With a new manager and a new direction the Cincinnati Reds are searching for a solution. A solution to division rivals St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, whom they lost to in the wild-card playoff game last season.
General Manager Walt Jocketty hopes new manager Brian Price is at least part of that equation as he replaces Dusty Baker after six years on the job in Cincinnati. It was not like Baker did a bad job as his teams won 90 games and made the playoffs three of the last four seasons. However, the Reds never won a playoff series during Baker’s tenure so Jocketty turns to Price, the Reds’ pitching coach the last four seasons.
Apparently Jocketty has a lot of faith in Price as the team did not make any real additions in the off-season while losing Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Hanigan, There is young talent waiting but that was a productive trio that is not easily replaced. Choo had the second highest on base percentage in the National League last year and was a great table setter for first baseman Joey Votto, the 2011 National League MVP.
Outfielder Billy Hamilton will replace Choo at the top of the order and once he gets on base is an immediate threat to steal a base or two. His problem thus far has been getting on base as he had just a .308 OBP in the minor leagues last season. The good news is Hamilton has responded so far with a great spring training, getting on base a lot at a much higher rate and stealing nine bases in nine attempts. For an offense that lagged behind the pitching last season, Hamilton’s success is essential for this team to win.
The other key for an offense that finished in the bottom half of baseball in batting average and RBI will be the production of the middle of their lineup, Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. Votto’s numbers have dropped the past two season due in large part to a lack of protection from the rest of the order. Votto had 135 base on balls last season and if he is anywhere close to that number this year than the Reds offense will be in trouble.
One area where the Cincinnati Reds do not have to search for a solution is the pitching staff. Price’s unit last year was ranked in the top five of every major statistical category and was No. 1 in ERA and WHIP. For an offense that was so woeful, the pitching staff was the key to their 90 wins last season. The biggest issue facing this staff are spring injuries to starter Mat Latos and closer Aroldis Chapman, both of whom should be back by May 1. Cincinnati has the depth to offset those losses for a while but if the injuries linger any longer that would spell trouble for Price’s team as both are major contributors to the Reds’ success.
The loss of Arroyo is not a small one either as he was a solid starter and could be counted on for 200 innings a year but he will be replaced by rising prospect Tony Cingrani. The young hard throwing left hander had a good spring and seems poised to make the jump as a successful starter on the big league level. Cingrani joins Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Latos in a starting rotation that is one of the better units in all of baseball.
The bullpen is a strength as well with a healthy Chapman anchoring the back-end and JJ Hoover and Sean Marshall are reliable setup men. Hoover will step in at the end of the game until Chapman returns.
Price is taking over a team that believes it is ready to make their move in a tough NL Central division. Only time will tell the if he is the solution the Cincinnati Reds are searching for.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Cincinnati Reds