Fear not, Reds fans. There is no need to seek a therapy session after Cincinnati was swept in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Sure, the bullpen looked shaky and the offense may have cooled off after a torrid start. But the sweep had more to do with a string of weird circumstances that left Dusty Baker scrambling, with Brandon Phillips returning home to Georgia to attend his grandfather’s funeral and Johnny Cueto leaving Saturday’s start early due to injury chief among them. And the Monday night win against the Phillies that ended the five-game winning streak helped to assuage any early season jitters.
No, what Reds fans need is a way to sift through the statistics and determine how worried fans should really be about some of them. We’ll rate them on a scale 0-100. Think of zero as how worried you would be about BP’s ability to star in an Orbit commercial and 100 as how worried you’d be if Aroldis Chapman suddenly couldn’t touch 90 mph on the radar gun.
Joey Votto’s power numbers
It took Votto until the 12th game of the year to record his first home run—a 429-foot shot to right center Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. That, in addition to his .447 slugging percentage, .158 isolated power, and 2.5 ground ball/fly ball ratio, have caused some to question whether his power drought is something that merits concern.
The only people that should be concerned about Votto’s power numbers are those that banked on him hitting 35+ home runs for their fantasy team. Votto is not a true power hitter and has no desire to be one. He is much more concerned with not making outs, and no one in the league has been better at that than Votto this year. He has an almost Bonds-ian OBP of .556, nearly 70 points higher than the second-best mark this season. (Third in OBP? Shin-Soo Choo at .476.) Votto is getting on base and being extraordinarily selective in doing so. His O-Zone Swing Percentage is a league-low 13.9 percent, best in the majors. He is doing what he wants in the batter’s box. It just does not appear that he wants home runs right now.
Joey Votto will be just fine.
Shin-Soo Choo’s Fielding
With Choo providing such a lift to the top of the Reds lineup, it is easy to overlook the center fielder’s defensive inadequacies. But his poor angles to fly balls and general confusion in the outfield has led to some awful numbers. Choo’s 2013 UZR, which measures defensive effectiveness by runs prevented, is -2.0. So Choo has actually cost the Reds two runs already this season. And if you think that’s an anomaly, take a look at last year’s numbers. In 2012, Choo had a UZR or -16.7, the second-worst mark in the league. (I should note, however, that I am not entirely sold on any statistic that has Andrew McCutchen as one of the worst defensive center fielders.)
Yet if Choo keeps hitting at his current rate, his terrible fielding will not matter. Choo has a wRC+ of 201, meaning that he is creating 101 percent more runs than the average hitter. So when you compare the runs he is taking off the table defensively and those that he’s adding offensively, the whole headless chicken act in center field becomes surprisingly more tolerable. Now if his offensive production starts to decline significantly, you may have to re-evaluate.
Johnny Cueto’s Lats
Cueto left Saturday’s start with an injury to his lats, the same injury that ended his 2011 season. While he seems optimistic that he will make a recovery, I am cautious about sharing his optimism. Cueto pitched a career-high 217 innings last year. While that total didn’t put him in the top 10 in innings pitched (he was 11th by .1 inning), it is still a bit worrisome when you consider Cueto’s 5-10, 215-pound frame. Just take a look at the other guys who threw at least 217 innings. The average height and weight for those 10 pitchers is about 6-3 and 220 lbs.
The reason for his injury, whether it be his inability to shoulder that many innings or something else, is not as important as what it would mean if he were to miss significant time. Cueto may be the team’s most valuable player not named Joey Votto. He takes the pitching staff from being a slightly above average group to one of the National League’s best rotations. His 4.6 WAR last year was the fourth-best in the NL and was remarkably consistent, especially at the beginning of the year. (In Cueto’s first 20 starts in 2012, he gave up more than three runs only twice.) Perhaps this lat injury is, as Cueto seems to think, hardly an issue at all. But if Cueto misses significant time, it will hurt the Reds more than he realizes.
Broxton was brought in with the idea that he would likely be taking over Chapman’s role as closer when the phenom made the move to the rotation. Well, management decided against making Chapman a starter, giving Dusty with a very expensive set-up man. Broxton’s statistics are sort of deflated by his six-runs-allowed in two-thirds of an inning implosion against the Pirates, so I’ll give him a break and ignore the 11.57 ERA and his 3.86 HR/9 innings. But there are still other numbers that paint a bleak outlook for Broxton this season.
Broxton is a power pitcher who has gone away from his power. His fastball percentage is down to a career-low 51.1 percent, down from 66 percent last year, and his average velocity has also dipped to a career-low 92.9. And even though the runs he’s allowed bloat his stats, batters have had an unusually low BABIP of .154. If and when opponents’ BABIP regresses to the mean, Broxton’s numbers may continue to slide. Broxton warrants the most worry for Reds fans.
Adam Flango is a video producer for CBSSports.com and weirdly enjoys the world of sports statistics. For tips on numbers to look out for, tweet them to @adam_flango or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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