Aug. 29, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos throws in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

2010 vs 2012 (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday I compared and contrasted the outfields, infields, and catching squadrons from the two most successful Reds teams in recent history.  While they shared a number of players, in the past two years we’ve witnessed both growth and aging, development and stagnancy.  Feel free to use the link above to refresh your memory.

Today we break down the remaining roster components – the rotation, the bullpen, and the bench – and try to answer an unanswerable question: will this team do what the 2010 team couldn’t and actually put up a fight in October.

Rotation (ordered by WAR; innings pitched in parentheses)

Rank 2010 2012
1  Johnny Cueto (186)  Johnny Cueto (189)
2  Travis Wood (103)  Mat Latos (169)
3  Homer Bailey (109)  Bronson Arroyo (170)
4  Bronson Arroyo (216)  Mike Leake (158)
5  Mike Leake (138)  Homer Bailey (167)
6  Edinson Volquez (63)
7  Aaron Harang (112)

Sep 3, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, the 2010 club took two out of three categories (narrowly, in one case), but here’s where the 2012 team really starts to shine.  A couple years ago, we were told a change was coming to the Reds teams we had known and loved for years.  Instead of trying to out-homer the competition night after night, the Reds were going to build a rotation of good young starters that would actually resemble a viable major league staff.  2010 was a giant step in the right direction, and featured various raw talent, capable of shutting down the opposing offense on a given night.  But over the course of a 162-game season, consistency is key, and that group was still developing.

Here we are two years later – Cueto has emerged as a Cy Young candidate, Arroyo is putting together another fine year, Leake and Bailey have created a formidable back-end of the rotation, and after some early seasons struggles, Walt Jocketty’s off-season acquisition of Mat Latos is looking rock solid.

This staff has already out-WAR’d their 2010 counterparts, and are on pace to represent a 3.5 win improvement over the course of the season.  Reds starters are 6th in the National League in xFIP (fielding independent pitching that takes into account park effects), and as you’ve no doubt heard, they lead the league in complete games.

Of course, this is all regular season chatter.  Part of the premise here is to determine the 2012 team’s preparedness as it hones in on postseason play.  In 2010 the Reds trotted out Edinson Volquez against Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS.  I won’t go any further into that repressed memory, but you no doubt feel infinitely more confident sending this year’s version of Johnny Cueto to the mound as a now bona fide ace.

I love Bronson Arroyo, but he shouldn’t be starting Game 2 for a serious World Series contender.  And this year he won’t be, as the guy the Reds brass hoped would be the co-ace of this team has had a monster second half.  In Latos’s last 14 starts, he’s put up a 2.44 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, tallied 88 strikeouts in 96 innings, and twice gone the distance.  An impressive stretch, especially for a guy who’s only 24 years old.

Conclusion – the 2012 starters are essentially the 2010 starters with a Mat Latos for Travis Wood swap, and two more years of experience.  When four-fifths of your staff is 26 or younger, experience can be the difference between division champ, and World Series participant.  I’ll take 2012.

***

Bullpen (minimum 40 IP for brevity’s sake)

Rank 2010 2012
CL  Francisco Corder0  Aroldis Chapman
SU  Nick Masset  Jonathan Broxton
R1  Logan Ondrusek  Jose Arredondo
R2  Arthur Rhodes  Alfredo Simon
R3  Sam LeCure  Sean Marshall
R4  Jordan Smith  Sam LeCure
R5  Logan Ondrusek

The 2012 Reds bullpen leads the Nation League in most of the major categories: ERA, saves, K/9, FIP, and WAR (it isn’t close).  One key category they do not lead: innings pitched.  Thanks to the most consistent one-through-five rotation in baseball (my opinion, of course), the bullpen has not been taxed the way it has in previous years, and this will hopefully pay off down the road.

Say what you want about Chapman’s rightful place on this staff… as its closer, the man is otherworldly.  He has accumulated more WAR than the entire 2010 bullpen.  He will challenge the record for highest K/9 in a single season.  Oh, and he leads the league in saves (34) and ERA (1.25).

May 26, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Sean Marshall (51) pitches during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park. The Reds defeated the Rockies 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Of note: the bullpen’s second most productive pitcher this year has been Sean Marshall (according to number of wins added).  Despite his supposed struggles, he’s 4th in the NL in FIP among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.  More than anything, Marshall’s problem this year has been his luck on balls in play.  His .348 mark is near the top among relievers, and 50 points above his career average. Fundamentally, Marshall is the same guy who has been one of the top setup guys in baseball over the last two years.  I truly hope Dusty will trust him in high leverage situations this postseason.  Though I will admit, Broxton has been performing quite well recently, and looks like yet another reliable 8th inning option.

Conclusion – it’s not close.  The 2012 bullpen is the best in the league, and this team’s biggest strength.

***

Bench
2010: Paul Janish, Miguel Cairo, Laynce Nix
2012: Wilson Valdez, Miguel Cairo, Xavier Paul

If you take away the fourth outfielder and the third catcher (covered in yesterday’s piece), this year’s bench is scary bad.  Thankfully, Xavier Paul has come in and provided a HUGE boost where this Reds team needs it most.  Even still, the numbers are ugly.

Among players with at least 140 plate appearances, Valdez and Cairo rank last and second-to-last in wRC+ (an offensive stat that compares a player’s output against the rest of the league).  In OBP, only Padres backup catcher Nick Hundley is worse than Valdez (.227), and no one touches Cairo (.200).  These are guys that could get at bats late in games!  Guys that spell Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and sometimes even (gasp!) Joey Votto.  This is not good, you guys.  And to be honest, they aren’t suitable defensive replacements either (though to be fair, find me a player on anyone’s bench who can come close to matching the infield defense on display at GABP… here’s a clue, it’s impossible).

You might be saying, oh whatever, it’s just the bench.  But really, the importance of a team’s bench (along with its bullpen) gets magnified in the postseason.  Late game situations are even more crucial, and managers spare no expense when it comes to pitching matchups.

One of the silver linings surrounding the perceived log jam created by Votto’s return is that it reloads the bench a bit.  That, along with Chris Heisey, XP, and a couple of backup catchers, will hopefully be enough to render these other two unnecessary.

Conclusion – as I just stated, yes, the 2012 team will likely have options when the postseason rolls around, but up to this point it hasn’t been pretty.  At least Janish could flash and leather and Nix could supply the wood.  2010 takes it in a cakewalk.

Aug. 28, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker congratulates a teammate after scoring in the second inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

***

OK, time for a Summary…

Outfield: the 2010 group a slight advantage
Infield: a wash
Catchers: 2010 gets the square
Rotation: I’ll take 2012
Bullpen: The 2012 bullpen is the best
Bench: 2010 takes it in a cakewalk

***

What did we learn?
That the 2010 team was talented, and on top of that, benefited from a couple career performances from guys who were either on their last legs, or haven’t quite been able to duplicate the full extent of their success.  If we were to tally its record based on my very scientific, very expert opinions in the above categories, 2010 actually comes out slightly ahead (3-2-1).  However, not all categories are created equal, and when it comes to the old adage, “great pitching beats great hitting”, 2010 wasn’t built to compete with the sport’s elite.

The 2012 team is a bit more inconsistent offensively and relies heavily on a couple of rookies, though Votto’s return should provide some much needed stability and depth.  Not surprisingly, it’s the pitching, and especially the bullpen, that separates this team.  When the recent trend seems to be, how many top-of-the-rotation guys can one team accumulate, the ability to slot two aces at the beginning of a series is merely the price of admission.  Not to mention the necessity of a solid #3 waiting in the wings.

Which is all to say, once you make it to the postseason, you have a limited time frame to separate yourself from the competition.  And as they say, anything can happen.  A bad night, or a sudden hot streak, can mean the difference between moving on or going home.

I have to say, I feel a bit more prepared for October with this team than I did in 2010.  But really, nothing will beat getting to watch and find out for ourselves, when the time finally does come.

(To read Part 1, click here.)

Follow Aaron on Twitter @aaronjlehr

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