The 2012 Cincinnati Reds were lucky.
The above sentence is a fact. Or, at least, is widely held as a fact. And I don't just mean by detractors of the Reds or Cardinal fans; I mean by the general population of those that watch baseball. In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds had a dream season, with health the likes of which the league had rarely, if ever, seen before, and whose hottest stretch coincided with the injury to their best player. Add it up, and the Cincinnati Reds were lucky last season, so much so that it's simple common sense says that the team is goign to regress in 2013, so much so that with even an improved roster, the team should have heavy competition from a Cardinal team that will only be good if a fistful of rookies play like seasoned veterans.
With that said, though, while the above sentence is widely held as fact, is it true? Were the Reds blessed by the baseball gods in 2012, leading to a 97 win season and a Division Title? Upon much consideration and research (read: a perusal of the internet in order to find information that will match the position I already believe), my answer in two parts:
Part One: If the Reds Were Lucky, They Were Due for a Bit of Luck...
If the Reds were lucky last season, that means that being healthy is not a skill, and, therefore, there's nothing that anyone can do to avoid injuries. I can buy that. But since I do, then I'm also forced to admit this: going into last season, the Reds were among the most unlucky teams in all of baseball over the previous decade.
In this article over at Fangraphs, there are two charts citing time lost due to injury from 2002-2011. In them, we learn that,
- The Cincinnati Reds lost more games to the disabled list over the previous decade than every team in baseball except 4. In other words, the Reds were the 26th healthiest team in baseball, when you consider total games lost.
- The Cincinnati Reds had more total trips to the disabled list over the previous decade than every team in baseball except 1. In other words, the Reds were the 29th healthiest team in baseball, when you consider total trips to the DL.
That second list has more weight to me than the other. Obviously, with players like Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin on the team for most of the last decade, it's obvious you'll have games missed. But two players can't account for all those trips to the DL (nearly 200 in total), and only one other team had more players go on the shelf than the Reds.
Why is this a significant fact? Because you can't say that the Reds were lucky last year without also noting that they were incredibly unlucky for the entire last 10 years. Which, to me, says this: if the Reds were lucky, good - that's one year we got back from the baseball gods. They owe us 9 more. And I don't remember anyone crying for us over the last ten years, which is odd, considering the amount of people wanting to disregard the Reds' season last year. Then again, maybe we weren't so lucky...
Part 2: ... But the Reds Weren't That Freaking Lucky Last Year!
Yes - the rotation held up quite nicely. Good. Great. Grand. You know what didn't, though? Perhaps the two most important areas of the team beyond that.
Take, for example, the middle of the order. As the season began, the Reds theoretical 3-4-5 in the order was Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Scott Rolen. Well, what the rotation had in health, the middle of the order had in injury.
Joey Votto missed 51 games due to injury.
Scott Rolen missed 70 games due to injury.
Brandon Phillips missed 15 games due to injury.
That's 136 total games - or, if you prefer, enough at bats to qualify for the batting title. That's pretty significant, I'd say, especially considering that in 2011, all three players made the All-Star team. And, of course, games missed is only part of the story. Joey Votto, when he returned, played at roughly 50% with, literally, zero power. Scott Rolen hasn't been 100% since 2006, I don't imagine, and as for Brandon Phillips, his calf injury was one that he tried to play through for most of the year. Of course, trying to play through it left him a shell of his former self - the injury first occurred in April, and as we played games on May 1, Brandon had an OBP of only .302. Yep - even when Brandon played, he was basically Drew Stubbs.
Then, there's the back of the bullpen. Remember how good the Reds' pen was? That's almost excusively because Aroldis Chapman was forced into action. If Ryan Madson or Nick Masset were healthy enough to throw even a single pitch last year, he probably would have started. And even then, if Bill Bray had been healthy enough to throw more than 8.2 batting practice innings, Chapman still may not have been the closer.
Put it together, and the verdict is this: if the Reds were lucky, they deserved a bit of luck, and in fact, they were not all that lucky anyway! Depending on your point of view, the 2012 Cincinnati Reds were, actually, extraordinarily UNLUCKY - and that's to say nothing about the playoff injury to Cueto or the games missed by Dusty.
Last year was a case of a great team doing great things, and to say that it was because of 'luck' is a slap in the face to what the team accomplished. So, let's not do that, and let's realize that this year could be even better. Maybe they'll be unlucky again; I don't know, I'm not a doctor. But I do know this - if and when the 2013 Reds win the division again, and when and if they go deep into the playoffs for the first time in twenty years, let's not call it luck. Let's call it waht it really is: