Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Years' Resolutions for the Reds

Here are a few New Year's wishes and resolutions for some of our Redlegs:

Adam Dunn - Resolve to add a bit of fire to his game. Dunn's physical game isn't going to change, but it's time for Dunn to stop turning the other cheek to the absurdity of some of his critics. He should fire back from time to time, as external criticism can, at times, bring teams together.

Wayne Krivksy - Wayne should resolve to study up on the importance of efficient production to the ballclub. The cost of trading Hamilton away is much higher than just his lost production. Dealing Josh Hamilton away cost the Reds 2 compensatory draft picks and at least $15M + per season, as that's the likely cost of bringing Adam Dunn back to play leftfield instead of handing it over to Hamilton in 2009.

Dusty Baker - Dusty should resolve to change his wayward ways and rely on the wisdom that he should have gained from experience. The Reds future hinges on young pitching and young talent, so overworking young pitchers and under-utilizing young position players is a recipe for disaster.

Scott Hatteberg - Don't change a thing. Maybe teach a few of the Reds how to use your approach. In 2007, Hatteberg had the second highest percentage of pitches taken with 65.4%, trailing only the 67.2% of Barry Bonds. Force a conclusion to the AB on your terms, what a novel idea.

Brandon Phillips - "The Franchise" should resolve to be more patient. A 30/30 season requires an impressive blend of power and speed, but his lack of on base skills really hinders his value. In 2007, Phillips was hit by 12 pitches, which prevented him from having a sub .330 OBP. In 2008, it seems unlikely that he'll be hit by enough pitches to save him from a sub .330 OBP, which is almost totally unacceptable for an impact offensive player. In addition, Phillips had the 6th highest First Pitch Swing Percentage with 37.2%.

Ken Griffey Jr. - Ride out the season with class and be prepared to say goodbye at the end of the year.

Edwin Encarnacion - E.E. should resolve to play third base with Mickey Hatcher's giant glove or do whatever it takes to improve his range. He cut his throwing errors from 16 in 2006 to 8 in 2007, but the range is the big problem. His defense at third is a big liability and unless he improves his range, he should be moved to a new position.

Francisco Cordero - He should do whatever it takes to stay healthy. If he's healthy, then he's likely to be successful, but given the cost they paid, the Reds can't afford to lose him for a season or more with serious arm problems. In addition, keep racking up those Tough Saves, where he tied with David Weathers for the most in the NL with 3.

Marty and Thom Brennaman - Should resolve to stick to objective criticism, not subjective negativity. Criticize the play, not the player. Stop weighing in on player personnel moves. Dusty Baker has had problems with broadcasters before and Steve Stone wasn't as negative as the Brennaman bunch. If the Brennamans don't act like professionals, then things could get very ugly with Dusty Baker at the helm.

Drew Stubbs and Juan Francisco - Whatever you do, keep choking up on the bat!!! Improved bat control could unlock the true potential of each.

Danny Dorn - Keep on swinging!!! The Reds may need him to ride that sweet swing all the way to leftfield in Cincinnati for 2009.

Josh Ravin - Resolve to find a consistent arm slot so he can put his top of the rotation stuff to use.

Edinson Volquez - Resolve to justify the heavy price paid to acquire you. A consistent curveball would help.

Danny Ray Herrera - Resolve to be patient with an organization wary of giving "gimmick" pitchers an opportunity.

Mike Stanton - Resolve to get a few more groundballs (GB/FB in 2006 1.07, in 2007 0.86) and a bit better hit luck (BABIP: .356). He's not a top tier reliever anymore, but he wasn't as bad as hs showed in 2007.

Homer Bailey - More strikes, just throw more strikes. In 2007, his 1st pitch was a strike only 55% of the time, compared with 66% for Harang. Only 58% of his total pitches were strikes, compared to 67% for Harang.

Johnny Cueto - Resolve to make the most of the opportunity you are about to get. We need you.

Matt Belisle - Learn to pitch out of the stretch!!! Matt has "Dave Bush-itis." Both have good overall component stats, but are poor out of the stretch. In 2007, Belisle posted a line of .284/.323/.424/.748 with no runners on, but a line of .324/.361/.566/.927 with runners on base. You can't pitch in the bigs if you can't pitch with runners on base. Now is the time, Matty.

Ryan Freel - Stop running through walls. "Intelligent hustle" for 2008!!! In addition, get the stolen base percentage up, as Freel had the 3rd worst SB% at 65.2% among those with 20 SB attempts. The Reds can't afford to give up outs on the base paths.

Norris Hopper - Utilize your speed more effectively. On his career, Hopper (67%) has a worse stolen base percentage than Adam Dunn (76%). Hopper had the 4th worst SB Success Percentage in the NL at 70% among those with a minimum of 20 SB attempts. That said, Norris is very solid in base running, as he earned a +10 rating in 2007 from Bill James.

Alex Gonzalez - Try to maintain the high level of performance you established in 2007. Despite the surprising disappointment of some fans, the .793 OPS you posted was easily a career best.

Jeff Keppinger - Just keep lashing those line drives (2007 LD% 21.3%) and the rest will fall into place.

Todd Coffey - A return to sanity and statistical norms. A pitcher with a 3.4 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, and a 1.96 GB/FB ratio can't post a 5.82 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. It's just not possible, right? Well, the .356 BABIP certainly didn't help. Maybe the renewed commitment to fitness and the lost weight over the off-season will get you back on track.

Bronson Arroyo - Keep holding those baserunners on. Arroyo had the 2nd best Stolen Base Percentage Allowed in MLB at 33.3%, trailing only Jon Garland (25.0%) among pitchers who worked at least 162 innings.

Reds Team - Better defense, across the board. A better defense would help every aspect of the team, reducing the runs allowed by reducing workload on pitchers, and increasing the value of their runs scored. Better team defense is a big key to unlocking the Reds potential.

If a few of these resolutions are carried out, then it'll be a much brighter 2008 for Reds and Reds fans alike. Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!!!!!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

All Undervalued Team: Kevin Correia, RHS


Kevin Correia went to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo before the Giants selected him with the 127th overall pick in the 4th round of the 2002 entry draft. Correia became the first player from that draft class to reach the majors when he made his debut in July of 2003.

He's 6'3", 202 lbs, bats right, and throws right. He has good size for a pitcher and he'll be 27 during the 2008 season.

REPERTOIRE

Correia features a low 90s fastball, a good circle change, and an average slider. However, what sets Correia apart is the movement he gets on his pitches, which can make his pitches truly electric. Former Giant Mike Matheny, highly regarded for his defensive prowess, once said that his hand would get bruised from catching Kevin Correia. Correia's pitches had so much movement on them that Matheny was not able to center the pitch in his catcher's mitt. If a catcher the caliber of Matheny has difficulty catching the pitch, how difficult must it be to hit?

However, while the movement on his pitches has been his biggest weapon, it has also been his biggest detriment. Correia has struggled to consistently throw strikes, due in large part to the movement he gets on his pitches. However, over the past couple of seasons, he has been able to control the movement of his pitchers better, so his command in the zone is improved.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

In part because of his control problems and in part because the Giants are an oddly run organization, Correia has been bounced around more than is healthy during his professional career. He has spent time in the minors every season from 2002-2005, has been called up and sent down multiple times during those seasons, and has been gone from the rotation to bullpen and back again several times over. At this point, the Giants would be wise to put him in the rotation and leave him there.

In each of the past two years, Correia has pushed his K/BB ratio up to or over 2.00. He spent all of 2006 in the bullpen and spent the first half of 2007 working in relief as well, but he was put back in the rotation in the second half due to the trade of Matt Morris and the team's decision to shutdown Tim Lincecum.

Once in the rotation, Correia made 8 starts in which he posted a 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and a 34/13 K/BB ratio in 46.0 innings. In total, Correia posted a 3.45 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, and 7.1 K/9 in 2007. If his 8 starts are any indication, he seems to be ready to take a step forward. In addition, it seems clear that he has made real strides in improving his control, as evidenced by the following:



Key
Strike%: Percentage of Pitches that are Strikes
1st%: Percentage of 1st Pitches that are Strikes
BB/9: Walks per 9 Innings Pitched
K/9: Strikeouts per 9 Innings Pitched


Overall, it seems clear that Correia has improved his control and command, which is the big key to unlocking his potential. If that's the case, then he could be a true sleeper for 2008.

FUTURE

While I desperately want the Reds to acquire Kevin Correia, it appears that he'll remain with the Gigantes. Hopefully, he'll be given the 5th starter slot, behind Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Noah Lowry. If his improved command is for real, then there's no reason why Correia can't have a breakout 2008 season. I actually think he's a better bet for both 2008 and the future than the recently acquired Edinson Volquez, but only time will tell.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Prospect List: #22 Sam LeCure, RHP

Sam LeCure was an intriguing selection by the Reds and one of the first signs that the Reds may be turning the corner in their player development efforts.

LeCure was one of the top starters for the University of Texas, but he had to sit out the 2005 season because he was academically ineligible. The Reds were shrewd enough to nab him with the 122 pick in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, rolling the dice on a pitcher that flew under the radar of most teams. It was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that the Reds rarely exhibited up to that point.

Ultimately, LeCure may not pan out, but his selection may have been a turning point in the Reds player development efforts. They grabbed Homer Bailey in the 1st round in 2004 and Jay Bruce in 2005, but the LeCure selection represented a new way of doing business.

REPERTOIRE

LeCure is 6'1", 190 lbs, bats right, and throws right. He features a 90-91 mph fastball, which can touch 93 at times, an average slider, and an average changeup. None of the three offerings are a plus pitch, but LeCure has a good feel for pitching and commands his pitches well. He can paint both corners of the plate with his fastball and bust hitters inside despite his limited velocity. He can pound the strikezone with all three pitches, which enables him to limit the number of baserunners who reach via the free pass. LeCure understands how to pitch and gets the most out of his average stuff, but ultimately his upside is limited.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

LeCure debuted in 2005 in the rookie league with the Billings Mustangs. He posted a 3.27 ERA with a 1.40 WHIP and a 44/15 K/BB ratio in 41.1 innings. He had a 3.3 BB/9 and a 9.6 K/9.

The Reds had enough faith in him to start him out in high-A Sarasota to start the 2006 season, bypassing low-A ball altogether. LeCure rewarded their confidence by posting a 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 115/46 K/BB ratio in 142 innings. He had a 2.9 BB/9 and a 7.3 K/9.

In 2007, LeCure spent the vast majority of the time at double-A ball, where he struggled a bit, but still had surprisingly effective numbers. LeCure posted a 4.17 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 104/46 K/BB ratio in 110 innings pitched. He had a 3.8 BB/9 and a 8.5 K/9, which was rather surprising as his strikeout rate improved against more advanced competition. Unfortunately, LeCure was limited to only 110 innings by a strained oblique muscle, but he subsequently worked a few innings in the Arizona Fall League, so it clearly isn't of long-term concern.

The double-A jump is the toughest to make, so LeCure's performance was encouraging. His strikeout rate is surprising and impressive, given his lack of a single plus pitch. In addition, he suffered from poor hit luck with a .347 BABIP at Chattanooga, which didn't help his cause. It'll be interesting to see if he can maintain his impressive walk and strikeout rates against advanced competition, as they are more than good enough to allow him to achieve consistent success.

PITCHING MECHANICS

LeCure has free and easy mechanics and throws with little effort, which should enable him to stay fairly healthy. He maintains good tempo and balance throughout his delivery, which is surprisingly simple. It starts with a small step back and brings his hands only up to his belt, which is even lower than most. His leg kick is bit past parallel to the ground, but LeCure doesn't wrap his "Glove Side (GS)" leg around his body. Accordingly, he doesn't coil his body to generate and store energy, so there isn't any energy to unleash in his delivery to generate velocity. The differential between hip and shoulder rotation is what generates the power in the delivery and LeCure generates very little.

Given his upright posture and the lack of hip rotation to store energy, LeCure doesn't use his legs much in his delivery. He seems to fall off the mound, rather than drive off the rubber with his legs. There is no wasted movement in LeCure's motion, which is the picture of efficiency, but unfortunately there is very little power generated by his motion. However, since he uses very little leg drive, his delivery may end up putting some additional stress on his arm. Ideally, a pitcher will "throw with his whole body" to alleviate some stress on the arm, but given that LeCure has clean mechanics and is more finesse than power, he likely won't have significant injury problems.

Overall, his delivery is repeatable and controlled, which gives him good command and control of his pitches. In addition, his balance and body control also results in him being in good fielding position at the end of his delivery.

Here's LeCure in action:



Thanks to "farmsystem" on YouTube, who posted this video clip.

FUTURE

LeCure is the type of pitcher I typically favor, one who has a great degree of "pitchability" and an understanding of how to pitch. I prefer "pitchers" to "throwers." Ideally, however, the pitcher has top flight stuff to go with his pitching IQ. Unfortunately, LeCure lacks any plus pitches to go with his feel for pitching, so his upside is rather limited. In addition, his frame and build lacks projection, so what the Reds see is what the Reds get with LeCure.

Time will tell whether LeCure will be able to wring enough out of his limited arsenal to be effective against MLB competition, but he may be able to scratch out a few years at the back end of an MLB rotation.

I'll be rooting for him, but for now Sam LeCure clocks in at #22 on the list.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Top Prospect List: #21 Carlos Fisher, RHP


Carlos Fisher is a prospect who rarely gets much publicity, but he has quietly been very effective in the professional ranks. He would be ranked much more highly if the Reds farm system wasn't in such good shape, but quality drafting and revitalized international scouting are really beginning to pay dividends for the organization.

The Reds drafted Fisher out of Lewis & Clark with the 332 overall pick in the 11th round of the 2005 draft. Lewis & Clark isn't generally recognized as a top baseball school, but it is rapidly becoming one of the best programs in the nation, despite its Division II status.

Fisher started out as an outfielder at the collegiate level, but struggled at the plate, so he was turned into a pitcher. He's got all the tools to be an effective pitcher, but at 24 is still a bit behind the development curve due to his lack of experience on the mound.

REPERTOIRE

Fisher features a 91-93 mph two seam fastball with heavy sink, a cut fastball, a hard slider, and a changeup. However, his best pitch is his sinking fastball, as it generates a lot of groundballs, which is his biggest asset.

Between two minor league levels in 2007, he had a combined 1.72 GB/FB ratio. The Reds have long been in need of ground ball pitchers and Fisher fits that profile well. In addition, Fisher is a fierce competitor, which aids him in his transition from position player to pitcher. Unfortunately, a player's character/makeup often seems to be overlooked or at least undervalued, as scouts grade his tools and analyze his statistics, but it can make the difference between a good career and no career at all.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

Despite his limited time as a pitcher, Fisher has had good success at each stop in the minors. He doesn't have a lot of projection in him, but he could still improve as he fills out and gains more experience.

Billings

In 2005, after he signed, the Reds started him out in Billings at the Rookie League level, where Fisher posted a 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and a 45/19 K/BB ratio in 53.2 innings. His ERA and WHIP weren't overly impressive, but his K/BB ratio was a good indicator of future success.

Dayton

In 2006, Fisher started out at low-A Dayton, where he built on his solid debut. He posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 122/38 K/BB ratio in 150.0 innings. At one point, he worked 22.2 consecutive scoreless innings, which earned him Midwest League Pitcher of the Week honors. He was also named the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August, when he posted a 1.73 ERA and a 33/4 K/BB ratio.

On the year, he made 27 starts and allowed 2 or fewer runs in 19 of those starts. All in all, Fisher had a stellar season, which solidified his prospect status and made him one to watch.

Sarasota

In 2007, Fisher was promoted to high-A Sarasota, which again proved to be no challenge. In 41.0 innings, Fisher posted a 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, a 41/7 K/BB ratio, and a 2.15 GB/FB ratio. That level of dominance earned him a quick promotion to double-A ball, which is typically the most challenging jump in the minors.

Chattanooga

At Chattanooga, Fisher finally found a level of competition that managed to slow him down, however he still managed to hold his own. In 113.1 innings, Fisher posted a 4.29 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, a 1.59 GB/FB ratio, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio. Not the same level of dominance, but a respectable showing.

Against the more advanced competition, Fisher saw his walk rate rise (1.5 to 3.3) and his strikeout rate fall (9 to 7.5). In addition, he suffered from some poor hit luck, as he had a .350 BABIP.

Overall, his numbers weren't eye popping at double A, but there is still much to like. He maintained strong groundball tendencies and posted solid walk and strikeout rates. If he returns to double A to start 2008, which seems likely, then he will likely improve on these numbers. If he can do that, then he's a serious prospect and not merely depth for the system.

PITCHING MECHANICS

Fisher has a strong, athletic build which he uses to his advantage. He's 6'4" and 220 lbs. In addition, he utilizes an over the top arm slot, which allows him to maximize his ability to throw on a downward plane. His height and high arm slot really allows him to throw the ball downhill.

Fisher has fairly clean mechanics, which should help him reduce his injury risk. He has good tempo and balance throughout and utilizes clean arm action.

Like most pitchers in the modern game, he takes a small step to start his motion and brings his hands only to his chest, not over his head as used to be the norm. The only unusual aspect to Fisher's mechanics involves his stride.

He uses a strong, high leg kick and maintains his balance over his "Pitching Arm Side (PAS)" leg. Fisher brings his "Glove Side (GS)" leg up slightly past parallel with the ground at its apex, but when he brings his leg down to begin his stride towards home plate, Fisher actually has a slight hesitation in his motion. As his GS leg descends from the leg kick, his GS foot actually twitches back towards his PAS shin, which creates a slight hesitation before his body drives toward the plate.

The hesitation works as a timing mechanism, though it's not one that he seems to need. His pitching arm doesn't lag behind his body, so he doesn't need to slow his motion down to allow his arm to catch up. Whatever the reason for it, the hesitation is part of his motion that he uses to gather his momentum and increase his load before he drives to the plate. At the very least, the hesitation indicates good body control throughout the motion, which is important.

The hesitation actually has a bit of the same feel, though much less extreme, of the Japanese pitching windup, which often involves a slight pause. Ultimately, it may work to his advantage, as it may help upset the time of the hitter the first few times he faces them. And, as the great Warren Spahn said, "hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting that timing."

Another positive for Fisher is that he has a long stride, which when coupled with his height, means that he releases the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers. The closer the release point to the plate, the less distance the ball has to travel and less time it takes to get to the plate, which helps his fastball velocity play up a tick.

Fisher's good tempo and balance allows him to finish in good fielding position and his athleticism allows him to be quick off the mound. Given his good finishing position and natural athleticism, he should field his position very well.

You can access the MLB draft scouting video for Fisher here.

FUTURE

The 2008 season will reveal a lot about Fisher, who will turn 25 in February. Fisher strikes me as future reliever, where his control and groundball tendencies would be of value. However, it's still to early to count Fisher out as a starter. If he can build on his level of performance at double-A in 2008, then he could have a career as a back of the rotation starter.

Fisher's solid performance lands him at #21 on the list, but that speaks more to the quality and depth of the Reds farm system than his abilities. Fisher's lack of top notch stuff means that he's unlikely to ever be a dominant pitcher, but he could find a niche at the MLB level.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The End of the Hamilton Era


Well, Krivsky has done it again. He has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Personally, I'm very high on Josh Hamilton and his future in Major League Baseball, but regardless it's difficult to justify this trade for the Cincinnati Reds.

ORGANIZATIONAL DIRECTION

To me, there are only two rationales for trading Josh Hamilton.

1) The Reds want to make a big push for the pennant in 2008, so they trade away Hamilton to get an impact starting pitcher who could make the difference in 2008.

or

2) The Reds were very concerned about Hamilton's injury and relapse risk, so they trade him away to reduce their risk for the future.

Unfortunately, the deal doesn't seem to fall under either category.

If the Reds were relying on the first rationale, then you would expect the return on a Hamilton trade to include Erik Bedard or Dan Haren. Unless Edinson Volquez can step in and perform like Francisco Liriano did as a rookie, which is more than a little improbable, then he's unlikely to help much at all in 2008.

In addition, it's difficult to justify the trade by using the second rationale. If the Reds were afraid of Hamilton's risk of relapse or his ability to stay healthy, then it would be expected that the return on the trade would include an established player or a less risky prospect. However, that doesn't seem to be the case either.

Josh Hamilton certainly does come with some risk, but that risk does not include performance risk. His performance in 2007 removed all doubt about his ability to be an impact player at the big league level. So, his risk is only one of injury and relapse.

Edinson Volquez has never proved that he can perform at the big league level, despite several stints in the majors. He currently possesses a career ERA of 7.20 in 80.0 big league innings over three seasons. It's clear that there is definite performance risk with Volquez. In addition, as a pitching prospect, he brings inherent risk of injury.

Given that the risk of Volquez is both injury and performance, it's difficult to argue that the Reds have reduced their risk by trading away Hamilton. So, if the Reds didn't make the deal to improve their chances for the short run and didn't reduce the injury risk for that spot on the roster, then why was the deal made???

The only other consideration that comes to mind is that Jay Bruce is currently blocked by Ken Griffey Jr. However, it hardly seems logical to compound this problem by dealing away a player as sublimely talented as Hamilton, especially when both Griffey and Dunn are free agents after the season. There would have been room for both Hamilton and Bruce in the 2009 outfield and for years to come.

This deal is hard to take from both a baseball perspective and a fan perspective.

BASEBALL PERSPECTIVE

It's mind boggling that the Reds were willing to give up on Josh Hamilton, especially for a return that included Edinson Volquez and Daniel Herrera. Given his overall skill-set, an MVP or two could conceivably be in Hamilton's future, so this return seems like selling low.

Josh Hamilton

In 2007, Hamilton posted a line of .292/.368/.554/.922 with 19 homeruns and a 65/33 K/BB ratio in 337 plate appearances. That's remarkable performance from a rookie, especially one was has played little over the past 5 seasons and is engaged in a never ending battle with addiction. Hamilton performed at this level, despite logging only 261 professional ABs between 2002 and 2006.

His performance becomes even more impressive when you look at some of his sabermetric stats. He posted a secondary average of .372, a GPA of .287, and a Line Drive % of 21.7, all of which are very impressive for any player and especially so for a rookie with Hamilton's background. In addition, Hamilton fared very well under Bill James' Win Shares system.

In 2007, Hamilton (13) was 6th on the Reds in Win Shares, which was behind Dunn (21), Phillips (18), Harang (17), Encarnacion (17), and Griffey Jr. (16).

However, Win Shares is not prorated for playing time. Accordingly, the more you play, the more opportunity you have to accumulate Win Shares. The Hardball Times has created a stat that prorates Win Shares for playing time, which they call Win Share Percent (WSP). Here's the definition of WSP:
Win Shares Percent, a Win Shares "rate stat" -- a measure of the player's contribution, given his playing time. The math is WS/(2*ExpWS). Expected Win Shares are the number of Win Shares an average player contributed, given that particular player's time at bat, on the mound or in the field.

WSP provides a glimpse of Hamilton's true level of performance. In 2007, Hamilton had a .696 WSP, which ranked him first among all Reds position players who had at least 100 Plate Appearances. He led Keppinger (.640), Dunn (.619), Encarnacion (.562), Hatteberg (.492), Phillips (.480), Griffey Jr. (.480), Norris Hopper (.441), and Alex Gonzalez (.439).

Of course, injuries are of concern, but given the circumstances under which he played in 2007, it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that another year away from drug addiction and another offseason to prepare his body for the grind of Major League baseball will result in improved health. Regardless, one season is far too small of a sample size to definitively label a player "injury prone." It's difficult to justify giving up a player with Hamilton's upside after one season in which he was injured.

When he played, Hamilton played at the highest level of any position player on the Reds and it's not a trend that is likely to change. Baseball guru Bill James projected Hamilton to post a 2008 line of .305/.382/.598/.979 with 31 homers for the Reds. As mentioned above, that comes with the same fear of injury, which is why James projected Hamilton to play only 115 games. Of course, that's a season's worth of production in only 115 games and if he stays healthy, then he could have an MVP caliber season.

Edinson Volquez

Edinson Volquez was part of the overhyped "DVD" trio of Ranger pitching prospects. Volquez joined John Danks and Thomas Diamond as the cream of the Ranger farm system. Unfortunately for the Rangers, none of the three lived up to his reputation.

Danks was traded to the White Sox in the Brandon McCarthy trade, Diamond underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2007, and now Volquez has been dealt away.

Volquez features a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a plus change-up in the mid-70s. Unfortunately, he has never had a consistent breaking ball. He has always been lauded for his makeup and work ethic, but struggles at the MLB level have raised questions about his ability to make adjustments.

I've always liked pitchers who feature a top notch change-up, as it is truly a "pitcher's pitch." It's a pitch that requires good feel and understanding of how to pitch in order to use it effectively. If a pitcher features a good change-up, then you know he isn't just a thrower. So, Volquez is more than just a thrower, but he'll have to develop a breaking ball to be an effective starting pitcher in the majors.

It'll be interesting to see if he can find success at the MLB level, but he may ultimately prove to be an example of a plus fastball dominating minor league competition, but not being enough to over match the more advanced MLB hitters. Volquez's future will hinge on his ability to refine his curveball. If he can't, then he'll likely be headed to the bullpen in the future.

Danny Ray Herrera

Herrrera is one of the most unique, intriguing prospects in baseball. However, that may not be such a good thing. Herrera is a left-handed pitcher who is listed at 5"7' and 145 pounds, but even that is likely generous. He was drafted out of the University of New Mexico in the 45th round. He had tremendous success at New Mexico, despite working in one of most hitter friendly parks in college baseball.

However, Herrera features a fastball that sits in the 80-82 mph range and tops out at 84. He also features a changeup that he throws at 55-60 mph with screwball like action and a late breaking slider.

Herrera relies heavily on his change-up, which has good sink, enabling him to rack up groundballs at a healthy clip. Heavy groundball tendencies is an attribute that should serve him well in GABP.

Herrara had the best control in the Ranger system, but questions remain over whether his success was the result of a gimmick pitch which would be ineffective against MLB hitting. He seems oddly similar analogous to Carlos Guevara, the screwball pitcher that the Reds refused to ever give an opportunity at the MLB level, which makes his inclusion in the deal all the more puzzling.

Given the volatility of Volquez, I could see Herrara having the more successful career of the two pitchers. However, if that's the case, then this deal will be monumentally bad for the Reds, as Herrara's upside is limited and they need Volquez to be successful in order to justify dealing away Hamilton.

FAN PERSPECTIVE

Oddly enough, as inconceivable as I find this deal from an analytical point of view, I find the deal even more disturbing as a fan. Sadly, the Reds exhibited a complete lack of loyalty in making this deal. After years of watching baseball and long ago reaching that age where it's understood that baseball is a business, I really shouldn't have expected any loyalty. Still, the pure fan part of me is disappointed, as it seems like the Reds had a duty to stick with Hamilton.

The Reds plucked him out of relative obscurity, where he was chopping down trees for extra money. They brought him to the majors, gave him the support system he needed to succeed, and exposed him and his history to the white hot spotlight.

In spite of the long odds, Hamilton not only survived, he thrived. At that point, to me, he became inextricably linked to the Reds. He was a symbol of a possible resurgence in Cincinnati baseball. Hamilton not only resurrected his own life and career, but it seemed like the Reds might be able to revive their fortunes as well. If Hamilton could conquers his terrible demons, then the Reds could certainly conquer their own futility. In many respects, Hamilton had become the face of the organization.

The acquisition of Hamilton earned the Reds respect from media and fans across the nation. The organization was actually being lauded by everyone around baseball for an intelligent, unforeseen move. As odd as it sounds, it's been a long time since the Reds put one over on the competition and were accorded that level of respect. They stole Brandon Phillips, but Hamilton was different. The Reds pulled him out of nowhere. It was an inspired player personnel move and a great story, one that made the Reds the envy of baseball fans across the country.

However, almost before the ink is dry on the articles, the ride is over for the Reds. Hamilton moves on to Texas to write the next chapter of his amazing story and the Reds are left with another potential middle of the rotation starter and a relief pitcher who may not ever be given the opportunity to pitch in the majors.

Somehow, as fan, it's hard not to feel truly cheated by this deal, which somehow manages to wound the heart and bewilder the head at the same time.

So long, Josh, we hardly knew ya.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Top Prospect List: #20, Sean Watson, RHP


Sean Watson is yet another intriguing prospect who could end up in the Cincinnati bullpen sooner rather than later. The Reds are finally on the brink of developing relievers, which they have struggled to do in the past. However, Josh Roenicke, Pedro Viola, Tyler Pelland, and Sean Watson could all be ready to contribute in the near future.

Watson is 6'2" tall, 215 lbs, bats right, throws right, and will be 22/23 years old during the 2008 season.

AMATEUR CAREER AND DRAFT SLOT

Watson attended the University of Tennessee and pitched for three seasons before the Reds nabbed him with the 52nd overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft.

Watson began his collegiate career as a starter and posted a 4.54 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 51/47 K/BB ratio in 75.1 innings pitched. He was shifted to the bullpen in his sophomore season, where he emerged as the closer. He posted a 2.85 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 82/47 K/BB ratio in 79 innings. The switch from starter to reliever saw his K/9 rate jump from 6.1 to 9.3.

His success as a sophomore made the switch to the bullpen permanent, as enjoyed a full season as a closer in his junior season. He posted a 4.61 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 47/14 K/BB ratio in 41.0 innings pitched.

Watson joins Todd Helton as the only two Volunteers to post 10+ saves in a season.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

2006

Billings
The Reds started Watson out at Rookie League Billings, where he worked both as a starter and in relief and made quick work of the less advanced competition. He posted a 1.52 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 19/5 K/BB ratio in 23.2 innings. That's impressive, but it's almost to be expected from a college pitcher, as he was essentially facing a lower level of competition than he regularly faced at the collegiate level.

Dayton
That performance earned him a quick promotion to low-A Dayton, where he worked exclusively out of the bullpen, but had a bit more difficulty. He posted an 8.59 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, 16/5 K/BB ratio in 14.2 innings. His strikeout rate actually improved at Dayton (7.3 up to 9.8), but he also gave up two homeruns. He wasn't as bad as his 8.59 ERA indicates, as he suffered from poor "hit luck" (.435 BABIP). As a result, he had a FIP of 4.34, which is more in line with his performance level. Still, that's not the kind of note on which Watson wanted to end his 2006 season.

2007

In 2007, the Reds converted Watson to a starting pitcher. Regardless of whether the Reds view Watson as a potential starter, this is a wise decision. Most organizations select the cream of the crop from their pitching prospects and slot them all in as starting pitchers, regardless of role that they ultimately project to fill. This allows the pitcher to get consistent work and throw a lot of innings. However, one of the main advantages to this philosophy is that as a starter, the prospect gets regular work between starts as well.

Prospects working as a relievers do not get the benefit of throwing regular side sessions under the watchful eye of the pitching coach. Starters can consistently work on their pitches or their mechanics between starts, which can really increase the speed of their development. Ultimately, working as a starter in the minors is the best way to develop pitching prospects.

Dayton
Watson returned to low-A Dayton, where he had tremendous success as a starter. He posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 85/13 K/BB ratio in 13 starts over 71.2 innings. He racked up more groundballs than flyballs (GB/FB: 0.88). He wasn't quite that good, as his FIP was only 2.94, but that was still very impressive and he was promoted up to high-A Sarasota.

Sarasota
At Sarastoa, Watson struggled. He posted a 5.43 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a 50/21 K/BB ratio in 54.2 innings. In addition, he gave up more flyballs than groundballs (GB/FB: 0.88). He started ten games and worked out of the bullpen in four others. He posted a FIP of 4.83, so he wasn't great, especially as a college prospect against high-A competition.

PITCHING REPERTOIRE AND MECHANICS

Watson is a big guy with a thick body type, which is the typical power pitcher build. Conventional wisdom holds that this body type reduces arm injuries. He works from a high three-quarter arm slot, rather than strictly over the top.

Watson features two potentially plus pitches. He has a 92-93 mph fastball that can touch 95 and an 83-85 mph knuckle-curve that's a swing and miss pitch. The curveball has hard, two plane break to it and is a true out pitch. These two pitches give Watson the arsenal he would need to be a successful reliever, but he's been working on a changeup since he's been in the rotation.

Watson has a lot of effort to his delivery. Oddly enough, his pitching motion involves a 180 degree rotation from start to finish. From the set position, his body is facing third base and his left hip and shoulder are pointing at home plate. When he finishes his delivery, he has actually rotated 180 degrees, so his body faces first base and his right hip and shoulder are pointing at home plate.

Watson takes a long stride, but never gets his weight out over his "Glove-Side(GS)" leg. In fact, he throws against a stiff GS leg. Since he doesn't get his weight out over his GS leg, his momentum spins him off the rubber to the first base side. His "Pitching-Arm Side (PAS)" leg never lands next to his GS leg, but rather his follow-through finishes with him taking a big step with his PAS leg towards first base. His follow through leaves him in very poor fielding position.

To accomplish this, his body rotates so that his PAS leg can come all the way around, cross over his plant foot, and land on the first base side of his GS leg. As a result, he ends up facing first base with his right hip and shoulder pointing towards home plate. In fact, if one were to look only at the first and last frame of his delivery, then one would think that he simply turned around 180 degrees and then took a long stride toward first base with his right leg.

It's not hard to see that this high effort and spinning out delivery creates inconsistent mechanics. His balance and body control are not good throughout the delivery, which makes a repeatable delivery difficult. If a pitcher cannot consistently repeat his delivery, then he'll have difficulty with his control or command. It seems to be the latter with Watson, as he can throw strikes, but occasionally has problems locating them within the strikezone.

His mechanics and high effort delivery seem to make him a logical fit in the bullpen, where his workload will not be as taxing and his injury risk will likely be reduced.

You can access Sean Watson's MLB scouting draft video here.

FUTURE

The Reds have put Watson in the rotation, but his long-term future is still in the bullpen. Being used as a starter allows him to get consistent work and a lot of innings, but he profiles better as a late inning reliever.

However, the looseness and effort in his delivery are cause for concern. He took a step backward in 2007, but his work as a starter isn't necessarily indicative of what he can do as a reliever. He'll likely return to high-A Sarasota to start 2008, but with a good start he could get bumped up to Chattanooga quickly. The jump to double-A is typically the most difficult in professional baseball, so it will be a real test for Watson.

Ultimately, he could develop into an asset in the Cincinnati bullpen or simply flame out at the lower levels. On the high side, I wouldn't expect him to develop into more than a middle reliever, which would limit the potential impact he could have at the MLB level.

But, as in all things, only time will tell. At the very least, Watson adds some nice depth to the system.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Top Prospect List: #19 Brandon Waring, 3b


Brandon Waring is a prime example of the Reds improving farm system. He's another second tier prospect that adds substantial depth to the farm system. However, Waring ultimately may have the offensive skill-set to become much more than an afterthought, he just needs to keep developing his game.

Waring will be 22 heading into the 2008 season, he's 6'4", weighs 195 lbs, bats right, and throws right.

AMATEUR CAREER AND DRAFT SLOT

Waring attended Wofford College, where he played shortstop, displayed tremendous power, and a solid overall offensive game. In 2007, Waring hit 27 homeruns, which earned ranked him 2nd in the country in Division I baseball, behind only Kyle Russell's 28 for University of Texas. In addition, Waring hit .401 with a .682 SLG% in 2007. For his college career, Waring hit .331 with 41 homeruns, a .682 SLG%, and a 143/70 K/BB ratio.

That was enough for the Reds to select him as a college junior with the 229th overall pick in 7th round of the 2007 amateur draft.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

The Reds sent Waring to the Pioneer League, where he played third base and excelled offensively for the Billings Mustangs. In 267 At Bats, Waring posted a line of .311/.369/.614/.984 with 20 homeruns.

That performance made him a three time winner of the Pioneer League Player of the Week and a one time winner of the Pioneer League Player of the Month.

While his offensive performance was impressive, there a few issues that should temper expectations. Waring spent three years playing Division I baseball, so he should excel in the Pioneer League. In addition, despite his impressive performance, Waring posted an uninspiring 83/21 K/BB ratio. That's very disturbing, as it works out to one strikeout every 3.2 ABs and an IsoOBP of only .058. In fact, he struck out in an alarming 28.0% of his plate appearances and walked in 7.4% of his plate appearances.

A college player shouldn't be so susceptible to the strikeout at the rookie league level of play, where the pitchers are still raw and unpolished. In addition, a late count hitter should have a better walk rate, which would make his strikeout rate much more acceptable. However, a high strikeout rate coupled with a low walk rate is definitely a big cause for concern.

It's hard to imagine that Waring's susceptibility to the strikeout won't be heavily exploited by more advanced competition. Waring joins Jay Bruce and Juan Francisco as having the most power in the system, but his strikeout rate is a definite reason for concern and he'll have to improve his contact rate if he's to be successful at higher levels.

OFFENSE

Waring's value comes from his offense, so he'll go as far as his bat can take him.

Waring has a quiet stance without a lot of extra motion. He takes a wider than shoulder width stance with a high back elbow. He hits out of a slight crouch that gets a bit lower as the pitch is delivered and takes a decent length stride. His high back elbow, wide spread stance, and slight crouch gives his setup a slight Jeff Bagwell feel, though less extreme.

As for his swing, Waring has a clean, flowing swing. However, it's a swing that can get long, which makes him vulnerable to good pitching. Longer swings often result in larger holes in the swing, which can easily be exploited by more advanced competition. However, Waring has good hip rotation and a smooth, uncomplicated swing, which gives him good power. Waring's height means that he has longer arms, which means that pitchers may be able to tie him up inside.

While his strikeout rate is something that Waring may be able to improve upon, it also may simply be a consequence of his size. If that's the case, then Waring won't likely make much improvement, which is yet another reason for concern.

Taller players are often susceptible to strikeouts, as they have longer swings with more holes and bigger strikezones. Taller players have longer arms and longer bats, which can take longer to get into good hitting position in the zone. It's difficult to think of a tall player who had a consistently high contact rate and a good batting average through his MLB career. Tony Clark (6'7"), Adam Dunn (6'6"), Richie Sexson (6'8"), and Dave Kingman (6'6") type careers seem to be much more the norm for taller ballplayers.

You can access the MLB draft scouting video for Brandon Waring here.

DEFENSE

Waring is a big man and it shows in his footwork. He lacks quickness and agility. With infield defense (especially at the hot corner), the battle is largely won or lost by the initial reaction. The first step either puts you in good position or a poor position from which recovery is unlikely. Accordingly, good instincts and reading the ball well off the bat are of the utmost import.

Waring has slow feet and lacks first step quickness, which is why the Reds immediately moved him to third base. In addition, he seems unsteady on ground balls, occasionally coming up too soon or letting the ball play him. Overall, Waring seems to lack confidence with the glove.

As for his arm, Waring utilizes an unconventional throwing motion, as he short-arms the ball like a catcher. In addition, he throws from a low three-quarter arm slot, which doesn't help his arm strength or accuracy, neither of which is very impressive.

Given the depth of the Reds system at the hot corner, Waring seems a poor bet to stay there. However, his arm would seem to preclude a move to the outfield, so first base seems to be his likely destination.

FUTURE

Waring is an interesting prospect, but he's got a long way to go. The 2008 season will reveal much about him, as he'll face much more advanced competition that's more capable of exploiting weaknesses. Ultimately, he seems destined to be a first baseman, but his bat is what will dictate his career path. However, his plate discipline, walk rate, and contact rate all need improvement and he seems likely to take a step backward in 2008, when he'll likely start out with the Dayton Dragons.

Whether he'll be able to improve on his walk or strikeout rates remains to be seen, but in years past he would've been ranked much higher, so his #19 ranking is a real testament to the improved talent and depth of the Reds' farm system.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"The Signing": Francisco Cordero


I've been avoiding writing about the Francisco Cordero signing, but clearly it's the 800 lb elephant in the room, so it's time to tackle it. I've been avoiding it because I am of two minds on the signing.

The Reds signed Cordero to a four year contract worth $46M. Cordero gets $8.5M in 2008, $12M in 2009, $12M in 2010, and $12M in 2011. In addition, the Reds negotiated for a team option for the 2012 season at $12M, which also comes with a $1M buyout.

PROS

1) It's obvious that the Reds could not afford to have another season ruined by an inept bullpen. The fans would not tolerate it and Krivsky's career might not survive it. Accordingly, Krivsky once again identified the problem, targeted the solution, and moved quickly to sign Cordero. It's the same M.O. that he demonstrated with the Alex Gonzalez signing.

In 2006, The Reds were undone by the bullpen, as the lack of a reliable closer cost them countless games. That problem was only resolved by the arrival of Eddie Guardado, who provided a stabilizing influence in the 9th inning.

In 2007, the Reds were once again undone by the bullpen, but this time the problem wasn't the closer, but rather the 8th inning. The Reds had no reliable option to get the ball to David Weathers, who performed admirably as the closer. The emergence of Jared Burton late in the season helped offset the problem, but countless games were once again lost by the flawed bullpen.

In 2008, the arrival of Francisco Cordero will bump everyone up a role. Cordero will work the 9th, Weathers/Burton will move up to handle the 8th, and everyone else will be relegated to 7th inning work.

2) Francisco Cordero was tremendous in 2007. It's hard to see it any other way, as Cordero posted an impressive 2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, and 12.22 K/9. In addition, Cordero's peripherals support his level of performance, as he posted a FIP of 2.19 and a BABIP of .324. Cordero was actually that good in 2007.

3) The Reds signing Cordero weakens the Brewers. By signing away their dominant closer, the Reds weakened the Brewers and forced them to sign Eric Gagne for $10M. The allegations of Gagne's steroid use only increase the risk for the Brewers.

CONS

The "only" true con to the contract is that it completely flies in the face of every sound small-market organization principles.

General Rules for Smaller Market Organizations

1) In order to compete with organizations with larger revenue streams, a smaller market organization must get more production per dollar spent than the larger revenue organizations. If the Reds get the same amount of production per dollar spent as larger market organizations, then the Reds will lose due to the larger resources available to their competitor. The Reds must maximize the amount of production they receive for every dollar they spend, as that's the only way to compete in the current Major League Baseball marketplace.

2) Given the volatility of relief pitching, it's unwise to offer much more than two year contracts to relief pitchers at free agent prices. The inherent volatility of performance means that it is unwise to hand out big money to most relievers, as those relievers aren't likely to be able to earn their money in each year of the deal, which means the team is drastically overpaying for the production they receive.

3) Given the limited playing time of relievers, the impact that they can impart on the game is substantially less than that of starting pitchers or position players. Accordingly, it's wise to focus limited resources where they will have the most impact.

4) Small market organizations should only pay for players who provide unique production. If a player provides production that is easily replaceable at a lower cost, then that's not the most efficient use of resources.

WIN SHARES ABOVE BENCH ON THE REDS

Bill James' Win Shares is the quickest way to look at the unique of the player's production. Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB) compares a player's win shares to what an average bench player would have received given the same playing time. An average bench player is not a scarce commodity, so paying huge coin for production that is not unique, but rather easily obtainable, is unwise. The money should be spent on those players whose contribution creates the the most wins for the team and accordingly those players who possess the most unique value on the marketplace.

In 2007, Francisco Cordero pitched only 63.1 innings and posted a WSAB of 5. For comparison, David Weathers had a WSAB of 5, Jared Burton was at 4, Aaron Harang was at 12, Adam Dunn was at 9, Edwin Encarnacion was at 7, Josh Hamilton was at 6, and Brandon Phillips was at 5.

Team WSAB per Dollar Spent

Again, to be successful, smaller market teams must get more production per dollar spent than the competition or else they will lose just by being outspent. Accordingly, I took a quick and dirty look at the cost (using estimated team payroll) paid per each WSAB for a select number of organizations.

Here's how it panned out:



So, in 2007, the Reds paid more for each WSAB ($1,299,347) than the World Champion Boston Red Sox ($1,178,690). Not surprisingly, the D-Backs and Rockies paid substantially less, as they rely on young, impact prospects who provide great production and don't cost an arm and a leg. That, in large part, is how they were able to compete with the big money teams.

Are the Reds gaining any ground on the big boys by paying $46M over 4 years to a pitcher who was only had 5 WSAB? There seem to be more efficient and effective ways to spend such a massive amount of money than on a relief pitcher.

CONCLUSION

In a vacuum, the move is terrible and violates most sound mid-market baseball principles. However, baseball moves aren't made in a vacuum, rather they are made under a particular set of circumstances. Given the Reds futility in the late innings, it's understandable that the Reds made the move they did. However, despite the logic behind the move, the Reds aren't likely to beat the odds, which are stacked against such a deal.

If the Reds rely on cost effective young talent in the future, then they likely won't be hurt by having so much money tied up in a closer. If the Reds rely on Hamilton, Bruce, and Votto, then Cordero's contract is less damaging. If that's the case AND Cordero remains healthy AND consistent, then this deal will likely workout just fine.

However, there are quite a few "ifs" in that statement and given that likely relievers Sean Watson, Carlos Fisher, Pedro Viola and Josh Roenicke are on the horizon, this deal may ultimately prove to be unwise expenditure of resources, which is about the worst thing a mid-market team can do.

Krivsky moved fast to correct a flaw, but it may have been the equivalent of swatting a fly with a bazooka. We'll have to wait and see what the collateral damage is on this signing.

All Undervalued Team: Morgan Ensberg, 3b


In honor of the fact that he was non-tendered this week, Morgan Ensberg gets the third baseman on the All Undervalued Team. Actually, he's long been one of my favorite players, so he would've gotten the nod anyway, but the fact that he has been cut loose just makes him an even better bargain.

AMATEUR CAREER

Ensberg attended USC and played the hot corner on the 1998 USC championship team. He's still the only player in USC history to post a 20 homer and 20 stolen base season. Ensberg was joined on the team by future teammates Jason Lane and Eric Munson.

The Astros drafted Ensberg with the 272nd overall pick in the 9th round of the 1998 draft.

ARMED ROBBERY

Unfortunately, Ensberg was also involved in one of the most unfortunate incidents in recent baseball history. On March 3rd, 2000, Morgan Ensberg, Keith Ginter, Derek Nicholson, Mike Rose, Eric Cole, and Aaron Miles were held at gunpoint in their minor league hotel room by armed robbers. All but Miles were bound hand and foot with plastic ties, had duct tape placed over their mouths, and blankets placed over their heads by the robbers in Ensberg's hotel room.

The robbers went from person to person taking their valuables when they heard Aaron Miles return to his adjacent room. They told the players that they'd be back soon with company and they left to get Miles. When they left, Rose was able to slip out of his plastic ties and lock the door behind them. Ensberg was also able to wriggle free of his ties, permanently scarring his wrists in the process, and call the police.

When the robbers heard the sirens, one jumped out of the second story window and fled, but the other forced Miles back into his room at gunpoint. The police escorted Ensberg and the others to safety, but the second gunman held Miles at gunpoint for 25 minutes. Miles, the son of a heavyweight boxer, took matters into his own hands. He attacked the robber and ended up wrestling over the gun when a SWAT team member broke through a window shooting the robber.

Thankfully, all the players escaped unharmed, but Ensberg still carries physical and emotional scars.

OFFENSIVE SKILLS

Ensberg is one of the streakiest offensive players around, but when he's on, he's very good. And, when he's off, he's still able to contribute with his secondary offensive skills.

When Ensberg is going well, he has power, patience, and the ability to hit for average. In 2005, Ensberg was undeniably going well, as he posted a line of .283/.388/.557/.945 with 36 homeruns, 86 runs, 101 RBI, and 85 walks.

However, that was the high point and his performance has been very volatile ever since. Despite the inconsistent performance, Ensberg still boasts an impressive career line of .265/.366/.476/.842. He has an impressive .131 BB/PA, sees 3.92 pitches per plate appearance, and on average hits a homerun every 19.5 At Bats.

On June 9, 2006, Ensberg tore a tendon in his shoulder and hasn't ever been able to get back on track. He suffered through substandard second half of 2006 and a disappointing 2007 season. However, he was also a bit unlucky in 2007, as he posted an impressive line drive percentage of 23% with Houston and 30% with San Diego. It's difficult to say how much the shoulder injury has impacted his performance, but he could still bounce back and be a very productive player in 2008.

At the plate. Ensberg seems a bit mechanical. He's not the most natural or graceful athlete and has a tendency to over think things at times. However, he's got a good, solid swing.

He has a small stride, an explosive hip rotation which provides good power, a fairly compact swing, and maintains good balance throughout. He can get pull happy, which makes him susceptible to breaking pitches on the outer half.

Ensberg has all the tools to be an impact offensive player, but time will tell if he can pull it together to get his career back on track. If his struggles were due to his shoulder injury, then he's got a good chance of bouncing back. But, only time will tell if it was the shoulder injury that was slowing him down.

DEFENSIVE SKILLS

On defense, Ensberg has very good range and rates in the upper echelon of third basemen defensively. He also has soft hands and an accurate arm, so his fielding percentage is solid. He makes the plays he supposed to make and his range allows him to reach balls that many others wouldn't.

Ensberg is currently 32, so his best defensive years may be behind him, but he's still got the ability to be a good, solid defensive player.

FUTURE

Time will tell whether Ensberg can bounce back to his peak level of performance, but he's the type of player who's worth rolling the dice on. Even if he doesn't bounce back, he'd still be a quality option to have on the bench.

If things break right, then Ensberg could flip the switch and again become an impact player who combines power, patience, and a good batting average.

Top Prospect List: #18 Pedro Viola, LHP


Pedro Viola is something of a mystery man, but he continues the impressive flow of young, potential impact talent coming from the Reds' Dominican Republic baseball academy. Three of the top 20 prospects in the Reds system were signed as free agents out of the Dominican Republic and two of them have established themselves as impact prospects. While Viola hasn't reached the level of Johnny Cueto and Juan Francisco, his debut was very impressive and he's most definitely on the rise.

Viola stands 6'1" tall, weighs 185 pounds, bats left, throws left, and is 24 years old. In 2007, the Reds used him exclusively out of the bullpen and he seems unlikely to ever be put into the rotation.

PROFESSIONAL DEBUT

Dayton

Viola arrived in the U.S. in 2007 and immediately made his presence known. The Reds started Viola out low-A Dayton, which proved to be no great challenge for Viola. At Dayton, Viola worked in 43.1 innings posting a 1.87 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, and 10.2 K/9. In addition, he had a GB/FB ratio of 0.93. However, he had a bit of good fortune and wasn't quite as good as his ERA indicates, as his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was 3.21 and he had a .260 BABIP. After 3 months, that level of performance was enough to get him promoted to high-A.

Sarasota

At Sarasota, Viola continued to impress. He logged 20.0 innings posting a 0.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and 12.6 K/9. His performance at high-A was supported by his peripherals, as his FIP was 1.58 and his BABIP was .311, which means that his performance was for real. He was then promoted again, this time up to AA Chattanooga.

Chattanooga

Despite it being his second promotion in his first season of American pro-ball, Viola didn't slow down at all. At Chattanooga, Viola posted a 0.95 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and 8.1 K/9. His peripherals at Chattanooga don't quite support such an impressive performance, as evidenced by his 3.88 FIP and .204 BABIP.

OVERALL 2007 PERFORMANCE

Overall, Viola posted a combined 1.42 ERA in 82.1 innings with a 3.3 BB/9 and a 10.3 K/9. It's hard to believe that such an unheralded prospect could have so much success so quickly. However, perhaps it shouldn't be unexpected, as Viola is 24 and has spent time pitching in the Dominican Leagues.

In 2006, Viola posted a 2.04 ERA in 61.2 innings as a starting pitcher in the Dominican Summer League. Viola's age and experience makes him more polished than most players signed out of the Dominican Republic, which makes him more like the Japanese players who come over to the U.S. His experience and maturity allowed him to climb the ladder much more quickly, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares against AAA competition.

FUTURE

Viola is likely to start out 2008 back at Chattanooga, but he could move quickly to Triple-A. In fact, if he pitches in 2008 like he did in 2007, then he could even see time at the MLB level. Major League teams are consistently in search of quality lefties, so Viola should get every opportunity to work out of the bullpen in the near future.

Once again, the Reds international scouting effort is making a impact on the future of the organization. The Reds signed Viola and Cueto out of the Dominican Republic and both pitchers seem to have the polish and baseball acumen to go with their stuff. Each could end up playing a role for the Reds at the MLB level.

Viola needs to repeat his 2007 performance in 2008 to establish himself as more than a one year wonder, but if he can do that then he'll be in Cincinnati sooner rather than later.

If Viola and Roenicke continue their rapid ascent up the ladder, then they may make the Reds regret their decision to hand out such a massive contract to Francisco Cordero. They could both be in the mix well before the 4 year contract with Cordero expires.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Gammons and the BoSox


I must admit. I'm a big Peter Gammons fan. In fact, he and Rob Neyer are two of my favorite baseball writers. Unfortunately, since ESPN made the decision to place both behind the "Insider Wall," I don't get to read them much anymore.

However, I must say, since the Red Sox changed their operations to truly embrace their large market status and began winning championships, I find Gammons' pro-Red Sox shtick a bit harder to take.

I don't have access to the entire article, but here's the free portion of recent blog entry from Gammons entitled "The Rich get Richer."

Now you start thinking about what it's going to be like when C.C. Sabathia is a free agent at the end of next season, or when Brad Penny and Jake Peavy hit the market the following year.

Bud Selig tried to level the playing fields with revenue sharing, and it did work -- for a while. But there were only four or five teams this offseason that could make a play for Johan Santana or Alex Rodriguez or Miguel Cabrera, or Torii Hunter, for that matter. The situation will be the same when Sabathia is on the market next November, and it won't matter how much C.C. cares for Mark Shapiro and the Indians organization. The steep price will be one the Indians can't afford in their market -- any more than the rate Hunter set for center fielders and Santana will set for pitchers -- and won't fit the budgets of most teams.

It doesn't matter how much luxury tax the Yankees pay or how much Steinbrenner money goes to Kansas City, Minnesota or Tampa Bay. Hank Steinbrenner is going to use his AmEx to win. He gets a year's grace from some of the taxation because of the new stadium that opens in 2009, but if you're out there in a small market, how scary is this winter, with the realization that the Yankees and Mets are both about to open new revenue-cow ballparks?

Now, maybe, just maybe, he mentions the transgressions of the Red Sox in the portion of the article behind "the wall," but somehow I tend to doubt it.

That said, it's obvious that the BoSox are just as guilty as the Yankees of throwing their massive revenue streams around to win baseball games. Lest we forget, the BoSox paid a posting fee of $51,111,111.00 to the Seibu Lions just for the rights to negotiate with DiceK. That's a one time fee that's substantially higher than some teams' entire annual payroll. None of that money even goes to DiceK, but rather they had to pay millions on top of that to sign him. So, it strikes me as very disingenuous to see Gammons point the finger at the New York teams as being the problem, when the BoSox are equally responsible.

The reason the BoSox are having so much success as of late is that they've stolen Billy Beane's playbook and coupled it with a substantially higher revenue stream to achieve winning results. The BoSox organization deserves all the credit in the world for their impressive performance, but they certainly aren't underdogs or some kind of a Cinderella story. In fact, it's quite the contrary, as the BoSox have officially joined the ranks of the Evil Empire. Perhaps it's time for Peter Gammons to come to that realization, as I'm sure small market organizations already have.