UPDATE: To encourage the Enquirer to continue to post this type of “thinking man’s baseball coverage”, I would suggest that anyone that is impressed with this coverage drop a note to the Editor of the Enquirer’s Sports section. Josh Pichler (jpichler at Enquirer.com).

First, there is a series from John Erardi (including input from our friend Jinaz and two other stats folks) that include a “stats-based look” at what the Reds can and should do to improve the team. I encourage everyone to read the entire Enquirer Reds section today.

First article is on “Crunching the Numbers“.

In the cold, calculating world of numbers, the guy not to trade is Adam Dunn because he doesn’t bring you as much return. He’s not the player Griffey is, and his contract makes him a free agent after this year if he’s traded. With his $13 million option as a Red next year, Dunn is still a bargain, even for a small-revenue team like the Reds – and if you don’t believe that, check out what the other free-agent outfielders will command next year. And even if you can’t afford to re-sign Dunn after next year, his loss brings you a first-round pick from the team that signs him. Supposedly, if you know what you’re doing, you capitalize on that pick.

In another article, covered later, they make the case of what the Reds would need to get in return for Dunn.

The Reds are at a crossroads – arguably their most critical juncture since 2000, when they traded for Griffey and failed to assemble a strong supporting cast around him in time for the opening of Great American Ball Park in 2003.

Under new ownership, the Reds have a second chance to get it right – if they make the right trades as part of their overall plan to remake the club and contend for a spot in the postseason by next season.

I don’t think anyone can argue that this team is at a crossroads.

Then they debunk the myth of the importance of RISP:

(much more below the fold)

Citing hitters’ batting averages with runners in scoring position (RISP) is an oft-quoted thing around Major League Baseball.

Turns out, it means almost nothing.

For a career, most batters hit within a few points of their overall average with RISP. Even Hall of Famer Tony Perez, known as a great clutch hitter, hit only five points higher with RISP (.284) than his overall average (.279).

The fifth-place Reds are hitting better with RISP than the first-place New York Mets.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are hitting a whopping .291 with RISP (13 points higher than their overall average) yet have scored fewer runs than the Reds.

This has to make the Marty B’s of the world grind their teeth…

What does matter is how many opportunities a team gets with RISP. That is a result of on-base average, which includes walks. The Reds are second-to-last in the league, with 754 at-bats with RISP. The Phillies, who are hitting nine points lower with RISP than they are hitting overall, lead the league in runs scored because they have good hitters and also are tops with 921 at-bats with RISP. If the Reds had as many opportunities as the Phillies, they would have 37 more runs, even if they hit only .220 with RISP. And that would be good for four more wins.

Conclusion? When the Reds consider trades and other acquisitions, they should take a hard look at the new guy’s on-base average.

What’s hurting the Reds isn’t all those home runs and strikeouts; it’s all those low OBAs (David Ross, Alex Gonzalez, Ryan Freel, Brandon Phillips and Jeff Conine).

They sure aren’t afraid to take on the sacred cows…mentioning Brandon Phillips in any type of a negative light is almost sacrilege among the media right now. I like Phillips, but he’s not the player the Reds broadcasters and local media people claim him to be. He’s an above average 2B, possibly having a career season. Maybe he’ll continue to improve, but until he improves his ability to get on base, he won’t be a great player.

And finally the article “The Case for Keeping Adam Dunn“.

I don’t think anyone can argue with this:

If the Reds trade Dunn, there will be only two ways they could get into contention: 1) by replacing most of his offense and pitching and defending much better, or 2) by replacing all of his offense and pitching and defending reasonably better.

Common sense, right?

To get into contention next year, the Reds must score at least 50 more runs than they allow. The runs scored/runs allowed stat can predict to within five victories either way how many games a team is going to win. The very best teams (95-plus wins) will score 100 more runs than they allow.

Given everybody’s present pace, the Reds will score about 770 runs this season. The problem is that at the current rate, the Reds will allow about 815 runs. That ratio projects to a 77-85 win-loss record. The team needs to flip that ratio to make things interesting next season.

So, what happens if they trade Dunn?

If they trade Dunn, they will need considerably more output from guys like Hamilton, Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Phillips. If the Reds get that output, they barely will be able to make up for the loss of Dunn’s offense.

Then – and here’s the point – the pitching staff and defense would have to allow 130 fewer runs to have a shot at 90 wins, which is a reasonable number for winning the National League Central Division.

However, if the Reds keep Dunn and the other players improve as much as hoped (Freel and Hopper wouldn’t get as much playing time as they would if Dunn weren’t here), then the Reds would need to reduce their runs allowed by only 60 to reach 90 wins.

Ok, so we make up some offense, but we REALLY improve the pitching and defense, right?

How hard is it to improve pitching and defense by 60 runs vs. 130 runs? Let’s explain it by the commonly understood concept of earned-run average. To save 60 runs in a season, the pitching staff would have to drop its ERA by .37; to drop 130 runs, the ERA would have to drop by .80. The Reds’ team ERA is currently 4.70; saving 60 additional runs (assuming all are earned) would mean the staff ERA would need to drop to about 4.33. That’s a reasonable improvement to make via free agency and some better performances from individuals already on the pitching staff and/or defense.

But improving by 130 runs would require the team ERA to drop from 4.70 to 3.90. That’s not impossible, but it would be an enormous improvement. The last time the Reds staff had an ERA of 4.40 or lower was 2002 – not that long ago – and they were at 4.51 just last season. But the last time they had an ERA of 3.97 or lower? The strike year of 1994, although they were close in 1999. (Is it any surprise that only a strike and one loss to the New York Mets, respectively, kept the 1994 and 1999 Reds out of the postseason?)

So, we pickup a FA pitcher with the money we save on Dunn…

Even adding the best pitcher in baseball last year – Johan Santana of the Twins – to the Reds staff would save the Reds just fewer than 80 runs; Santana had a VORP of 79.6 runs in 2006.

Here are the top pitchers, as measured by VORP, in 2006:

79.6 VORP – Santana, 233.7 IP, 2.77 ERA.

72.4 VORP – Roy Oswalt, 220.7 IP, 2.98 ERA.

68.9 VORP – Brandon Webb, 235 IP, 3.10 ERA.

68.0 VORP – Roy Halladay, 220 IP, 3.19 ERA.

67.8 VORP – Chris Carpenter, 221.7 IP, 3.09 ERA.

64.9 VORP – Bronson Arroyo, 240.7 IP, 3.29 ERA.

So, as you can see, none of these pitchers – by themselves – would improve the Reds by 130 runs just by being inserted into the rotation ahead of whoever the Reds’ No. 5 starter would be next season.

So, how badly would trading Dunn hurt the Reds offense?

A statistic called runs created, which attempts to estimate the total number of runs a player contributes to a team’s offense irrespective of the actions of others on their team, indicates that Dunn is, indeed, a major run producer.

Yeah, but he’s not as productive as others in the lineup…he strikes out too much.

The Reds had scored 470 runs as of Tuesday. Dunn led the team with 65 runs created, which accounts for 14 percent of the team’s total runs scored. Griffey was second with 64 runs created, and from there it dropped to Phillips (56 RC; 12 percent) and Scott Hatteberg (44 RC; 9 percent).

Yeah, but the Reds aren’t very good, so how does that compare to the good hitters in the league?

Dunn’s critics cannot logically argue that he’s a lousy RBI man unless they know how many guys are on base in front of him. And one thing the critics might not know is that of the top 10 RBI men in the NL, only two (Prince Fielder, 244 runners, and Miguel Cabrera, 238 runners) have done more with less than Dunn (246 runners). In contrast, Andruw Jones’ 65 RBI are largely because of the 317 runners he has had on base in front of him – 29 percent more opportunities than Dunn has had.

I’ve just covered the high points, all of these articles are worth reading…it’ll be interesting to see how much discussion these articles foster, both in the online community, and maybe more importantly in the media.