Jay Bruce hitting his 29th home run in Houston Sunday. He returned to GABP and hit his 30th and 31st Monday and Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)

Who Are the Cincinnati Reds? Part 2: The Heart of the Matter

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.

3rd Batter AB R H RBI BB SO BA OBP OPS
Cincinnati 492 84 159 75 76 96 .323 .417 .964
Washington 517 82 139 69 56 105 .269 .342 .768
Atlanta 518 74 123 77 56 141 .237 .309 .738
San Francisco 532 97 178 79 38 73 .335 .376 .885
St. Louis 523 88 158 93 60 109 .302 .377 .903
Pittsburgh 503 92 170 83 55 110 .338 .402 .953
Los Angeles 509 90 161 86 59 112 .316 .329 .658

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.

4th Batter AB R H RBI BB SO BA OBP OPS
Cincinnati 511 81 143 79 46 78 .280 .347 .801
Washington 505 66 126 79 52 132 .250 .322 .755
Atlanta 480 85 124 82 75 97 .258 .357 .828
San Francisco 489 75 149 92 70 99 .305 .388 .895
St. Louis 513 84 143 100 62 112 .279 .356 .861
Pittsburgh 500 67 130 75 38 118 .260 .310 .748
Los Angeles 501 69 137 98 49 103 .273 .344 .793

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:

5th Batter AB R H RBI BB SO BA OBP OPS
Cincinnati 491 73 131 100 50 123 .266 .333 .853
Washington 504 69 145 83 42 114 .288 .341 .852
Atlanta 482 70 122 86 62 107 .253 .344 .755
San Francisco 505 59 128 76 35 94 .253 .300 .692
St. Louis 521 75 140 90 41 134 .269 .323 .781
Pittsburgh 482 67 130 75 47 111 .257 .323 .744
Los Angeles 518 63 133 75 48 93 .257 .318 .724

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:

6th Batter AB R H RBI BB SO BA OBP OPS
Cincinnati 491 54 128 74 41 112 .261 .322 .797
Washington 488 59 123 62 40 127 .252 .313 .727
Atlanta 485 56 132 70 49 106 .272 .343 .815
San Francisco 482 46 139 55 49 103 .288 .356 .746
St. Louis 501 56 163 72 40 61 .325 .382 .877
Pittsburgh 467 54 116 69 42 142 .248 .313 .756
Los Angeles 502 47 130 64 43 81 .259 .323 .707

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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