(This article is a two-parter in which we examine the reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic on the Reds so far. A “Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” take if you will)
The Cincinnati Reds are now fifty-plus games through the 2019 season, which is insane to think about. I can still remember what I was doing, thinking, and feeling both in and out in terms of baseball when opening day arrived. Maybe you do too, in which case I applaud you for such a vivid memory. If you’re one of those people, do you think you’ve made major life changes within that short time period? If you were to put present-day you right next to fifty-plus days in the past you, do you think you could tell any noticeable differences between the two? Perhaps you’ve set out a goal for yourself, and maybe you haven’t exactly achieved that goal yet, and that’s a major factor for your answer. Well if that’s the case, probability states you have plenty and plenty of time to figure things out, so don’t worry about it.
Unfortunately for the 2019 Reds, they don’t have that luxury, as time begins to grow shorter to flip things around this season.
What’s the point of this article you may be asking? Why Am I such a hater? Why am throwing in the towel so early? Aren’t we supposed to blindly follow our teams to the depths of Hell and back no matter what their record is?
The simple answer is it’s smarter to realize what exactly this team is made of sooner rather than later, because then we can figure out how to salvage anything from this roster through trades at the deadline, and start planning for next year. It’s to avoid the mistakes of making crucial roster moves at the wrong time (Todd Fraizer, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Cozart). Although it sounds rather cynical to say so, here’s why the season may be a lost cause for the Reds, if they want to have any sort of game plan to improve before it’s too late.
Christian Yelich, Paul Goldschmidt, Kris Bryant, Josh Bell, Zach Davies, Marcell Ozuna, Anthony Rizzo, Trevor Williams, Lorenzo Cain, Javier Baez, Josh Hader.
It’s a good thing we have to face these guys like what, every other series right?
Against all NL Central opponents, the Reds are 10-16. That’s including a record of 4-2 against the NL Cenral leading Chicago Cubs. Let that one sink in for a moment. Do you think the Reds can sustain that pace against them?
These are the teams the Reds need to play on par with if they want any success this year, and so far they haven’t answered the call.
Looking at baseball reference’s playoff odds simulator, The NL Central is predicted to be the strongest division in baseball when it’s all said and done, with the finally over 500. Reds still sitting fifth with a projected record of 85-77. There are wild card teams who have snuck in at that record, look at the 2017 Twins for example. The cramped NL Central just isn’t the right environment for a team like this to survive.
I suppose you could argue that finishing above .500 would be a success for the Reds, even if it comes at the cost of finishing last in the Central again. Just know that doing so is celebrating over a participation trophy, which doesn’t sound so fun.
In losses for the Reds, the team as a whole is slashing a putrid .204/.270/.325 . By comparison, Chris Davis, the feared and revered Orioles slugger is pounding a similar .171/.257/.319. Not good Bob, not good.
Looking at team rankings, the Reds are 24th in batting average and on-base percentage with rates of .223 and .305 respectively, and they’re also 22nd in slugging with a percentage of .411 .
Regular names like Yasiel Puig, Jesse Winker, Jose Peraza, Tucker Barnhart, even Joey Votto have just been tough to watch so far. Really unless your name is Eugenio Suarez, Derek Dietrich, or Jose Iglesias, chances are it’s been a tough go around for you so far.
Of course, April was a dreadful month for the team as a whole. They’ve begun to heat up recently so perhaps there’s hope? As a team in their past 7 games, they’ve slashed .328/.387/.564 . Hopefully our sluggers can tap into this short hot streak.
One Run Games
Sure, if you’ve been paying attention to the telecasts, or doing some research on your own, you already know how dreadful the Reds are in one run games, but it’s worth reiterating.
The Reds as I type away, are simply not clutch when the situation calls for it. As of publishing, the Reds are 8-13 in one run games. However, in blowout games, (5+ runs) they’re 9-5. This is partly where you get that wonky run differential the Reds have at +36, but still have a record that speaks less.
Flat Out Luck
Baseball is a sport that is depended on luck more than any other, and unfortunately for the Reds, the theoretical ball is simply not bouncing their way this year. Of course, the previously mentioned run differential is at +36, which is second best in the division to the Cubs, and second best of all the teams in the wild card hunt behind the Diamondbacks at +43. Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean W-L has the Reds pegged at 32-24, which would tie the Cubs for the division lead. It really hurt me to type that so I’m going to guess that it’s going to hurt you to read as well.
Who’s the Reds Third Best Pitcher?
The third best pitcher on the Reds in 2020 will not be who you are thinking.
Castillo, Gray, Bauer, DeSclafani, and Miley. A deep, veteran, proven rotation which, on paper, makes the Reds the NL Central favorites. You can argue over who the “Ace” is, but who cares. Gray and Castillo both showed incredible stuff each earning an all-star bid. Miley brings a lefty to the rotation while Bauer brings the big name on a contract year. However, the one pitcher that doesn’t have an all-star appearance on his resume is the one to keep an eye on. I think Anthony DeSclafani will be the third best pitcher behind Castillo and Gray.
In 2019, Anthony DeSclafani had a healthy season. Coming off a promising 2016 (3.28 ERA 130 ERA+), Disco missed the entire 2017 season and only pitched in 21 games during the 2018 campaign. With how fantastic Gray/Castillo pitched and the splash trade that landed Bauer, DeSclafani’s season flew under the radar. 2.6 War 3.89 ERA 117 ERA + 167 K’s in 31 starts pitching 166.2 innings. His last 8 starts he pitched to the tune of a 2.39 ERA. Just a lucky year? I don’t think so. DeSclafani has mentioned before how much working with pitching coach Derek Johnson has helped him. Now more of a veteran, coming off a healthy season and having another healthy offseason with DJ, just how good could DeSclafani be?
According to Baseball Reference Disco’s projections:
9-9 4.35 ERA 1 Sv (?) 155 innings 154 K’s
Zips projection: 1.6 (Bauer 3.8, Castillo 3.9, Gray 3.2, Miley 1.1)
First off, win loss record for a pitcher means absolutely nothing. However, I do think DeSclafani will set a career high in wins, which is 9 (9 wins 3 different times). Last season, his first with Derek Johnson, Disco set a career high in strikeouts while pitching 18 fewer innings than his career high in innings. Contrary to many pitchers, he pitched pretty well at GABP.
Home: 6-4 3.50 ERA 82.1 in 71 hits 86 K’s
Away: 3-5 4.27 ERA 84.1 in 80 hits 81 K’s
A healthy 2020 while pitching in a contract year is important. Earning $5,900,000 at 30 years old it is crucial for DeSclafani to pitch well and set himself up for another contract and payday before he gets older. If he can continue to build off last season and take a step forward the Reds could be around a 90 win team in 2020.
*Random stat: DeSclafani’s 2019 117 ERA+ is higher than Bauer’s ERA+ in 7 of his 8 seasons.*
Bounce Back and Breakout: Outfield
Looking to the outfield for a bounce back and a breakout candidate.
10 outfielders. TEN?!?!? On the 40-man roster? Well, let’s try to unpack this obscurity. The offseason started with a quick trade to acquire Travis Jankowski which has turned into the safety option after the Reds hit big on their free agent targets. Mark Payton was selected in the Rule 5 as a long shot to make the roster. Scott Schebler is still around and apparently healthy. Don’t forget he once hit 30 home runs but more recently hit .123/.253/.222. VanMeter is probably projected more as an infielder especially with the new additions. Ok, so now that we have trimmed the fat, we are left with the big question mark in Aquino, hits LHP Ervin, often injured Senzel, RHP only Winker, and the big free agents Akiyama and Castellanos. With at bats limited, who will bounce back and who will break out?
Bounce Back: Nick Senzel
Honorable Mention: Aristides Aquino
No one has ever questioned the talent. There’s a reason Senzel was drafted high and appeared at the top of prospect list. The issue has been health. Not to beat a dead horse, but he’s struggled to stay on the field. Once he arrived on the scene in May, Senzel hit .279/.347/.468 with 4 home runs 5 doubles and 2 triples. Those numbers started to slip and Turner Ward changing his batting stance didn’t help. Injuries once again were an issue. How Senzel will be used in 2020 is up for debate. Everyday centerfielder? Second if Suarez is injured? Super utility? Who cares, the most important thing is to get Senzel healthy, find a comfortable batting stance, and get him at bats. A season (well, 104 games) under his belt should help. Many rookies struggle. Hell, Mike Trout batted .220 in his first year (40 games). Senzel won’t be Trout, but if he can hit around .280, which I think he can, this team could catch fire in and take the division.
Baseball Reference Projection: .260/.324/.445 14 HR 10 SB 20 2B (These seem low to me)
Breakout: Shogo Akiyama
Honorable Mention: Phillip Ervin
The first Japanese player in Reds history comes with high expectations. Although a rookie, Akiyama will be 32 years old and has proven himself in Japan. Hitting 20 home runs or more the past three seasons while hitting over .300 and an OBP of .398, .403, .392 should cause fans to drool over what he could be. Many question if he can be a centerfielder in the MLB but the Reds think he’ll hold his own. Adjusting to the new country and a new league could lead to a slow start. Many assume he has an elite eye for the strike zone due to his OBP, but Akiyama has never walked more than he strikes out. Not many players do, we as fans have been spoiled with Votto doing just that a few seasons in his career (APPRECIATE VOTTO). Frankly, I couldn’t care less how he gets on base as long as he is on base. I think Akiyama will be a crucial part of the team’s success in 2020.
2020 Offseason Compared to Others
This offseason is definitely the best the Reds have had in the last decade.
$165 million dollar SPLASH offseason’ s are not common in Cincinnati. After years and years of subpar rosters and uninspiring managing, the Reds started to focus on the future last offseason with a few big moves. Sonny Gray was brought in help the top of the rotation while Puig in friends were brought in to jazz up the lineup. At least one worked. 2019 offseason has built a solid foundation for the years to come. If you thought that was exciting, 2020 blew it out of the water.
So, let’s run down some previous offseason’s. Here are some of the players the Reds acquired via free agency and trades:
2010: Chapman, Arredondo, Orlando Cabrera
2011: Ramon Hernandez and Edgar Renteria
2012: Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Ryan Madson, Dioner Navarro, Ludwick, JJ Hoover, Wilson Valdez
2013: Jumbo Diaz, Broxton, Choo, Hannahan, Cesar Izturis
2014: Tim Adleman, Skip Schumaker, Jason Bougeois, Trevor Bell, Ramon Santiago
2015: Ivan De Jesus, Ramon Cabrerra, DeSclafani, Suarez, Marlon Byrd, Jason Marquuis, Burk Badenhop
2016: Blake Wood, Brandon Allen, Tim Melville, Schebler and Peraza, Alfredo Simon, Dan Strailey
2017: Stuart Turner, Josh VanMeter, Drew Storen, Luis Castillo, Scott Feldman, Arroyo, Scooter
2018: Kevin Quackenbush, Mason Williams, Phil Gosselin, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Cliff Pennington
2019: Tanner Roark, Farmer/Puig/Kemp/Wood, Sonny Gray, Derek Dietrich, Jose Iglesias
Man, that 2014-2018 was bad. The good players acquired were prospects. Obviously, during a rebuild that is what you do. But the MLB “talent” that was signed, well, yikes! (A couple of good players, I am being harsh.) The front office had no plans for winning. That is just how rebuilds work. But, you can see the foundation being built. The prospects take a few years and 2018 was the first aggressive push in years. The Reds window for success is now. By going out and signing offensive players in Moose and Castellans to pair with OBP machine Akiyama the city of Cincinnati is ready for excitement. Lack of spending has been the gripe of patrons each offseason. They were finally silenced. Interestingly, previous improvements had been made via trade, mostly. The opposite happened this offseason with signing talent and holding on to future assets. What do we make of that? I’m not really sure. Does it say the Reds have something up their sleeve to pull off a spring training trade? Could be. Too many outfielders will have to play itself out. Although this offseason has been the biggest yet, it’s possible it’s not even over yet.