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Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Dusty Baker has decisions to make

Joey Votto came off the disabled list on Tuesday. Our analysts take a look at the lineup decisions facing Reds manager Dusty Baker.

1. What should Dusty Baker do about the Joey Votto-Scott Rolen-Ryan Ludwick-Todd Frazier logjam?

Mark Simon (@msimonespn), ESPN Stats & Information: Frazier has done enough to merit significant playing time, so perhaps come up with a system by which he gets two starts a week at third base and two starts a week at first base, making sure he's almost always in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. Against lefties this season, Frazier is slugging .568 while Rolen is slugging .299. After the Reds clinch the NL Central, Frazier should get enough at-bats spelling both Rolen and Votto to be fresh for the postseason.

Chad Dotson (@dotsonc), Redleg Nation: Baker should get Frazier into the lineup however he can. If Rolen hadn't hit .325/.420/.513 in the second half, the answer would be easy: put Frazier at third base. As it stands, however, Dusty should first talk himself into allowing Jay Bruce to play center field occasionally (in place of Drew Stubbs). Then, Baker can get Frazier five to six games a week at some combination of four different positions: third base, first base, left field and right field.

Diane Firstman, Value Over Replacement Grit: The Reds went 32-16 while Votto was out of the lineup. Their remaining schedule is quite soft, and the only thing they're still chasing is the best record in the NL (and home-field advantage through the League Championship Series). Votto admits his knee is not 100 percent yet. Ergo … just ease him back in and make sure he's ready for the playoffs.

2. What will Dusty do about the Votto-Rolen-Ludwick-Frazier logjam?

Simon: I think he'll play it safe until the postseason starts, when if Votto is able to play, he'll be out there every day. Rolen has a very hot/cold postseason history. I'd expect Baker to give him every chance to play every day in the playoffs, but the option of using Frazier looms as a solid alternative. Rolen's defensive success also leads me to think that if he isn't starting postseason games, he'll be finishing any in which the Reds have a lead. This sort of depth is a good problem to have, given Rolen's history and Votto's admission that he's not yet at 100 percent. These things tend to work themselves out before they become problems.

Dotson: Dusty won't allow Bruce to play center field, as suggested above, but he can get Frazier plenty of at-bats if he is creative. Votto has said he won't be 100 percent this season, and the chances of Rolen remaining perfectly healthy the rest of the way are slim. Frazier can spell those two, plus Ludwick in left field once or twice a week. Frazier has to play, but it will end up being less of a problem than it appears.

Firstman: I really do believe Dusty might start Votto only three to four times per week the rest of the way. On days that Votto plays, I think Rolen will get sent to the bench, especially if a lefty is starting, as Rolen has a .209/.312/.299 line against them this year. Ludwick might also get some extra rest down the stretch.

3. Who should be the Reds' No. 4 starter in the playoffs, Mike Leake or Homer Bailey?

Simon: If Game 4 is a road game, which it should be, I'd take Bailey, who is 7-2 with a 2.75 ERA on the road this season, including good performances in Los Angeles and Atlanta. He's allowed only five home runs in 88 1/3 innings on the road this season, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3-to-1. Bailey's recent struggles were mostly due to a few ineffective starts at Great American Ball Park, a place in which he doesn't seem well suited to pitch this season. My one exception might be if the Reds face the Giants. Leake has allowed two runs in 23 1/3 innings in his past three starts against the Giants. Bailey allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings in his only start against them in the past two seasons.

Dotson: This one is too close to call. Bailey has a better ERA and adjusted ERA+, but Leake has a superior xFIP (expected fielding-independent pitching) plus a better walk rate. If the game is away from Great American Ball Park, Dusty may choose to go with Bailey, who is 7-2 with a 2.75 ERA on the road. All things being equal, however, Leake's bat may be the deciding factor; Leake has two homers, and he may be the best-hitting pitcher in the league.

Firstman: Their season stats and peripherals are quite similar, and neither one has distinguished himself in a positive way in the second half of the year. Bailey is MUCH better on the road than at home. (Leake also has that issue to a smaller degree.) If the Reds need a Game 4 in the NLDS, it would be a home game … so maybe they would bring back Johnny Cueto, the Reds' Game 1 starter, on three days' rest?