Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Things to be Gleaned from Opening Day

Well, another Opening Day has come and gone. The Reds drew a tough assignment in Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks so you can't draw too many inferences, but a few observations.

1) Dusty passed his first big test, as Aaron Harang was only allowed to throw 99 pitches.

Joe Posnanski recently wrote an interesting article about young pitchers, workload, and 300 wins. In it, Posnanski talks about C.C. Sabathia and the likelihood that he'll reach 300 wins. He illustrates how rare it is that a young starting pitcher who racks up a lot of wins at a young age will go on to win 300 games.

Posnanski talks about the success of some young pitchers and then goes on to discuss innings pitched for these young guys, a discussion that inevitably turns to Dusty Baker, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. He goes on to state the obvious, that Prior and Wood were heavily overworked. That's nothing new and doesn't really need to be rehashed, but the interesting thing is that Posnanski doesn't believe that that kind of abuse of young pitchers would be tolerated in the present game. I tend to think he's right.

It really hasn't been that long since Baker managed the Cubs, but Posnanski is right in that the entire baseball culture has really changed. You could see signs of it when the hiring of Baker was announced. You could see signs of it in the scrutiny of the hiring by the Cincinnati media.

At the time of the hire, about the only thing that gave me comfort about handing over young pitchers to Dusty was that the increased scrutiny from the media might FORCE him to change his managerial style. I have no illusions that Dusty would change on his own, but the spotlight from the scrutiny that would result would likely be too hot even for Dusty to handle.

The early returns are good, but I really don't think the fans, media, or front office would tolerate heavy workloads on the starting pitchers. The baseball culture and mindset have evolved to the point that it won't be tolerated any longer.

2) Scott Hatteberg got the nod over Joey Votto.

Again, it's one game, so maybe this doesn't mean anything, but it has to be noted. Dusty went with the veteran over the young guy.

At this point, Votto isn't a young prospect any more. The bloom isn't off the rose by any stretch of the imagination, but it's time for him to get his opportunity. This is his 24/25 year old season and he doesn't have anything left to prove in the minors. He tore the cover off the ball in the minors last year and carried it over to the majors in September last year.

Don't get me wrong, I love Scott Hatteberg. He may have the best plate approach of any hitter in baseball and I wish I could graft that approach onto every Reds hitters. His control of the zone matches that of any hitter in baseball. That said, at this point, Votto's DOWNSIDE is likely equivalent to Hatteberg's UPSIDE.

Unfortunately, both are left handed hitters, so a platoon isn't a viable option. So, in short, it has to be one or the other. At this point in their careers, it's clear that it has to be Votto. He's got more power and almost comparable on base skills. Hatteberg is only going to get worse, while Votto is only going to get better.

The Reds need to plug Votto into the starting lineup and let him play. Any plan to share playing time is going to be detrimental to the Reds and Votto. I love Hatteberg, but like all first basemen without power, the time inevitably comes when they no longer make sense for the team. A younger, better option comes along and it's time to part ways with the established player.

That time has now come for Hatteberg and the Reds.

The Votto era has begun.

3) Edwin started out with an error.

Edwin had a terrible spring, which isn't a good sign. I don't put much stock in spring training stats, but I would've preferred a strong spring from Edwin.

From my point of view, it's truly "put up or shut up" time from Edwin. I've heard all the excuses and, in fact, used to subscribe to them. Edwin had been bounced in and out of lineup so often by the manager that he had diminished confidence and tentative play. That all sounds well and good, but at some point it's up to Edwin to grab every opportunity to prove his worth. Guys like Jeff Keppinger and Brandon Phillips make the most of every chance they get. Phillips grabbed the second base job and never looked back. Keppinger has given the Reds no choice but to keep him on the roster and, in fact, he's making a strong case for a starting job.

Then, we get back to Edwin, who makes the least of his opportunities. No more excuses, it's time for Edwin to prove his worth.

4) The Reds may have something with their late inning relievers.

The Reds have been undone by their bullpen the last few seasons, so to see fairly smooth sailing from the 7th (Burton), 8th (Weathers), and 9th (Cordero) is more than a little encouraging. True, Burton gave up a solo homerun, but these three could provide some much needed stability in the late innings.

Burton was truly dominating in the second half last year and his ability to maintain that kind of production would have a huge impact for the Reds this year. People studying the new Pitch Data have drawn comparisons between Burton's fastball and Mariano Rivera's famous cut fastball.

All in all, the bullpen is off to a good start. If the Reds could hold onto late inning leads, then it would go a long way towards building up team morale and improving the W/L record.

At this point, things are looking up.


  1. Agreed about the bullpen. Burton threw well outside of the one mistake. I think I would use Weathers as the first guy out in a close game regardless of inning. Then, work the other guys between him and Cordero. In non-close games, you treat him like normal setup.

    It's not really an excuse but should be noted that Edwin showed good discipline with the walks and didn't let the error make him overcompensate. I know Webb threw him mostly garbage but a pressing hitter would go after it. I think it's a good sign for his obp this year.

  2. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the comment!!

    True, it's impossible to draw too many inferences from a single game, especially with a pitcher like Brandon Webb on the mound. He's just nasty, so I expect most hitters to struggle.

    However, I'm beginning to wonder if Edwin is worth the struggle. His upside is probably that of a .290 hitter with 25 homerun power. That would make him a solid third baseman, but his defense is bad enough that he gives back some of that production by not being able to capably handle his position. He needs to be moved to a new position, but if he is moved it would have to be to 1st or the OF, where his bat would become less valuable.

    Before they both became established at the MLB level, I was hopefully that Edwin would be our David Wright. However, Wright has turned out to be even better than expected and Edwin has never put it together. I knew Wright would be the better player, but I never expected the gap to be so wide.

    If, in 2008, Edwin doesn't have the breakout season long expected of him, then the Reds will probably regret not dealing him when they could.

    I'm really hoping Edwin can rebuild the faith I used to have in him, but I'm pretty skeptical at this point.