On Fatalistic Reds Fans

Coming off the back of a series loss to Milwaukee, I have now discovered some fans in cyberspace that believe the Reds may not win their division or even make the playoffs. It’s just more negativity to heap on the pile that is already stuffed full of Baker-bashing and offense-bemoaning.

If the Reds had won today’s series finale, some of the same fans now writing the season off would now be talking about the roll the Reds have been on. Instead it seems people have latched on to one bad series rather than the generally solid play of the past few weeks. Every single team in baseball will lose series they “shouldn’t.” It happens. The Pirates have dropped series to middling or bad teams like the Dbacks, Rockies and Marlins since the All-Star break. The Cardinals dropped a set with the Cubs earlier this month. Should we cancel their postseason aspirations?

It would be difficult (not impossible) for the Reds to miss the playoffs. Consider:

  • The Nationals have 32 games left, and the best they have done over any 32 game period this year is 18-14. If they equaled that they’d finish 83-79, and the Reds would only need to go 10-21 to hold them off.
  • The Dbacks have 33 games left and their best 33 game run was 20-13. If they did that again they’d finish 86-76, and the Reds could go 13-18 without the Dbacks catching them.
  • The Reds have 31 games remaining…and the worst they have done over any 31 game period is 14-17.

So the Dbacks and Nationals would need to play winning baseball at a clip they have not done at all yet this year, all while the Reds lose at a pace they have not done yet this year. As for not having a shot at winning their division, are people looking at the same standings as I am? They tell me the Reds are behind two teams, but only by 2.5 games. That’s hardly an overwhelming gap with a month left.

One of the reasons some folks think the Reds are toast is because they’ve not been able to beat St. Louis. I can’t argue with that…but the upcoming games with St. Louis (seven of the next 10) haven’t been played yet. It seems unreasonable to take an attitude of “The Reds haven’t beat St. Louis, so they can’t and won’t.” They MIGHT get battered, sure. But maybe they won’t. Let the games play out. From some of the comments I’ve read you’d think the Reds were 17 games under .500, not over.

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On Bronson

When Bronson Arroyo defeats a team, I will sometimes see internet comments from opposing fans along the lines of:

“This guy throws junk rabblerabblerabble.”

and

“I can’t believe we lost to Bronson Frickin Arroyo rabblerabblerabble.”

To that I say: So what? What’s wrong with “junk” if it is often effective in getting batters out? I enjoy seeing slow pitches with movement confounding hitters. Sometimes there is a bit of a disconnect between what opposing fans think of Arroyo and what actual hitters think. For example, Chase Headley:

“He changes speed. He’s just tough. You can’t really have a plan against him. It’s a crapshoot what you’re going to see, and he throws everything for a strike, so you can’t just go up there and wait him out.” (padres.com)

Sometimes Arroyo does get whacked around like a piñata (looking at you St. Louis), but you could do much worse. In his eight seasons with the Reds, Arroyo has compiled the following numbers:

  • 101 wins
  • 1637 IP
  • 1076 Ks
  • 4.04 ERA

Since 1901 242 players have won 101 games for one team. San Diego has not had one in its 43 year existence (nor have the expansion Rays, Rockies or Marlins, understandably).

  •  Of those 242, 204 also pitched 1637 innings.
  • Of those 204, 194 kept their ERA to 4.04 or less.
  • Of those 194, only 114 had at least 1076 strikeouts.
  • Of those 114, only three others were Reds: Johnny Vander Meer, Jim Maloney, Joe Nuxhall. Good company, no?

Think of all the pitchers to have come and gone in the past 112 years and you’ll realize 114 is a very small number. Other names on the list are a Who’s Who of Hall of Fame members (and no I am not suggesting Arroyo is a Hall of Famer): Greg Maddux (who racked up those aggregate numbers twice, for the Cubs AND Braves), Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden, Don Drysdale and so on. (Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Other Friday Notes:

  • It was Reds Social Media Night. Cool concept. The Reds have some pretty social media-savvy people on staff, and accessible to boot. Free shirts also never hurt.
  • Nice to see Todd Frazier bounce back with a couple hits and a nice pick at 3rd.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the postgame fireworks from Rozzi’s. I hadn’t been to a fireworks display at a Reds game before, but they spared no expense.

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Fan-ticipation

What a cheesy creative title, right? Recently I’ve been scouring StubHub to try and find an Opening Day ticket to see the Reds play. I’ve never been to Opening Day, but it would be very cool to go. Alas, even standing room only tickets have hovered around $100, well out of my price range, so I am left to hope that desperate ticketholders lower their price closer to the day of the event.

I know that Opening Day here is considered a local holiday, and always highly anticipated. Combine that with pennant-winning expectations and you’ve got a hot ticket. That got me wondering just where in the baseball world the hottest ticket is. Looking at Stubhub is one way to quantitatively measure anticipation for Opening Day in various cities in terms of scarcity (how many tickets are available) and lowest price available.

Highest Scarcity:

  1. Baltimore (1325 tickets on the market)
  2. Cincinnati (1607)
  3. Miami (1645)
  4. Toronto (2636)
  5. Kansas City (2656)

In four of these cities there is hope and excitement. Baltimore and Cincinnati made the playoffs last year, and Toronto and Kansas City made big moves to try and make it this year. It makes sense that tickets for Opening Day would be harder to come by in these places; fans may simply want to keep the tickets they’ve bought. The team that sticks out is Miami. They are universally predicted by pundits to be a mess. So why are they among the league leaders in ticket scarcity on StubHub? The answer might lie in the fact that selling unwanted tickets on StubHub works better when people can’t get them cheaply or at all through the team ticket offices. In the case of the Marlins, tickets are still very much available. In fact they are currently offering a promotion where people that buy an Opening Day ticket get a freebie for an April or May game.

What about on the opposite side of the spectrum? Where is it easy to snag a ticket?

Lowest Scarcity:

  1. LA Angels (7787 tickets left on the market)
  2. Atlanta (7197)
  3. NY Yankees (6474)
  4. LA Dodgers (6194)
  5. Detroit (5856)

Plenty of people in Los Angeles and Detroit are looking to make money off of three Vegas favorites to win the World Series. The Los Angeles and New York markets are huge, so you’d expect a fair number of tickets to be in play on StubHub. Atlanta doesn’t have the rampant World Series buzz that follows the Angels, Dodgers and Tigers, but they are still viewed as playoff contenders. It is curious that with a relatively small population (400,000+) they have the second most tickets floating around on the open market.

The other component of a hard-to-come-by ticket is price. The general rule of thumb is that if demand for an event is high, the price for a ticket will be high as well. People will pay what the market will bear. Here are the five highest priced tickets:

  1. San Francisco ($145.00)
  2. Detroit ($127.40)
  3. Baltimore ($99.90)
  4. Cincinnati ($97.15)
  5. Colorado ($73.50)

And the lowest:

  1. Arizona ($15.26)
  2. Toronto ($18.50)
  3. Minnesota ($21.80)
  4. Miami ($22.08)
  5. Pittsburgh ($27.87)

No one is this bottom group is expected to be a world beater except for the Blue Jays. If you’re a Jays fan you find yourself in the unusual position of being able to snag a cheap ticket for Opening Day despite them being in high demand.

If you define a hot ticket as something with high scarcity and high price, you’re left with this top 5:

  1. Baltimore (3rd in price, 1st in scarcity)
  2. Cincinnati (4th in price, 2nd in scarcity)
  3. Colorado (5th in price, 12th in scarcity)
  4. Kansas City (13th in price, 5th in scarcity)
  5. St. Louis (6th in price, 14th in scarcity)

There are fewer tickets available for the Orioles and Reds than anyone else on StubHub, and unfortunately only at extreme price points. Tickets are much more expensive in San Francisco and Detroit, but there are significantly more available if you’re willing to pay the price.

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The Selflessness of the Cincinnati Reds

As I read various articles about the Reds coming into this season, one of the things I am struck by is the selfless attitudes some of the players have shown. You might argue that being selfless is part of the job description for an athlete: they are paid a lot of money and so they should do whatever is asked of them without complaint. Here’s the thing though: that’s not always the way it works. There are stories all the time about disgruntled players who aren’t happy with their roles.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Reds, from stars down to role players. They all know what part they are auditioning for or what role they are to assume, and everyone seems on board. I just wanted to look at how the various moving parts have reacted to their new situations.

Bench:

Jack Hannahan: Hannahan can play first, second and short and is open to the idea of bouncing around. He’s happy to be on a team built to win. Jason Donald has a similar attitude if he ends up making the team.

Chris Heisey: Heisey is a player that fans at various times have wanted starting instead of coming off the bench. Hal McCoy opines in an article that some teams would consider him an everyday player. Of course, Dusty Baker has said several times that he values Heisey more off the bench. For his part, Heisey has a good attitude, saying that he believes the Reds eventually will give him a chance if he can prove himself. He takes pride in what he brings to the table and appreciates the fact that Cincinnati gave him a shot in the big leagues to begin with. So while Heisey would like to start, he knows what his place is and seems alright with it for now.

Pitchers:

Three pitchers have had their names linked together in the endless debate over whether Aroldis Chapman should be a reliever or a starter.

Jonathan Broxton: Broxton doesn’t know what his role will be yet, but he acknowledges that anything can happen because the Chapman situation is fluid. He’ll just prepare as normal. He’s looking forward to training camp and the season. This doesn’t sound like someone torn about what his role may be, whether it ends up being closing or setup.

Aroldis Chapman: My official position on Aroldis Chapman is this: why are some people getting so worked up about the idea of him starting? Spring training is going to go on for another five weeks, and there will be plenty of time to at least get an idea if this could work. If he flops, send him back to closing. Whatever my feelings, or your feelings, or the feelings of ESPN pundits, the man at the center of all this is fine either way. He has gone from wanting to start to feeling comfortable in the bullpen, but is open to whatever the team needs.

Mike LeakeLeake is very aware that Chapman is penciled in as the 5th starter and that his role might change this year. To his credit, he is focused less on Chapman potentially taking his spot and more on improving on last year.

Regulars:

There has been much consternation about Shin Soo Choo’s perceived inability to handle the move from right to centerfield. My official position number two: let him play some spring training games before you write him off. Pundits have condemned his centerfield defense before the season has even started. One guy affected by the arrival of Choo is Brandon Phillips, who will bat second now instead of leading off.

Shin Soo Choo: Ken Rosenthal’s article about Choo revealed a couple of things. The first is that he’s a thoughtful guy. He wrote Indians GM Chris Antonetti a letter after being traded apologizing for the team not performing better, and expressing gratitude for being given the chance to blossom into a great player. He seems like a stand-up guy, and he has indicated he will give his best effort to make the transition to center. At least one former Reds great has faith in him in the person of Eric Davis. Davis says Choo has the footwork, anticipation and intelligence to get the job done. That must carry a little weight, right?

Brandon Phillips: Phillips will scoot down to the two slot in the lineup with the arrival of Choo. He says he’d rather hit third, but will do whatever the team needs to win games. There is a difference between having a preference, as Phillips does, and being unhappy. Phillips will do whatever is asked of him with a smile on his face.

The point I am trying to get at is that everyone seems to be all in. New players are coming in and wanting to contribute in whatever way they can, and established Reds are shifting into new roles without complaint. It’s all very “Kumbayah” right now. Being part of a winner helps foster that attitude, but there are some genuinely team-first guys on the roster. It’s nice to read about players wanting to do whatever it takes to help out as opposed to “I won’t play there” or “I want to play more.”

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Offensive Mediocrity, Thy Name is Bearcat

The Cincinnati Bearcats are an offensively deficient basketball team in Big East conference play. That is pretty obvious when they continuously throw up poor shooting percentages and low point totals game after game. Even within the Big East, where offense is precious and many teams are mediocre at best, UC is bad. Here are the details of where UC ranks (in conference games only) in several categories, courtesy of StatSheet.com:

  • 61.8 points per game (12th in the Big East)
  • 37.8% field goal percentage (14th)
  • 29.3% 3 point field goal percentage (12th)
  • 0.99 points per possession (10th) (in other words, the average number of points UC scores each time it has the ball)
  • 11.1 assists per game (14th)

UC shoots the ball poorly in general, and that sub-30% mark from 3 point range hurts more considering they have attempted the second most three pointers of all Big East teams in conference play. That’s a lot of bricks. They don’t share the basketball well or take advantage of free points from the charity stripe; despite being 3rd in the league in attempts and makes, they’re just 11th in free throw accuracy. They’ve left nearly 8 points a game on the table by missing 101 free throws.

The Bearcats play in a seemingly endless series of low-scoring conference games. That’s not unusual for Big East teams, but the Bearcats play more than their fair share. They have been involved in 10 conference games (out of 13) where each team scored less than 70 points. The leaderboard:

  • Cincinnati 10
  • Georgetown 9
  • Pittsburgh 9
  • Rutgers 9
  • South Florida 9

A combination of a leaky offense and a solid defense will land you high on that list. The problem is that the Bearcats aren’t all that good in those games. The worst:

  • South Florida 1-8 (11.1%)
  • Seton Hall 1-6 (14.3%)
  • Rutgers 3-6 (33.3%)
  • Cincinnati 4-6 (40.0%)
  • St. John’s 2-3 (40.%)

Cincinnati sometimes has trouble making it to 60 points in conference games, let alone 70.

Number of Sub-70-point offensive games Number of Sub-60-point offensive games
Rutgers 13 South Florida 8
South Florida 13 Seton Hall 8
Pittsburgh 12 Rutgers 7
Seton Hall 12 St. John’s 6
Georgetown/Cincinnati 10 Notre Dame/Cincinnati 5

These lists are full of bottom feeders or middling conference teams, with the exception of one: Georgetown. That brings me to my next point. UC is held down often by its offense, but the defense is statistically great. The problem is that the other top teams in the conference also have good defenses, but better offenses to accompany them. When your team’s strength is one that several others share, you had better have something else going for you. UC rebounds well and can put back some of those offensive misses, but they’re weak in quite a few areas. Here’s how UC measures up against the top 4 teams in conference play offensively, along with conference ranking (again from Statsheet.com):

Team Points per Game Points per Possession Assists per Game Field Goal Percentage 3 point Field Goal Percentage Free Throw Percentage
Cincinnati 61.8 (12th) 0.99 (10th) 11.1 (14th) 37.8% (14th) 29.3% (12th) 67.5% (11th)
Louisville 69.8 (3rd) 1.04 (4th) 15.1 (2nd) 43.1% (6th) 29.7% (11th) 70.9% (6th)
Marquette 69.1 (4th) 1.09 (1st) 13.6 (8th) 45.5% (1st) 28.7% (13th) 74.1% (3rd)
Georgetown 62.0 (11th) 1.01 (7th) 14.1 (5th) 45.3% (2nd) 35.1% (4th) 68.8% (10th)
Syracuse 67.0 (8th) 1.08 (2nd) 12.8 (11th) 41.7 (9th) 31.2% (10th) 75.3% (1st)

The top tier teams in the conference are all more balanced than UC. Georgetown is a hot shooting team. Syracuse makes the most of its trips to the line. Louisville does most things well. Marquette scores more per possession than any other team in the conference. In fact, the only category where UC beats ANY of these teams in anything is in 3 point field goal percentage, where the Bearcats are marginally better than Marquette. Even that is misleading though, because Marquette has only attempted 195 threes and they account for just 18.7% of the points they’ve scored. UC has attempted 290 3 pointers and they make up 31.8 % of offensive output.

The bottom line is that UC is where they should be. They have a great defense and a mediocre offense, so around .500 in conference sounds about right. They’re capable of frustrating and beating top teams with their defense, but they’re just as capable of cold shooting dooming them to defeat.

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The importance of a fast start

When I look at the early portion of the Reds schedule, it strikes me as rather difficult. The Reds open with nine straight against the Angels, Nationals and Cardinals, which will provide a test immediately. By May 1st the Reds will have tacked on additional series with the Nats and Cards, plus three with the Phillies. The Phillies are quicksand; since 2004 the Reds are 21-44 against them (playoff debacle included).

With that in mind I wondered just how important getting off to a good start is in baseball. I looked at data from the 2000 season onwards to see how playoff teams have fared through the month of April. 106 teams have made the playoffs in that period, and 80 of them were no worse than .500 by the close of April (75.5%). Taking things a step further, 21 of 26 World Series participants in that span have been .500 or better (80.8%), and 11 of 13 World Series winners (84.6%).

Getting off to a rough start wouldn’t eliminate the Reds, but it would certainly dim their chances. Here are a few exceptions to the rule:

Oakland, 2001:

The Athletics stumbled to an 8-17 start in April and were only 38-41 by the end of June. Then the light switch flipped on and they went a blistering 64-19 (.771) the rest of the way. The fun included winning streaks of five (2x), six (2x), seven, nine and 11 games. They won 102 games and amazingly had to settle for a wild card due to the Mariners winning 116.

Florida, 2003:

The Marlins removed themselves from division contention early by falling a double digit number of games behind by mid-May. At the end of May they were 26-31. They went 20 over .500 in the last three months to snatch the wild card, and eventually the World Series. The Marlins rotation that year featured among others, walking injury Carl Pavano, Dontrelle Willis back when he was good, and the long forgotten Mark Redman. Redman somehow managed to win 14 games that season despite a 10 year career that saw him keep his ERA below 4.21 a single time.

Houston, 2005:

Astros fans currently swimming in a sea of woe must fondly remember the period from 1998 to 2005, when they could support the flagship team of the NL Central. The way this edition of the Astros started was putrid though. At one point they were 15-30 and had won two road games (2-21). Astonishingly they went 34-24 on the road the rest of the way. They finished 11 games behind the Cardinals, but 89 wins was good enough for the wild card. They disposed of the Cardinals and Braves on the way to the World Series, where their run ended against the White Sox.

Oakland, 2012:

The most recent example of a team recovering from a shaky April is notable both for Oakland’s strong play in the second half of the season and the Texas Rangers capitulation. Oakland finished April 11-13 and at the end of June were 5 games under .500, 13 games behind first place Texas. From then on they went 57-26 (.687). Needing to sweep Texas at home in their final series of the season to win the division, they did just that.

I would love for the Reds to blitz the competition for a three month period like some of these teams have done, but that rarely happens. I’d be fine with the Reds simply playing respectable baseball to open the season until the schedule lightens. That would keep them afloat and lessen some of the fan hissing that accompanies slow starts.

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Why I’m jealous of Baltimore (and other NFL Playoff trivia)

As a Bengals fan, I’m used to seeing Baltimore on top of the AFC North standings. Now they also sit on top of the NFL world. Since 2000 they have had a sustained run of success that would make nearly all fans of other teams envious. In that span they are third in playoff appearances with 9, and second in playoff wins with 14. For those keeping track, that is 14 more wins than the Bengals.


 

Baltimore of course was a 4th seed. Here is how each seed number has done in the playoffs since 2000.

1 seed 2 seed 3 seed 4 seed 5 seed 6 seed
29-24 28-22 25-25 28-23 15-25 18-24
54.7% 56.0% 50.0% 54.9% 37.5% 42.9%

 

Interestingly, the 6th seed, having had to scratch and claw to even make the playoffs, has had more success than the 5th seed.

I also wanted to see the performance of seeds AFTER the wild card round. In the wild card round 3rd and 4th seeded teams get to play weaker opposition and hence their overall win totals are inflated. This is an advantage teams with byes don’t have. So post-wild card round:

1 seed 2 seed 3 seed 4
seed
5 seed 6 seed
29-24 28-22 8-16 12-13 5-9 9-7
54.7% 56.0% 33.3% 48.0% 35.7% 56.3%

 

Predictably, the performances of the 3rd, 4th and 5th seeds decline once the level of competition increases. The 6th seeds do surprisingly well if they manage to make it out of the wild card round. At that point their performance from a percentage standpoint compares favorably with the top two seeds. Super Bowl wins by Pittsburgh in the 2005-06 season and the Giants in 2010-11 are largely responsible for the impressive numbers posted by 6th seeds. Speaking of low seeds winning the Super Bowl, it isn’t that unusual as of late: 6 of the past 13 winners have been seeded 4th or lower. Baltimore also won as a 4th seed in the 2000-01 Super Bowl.

Past history would indicate that Baltimore has a decent shot of returning to the playoffs. Since the 1978-79 season, of the 34 Super Bowl winners before Baltimore, 22 have returned to the playoffs the following year (64.7%). That figure is pretty good when you consider the odds of a team making back-to-back playoff appearances In the NFL are about the same as a coin flip. Teams in their Super Bowl follow-up campaign have averaged more than 10 wins. Not the greatest of news for the rest of the AFC North.

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