John (with help from Joel Luckhaupt, Justin Inaz, and Greg Gajus) gives us another good column today:

Here is how the Reds position players rank in OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) among the position players of the 16 teams in the National League:

C – 6th (Paul Bako will revert to the back of his bubblegum card soon enough; for now, he’s Ernie Lombardi).

1B – 6th (Lower than we’d have thought, but Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Derrek Lee are a tough crowd).

2B – 6th (Brandon Phillips still isn’t good at getting on base, but he can really slug it).

SS – 5th (Oh, are the Reds ever going to miss Jeff Keppinger ).

3B – 6th (Edwin Encarnacion still has the most upside of any Reds hitter).

LF – 9th (Earlier this week, Dunn got some talk-show points for hitting a sacrifice-fly on a pitch outside the zone, but it’s going to take a lot more than that).

CF – 8th (Thanks to Ryan Freel ).

RF – 14th (Ken Griffey Jr. figures to move up in the rankings – he always “comes around” – but FIRST let him get hot, THEN move him into the 3-hole).

Pinch-hitters – 12th.

Considering Votto’s a rookie, I think his place is reasonable. C will drop, but Dunn will rise. He’s 9th and is off to a bad start, he’ll rise, as will Griffey (assuming he’s still here). CF would be higher if Bruce were playing.

Last year, Griffey Jr. got to nine FEWER fly-ball outs than the average major league right-fielder based on his chances. This year, he’s already about five below average (second-worst among all MLB right fielders) and there’s still three-fourths of the season to go.

Dunn’s range is improving, 1.5 fewer fly-ball outs; making him 20th of 28 left fielders with more than 150 innings; last year, he got to 15 fewer fly balls than his fellow left fielders.

Am I the only one that feels it’s just a matter of “when” not “if” Griffey is traded and relatively soon? Dunn’s range has improved, that’s nice to see, but he’ll always have the rap that he doesn’t care about his fielding. Oh, nice play on that foul ball yesterday, Adam.

With men on base, Dunn has 22 fewer plate appearances than Phillips, is hitting 86 points lower, slugging 52 points lower, and has the same number of HRs (3) – yet has 1 more RBI in those situations … Is Dunn a witch?

Yet you rarely, if ever, hear complaints about Phillips hitting.

Phillips THINKS he can hit anything, but the numbers say no. He swings at 33 percent of the pitches he sees that are out of the strike zone. That’s the 13th highest rate in the bigs.

Swinging at pitches out of the zone isn’t all bad. But No. 1 bad-baller Vlad Guerrero makes contact on 66 percent of those pitches; Phillips makes contact on 47.

Even a bad-ball hitter has to be realistic about just how bad a ball he can put a crushing on.

And Vlad, he ain’t.

The numbers don’t support concerns that the Reds would be weakened at shortstop AND second base by moving Phillips. In the minors he played 356 games at SS (.950 fielding percentage), compared to Jerry Hairston’s 34 (.921) – and Hairston doesn’t have a shortstop’s arm. Going into this season, Phillips had played five big league games at SS, Hairston six. Why are the Reds using a lesser fielder at arguably the most important defensive position?

The average 2B who moves to SS makes about six fewer plays per year than the average SS. But Phillips made about 15 MORE plays last year than the average 2B (among the NL’s best), so at worst he figures to be average at SS. The Reds need the offense with Phillips at SS and Freel at 2B, when he’s not in the outfield.

Ignore the fact that Hairston’s playing well now, it won’t last. This team is better off with Phillips at SS and Freel at 2B (in the short term) and Bruce in CF.

Johnny Cueto is getting killed on pitches up in the zone – hitters have a .667 slugging percentage against him there (compared to a .394 slugging percentage down). We agree with Dusty Baker that Cueto should let the catcher call the game and focus on putting his stuff where not even the best big leaguers can hit it.

Seems to me the best part of this is that it shows that Cueto’s problem is already identified, so it should be easier to correct. And his lack of walks lessens the effect of the HRs that he’s giving up.

Did you know that even though Bronson Arroyo ‘s ERA is 6.08, his strikeout rate (8 K’s per nine innings) is well above his career norms (6.2/9)? His ground ball rate is almost exactly where it was last year. His walk rate is up a bit this year, but not enough to explain his struggles.

So what gives? This year, batters have a .342 adjusted batting average against Arroyo on balls in play, compared to a .285 average the previous three years. And why are hitters batting 57 points higher? Probably just bad luck. Pitchers have very little control over batting average on balls in play. Hang with Arroyo; he’ll turn it around.

And hopefully, in view of recent starts, his luck is starting to turn.