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Cincinnati Reds

What Should We Expect Out of the Rotation? Part One – Sonny Gray

New pitchers have Reds fans excited for this season, but what can we reasonably expect from them?

Taj Simmons

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The feeling of baseball is in the air, quite literally. Gloves all around the area are being broken into, bats getting those first satisfying cracks, and of course, pouches of the classic Big League Chew are being torn into.

Today the weather in Cincinnati peaked at 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Whenever that first nice day comes, I can’t help but think about baseball, and Opening Day, so close, but so far away. In past years, the hopes of a successful year for our beloved Redlegs quickly got sucked up in that strong wind. However, this team has the makings of at least looking like a formidable opponent. Which is a huge step in the right direction for this fan base that has been starved; just like we’ve been starved for those days we can finally step outside bright and early and not have to worry about frostbite.

The biggest improvement to the team this year, is the pitching, particularly the starting pitching. Partly because it HAD to improve at some point. I mean, we’re talking about the same starters who combined for an ugly 5.02 ERA, which was 14th in the NL, and 25th in the MLB last year.

If you want to look closer at the stats, it makes sense that nine of the ten teams that ranked in the top ten in starting pitching ERA made the playoffs last year. The only outlier being the New York Mets, whose offense struggled to support even the mighty Jacob DeGrom last year. A problem the Reds should not have.

Of course, we’ve been hyping up this new rotation since that winter vortex hit. Is it fair for us to assume the Reds can hit that top ten plateau with the new starting five? In order to do so they’d have to shave about 1.2 earned runs off that ERA. It’s a tough ask, but it certainly isn’t impossible. The Mets and Braves have flipped from bottom 10 to top 10 in just the past two years. Is this starting rotation built to make some noise? Or are they just cheap, store-brand imitations. Lets take a closer look.

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray as you may or may not have known was knocked around in the Bronx last year. However, that didn’t stop the Reds from scooping him up for cheap in a trade and immediately signing him to a three year extension, with an option for the fourth year. What do they see in him to hastily make such a move? Isn’t this the same guy that just got hit with a 4.90 ERA last year?

Well for one, it’s well documented that Gray had some absurd home-road splits last year. On the road, he posted an outstanding 3.17 ERA, however, that number balloons up to disgusting 6.98 at home. You can slice up all the home road numbers you want to support that notion. It just seemed like everything hit the wall for Gray in Yankee Stadium.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

Now would be a good time to say “look at this particular stat”, but they’re ALL just so lopsided. The BABIP however supports the fact that Gray got a little unlucky at home to say the least. From this, we can conclude that Sonny Gray is likely to pitch more effectively away from Yankee Stadium. Preferably as far away as possible.

You want more reasons to believe in Sonny Gray, I’ll give ya more reasons to believe in Sonny Gray. Of course, the Reds new pitching coach, Derek Johnson coached at Vanderbilt while Gray was slicing eyeballs down there, as well as backup catcher Curt Casali. Personal friend and former Red, Caleb Cotham too was hired as an assistant pitching coach to deliver data-driven methods to help players. Having so many allies in your corner is definitely a plus, one that Gray should theoretically benefit from.

Let’s not forget the recent reports coming out about how the Yankees relied on Gray to pitch some more offspeed stuff rather than his fastball either.

Fangraphs reports last year only 35% of Gray’s pitches were his cut-fastball. A significant drop from the glory days of Gray from 2013-2016 seasons where that number hovered consistantly around 50 to 60%. Perhaps he’s on to something here.


“I can’t command my slider that well, I want to throw my slider in the dirt with two strikes, and that’s about it.”

Sonny Gray in a recent interview with Eno Sarris of The Athletic.

Yeah, maybe lets not make him rely on those sliders.

One significant drawback for all these pitchers is the fact they have to pitch in the tuna can that is Great American Ball Park. One has to consider whether those home-road splits can be trusted to be so quickly dismissed. Was the small ballpark the reason? Or perhaps the big stage of New York was the distraction.

Fangraphs’ THE BAT give Sonny Gray some projections I agree most with. How does a nice 3.96 ERA sound? Of course it’s not the stuff of a true number one, but that’s not what we’re asking Gray, or any other pitcher in this rotation to be right now. They’re called aces for a reason.

The important thing to note here is that no one can truly predict the stats of a player, however you can get close based on past evidence. It’s not like a weatherman has ever failed anyone before right?

Having been born and raised in Cincinnati, eating Skyline Chili and rooting on the Reds have gone hand in hand. Free times are usually spent scouring the web on Reds information, playing OOTP or the The Show, and pretty much filling up a baseball addiction through any means possible. Personal favorite memories include Jay Bruce's walk-off clinching Central title, watching Joey Votto do his thing, and Jonny Gomes' at bat shenanigans

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Cincinnati Reds

Read The Room

David Bell has made some interesting choices, some that he may want to tweak his thought process on. Let me explain.

Dave Pemberton

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© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday’s podcast my friend Jeff stated he liked the fact that David Bell was able to remove himself from the equations on many big decisions. He stated that by focusing on the analytics Bell is able to make an objective decision versus a gut decision. I won’t disagree with fact that I am loving the front office and managements use of analytics. I, like most Reds fans, love to see the organization finally joining this century of baseball thinking in full force, from an analytics stand point. However, while I do support the use of analytics in helping make decisions, I don’t feel as if it should be the sole reason for decision making.

The best managers in the history of this game are often forward-thinking and also having the right instinct at crucial points in games. I think the Reds, and even David Bell, are some of the most forward thinking in baseball right now. We have seen it in all the new positions created this offseason specifically for analytics within the Reds front office. The Reds outfielders carry cards based on each pitcher and each batter in where to align themselves. The infield is making unique shifts. Bell seems opposite of his predecessor, because he despises bunting frequently. The amazing performance by our pitching staff which has been one of the worst in recent years. I believe these things will continue to help this team as the season continues. I also believe it’s one of the main reasons we have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball right now.

On the flip side of this is the daily, head-scratching decisions Bell has made. The constant hooking of starting staff or bullpen pitchers too early. This isn’t just something making fans question his decisions, but his players as well. I have seen almost every starting pitcher this year, on at least one occasion, have a baffled look after being removed to early. Bell often pulling starters in a close game due to the “third time around the order” analytics. In regards to the bullpen often pulling relievers early who are up there throwing smoke and no one is touching them. All that started back on Opening Day when he used three relievers, each for one out in the bottom of the ninth. Then when it comes to the lineup we are often seeing players who may be crushing it that day pulled for favorable situational matchups such as lefty right or righty lefty. On several occasions I’ve seen him pull Dietrich or Winker when there out there hitting rockets just for an analytic advantage. It often causes me to yell at my television.

One of my favorite sayings is “READ THE ROOM”. Bell desperately needs to “READ THE ROOM” in more crucial situations. Leaving pitchers in to go one extra innning in a start or relief when there mowing batters over. Leaving a guy in the lineup who is on fire rather than pulling him for a analytic matchup. This shows faith in your players as well as your instincts as a manager. It’s what differentiates the best coaches from everyone else. It’s the knowledge that no amount of statistics can provide and it will ultimately be what puts this team over the top. In recent weeks I have seen signs of this coming to fruition. I hope to see more of it as the season goes on. And I promise you Reds fans when it does the most important statistic WINS will come much easier.

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds Catchers Now and in the Future

Let’s take a look at the catching picture for the Reds organization.

Clay Snowden

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© Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

In late September of 2017, the Cincinnati Reds locked up Tucker Barnhart to a 4-year, $16 million contract. And why not? Barnhart hit .270 in 2017 and was a gold glove winner. $4 million a year for him was a steal. Fans were ecstatic about the deal, especially at the price. Don’t get me wrong, having a catcher with a career average of .248 with about 10 home runs a year and a great glove is something most teams are satisfied with. It’s more about what he does with the pitching staff and defense than the hitting. But in 2019, although only 100 at-bats in, how concerned should Reds fans be about their catching situation now and in the future?

The Reds currently have two active catchers: Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart has struggled mightily out of the gate. A .160/.282/.270 line is not anywhere close to his career numbers. Adding to that, he only has two hits in the past 10 games. A switch hitter with only 10 at bats versus Left-handed pitchers tells us Bell wants Casali taking those at-bats.

Curt Casali has put together a great season for the Reds. Acquired off waiver last year from Tampa Bay he hit .310 before the All-Star break. In 2019 he is hitting to the tune of .293/.349/.379. When used as a pinch hitter, he’s delivered at times for the Reds. Although Casali is the better hitter so far, I do not think it is time to give up on Barnhart. 100 at-bats into a season with plenty to go. *Deep breath* He can still put together a decent season. Something needs to change though, drastically. Right now, the Reds have bigger issues than the catcher’s spot. But will Casali take reigns as the team’s number one catcher? A lot of fans are calling for it. Keep in mind Casali is a career .229 hitter. He has been streaky in the past. The Reds will probably continue to platoon and giving at-bats to Casali against left-handed pitchers. 2019 catcher situation is pretty much locked in. The depth at AAA Louisville are not “prospects” and haven’t shown to be MLB hitters either. The question is what will it look like in the future?

Tyler Stephenson is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization (#6 mlb.com) and is showing his potential this year in Chattanooga. A first-round pick in 2015, he’s struggled with injuries early in his career and is now showing his potential. Hitting .267 with 3 HR and 18 RBI while throwing out 26% of baserunners is a nice start to the first part of the season. He won’t be in Cincinnati this year, who knows where he will start next year, but he plays into the future of the Reds.

There are some other options in the minors. Chris Okey (#30 Reds prospect) was drafted in the second round of 2016 but has really struggled with the bat. Hendrik Clementina (#23 Reds prospect) is someone to watch. He was acquired in the Tony Cingrani trade and hit 18 home runs with Dayton in 2018. He has some pop and but also strikes out too much. We all know how frustrating that can be. Other than those 3, the Reds do not have another top 30 catching prospects. A thin position of depth look for the Reds to bring in more talent this year.

The Reds catching future is banking on Stephenson and Barnhart to be the guys. That could end up being just fine, but it also doesn’t leave much room for error. Casali has two arbitration year left and is 30 years old. He could be a Red past this year, sure. Good catchers are hard to find and that’s why the asking price is so high (paging JT). I would expect the Reds to try to add depth here through the draft or offseason. The quick fix would be Tucker returning closer to 2017 form but who knows if that will happen.

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Cincinnati Reds

What The Reds Should Be

Wednesday night was a glimpse at this team’s potential.

Dave Pemberton

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© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

If you were able to witness tonight’s win over the scorching hot Chicago Cubs you were probably ecstatic. It was a comeback win, in extra innings, and a one-run game. In a season clouded by early disappointment and many missed opportunities, tonight we witnessed the Reds full potential.

This game had all the markings of what was shaping up to be another Reds loss. A five-inning start by the pitcher, playing from behind almost the entire game, and constant pitching changes. Instead the Reds played together and won, as a team. The chemistry we see off the field was finally seen on the field. The bullpen stepped up when they needed to. Stephenson, Hughes, Peralta, and Garrett all providing top notch performances. Garrett making what seemed to be an impossible out at first to save a run from scoring. When providing a clutch at-bat was needed, we saw it from nearly everyone put on the spot. Senzel with 2 hits and 2 stolen bases. Iglesias continues to be the Reds MVP of position players having a double and solo home run to keep the Reds in contention. Suarez starting to catch fire with a 3-for-5 evening, 3 RBI’s, a double, and a 2 run HR in the eighth inning to tie up the game. Quietly, Joey Votto was the one who actually came up big, in the clutch, during the eighth, with a single. He then scored on Suarez’s dinger. Then again in the 10th inning with a one-out walk. For the icing on the cake the player all of Cincinnati wants to see perform comes up to seal the deal. And most importantly the extra innings walk-off hit by Puig with a bat flip for Reds highlight reels for years to come happened.

What made it most glorious was the absolute look of disappointment on Cubs fans faces as the Reds came back to pull off the comeback win. Wednesday, we saw the Reds full potential as a team. This is the Reds ceiling as a team performance. I hope we grow accustomed to this scene more often and start to see them compete in this division. There is no doubt they are in the toughest division in baseball. That being said, they can absolutely shake things up whenever they decide to get hot. I know it’s possible. I just hope it’s not too late when it does.

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