Forget what you think you know about this year’s version of the Cincinnati Reds.* I’m here to tell you that the 2017 season was actually an awesome time to be a Reds fan, no matter what your lying eyes may tell you.
*As a quick side note, 7 out of 10 mental health professionals also advise you to forget the 2017 Reds altogether. But finish reading this piece first, okay?
I’m serious! Sure, the Redlegs are going to finish in last place in the National League Central. Again. And yes, Cincinnati topped the 90-loss mark for the third straight year. The last time the Reds lost 90 or more in three straight seasons was more than eight decades ago, from 1930-1934. Compared to those five consecutive losing campaigns back in the first half of the 1930s, the current day Reds are enjoying unprecedented success!
Or maybe not. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was trying to convince you that the season that is now drawing to a close has been a fun one. Certainly, the losing has beaten all of us down—and the Bengals aren’t doing much to help with that particular malaise—but there have been so many elements to the 2017 Reds that have brought smiles to faces. Or at least a smile, to a face, somewhere.
Over the coming years, when we inevitably look back on this year’s club, we’re going to say, “Who is Lisalverto Bonilla? I don’t remember that guy.” More to the point, we’re also going to remember that this was a season full of interesting storylines and players who were easy to root for.
So, without further ado, from the home office in Walla Walla, Washington, here are the…
Top Ten Reasons the 2017 Reds Season Was Actually Awesome:
10. Tucker Barnhart’s cannon. This was the season where we saw Barnhart come into his own. His bat improved, but it was the defense that caused shockwaves around the league. Tucker led all major league catchers in defensive runs above average, by a wide margin. But it was the right arm that put the league on notice, as he threw out more potential base-stealers than anyone in either league. We may just look back on this season and remember it as the year that Tucker won the first of many Gold Glove awards.
9. So long, Bronson. When we look back on 2017, we won’t remember 40 year-old Arroyo’s 7.35 ERA. We’ll remember the guy who ranks fifth among all Reds starters in franchise history in strikeouts (1,157), seventh in games started (279), and 15th in wins and innings pitched. We’ll remember the crafty right-hander with the long hair and unique leg kick who started more games, won more games, pitched more innings and more complete games, and struck out more batters at Great American Ball Park than any pitcher, ever. Plus, he loved that Reds Hooded Sweatshirt.
8. The Sluggin’ Redlegs. For the first time in franchise history, six Reds—Joey Votto, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Zack Cozart—hit at least 20 home runs. Twice before, a Reds offense has had five players with that many homers (in 1956 and 2008), but never six. Even better, if Cozart can hit two home runs during the final week of the season, the Reds will become only the second team in the history of baseball to have six players with 25-plus home runs. In other words, the offense appears to be in pretty good shape as we look toward to 2018.
7. Eugenio Suarez became a star. At the age of 25, Suarez cemented himself among the very best third basemen in all of baseball. This was true on offense, where he hit .261/.370/.470 with 26 home runs, 86 RBI, and 4.0 WAR (with six games remaining). It was also true on defense, where he ranked third in all of baseball in defensive runs above average. Finally, it was true off the field, where Suarez was always smiling as he went about establishing a reputation as one of the hardest-working players on the team. Suarez proved himself to be a cornerstone of the next good Reds team. And, as always, here’s your reminder that the Reds acquired Suarez in a trade with Detroit, in exchange for the bloated corpse of Alfredo Simon.
6. Some young pitchers finally took a step forward. Perhaps the most exciting development of 2017 is the way Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, and Tyler Mahle progressed to the point where all three are legitimate candidates for next year’s starting rotation. Romano started 15 games with a roughly league average ERA at age 23. That ain’t easy, ya know?
Stephenson, a former first round pick and top prospect who had mostly treaded water for the last couple of years, finally figured out how to throw more strikes so that his vicious stuff could get hitters out. From the beginning of August until today, Stephenson has been 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA.
Mahle has never had trouble getting hitters out in the minors, but it was a little surprising to see him emerge onto the big league scene at the tender age of 22. No matter: Mahle posted a 2.70 ERA in four starts, displaying an uncommon maturity for a kid. He’ll be the most interesting arm to watch next spring.
Oh yeah, there was one more young pitcher who established himself this season. More on him in a minute…
5. Zack Cozart got a donkey. Cozart made his first All-Star team, so he got his donkey, as promised. But that was the least compelling thing about Cozart’s season, a year in which he set career highs in nearly every single offensive category. Zack has hit .302/.387/.553 with 23 home runs, while posting 5.0 wins above replacement. The last Reds shortstop to reach 5.0 WAR in a season? Some guy named Barry Larkin. If this was the last time we get to see Zack Cozart—soon to be a free agent—in a Reds uniform…well, what a way to go out. We won’t forget this season very soon.
4. We got to meet some cool new kids who just might be around for a long time. I mentioned above that there was one more pitcher who inserted himself into Cincinnati’s long-term plans this season. That was Luis Castillo, acquired in an off-season trade for Dan Straily, who made his big league debut in late June and was only one of the best pitchers in the league for the rest of the year. We also finally got to meet Jesse Winker, the top offensive prospect in the farm system for much of the last few years. When he finally reached Cincinnati—and when manager Bryan Price actually let him play—Winker was better than advertised: .279/.360/.486 with 6 home runs in 111 at-bats (after hitting only two homers in 299 ABs in Triple-A this year). In Castillo and Winker, it’s possible that the Reds’ future ace and future leadoff hitter each made their big league debut within a couple of months of each other in 2017.
3. Joey Votto got even better, if you can believe it. .317/.452/.571, 35 home runs, 7.0 WAR. He went 0-0 with 5 walks one night. When the Cubs tried using four outfielders against him, he still hit a double. He stopped striking out. He wants to stay in Cincinnati for another decade. Put this guy in the Hall of Fame already.
2. Scooter! Picked up off the scrap heap just before Opening Day, Scooter Gennett won a starting spot in the Cincinnati infield and proceeded to hit .298/.346/.547 with 27 home runs. Four of those home runs came in one memorable game, and he also hit four grand slams this year. Guess how many players in baseball history have accomplished both of those feats in the same season? Zero. Only one player has done them in different seasons, and that was Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. Gehrig wore uniform number 4. Scooter is a Reds legend who wears number 4. Hmmm…perhaps it’s time to retire Scooter’s number?
1. Because the 2018 Cincinnati Reds are going to win a NL Wild Card spot. Now that the season is finally over, we’re primed and ready for the Reds to return to the playoffs. You read it here first.
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.