Heading into the 2012 season, there were plenty of questions, and even after 40 games it seems like we haven’t gotten definitive answers.
Question: How will Mat Latos fare at Great American Ball Park?
Answer: So far, Latos has been the same as his history would seem to indicate. For starters, he’s actually been better in his first four home starts (1-1, 3.91 ERA) than in his four road starts (1-1, 5.40). It’s also tough to tell because he is a notoriously slow starter, putting up a career record of 2-8 with a 5.73 in April and March, versus a record of 27-23 and a 3.10 ERA in the rest of the season. In five April starts this year, he had a 5.97 ERA and batters were hitting .307 against him. In his three starts since the calendar turned, he has a 2.25 ERA and batters were hitting .200.
Q: With Ryan Madson out, how will Sean Marshall fare as the team’s closer?
A: Those results were mixed, as well. Despite putting up seven saves, the lefty blew one and had to be bailed out of two more — including the team’s May 19 win at Yankee Stadium. It looks like Aroldis Chapman has taken over the closer’s duties, moving Marshall back to being one of the best setup men in the game. Marshall struggled against right-handed hitters, who hit .365 off of him before Chapman took over as the closer, though he bailed out Jose Arredondo to earn a one-batter save on May 21 after Chapman pitched on four out of five days.
Q: Can Scott Rolen stay healthy and, if not, what’s the plan at third?
A: Finally, something we know the answer to — unfortunately it wasn’t the answer the Reds wanted.
Rolen played in 29 games and looked even older than his 37 years. With Juan Francisco in Atlanta, Todd Frazier is getting his shot. Once ranked the team’s top prospect, he’ll never get a better chance at this level.
Q: Who bats leadoff and who bats cleanup?
A: Dusty Baker’s best answer has been Brandon Phillips — to both questions. Unfortunately, that’s against the agreed upon rules. The Reds haven’t had a legitimate leadoff man in recent memory, and Phillips doesn’t fit that profile either — his .300 on-base percentage through May 20 is much lower than you’d like for even an average player, much less a leadoff man. Problem is, there isn’t an obvious replacement. Of the regulars, only Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Ryan Hanigan and Frazier have better OBPs.
Q: What about left field?
A: The platoon of two right-handed batters that hit righties better than lefties? It’s worked about even worse than expected. Ryan Ludwick has looked more like the guy who played with the Pirates and Padres than the one who raked for the Cardinals at GABP. Chris Heisey has been one of the game’s best pinch-hitters, but as an everyday player he’s not lived up to hopes.
Q: Has Johnny Cueto graduated to ace status?
A: Beating CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium sure didn’t hurt.
Q: Are Homer Bailey and Mike Leake ready to stay in the rotation?
A: You hear all the time about “made up” stats, but few stats are as made up as the “quality start.” By definition, a quality start is when a pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs. It was literally made up by sportswriter John Lowe. This season, Bailey has turned in quality starts in six of his eight starts: good for a 2-3 record a 4.34 ERA. It’s not exactly the dominance we all expected for Bailey, but it’s a good start. Meanwhile, Leake was 0-5 with a 6.21 ERA before looking great against the Braves May 21, throwing eights innings of two-hit, one-run ball.
Q: Can Bronson Arroyo bounce back?
A: His fastball velocity is actually down from a year ago, but he’s also using it less, throwing more cutters and sliders than last year. So far it’s worked, with his strikeout rate higher, walk rate much lower and his home runs allowed back to a normal rate for him. He’s never going to blow you away with his numbers, but he’s back to being what he’s always been, and that’s good news for the Reds.
And then there’s the biggie:
Q: What to do with Aroldis Chapman?
A: It appears he’s your new closer, but that brings up even more questions: Does he close all season? Can he pitch as many as four days in a row? Will he stick there even when Nick Masset and Bill Bray return?
Yes, this team is flawed. But what’s easy to forget when you only watch one team’s games is that every team (well, maybe not the Rangers) is flawed — and as we saw last year, even flawed teams can win it all.
CONTACT C. TRENT ROSECRANS: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter @ctrent