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We all know the Reds are bad (well, except Joey Votto). And we all know why the various talking heads think they’re bad. But is the conventional wisdom the truth? This column came from a time a few weeks ago when I was poking around stats and realized the Reds might not be bad for the reasons we think they’re bad. I wanted to take a really close look and see what we see. Presumably, the Reds want to get better and I, for one, would like to know for sure where they need to get better the most.
Let’s start by dealing with the two basic sides of the ball on a team-level. The Reds, as a team, are hitting .250/.314/.399. The average National League team is hitting .254/.316/.397. I guess we could argue over whether or not the Reds are an average hitting team overall, but the numbers say they’re as close as can be.
The other side of the ball is trickier, because pitching and defense are so jumbled together. As a team measure, I’m just going to use good old fashioned ERA since it does a pretty okay job of capturing both. The Reds have a team ERA of 4.17. The average National League team is coming in at 3.99. That’s not good.
I know, I know—you’re thinking it’s the bullpen. Me too. And we’re both right. The Reds bullpen has an ERA of 3.83 versus a league average of 3.62. But the starting pitching is even worse, with a 4.35 ERA versus a league average of 4.03. You can add on top of that the fact that various fancy stats agree that the defense, in a manner consistent with its reputation, is holding it down like a champ. That is, the ERA would be even higher if the the Reds didn’t pick it as well as they do.
But that’s only round one. And, well, we can’t put all the blame on the pitching. The offense is average and average is not good. That’s why they call it average. So let’s back the train up here and take a look at individual performances.
First, we need to take the blame entirely off the shoulders of the following players: Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez have all performed at or well-above expectations for an average player at their positions (Phillips is the closest in this group to average, if you’re curious, but he’s still above). That’s half the lineup.
Now, as for the rest… Catcher has been surprisingly okay this year. Compared to the league, Reds catchers have hit slightly below average, but only slightly. So, even with Mesoraco hurt, this group gets a pass (barely).
Right field is another story. As hot as he was for a while, Jay Bruce has cooled off and is hitting well below what the average NL right fielder has hit (.727 OPS for Bruce vs. .781 for the league average), and he isn’t making up for it with defense according to all of the available stats. Left has been a similarly hot mess with the Reds leftfielders “hitting” to the tune of a .639 OPS vs. a league average of .689. Oh wait, sorry, that .689 is the average OPS for an NL SHORTSTOP. The average NL left fielder has a .748 OPS. That’s right, kids, Reds left fielders haven’t hit well enough to stick at shortstop.
And finally, we have what amounts to the Billy Hamilton show in center. Hamilton hasn’t hit enough. Everyone knows that. How much he compensates for it with other skills is difficult to determine with Baseball-Reference putting him at a very below average 0.8 WAR and FanGraphs listing him with a totally okay 2.0 WAR. This is your daily reminder that measuring defense is not an exact science.
Anyway, what this all amounts to is that the Reds are a very good hitting team until the outfielders take the field. Then it gets ugly. Get ready soon, Jesse Winker.
The pitching is easier to understand. After all, the Reds are now without the three pitchers who started the season at the top of the rotation. Fortunately… umm… okay. So, the pitching goes like this: It’s young. And anything can happen when you’re young. Anything. Good or bad. Yeah. Anything.
This isn’t really supposed to be a column about being hopeful. I can talk myself into some things if I want, but let’s just shine a harsh light and admit that right now, this team has maybe three hitters that can be counted on and little else. That’s why they’re bad, folks. Nowhere to go but up, I guess.
PS: I’ll be back with a post at the close of the season, at which point I promise to talk us all into next year.