The Cincinnati Reds
won 74 games last year, but there's reason for heightened expectations this season, namely four players who will enter the season at age 25 or younger and who could provide the franchise's backbone for years to come: Jay Bruce
, Joey Votto
, Johnny Cueto
and Edinson Volquez
Volquez was one of NL's best pitchers in 2008, posting a 17-6 record with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 196 IP. However, after a blistering start, the righty had a 4.60 ERA after the All-Star break. The early Cy Young favorite fizzled in his first full season. Curiously, his performance against lefties and overall velocity remained stable across the entire year.
So what happened? It looks like his fastball-changeup combination that was almost unhittable in the first half simply stopped fooling righties after the All-Star break. Volquez experienced a 107-point increase in batting average against his fastball, while hitters actually doubled their batting average against the change. The most likely explanation is that the youngster had a subtle change in his delivery that signaled his pitch choice to righties.
Top prospect Jay Bruce, 22, received a major league call-up last year and came out of the gate flying, hitting .342 with a .998 OPS and 4 HR in his first 20 games. He then received a rude, if delayed, welcome to the majors, hitting .234 with a .713 OPS over his next 88 games. However, he showed good power, hitting 17 HR. What was his weakness? Strangely enough, he struggled with the big-league fastball, as he whiffed on nearly a quarter of the heaters he hacked at.
Joey Votto, 25, finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year to Cubs catcher Geovany Soto
as he put up a line of .297 with a .368 OBP, 24 HR and 32 doubles. He surpassed expectations across the board and swiftly put an end to the Scott Hatteberg
era. Why was he so successful last season? Even though he had 102 strikeouts, he has an above-average walk rate (10.1 percent of PA) and can hit for power. Only Ryan Howard
hit more home runs in September last season.
Votto also has the knack for punishing the pitcher's first pitch. His batting average when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch is .393, whereas the NL average was .337. The pitcher might as well be throwing batting practice to him if they give him a first-pitch fastball (.468 BA against). Note to opposing pitcher: Just throw him junk.