SweetSpot: Scott Rolen



Best seasons by third basemen since 1980, at least according to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement formula:

1. Adrian Beltre, 2004 Dodgers: 9.6
2. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 Yankees: 9.4
3. Rodriguez, 2005 Yankees: 9.4
4. George Brett, 1980 Royals: 9.4
5. Scott Rolen, 2004 Cardinals: 9.1
6. Wade Boggs, 1985 Red Sox: 9.0
7. Mike Schmidt, 1980 Phillies: 8.8
8. Miguel Cabrera, 2013 Tigers: 8.8 (projected)
9. Wade Boggs, 1989 Red Sox: 8.4
10. David Wright, 2007 Mets: 8.3

Cabrera is certainly having a historic season with the bat. If we look strictly just at hitting by third basemen, the list looks like this in terms of runs produced compared to an average hitter from that season:

1. Cabrera, 2013: 79 (projected)
2. Rodriguez, 2007: 65
3. Rodriguez, 2005: 64
4. Brett, 1980: 61 (in just 117 games!)
5. Jim Thome, 1996 Indians: 60
6. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves: 59
7. Chipper Jones, 2007 Braves: 58
8. Boggs, 1988 Red Sox: 57
9. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres: 56
10. Boggs, 1987 Red Sox: 56

Eric Karabell argues that the first list gives too much credit to defense; he may be right -- Rolen is credited with 3.3 WAR on defense alone in 2004, for example, although he doesn't top 2.0 in any other season. And it's true that none of the players on the first list were bad defensive players in those seasons, except Cabrera, who is credited with minus-1.1 WAR on defense so far. Boggs didn't have a great defensive reputation early in his career, although he later won two Gold Gloves with the Yankees, and Baseball-Reference credits him as a plus defender for most of his career (although not in the class of Rolen or Beltre).

Does Cabrera's offensive output make up for his subpar range at third base? In the video, we discuss Schmidt's 1980 season, when he hit .286/.380/.624. Schmidt posted a 1.004 OPS that year; the only other National Leaguers to reach even .900 were Keith Hernandez at .902 and Jack Clark at .900. Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, both playing in the Launching Pad in Atlanta, were the only other National Leaguers to reach 30 home runs.

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Which third baseman had the best all-around season since 1980:

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As impressive as Schmidt was compared to his peers, Baseball-Reference still credits him with "just" 47 runs produced above average, compared to Cabrera's projected total of 79. As Karabell says in the video, .286 is not the same as .359. But do Schmidt's defense and baserunning advantages make up for Cabrera's edge at the plate? I think it's close. Schmidt was still a very good third baseman in 1980 and B-R credits him with plus-11 runs, compared to Cabrera's minus-15 so far. B-R actually gives Cabrera the minor edge in baserunning, plus-1 to minus-1, although Schmidt did steal 12 bases that year.

Anyway, measuring defense remains imperfect. But in measuring the complete package of a player, it must be considered. Cabrera is having an all-time great offensive season, but it's a good debate whether it's the best all-around season by a third baseman of the past 35 years or so. (And to be fair, WAR isn't going to factor in that Cabrera is hitting an insane .422 with runners in scoring position.)

What do you think?
That was one of the more entertaining games of the postseason, a classic pitching duel of sorts, with some interesting strategic decisions and some missed opportunities. The Cincinnati Reds will be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of one of the best-pitched games in Reds postseason history and the San Francisco Giants will be wondering how they’re still alive in a game where they got three hits in 10 innings and struck out 16 times. For the rest of us, we’ll get more baseball!

Some thoughts on the Giants’ 2-1 victory:
  • As dominant as Aroldis Chapman was in the ninth inning, getting two strikeouts while throwing just 15 pitches, I was a little surprised he didn’t come back out for the 10th inning. Chapman pitched more than one inning eight times this season, but only twice after becoming the closer, a 1.2-inning save May 27 and a four-out save Aug. 10. Factoring in the shoulder fatigue that sidelined Chapman for 11 days in September, maybe Reds manager Dusty Baker is wary about using Chapman for more than an inning. The trouble is it’s a big drop-off from Chapman to Jonathan Broxton. Of course, it’s a big drop from Chapman to just about any reliever not named Craig Kimbrel.
  • As is, despite giving up two singles to start the inning, Broxton would have escaped the 10th if not for shoddy Reds defense. After he struck out Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady, Ryan Hanigan's passed ball allowed the runners to move up and then Scott Rolen mishandled Joaquin Arias' chopper to third base. The sloppy defense in this postseason continues. Giants manager Bruce Bochy made a couple interesting choices that inning: He let Belt swing away with two on and no out. I would say most managers would have bunted there about 99 percent of the time. I didn’t mind the call. Belt has never had a sacrifice bunt in his brief career and he was the Giants' best chance to deliver a hit. Bochy then let pitcher Sergio Romo hit with runners at first and second. Again, I liked the call. Romo is the Giants’ best reliever; Bochy had used the other relievers you might want to use. Plus, Bochy had used up his bench; only backup catcher Hector Sanchez was left.
  • Xavier Nady and Xavier Paul. Discuss. Or not. Man, these two benches are horrible.
  • Keith Law and Eric Karabell talked about an interesting point on the Baseball Today podcast today, wondering if the Yankees aren’t better off moving up Robinson Cano in the order. He hit cleanup on Monday, and was left in the on-deck circle as Alex Rodriguez made the final out. Keith’s point is that batting lineups don’t matter all that much, but one obvious benefit of stacking your best hitters at the top is you may get them one more plate appearance. That’s the problem with the Reds batting Zack Cozart and his .288 OBP second. He made the final out, leaving Joey Votto on deck.
  • Not to bury Homer Bailey's awesome start. You can see why he pitched a no-hitter two starts ago as he took a no-hitter to two outs in the sixth (although the Giants had scored on a hit-by-pitch, walk and two sacrifices). The walk to No. 8 Brandon Crawford proved especially painful and kudos to pitcher Ryan Vogelsong for a good bunt and Angel Pagan for delivering the sac fly. Considering Bailey had thrown just 88 pitches, you can argue that Baker took him out too early. I can't fault Baker for handing the game to the best bullpen in baseball, but the Giants couldn't touch Bailey on this night.
  • Bailey’s game score of 80 was the fourth highest in Reds postseason history, behind Hod Eller’s 89 in Game 5 of the 1919 World Series against a team that wasn’t trying to win (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 SO) and Ross Grimsley’s 84 in Game 4 of the 1972 NLCS (9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 SO). Jose Rijo’s win to clinch the sweep of the A’s in the 1990 World Series (8.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 9 SO) scores a 91. And, yes, this was just an excuse to mention Hod Eller.
  • Brandon Phillips' hustle effort in the first inning when he got thrown out at third base is one of those plays described as a “baserunning error” if you don’t make it but “heads-up baseball” if you do. The argument against trying to get the extra base is that with zero outs there is a little reward if you do make it (you’re already in scoring position) but a huge penalty if you get caught. As it turned out, Vogelsong labored through a 30-pitch inning and Phillips’ hustle cost the Reds a potential big inning.
  • Vogelsong did a nice job of settling down after that inning. He walked Votto and Ryan Ludwick in the third, but got Jay Bruce on a fly to left. Bruce swung at the first pitch, which isn’t necessarily the worst idea if he thinks a pitcher is going to groove something after two walks. Bochy hit for Vogelsong leading off the sixth, again not a bad idea considering the circumstances. Vogelsong had thrown 95 pitches, the Reds had Votto and Bruce due up the next inning and the Giants were still hitless at the time. It was the one opportunity Bochy knew he could use Aubrey Huff against a right-hander, without the possibility of the Reds bringing in Sean Marshall or Chapman. Huff just isn’t a big weapon right now.
  • As I write this, the Reds haven’t announced their Game 4 starter. It could be Johnny Cueto, but that seems unlikely. It could be Mat Latos, three days after throwing 57 pitches in Game 1. It could be Mike Leake, but to activate him they’d have to replace Cueto, which would make him ineligible for the National League Championship Series, should the Reds advance. If they go with Latos, that would likely mean starting Bronson Arroyo on three days’ rest in a potential Game 5. No easy calls here, but I’d probably go Latos and Arroyo, and rely on the deepest bullpen in the league. The Giants counter with Barry Zito -- and you know Bochy will have a quick hook. The Reds had a .770 OPS against left-handers compared to .710 versus righties, so if Zito struggles early don’t be surprised to see Tim Lincecum again in relief. Should be a good chess match yet again.

 


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming -- the American League playoff races -- to present Homer Bailey, the latest no-hit king in a season of perfect games, no-hitters and near no-hitters.

OK, that ball that bounded over Scott Rolen's glove on a do-or-die play in the third inning of Cincinnati's 1-0 victory is probably a called a hit 95 percent of the time. Hey, it was the Pirates' official scorer who ruled it an error and since it happened early in the game it wasn't one of those rulings made to help preserve a no-no.

Three highlight notes from ESPN Stats & Information about Bailey's gem:

1. After averaging 90 mph on his fastball through three innings and 90.6 in the middle three, Bailey amped it up to 92.1 over the final three innings. A little adrenaline, sure, but it's also an approach Justin Verlander has mastered in recent seasons, saving your best bullets for late in the game.

2. Bailey registered 17 swings-and-misses in the game, his second-highest total in 2012, so the pure stuff was excellent on this night.

3. He threw his fastball for strikes 76 percent of the time, his third-highest percentage of the season.

It's No. 3 that has finally turned Bailey from the perennial -- but disappointing -- prospect into a key member of the Reds rotation as they head into the playoffs. It's been a long road, but Bailey has matured and rewarded the Reds for their patience.

The seventh overall pick in 2004, Bailey's big arm shot him up immediately to the top of prospect lists. Entering the 2007 season, after a big year between high A and Double-A in 2006, Baseball America ranked him the No. 5 prospect in baseball. He reached the majors in 2007 and despite some control issues there (28 walks in 45.1 innings), Baseball America still ranked him No. 9 on its list. Its scouting report on Bailey in the "2008 Prospect Handbook":
Once he was healthy again in September, Bailey was back throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and buckling knees with his curveball. They're both already well above-average major league pitches, and he has shown the ability to take a little off his heater. ... Bailey has no shortage of pure stuff, but he still has to refine his control and command to get big league hitters out and to work deeper into games.

Still, it's taken five seasons for Bailey to emerge as an elite starter. There were some minor injuries along the way, but he's refined his command. His walk percentage by year: 13.7 percent, 9.4, 10.5, 8.6, 5.9, 6.1. He made the big breakthrough last year and has maintained it in 2012. More importantly, he's remained healthy and will top 200 innings for the first time. Maybe he's not an ace, but he's become the definition of innings-eater. He keeps you in the game.

Interestingly, Bailey has been tougher on left-handers this year, holding them to a .248/.311/.380 line while right-handers are hitting .263/.304/.441 off him. Eighteen of the 26 home runs he's allowed have been to right-handers. Much of that difference in damage comes off his fastball. Right-handers are hitting .301 off the pitch, lefties .245. Let's check out his fastball heat maps:

Homer BaileyESPN Stats & InformationHomer Bailey's been tougher on lefties than righties, who have hit the majority of home runs off him.


It's difficult to see exactly what's going on there. It does appear he hits the outside corner a little more often against lefties, and if we break the percentages down, we get 7.8 percent of his fastballs against lefties are down the middle versus 9.5 percent facing right-handers. He also varies his vertical location a little better against left-handers.

The Reds will face an interesting dilemma as they set their postseason rotation: Whether they end up as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, they'll begin on the road. While he logically slots behind Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos (and maybe behind Bronson Arroyo) in the rotation, the smart move may be to start Bailey in the second game of the National League Division Series. As he showed on Friday, he's been much more effective away from Great American Ball Park. He has a 2.41 ERA on the road -- second-best in the majors to Jordan Zimmermann -- but 5.16 at home. As a fly-ball pitcher, it's no surprise that's all home runs: 21 allowed in Cincy, just five on the road.

I know what I'd do. What will the Reds do? Stay tuned.

And now back to your regular programming.
It's a good dilemma: Too many players, not enough starting positions.

With Joey Votto activated, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker will have to decide what to do about his lineup. With Votto out since July 16 following knee surgery, Baker has been able to use Todd Frazier as his primary first baseman with Scott Rolen playing third. Rolen, who looked done the first two months of the season, has responded with an excellent second half, hitting .320/.420/.513 in the second half. Rolen, of course, is a veteran and we all know Baker loves his veterans. But the rookie Frazier is slugging .539 and hasn't been exposed with regular playing time since the All-Star break, hitting .306/.352/.522.

SportsNation

What should Dusty Baker do about the Reds' lineup?

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In my chat session today, a reader threw out the possibility of playing Frazier in right field with Jay Bruce moving to center in place of Drew Stubbs (.219/.285/.356). Frazier has made five starts in the outfield this year, but all came in left field. Bruce, meanwhile, hasn't played center field since his rookie season in 2008. The trouble with that alignment -- or playing Frazier in left and Ryan Ludwick in center -- is that you weaken yourself at two positions, center field and right/left field. Neither Bruce or Ludwick should be considered a center fielder and it seems unlikely that Baker would play around with his defensive alignment this late in the season, even if it means getting Stubbs' bat out of the lineup.

Another reader pointed out that Tony La Russa played Skip Schumaker in center field last postseason, even though he hadn't played there in the regular season. Indeed, Schumaker had played just 13 innings all season in center field but started there four games in the postseason, including three World Series games. Schumaker had come up as an outfielder and started 59 games in center in 2008 before moving to second base, but it was still a risky move by La Russa.

Maybe Baker thinks Bruce can handle center. Bruce has basically rated as an average right fielder the past two seasons (minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved), so probably wouldn't be a disaster in center. Maybe when Bronson Arroyo -- the most extreme flyball pitcher in the rotation -- starts, Baker plays Stubbs. In the end, I'd predict Stubbs remains in center, with Rolen starting the most of the playoff games at third and Frazier serving as a pinch-hitter deluxe/occasional starter.

What would you do?
Let's of good debates in today's chat: We discuss Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP race, whether or not Ryan Braun is an MVP candidate in the NL, whether or not some teams should consider a three-man rotation in the playoffs, plus the most amazing play I've ever seen in person. Check it all out -- and more -- here.

Is the stretch Freese's time of year?

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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Every season has its bright lights, new and old alike. Take the question of whose star burns brightest at the hot corner in the National League, right now. David Wright might be the obvious answer for best ballplayer at third base, but playing for the Mets, he might as well be shining down on the rest of us from the galaxy Irrelevant, light years away from a pennant race. Chipper Jones would probably be the next-best answer, but he’s a month and change from going nova and calling it quits, a superstar so bright he’ll be putting people in the shade from Cooperstown for decades to come.

Instead, right now, as the shadows of the season grow long, the question might be whether it’s that time of year again, that time when it will be David Freese’s star that burns brightest. That’s because the hero of last October’s action for the Cardinals could not have chosen a better time to reignite than on Saturday, because now, as then, the Cardinals absolutely need him.

Against the Nationals, Freese ripped a second-inning two-run homer that helped run Jordan Zimmermann out of the game early, then plated the deciding score in the ninth off Nationals set-up man Drew Storen in the Cardinals' 10-9 victory. It was a nice time for Freese to step up for all sorts of reasons: He helped end a four-game losing streak, he fueled an offense that had been limited to a lone run in those games, and he broke with his own recent bad run, as he’s struggled with a .650 OPS over the previous four weeks.

Last year might have represented Freese’s coming-out party, when he starred in October for the eventual champs by plating 21 October runs while clouting five homers, coming right on the heels of a nice September run (.844 OPS). Well-timed, sure, and maybe just that. But nice to have if he's on your team.

But coming-out or not, Freese's arrival has been something of a slow-moving development because of a career frequently interrupted by injury: He lost the second half of 2009 to surgery on his left foot, more than half of 2010 to ankle surgery on his right foot, and almost a third of the 2011 season to surgery to repair a broken hamate. As a result, Freese is already in his age-29 season, so there is no better time for him to blaze away than right now.

His recent slump aside, he’s nevertheless in the front rank of third basemen in this or any league. Despite the injuries he’s been remarkably strong year-to-year in his three full-ish seasons in the majors, never delivering a BABIP below .356 -- no, everybody does not inevitably “regress” to .300 -- while putting up career-best power (.172 Isolated Power) and a career-best walk rate (over 9 percent) in 2012. Hitting as many line drives as he strikes out -- 22 percent of the time for both -- puts Freese in rare company with younger sluggers like Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt.

The Cardinals haven’t had a long-term answer at third base since they traded away Scott Rolen, and one of Freese’s many tests is whether he’ll be more like Rolen and less like another injury-prone temporary fix like Troy Glaus was for the Cardinals, briefly -- good to rent, but not reliably available. If he stays healthy, Freese could be better in his 30s than he was in his 20s, because you marry his past consistency with regular availability, and it's easy to anticipate good things.

In the meantime, if the Cardinals are going to have any shot at repeating last year’s 18-8 September run to get to October, they need Freese to heat up. Sure, they need Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday to deliver as well -- but both have struggled badly to get on base, putting up OBPs in the .260s in the last month. But a strong offense fires on more than one piston, or two. The ill-timed loss of Rafael Furcal to a torn-up elbow is a bad break, but even then, the Cardinals’ lineup has plenty of potential heroes. Allen Craig could fend off his own lengthy injury history and star down the stretch again. The Cards can hope that Lance Berkman’s comeback from an injured knee isn’t limited to sporadic spot starts and a whole lot of pinch-hitting. They’ll need Yadier Molina to bounce back from his most recent home-plate collision and continue crank out his own brand of MVP-level production from behind the plate.

But if now is the time that Freese fires his star back up again, it’ll make one cold August a quickly and easily forgotten memory. As much as the sabermetric community has happily helped kill off notions like clutch hitting as some innate, separate skill from being able to just flat-out hit, you can’t blame a guy like Freese for becoming famous if, now as then, he’s ready to run for the stretch, and perhaps blaze as brightly as any other star.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Bryce HarperBrad Mills/US PresswireJust what the Cardinals need, more home-plate mayhem for Yadier Molina his first night back.

ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian, with perfect timing, raised the question as Adrian Beltre dug in against David Price to lead off the bottom off the second inning: "It's time to start thinking of Beltre in a Hall of Fame terms ..." BOOM! Beltre turned on a 1-1 inside fastball, lining it over the left-field fence for his 25th home run.

In the third inning, Price threw a 1-2 cut fastball on the outside corner. Nothing wrong with the pitch, maybe a little up in the zone from where Price wanted. Beltre lined it into the right-center gap for a two-run double.

In the fifth, Beltre came up with runners on the corners. For the third straight time, Price got ahead in the count. He threw an 0-1 97-mph heater off the inside corner of the plate. Beltre fought it off and dumped a little flair down the left-field line for an RBI single, giving the Rangers a 6-5 lead and knocking Price from the game.

"I didn't feel like I was throwing the ball any different than I was during the stretch where I've been successful," Price said. "It's Texas, they're a good-hitting team, and they're feeling it right now."

In the seventh inning, the Rays just gave in. With two outs and the bases empty, Kyle Farnsworth threw four straight balls, the intentional unintentional walk.

But the damage had been done. Baseball's hottest hitter beat baseball's hottest pitcher. Price entered the game with an 8-0 record and 1.45 ERA over his past 12 starts, having thrown 12 consecutive games where he pitched at least seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer, the first lefty to do that since Randy Johnson in 1999. Since Aug. 16, Beltre is now hitting .447 with six home runs, five doubles and 16 RBIs in 12 games. The Rangers held on for that 6-5 victory as the Rays missed a chance to gain a game on the New York Yankees after the Bronx Bombers blew a ninth-inning lead to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Before the game, ESPN's Aaron Boone opined that Beltre, and not major league RBI leader Josh Hamilton, has been the Rangers' MVP, citing Beltre's excellent defense at third base as one reason. It's that defense that makes Kurkjian's statement more legitimate than you may think: Does Beltre have a chance at the Hall of Fame?

I agree with Kurkjian that Beltre's not there yet, but in a few more years the career totals will start to mount. Here, let's begin with the top third basemen since 1901, using Baseball-Reference.com's WAR leaders. The chart below lists each player's wins above replacement, his career value derived from his offense and defense plus his career adjusted OPS mark.

As you can see, Beltre has derived more of his career value than any of the best third basemen other than Brooks Robinson. You can also see that, other than Robinson, the great glovemen have been ignored in Hall of Fame voting, a reason third base is the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown. It's worth noting that Beltre's career OPS+ matches Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell. Neither fared well in Hall voting. Nettles peaked at 8.7 percent on the ballot and fell off after four years; Bell got 1.7 percent and dropped after one year.

Beltre has a big edge over those two, however, at least in the perception of his offensive contributions. Nettles hit just .248 in his career, as his offensive value came from power and walks; Bell hit .279 but lacked Beltre's power. Beltre has a .278 career average and has reached 20 home runs in 10 seasons.

More importantly, he's far from finished. He was just 19 when he reached the majors so has a chance to finish with some impressive career totals. He's just 33 now and is signed for four more years. If he averages 25 home runs, 80 RBIs and 140 hits per season through 2016, we're looking at 445 home runs, more than 1,500 RBIs and more than 2,700 hits. If he proves exceptionally durable and plays until he's 40, he has a shot at 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

Beltre's career totals will also be helped by playing his home games in Arlington. As basically a dead-pull power hitter, Safeco Field was about the worst park for Beltre to play in. He still managed to reach 25 home runs in three of his five seasons in Seattle. But he has played the past three seasons in Boston and Texas -- probably the two best parks for him. Not surprisingly, he has posted the best numbers of his career besides his monster 2004 season with the Dodgers. (Since joining the Rangers, 38 of his 57 home runs have come at home.)

Of course, even if he remains productive, he's hardly a Hall of Fame lock. While his defensive metrics rate as outstanding, he has won only three Gold Gloves. Scott Rolen, his similar contemporary, has won eight Gold Gloves, so if you're thinking of reputation (which will likely influence voters more than defensive WAR), Beltre may lack the needed caché. He has also made just three All-Star appearances and finished in the top-10 of the MVP twice. Other than that .334, 48-homer season with the Dodgers (one of the best ever from a third baseman), he has never really been considered one of the game's elite players.

His reputation has certainly improved the past couple of years and his career numbers could eventually make his case a hot debate. At the very least, we can at least start appreciating the excellence of one of the game's most underrated players of the past decade.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chipper Jones and Trevor HoffmanChristopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSpeaking of all-time greats, Braves 3B Chipper Jones was hanging around with Cooperstown-bound Trevor Hoffman.

Cueto putting it all together this year

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
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For a St. Louis Cardinals fan, saying something nice about Johnny Cueto, who in a 2010 brawl literally kicked Jason LaRue out of baseball, is possibly more difficult than complimenting Don Denkinger. (At least Denkinger never meant to hurt anyone.) Still, with Cueto helping the Cincinnati Reds to a National League Central-leading 76-50 record, I'll say it: Cueto is one of the best pitchers in the league this year and should be considered for the Cy Young.

That's less a personal opinion than a fact. Though he didn't pitch quite as well Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies -- allowing two runs in five innings, while issuing three walks in a game the Reds would lose 4-3 in 11 innings -- as he has for most of the year, Cueto entered the game with a 2.44 ERA, the best in the National League. Not bad for a guy who starts half his games in one of the majors' homer-happiest parks.

Somehow, he's keeping the ball on the ground, as his uncannily low 6.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio attests. But his third consecutive year with a single-digit homer-to-fly rate just might be due to something in his control, such as inducing weak contact. That's in no small part because of an increased reliance on his changeup, which he's featuring twice as often as he did in 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Cueto
Eric Hartline/US PresswireJohnny Cueto and his NL-leading 2.47 ERA have been a constant for the injury-plagued Reds.
His non-traditional stats -- career bests in strikeout/walk (3.65), fielding independent pitching (3.04) and xFIP (3.62) -- are strong, but not as knockout-impressive as other Cy Young candidates such as Stephen Strasburg (11.33 K/9), Gio Gonzalez (2.80 FIP), Clayton Kershaw (2.84 FIP), Cliff Lee (6.04 K/BB) or Adam Wainwright (2.99 xFIP). Still, it's not like Cueto is a one-hit wonder: He would've won the NL ERA title last year with a 2.31 ERA had season-starting and -ending stints on the disabled list not prevented him from pitching a measly six more innings to qualify.

He has been healthy the entire 2012 season and therefore has been a constant for the Reds, who have at various times been without the services of key players such as Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Ryan Madson. Just how important has the righty been to the Reds? Despite Votto's ethereal .465 OBP, Cueto nearly matches him in WAR (wins above replacement), 4.3 to 4.8. So Cueto may more appropriately qualify as an MVP candidate than for the Cy Young.

As the surging Cardinals head into Cincinnati for a weekend series, Cueto will miss the action (he's next scheduled to pitch Tuesday). In addition to the built-in rivalry between the two contending teams -- including former Cardinals Rolen, Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Cairo, all of whom don a different red-and-white uniform now -- the matchup is a reminder of the ongoing bad blood between the Reds' ace and the defending world champs. The weekend tilt isn't the only meeting with Cardinals players that Cueto has missed this season. Though he was expected to join Yadier Molina (later replaced by Matt Holliday), Carlos Beltran, Lance Lynn, David Freese and Rafael Furcal on the NL All-Star team, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa passed over Cueto, upsetting both the player and his manager, Dusty Baker. For his part, La Russa denied any vendetta, insisting that he omitted Cueto because he was scheduled to start two days before the game. La Russa also snubbed Zack Greinke, having a better year than Cueto, and of course is no stranger to head-scratcher lineup choices. But even so, the episode wasn't exactly an act of rapprochement.

Cueto made himself persona non grata with the Cardinals two years ago for his cheap shots in the fight. But there's nothing cheap about his 2012 campaign, which he's establishing with his arm. And that's what continues to make his presence on the field an unwelcome sight, not only for the Cardinals but the rest of the National League this year.

Matt Philip tweets at @fungoes and posts everything that doesn't fit at fungoes.net.

OK, let's state the obvious: You don't replace Joey Votto.

You plug the hole with Silly Putty, Scotch tape, carpenter's glue and Dusty Baker's toothpick.

Votto had been the best hitter in baseball until slowed recently by a knee injury that finally required surgery. He'll miss three to four weeks, and the Cincinnati Reds will have to figure out how to keep their one-game lead in the National League Central .

The problem with the Reds' lineup is two-fold:

1. They don't get on base enough.

Even with Votto's best-in-the-majors .465 on-base percentage, the Reds rank just 10th in the National League in OBP at .315. Catcher Ryan Hanigan is the only other player with an OBP higher than .350 and that's with the help of seven intentional walks thanks to his eighth spot in the lineup.

Replacing Votto with Scott Rolen -- with rookie Todd Frazier moving to first base -- means you're playing Rolen and his .199 average and .260 OBP every day. What does this mean in terms of runs scored? Let's do a little rough back-of-the-napkin calculations. In 370 plate appearances, Votto created about 86 runs. In 154 plate appearances, Rolen has created about 12 runs. Say Votto misses 25 games -- about 115 plate appearances. Votto would have been expected to create about 27 runs over that many PAs; Rolen about nine. That rough estimate of 18 runs is worth nearly two losses for the Reds. Rolen may have a defensive advantage at third over Frazier, but that edge is probably negated by Votto's defensive advantage over Frazier at first base.

2. The Reds are too right-handed.

Jay Bruce is currently the only left-handed hitter on the Reds' roster. Entering Monday's game, the Reds were hitting .246/.311/.407 against right-handed pitching and .260/.328/.448 versus left-handed pitching. But to make matters worse, Reds right-handed batters were hitting just .236/.290/.370 against right-handed pitchers.

This obviously leaves the Reds vulnerable to right-handed pitching. If you're in a daily head-to-head fantasy league, you would want to consider picking up any right-handed starter facing the Reds. Managers don't really adjust their rotations because of this, however, so this doesn't necessarily mean the Reds will face more right-handed starters. But it certainly will give opposing skippers an easy edge in creating bullpen matchups. You saw this on Monday. After lefty Wade Miley departed in the sixth inning, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson ran out three straight righty relievers without having to worry about that crucial Votto at-bat.

Anyway, this will put enormous pressure on Bruce to produce and while the right fielder made the All-Star team, his production leaves a little bit to be desired considering his All-Star status. He's hitting .246/.321/.495. Bruce's .348 wOBA ranks just 59th among MLB regulars, another indication of how much the Reds' offense relied on Votto. You're going to have trouble scoring runs when your best hitter is roughly the 59th-best hitter in the majors. And remember, Bruce was hitting .300 on May 15. Since then he's hit .208.

The Reds were rumored to be looking for some offensive help even before Votto's injury -- maybe Shane Victorino, maybe Juan Pierre. While center fielder Drew Stubbs is the obvious position to upgrade with his .217/.287/.361 line, Victorino isn't hitting much better and Pierre would be a big defensive liability in center at this point in his career.

The good news for the Reds is that 23 of their next 26 games are against teams currently with losing records. Actually, let me rephrase that: The Reds have only 21 more games the rest of the season against teams with winning records (nine against the Pirates, six against the Cardinals, three each against the Mets and Dodgers). It's good to be in the Central.

If anything, the same holds true for the Pirates and Cardinals. Those two clubs were already good bets to be active in the trade market, but Votto's injury should only serve to make them even more proactive. The Pirates are in a similar soft spot in their schedule; 22 of their next 25 games are against teams currently below .500. The Cardinals have what appear to be the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams, with 34 games against winning teams.

The Cardinals picked up a game on the Reds with a dramatic ninth-inning rally off Brewers closer John Axford, scoring three runs to win 3-2. With two outs and a runner on, Rafael Furcal reached on an infield single, Skip Schumaker walked to load the bases, Matt Holliday singled in two runs to tie it and Allen Craig drove in the go-ahead run. Jason Motte, after giving up and RBI double to Ryan Braun in the eighth, breezed through the bottom of the ninth with two strikeouts. The Pirates rallied with three runs of their in their ninth to tie the Rockies (on a Pedro Alvarez home run), only to lose in the bottom of the inning.

So the Cardinals leave Monday with a huge win. The Reds leave concerned. The Pirates leave it wondering if they really want to pull the trigger on a Justin Upton trade, if such a possibility actually exists.

Call it another wild, unpredictable night in the NL Central. I suspect there are plenty more of these left.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Rickie WeeksJeff HanischWant to try and get in Rickie Weeks' way? Well, he just won't have it.
Bad news for the Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto is expected to miss three to four weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.

Dusty Baker's initial move was to move rookie third baseman/left fielder Todd Frazier to first base and insert veteran Scott Rolen at third base.

While Rolen did deliver a big two-run single in the Reds' 4-2 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night, he's been struggling all season when he has played, hitting .197/.260/.314 entering Monday's action. His struggles go back to 2011, when he posted a .279 on-base percentage. Considering Votto's .465 OBP was the best in the majors, we're obviously talking about a significant drop in value, as much as two wins on the hitting side over four weeks.

Baker has always been loyal to his veteran players, so he undoubtedly will give Rolen two weeks to keep his spot in the lineup. But the Reds will have to make a quick decision on Rolen's viability. They'd be wise to look for another guy who can play first base via the trade market -- maybe Ty Wigginton from the Phillies or Bryan LaHair from the Cubs.

The Reds have already been rumored to be interested in Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, a move which would push Drew Stubbs into a reserve role (assuming he isn't part of a deal). Victorino, a switch-hitter, would also provide the Reds a much-needed bat from the left side. Votto and Jay Bruce are the team's only southpaw swingers currently on the 25-man roster. That's another reason to go after LaHair.

If there's a silver lining for the Reds, it's that it comes at a soft spot in their schedule: Including Monday's game against Arizona, 24 of their next 27 games are against teams currently with losing records.
Just like Monday night, some booing was also heard on Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast as Mark Simon and I talked baseball!

1. Prince Fielder won the Home Run derby, but the story was a pair of players that did not homer. Did Robinson Cano deserve the fan abuse?

2. What about an All-Star week defensive skills competition? We get creative and we like it!

3. Good emails today, including one about Scott Rolen, Carlos Beltran and Andruw Jones as potential Hall of Famers.

4. There's a Mendoza line for batting average, but what's the line for on-base percentage?

5. Finally, we preview the All-Star Game. Who wins? Who stars? Which matchup is most enticing?

So download and listen to Tuesday's Baseball Today podcast, and prepare for the All-Star game!

The season is young, but never too young to raise a few issues we've seen so far. Here are 10:

1. Yu Darvish's control
In Japan, Darvish was known not only for his terrific stuff but his ability to throw it with precision. In 2011, he walked just 36 batters in 232 innings. Through three starts with the Rangers he's walked 13 in 17.2 innings. I've watched all three of those starts and there's no denying his ability, with good movement on his fastball and a sharp-breaking curve. The command hasn't been there, however, and I do see some Dice-K syndrome: Nibbling at the corners, not pitching inside, not trusting the quality of his stuff. It's early and I do think he'll be fine in the long run, but there is at least a little reason to doubt he'll be the No. 1 many projected.

2. Adam Wainwright
Wainwright has had a tough start this season as he dropped to 0-3, 9.88 after a five-inning outing against the Reds on Thursday. He gave up fourth-inning home runs to Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick, giving him five home runs allowed in just 13.2 innings. One positive sign is that he has 14 strikeouts, an indication that the stuff is still there. From the heat map below, we have his curveball location in 2012 on the left versus 2010, when batters hit just .170 against it. He's only thrown it 45 times so far, but it appears the command in that lower quadrant of the strike zone isn't quite there yet.

Adam Wainwright heat mapESPN Stats & InformationAdam Wainwright's curveball location in 2012 (left) compared to 2010.
3. Marlins' defense
I was worried about Miami's defense before the season and so far that's a legitimate concern, as entering Thursday the Marlins ranked 29th in Defensive Runs Saved at minus-13 runs (only the Rockies ranked worse). The biggest holes so far? Jose Reyes is at minus-6 runs and Hanley Ramirez is at minus-2. Factor in Logan Morrison's plodding defense in left, Emilio Bonifacio's inexperience in center and Giancarlo Stanton's testy knee and this could be a season-long issue.

4. Angels' plate discipline
Entering Thursday's games, the Angels ranked 27th in the majors in walk percentage, ahead of just the Pirates, Royals and Phillies. The Angels also ranked second behind in the Phillies in percentage of pitches outside the strike zone they've swung at (33.1 percent). No matter how many home runs you hit, it's difficult to string together some rallies without drawing a few walks. The major culprits: Kendrys Morales (no walks in 42 plate appearances), Peter Bourjos (no walks in 32 PAs) and Vernon Wells (one walk in 47 PAs).

5. Tampa Bay's bullpen
As bad as Boston's bullpen has been (6.63 ERA), Tampa's has struggled even more with an 8.64 ERA. The Rays pieced together a decent pen a year ago from the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and others. That pen benefited from having to throw the fewest innings in the majors. With Farnsworth on the DL, Fernando Rodney has been getting the save opportunities and he's done the job, but the rest of the pen has been shaky. Of concern: While Boston's relievers have 31 strikeouts and 12 walks, Tampa's have 26 strikeouts against 20 walks.

6. Josh Johnson
For all the concern over Tim Lincecum's drop in velocity and unsightly 10.54 ERA, the ace pitcher I'd be most worried about is Johnson. While Lincecum has 16 strikeouts and four walks in 13.2 innings, Johnson doesn't have any positives on his ledger: 16.2 IP, 28 H, 6 BB, 8 SO. Both have been burned by high BABIPs (.444 for Johnson) and Johnson hasn't allowed a home run, but the low strikeout rate is a big concern and his fastball velocity is also. Like Wainwright, Johnson is coming off an injury, but you have to hope the shoulder is OK.

7. Phillies' lineup
No surprise here with the absence of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but it doesn't help that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have combined for just one home run. Even when Howard and Utley return, the Phillies will need a lot more production from Rollins and Victorino.

8. Scott Rolen
The Reds were counting on Rolen to hit cleanup, but Dusty Baker has already moved him out of that spot after his .171 start through 13 games. Considering his long injury history and struggles in 2011, the end of the line may be approaching for the 37-year-old third baseman. The Reds may eventually have to turn to Todd Frazier, but his minor league track record suggests bench player, not starting third baseman on a playoff team.

9. Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham
The White Sox have a solid rotation, a solid bullpen and ... well, they'll need offense and they were counting on these two infielders to improve from 2011. But Morel is hitting .103 with 18 strikeouts in 39 at-bats and Beckham is hitting .152 with 12 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. Neither has homered.

10. Kids running out on the field
What kind of example is this for the adults?

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Curtis GrandersonChris Trotman/Getty ImagesCurtis Granderson strikes one of his three home runs, part of a 5-for-5 night.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.


Eric Karabell wrote about Kevin Youkilis Insider today and then we talked about Youkilis and two other 30-something third basemen off to slow starts, Scott Rolen and Placido Polanco. We also discussed Chris Young's injury and where Ivan Rodriguez ranks all-time among catchers. Check it out!

Scott Rolen's struggles big issue for Reds

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
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As the All-Star break approached back in 2010, Scott Rolen was -- if you'll forgive the pun -- absolutely rollin'. He was a sure-fire All-Star, and his name was being mentioned in MVP discussions as the Reds were flying high in the National League Central. With good reason, Rolen's resurgence was linked to Cincinnati's outstanding play that year.

Just prior to that season, Reds GM Walt Jocketty had signed Rolen to a contract extension that would carry him through 2012. Signing an aging, oft-injured player through his age-37 season raised a number of eyebrows, but Jocketty's decision looked pretty good when a rejuvenated Rolen entered the All-Star break hitting .290/.361/.548
with 17 home runs, 57 RBIs and a 145 OPS+. Sure, Rolen had lost a half-step defensively, but he was still very, very good.

[+] EnlargeScott Rolen
AP Photo/Al BehrmanIs 37-year-old Scott Rolen off to a slow start this season or has age caught up to the Reds slugger?
During the second half of 2010, however, Rolen looked noticeably the worse for wear. A sub-par second half culminated in a miserable performance in the National League Division Series. Rolen, looking tired, managed just one single and struck out eight times in 11 at-bats, as the Reds suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of Philadelphia.

After an injury-plagued 2011 that saw Rolen contribute just 0.6 WAR to the Reds' bottom line as he hit .242/.279/.397, Rolen came to spring camp with renewed optimism for a healthy, productive season. Unfortunately for Rolen and the Reds, the first couple of weeks have just been more of the same. Rolen
had two hits Wednesday night, and one of them was even an extra-base hit (a double). That prodigious output gave Rolen the following line for the 2012 season thus far: .171/.209/.244.

Obviously, we don't want to draw any sweeping conclusions based on 12 games worth of data. However, after watching him swing and miss at a
couple of mediocre fastballs Wednesday, I became curious. After the 11-1 drubbing in St. Louis, I decided to do some quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations. The results weren't pretty.

Since the 2010 All-Star break, Scott Rolen has played in 131 games. In those games, he's hitting .249/.303/.401, with 8 homers, 64 RBIs, 31 walks and 39 doubles.

Yikes.

Remember, this has been the primary cleanup hitter in Dusty Baker's lineup. Then again, that .704 OPS looks pretty good compared with his 2011 OPS of .676 (with an 82 OPS+).

Everyone in Cincinnati loves Scott Rolen. He's clearly one of the leaders on a young ballclub that's expected to compete, he's hilarious in an interview, he plays hard every night, and he still manages a pretty mean defensive game at third base. The guy has had a great career; probably a Hall of Fame career, frankly.

Let's be honest, though: Rolen has had one good half-season for the Reds. Since the 2010 All-Star break, he has been one of the worst hitting third basemen in the majors. Now he's 37 years old, appears to be having trouble getting around on any fastball quicker than Jamie Moyer's, and there is reason to wonder what the future has in store.

Is there any reason to believe that Rolen, at his age, with his injury history, is going to produce even average offense for the Reds this year? The Reds certainly hope so -- the club desperately needs his production, if he's going to hit in the middle of the lineup -- but I'm afraid there aren't many reasons to be optimistic.

Chad Dotson writes about the Reds at Redleg Nation. Follow him on Twitter.


This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:
  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:

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