Firstly, let me warn you, this is an optimistic outlook. I have seen plenty of pessimistic opinions on this team to know that what you are about to read may seem foolhardy, but bear with me. That being said, the Cincinnati Reds will finish the 2018 season having won 50% of their games, and what follows is why I believe that.
After another disappointing season in 2017, the Reds front office believed that it, mostly, had the cards in their hand they wanted to play with and only signed two free agents to major league contracts. Adding David Hernandez and Jared Hughes strengthened a bullpen that finished second only to the decimated Mets in worst bullpen ERA (4.65). A few minor-league contracts with Spring Training Invites later, and the roster is rounded out and ready for Opening Day.
Part of the team’s struggles could be due to the fact the bullpen pitched a total of 610 innings last year, which isn’t the worst (the Marlins bullpen pitched 612 innings), but it is close to 40 innings more than the next highest team. Also, the Marlins have pretty much punted the 2018 season before it even started, so being lumped in with them is not good in any regard.
The bullpen’s struggles are not entirely their own making. Sure, there were guys like Blake Wood (5.65 era in 57 IP) and a washed up Drew Storen (57 hits allowed in 54 IP) getting calls from the bullpen, but the starters were what really crippled the Reds in 2017.
Two pitchers, that’s right only a pair, threw for more than 100 innings last year and neither one is on staff this season. In fact, neither Scott Feldman nor Tim Adleman are even on the roster. Homer Bailey is the only pitcher currently in the starting rotation (shout out to his first Opening Day nod) who even eclipsed 90 innings. Now the modern day fan still looks at these numbers and sees a doomed squad that will continue to wallow in mediocrity. Let me tell you why it will be completely different this year.
Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Amir Garrett, and Cody Reed were all given auditions last year. Management was never going to put a bevy of starts on them their first full year in the majors as they felt the youngsters needed time to adjust to the Major League grind. Instead, the Reds turned to guys like Feldman, Adleman, and Bronson Arroyo to eat up innings, despite their protracted usefulness. Heck, raise your hand if your really thought the Reds front office saw Asher Wonciechowski or Lisalverto Bonilla as rotation pieces moving forward…didn’t think so. My point here is, 2018 is when the guys who should be in the rotation…Romano, Castillo, Mahle, and Garrett…will be turned loose.
I’m not even counting Anthony Desclafani and Brandon Finnegan. I almost see them as midseason additions to the team as neither one has been healthy for almost two years now. The guys they got in the Opening Day rotation are healthy and ready to prove they belong.
Here are a couple of stats to get you excited. Luis Castillo struck out 27% of the batters he faced in 89 innings last year. Tyler Mahle induced a ground ball 52% of the time (huge in such a homer-friendly park like Great American). Sal Romano had the third best WAR on the team for pitchers last year at 1.3. Homer Bailey was an unlucky pitcher last year as his ERA of 6.43 is countered by a 4.90 FIP, which means the pitching statistics that he had direct control over show he should have given up almost two less runs, per game. Lastly, Amir Garrett is the oldest of the young guns (25), as Castillo is 24, Romano is 23 and Mahle is 22.
Now here comes the fun part, the reason that, if, the pitching can shave off a few runs per game, the Reds will definitely win 82 games.
Cincinnati set a franchise record in 2017, having 6 players hit at least 20 home runs. I’m not sure if this is any kind of record, but three of those guys hit over 30 dingers. As a team, the Reds were 6th best (22.7 WAR) in the National League, according to Fangraphs. That means the Reds bats were worth 22 more wins compared to a replacement level team. They scored the 8th most runs (753) and had the 8th best batting average (.253), just 4 points off from being a top five batting average team, and it was all led by one of the best players in the game today.
Joseph Daniel Votto finished second in MVP voting last year for a team that won 68 games. If you ask me, the fact that the man who beat him was traded to the American League, they should give him the trophy now, but I digress. Joey had a phenomenal year. He batted .320 (4th in the NL), he hit 36 homers (tied for 6th in the NL), he had 100 RBIs (10th in the NL), and he scored 106 times (6th in the NL). His peripheral stats are even better. He was on base 45% of the time, he slugged a slip of .578, and he walked (19%) more than he struck out (11%). No one man can carry a baseball team, but Joey is a close as it gets.
Now that I’ve gushed about my favorite player, I’ll let you know the guys around him are pretty good, too. There are three guys, two you’d expect and one breakout, who will help Joey will this team to a .500 record. We’ll start with the man who just got a whopping 7-year contract extension, Eugenio Suarez.
By every stretch of the imagination, Suarez had the best season of his young career in 2017. He compiled a 4.1 WAR, which is more than twice as good as his previous high (1.7), and he learned to take a walk, with 13.3% being much better than the 8.1% in 2016. Due to this newfound patience (Fangraphs says his swing percentage was the same as Joey Votto’s), Eugenio had an on-base percentage of .368 and clubbed 26 homers. He’ll regularly bat somewhere between 2nd and 5th in the lineup and he is going to get a lot of RBI chances this season.
The second player I want to highlight is Scott Schebler. Along with Suarez and Votto, Schebler will help round out the middle of the batting order for the Reds. Schebler crushed 30 bombs last year and doesn’t figure on slowing down. He knocked in 67 runs, which seems low, but usually hit 5th or 6th in the batting order, meaning Votto and Suarez had already cleared them for him. Some sight his .233 batting average as concerning, but may I point out the luck factor as he had a measly .248 batting average on balls in play. The league’s BABIP was .300, meaning Schebs (if no one calls him that then I take full credit for starting it) was getting the short end of the stick. If that normalizes for him this year, watch out.
The last player I want to highlight is Jesse Winker. Now, I know I’m not actually making some sort of breakthrough hot take by saying he is going to break out this year, but Winker will be the leadoff hitter, sooner rather than later. The new guy in town, and Bryan Price’s 4th outfielder (a plan that wont last too far into the season), has gotten on base better than 32% of the time his entire minor league career. In 137 plate appearances during last year’s cup of coffee in the Majors, Winker built an on-base percentage of .375. What do you need a leadoff hitter to do? Get on base! What does Winker do? He gets on base. Put this kid in, coach, he’s ready to play.
So, I am sure, if you’ve stayed in this long on this TLDR post, you may have something to say about something I said. Leave me a comment! Tell me what you think about the Reds this year.