Assessing the Reds After a Quarter

Here we are, 38 games into this exciting Reds season—Baseball Fever: Catch It!—and before the week is finished, one quarter of the big league season will be in the books. The bad news, of course, is that 75 percent of the season remains to be played. The good news?

Ummm. Well, about that…

Put that aside for a moment, and let’s take a look at where the Reds stand at the moment. After briefly raising the hopes of delusional fans everywhere by sweeping the first series of the year and vaulting to the top of the National League Central, the Reds have pretty much cratered. Bryan Price’s boys are 15-23, alone in last place. There are, however, three teams—Atlanta, Minnesota, Houston—who have worse records at this point. There’s your good news, I guess. The Reds aren’t the worst team in the league. (Of course, if your big hope is that the Reds will get the number one pick in next year’s amateur draft, this could be construed as more bad news.)

As a team, the Reds are tied for 11th (out of 15 teams) in the NL in runs scored, 12th in on-base percentage, and dead last in walks, by a significant margin. Suffice to say, the offense has not exactly been a juggernaut. But, hey, they’re eighth in home runs!

On the pitching side of the ledger, things are even worse. Cincinnati’s staff is 14th in the National League in strikeouts*, and dead last in ERA, WHIP, and home runs and walk allowed. That’s just brutal.

*Thank goodness for the Milwaukee Brewers.

If you’ve paid any attention at all—and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the devoted few Reds fans who are still hanging in there — you know that the bullpen has been the primary culprit. Reds relievers have posted a collective ERA of 6.44 in 137 innings pitched. And you can’t even blame it on luck; their FIP is 6.09. The pen has surrendered 31 homers, 150 hits, and 73 walks, all of which “lead” the league.

To compound matters, Cincinnati relievers have been forced to throw more innings than all but one other National League bullpen. Yes, they’ve been horrific and they’ve been forced to pitch often. That’s not typically a great combination.

Plus, they also broke an all-time Major League Baseball record already this season. More good news!

On an individual level, there have certainly been a few bright spots on an otherwise bleak landscape. I wrote about Zack Cozart last week, and he continues to produce (.321/.322/.523, 120 OPS+, great glove). No, he has not developed any plate discipline over the years, but I remain hopeful that he’ll keep himself in the conversation for a spot on the NL All-Star team this July.

The other big bright spot has been the play of 27-year-old Adam Duvall. Yes, he’s just a stopgap until Jesse Winker arrives on the big league stage, but Duvall has grabbed this opportunity as if he wants to be in Cincinnati forever. He’s already won the everyday left field job, hitting .284/.328/.587 with seven home runs and a team-leading 12 doubles. Nineteen of Duvall’s 31 hits this season have been of the extra-base variety, and he’s leading the team in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS+. Productive. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

Only two other Reds hitters are above-average at the plate. Those two hitters are named Eugenio Suarez and Jay Bruce. The emphasis there is on hitters, because each has played defense so poorly that their overall value has been diminished substantially.

Joey Votto, of course, has been the biggest disappointment of the season, by far, and that competition isn’t really close. His numbers are terrible (.218/.357/.363, 5 HR, 91 wRC+) and he often looks like a player we’ve never seen before. At this point, I just want reasons to believe he’ll be the player we expected very soon and, honestly, there are plenty of those reasons out there:

  1. Votto still gets on base at a good clip;
  2. He’s still the smartest hitter on earth, so you have to think he’ll figure out what pitchers are doing and adjust accordingly;
  3. He’s still the hardest-working player on the club, by most accounts;
  4. His BABIP is just .272, far below his career mark of .355; and
  5. By one measure, Votto has been the fourth most-unlucky hitter in MLB this season.

Honestly, I’m not worried about Joey Votto. Yet.

Not much to say about the individual pitchers. Dan Straily, of all people, has been the best starter; he’s 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA in six starts. Raisel Iglesias was good and then he was injured. Brandon Finnegan has been good at times, but he’s as inconsistent as you would expect a talented 23-year-old to be.

Those three, along with John Lamb, are the only pitchers worth discussing because of one simple fact: they’re the only pitchers who have spent time on this year’s roster who have any chance of being significant contributors to the next good Reds team.

Which brings me to the point of this exercise. (Yes, I have a point.) Recently, I saw some Twitter blowhard complain that the last-place Reds are playing awful and haven’t given fans any reason to be optimistic about the future. To anyone who thinks that, I say: you couldn’t have missed the point of the 2016 season more if you had tried.

Let me be clear: if you are basing your opinion about this rebuilding process on what you’ve seen at GABP so far this season, you are looking in the wrong direction.

Here’s what’s not on the MLB field for the Reds right now: four legitimate (and mostly young) big league pitchers in Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, and Homer Bailey. Also not on the big league roster: two potential ace starters, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, who are dominating Triple-A competition. Both are just 23 years old.

Take those six pitchers, add them to Finnegan, Lamb, and Straily, and you have nine pitchers who can immediately fix this lousy Cincinnati pitching staff—including the bullpen—when they’re all ready to pitch. And that time could be soon.

In terms of everyday players, the picture is murkier, but remember that we haven’t seen Winker yet, and we’ve barely seen Jose Peraza. Both of those guys could be integral pieces of a competitive 2018 Reds team.

No, the Reds don’t already have all the pieces in place. That’s why we’re calling this a rebuild. General manager Dick Williams and the front office still have some work to do to fill in the gaps. How they do that will be the determining factor in whether this is a quick rebuild, or a long-term walk in the desert.

But there’s hope. And if you’re already giving up all hope for the future just because of six bad weeks for the big league club…well, I’m not sure you have the stomach for this rebuild.

Give ‘em a chance. If the Reds are still in last place two years from today, I’ll have some knee-jerk tweets of my own to add to the chorus.

But not yet.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly used the term quarter pole in reference to the first quarter of the season. Reaching the quarter pole means that one quarter of the season remains, not one quarter of the season has already happened. (Though we do suspect, but cannot confirm, that most race tracks have some sort of pole a quarter of the way into the race.) We apologize to all horse racing enthusiasts offended by our misappropriation of equine terminology.

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