First off, I’d like to apologize for not posting this column last week. I was recovering from Wisdom Teeth Extraction surgery and didn’t feel like I could write to the best of my ability. The time-sensitive nature of this piece also makes it hard to write too far in advance. But, we’re here this week and that’s all that matters. The last two weeks have been good on the Reds, even after tough series against the Phillies and Braves, as they swept both the Brewers and Marlins. Keep in mind that the Reds rotation is in a bit of a flux right now, with Johnny Cueto returning and Tony Cingrani getting sent down. The rotation is tentative at this point, so it could end up being different from what is here. Nothing is really set at this point. So, without further ado, here are the Reds upcoming games for the week:
May 20th: CIN @ NYM — Johnny Cueto vs. Shaun Marcum
May 26th: CHC @ CIN — Matt Garza vs. Johnny Cueto
Position Player Recommendations
1. Jay Bruce
Jay Bruce continued his hot streak last week in a big way. As of Saturday, he hit .476/.500/.952 with 2 homers and 8 RBI, including a big 2 run homer off of tough lefty Cliff Lee for the week. As I predicted, facing off against the Brewers really seemed to set Bruce off, and he’s capitalized in a big way. Next week, Bruce will take the field in New York’s Citi Field, as well as good old Great American Ballpark. Predictably, Bruce has seen his fair share of struggles in Citi Field over the past 3 years, as he’s hit just .194/.250/.500 there, albeit with 3 home runs. Bruce has hit relatively well against the 3 pitchers the Reds will face, however, as he is 5-19 against them, with 2 homers and 6 RBIs against them. As for the pitchers that the Cubs will throw up there, Bruce has never faced Scott Feldman before. However, he has done well against Travis Wood in his career, going 2-5 with 2 homers off of him. Bruce has also hit modestly well against Matt Garza as well.
It’s easy to look at Bruce’s BABIP, which is an inflated .381, and assume that his numbers are flukey because of a high BABIP. However, we also have to consider how exactly Bruce is hitting the ball. Bruce’s line drive rate of 31.6% is second only to James Loney in all of baseball. Hitters who have a high line drive rate tend to be among the best in baseball, as Loney (who leads the MLB in hitting), Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, David Wright, and Austin Jackson are all among this list, and all are having remarkable years .These hitters also have something else in common- most of them have an inflated BABIP. Loney’s is .398, Mauer’s is .450, Votto’s is .402, Wright’s is .349, and Jackson’s is .336. The numbers from 2012 also follow suit as Dexter Fowler, who led baseball in line drive rate in 2012, also posted a .390 BABIP. In fact, aside from Freddie Freeman, everybody in the top 10 posted a BABIP of over .320, with most in the .340-.360 range.
So, what does this all mean? Well, the trajectory of a line drive allows it to fall in for a hit more so than a flyball, groundball, or popup. Hitters who can consistently hit line drives are rewarded with high BABIPs and, usually, high batting averages and lots of doubles. This, apart from batting average, which sits at a modest .275 for Bruce, completely describes how Bruce has been hitting this year. Jay Bruce is tied with Gerardo Parra, AJ Pollock, and Matt Carpenter for the NL lead in doubles with 14. What does all this ultimately say about Jay Bruce? The data would seem to indicate that Bruce is hitting the ball better than ever this year. He’s seeing the ball well, which is allowing him to drive the ball better than in years past. Has Bruce’s hot streak been a product of at least a little luck? Undoubtedly. Will Bruce probably keep driving balls at this rate? Probably not. However, if he can, Bruce could finally break out, hitting around .280 with a ton of doubles and 25-30 home runs, which would be a career year for Bruce.
Overall, he’s an easy start next week. Bruce is a smart play when he’s hot no matter what the matchups say, really. The fact that the matchups are positive is just another sign that this should be a big week for Bruce. Bruce may never hit .300, and he might never be a hitter who can come up in the clutch consistently. However, he’s been a solid hitter so far this year (May in particular) so he should be in your lineup.
Week Eight Line Prediction: .350 average, 2 HR, 6 RBI.
Final Recommendation: Start.
2. Todd Frazier
What happened to Todd Frazier? After starting the year off strong, he’s virtually fallen off of a cliff. He hasn’t had a hit in nearly 20 at bats while striking out in nearly half of those. He simply looks lost at the plate right now, and it’s almost physically painful to watch. Fantasy owners are starting to lose hope in Todd, as his ownership has fallen from 100% to 97.7% in the past week, and could fall even further if he continues to flounder at the plate. And really, who can blame fantasy owners? He’s been an absolute black hole in fantasy lineups during that stretch.
The question is whether Frazier’s struggles are luck-based, or if he really has been this bad. His BABIP of .250 on the year is definitely below average, but not nearly low enough to compensate for hitting .214. However, a closer look at his numbers reveals the main problem. At Great American Ballpark this season, he’s been a fine hitter, hitting .293/.379/.587 with 6 homers and 19 RBI. However, on the road, he’s hit a paltry .123/.205/.169 with no homers and 6 RBI. Looking at Frazier’s road BABIP, which sits at .170, it’s apparent that he’s been getting really unlucky on the road for some reason. This could partially explain the awful numbers.
But, there’s no denying that Frazier is in a funk right now, luck-based or not. For next week, he should be sitting. Eric Chavez, Chris Johnson, Mike Moustakas, and Juan Francisco could all make good subs for him.
Week Eight Line Prediction: .200 average, 0 HRs, 3 RBI.
Final Recommendation: Sit.
3. Shin Soo Choo
How good has Shin Soo Choo been this year? He leads the Reds in home runs, leads baseball in OBP, leads the NL in runs scored, and has 19 RBI from the leadoff spot. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball this season. Although May hasn’t been as good to Choo as April was (except in home runs, where it’s been better already), he has still been solid. He should be starting no matter what at this point, even with his difficulties against lefties (.149 average against.)
Week Eight Line Prediction: .300 average, 1 HR, 3 RBI.
1. Johnny Cueto
Ah, finally. Johnny Cueto, the Reds’ staff ace, has returned. As good as Mat Latos has been this year, Johnny Cueto is the bona fide ace of the Reds pitching staff. He also happens to have dual start eligibility this week against 2 offensively challenged clubs. The question isn’t with Cueto’s talent level, as is the case with many other starters, but with how he has recovered from his injury. If he’s 100%, he should be a force in fantasy baseball this week. If he’s not quite 100%, he should still be good but not great.
Cueto couldn’t have a better environment for his return. The Mets are 21st in runs scored this season, and he’ll be pitching in the expansive Citi Field. Over the past 3 seasons, Cueto has only started one game at Citi Field (somehow), but was spectacular in that game, going 7 innings while giving up 1 run on 6 hits with 8 strikeouts. Even with its fences drawn in, Citi Field does not relent home runs very easily, which will help cushion the blow in the event that Cueto’s stuff isn’t terribly sharp on his return. Cueto has also dominated the Mets since 2010, going 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA over that span. Cueto’s first start back couldn’t be more perfect.
His second start against the offensively challenged Cubs should also be a good matchup for him. He has pitched a whopping 61.2 innings over the past 3 years against Chicago, and has only allowed 12 earned runs over that span, which comes out to a 1.75 record accompanied by a 6-1 record. Cueto has simply dominated the Cubs, and that was made even more apparent last season, when he went 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA and 4-0 record in 4 starts against them last year. He will be pitching in Great American Ballpark, so if his stuff isn’t sharp there could be some homers. However, as this is his second start back, I think he’ll do just fine.
Overall, there’s very little risk in starting Cueto next week, even if he is coming straight from the DL.
Week Eight Line Prediction: 1 win, 0 losses, 13 IP, 7 Ks, 5 ER, 3.46 ERA.
Final Recommendation: Start.
2. Mat Latos
While Cueto is no doubt the Reds ace, Latos has been an incredibly solid pitcher so far this season. He goes against the Mets next week, which is both a positive and a negative for Latos. It’s a positive because Latos has done quite well against the Mets over his career, going 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA. However, it’s also a negative because the Reds will be squaring off against Matt Harvey, who has been absolutely unhittable this year (seriously, look at his numbers, it’s ridiculous.) The offense tends to fall asleep when Latos pitches (except for when they lit up Hiram Burgos for 12 runs) and facing Harvey in a pitcher’s park won’t help anything at all. I think that Latos will pitch a solid game, but still take the loss due to Harvey’s dominance. If that is indeed the case, it will be Latos’ first regular season loss since last August, en route to the best winning percentage in the NL since the start of last year.
Week Eight Line Prediction: 0 wins, 1 loss, 7 IP, 7 Ks, 2 ER, 2.57 ERA.
Final Recommendation: Start.
3. Bronson Arroyo
Week Eight Line Prediction: 0 wins, 0 losses, 6 IP, 3 Ks, 4 ER, 6.00 ERA.
Final Recommendation: Sit. Drop.
4. Homer Bailey
Funny enough, Homer Bailey has been the Reds’ most valuable pitcher so far this season by WAR. His 1.2 mark leads the Reds staff, and is tied for 22nd in baseball. A quick look at the numbers reveals why. His FIP and xFIP are 2.89 and 3.09 respectively. That’s 15th and 13th best in baseball. Bailey has also struck out a good amount of hitters, as his 9.12 K/9 would indicate. Most importantly, though, is that these numbers are sustainable, as his BABIP indicates that he’s actually gotten slightly unlucky, with a .297 mark. This really could be a career year for Homer.
Bailey will also have the privilege of facing the Cubs, who he pitched well against last year, with a 3-0 record and 3.12 ERA. Don’t let the W/L record fool you, Bailey has been great this year. Start him.
Week Eight Line Predictions: 1 win, 0 losses, 7 IP, 8 Ks, 3 ER, 3.86 ERA.
Final Recommendation: Start.
5. Mike Leake
It’s official- Leake is the 5th starter. Still don’t want him anywhere near my team.
Week Eight Line Predictions: 0 wins, 0 losses, 6 IP, 3 Ks, 4 ER, 6.00 ERA.
Final Recommendation: Sit.
Week Eight W/L Predictions:
May 20th (CIN @ NYM): W, 5-3
May 21st (CIN @ NYM): W, 9-5
May 22nd (CIN @ NYM): L, 2-0
May 24th (CHC @ CIN): W, 6-4
May 25th (CHC @ CIN): L, 6-2
May 26th (CHC @ CIN): W, 3-1
Predicted record: 4-2.
Thank you for reading! Comments are appreciated.