Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Swing Mechanics and Random Draft Thoughts

Every once in a while, I run across something that piques my interest for some reason or other. I was watching a few highlight clips and stumbled across a Jason Kipnis homerun that seemed noteworthy, especially in light of the recent Adam Dunn post. The contrast between the swing mechanics of Dunn and Kipnis was striking. As for Kipnis, I was really amazed at just how still he stands in this clip:

Kipnis stands as still as a statute while waiting for the pitch. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone stand quite THAT still at the plate. He's calm, poised, and comfortable just waiting on the pitcher. Unlike Dunn, Kipnis's stance doesn't require any pre-pitch movement to get into hitting position. Kipnis starts in proper hitting position and simply has to fire the swing when the time comes. He is in perfect hitting position before the pitcher even begins his windup. Dunn, on the other hand, has a long way to go before he gets into hitting position and doesn't get into anything resembling proper hitting position until after the pitcher reaches the apex and starts to unpack his leg kick.

It's not easy for most hitters to stay relaxed and loose without pre-pitch movement. That's why a lot of hitters use a bat waggle, to both keep the muscles free of tension and trigger the swing. Kipnis obviously doesn't need any movement to hit. As for Dunn, I'd rather see him start in a Kipnis like position.

Anyway, that's the end of my ruminations on Dunn, he's on his own now, but the stillness of Kipnis and the dichotomy between the two approaches was striking enough to inspire me to write about it. Turning back to Kipnis, seeing the clip made me reflect on my shadow draft for that year.

I was pretty pleased with my shadow picks and thought I had outdone the Reds...until I saw what the Reds managed to do in comparison.

In my 2009 shadow draft, I selected rhp Shelby Miller in round 1, 2b/of Jason Kipnis in Supplemental Round 1, lhp David Holmberg in round 2, and lhp Josh Spence in round 3.

Outside of a team issued suspension for alleged underage drinking, Miller had a tremendous 2011 season and is establishing a #1 starter ceiling. Jason Kipnis took the world by storm with the Indians and is looking like an impact bat at second base. David Holmberg is the only one of my picks who hasn't reached the majors yet, but that's much more of a testimony to the talent and polish of the other three than an indictment of Holmberg, who is following a traditional development path. Finally, Josh Spence made his debut with the Padres this year and pitched very effectively out of the bullpen to the tune of a 2.73 ERA in 29.2 innings. He has underwhelming velocity, but a plus change up and a very good feel for pitching.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my shadow draft, but it's difficult to find fault with what the Reds did with their first 4 picks of the draft. The Reds landed Mike Leake in the first round, Brad Boxberger in the Supplemental Round, Billy Hamilton in round 2, and Donnie Joseph in round 3.

It's up in the air which set of four, shadow or actual, will ultimately prove to be the better value, but the Reds reeled in four quality prospects and Hamilton in round 2 was a steal. Mike Leake has already arrived, Boxberger and Joseph are good bets to work high leverage innings at the MLB level, and Hamilton has a very high ceiling with some development risk.

It's remarkable just how much the Reds have improved in the draft. Their draft effectiveness is leaps and bounds ahead of where it used to be, which is a testament to both the scouting department and the player development staff that knocks the rough edges off those picks. It always bears mentioning just how far the Reds have come since the dark old days of Jim Bowden, Ty Howington, Chris Gruler, Jeremy Sowers, and company.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Complacency Kills the Season

Complacency is the silent killer, as evidenced by the 2011 Reds' season. The Reds are where they are because they were complacent.

When a team breaks through to a new performance plateau, the following season is frequently a step backwards. The simple fact is that the break through likely occurred because a lot of things went right. More things than can reasonably expected to go right again. So, in order to offset the likelihood of a regression, it's important to take substantial steps to improve the team.

Unfortunately, the Reds failed to do so. To justify the complete lack of effort to improve, financial constraints are frequently cited. However, even if true, there are a number of payroll neutral moves that could have been made. There are two types of currency in the MLB world: 1) cash and 2) prospects. If the Reds were limited by payroll constraints, then they could have cracked open the farm system and dealt away prospects to improve the MLB roster.

Unfortunately, the Reds stood pat. Unbelievably, they stood pat. Inconceivably, they stood pat. They stood pat all offseason, hoping to avoid the almost inevitable backslide. They stood pat at the trade deadline, hoping that the status quo would get them back in the hunt. They did nothing except wait and watch the standings as the season slipped away.

If you step back and take a look at what the Reds have actually done this season, then it becomes rather difficult not to get frustrated... REALLY frustrated. As a fan, I invested a decent amount of time, money, and energy into the Reds this year. In exchange, I don't expect championships or even wins. I don't expect sunshine and rainbows. I DO, however, expect effort. I expect it both between the lines AND in the front office. If I'm going to make this type of investment on an annual basis, then I expect the organization to be at least as invested, if not more so. In hindsight, it's difficult to even conceive of what Walt Jocketty did all season. He constantly lets Dusty speak for the organization, he lets Chris Buckley handle the draft, and he didn't trade anyone. How exactly did he earn his money? By signing Bronson Arroyo to an absurd contract extension and a bunch of replacement level players to low cost contracts? Or, are we paying him to play internet hearts and sleep on the job? 

Now, I don't think I'm unreasonable or irrational. I understand that trades require two willing partners. Just because we think up a deal, doesn't mean it can get done. Still, the utter lack of activity by the organization this year is...well...stunning. And, frankly, the lack of activity stands in stark contrast to that of the organization that is currently running away with the division.

If you take a quick look at what the Brewers have done, then it's not difficult to see why they are going to win the division.

1. On December 6, 2010, the Brewers traded Brett Lawrie to the Toronto Blue Jays for Shawn Marcum.

2. On December 19, 2010, the Brewers traded Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jeremy Jeffress for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt.

3. On March 27, 2011, the Brewers traded Cutter Dykstra and cash to the Washington Nationals for Nyjer Morgan.

4. On July 12, 2011, the Brewers traded Adrian Rosario and Danny Herrera to the New York Mets for Francisco Rodriguez and cash.

In short, the Brewers added two top of the rotation starters, a high-motor leadoff hitter, and a high-leverage reliever.

Now, let's compare those moves to what the Reds did this season:

1. On July 26, 2011, the Reds traded Jonny Gomes and cash to the Washington Nationals for Bill Rhinehart and Christopher Manno.

That's it. That's the sum total of the Reds efforts to improve the team for the 2011 season. One trade. A single addition-by-subtraction trade.

As I write this, the Reds are currently 14 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers. If you add up the relevant WAR figures for those 4 players, Zack Greinke (3.4), Nyjer Morgan (3.4), Shawn Marcum (2.4), and Francisco Rodriguez (0.5), then you get 9.7 Wins. While the Reds did nothing, the Brewers went out and purchased 10 wins with a month of the season still to play.

I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that those four players are the primary difference makers in the NL Central race. In the final analysis, the Brewers obviously wanted it more. That's it and that's all. When the history of the 2011 NL Central is written, it'll read that while one organization made excuses, another made moves to improve. Given those two realities, it's not much of a surprise who came out on top.

Little did we know, the Reds season was over before it even began, as the Reds simply weren't going to make the moves necessary to put us over the top. The sad part about the 2011 season isn't really the fact that the Reds failed to build off 2010. The truly sad part is that they didn't even bother suiting up. It's not the battles that you lose that rankle and fester, it's the battles for which you didn't even bother showing up. That's how it feels to be a Reds fan right now. The front office didn't bother to show up for the season, which will now undoubtedly go down as a missed opportunity. Instead of recognizing and seizing the opportunity to better last season's postseason performance, the Reds waited and hoped, demonstrating the kind of faith found only in the most pious and zealous of believers. Unfortunately, the only reward for such a display of faith was a missed opportunity and a hearty "wait 'til next year."

Albert Camus once wrote "I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: He fornicated and read the papers." I wonder if future historians will look back at the 2011 Reds and find that once again a single sentence will suffice: "They did nothing and read the standings."