Table of Contents

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Reds cash out on Jay Bruce

In a move that had been anticipated for well over a year, the Reds finally traded Jay Bruce.  Unlike pretty much every other deal since the deadline last summer, it doesn't feel like the Reds messed up the timing on this one.  If the Reds weren't going to extend him--I was about 50/50 on whether that was a good idea to pursue--now was almost certainly the time to sell.  Following two sub-par offensive seasons, Bruce finally rebounded, and thus far has turned in his best offensive performance since his age-23 season.  There are questions about his defense, but those won't go away by the end of the year.  One big month-long slump, however, could sap a lot of his value.

We'll start with Bruce and then talk about the return he provided from the Mets.

Jay Bruce, 29-year old LHB Right Fielder


I don't think I can really do justice to Bruce here.  He was the greatest Reds prospect I've ever seen.  He was perfect in his 2008 debut.  He clinched the 2010 NL Central Championship.  Through it all, he was one of the most interesting, kind, and enjoyable players I've known in a Reds uniform.  It's hard to think that we've likely seen the last of him in a Reds uniform.  I'm going to be rooting like hell for him if he makes it into the playoffs.

Now, what did the Reds get in return?


Dilson Herrera, 22-year old RHB 2B


Herrera was an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Herrera somehow has managed to accumulate enough service time over the past two years to lose his "prospect" status, but he nevertheless has been hitting at the AAA/MLB level since he was a 20-year old.  He's still just 22.  Some eyebrows have been raised about his drop-off in performance at AAA this year, but to my eye he doesn't look much different.  His strikeout rate is up a sliver, maybe, but his ISO is the same and his walk rate is virtually the same.  The big difference is his BABIP, which is just .313 this year after clocking in at .369 last year.  Eric Longenhagen projects him as a 50 Hit/50 Power player, which is awfully nice for a second baseman.  His glove is apparently nothing special, even at second base, which makes me worry a little; if he turns out to be below-average, that puts a lot of pressure on his bat to provide value.

Still, you have a 22-year old with prospect pedigree with parts of two seasons at the major league level along with good power.  That's a nice piece, and seems a good return for a half-season of Jay Bruce to me.


Max Wotell, 19-year old LHP

Wotell was a 3rd-round pick in 2015, and has been used as a starter this year after pitching as a reliever last year.  Eric Longenhagen's scouting report on him cites good velocity (up to 94 mph) and a good breaking ball.  If he learns a change-up, he might be a starter.  If not, he could be a LOOGY arm.  He's barely thrown any innings yet, but at least he's striking guys out.  His walk rate was bad last year, but has been under control this year.  He's young; a lot could still happen with him, good and bad.  Thumbs up on him as an add-on.


Conclusions

This seems like a pretty good deal for the Reds.  I'm not sure where they'll put Herrera while they wait for the Brandon Phillips train to finally reach its final stop.  The astonishingly foolish relegation of Jose Peraza to the bench for almost two months provided that Bryan Price won't bench Phillips, even when he is injured.

But whatever.  The Reds should be in talent-acquisition mode, and that's exactly what this deal is about.  The Reds swapped a player who was likely at the peak of his near-term value (at least) for a guy or two who might help the next time.

It's a good deal, just not a fun one.  That's probably why it took me so long to write this.  I'll miss Jay Bruce.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cubs Series Preview: Hendricks, Injuries, and Walks

Kyle Hendricks would be talked about as an ace on many other staffs.
The Cubs may have slowed from their torrid start, but they still have the best record in baseball.  They also have the best projected record over the rest of the season in baseball, and are viewed as a near-lock to make the playoffs--most likely by winning their division.  They have an outstanding offense, they field incredibly well, their rotation has been spectacular, and their bullpen has been at least solid.  They aren't a perfect team, but they're as dominant as you'll find in baseball.  The Reds' goal here is to be as the pesky bad team that delivers a minor setback to a superior team's march to inevitable victory.  It's not a very inspiring, but that's where the Reds are these days.

With the Reds playing at home, one can hope that there will be more Red in the stands than Blue.  But in all honestly, does anyone expect that to happen?  The best thing about this series is that those of us with MLB.tv can tune in to Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, who are among my favorite broadcasting teams in baseball.

Probable Starters


The Cubs are no doubt pleased with the Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, but the rise of Kyle Hendricks has to be a pleasant surprise.  He took a nice step forward in 2015, and has proven it was no fluke by continuing to post excellent strikeout-to-walk rates this year.  He doesn't get a lot of press, but he has done nothing but perform since arriving in the major leagues two years ago.  He doesn't throw hard, but has an excellent change-up, gets ground balls, and avoids the walk.  

Cody Reed's results have been uneven thus far, but he's doing something that no other Reds starter can do: he's missing bats regularly.  His delivery isn't a thing of beauty, but that slider is nasty and I love his velocity from the left side.  He's even getting ground balls!  I'm pretty encouraged.

Position Players

Brandon Phillips' production has dropped to such a degree that he is rated as an equivalent hitter to Billy Hamilton based on wRC+.  His contract runs through 2017. Yes, BABIP, maybe.  But still.

Also, the Reds have exactly one player in the starting lineup with an above-average walk rate.  Walking isn't everything, but this is clearly an organizational philosophy.

The Cubs entered spring training with unparalleled depth in the outfield, and they've been tested.  Jason Heyward is still playing (though he has been very disappointing), but they've lost Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and most recently Dexter Fowler to injuries.  Nevertheless, by shifting Kris Bryant to the outfield to add Javier Baez to the lineup, and then promoting top prospect Albert Almora from AAA, they've largely absorbed those losses and still maintain a respectable lineup.  Almora's scouting report indicates that he'll be a glove-first fielder, but eventually should hit well enough to be a solid-average regular.  He's off to a decent start.

Still, those losses have hurt.  The team still sports three outstanding hitters in Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and Kris Bryant.  But the others, at least this year, haven't been particularly special.  What they can all do, however, is field.  Every single starter on the Cubs rates out as above-average thus far based on fielding metrics, and the only player with negative marks is utility guy and part-time starter Chris Coghlan, recently re-acquired from the Athletics.  That excellence in the field can go a long way in making up any shortfalls with the bat.  Rosters like that don't happen by accident, nor does the fact that six of eight starters in the Cubs lineup have above-average walk rates.  It seems a stark contrast to what the Reds are running out there.

Bullpens

I am a big fan of Raisel Iglesias, and seeing him relegated to the bullpen due to injury concerns is saddening.  He should be excellent out there, however, and should do a great deal to stabilize the back end of the bullpen if that is how Price ultimately uses him.  I'm hopeful he can find a way back into the rotation, but it sounds like the Reds don't think his shoulder can handle that workload.

Michael Lorenzen had a rough first appearance, but he was pumping fastballs at 98 mph and threw strikes.  As a starter, he threw in the mid-90's, but was prone to nibbling, with lots of walks and very few strikeouts.  Maybe he will be the kind of pitcher who really does see his stuff play up in relief?  It might be nice to find a good closer.  But if he does end up in the pen, that basically ends the Reds' experiment with converting college closers.  Cingrani?  Bullpen.  Nick Howard?  Bullpen, if he's lucky.  And now Lorenzen.  It was a good idea, but I guess there's a reason that so few players move from the bullpen into the rotation during their careers.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Astros Series Preview: Cody Reed has arrived!

Jose Altuve is excited to face Cody Reed.
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III
Having parted ways with the Braves, the Reds head to Houston to take on the Astros this weekend.  The big news for this series is the expected debut of Cody Reed, who is arguably, given the struggles of Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker, the Reds' top prospect at this moment.  It's really the most exciting debut of the year thus far, because it could (and should) hopefully be the start of Reed's long tenure with the Reds.  There has been no indication that the Reds intend for his window here to be a short one, like the spot starts they gave to Stephenson earlier in the year.

The Astros have fallen on hard times this year after being the great story of 2015.  Their offense has struggled to put runs on the board, and most significantly, their starting pitching has really struggled this year.  They have had good success with the glove and in the bullpen, but this seems a poor facsimile of the powerhouse team we saw in the playoffs last year.  For all of their struggles, however, the Astros still project pretty well over the rest of the season (0.540 winning percentage), which still gives them a pretty good chance of making the playoffs based on FanGraphs' numbers. 

Position Players


Like a lot of fans, I first heard about Jose Altuve when listening to Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks' old weekly podcast from Baseball Prospectus.  Altuve was Goldstein's favorite.  He was just starting to raise eyebrows with his hitting, but, given Altuve's size, most were still skeptical of his performance.  Kevin described him as "adorable."  It has just been so fun to see him become a legitimate star player for the Astros over these past two years.  He makes great contact, has good knowledge of the strike zone (assuming pitchers can find his!), and somehow possesses legitimate doubles power despite his size.

The guy who was supposed to be the other star for the 'Stros was Altuve's double play partner, Carlos Correa.  The hype on Correa was ridiculous this spring, and it's hard to say the guy hadn't earned it.  His performance has cooled a bit from last year's heights, although he has still turned in an excellent offensive season.  I'm raising my eyebrow a bit at his UZR number; Correa is known as a good-not-great defensive shortstop, and it'll be interesting to see where that number ultimately stabilizes next year.  If he's a league-average shortstop in the field, Correa is a star.  If he keeps racking up deficits, maybe he'll have to move over to third base a lot sooner than expected.

The other guy I find pretty interesting is George Springer.  Springer is a nice all-around player.  He has good power, good speed, a good glove, and enough contact ability to keep the strikeouts from becoming a serious problem.  I'm surprised to see how often he hits the ball on the ground; he leads his team at 52%.  He has the speed to beat out ground balls, but you have to think he might see an increase in his productivity of he can get a few more balls in the air given his power capacity.

So where do they struggle?  Their bench has been a non-factor.  Evan Gattis is basically pure power, without other skills to provide much value.  They still haven't solved first base.  But the biggest disappointment here has to be Carlos Gomez.  Gomez has been a masterful player for years with the Brewers, but he has been abysmal with the Astros this year.  Some of that, and perhaps much of that, can be attributed to injury, and he has missed time already.  But if you have a healthy Carlos Gomez, you might add 3 wins to this team already by this point in the season.  I really like Gomez, and I hope he snaps out of it.

It's good to see Votto back above-average again and in the midst of one of his patented on-base streaks (16 games and counting!).  He looks so much better at the plate these days; gone are the horrifically awkward swings of April, and now he's an on-base machine.  Hopefully we'll start to see the power we saw in the second-half last season again, but I'm already very comfortable when he comes up to the plate again.

Not much else is new, here.  I love Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce.  Love them.  But the Reds need to be working the phones on those guys.  They should each fetch a nice return, if the Reds play their cards right.  I'm looking forward to seeing them play in the playoffs this fall.

Finally, if you told me that Duvall would hit 19 home runs this year, I'd be fairly content with that total on the season.  The fact that he's already done it is astonishing.  I sure wish he would take a walk, but perhaps that will come as pitchers start to avoid the strike zone when he's at the plate.

Probable Starters


Cody Reed is here!  Reed was the lesser-known quantity in the Johnny Cueto trade last fall, but even then the prospect guys were identifying him as arguably the top guy in that deal.  This year, he hasn't disappointing, posting a 3.20 ERA with supporting peripherals across 11 starts in AAA.  With the super-2 deadline likely behind us, it's his time to show us what he can do.  Reed has been nothing but impressive for the past two seasons, with scouts just as impressed as the stat guys.  I can't wait to see what he does.

I haven't analyzed the Astros starters in detail; you can find lots of discussion of that elsewhere.  But I will just note that Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel both have pretty big ERA-xFIP differentials.  Keuchel isn't posting the crazy peripherals that he did last year, but he's still allowing a steady diet of ground balls, striking guys out at a good clip, and at least not bleeding walks.  McCullers is pretty much the same guy, just with more strikeouts and more walks.  There's a lot of reason for hope among those two guys.

Bullpens


When Ken Giles was acquired this offseason, the expectation of many was that he would slide into the closer's role.  Instead, he "lost" that race to incumbent Luke Gregerson (currently on Family Emergency list), and at this point is probably not even among the top three on the depth chart.  Giles has shown a precipitous drop in his ground ball rate (and a massive spike in his home run rate), but everything else about him looks virtually identical.  Furthermore, while his April was brutal, his May we much better, and he's been unhittable thus far in June.  I'd expect him to climb back up the depth chart...although man, Will Harris has been nails so far this year.  Even without Gregerson, this is a really scary bullpen. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Last summer, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller embarked on the kind of fantasy baseball adventure that most of us can only dream about: they were appointed the baseball operations department of the Sonoma Stompers, and independent-league baseball team in California.  In contrast to a minor league affiliate, independent-league teams have to find and secure their own talent.  They do so largely by feeding off the dregs of the minor league systems: players who play in independent baseball do so because they either weren't drafted into MLB's minor league system after college, or they were signed but then were subsequently released.  And while some guys play ball simply because they enjoy the game, most of the guys available to the Stompers are playing explicitly for another chance at a career in affiliated baseball.

Even so, as the baseball operations department, this was a chance for Sam and Ben to test a lot of their ideas about baseball teams in a real world situation.  This included novel ideas about roster construction in independent leagues, using college statistics to find good ballplayers, and even, as the season went on, in-game strategy.  As the summer's data accumulated into larger datasets, Ben and Sam started to tinker with extreme fielding arrangements (shifts!  5-man infields!  4-man outfields!), unconventional reliever usage, sabermetric-minded batting orders, etc.  All of those strategies that we in the stat-head baseball blogosphere argue the big league clubs should do?  This was the chance to implement those strategies, and Sam and Ben don't waste the opportunity to do so.  The Only Rule Is It Has To Work is the tale of their efforts.

They have some wonderful successes.  But they also have their share of challenges, both on and off the field.  They soon butt heads with the manager they hire.  Other teams try to poach their players.  Some of their players underperform horrifically.  Opposing teams sign half a roster of new players.  All the while, we get to go along for the ride, living in the authors' minds.  Ben and Sam take turns writing chapters throughout the book, and so we get both of their perspectives--which are often very different--on key moments in the Stompers season.  All the while, we readers get to play armchair quarterback, thinking about what we might do in those same situations.

Nevertheless, the book manages to be more than just a recounting of a fun experiment in independent baseball.  As baseball fans will attest, the full experience of baseball brings with it a certain melancholy to accompany its triumphs.  That melancholy is revealed when playing out a doomed season, in watching aging players fail where they'd once succeeded, and in seeing hardworking players get cut through no fault of their own.  The vast majority of young men who want to become one of the 750 players on a major league active roster fail to realize that dream, and most never even come close.  This frustrating failure is the soul of the greatest baseball film of all time, Bull Durham, and it's also one of this book's unexpected successes.  We get to know the players of the 2015 Sonoma Stompers.  We celebrate their successes with child-like enthusiasm.  And we suffer through their failures, which carry a lot more weight; failure in independent ball often spells the ultimate end to players' careers.

It's that melancholy, stacked on top of the riveting tale of last summer's experiment, that brings me to this: The Only Rule Is It Has To Work is one of the best baseball books I've ever read.  Yes, I'm card-carrying stathead, and I'm a long-time Effectively Wild listener.  I've been looking forward to this book since they announced their project last summer, and even checked the Sonoma Stompers website a few times last season to check on their progress.  Yes, yes, yes, this book is right up my alley.  But even so, this is just a terrific book.  While it certainly does set itself apart from the standard baseball story with its unique premise, the book somehow still manages to encapsulate the full experience of baseball, with all of its highs, lows, and in-betweens.  Buy it and enjoy it.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a review copy from the publisher...but I had already preordered the thing, and was looking forward to reading it anyway!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

The Reds welcome the Seattle Mariners to town.  This isn't a team that I've gotten a chance to see very much, so I'm looking forward to watching the series.  From an organization standpoint, the Mariners' big news of the past year was the firing of Jack Z and the hiring of former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto.  Dipoto is known as a sabermetrically-oriented GM, and apparently clashed significantly with Angels manager Mike Scioscia, as well as owner Arte Moreno.  The Angels made a number of questionable moves during his tenure, but many of the biggest free agent signings that have proven problematic (e.g. Josh Hamilton) were apparently driven by Moreno, not by Dipoto.  

In his time with the Mariners, Dipoto has made a series of small moves to shore up a team that has long been on a seemingly stars-and-scrubs model under the former GM.  He has acquired Aoki, Lind, Iannetta, Martin, Wade Miley, Nathan Karns, Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, Joel Peralta, and more.  So far, it's working; the Mariners sit atop the AL West, with excellent performances pretty much across major team categories, with the possible exception of their fielding.  They were projected to be a competant team, but seeing them atop the West is a bit of a surprise.  With the wins they have in the bank, however, FanGraphs gives the team a 60%+ chance of making the playoffs.

Unfortunately, due to time constraints (and fatigue!), I won't be able to offer much more commentary on this team tonight.  Nevertheless, here are stats for your edification:

Probable Starters



I'm pretty happy that we get to see King Felix, even if that's unlikely to go well for the Reds.  I really wish John Lamb's velo was up where it was last year.  

Mariners Hitting


Reds Hitting


Bullpens


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians Cross-Ohio Series - Lindor, Santana, and Salazar

Francisco Lindor.  Photo by Keith Allison
Having bid adieu to the Phillies for 2016, the Reds begin a strange cross-Ohio four-game series on Monday.  They will play the first two games in Cleveland, and then drive down I-71 to conclude the series with a pair of games in Cincinnati.  It's an interesting format that makes the series seem like its own little event.  I'm a fan.

The Indians have underperformed for the last several years.  Their last playoff appearance was 2013, despite perennially receiving rave reviews in the preseasons.  This year is no different, with many projection systems picking the Indians to win, or at least be within spitting distance of the AL Central crown.  In large part, these ratings are driven by their outstanding pitching staff, which is anchored by Corey Kluber, who is backed by Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, along with a solid cast of supporting actors.  While Carrasco is currently on the shelf with a hamstring injury, their rotation, as a whole, has performed as expected so far.  The thing you'll also hear about them is how much better their fielding got in the second half last year.  Their UZR, at least, confirms this: they've been outstanding across the diamond.  In contrast, their offense has struggled a bit without Michael Brantley, and their bullpen hasn't been catching the world afire.  Nevertheless, despite the .500 record, they are still given a 62% chance at making the playoffs this year.  They're currently 5 games behind the White Sox, which, to me, look like an inferior team.

Position Players

This squad isn't quite up to full strength.  The superb Michael Brantley returned sooner than expected from injury, but compiled only 39 AB's before going back on the DL with shoulder inflammation.  They are also minus Lonnie Chisenhall, at least for the moment, who is on bereavement leave.  For the time being, however, they are running out former Red Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis, a guy that I'm honestly surprised has not yet been a Redleg given the front office's attraction to speedy outfielders.  Jose Ramirez was previously a shortstop, but has been hitting remarkably well while roaming about the outfield.  His power is entirely doubles-based, but he makes excellent contact and, for now at least, is getting plenty of hits to fall in.

This will be my first time watching Francisco Lindor.  While he might not have the power of Carlos Correa, Lindor is already in the conversation for best shortstop in the American League.  That's driven by a good, contact-based approached, and excellent fielding.  I'm a big fan of several of the Indians' other players.  Carlos Santana isn't catching much these days, but he is one of those rare players who walks as often as he strikes out--and yet still has good power that makes him a fit in the heart of the order.  The Indians often hit him leadoff, which I love.  Yan Gomes is also a favorite; he's had a miserable season at the plate so far, but in the past has shown that he can hit, and usually is rated as excellent via the framing metrics.  Mike Napoli is looking like a good pick-up.  He offers a nice dose of right-handed power in the middle of the order, and didn't cost a ton to sign.

I'm kind of surprised to see Tucker Barnhart's fielding rated as negative at this point in the season.  Baseball Prospectus's framing metric, which is the best I know of, rates him as 6th-worst in the major leagues right now at -3 runs.  He's with some good catchers on that list, though; Salvador Perez is just one spot ahead of him.  Things can change.  Nevertheless, I have noticed that Tucker's arm hasn't seemed to have a lot of zip on it at times, and he's not always as mobile as I'd hoped when blocking pitches.  Of course, his pitchers might have something to do with the number of wild pitches he's allowed.  I'm probably just expecting too much of him, but I'd really like him to be a brilliant defensive catcher.  He's in line for a lot of playing time, but hopefully he won't get over-used.  I'd like to see him get a rest in day games, for example, and that hasn't always been happening.

Joey Votto didn't have a great series against Philadelphia, but he has himself almost back up to a league-average wRC+.  His BABIP is still low, and he still looks awkward at times, but he's hitting with a lot more power now than he did earlier in the season.  I don't know what to say about Jay Bruce's ever-declining UZR, but I reject it.  He might have missed a ball or two early on, and whiffed on that double today, but he still looks at least very solid to me in right field.

Probable Starters


The Reds will face an interesting set of pitchers in this series.  Danny Salazar has been pretty awesome.  He walks a lot of batters, but he's been inducing a ton of ground balls while striking just about everyone else out.  Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin have yielded the exact same peripherals thus far, but with wildly different outcomes.  Anderson throws 94 mph, while Tomlin is a classic soft-tosser...who relies on his fastball more than any other starter in this series.  And finally, to cap off the series, we have the excellent Corey Kluber, who does everything right.

Bullpens

Cody Allen was superb last year.  This year, he's declined in velocity, and with that decline has come a drop in strikeouts and a huge increase in his walk rate.  He's been pretty shaky thus far, but is still being placed in high-leverage situations.  Bryan Shaw has also struggled.  Fortunately, the Indians have gotten decent outcomes out of the rest of their pen.  Probably the most dominant has been Joba Chamberlain, who has been superb in his first year with Cleveland.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Pittsburgh Pirates Series Preview: Polanco, Kang, and Nicasio

Gregory Polanco has a new extension, and looks like a new hitter.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Satriale, WEBN-TV

After a pair of frustrating losses to split the series with the Brewers, the Pirates come to town on Monday for a three-game series.  The Pirates had an amazing run last season, despite the quick exit from the playoffs, and did only minor remodeling in the offseason.  The biggest loss was unquestionably A.J. Burnett out of their rotation, but they shored up that spot with Jon Niese, and replaced Pedro Alvarez at first base with one of my favorite low-key signings of the offseason in John Jaso.

Despite only a tepid early-season performance from Andrew McCutchen, the Pirate offense has been spectacular thus far, and their fielding (by UZR, anyway) has been top-drawer.  But their pitching has struggled, particularly in their bullpen, and it's kept them well shy of the ridiculous pace the Cubs have established in the NL Central.  They'll have a long road to climb over the rest of the season if they're going to avoid another wild card game.  Even as-is, they have a one in three chance of making the playoffs at all.  It's early, but this is a team that will have to improve on the run-prevention side of things if they want to repeat last year's success.

With the Reds thoroughly out of it, and given my fandom of their front office, I'll be cheering for the Pirates to win this year...anytime they don't play the Reds, of course.

Position Players

Brandon Phillips had himself a monstrous series against the Brewers, and launched himself from a 75 wRC+ mid-last week to the second-best tally on the team.  I question how many more times he can go down on his back knee to successfully jerk a ball over the fence, but it was fun to see him smashing the ball around.  Adam Duvall also got himself north of the average mark thanks to a series of home runs.  He doesn't walk much, strikes out a lot, and is the most pull-oriented Reds hitter right now, but he has nevertheless been a pleasant surprise.

The Reds demoted Scott Schebler today and replaced him with another lefty-hitting outfielder in Kyle Waldrop.  I'd guess a big part of the reason was to get Schebler some PA's.  The plan coming into the season was to platoon him with Duvall in left field, but that plan quickly faded as Duvall carried his hot spring over into a full-time role.  Waldrop, prior to a miserable showing at AAA Louisville last year, had been on the prospect radar.  His performance had usually exceeded scouts' assessments of his future, and so perhaps his struggles were foretold.  This year, while his hitting line isn't particularly inspiring (0.228/0.294/0.380), it's good for a 98 wRC+.  Offense must be hard to come by in the International League thus far. Waldrop offers power potential, but not much else.  I'd expect him to be used primarily as a pinch hitter against righties.  I certainly hope he won't play anywhere but a corner.

The Pirates' offense is off to one heck of a start to the season.  Remember all the hoopla about the Royals and their contact-oriented offense last year?  The Pirates don't strike out either.  Well, Andrew McCutchen does, but he's awesome so who cares?  They have some free swingers on the squad as well in Josh Harrison and Starling Marte, but both guys have power and defensive virtues (Harrison is versatile, Marte is a center fielder playing in the Pirates' deep corner).

Jung-Ho Kang just returned from the DL after his slide-induced injury last season, but even while he was away the Pirates got a nice performance from veteran David Freese.  Now, they've got Freese's bat playing off the bench, and platooning with John Jaso at first base against lefties.  Word is that Kang will be worked back slowly, so we may still see Freese start a game at third base this week.

The decision to sign Gregory Polanco to an extension is looking pretty good in the early-goings.  While his defense and baserunning allowed him to turn in a good first season in 2015, he's been smoking hot this year as their #3 hitter.  I haven't looked at his ground-ball splits, but he also looks like a prime candidate to shift against given his pull rates.  McCutchen has been moved up to the #2-slot in the Pirates' ongoing efforts to optimize their team at the margins using a data-driven approach.  Sigh.

Probable Starters


Jon Niese seemed like a revelation pitching out of the Mets bullpen last season, but thus far he hasn't looked particularly sharp back in a starting role.  He does get ground balls, per the Pirates' philosophy, but he hasn't been able to do a lot else so far.

Juan Nicasio really looks to have turned his career around (based on the early small sample).  Coming up in the Rockies system, Nicasio wasn't a top-tier prospect, but he boasted excellent strikeout numbers and good velocity.  I've always liked him, and was happy to hear he'd won a spot in the Pirates rotation out of spring training.  He's been pitching out of his mind thus far.

Two starts in, Tim Adleman certainly is showing some warning signs.  The .185 BABIP.  The 98% LOB%.  But despite all that, his xFIP is the second-best of any Reds starter this year.  Keep doing that weird delivery, Tim.  I'll be cheering for it to keep working.

Bullpen

J.C. Ramirez is now the only Reds releiver to have a better-than-average xFIP.  xFIP doesn't know he gave up that homer, of course, but it's been good to see him striking guys out and pumping in the heat.  Looks to me like a keeper, as far as middle relievers go anyway.

The Pirates usually have an outstanding pen, but they've struggled in the early season.  Tony Watson and Arquimedes Caminero just haven't been anything like their typical selves, and Jared Hughes has barely pitched.  Neftali Feliz is another one of their reclamation projects, and looks like a smart signing thus far.  He's been dealing, and I was shocked to see that he's still just 28 years old.


Rain is in the forecast each of the next three days in Cincinnati, but the weather looks to be warm.  Take some steamy nights (for May!), two struggling pitching staffs, and an explosive Pirates offense, and you have a recipe for some high-scoring games at Great American Ballpark.  Go Reds!