Since I never manage to get through spring training previews for every year, I’m just picking them at random. So, the Reds!
The Big Question
First off, the most important question on every Reds fan’s mind this spring has to be “How soon will Aroldis Chapman hit a Major League batter, and how many could he potentially hit?”. At least that’s what all the Reds fans I know are asking. But, there isn’t much evidence to build a prediction on. The Cuban defector’s main body of know work was last year’s WBC, when he faced 27 batters. He threw 117 pitches at them, but he didn’t plunk anyone. But, with a little bit of major league training, I’m sure he can figure it out. But, if you want to make sweeping statistical generalizations based on place of birth, Cubans pitchers tend to hit a lot of batters. Over the past 15 seasons, Cubans have hit batters at a rate of 1 per 94.8 batters faced. That leads all countries over that span of time, whose pitchers faced at least 20,000 batters. Over the past 5 years, they’ve hit 1 out of every 90.4 batters, but that ranks behind pitchers from the nations of New York and New Jersey (10,000 batters faced minimum). Livan Hernandez will be beginning the 2010 season tied for the Cuban hit batters record, at 68. He needs one more to move ahead of Pedro Ramos for sole ownership of that record.
Those other guys on the pitching staff
Last season, the Reds finished tied for 5th in the majors, and tied for 2nd in the NL in the category of hitting batters. They hit 65, but there general trend has been downward over the past few years. The Reds hit 67 in 2008, and 73 in 2007. In 2006 they only hit 60 batters, but that was coming off a 2005 year when they broke the team record and hit 80 opposing batters. Johnny Cueto hit 14 batters last year, finishing just 1 behind Dave Bush for the major league lead and the Phil Knell Award (it’s like the Cy Young award, but for hitting a lot of batters instead of, you know, being a good pitcher). Cueto also hit 14 in 2008, so it’s probably safe to pencil him in for another 14 in 2010. That’s what the number crunchers call “extrapolation”. Also, according to Disco Stu, disco record sales were up 400% in 1976, and we can expect that trend to continue. Like all trends.
Bronson Arroyo is the staff’s most experienced plunk thrower, with a career total of 76. He hit a career high 20 batters in his 2004 season with the Red Sox, including a particularly famous one to Alex Rodriguez, which touched of a brawl on July 24, 2004 – a brawl which many claim inspired Boston to turn their season around and win the World Series that year. If Arroyo could throw another plunk as magical as that this season, the Reds could really exceed expectations. Edinson Volquez has been troubled by injury, but he hit 14 batters in 2008, and could come back to throw some pitches that might hit batters in August or September. Arroyo, Volquez, and Cueto have all finished in the top 5 in plunks at least once in their careers, as has Micah Owings. Owings looks as though he’ll be spending most of his time as a relief pitcher this season, so he might not be able to contribute as many plunks as his career high of 14. Also fighting for a spot on the team is Non-Roster Invitee Kip Wells, who has a career total of 69 hit batters.
The Targets Batters
Last season, the Reds got hit 53 times, which was the 14th best total in the majors, but it was 14 plunks below the average for major league teams in the state of Ohio. However, it’s an improvement over the 2008 season, when they only got hit 50 times and finished 26.5 plunks below the state average. (Cleveland wrecked the curve by breaking the all time record that year). They should be better though. Scott Rolen has a respectable career total of 112 HBPs, and holds the title of the most plunked man ever born in the State of Indiana (although he needs to learn to get out of the way of the ones going toward his head – concussions aren’t good for your OBP). Jonny Gomes holds the Rays career plunk record, as well as their single season record. Ramon Hernandez is the 6th most plunked Venezualan of all time, with 62. That’s 234 plunks between the three of them, so that ought to be a pretty good core for an HBP focused offense – even if it is 14 less than Jason Kendall. All of those guys have had double digit HBP seasons, but none have taken that many for the Reds yet (though Rolen hasn’t had a full season to try), leaving Brandon Phillips as the only current Red who has taken over 10 plunks for the team in a season.
For extra help, they may look to a pair of infield non-roster invitees currently in camp – Miguel Cairo and Chris Burke. Cairo is the only player ever to get hit 4 times in a single postseason series (2004 ALCS). Burke apprenticed under the modern master of the HBP, Craig Biggio, with the Astros and got hit 14 times for them in 2006 – though he has not lived up to that potential since. Or, they may look to the minor leagues where one promising option might be first baseman Daniel Dorn. He got hit 5 times in Venezualan Winter League action this past offseason. And, he’s Excellent for 1989 movie jokes, having the same last name as the Indians third baseman from Major League, and being actually born in San Dimas California, home of Waterloo, the most excellent water slide park. Where Bob Genghis Khan totally ravaged Ashman’s sporting goods, but should have done so with a proper wooden bat rather than aluminum.
Based on not much of anything, lets just say the Reds will get hit 56 times this year, and throw a total of 68 at opposing batters. And that Jonny Gomes will lead the team in getting hit, with 15. And Scott Rolen will avoid plunk related injuries. And Aroldis Chapman will hit somewhere between 1 and 15 batters.