Reds

My Letter To Reds CF Billy Hamilton

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 07: Billy Hamilton #6 of the Cincinnati Reds runs to steal second base in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ball Park on September 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Los Angeles 4-3. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI, OH – SEPTEMBER 07: Billy Hamilton #6 of the Cincinnati Reds runs to steal second base in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Great American Ball Park on September 7, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Los Angeles 4-3. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton is considered the fastest man in baseball. He leads the league with 49 stolen bases as of August 1. But there’s a problem: Billy doesn’t get to first base very often. Only 27.1% of the time, to be exact. Meaning most of the time, Billy uses his long, lean legs to jog back to the dugout.

If only there were a more effective way to get on base…

Oh wait, there is: Make more contact, foul off tough pitches and hit more line drives. And draw a few more walks.

But how can Billy get better at those things? I suggest emulating one of baseball’s all-time greats.

Here is the letter I mailed (100 Joe Nuxhall Way) to Hamilton, manager Bryan Price and hitting coach Don Long, along with a printout of a picture.

Attn: Bryan Price, Billy Hamilton, Don Long

Ty Cobb had the highest batting average in baseball history. So why hasn’t anyone adopted his unorthodox batting grip?

Cobb placed his hands about six inches apart on the bat. This allowed “The Georgia Peach” better bat control to place a line drive into an unoccupied area, or, if he desired, Cobb was able to shift his top hand further down the bat at the last second for a surprise bunt.

Now: If you’ve got blazing speed, lashing more line drives would be the focus. I never saw Cobb play, but I’m guessing he smacked a ton of line drives. How else would you hit .366?

One explanation for hitters not modeling their approach after Cobb’s was that Ty was not considered a power hitter. But that’s not true. Cobb led the league in slugging eight times. He did not belt many home runs, but nobody did during his era. Cobb played in the “Dead Ball Era” through his first fifteen seasons in the majors. Case in point: He led the league with nine bombs in 1909. He slugged .621 two years later.

As you can see, Cobb’s unique grip didn’t cost him any bat speed.

Other possible explanations: 1) Cobb was a devilish racist and a despicable person, so nobody wants to emulate him. 2) The widened grip isn’t what we grow up doing, so it’s too much of a switch to make.

Frankly, nobody I’ve asked can come up with a good reason why nobody’s at least tried Cobb’s wide-grip approach.

Is this the dumbest idea ever or a genius notion?

The only way to find out is to try it against live pitching.

Give it a shot. You never know.

Good luck,                                     
Justin Berg                                     
Deer Park, OH    

cobb

 

2014 Postseason Showing How Far Reds Are From World Series

royalsMy, how baseball has changed. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, scoring runs was, as George Will articulated to Ken Burns, as easy as getting two runners aboard and watching Godzilla hit a three-run homer. For most of the 2000s and into the 2010s, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy–getting on base, in any capacity, is more valuable than making outs–set the precedent for how front offices began to construct their lineups.

But now, in today’s Major League Baseball, good old-fashioned “survival” is the way to score runs. “Survival” at the plate is how the St. Louis Cardinals have managed to contend for the World Series year in and year out for over a decade. It’s how the San Francisco Giants have reached the pinnacle in three of the past five seasons. And it’s why the Kansas City Royals have awoken from their nearly thirty-year slumber to climb to the top of baseball’s Mt. Everest.

Today’s Batters Face Two Bob Gibsons and a Sandy Koufax in One Game

You want to be a major league hitter nowadays? Good luck. You’ll be up against it, that’s for sure.

First, the opposing coaching staff will move its defenders to the spots where you most frequently hit the ball. Doesn’t matter how hard you square up that baseball…that second baseman is positioned in shallow right field to turn a woulda-been rocket base hit into a simple 4-3 putout.

“Just go the other way,” the fans urge. “The whole left side of the field is wide open!” Sure, you think, it’s as easy as that. Never mind the fact that this starting pitcher is throwing 95 with down-and-in sink on the ball to go along with a wicked 86 MPH changeup that looks like the same pitch but disappears off the face of the earth. The guy I’ll face in the 8th inning? He throws 99.

Not easy. In fact, only sixteen MLB hitters finished at .300 or better in 2014.

Yeah, so? You’re a major league hitter. You’re getting paid millions. And right now, in these elements, your number one job is this: Put the ball in play.

Having the highest on-base percentage is not necessarily an indicator of scoring runs against the toughest pitchers in the game. Of the three example teams (StL, KC and SF), only the Cardinals ranked in the Top 10 in OBP (9th), while Kansas City ranked 16th and San Fran 18th.

Nowadays, success is not determined by how many runners you get on base; it’s more about what you do when you have those runners on base. And how can you nearly guarantee you won’t knock those runners in? By striking out. The Giants ranked 17th in team K’s, the Cardinals 26th and the Royals whiffed just 985 times in 2014, 119 fewer than the 29th spot (Oakland).

Seeing a trend? Yep. Making contact with the baseball is at a premium. Oh, and by the way, these three teams have also proved that the home run is fool’s gold. Nobody hit fewer home runs than the Cardinals and Royals; the Giants were in the middle of the pack.

The overall theme here is to have a pesky lineup. Your hitters must identify which pitch in which location from a certain pitcher gives them the best chance to drive the baseball, be ready to rip from the first pitch of the at-bat (Giants finished 3rd in MLB in first-pitch swing percentage), but refrain from offering at the baseball unless it is that exact pitch…and then with two strikes, be able to foul off anything close until the pitcher gives in and puts it in the wheelhouse or throws ball four.

In other words, do not, under any circumstances, give away an at-bat by swinging at a pitch you can’t drive early in the count or by taking too big of a swing with two strikes.

The Cincinnati Reds have multiple hitters in their everyday lineup who do not subscribe to the survival philosophy, and it costs the team runs. It costs the team dearly in one-run losses. And it will not play in the postseason, when only the pesky survive. As much as the fans and the front office love some of the Reds players, it might be time to part ways with the “non-survivors.”

The Pitching Side: You’d Better Be Flush With Nasty

On the other side of the coin is the bullpen–the guys fighting the battle against those pesky hitters late in games. When you get to the postseason level, your bullpen better limit baserunners and keep the ball off the barrel of the bat. In other words, you need three Walter Johnsons, a Carl Hubbell and a J.R. Richard to call on. A dominant closer is obviously important, but the set-up men must be the closers of their innings.

The San Francisco Giants’ bullpen was tops in all of baseball this season with a 1.07 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). St. Louis was 9th, Kansas City ranked 13th. San Fran’s pen was also tops in Batting Average Against (.217), while KC ranked 11th in that category (St. Louis ranked 17th).

Kansas City’s pen features three guys who pitched in at least 65 games with earned run averages below 1.50!

Take a look at the Reds’ bullpen in 2014: 26th in WHIP and ERA. That cannot and will not fly in the postseason. Something must be done, whether it’s converting a few of your top starting pitching prospects into relievers or trading for relievers.

The Bottom Line

Having a lineup full of all-or-nothing power hitters is the equivalent of a basketball team that relies on the three-point shot. When the ball ain’t leaving the yard, you’d better have a Plan B. The teams in this year’s postseason that didn’t have a Plan B got knocked out. Meanwhile, the teams featuring consistency, defense, survival and stingy pitching have moved on.

If the Cincinnati Reds expect to compete in 2015 and beyond, let alone make noise in the postseason if the team can get there, the organization must adjust accordingly to the present state of Major League Baseball. If that means parting ways with the faces of the franchise, then Cincinnati will have to cut those ties and move on.

6 Reasons #Reds Should Trade Jay Bruce to the Houston Astros

Jay Bruce hits a home run, a.k.a. Fool's gold

Jay Bruce hits a home run, a.k.a. Fool’s gold

If the typical (and overboard) “Cincinnati loyalty” is any indication, I have a better chance of marrying Mila Kunis next Tuesday in Starkville, Mississippi than Jay Bruce does of being traded this winter.

But the Reds should trade Jay Bruce to the Houston Astros.

Bruce is beloved around Cincinnati. Go to a Reds game, you’ll see a ton of fans sporting “Bruce 32” on their backs. By all accounts, the 2005 first round draft pick is great in the community. You could make the argument that JB is the face of the franchise right now.

But still, Jay Bruce must be traded, preferably to Houston. Here are six reasons why:

1) Jay is an all-or-nothing hitter.

As I detailed in my previous post, these types of hitters, the high-strikeout/swing-for-the-fences-with-two-strikes guys, they don’t work. Not in the postseason. And not in close regular season games. In 2013, when Bruce clocked 30 dingers and 43 doubles, he was busy whiffing 185 times. Can’t have that in the middle of your batting order.

In today’s baseball, pitching and defense rules. It’s as tough as ever to hit .300 (only 16 ML hitters did so in ’14). As Kansas City, St. Louis and San Francisco have demonstrated thus far in the postseason, putting the ball in play matters most. All 3 teams rank in the bottom half in strikeouts (KC the fewest in MLB by a wide margin) and none of those teams hit many home runs (KC and St. Louis the fewest).

Jay Bruce simply does not fit into that mold. And when you face tough pitching, you’ve got to be pesky; you’ve got to extend at-bats, put the ball in play or draw walks. You cannot give away at-bats. Bruce gives away at-bats. Often. Very often.

2) Bruce’s salary

Bruce is scheduled to make $12 million in ’15, $12.5 mil in ’16 and then if the Reds pick up his option, $13 mil in 2017.

Could that money be better spent on a different right fielder and a new left fielder that don’t make the big bucks but provide the necessary characteristics hitters must display to succeed within the current state of the game?

You see, while it’s becoming increasingly more evident what type of hitters you need in your lineup, salaries are still skewed to favor the “big boppers.” Maybe you take that $12 million and find a couple of undervalued fellas to plug in. Or, if you structure the deal right, maybe you get a young player in the trade that fits the right mold. (I’ll try to stop using the word “mold” from here on out.)

3) Bruce is not as good defensively as you might think

Appearances can be deceiving. If you watch a ton of Reds games, you likely think Jay Bruce is a great defensive right-fielder. He has the big arm. He seemingly covers ground.

And hey, I was of that opinion myself. Until, that is, I looked at the numbers on FanGraphs. If you’re not familiar with FanGraphs, it’s a website that bases its rankings on every single daggum statistical measure known to man. It’s basically Moneyball with an extra 55 Roger Clemens steroid injections.

Anyway, I took a look at the defensive rankings for right fielders with at least 300 innings played over the last six seasons. Check out Bruce’s rankings:

2009: 9th
2010: 1st
2011: 26th
2012: 37th
2013: 10th
2014: 38th

Of course, Jay was injured for a good portion of 2014, so we can cut him some slack. I remember he made an extra effort to be in better shape before the 2013 season, and it showed in his Top 10 ranking. He was the best in the game back in ’10 at age 23. He’s not exactly old at 28, but the 26th and 37th ranking in 2011 and ’12 are cause for concern.

Either way, he’s pretty good defensively, but not irreplaceable by any stretch. He doesn’t have elite speed.

4) Give the kid a break, send him home

Bruce is from Beaumont, Texas, which is a little more than an hour’s drive to Houston. I’m sure Jay would like to be closer to friends and family.

5) The Astros are flush with prospects

After starting from scratch a few years ago, Houston saw improvement in 2014. The plan is to contend seriously by 2017. The organization rid itself of any and all high-salary players when the rebuilding began, so there should be some dollars to spend now. $12 million, in today’s baseball, ain’t that much. And you’d be bringing in a hometown hero.

Moreover, trading away all of those players, in addition to having a bunch of high draft picks, means Houston is stocked with young talent. Baseball prospectus ranks the Astros’ farm system 5th in all of baseball. The Reds should be able to find a couple-few players of worth that Houston would be willing to part with.

6) Houston is in the American League now

If Jay figures it out at the plate, he’s not going to come back to haunt the Reds.

 

 

Hit Like Todd Frazier: 3 Ways To Avoid Slumps

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg'sA big thank you to RedlegNation.com for publishing my post about why Todd Frazier has been slump-free in 2014.

What you’ll find out:

1) What Todd told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon back in Spring Training about focusing on “consistency” and why that word has been the theme of his 2014 season

2) How Todd is using the entire field more in ’14 – and what adjustments he made over the offseason to his batting stance, load and swing path

3) What it means that Todd is “keeping his hands inside the baseball” more often this season

Click here to read the article.

#LetsGoReds

 

#Reds Take 3 Out of 4 Over #Marlins: Bergs Get Job Done in Miami.

Todd Frazier talking hitting mechanics with Berg's

With the Reds’ playoff chances seemingly slipping away on the heels of an unwatchable 2-10 post-All-Star break funk, I knew it was imperative to fly down to Boca Raton, team up with my cousin/brother Scott Berg, his wife Navah and their son Noah, and get some W’s for the Redlegs at Marlins Park.

We met @FlavaFraz21, Todd Frazier, before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

We met Todd Frazier before the yard. Class act/Great guy, no doubt about that.

On Thursday night, the Reds trailed 1-0 in the 8th inning–not a big surprise considering the uncanny levels of shwagness we’ve seen from Cincy’s offense in the past two weeks. But then two errors and a walk set up a bases loaded, no out scoring chance. I looked over at a fellow Reds fan and we both said that with the way the team’s been hitting lately, we’d be over-the-moon thrilled with one run out of that situation.

After Ramon Santiago whiffed, Todd Frazier flied out to right and Marlin manchild Giancarlo Stanton gunned Zack Cozart at the plate, it appeared as if the Reds wouldn’t even get that one run.

But thanks to a new rule which says the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball, a replay review overturned the call, which changed the scoring to a sacrifice fly for big Todd Frazier and a run scored for Cozart. The next batter to the plate for the Reds was Ryan Ludwick, and he promptly took advantage of the opportunity provided by the finally-smiling-on-the-Reds baseball gods with a go-ahead 2-run blow to center. Reds lead 3-1. I look up to the heavens, arms aloft, displaying my appreciation to those fickle baseball gods.

The 46 Marlins fans at the game were obviously none too pleased with that call; either was manager Mike Redmond. He promptly got tossed and then offered an expletive-packed post game rant after Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman slammed the door in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Ludwick came through with another big 2-run knock on Friday night en route to a 5-2 win behind Florida native Mat Latos. The Reds then dropped a tough one Saturday, 2-1, although they battled it to the end (and Scott got his first glimpse at Jumbo Diaz’s hard, nasty filth). And then today (Sunday), the Berg crew showed up at Marlins Park decked out in Reds gear to bookend the series, as two-year-old and newly potty-trained Noah Berg went “pee pee potty” nine times (with no accidents at the park or in the car) and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame…and of course, the Reds cracked 15 hits (including another Ludwick blow, this time an RBI double to deep right-center) and took the series finale 7-3.

With the 3 outta 4 down here in Miami, the Reds have climbed back to within five games of the NL Central lead as the Brewers dropped 2 of 3 in St. Louis. Cincy has shaken off some excruciating L’s and scrapped its way to a 4-3 start to this 20-game stretch against teams with losing records. We’re going to need at least an 8-5 finish to this portion of the schedule, and then the squad will be in position to earn its way into the postseason by knocking off the teams ahead of ’em in the division: Two series each versus Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh loom in the final month of the season.

Bottom line: The Bergs got the job done and the Reds ain’t dead yet! #LetsGoReds

We Believe! 3 Reasons the #Reds Are Still in Good Shape to Play in October

Yeah, yeah, I get it: You’re extremely frustrated with this Cincinnati Reds ballclub right now. They can’t hit. Jay Bruce REALLY can’t hit. They aren’t pitching as well as they did before the All-Star break. Even that #1-ranked defense has had some breakdowns. You’ve been saying things like “I can’t watch this team” and “Mmmff, what a lineup,” and you’ve been taking out your frustration by yelling expletives at the umpires and venting to your friends.

You’re thinking and saying, “It’s over.”

Well guess what? It AIN’T over. I’ve got three reasons why:

1) See video below

The New York Metropolitans somehow found a way to split a 4-game series in Milwaukee this weekend, which means the Reds only lost 1/2 game in the standings as they dropped two of three to the Washington Nationals at Great American Ballpark.

“Six games back” sounds like a lot at this time of the season, especially when there are two teams (St. Louis and Pittsburgh) also in front of you. But in reality, six games ain’t that much. Figure it like this. If the Reds were to win 8 out of 10 while Milwaukee plays even baseball, all of a sudden you’re only three games out. Plus, you’ve still got a bunch more games against the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates.

With the way the Reds have been hitting, I realize the deficit seems insurmountable…but it’s baseball. Anything can happen.

2) Mathematics

Right now, the Reds sit with a record of 52-52. I’d estimate that 89 wins actually may be enough to squeeze into a wildcard spot because the teams in contention for that are no more than 12 games over .500 right now, and an 89-73 record puts you at 16 games over. So that means the Reds have to go 37-21 the rest of the way.

37 and 21.

Here’s how the Reds can do that:

A) Make hay in the next 20 games

Based on team records, the schedule gets easier for the next 20, when the Reds host Arizona (45-60) for 3, go to Miami (51-53) for 4, go to Cleveland (52-53) for 2, host Cleveland for 2, host Miami for 3, host Boston (48-57) for 2, and then go out to Colorado (43-60) for 4. Gotta somehow scratch your way to at least 13-7 in this stretch.

B) Pack their lunch for the final 28 regular season games

Down the stretch the Reds play Pittsburgh 6 times, St. Louis 7 times and Milwaukee 6 times. Mixed in there also is a 3-game set at home against the Mets and 3-game set with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They’ll have their chances. Just gotta pack that lunch and take it to ’em.

3) Jimmy V and Yogi

Facing terminal cancer in its final stages, former North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvano somehow mustered up the courage and energy to deliver that spine-chilling iconic speech at the ESPY Awards back in 1993. The message: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

It’s a great speech to listen to any time you feel like you’re up against it, whether in your personal life, health-wise or what have you.

I know you’re ready to give up on this Reds team. You may even be like my dad’s long time friend Barry Snyder, who gives up on ’em when they lose on Opening f***ing Day.

But like Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And right now, heading into this 3-game set with the Diamondbacks, it ain’t over. No, far from it. As bad as it’s been (and I know, it’s been REALLLLLY bad), Cincinnati is only six games out with 58 to play.

For Cincinnati fans, the typical response to a miserable stretch like the Reds are in right now is to give up, to write it off, to stop believing. Well I’m here to say, “Screw that. What good does that do? Why don’t we get behind our team when the going gets tough for once? Believe in the Reds. Believe in Bryan Price. Hell, even believe in Jay Bruce, who, bless his soul, is doing the best he can to handle this vortex of a slump. Even believe in Chris Heisey! Sure, Phillips and Votto won’t be back for a while, but we’ve got some lesser teams coming up on the schedule, and then when they come back, they’ll be able to help down the stretch and into the postseason………….

Yes, I know, you think I’m getting extremely carried away here. And maybe I am. But I’m choosing to take a page out of my brother Andy Swaney’s book and believe…and continue to believe until the final, season-ending out is made.

58 games to go. 37 wins. Let’s do this!

The Jay Bruce Approach: Why the #Reds Right Fielder Has Regressed in ’14

We haven't seen this pose much in 2014.

We haven’t seen this pose much in 2014.

The question on my mind, your mind and most Reds fans’ minds is this: What the hell has happened to Jay Bruce this season?

It’s July 20, and Bruce is hitting .224 with only ten home runs (in 80 games). Not only is the former first round draft pick’s batting average lower than his career clip (.254), the slugging percentage is way, way down–it’s actually under .400 heading into play today vs. the New York Yankees.

To put that into perspective, the following hitters have a higher slugging percentage than Jay Bruce: Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Trevor Plouffe, Erick Aybar, Jose Reyes and Nick Markakis.

It’s a real mind boggler how a guy can be entering his so-called prime (Stat Grandfather Bill James estimates Age 27 is the peak for most ballplayers, and Jay is 27 this year) and be going backwards at a miserable rate. Just last season, Bruce put up numbers worthy of MVP consideration: .262 AVG, 30 HR, 43 2B, 109 RBI and stellar defense in right field. Heading into 2014, there was no reason whatsoever to expect Bruce’s production to dip. He’s young, he stays in tip-top shape and he’s had well over 3,000 plate appearances at the major league level.

I expected Number 32 to be battling for that MVP award this season and the next number of seasons. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, Bruce has looked like a rookie at the plate in ’14.

So what’s the problem?

My theory is simply this: Jay Bruce is making hitting way too complicated while ignoring an easy way out of his season-long slump.

At the beginning of the season, Bruce mentioned to Reds beat writers how he had studied hitting, and how he wants to be more selective, only swinging at the strikes he wants while taking more pitches. Here’s what he told Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty back in March:

“I’m homeruns and doubles. I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to go up there and walk. But if I swing at less pitchers’ pitchers, there are going to be better counts, and more times I’ll have the opportunity to get on base. I just need to take a level-headed approach every day.’’

In the early going, the new approach did result in more walks, as Bruce realized pitchers rarely throw him anything to hit. So he was content to get on base and patiently wait for the mistake pitches he routinely blasts over the outfield walls.

But then, as they tend to do, pitchers got wise. Hurlers started to realize that Bruce likes the ball middle-in, belt high to chest high. If it’s on the outer half, or if it’s anywhere in the zone at the knees, “The Beaumont Bomber” would be content to keep the bat on his shoulder. So those wise pitchers began peppering the outside part of the zone and the low part of the zone early in the count, which in turn left Bruce facing 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts more often than not. And, if you take a look at batting averages in those types of counts for any major league hitter, well, as you can imagine, it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a table with some past data:

Count 2000 2007 2008 2009
First Pitch .336 .344 .337 .338
1-0 .343 .341 .339 .340
2-0 .360 .350 .355 .368
3-0 xxxx .396 .370 .395
0-1 .324 .324 .339 .317
1-1 .325 .327 .329 .332
2-1 .340 .339 .339 .339
3-1 .344 .368 .350 .352
0-2 .160 .164 .160 .156
1-2 .178 .170 .179 .171
2-2 .195 .191 .194 .189
Full .234 .230 .227 .23

As you can see in the table, you have a much better chance of getting a good pitch to hit early in the count or when the count is in your favor. But if you go up there and take a first pitch strike, then foul one off or chase a curveball in the dirt, your chances of success drop exponentially.

And this pretty much sums up why Bruce has not produced in 2014. When we watch Bruce hit, what do we often see? He takes a belt high fastball on the outside corner for strike one. He then chases a breaking ball that starts out in the zone but finishes low and in. He’s down 0-and-2. So now, according to the numbers, he’s about a .160 hitter. He’s at the pitcher’s mercy. The pitcher has three or four chances to get Bruce to swing at a piece of shit outside of the strike zone. And when Bruce is struggling, and he’s trying to do too much, he’ll eventually chase one of those pieces of shit.

Fangraphs.com is a terrific site where we can take a look at very in-depth analysis of a hitter’s approach. Here is Bruce’s fangraphs page. That link will get you directly to his ‘Plate Discipline’ page, which breaks down the percentage of balls he swings at, the percentage of strikes he doesn’t swing at, etc. When you look at these stats, you can immediately see that his Swing Percentage is down from a 48.4% career mark to 45.7% this season; and Bruce did say he intended to be more patient this season, so that number checks out. Now, look at his O-Swing %, which stands for Swing Percentage on Pitches Outside the Strike Zone. He’s on par with career numbers in that category (30.9% career, 29.7% in 2014).

With me so far? Bruce is taking more pitches and he’s been a tad better at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.

However, we need to look at his Z-Swing%, which is the Percentage of Pitches INSIDE the Strike Zone Jay Bruce Swings at. His career mark in this category is 73.9 percent. Bruce has never been below 72% in this category. But in 2014, he’s way down at 68.8 percent. That means he’s taking more strikes, and by the looks of his batting average, he’s taking more strikes early in the count…

Which brings us back to that first pitch fastball on the outside corner. In order for Bruce to turn his season around, he must begin to attack this pitch. Why?

1) He pretty much has to know it’s coming.

Pitchers routinely get ahead in the count with that pitch, as Jay is content to let it go by. And hitting a baseball is hard enough, especially when you have no clue what pitch is coming. But in this scenario, you DO know what pitch is coming. Be ready for it. Go after it. Be looking for that pitch and that pitch alone, on every first pitch AND every non-two-strike pitch from here on out. When you get it, blast it.

2) “The Jay Bruce Shift.”

For the past few seasons, nearly every opposing manager shifts his infield to take away any hard grounder or line drive Jay hits up the middle or through the right side by moving the second baseman into shallow right field and the shortstop and third baseman toward the middle of the diamond. That leaves nearly the entire left side of the infield WIDE OPEN. And guess which pitch is most likely to go in that direction if you time it and square it up? Yep, that outside heater.

3) If you want to get opposing teams out of that shift, you’ve got to start routinely smashing the ball against the grain.

If you start hitting it where the fielders aren’t, the managers will move their fielders, opening up the middle and your pull side. The result: You get lots of hits to get them out of the shift, then once the shift is lifted, more balls become hits that would have been swallowed up by the shift.

4) Bruce has opposite field power.

He can take a page out of former Red Shin-Soo Choo’s book and start to pile up the opposite field home runs.

Further, if you stay with the opposite field approach, keeping your hands back and allowing the ball to travel, you’ll have an extra tick to be able to identify good curveballs to crack and bad curveballs to lay off of.

Bruce has just EIGHT opposite field hits in nearly 300 at-bats. At that rate, the shift will never ever be thwarted.

This is an adjustment Jay Bruce must make in order to become more productive. He’s making it too complicated on himself right now. If you know a certain pitch is coming, take advantage of that knowledge. You can’t keep waiting around for a pitch in your wheelhouse when pitchers will never ever throw it there (unless it’s a mistake). What’s the saying? Don’t work harder, work smarter. That’s your answer, Jay Bruce.

11 Major Leaguers Who Kill The Cincinnati Reds

Cole F***in' Hamels

Cole F***in’ Hamels

Yet another dominating Cole Hamels performance against my Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night; Hamels is now 8-0 all-time vs. Cincy. If you’re a Reds fan, when you see or read about or think about Cole Hamels, you no doubt say out loud, “God damn him.” You’re sick of watching the Reds whiff at his change-up and take his fastball for called third strikes. You’re sick of looking at his face as he carves up your team.

He’s not the only guy in the National League you feel that way about either. It’s multiple guys that always seem to feast on Reds pitching, or make great defensive plays, or shut the Reds down.

Without further ado, The All-“This Guy Kills The Reds” Starting Lineup:

Leading off and playing center field, St. Louis Cardinal Jon Jay.

Oh my Lord, Jon Jay burns my ass. This guy, from the first time we saw him, has been laying ropes against the Reds. In 50 starts against Cincinnati, Jay has a .370 on-base percentage, 14 doubles, six homers and 25 RBI. Even when he’s mired in a prolonged slump, this a-hole will smack two rally-furthering singles in a game–a jam-shot blooper into shallow left-center and a seeing-eye bouncer up the middle. You know he will, too. That’s the irritating part.

Batting second, San Diego Padre outfielder, Will Venable.

You may not have noticed this guy as much because the Reds only play two series against San Diego per season. Well, Will Venable kills the Reds, plain and simple. In 26 starts vs. Reds pitching, Venable has a .384 on-base and a .541 slugging percentage (5 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR). The Reds held Venable in check (1 for 7) this past week, but generally, he murders them.

In the three-hole, from the Colorado Rockies, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.  

This guy kills everybody–but he especially kills the Reds. In 34 career starts, Tulo has a .346/.412/.691 slash line, with 13 long balls and 30 runs batted in. Translation: Quit pitching to this fella!

Batting clean-up, from the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the catchers, Yadier Molina.

Do we even need to look at the statistics? Yadi owns the Reds. Yadi toys with the Reds. I’ll look the numbers up anyway…oh my Lanta…Molina has 14 career bombs and 27 career doubles against Reds pitching. And I bet 90-percent of those came on first-pitch “why did you throw him a fastball in that spot??” offerings. Stop giving this guy anything to hit, Reds. He owns you.

In the five-spot, former-Brave and current New York Yankee catcher, Brian McCann.

Brian F***in' McCann

Brian F***in’ McCann

Thank God this guy’s in the AL now–although the Reds will still have to face him this season. In his career vs. Cincinnati, McCann has a .318/.405/fuggin’ .671 slash line. He’s clubbed SEVENTEEN HOME RUNS in 170 career ABs. Good God. I don’t know if there’s ever been a hitter kill the Reds this much since the team formed in 1869.

In the six-hole, one of the second basemen, Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley.

This guy’s a phenomenal hitter. Short, sharp swing. He lashes the Reds. In his career, Utley has 14 doubles, 17 home runs and 46 RBI against Cincinnati. He also homered and drove in four in Philly’s three-game sweep of the Reds in the 2010 Divisional Playoff. Any time he comes to the plate against the Reds, you’re nervous–you know you are.

Batting 7th, the other second baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates’ hometown kid, Neil Walker.

Son of a bitch, this guy is the proverbial thorn in the Reds’ proverbial scrotum. He always seems to hit home runs. He always seems to do damage late in games (walk-off single in a game this year). He’s just not the guy you want to see come to the plate when the Reds are trying to nurse a lead.

In his four-plus year career, Walker’s batting .300 with a .380 on-base and a .500 slug versus Cincinnati. This dude has 62 career homers–and 11 have come against Reds pitching. Hate that guy.

Batting 8th, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

This guy. God. Ever since he was called up to the majors, Lucroy has hit rope after rope against the Reds. He hit a home run off of Aroldis Chapman last year, you may remember. He’s an asshole, basically. Overall, Lucroy only has 7 doubles and 4 homers against the Reds–but it seems like they’ve all been back-breakers. I’m sick of him.

* Splitting the catching duties with Lucroy and McCann and Molina: Former-Pirate/current-Rocky Michael McKenry and long-time Philly Carlos Ruiz.

McKenry is listed at five-foot-ten. Yeah, right. If this guy’s 5’10”, then I’m eight-foot-six. His numbers against the Reds are very shabby at first glance (.190 batting average), but he has three dingers and three doubles–including a double this year for Colorado. And he always battles Aroldis Chapman hard. Done with him.

Ruiz is another short, stocky asshole. He broke up Travis Wood’s perfect game attempt with a double in the 9th back in 2010, he ripped a curveball into right-center Saturday night for an RBI…he doubled in a run and drew three walks in that 2010 Division Series…he’s just a dick. Strangely, Ruiz has never hit a ball over the fence against the Reds (which means he probably will today, now that I’ve pointed that out), but he’s batting .327 with a .395 on-base and has hit 12 doubles and drawn 10 walks. Tired of him.

And, of course, on the mound for the All-“This Guy Kills The Reds” Team, Philadelphia’s Cole God Damn Hamels.

After last night’s 1-run performance, Hamels now stands at 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts–all of which Philly has won. Not only that, Hamels shut the Reds out in Game 3 of that NLDS in Cincinnati. In other words, this assbag is the ultimate “This Guy Kills The Reds” performer.

But one of these days, oh yes, one of these days, Cole Hamels will get his. All of these shitheads will get theirs. I don’t know when and I don’t know by whom, but mark my words, justice will be served on all of these fools.

 

In Response to Paul Daugherty’s Bashing of Fenway Park

fenway-park-home-plate-640-jpgI crossed Fenway Park off my bucket list on Tuesday night. It was an absolute delight. I left Fenway that night saying, “There cannot be a better ballpark anywhere.”

Right before I logged on here to write my post, I came across a whiny rant from none other than Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer in a post entitled, “What’s so great about Fenway?”

First of all, why even write something like that? Ahh, of course, to stir the pot. Get that backlash from the readers. Create that controversy. I get it. That’s the media.

Here’s Daughtery’s piece: Daugherty Morning Line

Daugherty lumps Wrigley Field and Fenway together, which, based on what I just experienced, is something only a dumb dummy would do. Wrigley is hanging on by a thread. The bathrooms there are beyond disgusting. Meanwhile, over at Fenway, the bathrooms were just fine, the wooden seats are in pristine shape; the park looks like it was just built five or ten years ago.

800px-Fenway_Grandstands

I arrived at Yawkey Way, the street Fenway Park sits on, a few hours before game time. Cool-looking structure. It looks like a factory, or some sort of industrial warehouse, from the outside. You can take a tour of the stadium for $25, and you get to walk out onto the field and then head up to the seats atop The Green Monster and watch batting practice. Great stuff.

fenway-park-inside-pnhaw7ri

Once the game began, everything was jelly–at least for me. We sat in a box down the third base line. We had to deal with foot traffic walking in front of us most of the night, but so what? When I went to the concession stand, it was a regular amount of wait time. Probably less than Great American Ballpark, if I had to guess. (Daugherty dubbed the concession lines “tortuous.”)

Many, many pretty gals sauntered by throughout the night. Looking out onto that field was looking directly at history. I swear, I would trade lives with ANYONE that was able to watch Ted Williams smash in that ballpark. No matter what. Even if the person I traded lives with mined coal for four cents a day. Even if that person went bald at age 13. Even if that person was a Xavier fan–okay, that’s actually where I draw the line.

At any rate, it’s a magnificent place to watch a ballgame.

Back to Daugherty’s drivel. He said the concession lines were tortuous (which they didn’t seem to be) and then he also said “prices that cause Average Joe to throw up in his lunch bucket.” First of all, who the F-bomb brings a lunch bucket to a baseball game? Second of all, who uses a lunch bucket at all? A lunch bucket. Come on. Who says that?

Beyond that, if the prices are soooo high, uh, don’t buy shit at the game, buddy. It makes no sense to me when someone bitches about prices at an event where you don’t need to buy those things. Eat before or after the game–or buy some stuff to bring into the park. They let you do that, you know. And as for the ten dollar beers and alcoholic beverages…you do have several alternatives:

1) Don’t drink alcohol at the baseball game. Crazy concept, I know, but it is a possibility.

2) Sneak a flask into the park and sip whiskey during the proceedings. As far as I can tell, the factotums at the gates just search your bags briefly and then check your person for metal. Nobody feels you up to see if you have a flask in your pocket.

3) Eat a marijuana edible or pop a handful of muscle relaxers. You get a nice buzz and you don’t have to take a leak every twenty minutes. Win-win (especially at fahkin’ Wrigley).

Finally, Daugherty complains about the obstructed views that accompany some of the seats. Yes, that is definitely an inconvenience–no argument here. But hey, here’s an idea: Buy a better seat. If you’re already going to the game, why not drop an extra $20 or $40 and get yourself a better view?

Oh yeah, I forgot. Average Joe doesn’t have an extra twenty bucks. Yeah, well, I bet he would  if he didn’t spend fifty on beers at the game.

To summarize: Fenway is a f***ing phenomenal place to watch a baseball game. Don’t listen to that cheapskate Daugherty. Go to that park someday soon.

4 Concerns Fans Have About the Cincinnati Reds (And 3 Anti-Concerns!)

Alfredo Simon comin' after you like MC Ren and Ice Cube.

Alfredo Simon comin’ after you like MC Ren and Ice Cube.

Despite a pitching staff ranking ninth in the major leagues in team earned run average and third in batting average against, the Cincinnati Reds are off to a 4-8 start and already sit six games out of first place in the NL Central.

Too early to panic? Of course it is. Too early to be concerned? That all depends–are you a glass half empty or a glass half full kinda person?

Glass Half Empty

1) 6 games is a lot to make up

Obviously, it’s early enough that a good ol’ hot streak (if it comes soon) can get your boys back in contention. But you don’t want to dig yourself too deep of a hole. In 2012, the Los Angeles Angels got off to an 8-15 start through April…Mike Scoscia’s ballclub caught fire near the end of the season, but ran out of time and missed the postseason, finishing 89-73. So, while yeah, it’s only been twelve games, and it’s still 150 left, you never want to fall too far back. Especially when you don’t get to play 18 games against the Houston Astros this season.

2) The Left-On-Base Broken Record

One of these days, I’ll find someone (I ain’t doin’ it) to look up the percentage of leadoff doubles the Reds strand. It seems like it’s gotta be way, way over 50 percent. On Saturday, the Reds got a leadoff double, followed by a single, and scored ZERO runs that inning. On Sunday, it was a based-loaded no out start to the seventh inning–and, you guessed it, the Reds came up empty.

You can’t fuggin’ do that!

Cincinnati’s offensive numbers are a hodge podge of weird factors. For instance, last year the Reds scored the 3rd most runs in the NL. But, they were awful with runners in scoring position and with men left on base. Those games (like Sunday’s 12-4 thrashing of Tampa Bay) in which the Reds explode for a bunch of home runs jack up the total runs scored column and somewhat mask the real shortcomings this team possesses. Which are…

3) All Or Nothing

This really isn’t all that complicated. As you take a look up and down the Reds’ lineup, the majority of these hitters are all-or-nothing types. Guys are too easy to strike out, and guys swing for the fences too often (especially with two strikes) which results in more strikeouts, too many pop-outs and an endless loop of roll-over ground-outs. What you really don’t have are those pesky hitters (like St. Louis, or those recent San Francisco teams that won titles) that don’t settle for pitcher’s pitches or try to do too much up there.

It’s no doubt the coaching staff works with each and every hitter on the correct approach. But certain hitters simply don’t have the skill set, eye sight, patience, intelligence and anticipation to be pesky. The Reds have built a team to maximize the long ball, tailored to the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark. The prevailing thinking is, “Hey, we’re a bloop and a blast from taking the lead in this game.” But when that blast doesn’t happen, then what?

You just don’t have many consistent hitters in the lineup. Joey Votto is in a class by himself in terms of getting on base. Brandon Phillips has become somewhat more consistent in his latter years. But you have guys like Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart that fall into major slumps left and right–and that’s how you end up stranding a million baserunners a day. The jury’s still out on rookie Billy Hamilton, but it’s obvious that if he doesn’t get on base out of the leadoff spot, it makes it much, much tougher to score runs.

Here’s the bottom line: Late in the game, with the Reds down by a run, with men on base, which hitters in this lineup do you feel THAT comfortable with at the plate in that situation? (Yes, that’s rhetorical.)

4) Weak Bench

With 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth on Friday night, trailing 2-1 with the bases loaded, Reds skipper Bryan Price called for a pinch hitter…

And the man tabbed to come through was…

Brayan Pena.

Yikes.

Glass Half Full

1) This Starting Pitching Staff is Nasty

I mentioned the low ERA and batting average against for this pitching staff–and that’s with Homer Bailey pitching two shwag games so far. Alfredo Simon has filled in pimpociously for the injured Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto has been good enough to win all three starts (of course he’s 0-2, though), Tony Cingrani has been beast, and Mike Leake went 8 shutout innings in his stint.

If not for a shaky bullpen full of fill-ins, the Reds would probably have a few more wins and a few less losses.

Generally, in major league baseball, for the long, slow march of the 162-game schedule, the teams with the best starting pitching tend to rise to the top of the standings when all is said and done. That bodes well for the Cincinnati Redlegs.

2) Devin Mesoraco is murdering the ball like Engelberg (original Bad News Bears reference)

Meso missed the first week on a rehab assignment, but has since showed up straight lacin’ like RBL Posse. He’s 7-for-14 with three doubles and two bombs.

And, if you didn’t see his home run on Sunday (or even if you did), check out his Paste-esque clout:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v32050589

(Of course, the fact that you have to listen to Thom Brennaman on the call sours it a little bit.)

3) The stats actually ain’t THAT bad

Well, one stat at least. The Reds rank third in the major leagues in line drive percentage. That’s a pretty good sign. It’s just that twelve games is a small sample size, and they aren’t hitting them when they need to or they’re hitting them right at people a bit too much. But if they continue to hit a high amount of line drives, the runs should start to come.

The Bottom Line: Can the Reds score enough runs to be in contention for a playoff spot? They probably can. But, whether they make the playoffs or not will depend heavily on WHEN they score those runs.