Good Times, Bad Times




Finally, this long, hard, disaster of a baseball season is over. Well, it’s over in all but ten cities across this great land. Alas, for the second consecutive season, Cincinnati will not be home to one of those exalted ten, the clubs who made the playoffs.

So the baseball offseason is upon us, and the best thing about that is I get to write about the Reds, but I don’t actually have to watch them play anymore. And that is a glorious thing.

Let’s be honest, this club has been nearly impossible to watch over the last three months. No, I take that back: the Reds have been impossible to watch. Only Joey Votto has been worth the price of admission since the All-Star break, and to be fair, he has been magnificent. Votto finished the season hitting .314/.459/.541 with 29 home runs and some great alphabet soup numbers: 174 OPS+, 172 wRC+, .427 wOBA, 7.6 WAR. He was among the league leaders in nearly every significant offensive category, and if it weren’t for a young guy named Harper in the nation’s capital, Votto likely would have won his second MVP award.*

*Also, Votto never got choked by a teammate…as far as we know.

If you couldn’t enjoy Votto’s season as a Reds fan, then I feel bad for you (coughMartycough).

Jason Linden has already taken up the Herculean task of finding reasons for you to have hope about next year, but I’m not ready to leave 2015 just yet. So, what follows are my thoughts on the season that just ended, in no particular order…

-Two years ago, the Reds won 90 games and made the playoffs for the third time in four years. In 2015, the Reds lost 98 games and finished in last place, 36 games out of first. That’s a precipitous decline, and much of the blame has to be placed squarely in GM Walt Jocketty’s lap. It’s almost unfathomable how far the once-mighty Reds have fallen in such a short time.

-Only two teams in Reds history have ever lost more games than this year’s club: 1982 (101 losses) and 1934 (99 losses). BUT ten teams had worse winning percentages than this year’s .395. So it’s not as bad as you thought!

-Was this the best season of Joey Votto’s career, as Jason alleges in the piece I linked above? I dunno. I still like his MVP season of 2010, when Votto hit .324/.424/.600 with 37 homers. It’s interesting to see that Votto’s OPS+ was better this year, but his 2010 wRC+ was slightly higher. How Votto has gotten to those numbers is different, however; he led the league with 143 walks this year, 52 more than he had in his MVP season. Ultimately, what is clear is that both seasons were among the best in Reds history.

You really should enjoy watching Votto play every day. It’s quite possible that he will end up being the best Reds hitter of your lifetime. Plus, he’s been giving some really great interviews that give you insight into how he tries to improve every single day. Gotta love Joey Votto.

-Every time the Reds finish up the season by playing out the string in meaningless games for weeks at a time, I always think about Mike Frank. Remember Frank? He was the 24-year-old center fielder who played 28 games in the middle of the 1998 season as Jack McKeon’s Reds stumbled to a 77-85 finish. He was part of the vaunted Young, Frank ‘n Stynes outfield (Dmitri, Mike, Chris), but never played another game in the big leagues after he tried to help the Reds during a miserable season. Where have you gone, Mike Frank? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

-Who is the Mike Frank of this year’s team, destined never to be heard from again? Keyvius Sampson and Ryan LaMarre seem to be likely candidates.

-Sometimes I think back on past seasons, and different things will always stick out about each particular year. What will we remember about 2015 if we aren’t able to wipe it completely from our memory? First: Votto, of course, After that, however, I think it has to be all the rookie pitchers who got a chance to start for the Reds, out of necessity.

Anthony DeSclafani may have performed the best of the rookie crop, a group that also included Michael Lorenzen, John Lamb, and the aforementioned Sampson. None have the upside of Raisel Iglesias, however. I’ve already written about why I think Iglesias is an ace waiting to happen, and I won’t repeat myself here, but suffice to say that this guy is an elite talent. I can’t wait to watch his career develop.

When you look at the group above, toss Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed (both acquired in the Johnny Cueto trade) and Robert Stephenson (Cincinnati’s top pitching prospect) into the mix, you have to believe that the Reds have a decent chance at putting together a pretty good rotation over the next few years.* Some of these guys have to pan out, right?

*And don’t forget about Homer Bailey, who will return in 2016, hopefully.

-Actually, now that I think about it, I may remember Todd Frazier’s performance during All-Star Week and his dazzling display at the Home Run Derby before anything else about 2015. That was a fun week, and Cincinnati (the city and the Reds) pulled out all the stops to put on a great show.

-Adios, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. We’re going to miss you guys. Here’s hoping that Cueto puts his struggles behind him and leads the Royals to the World Series this postseason. I’d love to see Johnny pitching in the Series. Just wish he could have done it with the Redlegs.

-How magnificent was Aroldis Chapman once again this year? A 4-4 record, 1.63 ERA, 33 saves, an ERA+ of 244 (the second-best of his career), and a dominant performance for the National League squad in a hometown All-Star Game.

Trading Chapman during the off-season is probably the right thing to do, but I’m sure going to miss him when he’s gone. Not sure we’ll ever see an arm like that one again. (His left arm. I’m talking about Aroldis Chapman’s left arm.)

-Innings pitched for Aroldis Chapman: 66.1. Innings pitched for Jason Marquis and Kevin Gregg: 58. That margin is way too close.

-How about the emergence of Eugenio Suarez? The 23-year-old shortstop hit .280/.315/.446 with 13 home runs in 97 games. His defense still needs some polish, but the Reds have found an everyday middle infielder. Kudos to Walt Jocketty for getting Suarez in exchange for the corpse of Alfredo Simon.

On a related note, you have to feel bad for poor Zack Cozart. Cozart’s glove has always been magnificent, one of the best in the league, and for the first 53 games of the season, his bat was vastly improved. The numbers weren’t Votto-like (.258/.310/.459 with 9 homers), but they were above average for the position (OPS+ of 107) and certainly good enough to merit consideration for the All-Star team, when combined with his glove.

Then came that horrific knee injury. Now Suarez has emerged in Cozart’s absence, and Zack is going to be a 30-year-old shortstop coming off a major surgery. Honestly, if Cozart is healthy and still has range, I’d love to see him back at SS next year with Suarez moving over to second base. That’s dependent on the club’s ability to deal Brandon Phillips, which might be too much to ask, despite a resurgent season for Phillips. BP has had a great career as a Red, but he’ll be 35 next year and he’s not likely to be the second baseman on the next good Reds team.

For those of you suggesting that Suarez should move to left field, I’d just ask you to stop being silly. Even if Suarez were able to play the position defensively, his bat is not the answer the Reds have been searching for in left field for the last few seasons. It’s a crazy suggestion. Suarez is an above-average middle infielder; I’m not sure why the Reds would want to turn him into a below-average left fielder.

-I don’t know what to make of Jay Bruce. Stop asking.

-Hey, Billy Hamilton’s sophomore season was nothing short of a disaster, was it? A slash line of .226/.274/.289—yep, that’s a tidy OPS of .563, with an OPS+ of 55. He regressed significantly in nearly every category. Almost any way you slice it, Hamilton was the worst everyday offensive player in the league.

On the other hand, his baserunning and defense were so good—elite, even—according to FanGraphs, that Hamilton was still able to compile almost two wins-above-replacement in just 114 games. If he could just hit a baseball…

-Is Skip Schumaker’s Reds career over? One can only hope. Listen, the guy always played hard and gave his all at every position he was asked to play. Reds fans need to appreciate that, especially when you think about certain players giving a half-effort at times in recent years.

But wow, what a waste of $5-million of Bob Castellini’s dollars over the last two years (this is assuming, of course, that the Reds pay Schumaker his $500,000 buyout instead of picking up his option for another year at $2.5 million). A .238/.297/.322 slash line in 214 games with Cincinnati and a combined WAR of -1.8. The Reds literally could have gotten that production from a hundred other guys in the minor leagues who would have only cost them the league minimum.

When you look at some of these contracts Walt Jocketty has given out to fringe bench players and relievers during his tenure in Cincinnati, you have to wonder if Jocketty is engaged in some kind of Brewster’s Millions plot.

-Speaking of relievers, I was glad to see JJ Hoover rebound this year (8-2, 2.94 ERA). Also, it was great to see Sam LeCure make his way back to Cincinnati after some big-time struggles early in the season. It wasn’t just the wacky facial hair; he was a significant contributor to the good Reds teams of 2010-2013. More than that, LeCure was one of these guys who always gave you the sense that he just loved to be a Cincinnati Red; Brayan Pena is another. If 2015 was the swan song in the Queen City for either of these guys—and it probably was, for both—I’ll remember each of them fondly. A tip of the ol’ cap to Sam LeCure and Brayan Pena. Godspeed.

So that’s what I’ll take away. Now, please…let’s all just agree to leave the 2015 season in the dustbin of history where it belongs, okay?

Who Dey?

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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