Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PREVIEWS: Starting Pitching Staff

As I did in 2007, to preview this year’s club, I’ve broken the team down positionally into categories of how they can best benefit me. I believe this is the best and most relevant way to preview any team.

Which member of the Reds starting pitching staff would like to join the Reds Rocket on their Sunday morning in-line skate? Tiffee straps on the boots and skates as fast as he can around a two mile circle, one hand behind his back to increase speed, like an Olympic speed skater. Yelling at the kids and dogs that force him to slow down. The author prefers to cruise, hands behind my head just enjoying the breeze brushing against my elbow pads and comfortably revealing short. There’s always room for another.

Aaron Harang: the resident monster of the pitching staff continued to choke opponents into submission during the 2007 season. Over 34 starts, he managed to improve over 2006 when he was the second best pitcher in the NL; he won 16 again, lowered his ERA (3.76), struck out a career high (218) and gave up 30 fewer hits in very nearly the same amount of innings (242 in 234.1 in 2006, 213 in 231.7 in 2007). He even got a couple of Cy Young votes after holding a press conference to announce a post-season killing spree for members of the media who fail to recognize his greatness. All that and, as you can tell from the picture above, he looks great in pair of fruity boots.

Johnny Cueto: over 28 starts at 3 different levels, Cueto combined to go 12-9, 3.07 with 170 strikeouts in 161.1 innings. He throws that fastball in the mid to high-90’s, has a plus slider and a quickly developing change. The author can just picture Baker’s reaction upon first spotting Cueto throwing off the mound at spring training. Doing a double take and rubbing his eyes while slow motion images of Cueto’s throwing motion repeat in his mind. Images of what overuse can do to that small frame - rotator cuff, Tommy John, compound humeral fracture. He could be Mark Prior all over again. Dick Pole finally pokes him, “Dusty, you’re staring.” So, even though he’s been lights out this spring, might not be a bad idea for him to start and finish the season at Louisville where his innings will be a little more closely monitored.

If you think the caliber of athlete churned out by the Dominican baseball academies is impressive, you should see their rollerblade instruction. Top shelf.

Josh Fogg: sure he’s a terrible option, but Daggum Ross will vouch for his high moral character and how can you turn away this guy? It looks like there’s something awry with his brain and if you don’t take him in he’s just going to wander around the parking lot and probably get hit by a car. I’d invite him roller blading Sunday but I’m afraid he wouldn’t be to find his way home afterwards.

Edinson Volquez: rather than his biography beginning with “originally from the Dominican Republic” or “loves Canasta” his starts by stating “first name is Edinson” There must have been some confusion or maybe it’s simply to draw some attention to the high quality of his first name. After making a fine case to be out of professional baseball to begin last season, Edinson took a vacation down to A-ball, continued to pitch shitty for a while but eventually figured it out and improved dramatically at each level. In the combined 26 starts he made at Class A Bakersfield, Class AA Frisco and Class AAA Oklahoma, he went 14-6, 3.67 and led Rangers’ minor leaguers in strikeouts with 166 in 144.2 innings. He even turned in two quality starts (out of 6) with the big club. Good for you Edinson. And all the Reds had to do was give up Josh Hamilton who was only fantastic 75% of the time. Apparently, there were some questions regarding the long term effects of a shitload of crack on the body of an athlete. And how would the Reds have gotten the 30 new sets of rollerblades (one for each of the players and coaches) if they weren’t included in the trade from Texas? Now ask how do you feel about the trade? Pretty good is my guess.

Homer Bailey: the Reds Rocket may have been slightly, very slightly, disappointed with last year’s performance of the Reds’ first actual prospect in many moons [4-2, 5.76, 45.1 IP, 43 H, 28K/28BB]. But he has plenty of excuses, yanked groin, small sample size (9 starts), age, doesn’t like dealing with coaches or making necessary adjustments. You try listening to Dick Pole yammer about balance and mechanics when you’re a 21 year-old mega talent. “What do you think I am, an idiot! How do you think I got here Pole? Balance and goddamn mechanics.” So, remember that before you mention those high walk and low strikeout rates. I think I’ll wait and see if he makes the rotation before I ask him any questions, including those about rollerblades.

*Update: as anticipated Bailey will begin the season with Louisville. He is both pleased and surprised with the decision.

Matt Belisle: for the second half of the season B-Liz was pretty bad. Not Eric Milton god-awful but at least regular awful. It seemed like he wore down as the season dragged on, even earning a vacation in Louisville. His numbers for the year looked like this: 8-9, 5.32 ERA, 30 starts, 177.2 IP, 212 hits, 125 Ks, 25 HRs. The cause of the dip in productivity? Late night rollerblading. He’s hooked and it has gotten to the point where he has to choose between his job and his passion. Let’s hope he makes the right decision by first turning down my invitation.

Bronson Arroyo: sure he rocks it like a masochist and is named after Charles Bronson (no doubt due to his performance in Chino, “They took his land, his horses, his woman, but they couldn’t take Chino”) but last year he pitched half the season like he didn’t know the cost of his diabetes testing supplies may be covered by Liberty Medical. Your testing supplies are delivered right to your door with no charge for shipping. He still led the team in quality starts (22) but was also in the top 10 in the NL in losses (15), hits (232) and home runs allowed (28). While those are still kinds of accomplishments, I’m not sure you’ll find the same amount of respect throughout the league. But again, I’m no expert. This season let’s keep the quality high throughout we don’t have a repeat of the 4th of July cancellation of the baseball player concert spotlight. Have you seen the Rolling Stones’ concert movie Gimme’ Shelter? It will be like that, times ten. The music comes first.

Jeremy Affeldt: as I stated last year with Keppinger, I’m always welcoming to Royals’ castoffs. Sure you got run out of town by the worst franchise in baseball for the past 5 years but come on in, sit down, relax. Try it here in Cincinnati without all those heightened expectations that come along with being a Royal. Affeldt actually spent last season and part of ’06 with the Rockies and wasn’t all that bad coming out of the pen (though his biography does feature the following highlight “on 8/16 at SD allowed 5 earned runs without retiring a batter”). His ERA was reasonable, especially at Coors’ (1.74 ERA in 37 appearances at home), he held righties to .211 BA and gave up just 3 bombs all season. However, he was brought to Cincinnati with the intention of starting him because he uses his left hand to throw a baseball. Fortunately, he’s been getting hammered all spring so I vote bullpen, where he may not be quite the melanoma. If that’s where he ends up, especially if he runs Stanton out of town, we’ll consider making an invitation.

*Update: looks like Affeldt will begin the season in the pen, which is a good place for him.

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