Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Cincinnati Reds. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Reds players. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Houston Astros.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Cincinnati Reds looked like they might be on their way to defending their 2010 division title as they led for much of the first half, but a late season collapse ultimately kept them out of the running. Actually, that's sort of deceptive - month to month, the Reds were within 2 games of .500 all season long, with the exception of July, when they went 11-15. Rather than tailing off, the Brewers and Cardinals started winning, leaving the Reds to finish at 79-83 in a weak division.
Following the disappointing campaign, GM Walt Jocketty got to work grabbing some pitching help, as he acquired Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, and Sean Marshall. In addition, highly regarded prospects Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco are expected to contribute with their bats. With the departures of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the NL Central appears to be even weaker than last year, and the Reds have the look of a reloaded team that is ready to contend.
Great American Ballpark has a reputation for being an extreme hitter's park, and GABP did indeed have the third-highest park factor for home runs in 2011. I was surprised to learn, however, that the overall run environment is only slightly above average. Much has been made of Mat Latos' move to Cincinnati and how the new ballpark will hurt his statistics, but consider this: his career HR/9 at notorious pitcher's park Petco is 0.83, and away from home, it's actually lower than that at 0.81. Latos is not the kind of pitcher that's going to be affected too much by Great American Ballpark.
Manager & Coaching Staff
"On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage. Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me." - Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker, Jr.
Dusty Baker is a traditionalist, pure and simple. He doesn't have any need for fancy "walks" or "baserunners," and he's sure not afraid to give up an out to move a guy 90 feet closer to home. Thankfully, players like Joey Votto (15.3 BB%), Jay Bruce (10.7 BB%), and even Drew Stubbs (9.3 BB%) don't seem to care. Dusty doesn't care about the average baseball fan's growing obsession with prospects - if you're a veteran on Baker's roster, you're going to get your chances. There's also the reputation Dusty has for running starting pitchers into the ground, but aside from some isolated incidents, this is more of a myth than anything. Don't fall into the trap of treating Cincinnati's pitchers any differently because of Dusty's presence.
Expected Position Battles
The big battle is expected to go down in left field, where new signing Ryan Ludwick will try to resurrect his career by holding off 27 year-old Chris Heisey, who at this point in his career has a better chance at being a productive regular. 25 year-old Todd Frazier could find himself in the mix as well with a good spring. His chances of making the 25-man roster are bettered by the fact that he possesses enough positional flexibility to play corner spots in the infield or the outfield.
Another area that will more than likely turn into a timeshare is catcher. Devin Mesoraco is a top prospect at the position, and is projected to be a middle of the order hitter at his peak. 31 year-old Ryan Hanigan will likely be given every chance to succeed at the position, however, and Mesoraco isn't guaranteed to produce like he did during his September call-up last season. At this point, he shouldn't be treated as anything more than a late-round flyer in redraft leagues. Unfortunately, his presence will also limit the value of Hanigan, barring any major developments, so there's not really a catcher worthy of a high degree of confidence on this team.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Brandon Phillips - 2B
Zack Cozart - SS
Joey Votto - 1B
Jay Bruce - RF
Scott Rolen - 3B
Drew Stubbs - CF
Chris Heisey/Ryan Ludwick - LF
Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco - C
Scott Rolen's 162-game pace for RBI in 2011 was 90 - good thing Votto and Bruce are there to clog up the bases. Incidentally, Rolen's backup is Juan Francisco, but you shouldn't expect him to hit 5th if Rolen is absent - Votto and Bruce are the only other lefties in the lineup.
Mat Latos | Johnny Cueto | Mike Leake | Bronson Arroyo | Homer Bailey
This is a very young (4 of the 5 are either 24 or 25 years old) and very right-handed rotation. Aroldis Chapman is supposed to be stretched out as a starter during Spring Training, but the organization hasn't exactly committed to the idea, and almost nobody is projecting him to crack the rotation in April. Still, he and NRI Jeff Francis are the only left-handers in the org within spitting distance of the majors, so they'll each have an outside shot of sticking a job.
The Reds lost 2011 closer Francisco Cordero, who was one of the big losers in the offseason closing carousel, but they replaced him with Ryan Madson, who is really kind of underrated, and Sean Marshall, who as a former starter can really eat up a lot of innings. Both possess K/9s over 9 and excellent rate stats. Setup man Nick Masset has some upside as a high-innings guy, but he simply walks too many people. Bill Bray can be a decent source of holds, but he's a lefty specialist who won't pitch enough innings to make any investment worthwhile.
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I mentioned Latos above in the discussion about the ballpark, but I'll go with him again here. The potential of GABP to affect his stats is overreported as people all too willingly overlook the positives (2 fastballs and a slider that rate above average, a high K-rate supported by his swinging strikeout numbers, a low walk rate, and his age, which is still only 24). He's slipping down draft boards, which means you could find yourself a nice little bargain in the 6th or 7th round.
Spring Training Storylines to Watch
I'm particularly interested in how the team treats Aroldis Chapman - if Chapman doesn't look like he's going to stick in the rotation right away, will they have the patience to send him to AAA to work things out, or will they send him back to the bullpen? If neither Chapman nor Francis look like they can hack it and one of Leake or Bailey don't look up to par, could Dusty Baker campaign for left-hander Sean Marshall, who started for Baker's Cubs in 2006, to switch back to the rotation? I'll admit that it's a crazy hypothetical, but there's some potential for some serious shuffling here.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Mark Sheldon (Blog | Twitter)
Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter: Tom Groeschen (Blog | Twitter)
Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter: John Fay (Blog | Twitter)
Dayton Daily News beat reporter: Hal McCoy (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Red Reporter (Blog | Twitter)
Other blog(s) of note: Redleg Nation
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.