The Red Menace

A “Kiss ‘Em Goodbye” piece on the Reds to which I contributed ran at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider on Saturday. Building upon something I noted for the year’s sabermetric highs and lows, these numbers jumped out at me:

Key stat: .245 AVG/.301 OBP/.354 SLG

That’s the combined showing of all Reds batting in the top two lineup spots, constituting 24 percent of the team’s total plate appearances and proving that [Reds manager Dusty] Baker’s ideas about what make an offense work are completely out of touch with reality. During a ghastly stretch in which the team lost 45 out of 68 games, [Willy] Taveras batted an appalling .216/.230/.243, and the lineup’s production shriveled to 3.6 runs per game. Once Taveras mercifully went on the disabled list with a quad strain in mid-August, Baker reacted by locking rookie Drew Stubbs (.260/.313/.438 overall) in the leadoff hole and weak-hitting shortstop Paul Janish (.215/.297/.308 overall) in the second slot. Despite this rather appalling second act of managerial malfeasance, the Reds have gone 26-15 since Taveras went down, though that performance has more to do with a pitching staff that’s held opponents to 3.8 runs per game via strong finishes from [Bronson] Arroyo, [Homer] Bailey, and [Johnny] Cueto.

The Bottom Line: With [Joey] Votto, [Brandon] Phillips, [Jay] Bruce, Stubbs, Cueto, Bailey, and a rehabbed [Edinson] Volquez, the Reds can still claim a promising young nucleus. Alas, Baker’s work this year shows that he may be the biggest obstacle to the team’s success, and with one more year on his deal, he’s not going anywhere. Trading either Arroyo or [Aaron] Harang is certainly an option; the two players have about $28 million remaining on their deals via 2010 contracts and 2011 buyouts, so moving one of them might create an opportunity for a midlevel signing. Still, it’s difficult to envision this team breaking out of the middle of the pack without keen vision and bold steps.

Suffice it to say that Baker’s ineptitude as a manager relative to his reputation really leaves me baffled. Forget his well-earned reputation as an old-school hardass of an arm mangler (Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, now Volquez), where the hell does he think runs come from, the stork?

More to come on playoff-relevant topics later today.

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