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Eugenio Suarez’s improbable MVP candidacy

Jacob Rude

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Three weeks ago, this article seemed too far-fetched. The sample size wasn’t big enough. The stats could still be written off and most would say it was a stretch.

Two weeks ago, it still felt like a reach. Sure, the stats were there, but other players had similar hot starts.

One week ago, it became increasingly clear – this was no longer simply a hot start.

This week, with the All-Star game and de facto midway point of the season nearly upon us, it’s time to acknowledge Eugenio Suarez for what he is – an MVP candidate.

Despite missing nearly three weeks due to injury, Suarez is sixth in the National League in WAR at 3.2. If you gave him the 15 games he missed at the current rate he’s playing at, he’d be tied with Colorado’s Nolan Arenado with a 3.8 WAR.

Despite having fewer plate appearances than all but one player in the top eight, Suarez’s 69 RBIs lead the NL. At 334 plate appearances, only Jesus Aguilar, who is in second, has fewer than Suarez at 296.

Suarez trails only Aguilar in wRC+ at 159 and has consistently hovered around the top five in the league for the near entirety of the season, excluding his brief stint on the DL.

Suarez represents what the Reds have gotten right in the rebuild and the reason for optimism moving forward. Acquired in return for an aging Alfredo Simon, Suarez stumbled through a learning curve with a position change during the Reds’ down years, but has shined bright this season, a year in which the Reds finally seem to be turning the corner.

Now, locked up long-term, the Reds’ $66 million extension is already looking more and more like a bargain.

Suarez’s evolution as a hitter has culminated in his finest season yet in 2018. As a rookie with the Tigers, Suarez struck out 67 times to just 22 walks in 85 games.

Since that 2014 season, his walk rates have steadily increased, his strikeout rates have steadily decreased and his ISO has improved at a rapid rate.

The 26-year old isn’t necessarily swinging less. His 25.6 percent swinging percentage at pitches outside of the zone is actually more than last season, but still good enough for the 17th-lowest percentage in the NL. His contact percentage on those pitches, though, stands at 60.8 percent, over two full percentage points higher than last season.

His 39 walks in 76 games have him on pace for the second-most in his career only to last season’s 84. It’s already the third-most he’s had in his short five-year career. The 64 strikeouts in the first half of the season, though, are a career low pace.

As it stands, Suarez sports a 19.2 percent strikeout percentage, more than three percent lower than last season, which stands as the best of his career so far. It it hasn’t come at the sacrifice of power. In fact, Suarez is mashing the ball at a career-high rate.

He’s swinging at a career-high percentage of balls in the strike zone, 71.6 percent, and connecting with a career-high amount of those pitches, 88.2 percent. Both those percentages rank him in the top 25 in the NL.

The staggering numbers, though, come in his power numbers. Through 285 plate appearances, Suarez his holding a 51.6 percent hard-hit percentage, highest in the NL. His 8.9 percent soft-hit percentage is second in the league to only Joey Votto.

Suarez’s average exit velocity of 91.9 miles per hour is fourth in the NL. His 109 hits of over 95 miles per hour are fourth. That’s over a five mile per hour jump in average exit velocity over last season. His 9.8 percent barrel percental is a nearly three percent jump in last year.

And for the non-analytic types, his counting stats are pretty good, too. He ranks sixth in homers, fourth in on-base percentage (fun fact: the Reds have three of the top five in OBP in Votto, Suarez and Winker), and third in OPS.

Reds fans are very familiar with the “good player on a bad team” argument that will inevitably come up should Suarez continue his torrid form. As it stands, Nolan Arenado, Lorenzo Cain and Freddie Freeman stand to be the biggest challengers of position players with Suarez and all three are apart of teams that figure to be in the playoff hunt come September. Max Scherzer will likely toss his hat into the mix as well.

This season will be different, yet the same, for Reds fans. We’ve become accustomed to seeing incredible individual seasons end without an MVP award, no matter how worthy the Redleg may be.

Unlike years past, it likely won’t be Votto that fans watch end up on the short-end of award voting, and it may signal a passing of the torch.

But considering how unlikely this all felt days, weeks, even years ago, seeing Suarez amongst the best in the NL is a great sign for the future. And it’s a spot he’s worthy of.

Jacob is a journalist and lifelong sports fan across the board. From soccer to basketball to baseball, he enjoys watching his favorite team’s break his heart. After finishing up at Indiana University and majoring in journalism, Jacob is now a sports editor during the day and an online journalist at night.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds Roster Breakdown: Non Roster Invitees

Let’s take a look at the non-roster invitees trying to make the Cincinnati Reds roster during this Spring Training

Clay Snowden

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WELCOME BAAAAAAACK! The Reds kick off the 2021 season on Sunday with their first spring training game. As I do each spring training, I am going to take a look at the non roster invitees (NRI) and how they could impact the team this season.

Pitchers:

R.J. Alaniz, Matt Ball, Cam Bedrosian, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Josh Osich, Branden Shipley, Bo Takahashi

You might recognize a couple of these names. Alaniz has been around the organization the past couple of years and pitched 11.2 innings with the Reds in 2019. Biddle was a guy who was around last year, but the others are new. Carle (76.1 in), Osich (206.1 in), Shipley (100 in) have experience in the show with moderate results. Cam Bedrosian is the name to know here. The fact that he was signed on with a minor league deal is surprising. 277.2 innings with a 3.70 ERA has been a solid MLB pitcher. 2019 batters hit .207/.283/.336 and in 2020 they hit .196/.276/.255. His spin rate is gritty darn good honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a minor league deal that really is a promise on the roster. Think Jose Iglesias who was also a NRI a couple years back. This allows the Reds to delay their decision on making a 40 man roster move.

For a team that lost Rasiel Iglesias, Bradley, maybe Antone and Lorenzen to the rotation, Bedrosian will have a chance to really earn a legit role with this team. You don’t have to squint too hard to see a scenario where Shipley or Carle get innings this year.

Bittle and Osich are lefties that would have battled for the other LHP spot in the pen, but the signing of Doolittle bumps them to depth roles.

 

Catchers:

Rocky Gale

A 33 year old catcher with 37 at bats and a career .108 avg. Id say that there is not much to see here. Stephenson and Tucker are the one two punch and the offseason addition of Deivy Grullon will provide a younger depth option with a higher upside than Gale.

 

Infielders:

Cheslor Cuthbert, Dee Strange-Gordon (not listed on Reds roster yet)

Cuthbert isn’t a household name, but he does have over 1,000 at bats in the MLB. He had a decent season in ’16 with the Royals batting .274/.318/.413 and 12 HR, but he hasn’t shown enough to be a full time MLB player. Corner infield depth.

 

Here’s where I stand on Dee….If he is here to battle for a utility role, that’s fine with me. If he is here to be some variation of an answer at SS, we are in trouble. A 32 year old poor defender (who on the Reds isn’t at this point) who doesn’t have any power and doesn’t get on base. Yeah, he has stolen some bases. We all know speed is one of the first things to go when you age, and he still has some jump, but I don’t think it’s game changing speed at this point, and it’s useless unless he’s on base. I’m not high on Strange Gordan making an impact.

 

Outfielders:

Nicky Delmonico, Tyler Naquin, Dwight Smith

I was worried about the Reds outfield depth. It’s a sneaky need, especially of Aquino doesn’t bounce back. This group of NRI is a group I am excited about. All have MLB experience and have had their moments. Delmonico had a nice (small sample size) rookie year with the White Sox in 2017, but has been worse each year since then. It’s the other two that catch my eye.

Dwight Smith has shown he has some pop in his bat. He is the type of player that you want to have in AAA ready to fill in if needed. Tyler Naquin is a guy I think could actually contribute to this team. We know 2020 was a small sample size, but look at the hard hit and exit velo. And his outfield jump/Outs above avg. fit in well with the team that doesn’t seem to care about defense.

 

 

He had a great rookie year in ’16, and has had moments since. .288/.325/.467 10 HR 19 2B in 2019 would be a good bench bat. The question is…is he better than Aquino/Heineman/Payton? Him and Payton are the two leftieis of the group. At the very least, I think he is great organizational depth, and I think his floor is a higher floor than the group listed above (maybe Aquino can make me eat crow there)

 

This list is different than most years. Not as many players listed, and no prospects. The number of players at Spring Training will be smaller than years past. Overall, I think theres 2-3 guys who could earn a role on the Reds 2021 roster.

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Cincinnati Reds

Monday Morning Manager: The Snell Effect

David Bell has many things he needs to go right in order to win games and get a contract extension. One thing he can control is a decision-making process that should not be made entirely analytically.

Jeff

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In case you lived under a rock last year (and that might be Truer than in any other year) then you know how the World Series went down with the Rays falling to the Dodgers. You may even know about Blake Snell’s improbable removal from Game Six when he was absolutely on fire. This is something David Bell cannot mess up in 2021.

Ok, so in the grand scheme of things, I’m talking about the correct managing of the bullpen and rotation in pressure situations. Most people will look at the Game Six managing of Kevin Cash and see two things: a man sticking to his system that got him there and a man over-thinking things. Neither thoughts are incorrect.

In this day and age of baseball, most people understand statistical evaluations on pitchers favoring removing a starter before they pitch to the opposing lineup for the third time in a game. Well, maybe, because the numbers are a bit different in 2020, small sample size, and all. In fact, the Reds pitching staff held opponents to a .599 OPS in 253 plate appearances the third time through the order, last year. That may be a smoke screen, though, as the 2019 Reds pitching staff (largely similar to 2020) allowed an OPS of .892 in 799 PA. That’s a bit of a more reliable sample size, which would leave me to believe a starter pitching a third time through the order isn’t the most favorable idea.

Also something David Bell must consider is the overthinking aspect. In this Player’s Tribune post by the man, Blake Snell, himself, he points out the immense effect that simply seeing someone warming up in the bullpen had on him. Now, you can say “Well, that shouldn’t have been an issue, he should have sucked it up and pitched!” The dude is a human being. If you saw the person management was likely to replace you with if you messed something up at your job, are you going to just keep on keeping on with no thought to look over your shoulder? If you are, you might be a Jedi. Most of us mere mortals have problems with worrying about what might happen if things fall apart. Baseball players are not totally immune to this, either.

In order for Bell to garner a contract extension, he will have to adeptly manage a pitching staff that has talent, but also has human egos. Just because the numbers say that a decision should go one way, the human element must also be factored in. Last I checked, theres no button for that on a calculator, which leaves it up to his own decision-making skill.

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The Cincinnati Reds Optimal Lineup

Let’s look past the Opening Day Lineup to the lineup the Cincinnati Reds could have, if everything is going right.

Jeff

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There will be many things said/written about the Opening Day Lineup and what that should like for the Cincinnati Reds. With the first full team workout happening Monday, let’s take a look at what the lineup should look like if things are going well for the Reds, this season. I’m going to exclude positions for this experiment and you’ll see why.

  1. Shogo Akiyama – Ideally, Shogo will be getting on base much closer to the clip he posted in September than the one he did in August of last year. If he does this, he will be producing what the Reds hoped he would when they made him the first Japanese-born Cincinnati Red.
  2. Jesse Winker – He broke out in a big way in 2020 and was the Reds best hitter. There’s no reason to think that won’t, at the very least, continue and probably will even get better.
  3. Eugenio Suarez – He should be the Reds best hitter and I believe he will regain that title in 2021.
  4. Mike Moustakas – Moose has always been a run driver-inner and, if things are going well he will continue to do so.
  5. Nick Castellanos – he could be the third hitter, but it would be an amazing season, indeed, if he gets on-base at a higher clip than Geno.
  6. Joey Votto – this isn’t meant to be an insult, just realistic. I’ve seen and heard takes putting him in the three-spot. That’s a great idea in 2017. Now, any power should be considered a bonus with the main expectation of him being an on-base catalyst for the bottom of the lineup/turning over of the lineup.
  7. Nick Senzel – him being down here is more a hope that the top six indeed prove worthy to be top six. This is also hoping he’s healthy enough to play everyday, or almost everyday, and build up enough momentum to produce at the level he is capable of. Also, the not labelling defensive position thing is because he should be in the running as a shortstop option, but it sure feels like that’s not the case. Before you say, “Jeff, he’s not a shortstop…” who on this roster is? Get the best eight (nine if the NL miraculously gets the DH) in the lineup and worry about defense later. That’s pretty much how this roster is built, anyway.
  8. Tyler Stephenson – in a few years, he should be hitting in the middle of the order. In 2021, let’s keep the pressure on low and watch him thrive in the box.
  9. Pitcher (again, we’ll reassess if the players and owners ever get together and figure this out before the season begins, but we aren’t holding our breath).

This lineup could be pretty good…maybe. As fans we can hope, the folks who run the Reds should not lean on that. The lineup I propose should only be if each player is performing to the level that is expected of him. More than likely, this lineup will not happen, because it is doubtful every single bat bounces back in 2021.

 

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