I had relatively reasonable expectations for the 2019 Reds season. I predicted and still expect them to finish 81-81. I felt like the ceiling for this team was getting a Wild Card spot with near 87 wins. The floor being at least fourth place in the NL Central. Since 2015 I have not expected much from this Reds team in the way of wins but more so in player development. That narrative no longer fits this organization, or even die hard Reds fans expectations, even though the team hasn’t posted a competitive season since 2013.
The front office appears to be taking this team in the right direction with it’s aggressive offseason. I believe the coming month, as well as the upcoming offseason, will see how serious they are about creating a winning culture. I use this term loosely as the definition of a winning season is posting a record .500 or better. For die hards, band wagon, and new fans this has been a difficult team to follow for the most part for the last generation.
What would I define as a winning culture organization? The St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us, including myself, have despised them ever since the big brawl in 2010. I think that resentment has passed now especially with the Pirates and Cubs antics of recent memory. The Cardinals are THE definition of “Winning Culture”. Since 2000 they have had 18 winning seasons, four pennants, nine division titles, three wild card appearances, and most importantly two World Series titles. The Reds since 2000 have had only four winning seasons, two division titles, one wild card appearance, and ZERO playoff series wins. By no means am I expecting the Reds to live up to the Cardinals resume of winning. However, I do expect this organization to no longer accept losing, like it has in the past 20 years. The Reds can do this by investing in player development, knowing when to trade, opening up the payroll, and being aggressive in the trade and free agent markets.
For the past decade the Reds player development has been some of the worst in the league. According to Driveline Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds were 28th in player development from 2012-2019 for value generated from prospects signed and acquired in that time. Generating a whopping -$182 million.
Again that’s NEGATIVE 182 million dollars.
The Reds picks have either been total busts, slow to develop, or are still struggling in the minors. Outside of Winker and Senzel, not really a whole lot has been proven in the majors from this group. Until this offseason the Reds minor league organizations did not seemed to be synchronized with the front office into developing there best prospects. The Reds organization, as a whole, now appears to be striving towards the same goals of development. That couldnt’ have been made more apparent with all the new hires within the front office as well as new jobs created specifically for player development. The Reds farm system is still rated as one of the better systems in baseball with Trammell, Greene, India, and Lodolo on the horizon. The future looks promising. Hopefully now with the Reds investing more in player development we can see more success with the draft picks in coming years.
When it comes to trading, I’m gonna start with some of the good news. They did acquire Gray, Roark, Puig, and Farmer while giving away nothing (by nothing I mean Homer Bailey and some lesser known prospects). They were able to trade for Castillo, Disco, and Suarez all for players who’s best days were behind them. However, when the rebuild started this team held out way too long to have a fire sale. One that should have begun during the 2014 trade deadline but instead start until after the 2015 All-Star game, hosted by Cincinnati. The Reds would ultimately trade Cueto, Chapman, Leake, Fraizer, Bruce and Phillips. The only players that are even still some what relevant from these trades are Peraza, Schebler, and Reed. Most of those acquired have flunked out of the majors by now. None of which are making a substantial production for this team right now. They were also kind enough to hold onto Cozart long enough to make the All-Star team but failed to trade at the deadline. Hamilton and Harvey were also, at one point last year, announced traded through waivers until that deal fell through. However, that apathy towards the trade market changed this offseason. The front office proved to be one of, if not the most aggressive this offseason. I hope to see that near the trade deadline. That goes for both if they are buyers or sellers. I really hope any one of the players in contract years that they decide to hold past the break is at least offered a contract for next season or beyond. They can no longer afford to sit on there hands while the rest of the NL Central continues to build competitive teams. I hope this past offseason of aggressiveness is a sign of things to come before the deadline.
This year was the Reds highest payroll in the teams history. Dick Williams has even said they are entering a period where they expect to win and that the payroll will at least be as much as it was this year. What makes this offseason an incredible opportunity for the Reds going into the free agent market is they’ll have lots of dough to spend. As of now the Reds are only committed to $60 million for the 2020 season. Puig, Roark, Wood, Scooter, Iglesias, and Hernandez are all free agents who walk at the end of this year.
Some of the current players on the roster are eligible for arbitration. I doubt the Reds are interested in keeping all of those eligible. If Dick Williams and Nick Krall have proven anything over these past few seasons it’s that they are some of the best at getting the biggest bang for your buck through free agency. I fully expect them to blow us away with some of there acquisitions this offseason.
Finally something that is probably the most common complaint among many Reds fans is that they are small market team with a small market budget. I don’t really buy into that. For example, the Astros had a payroll of just $54 million in 2012. Their payroll now is $162 million with the 8th highest payroll in baseball. Even more important, they still have one of the most loaded minor league systems in baseball. How’d they do it? Check out the book The MVP Machine. It’s the new Moneyball.
I won’t delve into a whole lot of detail about it. Essentially they did by pouring money into there enhancing player development. Using the analytics to not just build better teams but develop better players. They used slow motion cameras to allow batters to adjust there swing better and pitchers to develop pitches or fix mechanics. Developing their youth while acquiring big name talent as well like Verlander and Cole. They have given themselves a 10 year window to be competitive while reinventing the game. The Reds have already shown they know how to work the free agency and trade markets. Now if they can open up there pocket books for a big free agency or contract extention they could finally make a serious leap forward next year. As well as all of the new front office people they have added to developing young talent they could be setting themselves up for a good window for the future to develop a winning culture in Cincinnati. Fans will welcome it with open arms.
Why Jesse Winker Should Fill in at First Base During Joey Votto’s Absence
The Cincinnati Reds have a unique opportunity to give a look into the future at first base, while Joey Votto is out, and that should be Jesse Winker.
Just yesterday I posted about how to finagle the lineup and the defensive positioning when Shogo Akiyama returns. Another wrinkle has been added to that idea with the broken thumb of Joey Votto. Is it a wrinkle, or an opportunity, though?
The Reds have been getting Nick Senzel work at second base in recent games so as to remind him of his defensive prowess a that position to keep him in the lineup AND get Shogo in there. It happens to have created further value as Joey goes on the IL for roughly a month because it would seemingly open up the possibility of moving Mike Moustakas to first, Jonathan India to third, and Senzel to second in order to get Shogo in the lineup. I say seemingly, because I think there is a better option, and an opportunity for the future, by giving Jesse Winker a look there.
Moustakas has played exactly 12 more games and 98.2 innings at first base than Jesse Winker. Does he have more experience there? Yes. Would you say its an unassailable gap that trumps any possible creativity by David Bell? No. Winker has been trusted to play centerfield and you have to be far more athletic to play centerfield than first base (see Jim Thome in a Phillies uniform). Necessary athleticism to learn to play first base quickly enough to be effective there while Joey is on the shelf, check.
There also is no plan for the succession of Joey Votto at first base. There are no fast approaching first base prospects, and while you could easily move Rece Hinds or Austin Hendrick there now and get them ready, they’re still years away from playing MLB baseball. The DH is coming next year. It would make the most sense if Joey garners a majority of the time there, meaning first base is open defensively. When it comes to his outfield prowess, Winker would seem to be at his peak. He could be far more valuable, defensively, to the Reds at first base as early as next year, why not begin that transition now?
Theres also an argument that sprouts from the Winker to first base that involves India. This is his first taste of MLB action and he is really settling in to second base, defensively. Winker’s four-plus years of experience would lead me to believe a change of position would not affect him as much as changing the position of a rookie, for a short period of time, and then setting him back to the position he was originally at when Joey returns. India had some nice glove plays in Wednesday’s win over the White Sox. It would seem unappealing to change his point of view, now, when it seems to be growing in comfort. Leave him at second, Moose at third, Suarez at short, and move Winker to first to open a spot in the outfield for Shogo.
Of course, when it comes to the idea of the future of the first base position, there is the possibility Nick Castellanos opts out of his contract this offseason. That would have Winker moving to right field with Moose moving to first, Suarez back to third, and Jose Garcia being given the keys to the shortstop sports car, and this idea becomes moot.
How the Reds Effectively Utilize the Roster as Shogo Akiyama Returns
Shogo Akiyama is rumored to be returning to the Cincinnati Reds as early as the end of this week. Here’s what the Reds should do with the lineup as Shogo gets going.
The return of Shogo Akiyama is foretold to be happening by the end of this week. It will be good to see Shogo back on the field and playing his second season of the MLB brand of baseball, but what does his return portend for a roster that has a glut of outfielders and a budding second baseman?
Shogo showed to have a strong ability to get on base as he got more comfortable with Major League pitching. His on-base percentage in the month of September last year as .456. The biggest question around Shogo was his quality of contact. In 121 bated balls he had exactly one barrel, per Baseball Savant. His hard hit percentage of 26.4% was nearly 9% lower than league average. Given that he finished the shortened season with a .297 slugging percentage, his OPS+ of 72 seems fair. The problem comes with thinking that really tells us much of anything about Shogo.
Meanwhile, the logical solution to too many outfielders that seemed available in the offseason has completely changed. An argument could be made for playing Nick Senzel at second base and allow Shogo to man centerfield. The emergence of Jonathan India has changed things. He has shown some ability with the bat, although his peripheral stats show he’s getting slightly lucky, and he shows promise fielding the second base position. There’s still an argument to be had, though, if he deserves everyday playing time based on a small sample size that is mildly successful.
A platoon could be the answer. I had thought last year that intermittent playing time without regularity threw Shogo off, a bit, as he adjusted to a new version of baseball. I see the value in limiting his exposure, at least early into his 2021 campaign, the lefty pitching, though. He only got 21 at-bats against southpaws in 2020 and mustered three singles and a double. Should he show that he is settled in, he might be a candidate to ignore platoon splits.
As it is, I think the Reds should work Shogo in as a platoon with Senzel and use Senzel at second base in India’s stead when Shogo is in the lineup. I feel like that is why they have given Senzel playing time at second base, recently, so as to ensure his ability to move around the diamond and keep him in the lineup while also opening up the possibilities for other lineup combinations.
A lineup against right-handed pitchers could look like Shogo (CF), Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, Senzel (2B), Tucker Barnhart, and the pitcher spot.
Against lefty pitchers, it could look like Senzel (CF), Winker, Castellanos, Votto, Suarez, Moustakas, Stephenson, India (2B), pitcher.
Pitchers Getting Pulled: Who’s to Blame?
Who is to blame, when it comes to pulling a pitcher from the game? The answer for the Cincinnati Reds, as opposed to others, may not be the same.
The complete game. A starter going 8 and handing it off to the closer. The 250-inning Ace. Once a measuring stick for starters, not all but gone from the game. Sure, it still happens from time to time, but if seeing a starter in an 8th inning is rare, seeing one in the ninth might as well be big foot. Why is this? Twitter would tell you David Bell is to blame. Does Bell have a quick hook or are pitchers playing a larger role in this decision?
Let’s get some simple facts we all know out on the table. An inning is 3 outs. If a pitcher throws a complete game, that is 27 outs. Everyone still following? Great. Now, how many pitches is an out? It could be as low as zero (pick off a baserunner) or almost as high as Zack Weiss’ ERA (INF). Pitch count is important. In today’s MLB pitchers are not throwing 130+ pitches too often, and that is a good thing. The reason is mostly due to 1) Avoiding the third time through the order 2) Injury prevention (pitch count)
I know a lot of people hear the “third time through the order” reason and immediately scramble to name several old school pitchers who got outs regardless or those “new” stats. Today and moving forward, the MLB is more and more statistically driven. Managers know the statistics of the third time threw and often decide to go to the bullpen.
Baseball Prospectus (Mitchell Lichtman)
This chart is interesting because it shows good and bad pitchers. Let’s help set a scale. Reds starters wOBA against in 2021 (through 4/27)
Mahle – .243
Castillo – .386 (career .296)
Hoffman – .314
Miley – .225
Gray (2020) – .275
Third time through batters begin to see the ball better, pick up the release point, umpire’s zones are established, and pitchers start to fatigue. As you can see, even the best pitchers have a significant drop in efficiency. Bring in a bullpen guy with a new arm slot. Let’s throw in a lefty. Change of speed, change of pitchers, whatever it is to throw something new at a lineup. Playing the percentages. Of course, the bullpen must come in and get the job done. Another major fact is of course pitch count.
“They pulled him in the 5th and he was pitching a gem, the manager is an idiot”. When I see this my next question obviously is “What was his pitch count?” Injury prevention has never had more focus than it does today. Pitchers do not throw 120 pitches in the first start. They need to work their way up and will likely top out in July and August. Tyler Mahle has been fantastic this year but rarely gets past 5 innings. In games where he pitches 5 innings or less, he throws an average of 90 pitches. You add a third time through the order to a 90-pitch count and it makes Bell’s decision clearer.
My point is, we need to start talking about pitch count as much or more than “innings pitched” when we discuss a pitcher getting pulled. If you want to go deep into games, you first must be effective. That includes pitch count. Rolling a pitcher with 90 plus pitches out just because you want them to go deeper is not always the best decision, especially this early in the year. As the year goes on, pitch counts will increase to some degree. But Bell pulling a pitcher in the 5th, even if his box score looks good, is not automatically a bad decision.