The Reds’ Terrible Start by the Numbers

Have a little faith: The worst team in baseball might not end up being the worst Reds team in history.
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It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of Castellini, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of have a little faith, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of peaks and valleys, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the spring of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Were Charles Dickens to have written the story of the 2022 Cincinnati Reds, this is almost assuredly how the tragedy would have begun. And while Reds fans certainly did not have great expectations (to mangle the Dickens reference even further), what has happened to a team that finished last year with a winning record and was in a playoff spot on September 1 is certainly a tale of a franchise going in two directions.

With a sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies over the weekend, Cincinnati’s 17th loss in 18 games, the Reds’ record dropped to 3-19. (As your dutiful reporter on all things Reds, I feel compelled to note that the team has won just one of the 18 games they’ve played since COO Phil Castellini mocked Reds fans and threatened to move the team. Yes, post hoc ergo propter hoc, but the irony is delicious.) The Reds not only have the worst record in all of baseball by a wide margin, but they’re tied for the second-worst record through 22 games in the history of baseball. Only the 1988 Orioles, who started the season 0-21, came out of the gates worse than the current Reds. Yes, our Redlegs have been historically bad thus far, and fans would be forgiven for asking the question: Is this the worst team in franchise history?

Just how bad have things been for the home team? By almost every measure, Cincinnati has baseball’s worst offense and worst pitching staff. On the offensive side of the ledger, they’re hitting a paltry .201 as a team, and their wRC+ (67) is far and away the worst in either league. Go play around with the sortable leaderboards; it’s even uglier than you might have imagined.

The Reds have scored a grand total of 67 runs. Joey Votto is hitting .122/.278/.135 with no homers. Mike Moustakas’ slash line is .186/.217/.186 with, you guessed it, no home runs. Cincinnati did get a single home run from Aristides “The Punisher” Aquino, but he also struck out 23 times in 41 at-bats (with a line of .049/.093/.122) before the front office finally designated him for assignment. The team leader in home runs is Brandon Drury, a player I’m willing to bet most of you had never heard of before this spring.

The pitchers haven’t fared any better. The Reds’ team ERA is 6.19; that’s the worst in the majors by more than a full run ( the second-worst is Washington’s 5.08 ERA). If you like the fancy stats, Cincinnati xFIP is also the worst in baseball. Here are your sortable leaderboards for pitching; feel free to take a look, but I might recommend doing something productive instead, like banging your head repeatedly into the closest brick wall.

Among Reds starters, Nick Lodolo (currently on the injured list) has the team’s best ERA at 5.52. Tyler Mahle (6.45 ERA) and Hunter Greene (6.00 ERA) have shown flashes and will almost certainly be OK in the long run, but Vladimir Gutierrez (0-4, 7.41 ERA) has shown no sign of being the steady starter many had hoped after a somewhat-encouraging rookie season in 2021. And Reiver Sanmartin somehow was permitted to make five appearances before finally, mercifully being sent down to Triple-A Louisville with a record of 0-4 and a 13.78 ERA.

But what about defense? I present to you a video so embarrassing that “Yakety Sax” should be playing in the background:

Add everything up, and, needless to say, it’s the worst start in franchise history. The only comparable start was all the way back in (checks notes) 2018. Yep, the Reds have started 3-19 and 3-18 within the span of five seasons, with one winning record and a (kinda sorta) playoff appearance sandwiched in between. This team is just one extended wild ride, isn’t it?

If the Reds continue at their current pace, they will finish the season with a record of 22-140, which would be the worst record of all time. Call me the eternal optimist if you must, but I’m here to make this guarantee to you, dear readers: The Reds will not finish the season with the worst record in baseball history. But will they be the worst team in Cincinnati history?

Most would say that “honor” currently belongs to the 1982 Reds, who finished 61-101, the only local team ever to accumulate more than 100 losses. A case could also be made for the 1934 Reds, who posted the worst winning percentage in club history (.344) while going 52-99. The 2022 team would have to go 57-83 the rest of the way to set the club record for losses. That’s a .407 winning percentage, which doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.

What does history tell us about the 2022 team’s chances of securing such an ignominious honor? Not much. The last team to start a season 3-19 or worse was the 2003 Tigers, who went on to lose 119 games, an American League record. Before that, it was the 1992 Royals; they very nearly played .500 baseball the rest of the way, finishing with a 72-90 record. And remember those 2018 Reds, who started the year 3-18? They “only” lost 95 games.

I wouldn’t bet the ranch on Cincinnati losing 100 games by the time things are said and done. There is a lot of baseball left to be played, and the Reds have a league-leading 13 players on the injured list. Some important players (especially Luis Castillo, Jonathan India, and Tyler Stephenson) are presumably going to get healthy soon. While I won’t absolve management for refusing to put together a roster with actual depth that could withstand injuries, it seems likely that the club will play better the rest of the way. And, at some point, Joey Votto is going to start hitting like Joey Votto, right?

If you’re the type of fan who wants to see the glass as being half-full, I feel sorry for you because the Reds have punched you in the gut over the last month. On the other hand, the Reds still have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs Playoff Odds. Is Phil Castellini still telling us to have a little faith?

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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