Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Handing out first half honors for the Reds

I'd call that the face of the Reds

The Cincinnati Reds currently sit in second place in the National League Central at 47-38 and one game behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates. Huh? Oh well. Now, at the All-Star break, it seems like a good time to evaluate the Reds’ roster. Who have been the biggest heroes and surprises, as well as who have been the goats. Here’s my best attempt in the slightly modified key of ESPN analyst Jayson Stark’s midseason awards.

1st half MVPJoey Votto
You’re not even allowed to dissent. This guy is arguably the MVP of the entire National League for the first half. Boasting a .348/.471/.617 slash line, Votto hasn’t let the money go to his head after signing a $225-million extension. He tailed off just a bit at the end of the first half after tweaking his knee, but is still fifth in the NL in batting average, while leading Major League Baseball in OBP, OPS (1.087), doubles (35), and WAR (5.0). His 65 walks trail only former Red Adam Dunn (68). He probably leads in a whole bunch of other categories which I’ve just failed to mention. He leads the Reds with 50 runs, 100 hits, the 35 doubles, the 65 walks, and pretty much all stats that begin with or contain a period. For Cincinnati, he’s tied with Jay Bruce with 83 games played, while coming in second to the right fielder (17, 56) with 14 home runs and 48 RBI. I hope you’ve been paying attention because this guy is truly something special.

1st half (Reds’) Cy YoungJohnny Cueto
All-Star selection (and TLR) be damned! Cueto has done nothing but prove he is still the Reds’ ace through the first part of the 2012 season. His 18 starts lead the Reds’ pitching staff, as do his 120.1 innings, 10 wins, and 14 quality starts. Not counting relievers, so do his 2.39 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Only Mat Latos (98) has more than Cueto’s 91 strikeouts. He’s also come up with two complete games so far, which ties him with Latos. He’s tied for second in the NL in innings pitched and fourth in wins, while holding the fourth spot by himself for ERA. He’s only given up more than three runs twice this season. There’s not a pitcher on the roster that can be more trusted with the baseball than Cueto, including Aroldis Chapman. If this guy’s not an All-Star then it’s obvious that the selection process needs to be revised, but hey, as long as he’s in Cincinnati, Reds fans have to feel pretty good.

1st half LVPScott Rolen
The least valuable player has got to be Rolen, right? A key piece in the 2010 NL Central title run, Rolen has struggled mightily in 2012. The 37-year old Jasper, IN native clearly hadn’t completely regained the necessary strength in his shoulder to contribute early, and was plagued with back spasms right before the All-Star break. It has been ugly as he’s hitting just .178/.241/.302 so far.  He still has a “golden glove” at third, but his bat has become a liability in the middle of the current Reds’ lineup. The only argument I can come up with against Rolen being the LVP is that his struggles and ailments have made way for Todd Frazier who has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the first half. There’s no doubt that Rolen has been an amazing ballplayer for the last 16 years, but with his body being uncooperative and his Hall of Fame career winding down, it might be time for Rolen to start leading less by example and more with his savvy, veteran wit and charm.

1st half (Reds’) Cy YukBill Bray
This was a tough category to choose. No regular on the staff has really been that surprisingly bad. The highest reliever ERA is Sam LeCure’s 3.86. All of them have had their ups and downs, but none of them have really, truly been terrible. Sure Latos hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but he’s really started to look like the pitcher the Reds expected in his last few starts. Mike Leake and Homer Bailey, along with Latos (4.13), carry a 4.01 and 4.14 ERA respectively, but that’s not really all that bad considering where they are in the rotation and let’s face it…if the season ended today it would be Bailey’s lowest ERA of his career. I hate to pin it on Bray with such a small sample size, but his numbers certainly scream yuk and his lack of appearances is part of the disappointment. It may be due to injury, but he’s given up five earned runs in just four innings, which computes to a nasty 11.25 ERA. All Reds’ fans were hoping Bray could be part of an intimidating left-handed three-headed monster, along with Sean Marshall and Chapman, but it just wasn’t meant to be in the first half. Bray has never looked so out of sorts in his career. Fortunately, the Reds’ bullpen, which sports the third-best ERA among relievers in all of baseball, hasn’t exactly been in desperate need of Bray to this point.

1st half Rookie of the YearTodd Frazier
The hype was all for Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco at the beginning of the season and they’ve both been serviceable in filling out the Reds’ 25-man roster. They’ve both been decent, but have left fans wanting a little more. Enter Todd Frazier. Frazier got his shot after Rolen struggled and went on the DL. He’s been pretty good. In 180 at-bats, he’s hitting .278/.345/.556 with nine homers and 29 RBI. He’s tied for fifth in HR on the Reds, while being alone in fifth for RBI. He’s second in round-trippers and RBI among all NL rookies with at least 175 plate appearances, including being ahead of the highly-touted and All-Star rookie Bryce Harper (8, 25 in 248 AB) in both categories. Frazier’s fourth in BA. He hit two homers in a game against the Mets on May 16th. A week later he hit a walk-off shot to lift the Reds past the Braves, and give them at the time, a season high five-game winning streak. Four days later on May 27th, he hit a homer with no hands, kinda. THEN not but a couple days later he saved a choking man’s life in Pittsburgh by performing the Heimlich maneuver on him! What does that have to do with him being good at baseball? Nothing, but he did have two hits and two RBI in an 8-1 Reds’ win over the Pirates the day after that. The kid is good, but doesn’t get the attention he deserves because he plays in Cincinnati. Maybe he can showcase his talents to the world in the playoffs later this fall.

Best moment of the 1st half – Mother’s Day
Had Bronson Arroyo been able to complete a no-hitter on June 26th, he may have gotten the nod here. However, who else but Joseph Daniel Votto could deliver the best, most feel-good moment of the first half of the Reds’ season? It had been a slow, frustrating start to the season for the fans and the whole team, including Votto. The Reds were .500 at 16-16 and Votto wasn’t even hitting .300, though he was at .296. All that changed on May 13th against the Washington Nationals though. To set the stage, the game itself was even kind of a drag for Reds’ fans as it started with a 3-hour, 36-minute rain delay and the Reds trailed 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth. Votto had basically carried the team the whole way up till then, and he would carry them home too. In five at-bats that day, Votto went 4-for-5, with three home runs, six RBI, and of course a double. He saved his best for last though. With the bases loaded, and the Reds down to their last out, Votto launched a booming shot to center field off Nationals’ reliever Henry Rodriguez to give the Reds a 9-6 walk-off victory. Votto is now hitting .348 and has several times been called the best hitter in baseball. The Reds haven’t been under .500 since that day. Votto made a lot of Reds’ fans and their moms happy that day. Hopefully there are many more moments like it to come in the second half.

What do you think? Who do you think belongs in each category for the Reds in the first half? What was your favorite moment of the first half of 2012?

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