One of the biggest surprises in the standings after roughly 20% of the season is in the books is the Cincinnati Reds. This past week after winning the series against the Cardinals, the Reds found themselves in first place. Considering the team hasn't had a winning record since 2000, this is quite a surprise. So the Fan's objective with this post is to figure out what makes them so good and pinpoint why they have been so successful to date. After fussing around the numbers, it's no easy task.
Let's start with the offense. The Reds hit their fair share of homers. They are fourth in the National League in homers (out of 16 teams). And because of the homers, the Reds are sixth in the league in slugging percentage. That is good, but not jumping off the page. But there is nothing dreamy about the rest of the offensive stats. They are eighth in batting average (middle of the pack), tenth in On Base Percentage (below middle of the pack), tenth in hits and eleventh in doubles. They have a centerfielder with a 70 OPS+ and a shortstop with an 80 OPS+. Despite all this, they are fifth in the league in runs scored, which means they somehow capitalize on their base runners. But really, the offense isn't anything special.
What about pitching? Only two of their starters are above 100 in ERA+ (Leake and Cueto). But in fairness, Arroyo and Bailey have stepped it up of late. The staff as a whole is 13th out of 16 in earned runs allowed. They are eighth in strikeouts and 11th in walks. The Reds are also 13th in homers allowed. Their closer, Francisco Cordero, has a 1.50 WHIP despite a high save total. So he makes it exciting. Massett has been blazing with 30 K's in 19+ innings, but he's also walked 10 and has given up 21 hits. Mike Lincoln and Danny Herrera have been effective as has Micah Owings in long relief (except for one outing which colors his stats). Then, of course, there is the amazing Arthur Rhodes who has been extraordinary. But again, over all, the pitching staff has been just ordinary.
How about fielding? Votto is very good at first and is third in the majors in UZR at first. Phillips is also very good at second and is fifth in the majors. Orlando Cabrera has been in the middle of the major league pack for shortstops (which combined with his 80 OPS+ makes him a weakness) as has an aging Scott Rolen. Bruce has been very good in right and is seventh in the majors in UZR for that position. Stubbs has been an awful fielder in center to go along with his horrid bat and Johnny Gomes is dead last among all left fielders in UZR. Despite all this, the Reds lead the majors in fielding percentage. So they don't get to as much as they should, but they convert the outs on the balls they get to. But again, this isn't much to sneeze at.
What about Run Differential? They have scored 183 and allowed 181, which is spinning the wheels sort of stuff. Before Tuesday's game, they had a 22-16 record despite a Pythagorean expectation of 19-19, so they are beating the odds (much like the Angels have done for years). So what is it? What's going on here?
The Fan was determined to find that smoking gun, and maybe this is it: The Reds have put together a 9-5 record in one-run games and they are 4-0 in extra innings. And they are 16-10 within their division. Plus, they have an .965 OPS with two outs with runners in scoring position and an .860 OPS in high leverage situations. Perhaps we have finally stumbled on the answer. They are beating the teams they need to beat, they catch the ball and don't beat themselves and they win every extra inning game they play. They get the big hit when they need it. Got it!
What the Fan also gets is that it's a whole lot of fun to see the Cincinnati Reds on top of the division. How refreshing! Cincinnati has always been a great baseball town that supports its team no matter what. They have to be loving this, no?