I think it’s been made fairly clear that this season probably won’t be the most enjoyable if all you care about is wins. The way the team is currently constructed, it may be a stretch to finish over .500. That’s not to say that the season will not be fun to follow. I’m looking forward to watching the progression we see for some of the talent we’ve acquired this off-season as well as watching the continued development of guys already in house. With that being said, I thought it might be nice to give you a few names to keep an eye on this year and why you might want to be optimistic.

Travis Wood – In 2010, Wood made his big league debut for the Reds in an outing against the Cubs. He was brought in this off-season as part of the deal that sent Sean Marshall packing. For some, that was a disappointment considering Wood’s ERA last year was 4.84. However, if we look beyond that stat we see that Wood posted a FIP earned run average of 4.06. In addition, the Bill James projects him for an ERA of 3.75. Also factor in the fact that Great American Ballpark is a tough place to pitch, ranking as the 8th highest scoring parks in 2011 and the 3rd highest home run hitting park in all of baseball in 2011. Looking at his career home / road splits we see this:

    Split  ERA  G GS    IP HR  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
     Home 5.30 15 13  73.0 10 1.493  8.0  2.71
     Away 3.58 24 22 135.2  9 1.179  6.4  2.31

Notice the drastic difference in ERA and WHIP, not to mention the HR totals. He gave up more home runs at how in roughly half the innings pitched. Before you argue that Wrigley is just as much a home run / offensive park, I would point to the fact that in the middle of the park at 14th, tied with Detroit in terms of home runs and 23rd in overall offensive output. It’s not the hitters park we’ve all been told it is, primarily due to the win blowing in often early in the year. The move from Cincinnati should do a lot toward boosting Wood’s production and confidence.

Geovany Soto – For some reason, Geo hasn’t been able to produce the kind of consistent production we’d like to see. Looking at the year he had last year, I believe he’s due for a rebound in 2012. Looking first as his BAbip, Geo posted .280 in 2011, which was almost 20 points lower than the league average and 30 points below his career average up to last season. Because players tend to regress to their norms, Geo should be in line for an increase in that department, which should lead to more offense from Geo in 2012. 2011 also saw a drastic increase in his strikeouts (26.2% of his plate appearances) which was five percentage points higher than his career average leading up to 2011 of 21%. Couple that with a major decline in his walks, dropping from 16% in 2010 to just over 9% in 2011 (his lowest total since his rookie year) and I think you’ve got someone who is poised to see those numbers regress toward the mean.

Ryan Dempster – His 2011 campaign was one that started terribly, with an ERA of 9.58 in his six starts in the month of April. However, from May on, Dempster had an ERA of just under 4.00. Still not the number you want to see from someone who would be considered the workhorse in the # 2 starter role, but a lot more acceptable than 9.58. Looking at Dempster’s secondary numbers, we also notice that in those starts from May through the end of the season, the BAbip for hitters facing Dempster was .327, which is high. It seams to me that not only did Dempster improve once the calendar change to May, but he was a tad unlucky when it came to balls put in play as well.

I know it’s not a lot, but hopefully these little nuggets will give some hope as well as something to watch for as the season takes shape in 2012.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail