I started out a couple of days ago to dissect what makes these Cincinnati Reds tick, to discover what the 2012 version of this franchise is about, what defines them. My guess, if you talked to 10 fans outside Great American Ball Park and asked them to define the Reds you would get at least 5 different answers. With the old Big Red Machine in the 70’s the recipe for success revolved around an opportunistic offense and a rock solid defense. Pitching was an accessory but it was mainly just a means to an end. This team has similarities to those Big Red Machine teams of the past once you get past the idea that 3 of the best players in the history of the game played on that squad. Oh and a fourth made the Hall of Fame. In this article I want to examine the Reds team of the present while continuing to delve into comparisons with the 6 other playoff competitors. Let’s start with the 3rd position in the batting order and the Who’s Who of baseball’s present royalty that occupy this position among these competitors.
Miguel Cabrera, Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, and Joey Votto have anchored the three hole for their teams leaving Atlanta and Washington kind of on the outside looking in at the devastating numbers each of these MVP caliber players have posted. The problem is each of them come with a caveat. Kemp and Votto have each missed significant time due to injury. Votto has played in just 86 games and Kemp has only managed to appear in 82 yet Votto still has the best OBP even if he went 0 for the at bats he would need to qualify. Kemp is only 4 behind Andre Ethier for the most runs scored. Everyone heard about the fall from grace by Giants LF Melky Cabrera. He is a one man PR nightmare for MLB following on the heels of the Ryan Braun situation. Cabrera gets burned for performance enhancing drugs invoking a 50 game suspension. The problem this creates for the league you ask? He is currently leading the race for the 2012 batting title by 5 points over McCutchen. Bud Selig must shudder each time he looks at the numbers. Holliday has been solid but may not be the MVP of his own team let alone the league leaving McCutchen who has struggled at the plate ever since Aroldis Chapman hit him with a fastball a few weeks back. So lets take a look at how the teams stack up against each other.
This table begins to show why the Reds are where they are. They lead in OBP and OPS. Can you imagine the RBI total if the Reds leadoff batters each got on base just 1 more time every 20 at bats? As it is, the Reds OBP is actually higher for this position than the second place hitter in the entire league. Lets move on to the cleanup spot.
Before Votto’s injury and the trade deadline, this was considered a trouble spot for the Reds. What the injury did was force Dusty Baker to play with his revised lineup and he stumbled on a revelation that I encouraged months ago. He slotted Ryan Ludwick in, and the veteran rewarded him richly. Lets check the numbers here.
The Reds certainly are not the best in the cleanup position, that honor goes to Buster Posey in San Francisco. But what is important is that the Reds are in the middle of the pack. Before the All Star game that would not have been the case, Brandon Phillips did a decent job but his explosion came batting third in the order. Another number that is important to note is the fact that the Reds cleanup hitter is, along with Atlanta’s, the only teams to record more runs than RBIs in the cleanup position. This is another reflection of a lack of production from the top of the order. You can’t drive in runs when no one is on base. If the first and second batters consistently make outs 7 out of 10 times the third position in the lineup isn’t driving in runs he is just getting on base. Then the cleanup batter moves the runner over to allow the fifth batter in the lineup to fill the cleanup role. Note that St. Louis uses their cleanup batter properly by driving home 100 runs so far. Let’s see how Jay Bruce and the Reds fill the 5th position:
And here we see the result of the table being properly set.
The Reds number 5 hitter, typically Jay Bruce who delivered tonight’s two RBI and the margin of victory, also reaches the 100 RBI plateau (all stats were as of Saturday, so the numbers have all continued to inflate). In addition to leading in RBI, the Reds 5 hole leads in OPS. It begs the question: This Reds team is a tough opponent, how much better would they be if Cozart and Stubbs got on base just a little bit more.
The sixth position has primarily been filled by Scott Rolen since Votto was injured and while his numbers have slipped from the prime of his career, he is still a veteran stabilizing influence delivering a number of quality at bats. None were better than his 15 pitch performance last week to underline his value to this Reds team. Here are the numbers:
What emerges for me when I look at this last table for this evening’s review is that the production from the St. Louis lineup is that they all get on base. A lot. The Reds are solid through the heart of the order and they are better than the vaunted Cardinals lineup in both the 3 hole and the 5 hole on the lineup card. If the table were set at the top of the order, production would be even better down the line. Later this week we will look at the end of the batting order before moving to an evaluation of the pitching staff.
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