Cardinals at Reds series preview: May 23-25

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals take a brief trip to Cincinnati for a three-game set before returning home for nine games. Cardinals hitters should thank their lucky stars that they're missing Cueto. Reds pitchers should hope that Mesoraco, Frazier, and Phillips have enough bat to get it done.

This 2014 Reds club is vastly different from the 2013 club. The Reds (21-24) have a negative-7 run differential. The Cardinals (26-21) have a positive-19 run differential. The aging Reds have already dealt with injuries to several stars, and almost everyone else is under-performing, old, or should probably not be playing Major League Baseball. Johnny Cueto has been the brightest bright spot in what’s looking to be a very dull, long season for the Reds and their fans. Fortunately for us, the Cards miss facing Cueto this time.

Schedule

Shelby Miller and Homer Bailey hurl the pill tonight at 6:15 CT.
Jaime Garcia and Tony Cingrani take the hill Saturday at 6:15 CT.
Adam Wainwright looks to beat the Reds and Mike Leake Sunday at 7:05 CT. (ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Again.)

Some Guys Who Hit Good

Joey Votto has a very good (though a little disappointing for Joey Votto, no?) 143 wRC+, but he’s currently on the DL and won’t be a factor in this series.

Todd Frazier has put up 130 wRC+, has good power, and isn’t getting lucky. He hasn’t been unlucky, either. Almost all of his batted ball numbers are in line with his career averages. I’m sure we’ll all mutter "Frazier!" a time or two this series.

Devin Mesoraco! Mesoraco, who will turn 26 in June, has only appeared in 18 games so far this season. He’s made the most of them. He’s got 4 HRs and a .308 ISO, good for a 227 wRC+. He’s also rocking a .479 BABIP. I feel fairly comfortable that he will regress, but I also think some of this is for real. People have been predicting a Mesoraco breakout for some time, and I think that breakout has likely arrived. Small sample size, of course, but Mesoraco has already been worth 1.5 fWAR.

Some Guys Who Don't Hit So Good

I didn’t know quite where to put Jay Bruce. By nearly every measure, 2014 has been a down year for him. Bruce has 98 wRC+, but also just came off the DL. He’s walking a lot (17.6% BB rate - which is ~8% higher than his career rate) but he’s suffered from a bit of a power outage. Since he was recently dealing with a knee injury, don't be surprised to see the power outage continue a little while longer. Of course, playing at the Great American Launch Pad should only help with that. No one should expect Bruce to stay below average all season.

Brandon Phillips is getting old. He’s put up a 91 wRC+, which is partially depressed by an icy cold start to the season. Still, his walk rate is down a tick from an already below-average rate. He’s striking out 19.3% of the time, which is ~5% higher than last year’s K-rate and his career K-rate. His ISO is down to a figure more in line with his frustrating days with the Indians. He’s also sporting a very bizarre infield fly ball rate of 22.9% which is almost three times higher than his career rate. Brandon Phillips is signed through 2017, his age-30-thousand season. However, Phillips is still a very good defender, and he really wants you to know that about him.

Ryan Ludwick has a .093 ISO, and has been "good" for 85 wRC+. For comparison's sake, Adam Wainwright has a .083 ISO, and Allen Craig has been worth 86 wRC+. Luddy’s had some knee swelling recently, and even missed a game or two. I’m not sure how much of him we’ll be seeing this series. Ludwick’s 2013 was cut short by a shoulder injury, so he only played in 38 games. He’s appeared in 36 so far in 2014, and his offensive stats are eerily similar. This is a player on the decline. Sadly, I’m not sure Ludwick should even be on a major league roster at this point. His bat is his only source of value, or it at least should be.

Billy Hamilton is fast and a good defender. He’s also a 75 wRC+ hitter so far. Almost all of his base-running value has been erased by the black hole that is his bat.

Slo-mo-hamilton-swing_medium

(via cdn2.vox-cdn.com)

Still, Hamilton has been worth 0.7 fWAR. Speed and defense, man. Speed and defense. Hamilton has a 62.5% stolen base success rate. He should probably become a more efficient thief if he really wants to maximize his speed. I’m sure we’ll see at least a couple Hamilton-Molina showdowns. That is, if Hamilton gets on base.

Chris Heisey, like Hamilton, has all his value tied up in defense and base-running. Heisey (75 wRC+) has had a power outage this year and has a whopping 40% infield fly ball rate. Someone needs a swing doctor!

Man, it just gets uglier from here. Skip Schumaker. Zach Cozart. Roger Bernadina. Cozart at least brings an elite glove, but so much of this Reds roster is comprised of washed up old dudes. What the hell are Jocketty and the Cincinnati ownership even doing? They spent $114M on this roster! (By the way, Jocketty’s contract expires after this season. I wonder if Tony La Russa will try to get the gang back together in Phoenix…)

Some Guys Who Pitch Good

Aroldis Chapman, duh. Seriously, it’s a huge relief that Chapman is healthy and pitching this season. Major League Baseball is more fun when the best players are playing. The world keeps turning. The sun rises in the East. Aroldis Chapman just struck you out.

Johnny Cueto is having a career year. This has always been his ceiling, and with a little luck he’s finally touching it. However, it’s not going to last. Cueto’s strand rate is a little high, his BABIP extraordinarily low. But the improved K-, BB-, and ground-ball rates are real. His ERA is 1.86, his FIP is 2.90, and his xFIP is 2.69. Even with the inevitable regression, Cueto is and will be pretty damn good.

Mike Leake, like Cueto, is having a career year. Leake is walking only 4.7% of the batters he faces while striking out 14.8%. He’s also working with a 56% ground-ball rate, a career high for him. Leake’s not flashy, but he’s solid.

What is Happening with These Guys?

Homer Bailey, who earned a 6-year $105M extension, has not performed as expected. He’s got a .348 BABIP-against, he’s striking out ~3% fewer batters while walking 1.5% more. He’s also giving up more home runs. Maybe last season was the outlier and this is who he is, but I suspect he’ll improve as the season progresses. He’s got a solid arsenal of pitches and he still hits mid-90s with his fastball. He’s coming off his worst start of the season.

Tony Cingrani has a fastball that can confound and overpower, and a decent-ish change-up to offset it. He has a 23.9% K-rate. Unfortunately for Cingrani and the Reds, he’s also got a 12.3% BB-rate. He recently returned from a shoulder injury. I’m not sure his troubles are over, though. He’s giving up more contact in the zone and his swinging-strike rate is down 2%. Cingrani doesn’t work deep into games, and he’s prone to the long ball. I hope the Cardinals take advantage, or at least make him work hard.

Jeff Francis has only made one start for the Reds. He didn’t walk anyone, he gave up a home run and struck out 4. Jeff Francis is starting for the Reds!

Mat Latos, who is recovering from a flexor mass (read: elbow) strain, should begin a rehab assignment within the next few days. He obviously won't be a factor for this series.

Some Guys Who Don't Pitch So Good

Most of the Reds bullpen. These guys either have terrible ERAs and cromulent xFIPs, or stellar ERAs with troubling xFIPs.

Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall (who reattaches his shoulder everyday), Manny Parra and J.J. Hoover will strike guys out. All of the strikeout relievers give up at least 4.5 BB/9.

Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure, Jonathan Broxton, etc won’t strike as many guys out, and most of them are either walking too many or getting hit hard. The recently demoted Curtis Partch had a perfectly symmetrical 6.23 K/9 and 6.23 BB/9!

If the Cardinals are aggressive against the right guys, and patient with the others, the Reds bullpen can be beat up on.

What We Said Then, What We Say Now

Joe interviewed the site manager from Red Reporter.

The Red Baron previewed every team in two sentences.

As bizarre as this season has been for the Cardinals, and as frustrating as its been to watch, man I’m glad I’m not a Reds fan. The organization appears stuck in the dark ages with regards to player evaluation and risk assessment. With all the expensive, long contracts they've handed out, it could be a long time before the Reds turn it around.


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