Image courtesy of Bo Hussey

A couple of weeks ago we asked Reds blogger Steve Engbloom to provide our Reds fans with a mid-season report. Unfortunately, the post he sent over got caught up in our editorial calendar and it’s taken us a while to get it up. Regardless, here is an excellent look at the Reds at the half-way point. Thanks Steve!

Steve Engbloom is a writer for Fansided’s Cincinnati Reds blog, Blog Red Machine.  You can follow Blog Red Machine on Twitter @blogredmachine.

Not as Planned:

I’m not sure if you caught Blog Red Machine’s season preview here on SeatGeek. If not, I will be referencing some points from that preview, but there is one thing that all Reds fans will agree upon: this season has not gone as planned. With the enthusiasm of the 2010 NL Central title still embedded in our memories, the thoughts of a repeat have hit hard times.

I say that for multiple reasons. We’ll start with a review of the Reds starting staff.

The starting staff…sigh. As stated in that season preview, this was to be the one aspect of the Reds that was to be the most solid piece of the 2011 Reds puzzle. It has fallen short of expectations. Here was my prediction for the starting staff entering 2011:

1. Johnny Cueto
2. Bronson Arroyo
3. Edinson Volquez
4. Homer Bailey
5. Travis Wood

Hasn’t exactly panned out that way, although three of those five (Cueto, Arroyo and Bailey) are still currently starters at the big league level, As for Wood and Volquez, they  are in Triple-A Louisville.

Johnny Cueto, after starting the season on the disabled list, has emerged as a potential ace. During a Reds telecast while the Reds were in Los Angeles, Chris Welsh was chatting with Manny Mota. Mota told Welsh that Cueto now “gets it”. Reds fans are witnessing the maturation of Cueto, and that can only lead to better things down the road.

The one that leaves Reds fans scratching their heads is Volquez. He is currently in his second stint with the Bats after fighting control issues for the majority of the season, it doesn’t help that he was the Opening Day starter either. That has led to cries regarding the deal in which the Reds acquired the righty (along with left-handed reliever Daniel Ray Hererra) from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Josh Hamilton. Not looking as bright as it did after 2008.

Here’s how that staff is currently configured:
1. Cueto
2. Arroyo
3. Bailey
4. Mike Leake
5. Dontrelle Willis

Along the way, the Reds have also used Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure and Chad Reineke in starting roles. Maloney and Reineke are also in Louisville while LeCure has made an impressive adjustment to bullpen life. That we will get into later.

I repeat, this was to be the lynchpin for 2011. It has come not even close. Here’s a look at the numbers for the starters:

35-32, 4.51 ERA (26th), 1.32 WHIP (23rd), .261 BAA (18th), 2.11 K/BB (23rd)

Not particularly pretty by any mean especially when this staff was touted so highly previous to the season’s start.

Aroldis Chapman

Image Courtesy of Bo Hussey

A reverse might be said of the bullpen. The closer usually receives a lot of accolades, but for me, Sam LeCure stand out…big time. He began 2011 as the #5 starter, but as I said earlier, has made an extremely smooth transition to the pen. Here’s the stat line for the Reds bullpen:

13-18, 3.20 ERA (7th), 1.29 WHIP (9th), .224 BAA (3rd), 1.78 K/BB (26th)

The only stat you can complain about is the K/BB which for a bullpen is low and below the MLB average. With the likes of Nick Masset and Aroldis Chapman, you would figure that to be higher.

Hasn’t worked out that way as Masset struggled severely out of the gate and Chapman has had a stint on the disabled list coupled with minor league assignment in order to find his control. Masset has returned to his usual self (for the most part) and Chapman, despite a slight dip in his velocity on occasion, is showing a recovery to what made him the pen
phenom of 2010.

The blight of Francisco Cordero has been a point of contention among fans as well. Three blown saves right before the All-Star break left many shaking their heads. I think being left off the All-Star roster did play a bit of a mind game with him. Last year, he was leading the NL saves at the ASB and, yet, he was not chosen due to his high ERA. This season, his numbers stacked up pretty darn well against other closers, but that save total did him in.

Overall, the starters, to me, grade out to a C- while the bullpen still grades a B with me.

On to the position players…

Infield

You look over to the right side and things appear to be in good hands. You have the Gold Glove defense of Brandon Phillips at second base and the 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto manning first. While we’ve seen no dip in the defense, there has been a drop in the power game, more specifically from Votto. While this is a cause for concern, it is not born out of Votto himself.

The lineup itself has had issues in 2011. Most prominent is the cleanup spot, a position that is served to protect Votto. Well, Reds skipper Dusty Baker has tried a handful of guys there. As of the moment, it is BP that is usually listed. Baker, hoping to revive that 2010 magic, started the season with third baseman Scott Rolen there. Jay Bruce, Jonny Gomes and even Miguel Cairo have been the #4 guy. The only one that has halfway produced is BP.

But think about it. Who would you rather pitch to: Votto or any of the others? Hands down, it’s the others and that’s not even close even with Phillips having a decent season.

And BP is not the BP of a couple of seasons ago where he seemed to always eye a 20/20 season, and he even sports a 30/30 year. But Phillips is just as valuable to the lineup. He’s not as feared as Votto…and neither are any of Votto’s teammates. Hence, Joey isn’t seeing pitches like in 2010. That would jive with Votto being 3rd in MLB in walks (67).

The side of the infield that has brought the outcry has been the left side even with 8-time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen at third. We all knew Rolen’s role would be a little more limited this season as he begins to wind down on what some say may be a Hall of Fame career. His numbers reflect a coupe of things: a loss of power and a loss of bat speed. He can no longer get to the fastball as he was just last season. But Rolen can still flash the leather and that makes him still a valuable member of the infield.

The shortstop position has come under tremendous scrutiny. While I was penning the season preview for here, the Reds were in negotiations for signing free agent and 2010 World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. Despite that signing, Baker affirmed that Paul Janish would be the guy that gets the most starts. Um…not worked out so well. Both Renteria and Janish struggled with the bat. Janish was recently sent to Louisville while, for the life of me I can’t figure this out, Renteria is still on the 25-man.

Enter Zack Cozart, the Reds #8 prospect heading into this season. All Cozart has done in his brief ML time is provide Cincy with steady defense and a steady bat. Considering that Dusty is a little stubborn in putting his shortstop in the 2-hole, Cozart has quieted the screams from Reds fans for Baker to be voted off the island…for now.

One thing I do not believe was possible was the offensive production from the catching tandem of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan is not putting up the numbers as he did in 2010, but they aren’t as far off as many feared. Hernandez has actually stepped up his production compared to last season. This has caused his name being bantered about in trade rumors. With Devin Mesoraco looking ready to make the move to the big club, that may become a reality.

All-in-all, this group averages out to a C for me. The catchers, BP and Votto get high grades (B+’s for both BP and Votto, a nice B for the catchers) while third gets a C- and short gets a D+. Cozart himself is the reason for the “+”.

Outfield

Joey Votto

Image Courtesy of Bo Hussey

And don’t get Reds fans started on left field either. Despite picking up the option on Jonny Gomes, the cries for Chris Heisey to start can almost bring Twitter to a complete standstill. Well, these Reds fans may have a bit of room for complaining. Gomes hasn’t exactly had the offensive season that he posted in 2010. Free agent signing Fred Lewis,who began the season on the DL, hasn’t claimed the position as his own either. Heisey just keeps on playing.

The strangest thing is that of all these three, Heisey is considered the best defensive player. I thought that was something the Reds emphasized? I thought that was one of any reasons the Reds won the NL Central last year? And somehow, Baker finds a way to utilize all three at the position. Yes, it does leave me shaking my head a little.

Heisey’s name is sometimes brought up as the starting center fielder, too. That belongs to Drew Stubbs. One area where Stubbs is exploitable is when he’s in the batter’s box. You see, Stubbs has an excessively high K rate and that might be a tad of an understatement. Yet, he’s most prominently in a leadoff role, a role he’s not always keen on either. He has
performed a little better there this year compared to last season, but the results are still troubling with this strikeouts.

But one thing that does happen is how often Stubbs scores when he reaches base. Part of that is because of his speed (23 for 29 in steals).

Venture over the right and first time All-Star Jay Bruce will be located there. Not much negative to say about Bruce other than his bat is very streaky. How streaky?

Mar/Apr: .237/.306/.381, 4 HR, 11 RBI
May: .342/.402/.739, 12 HR, 33 RBI
June: .217/.301/.348, 2 HR, 7RBI
July*: .245/.375/.453, 3 HR, 6 RBI
*-as of July 21, 2011

Bruce won the NL Player of the Month for May with those eye-bulging numbers.

Now, these slash splits remind me of the same splits produced by Jonny Gomes just last season. One really string month and treaded water for the remainder of the season. One thing Reds fans are accustomed to with Bruce; he will get on another hot streak at some time during the rest of 2011.

The outfield: a C as well (LF: C-, CF: C, RF: B-)

Take all these and you get a C. I do believe that the Reds are performing as an average team this year…at best.

Sure, the offense has produced the second most runs in the NL, but they are also lacking the punch to bring runners in when it is a clutch situation. Their RISP is down from 2010 (.259 in ’11, .278 in ‘10 ) and even lower with 2 outs (.206 in ‘11, .269 in ‘10) and bases loaded (.184 in ’11, .269 in ’10). Take this with the starting pitching being below
expectations and it is average.

But things could be worse. The Reds could be in the NL East. But this is one area where the Reds are lucky as they are in the NL Central, a division where no team really seems to have a stranglehold on the top.