Friday, April 3, 2009

2009 Reds Preview (Several Words About Reds Baseball)

I asked myself 25 questions regarding the 2009 Cincinnati Reds. I also answered them.

1. Question: Will Aaron Harang bounce back? Has he gained a personality?

Answer: How do I know if he'll bounce back? That's kind of a stupid question, you know? But I do find it funny that he lost a bunch of weight after his wort professional season and acts like one had nothing to do with another. Look, the Reds obviously need a return to his 05-07 form, and I guess it's possible, but my breath will be held until I see it with my own eyes.

The real question is why didn't he Reds trade Harang before the '08 season? He was coming off a dominating three-year stretch that peaked in '07 with a 16-6 record, 218 strikeouts and a lights-out 1.144 WHIP. He is (or was) a big durable righty under a modest, multiyear contract -- I'm thinking a guy like that could've drawn three of four top 100 prospects and a major-league ready reliever. Moves like that keep small-to-mid market organizations competitive (or at least interesting) for prolonged periods. Go ask Oakland and Florida.

(And no, Harang hasn't gained a personality; he will continue to be the worst interview in the history of professional athletics in Cincinnati, Ohio.)

2. Question: Has Volquez learned to spot his fastball? Is he really a master at wiggling out of trouble, or was last year just a extraordinary stretch of good luck?

Answer: My buddy Chris and I spend a fair amount of time discussing Edinson Volquez. He thinks Volquez needs to work in his curveball more regularly. I say he needs to do a better job of spotting his fastball early in the count. Both are true, I suppose, but I'm siding with me. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe Volquez's fastball and change-up are good enough that he only has to throw seven or eight curveballs a game -- you know, just something for the batter to keep in the back of his head.

Anyway, if he can simply throw strike one more often, he won't have to wiggle out of 1st-and-third, one-out situations every other inning. Here's the thing: The guy is great, and I'm quite sure he walks across the Ohio River at night when nobody's looking, but he has a ton of room for improvement...and it all starts with strike one.

(For the record, spring box scores suggest Volquez still isn't pitch efficient: 12 walks in 22 innings. But he also mixed in 19 strikeouts and a 1.19 ERA)

3. Question: Can Johnny Cueto settle the F down after walking a batter or giving up a bloop single? Will a head case always be a head case?

Answer: Really, that's only thing standing in the way of Johnny Cueto, nine-time All Star. Well that or an arm injury. Or a bus accident, or whatever. But anyway, you get my point, and if not, here goes: Johnny Cueto is awesome. His fast ball is awesome. His slider is awesome. His command is awesome. So is his poise. His poise is awesome...until it isn't.

How many times did we see Cueto cruising along last year -- something like 4 innings, one hit, five strikeouts and no walks -- before completely self-destructing because a two-out error was committed behind him? Way too much, right? But why is that? Why did he wet his pants seemingly every time and start giving up gap shots left and right.

I've never seen a pitcher's demeanor change so quickly, and I'm more than a little worried that it's an unfixable problem. Is a head case always a head case? Go, I hope not.

4. Has Homer Bailey mellowed out at all? How will he handle a demotion this time around? His role with the team remains unclear, but he's pitched well enough this spring to warrant a spot on the opening-day roster. But what if he's along reliever? And what if he struggles in that particular role? Will he be able to handle it, or will be the baby he's been the last few years when he didn't get his way? I don't know, but I'm as curious as you are to find out.

Perhaps the question should have been, is Bailey good enough to be a quality major league starter? I know he had all the credentials as a young fella, and there's no doubt he's pitched well this spring, but every time I've watched him I've been underwhelmed with his stuff. the fastball's too straight, and it ain't that fast. The breaking stuff hangs and the change-up is borderline laughable.

Count me among those who are nowhere near sold, but desperately wanting to buy.

5. Question: Will Bronson Arroyo continue to be the most under-appreciated Red of the past decade or so?

Answer: Probably. He's never pretty, and on his worst days it appears my probably-gay Uncle Pete could hit an opposite-field single off him, but he knows how to pitch, and he's durable as hell.

I wouldn't dive off the roof of my house if he was traded away after a solid 5-or-6-game stretch, but the same can be said if the Reds are forced to keep him around. After all, 35 starts and 200-plus innings of league-average (or better) pitching from your fourth starter is more uncommon than you might realize.

6. Question: Is Bill Bray just one of those guys?

Answer: Sure looks like it. That boy is never healthy.

7. Question: Will Francisco Cordero ever throw a heart attack-free 1-2-3 ninth in a meaningful one-run game?

Answer: Doubtful, my friend. Doubtful. I'm just afraid he'll fall off the deep end this year and hamstring the organization for the next three years. Don't forget: Cordero's still owed well over $30 million over the next three years. Things could get ugly.

(If you're looking for my Cordero prediction, I'll say that he'll improve slightly upon last year. I'm thinking a minor bump in saves and a tiny decrease in blown saves. Just as many heart attacks, though.)

8. Question: Why wasn't Mike Lincoln better in '08? Why were the Reds so quick to offer him a two-year contract?

Answer: For a guy with a mid-90's fast ball and a knee-buckling 12-6 curveball, I just don't understand why he wasn't better in '08. I mean, a 4.48 ERA for a middle reliever in the National League? Really? The dude turns 34 a week from today! Whatever.

9. Question: Will you ever turn the television off if (a.) Danny Ray Herrera is pitching or (b.) Micah Owings is batting?

Answer: I have thirty-three rules in life, and No. 16 looks something like this: Any time a 5'6, 140-pound left-handed midget, who's armed with a freaking screwball, is on the mound, I stop what I'm doing to watch.

Ditto for Owings, the world's best hitting pitcher, when he's at the plate.

10. Question: Does Arthur Rhodes = Mike Stanton + Rheal Cormier (i.e., the dinosaur lefty who the Reds acquired a year too late)?

Answer: Probably. How would I know?

11. I hate David Weathers.

12. Question: Anyone else getting a Eddie-Taubensee-in-1999 feel about Ramon Hernandez?

Answer: 15 HRs and 65 RBI in a down year for Hernandez in '08. Plus, factor in a charging of the batteries after being in hopeless Baltimore, not to mention the transition from AL East to NL Central is about as drastic as it gets.

13. Question: Is it officially time to give up on Edwin Encarnacion's breakout year?

Answer: Yes. We've seen what we're going to see out of Encarnacion. And I say that with a tear in my eye; I really thought he was going to bat clean-up and drive in 118 runs for the next thirty or so years.

14. Question: Can Alex Gonzalez give the Reds 125 games in '09?

Answer: These questions I asked myself are fucking idiotic. Do I look like a doctor to you? But anyway, if he can replicate 2007's offensive numbers (16 HR, 55 RBI in 110 games) with pre-2007 defensive numbers (solid percentages and whatnot), I would clap three times and celebrate.

15. Question: Should Brandon Phillips be anywhere near the top four spots in the order?

Answer: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I know the Reds don't have ideal lineup at the moment, but Phillips is really more of a six-hole guy, not a clean-up guy. He's just not that great of an offensive player. His three-year OPS+ numbers are 88, 105 and 92. In kindergarten terms, that's below average. Even his 30-30 year was barely above average offensively. For a mammal who swings at everything and never walks, his run production is lousy.

Thank God for impeccable middle-infield defense.

16. Question: Is Joey Votto looking a career year offensively? Has he cleaned up his defense?

Answer: Maybe. It's going to happen one of these years. He'll turn 26 by the end of the season and age 27 is the most common age for a career year. Remember, we like to lump Votto and Jay Bruce together as Cincinnati's two young lefties, but Votto's not all that young, while Jay Bruce was just 21-years-old yesterday.

17. Question: Can Jay Bruce be the superstar we need him to be this year?

Answer: That, of course, would be a wonderful thing in my life. But we might be a year or two away from superstardom. But you never know. I'd say if he hits 30 homers, drives in 90, doesn't strike out 250 times and avoids impregnating every white girl in downtown Cincinnati we'd have reason to buy season tickets for the next eight-and-a-half-seasons. I'm thinking green seats. Oh wait.

18. Question: Does Chris Dickerson stink?

Answer: I think so. He'll be 27-years-old in a week and his minor league baseball card reveals a couple indicators of future statistics: Despite being an incredible physical specimen (6'4, 220 lbs.), Dickerson's never had much power; 14 HRs being his career best. Far more troubling are his strikeout totals. Aside from his shortened season in rookie ball, he always whiffed more than 100 times in a season -- peaking at 162 (in 134 games) in 2007. He walks a little bit, but definitely not a lot. My guess: He gets sent down at some point, and Johnny Gomes will get the majority of his ABs.

19. Question: How long will Dusty Baker leave Willy Taveras in the one hole?

Answer: You mean the same guy who will get on base less than 30 percent of the time? Probably til mid-September.

20. Question: Can the Reds win more than 78.5 games?

Answer: They better, because my degenerate ass betting on them again. But seriously, why can't they win 85? The pitching staff should be in the top 3 in the NL and the offense has a chance to be around league what's the difference between the Reds and the Angels of the past three or four years? They haven't been able to hit -- plus they play in a superior league -- and yet they're always in the October mix. I'm not predicting 95 wins, but I don't think 85-88 is absurd, either.

21. Question: Will Dusty Baker ever learn the difference between good and well?

Answer: Nope. Never. And I'm going to track it all year.

22. Question: Is Geroge Grande still the Reds play-by-play voice on Fox Sports Ohio?

Answer: Yep, since 1993!

23. Question: Has George Grande learned the difference between a bloop and a line drive?

Animals: If he has, I'll punch my mother in the skull and stick the video on YouTube.

24. Question: Did Jeff Brantley spend his offseason increasing his vocabulary from ten words to eighteen?

Answer: RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRrright Dooooooooowwwwwwwwnnnn Brrrrrroadway!

25. Do questions 21-24 make me want to Brooks Hadlin myself?

I doubt they'll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me.

-Brad Spieser (