Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Jon on Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Wait Grows Longer With Each Win

Cincinnati has been waiting for a while.

Since reaching the NL Championship Series nine years ago, the Reds have averaged 78.5 wins per season. McKeon Magic circa ’99 brought Cinci close to 100 wins, but the pixie dust ran out, leaving the Reds out of the playoff picture. Excluding that anomalous 1999 season, the Reds have gone 532-602 since 1995, an unastounding .469 clip.

After last year’s disaster of a season, nobody – and I mean nobody – picked the Reds to win the NL Central, let alone contend with the likes of the division powerhouse Astros, Cubs, and Cardinals. The Reds seemed poised for another season of rebuilding. With an offense of young stars and aging future Hall of Famers reasonable run production could have been foreseen, but their outfield tandem of Dunn, Griffey, and Kearns spent nary three weeks on the field together in 2003 due to a plethora of injuries. And their pitching staff was arguably worse than Detroit’s last season. That’s not something to be proud of.

But they’ve turned it all around. Injuries haven’t been a huge problem and Paul Wilson has represented an about-face for Cincinnati pitching altogether. All of this has pushed the Reds past the Cardinals, past the Cubs, and past the Astros. In fact, with more than a third of the season in the books, their 34 wins makes Cincinnati the best team in the league, and they trail only the Yankees for the best record in baseball. Surely, this is one of the nicest stories in baseball this season, and if they can keep it up, their rags-to-riches fairy tale will headline publications in October. But keep it up they can't.

Much like last year’s Royals, this Reds team is a contender when, by all modes of evaluation, it shouldn’t be. Based on their runs scored and runs allowed, the Reds are not having a first place season. They’re not even a .500 team. Look at their actual record and their adjusted record, based on runs allowed and runs scored.
		W	L	

Actual 34 23
Adjusted 28 29

Difference +6 -6
These two percentages show that they’re winning, but with smoke, mirrors, and a lot of luck. For the season, they haven’t even scored as many runs as they’ve allowed, and they already have six more wins than they should. A team that allows more runs than it scores is usually near the bottom of the standings, not on top. And if they continue to walk the fine line between wins and losses, eventually Lady Luck will catch up to the Reds, and the losses will even out the wins for the rest of the season.

Last season, the Royals finished the season some ten games ahead of where their adjusted record would have placed them, based on runs allowed and runs scored. This year, they were out of contention before the first quarter of the season ended. Eventually a team’s luck runs out and their record regresses back to the mean. Having examined the Royals of last season, the Reds shouldn’t start silk-screening their ‘Division Champs’ shirts any time soon. And with every member of their rotation, with the exception of Jose Acevedo, pitching well over their heads, the Reds could soon begin to slide.

It’s great that Cincinatti is performing at a higher level than could reasonably be expected, but all this winning could lead to a strange predicament come the trading deadline.

Logically a .500 team, as this season’s Reds could be viewed, would be sellers at the trading deadline, especially when three other teams playing better ball. The Astros, Cubs, and Cards all have similar adjusted records of about 33-23, placing those three on a different tier in the NL Central. To make matters worse, the Reds have at least three perfect sell-high candidates to trade. You can’t trade just anybody for legitimate potential help in the future. A Paul Wilson may be tough to unload because of his checkered past. Other Reds, though, are riding value spikes that could never be higher.

The ruddy poster-boy for these Cincinnati overachievers is their closer, Danny Graves. With a mind-boggling 27 saves in mid-June, Graves has saved more games than 11 teams have won. He's closed out more than three-quarters of the Reds wins. If this rate continues, he’d end the season with 74 saves. At this rate, too, he’d allow 26 home runs. But Graves is pitching well and aside from his home runs allowed, there’s barely a smudge on his stat record this season. He’s throwing better than his last few seasons and almost well enough to merit the $6 million he’ll be paid in 2004. His 26 saves nearly ensure a trip to Houston and the All-Star Game next month and may make him more appealing than he should be to other GMs. After all, most any pitcher can record a healthy number of saves. All it takes to record a save is to close for a team that enters the ninth inning with a small lead an abnormally large number of times. To have won as many games as the Reds have so far, they’ve merely been in this position more than any other team. If Matt Herges were given the same opportunities, I am confident that he’d have as many saves as Graves. But because the Reds are ‘in contention,’ Graves may not be traded.

Another sell-high candidate sits at first base. Sean Casey is hitting like the dickens. He’s riding a .374/.416/.626 line through June with 44 runs, 43 RBI, and 11 homers. His AB/HR is currently at a career high level and his SO/BB ratio is fantastic at 20/15. Casey is a very good player. His career .305/.372/.467 line shows that this season’s successes are not too far-fetched, and a regression to his career numbers for the rest of the season would still merit accolades. Nevertheless, his value is as high as it will ever be. Selling him now could bring more in return than at any other time. In years past, Casey has been offered up in trade proposals by the Reds. It would make most sense to trade him now.

Lastly, the Reds have one outfielder any runner-up in the Carlos Beltran bonanza might gladly accept: Ken Griffey Junior. Trading Griffey would be difficult at this juncture. He’s about to hit a major home run milestone and is finally back to his old self. The problem is that the last time he hit this well was the year 2000. Now Griffey is 35 years old and certainly on the downside of his career. At this age, Griffey should come with a "Fragile: Handle With Care" sticker plastered squarely on his uniform as a warning of the imminent injury to come. Until he goes down with another injury, Griffey is an All-Century player. But the injuries will return. Last year, the Reds explored trading Griffey. Now that he’s healthy, and before he can hurt himself again, the Reds should make it known that he’s available. His contract isn’t ridiculous and it’s quite possible that he would welcome a change of scenery, making him another candidate to be traded.

Trading any of these guys would be tough on Reds fans, but either way, they’ll have to continue to wait. The postseason is still many moons away and sadly, the Reds won’t be on top when the calendar next reads ‘October’. The question is whether Cincinatti fans in October will be looking forward to another season of low expectations or whether the Reds will have acquired the pitching prospects or position players to make the 2005 season one less dependent on luck. This season's success could prevent the Reds from being legitimate competitors in the future.

Strikeouts Either Way

If watching a pitcher strike a batter out makes you smile, then you should probably be watching more of the Red Sox. As of today’s games, the Sox can K with the best of ‘em. Their two aces, Pedro Martinez (76 K's) and Curt Schilling (73), are one and two in strikeouts in the league. More astoundingly, two Boston batters also lead the league in strikeouts: Mark Bellhorn (63 whiffs) and David Ortiz (59). If you like K's, keep it tuned to the Sox.

### So what do you think? We want to know. | | E-mail us ###