The Reds entered Friday night’s tilt against the Cardinals having played 93 of their 162 games in 2018, with their 41-52 mark projecting out to a 71-91 full-season record. That finish would represent Cincinnati’s best record since 2014 andthe club’s fourth straight season with 90-plus losses as well as fifth consecutive losing campaign overall. So, with those happy thoughts in mind and with the Reds nearing the All-Star Break, it’s time to dish out grades. (Statistics are through games of July 11.)
It’s public knowledge by now that the Reds were dreadful (7-22) in March/April, a stretch that torpedoed any chance of contention in 2018. And while the offense been humming for months now, it was the Reds’ bats that played a central role in the opening 32 days to forget. In those first 29 games, the Reds were shut out four times and scored three or fewer runs on 16 occasions—including a nine-game stretch where they logged more than three runs just once.
Now the Reds rank second in the majors in on-base percentage, eighth in runs scored and 11th in park-adjusted run creation. The team’s three All-Stars (Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Joey Votto) have caused consistent havoc, but breakout performances by Scott Scheblerand Jesse Winker have turned the offense into a force.
Defense and run prevention are tricky things to measure in baseball, as defensive metrics lag behind their offensive counterparts and errors are at the mercy of the semi-subjective whims of home scorekeepers. That being said, the Reds rank 10th in Defensive Runs Saved, 18th in FanGraphs.com’s all-inclusive defense rating, 23rd in fielding percentage, and 24th in errors committed.
Starting Pitching: D
On the whole, Reds starters have not been good, slotting 25th in innings pitched, 26th in ERA, and 29th in Fielding Independent Pitching (similar to ERA but removes defense from the equation). The numbers have been better of late but still not up to snuff for a team that likely fancies itself a winner in 2019—which is why outside help must be acquired.
Tyler Mahle has taken a step forward in his first full season in the bigs, while Luis Castillo has taken a step back. Sal Romano looks like what talent evaluators pegged him as: a hard-thrower who hasn’t developed a third pitch and appears destined to be a No. 5 starter or a valuable reliever. Anthony DeSclafani has been “meh” after losing nearly two seasons to injury, and Matt Harvey has been a semi-revelation. The one clear positive about this rotation is that it’s stayed healthy—Mahle, Castillo, Romano, DeSclafani, and Harvey have made 82 percent of the team’s starts.
Relief Pitching: C
Jared Hughes, Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias, Dylan Floro (before he was traded), David Hernandez, and Michael Lorenzen—the bullpen’s top six relievers in terms of innings pitched—have been stellar. All six own ERAs under 3.75, but recent sluggish performances indicate possible fatigue (only three bullpens have tallied more innings), and the unit could be headed for post-break regression. Still, golf clap to the bullpen for morphing from inept to average.
Interim manager Jim Riggleman receives pluses for lineup construction, namely relegating Billy Hamilton to the bottom of the order, promoting Schebler to the leadoff spot and a general willingness to experiment, but also receives demerits for reverting to prehistoric game management at times. The freshest example of that was Riggleman’s Case of the Bunts over the weekend in Chicago and his withholding of the team’s best pitcher (Iglesias) with the game on the line late in Sunday’s loss. Riggleman has certainly done enough to merit consideration for 2019 when president of baseball operations Dick Williams conducts his search this fall, but any calls for Riggleman’s interim tag to be removed immediately are A) short-sighted at best and B) dangerous to the club’s future at worst considering the franchise has not conducted a full-blown managerial search since the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term.
Front office: B+
The signings of Yovani Gallardo, Cliff Pennington, and Phil Gosselin were shrug-worthy provided that they never logged meaningful innings with the Reds … but all three did. Aside from that, Williams & Co. earn high marks for gambling on Harvey in exchange for a backup catcher (Devin Mesoraco); flipping Floro, a minor league free agent turned solid cog in the Reds bullpen, to the Dodgers (plus a Triple-A reliever) for a 2017 fourth round pick and a Single-A reliever who throws 100 mph; signing Hughes and Hernandez, two instrumental veteran pieces in the Reds’ bullpen, for a combined $9.25 million; and sticking with Jose Peraza at shortstop.
Again, the miserable start can’t be ignored, but neither can the 34-30 record since the start of May. A strong finish to 2018—even if Harvey and few other key players like Gennett or Iglesias are traded—would reinforce the belief that this team is a few pieces away from a winning record and possible contention in 2019.