The Enquirer runs a very interesting article by John Erardi (with analysis by Greg Gajus and Joel Luchkaupt) on sabermetrics.

We turned loose a couple of sabermetricians – numbers gurus who use statistics as evidence for objective analysis – and were surprised to see what they came back with.

They aren’t predicting the Reds will contend, but rather that the Reds could contend if certain projections take place allowing them to score 70 more runs than they allow. (An explanation of that follows.)

Their biggest point? That the Reds’ best shot occurs if they play and pitch the youngsters.

The bromides still apply – the pitchers must come through; key players have to stay healthy; some guys need to have breakout seasons – but consider the specific, numerical analysis:

The projections – that is, “the probabilities” – say the Reds would be much better off with talented but unproven slugger Jay Bruce in center field than Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper or Corey Patterson. The point: Always play a guy somewhere because he’s the best player, not because you “think” somebody else would make a better leadoff hitter.

The Reds would be considerably better off with Jeff Keppinger anywhere in the lineup, as long as it’s full-time, because he provides what this lineup desperately needs: a batter who gets on base. One way to do it would be to play the right-handed Keppinger at first base against left-handed pitchers, and at shortstop against right-handers. (Such a platoon is unorthodox, but then Keppinger is an unusually valuable piece. He adds more runs with his bat than fellow shortstop Alex Gonzalez saves with his glove. Despite the raves you read about Gonzalez’s defense, all the fielding services indicate his range is average. At best, he would save 10 more runs over the course of an entire season than Keppinger, who the projections say would generate 10-18 more runs on offense than Gonzalez, not to mention how much more Keppinger provides on offense if he gets first baseman Joey

Votto’s at-bats vs. left-handers).

The Reds are better off with Votto, also relatively unproven, at first base than veteran Scott Hatteberg, although Hatteberg has been a valuable contributor throughout his Reds tenure with excellent on-base percentage and consistent hitting.

The Reds should take a hard look at batting Votto leadoff against right-handed pitchers, and Keppinger leadoff vs. left-handed pitchers. Don’t sweat Votto’s strikeouts. Votto has a good on-base average. So does Keppinger. Not speedy enough, you say? Beware the leadoff hitter with good speed, good batting average and low on-base percentage. Reds manager Dusty Baker had such a leadoff hitter in 2006 with the Cubs. Juan Pierre played every game, hit .292, stole 58 bases and yet scored only 87 runs thanks to a .330 on-base percentage. Adam Dunn has scored more runs than that in each of the last four seasons.

It wouldn’t kill the Reds to bat Brandon Phillips leadoff – maybe 5-8 fewer runs over the course of a season (which equates to maybe one victory) – but don’t do it just for his speed. On-base percentage – not speed – is the most important single factor in scoring runs, say the sabermetricians. They are adamant about this, and they have the math to prove it.

The Reds are on the right track with their bullpen. New closer Francisco Cordero’s presence allows for last year’s closer, David Weathers, and eighth-inning setup man Jared Burton to be used in whatever late-inning roles the manager wants. There are also better arms available to handle the sixth and seventh innings compared to last season. The numbers support what you already suspect.

No. 3 starter Matt Belisle should be better than last season even if all he does is become a “neutral luck” pitcher as opposed to the “bad luck” one he was in ’07.

And it’s nearly impossible for any combination of candidates for the Nos. 4 and 5 starting rotation spots (Josh Fogg, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Jeremy Affeldt and Edinson Volquez) to be as bad as the 4- and 5-hole pitchers from last season.

What’s it all mean when it comes to winning games? Today’s analysis explains that, step by step.

The “step by step” is interesting. The point they make is that the offense won’t improve much, but some; but the pitching almost has to improve.

Some of their theories won’t happen (Keppinger platooning between 1B and SS, Votto batting leadoff) and some aren’t likely to happen (Bruce getting 150 games in CF).

In contrast, Paul Daugherty’s column shows distain for any type of “sabermetric logic”.

Some of the “highlights” of his column:

The best baseball managing is done by the seat of your pants, using good, old-fashioned, pre-sabermetric logic. That’s another reason to like Dusty Baker. (Beyond his knowledge of single-malt Scotches and Van Morrison lyrics, which is merely astounding and downright Renaissance.) If Baker manages by a book, it’s one inside his head, not one written by Bill James.

No, Baker doesn’t use a book. He’s your traditional manager. Case in point his statement that Corey Patterson’s a good lead off candidate because he’s fast. Someone should point out to him so was Deion Sanders.

By-the-book managing is for men who aren’t confident in their ability to read players and situations. It’s for managers who don’t know their players’ personalities. It’s what you do so you can say later, after it backfires: “Don’t blame me. I went by the book.”

Managers that use sabermetrics aren’t managing “by the book”. Managers that manage by traditional thought are the ones going “by the book”. These are the guys that aren’t confident in their abilities or have enough faith in their decision to go against traditional thinking, even when it makes sense.

Numbers are fun to look at but dangerous to dwell on. Baker understands this. If Dunn walks 30 fewer times this year, he’ll drive in 15 more runs. His on-base percentage will dip. Oh, no.

If Votto takes fewer first-pitch strikes, his run production will improve.

And so on. Here’s a stat: Wins as manager: Dusty Baker, 1,162; Bill James, 0.

I’d like to hear his logic that Dunn’s 30 fewer walks will mean 15 more RBIs. They also could mean 30 more outs, costing the team runs.

As for Dusty’s wins…no one challenges that he’s been successful almost everywhere he’s managed, but was that him or the team’s that he’s been given.

If the Reds aren’t successful this year, will people blame Baker or the players?