one of the game's most talented young sluggers (he led the league in AVG HR distance), for Bronson Arroyo. This is a combination of the two aspects that I just talked about:

  1. They no longer had a surplus of good hitters, and they'd addressed the "spot" problem. Hatteberg is overtaxed as a starter, I don't know why Rich Aurilia is even in the equation at this point, and they're both SUBSTANTIAL drop offs from Casey.
  2. They traded for YET ANOTHER FLYBALL PITCHER. Arroyo has a career 0.98 G/F ratio, and he was at 0.85 last year.
I'm sure that you can see what I think about this. It just shows no direction and a lack of understanding of the simple realities of the situation. Dramatic flyball pitchers are simply far less likely to thrive at Great American Ballpark than are dramatic groundball pitchers.

The Reds have some exciting hitters... I still like Kearns a lot, Dunn is the game's premier three true outcomes masher, and Edwin Encarnacion looks a real keeper. Even the pitching looks better. Harang was very good last year. Arroyo has the name and the album. Dave Williams was close to average last year (97 ERA+). A move like this, though, is inexplicable, in my mind. It's a huge step back in a number of ways. Arroyo moves from one less-than-ideal situation to another. And Pena, who might be able to do a LOT if given a full-season (and some health), is no longer in the picture.

For the Sox? It's not truly a superb deal for them; Pena's defense is quite terrible, according to David Pinto's PMR, and he might not be defensively capable enough to successfully platoon in right with Trot Nixon. But Pena can hit a ton, his 5-year PECOTA forecast is embarrasingly optimistic, and Arroyo was an odd-man out of that rotation, with the young talent coming up, soon. Certainly a sensible deal from the Sox' perspective.

To me, though, the story is a reaffirmation of the franchise in Cincinnati simply being stuck in neutral. They're squandering the best years of Adam Dunn's career (it was smart to sign him, though) and they haven't tasted the playoffs in a while. I can't see that changing anytime soon. Not with moves like this one.

I ought to apologize; I didn't mean for this to be such a stinging criticism, and I did like a few things that the Reds did this offseason and during last season (the Randa trade was very solid, as was locking up Dunn through his prime years). But sometimes, I'm just completely baffled by what I see. This is one of those times.