Last year was a disappointment for the Cincinnati Reds. After winning the NL Central in 2010, they followed with a third place finish and only 79 wins. This team has too much offensive firepower to ignore and their upgraded pitching gives this team a fresh look in 2012. If you combine key losses from other teams within the division (Pujols and Fielder to the AL), the Reds look poised for another run at winning the division.
5. Can Jay Bruce lead the league in home runs?
Last year Jay Bruce led his team in home runs with a career-best 32. This 24-year-old has always taunted fantasy owners with 40-home-run potential since his debut in 2008. Expect the tease to continue in 2012 since a significant jump in power seems elusive.
Bruce had a .472 slugging percentage in 2011, which ranks him 46th with qualified hitters. His .217 ISO percentage was good enough for 38th in the league. These numbers are not a result of a down year or a fluke. Instead, they represent his career numbers. If you look at his yearly home run output and believe that there could be more growth, you’re only fooling yourself. With his career-high 32 home runs he also received a career-high 589 at-bats. Measure it out and you have one home run every 18.3 at-bats. He’s averaged a home run every 18.5 at-bat over his career.
Bruce figures to be one of the safest outfielders in the game. You can bank on 30 home runs, a .260 average and a high number of runs and RBIs. Unless he improves his strikeout rate, Bruce will continue what he started in 2011.
4. What happens with Mat Latos in the Great American Ball Park?
The buzz during the offseason was that the Reds finally got their future ace. Mat Latos showed a lot of potential in his two years in San Diego and could still improve. However, a disappointing 2011 and the belief that Latos is an established product of Petco have doubters wondering if he will falter with the less forgiving Great American Ball Park.
His history shows a much more optimistic outlook in Cincinnati. Although it is a small sample size, Latos has pitched 20 innings in the Great American Ballpark, resulting in a 2.70 ERA. His road splits from last season gives more reason for hope. His 3.68 ERA away from Petco along with only eight home runs allowed (out of 16) is palatable. Combined with his post-All-Star break numbers of a 1.00 WHIP and 8.8 K/9, and you have the development of a budding star.
The disappointing first half plus his move out of San Diego has given Latos a lower value than deserved. His ERA will get a small bump upwards, but he’ll crack 200 strikeouts and increase his win totals. According to Mock Draft Central, he is currently being drafted as the 18th starting pitcher overall. The upside of Latos features a player who could crack the top ten by the end of the year.
3. Can Drew Stubbs go 30/30?
That was the question surrounding Drew Stubbs going into 2011 and it’s a similar question heading into this year. We know the speed is legit after swiping 40 bases last year, but can we count on a return of power? Don’t hold your breath fantasy owners. After hitting 28 bombs in four years of minor league action , there is no reason to expect an increase in power. His 22 home runs in 2010 is the clear outlier. The 15 home runs he hit last year seems more reasonable and likely.
The issue with Stubbs has always been his strikeouts and atrocious batting average. This is a player who likes to swing the bat. His 30.1 strikeout rate is the second worst in the majors (behind Mark Reynolds). This caused Dusty Baker to shake up the lineup midway through the season. Stubbs started the year as the lead-off but was relocated to the middle of the order as the season progressed. That will continue in 2012, where Stubbs is projected to bat sixth or seventh.
The change in lineup affects his fantasy value. He will not exceed 90 runs again this season. He may be lucky to get 80. His RBIs will go up, but not enough to warrant early attention in the draft. Stubbs’ value lies in his speed. If he can control his free-swinging tendencies, Stubbs could move up in the order, record more runs and maybe even break 45-50 stolen bases.
2. Does Aroldis Chapman make the rotation?
Let’s see if we can create a new nickname: The Cuban Heater. What else would you call this elite Cuban prospect? He’s hit 100 miles-per-hour on the radar gun with his fast ball. He’s shown elite strikeout capabilities. It’s a fitting nickname.
Now, allow me to throw some water on The Heater. Early this spring, Dusty Baker decided to give Aroldis Chapman a chance to break camp as the club’s fifth starter. But as spring injuries started to mount in the bullpen (Ryan Madson – right elbow inflammation, Bill Bray – left groin strain, Nick Masset – shoulder soreness), there was no choice but to put him back in the bullpen.
Madson’s injury is less concerning, but the loss of the left handed Bray will put the nail in the coffin in any rotation hopes. Instead, Chapman will be the set-up man (along with Sean Marshall) and provide little value in any standard mixed leagues.
His only value will be above-average strikeouts, probably netting you 1 1/2 strikeouts for every inning pitched. But the lack of control will cost you. His 7.38 BB/9 was the worst in the league last year. He’ll give you strikeouts, he’ll give you a sprinkling of holds, he’ll kill your WHIP doing so.
1. Can Johnny Cueto be an elite pitcher?
The biggest issue surrounding Johnny Cueto has nothing to do with talent. Last year he decreased his ERA to 2.31 and his WHIP to 1.09. Those numbers are enough to make any fantasy owner drool at the potential of this 26-year-old. The issue is whether he can stay on the mound for the full year. His outstanding ratio stats came with only 24 games started. He missed the entire month of April from a bicep injury and was shut down in mid-September due to a back muscle strain.
So far this spring, he looks healthy, but let’s tame our expectations. A closer look at Cueto shows a declining strikeout rate. Last year’s 104 strikeouts were a career low. It could be explained by his injury if it weren’t for a three-year trend in declining rates. Also declining is his walk rate. Last year he only walked 47 batters, also a career low. This too has been a three-year trend and seems to be a fair trade off.
The biggest red flag with Cueto is his unsustainable ERA. It’s such a large drop from his 3.83 career average, and his xFIP was more in line with his career numbers. Don’t be surprised if his ERA this year is closer to 3.50 than his amazing 2011 campaign.
Johnny Cueto seems to be a regression candidate rather than leap forward. He should have more appearances, thus more strikeouts but WHIP will go slightly northward and his ERA will increase, by as much as a full run-and-a-half.