Todd Frazier for Rookie of the Year

Lately there has been much talk about Todd Frazier’s chances of winning the National League Rookie of the Year (ROY) award. Two of his most often cited competitors are Zack Cozart and Mike Fiers. All three players have turned in solid performances throughout the season thus far, making statistical comparisons (especially between Cozart/Frazier and Fiers, due to the hitter versus pitcher complication) less informative. Therefore, for the purpose of this analysis Fiers will be dropped from the discussion, though his chances at ROY are very much legitimate. The element that breaks the tie may be how well each player has responded to the task at hand. Shortstop is often cited as one of the most difficult fielding positions in baseball and Cozart has played the position with well above average results. However, in recent years the SS for the Reds has not been a bright spot on the field. Injuries and under-performance have resulted in multiple players filling in the 6 spot on the field in recent seasons. Cozart has essentially been asked to replace light hitting, injury -prone, early promotions from the minors. To be an improvement over recent iterations of Reds shortstops required staying healthy, hitting over .200 and playing solid, but not necessarily stellar defense. Cozart has clearly exceeded these criteria in ways that have been integral to the Reds success, but the job laid before him has not been as monumental as the one Frazier was handed.

From the beginning of Spring Training, Zack Cozart knew his role on the Reds team: play shortstop everyday between Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips, who are two of the best defenders at their respective positions to have ever taken the field. To lose this job, Cozart would have to experience a near catastrophic failure. What better confidence booster can a young player have than knowing that the management is willing to give them the opportunity to learn on the job. At shortstop, Cozart is surrounded by enough Gold Gloves to to make one think King Midas started a sporting goods company. Frazier, on the other hand, has not had these advantages.

Starting the season at AAA Louisville could not have made Frazier happy, despite his constantly upbeat demeanor. When he was called up, he was asked to do something that would overwhelm most young players: fill in for an injured, multiple Gold Glove winning, Hall of Fame bound third basemen. Rather then crumple under the pressure, Frazier rose to the occasion. Then Frazier was asked to perform a similarly Herculean task in replacing Joey Votto while the MVP , Gold Glove first basemen recovered from knee surgery. This time Frazier did not rise to the occasion. He was already there, playing like a seasoned veteran. However, on the field performance is not the only test professional baseball players face; they must handle the media spotlight as well. Again Todd Frazier has been a star. Every interview he gives is positive, always filled with a smile. He clearly understands his situation and how to handle it. Frazier’s value to the Reds has been immense this season and looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future. For now, Rookie of the Year seems within his grasp, but do not be surprised if you hear his name every year around awards time.

Why does everyone hate Dusty Baker?

If you listen to what many baseball and Reds fans have to say about Dusty Baker, you probably think that he is the worst excuse for a manager in Major League Baseball history. While some complaining about any upper level sports coach is expected, what is directed at Baker is often of a disproportionate intensity when compared to his performance. Much of the criticism tossed his way is rooted not in fact, but in feeling. Praise, or criticism, should be earned. Shedding some light on Baker’s managerial career is perhaps the best way to determine if his critics are right. Before examining Baker’s job performance, reviewing the job description of a MLB manager may help remind fans of exactly what he is supposed to do. The most vital job of a MLB manager is to win games, as many games as possible. By winning these games one hopes to win a World Series, that elusive crowning achievement of baseball. To win these games a manager must get the most out of the players on his team. The manager typically does not have the final say in who is on that team, only how he uses them on the field. It is also not the responsibility of the manager to run his team in a way that makes sense to the fans. He should run his team in a way that wins games. Any fan would trade understanding of method for wins. To review, a manager’s job is to win games.

A comparison of Baker to current and historic MLB managers reveals that the Reds skipper is near the top in every important category. As stated above, wins are most important. Baker is 20th all-time in wins with 1555. Among active MLB managers, only Jim Leyland of the Tigers has more wins than Baker. One may argue that his win total is only a result of his long tenure as a manager. The first rebuttal to this argument is that Baker’s long tenure (18+ seasons) is a direct reflection of his job performance. The second rebuttal is to examine other stats that account for losses and length of managing. The first statistic to satisfy this is win-loss percentage (W-L%). Baker has  W-L% of .524, good for 79th (out of 296 qualifiers) all-time and 7th among active managers. Even Joe McCarthy (the manager with the best W-L%), won only 9% more of his games than Baker. The second stat that may shed light on Baker’s ability to win games is how many games he is over .500. Overall, Baker is 142 games over .500, 36th all-time and 4th among active managers. A higher number for the games above .500 stat reflects longer career of winning seasons.

The next hurdle is World Series wins. Of course, Baker has zero, as do the vast majority of current and historic MLB managers. Among current managers, only seven have a World Series ring as manager (Davey Johnson, Mike Scioscia, Charlie Manuel, Joe Girardi, Ozzie Guillen, Bruce Bochy and Leyland). In the history of MLB, only 69 managers have ever won World Series. Stepping back from championship analysis, Baker has reached the playoffs five times (including one trip to the World Series), good for a 19th place tie all-time and a 5th place tie among current managers. In terms of regular season team performance, Baker has led his club to a first or second place finish ten times.

Dusty Baker has also won the Manager of the Year award three times (’93, ’97, ’00) and has finished in the top five an additional four times (’98, ’02, ’03, ’10). Of his 18 complete seasons as a manger, Baker has garnered Manager of the Year votes in 9 seasons. Add this to the length of his career and one can see that those that know baseball the best have given Baker the highest seal of approval multiple times.

Finally, examining Baker’s productivity with the Reds also reveals his excellence as a manager. Since 1979, the first season after Sparky Anderson, the Reds have had 15 managers. Of those 15, only five have a better W-L% than Baker with the Reds. Only three of those managers have more wins above .500 than Baker. Also, three of the four Reds managers prior to Baker were well below the .500 mark, with Pete Mackanin only two games over .500 in his half season as the Reds skipper. Again, of those 15, only two others, besides Baker, have won the division with the Reds. Also, Baker has led the Reds to their first winning season in ten years and their first division title in 15 years.

Examining Dusty Baker’s record as a manager paints a much different picture than that created by fan comments. Perhaps the Baker critics’ true complaint is that they do not understand his approach to the game and are put off by the thought that Baker does not care if they understand his method or like him. At least fans no longer should hate Baker because of his on-field performance.

All statistics for this post are from Baseball-Reference.com

Gomes Trade

While it is too early to determine if trading Jonny Gomes to the Nationals for some minor league players was a good move, some points can be considered. Perhaps the most important advantage of moving Gomes is that it will allow some of the other outfielders the opportunity to develop. In particular, Chris Heisey should see more playing time. Having Heisey, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce and Fred Lewis gives much flexibility to off days, left handed/right handed pitching, etc. Heisey can play all tree outfield spots with ease and Lewis can do the same with only a slight drop in his aptitude at center. Yonder Alonso should also see a fair amount of time in the outfield and off the bench. One situation to avoid is starting Alonso and using Heisey or Lewis only as late inning defensive replacements. Both Heisey and Lewis have proved that they deserve a more prominent role on the team. The most glaring disadvantage of trading Gomes is losing his indomitable spirit. Gomes always gives everything he has in every situation. His attitude defined last year’s NL Central Division Champions. The Nationals are getting the hardest working most energetic player in the league. Hopefully, someone else in the clubhouse steps up and gets the Reds excited to be playing baseball.

In closing, I would like to wish the best of luck to Jonny Gomes. He will be missed by many in Reds Country. I am sad to see him go and I know that many others share my feelings. Hopefully, he is able to return to the Reds organization one day. If not, I am sure the fans will give him a warm welcome when he comes to town. Take it easy on us when you come back Jonny.

Too Much of Good Thing?

Recent pitching performances, in the absence of Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto, have only increased the difficulty of the Reds in choosing a pitching staff. In the first four games of the season, the Reds have been treated to four solid starts and equally solid relief work from thier pitching staff. However, this is from a staff missing two starters and potentially two bullpen pitchers. The current rotation of Volquez, Wood, Arroyo, Leake and LeCure will likely undergo changes when Bailey and Cueto return from the DL. The return of Burton and Arredondo should have less of an impact on the bullpen. Arredondo has been somewhat of a long-shot, trying to recapture some of his earlier success. Burton, who has shown great potential, has been dealing with injuries in recent seasons and may not regain his full form.

The Reds have known for some time that they are full of starting pitchers, with nine pitchers (on the current 25-man roster or DL) having primarily been starters in the last two years (Arroyo, LeCure, Bailey, Wood, Volquez, Cueto, Leake, Chapman, Maloney). Only five of those can be in the rotation at any one time. To solve this problem many possible solutions exist, but one that seems to be most sensible involves moving LeCure to the bullpen when Cueto returns. LeCure was preparing for a role as a reliever in the spring and should be able to easily and effectively take on that role. Another part of this solution is putting Bailey in the bullpen. His arm is too valuable to trade away and he may have the make up of a reliever. Often Bailey will be able to put together two or three great innings, only to fall apart later in the game. Recent comments by Dusty Baker indicating that Leake would have made the team out of spring training without the injuries to Cueto and Bailey show that they were willing to either part ways with, send to the bullpen or demote one of the other pitchers. In this case sending Bailey to the bullpen seems logical. The next step is to free two spots in the bullpen now occupied by Bailey and LeCure. Trading Cordero may be a good long term solution. Chapman or Masset seem logical choices to take the closer’s role, but Bailey, who can be electric, is another candidate. Chapman is slated to be starter in the future, but plans change as the needs of the team change. Resigning Cordero after his contract is up seems unlikely with all of the young talent in the bullpen, therefore trading him now would give the Reds some value in return. However, getting rid of quality arms may not be a god idea, even though the Reds have plenty at this point.  Bray, Maloney and Smith seem the most likely to be sent to the minors to make room on the roster. Bray and Maloney are both lefties, as is Chapman, and having three lefties in the bullpen may be too many. Smith, who skipped AAA last year, is the pitcher in most need of experience. The Reds could also carry one more pitcher and drop a position player, most likely Francisco.
Proposed Rotation: Volquez, Wood, Cueto, Arroyo, Leake
Proposed Closer: Cordero (if not traded), Masset (if Cordero trade)
Proposed Bullpen: Bailey, Ondrusek, Chapman, Bray, LeCure, Masset (if no Cordero trade), Maloney (if extra pitcher)

Outfield Options

Currently the Reds have six outfielders on their active roster (Jay Bruce, Jonny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, Todd Frazier and Fred Lewis) and have invited another three outfielders (Jeremy Hermida, Daniel Dorn and Dave Sappelt) to Spring Training. The Opening Day roster for Cincinnati is likely to have only five outfielders, leaving several of the above mentioned players plying their trade elsewhere. This young (only Lewis and Gomes are over 28 years old) group of outfielders could provide some roster decision dilemmas for the Reds Front Office this Spring. 


Three of the spots are all but guaranteed to go to Bruce, Gomes and Stubbs. The Reds were fortunate to sign Bruce to a long term deal that gives him security and the Reds a price break on a player well on his way to becoming one of the premier outfielders in the National League. Without deliberation Gomes’ option for the 2011 season was picked up by the Reds. Last year Gomes’ numbers were solid and his enthusiasm is contagious. Last year Stubbs started 135 games, all at center field. Bruce and Stubbs look to be everyday starters in 2011 and Gomes should at the least be the right handed hitting half of a left field platoon. 
The two outfield bench slots will likely go to Fred Lewis and Chris Heisey. Lewis has had good production in the past and is a base stealing threat. Being left handed and having the potential to lead off, plus the Major League deal he signed, bolster Lewis’ claim to one of the outfield slots. Heisey proved to be invaluable last year. He was a great pinch hitter and was able to fill in at all outfield positions without sacrificing defensive quality. From his first Major League appearance Heisey looked like he belonged in the big leagues. Being a right handed hitter is the only factor that may decrease Heisey’s playing time this season. 
The next two most likely candidates to make the team out of Spring Training are Frazier and Hermida. Todd Frazier has consistently proven himself in the minor leagues and his emergence with the Reds is coming soon. Frazier should be the first outfielder called up for injury replacement and will be on call if one of the other players, such as Lewis or Heisey, do not live up to their expectations. Hermida’s biggest advantage is that he is a left handed hitter. However, that advantage was diminished with the signing of Lewis. Hermida is not likely to make the team and will look for and get a job elsewhere. Most other teams do not have the depth of talent in the out field that the Reds are currently enjoying, and Hermida is a desirable player as he has been productive in the past. 
Dorn and Sappelt are the least likely to make the team for Opening Day. Their invitation to the big league camp is a compliment on their hard work and success in the minor leagues and will serve as a learning experience for when they are ready to play at the Major League level. Look for both Dorn and Sappelt to have a great season in the minors this year.
Trading away some of the young talent is a possibility, though the Reds have been reluctant to let go of their young guys. As a small market team, the Reds need to find economical options to stay ahead in what is becoming a well balanced Central Division. Signing Bruce to a long term deal has given the Reds some breathing room now and in the future. Having players like Stubbs and Heisey, who make far less than if they were past the point of arbitration eligibility, gives the Reds time for the financial picture to improve through mechanisms such as increased ticket sales without losing their competitive edge.
Look for the Reds outfield to be a key component to their success in 2011. A balance of power, speed and defense makes this Reds outfield one of the best in MLB.

Who makes the Cut?

I know that it is a little early to start predicting who will make the team out of Spring Training, but the Reds have some difficult decisions to make in several areas. The most talked about, and perhaps most important, is the starting rotation. Pitching decisions can make or break a team and could affect the player’s long term future as well. Another area with competition is the outfield. Most of the spots seemed to be locked up, but the Reds have brought in several more contenders this off season. The back up infield slots are also an area where the Reds have their hands full. A mix of veterans who have found the fountain of youth in the Ohio River and rapidly maturing prospects has given the Cincinnati front office the kind of problems most teams wish for. For the following posts I will break down each area of the roster (not necessarily position by position), outlining the Reds options for this year and the future.

First Entry

This is the first entry of my new MLBlog -
Redleg Ruminations. I hope that it catches on and I can share
my thoughts with other Reds fans. My opinions are not those
of an expert, just those of a dedicated fan. Fell free to
comment on my posts, I would love to have feedback from
others in Reds Country, but please keep the comments civil
and on topic. Thanks and enjoy.

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