4 Reasons the 2013 Cincinnati Reds are World Series Favorites
Take a look at numberFire's team rankings page. Notice anything odd?
You have your strong Detroit Tigers team up there with the second-best World Series odds, but Fielder and Verlander wouldn't expect anything less. Popular picks such as the Nationals, Dodgers, Braves, and Red Sox all also maintain at least six percent odds at bringing home that World Series trophy.
But that name at No. 1 might bring a few sideways glances. Cincinnati? The team with Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake as three-fifths of the rotation? Those guys who have something called a Todd Frazier starting at third base? The team that has exactly three playoff appearances and zero LCS wins since 1990?
Yup, those guys have the best championship odds in the entire majors. And there are four main reasons why.
1. You Need to Get There First
To be a true World Series contender, you first need to make it to the playoffs. Sound simple? Try telling the denizens of the AL East, NL East, and AL West just how simple that will be for them this season.
The Reds, though, may just have an open road. According to our current nERD standings, only one NL Central team sits among the top 19 MLB squads: those pesky Cincinnati Reds. Even without the Astros to provide a free 15-ish wins a season, the Reds still get to feast on two of our four worst MLB teams, the No. 27 Brewers and No. 28 Pirates. The No. 22 Cubs aren't expected to make any noise either, and the advanced analytics frown on the No. 20 Cardinals.
That means, despite currently sitting as the 11th-best team in baseball themselves through the first week of play, historical data shows that the Reds have an incredibly good chance at leading their division this season. Their playoff odds currently sit at 94.0 percent, best among MLB teams as the most likely squad to make the playoffs.
2. Dat Bullpen
If you're reading this article, I don't think I need to tell you that Aroldis Chapman is a halfway decent pitcher. Heck, according to last week's most likely pitchers to throw a no-hitter, Chapman would be twice as likely for a no-no as any other pitcher if only he was a starter. As a closer, he's an absolute treat.
However, one man does not make an entire bullpen. But does three? numberFire only projects 55 relief pitchers to have a positive nERD score this season, meaning that they prevent more runs than the league average pitcher. Three of those relievers belong to the Reds: Chapman, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton.
At a projected 0.38 more runs prevented than the league-average pitcher per nine innings, Broxton provides a solid set-up man to Chapman. The key to Broxton's season is that sweet, sweet strikeout-to-walk-ratio. The strikeouts are always there for Broxton; last year's 18.9 percent K rate was down from his career 29.2 percent average, but the capability for a bounceback year is there. But will the walks return with the Ks? Broxton has averaged walks on 9.5 percent of opponents' plate appearances, but in 51 appearances for Cincinnati last season, that number plummeted to 3.5 percent of opponents' plate appearances.
The true key to the pen, though, may actually be Marshall's role as the middle relief man. Coming into his second season with Cincinnati, Marshall finished 2012 with an insane 4.63 K/BB ratio, with strikeouts coming on 28.9 percent of opponent plate appearances and walks coming on 6.3 percent of opponent plate appearances. But that's not exactly something new: he had a similar 4.65 K/BB in his final season with the Cubs. There's a reason we peg Marshall as one of the most effective non-closer relievers in the game at 0.81 runs prevented per nine compared to the league-average pitcher.
3. Oh, the Call-Up Possibilities
Even with their current playoff-ready roster, the Reds could become even better. Scary, isn't it?
Shortstop Zack Cozart is one of the weakest points of the Reds lineup. With a projected 2013 nERD score of -1.09 (meaning that he would take away 1.07 expected runs over ~27 plate appearances), Cozart sits as the one of the few players in the Reds' lineup to lose them expected runs as compared to the league-average replacement player. I guess that's what happens when you have a .288 OBP in your first full major league season.
While Cozart is a young guy, though, the Reds may do well to go even younger and call up Billy Hamilton. Better known as "That guy who's really, really fast", Hamilton would complete that Reds lineup in a way that Cozart can't. Given past similar players, we project that Hamilton would add about 0.50 runs per 27 plate appearances and steal 48 bases if given his projected 422 plate appearances. That's not bad.
But he may not even be the biggest difference maker who could be called up to make an impact for the Reds. Our analytics see Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake as only preventing 0.05 runs and 0.03 runs, respectively, per nine innings as compared to the league-average pitcher. At least they're better than league average, but it's only barely.
Tony Cingrani, though is making waves with the way he's moved through the Reds system. With 101 Ks and only 39 walks in 89.1 IP for AA Pensacola last season, the Reds already knew he could pitch. His one-walk-away-from-perfect first start at AAA Louisville only confirmed that fact. If Leake struggles, don't be surprised to see him called up and provide yet another live arm to this already hard-throwing rotation.
4. Full Lineup Production
I've finally found something in Cincy that makes me feel more fulfilled than Skyline Chili. You tell me where you find the hole in this lineup, especially when looking at each player's projected nERD score of how many runs they are projected to add over the league-average player per 27 plate appearances.
|Batting Order||Position||Player||Proj. nERD Score|
That catcher position sticks out like an ugly blister, but otherwise... you're not getting much of a break with that lineup, are you? When Ryan Ludwick returns from his current DL-stint, the top six hitters in the lineup will project to contribute 21.25 runs of value per 27 plate appearances. That's absolutely incredible efficiency that ranks with the top lineups of any team in the majors, including the Angels and Tigers.
With that type of run production, it really doesn't matter that only two Reds starters (No. 21 Mat Latos and No. 25 Johnny Cueto) are projected among the MLB's top 50 starting pitchers. As long as they are able to pitch adequately, between the lineup and the bullpen holding leads, the Reds should have no trouble.
Don't be surprised if, come October, you're staring at an all-Midwestern Reds vs. Tigers World Series. As of now, that's the numberFire oddsmaker's favorite. Personally, I wouldn't mind an Aroldis Chapman vs. Prince Fielder October showdown.