Mercifully, the 2014 Reds season has drawn to a close. It was a season filled with promise and hope, on the heels of two seasons in which the Reds accumulated 90+ wins. Unfortunately, both those versions of the Redlegs were summarily bounced from the playoffs far too early, in heartbreaking fashion each time. In 2012, Dusty Baker somehow mismanaged a 2-games-to-0 lead, blowing an NLDS series in the process. Last year, the Reds lost the final five games of the regular season, then embarrassed themselves in the Wild Card playoff against Pittsburgh. (Remember CUEEEE-TO, CUEEEE-TO?)
Given the ultra-disappointing finishes of the last two seasons, one would think that Reds fans would be happy about the fact that September was drama-free. At least we didn’t get our hearts broken, right?
No, that’s not quite how it works. We’re all still disappointed.
So, how do we wrap up the 2014 Reds season? Here are some not-so-random thoughts:
- It’s hard to remember now, but after the first half of the season, the Reds were right in the playoff mix. At the All-Star break, Cincinnati was 51-44, 1.5 games out of first. They had just won 7 of 9, and 8 of their last 11 games, and everyone was excited. That was a good time. Then the second half began, and this club turned into a dumpster fire almost immediately. The club lost seven consecutive games, and nine of their first ten after the break. In losing nine of those first games, the Reds scored a grand-total of 17 runs. In ten games. Ugh. The Reds were an almost-unimaginably bad 25-42 in the second half, amounting to a .373 “winning” percentage. When the dust settled on the season, the Reds finished 76-86, in fourth place, 14 games behind the Cardinals. We’ve gotten accustomed to winning in Cincinnati. This season was a bitter pill to swallow.
- The culprits for the disastrous second half are many, but the putrid offense is as good a scapegoat as any. After the All-Star break, no team scored fewer runs than the Reds. No team had fewer hits. No team had a lower on-base percentage. No team had a lower slugging percentage. Mark Sheldon notes another dispiriting point about the 2014 Reds offense: five different opposing pitchers took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against this club.
- The other main culprit, of course, is the one that will get blamed all throughout the offseason: injuries. My guess is that the Reds will use those injuries as the entire excuse for the club’s poor performance this season. That’s not quite true (for example, GM Walt Jocketty has steadfastly refused to improve the left field situation for the last 18 months), but there can be no question that injuries played a significant role.Think about all the key players who missed significant time in 2014: Joey Votto. Jay Bruce. Mat Latos. Homer Bailey. Brandon Phillips. Aroldis Chapman. Few teams could survive all those injuries to their stars. The 2014 Reds had some serious flaws, especially in left field and in the bullpen (not to mention the lack of depth). Remember that when you hear that the 2015 Reds should be fine if they can just stay healthy. It’s not entirely true. But the Redlegs did have some bad luck on the injury front this year. It can’t be as bad next year, can it?
- There isn’t much we can say about Joey Votto’s 2014. He was injured, and when he wasn’t hurt, he wasn’t the typical Votto: .255/.390/.409, 6 homers, 23 RBI. If this gives you any idea about the Reds offense, however, I’ll present you with an amazing stat. Votto—who only played in 62 games—led the Reds in walks (47) until the final couple of weeks of the season, when Todd Frazier grabbed the lead.
- The Reds are going to hope that all those players can stay healthy next year. They will also hope that the two breakout contributors to the Reds offense will be able to replicate their 2014 performance.I’m talking, of course, about Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. Both guys earned their first All-Star nod, and I shudder to think where the Reds would have finished without their contributions. Frazier made the finals of the Home Run Derby in July, but that was hardly the only notable moment of his season. The former Little League World Series hero hit .273/.336/.459 with 29 home runs and 80 RBI. He led all NL third basemen in homers, and was among the top three in wOBA (.350), wRC+ (122) and WAR (4.7). No Reds 3B has hit more homers since Tony Perez hit 40 in 1970; Frazier’s 29 is the fourth-highest total all-time for any Red who primarily played third base. Despite missing time to injury, Mesoraco was even better than the Toddfather. On the season, Devin hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 homers and 80 RBI. His .387 wOBA and 147 wRC+ led all MLB catchers, as did Mesoraco’s home run total. Only two Reds catchers have ever hit more homers than Mes’s 25 (of course, Johnny Bench hit 25 or more during eight separate seasons). I can’t wait to watch these guys in 2015. I’m eager to see if they can duplicate this production.
- The flip side of that coin: Jay Bruce. Bruce endured the worst season of his career, by far, hitting .217/.281/.373 with 18 home runs. Those totals were all career-lows. Not exactly what you would expect from a 27-year-old two-time All-Star.I have a feeling that I’ll have much more to say about Bruce during the off-season. Suffice to say, however: his struggles were perhaps the biggest (non-injury) reason for the Reds’ lack of offensive output.
- I was only able to make it out to the ol’ ball orchard (as Joe Nuxhall frequently called it) six times this year. In those six games, the Reds were 6-0. It seems obvious that the Reds should give me season tickets for 2015, given my unquestioned contribution to winning baseball for the club. On the other hand, perhaps that’s not particularly surprising. After all, the Reds were actually pretty good at Great American Ballpark in 2014, posting a 44-37 home record. On the road, however, the Reds were just 32-49.
- The Reds were just 22-38 in one-run games. Imagine if they had been able to reverse that number. They would have been victorious 92 times and won the National League Central division. Sure, this was an awful season, but if we want to be optimistic, we could say that the Reds were really just a few runs from being a legit contender.
- We heard a lot of grumbling about Reds 3B coach Steve Smith this season. The grumbling was justified. The Reds were thrown out at home 28 times in 2014. That was the highest total in the majors.
- If the Reds had been in the American League East, they would have been in serious trouble. Cincinnati was 0-10 against Boston, Baltimore, and the Yankees. Against the entire AL East, the Reds were 3-13.
- The biggest bright spot in the 2014 season was Johnny Cueto. Cueto will very likely finish second in the National League Cy Young voting (to the immortal Clayton Kershaw), after going 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA, and tying for the NL lead in strikeouts. He was the first 20-game winner for the Reds since Danny Jackson in 1988. (Jackson also finished second to a Dodger hurler in the Cy Young voting: Orel Hershiser.) The last Cincinnati right-hander to win twenty games? Sammy Ellis in 1965. Yep, that’s almost fifty years ago. Good job, Johnny.
- There’s a pretty good chance that Billy Hamilton will win the National League Rookie of the Year award after hitting .250/.292/.355 with 6 home runs and 56 stolen bases. As Sheldon noted, Billy led all NL rookie hitters in hits, runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and doubles.On the other hand, everything about Hamilton’s season wasn’t rosy. He was arguably the worst hitter in the National League in the second half of the year, and he was caught stealing more than any other player in baseball. He did play brilliant defense in center field, and that can’t be discounted.Let it be known, however: Drew Stubbs out-produced Hamilton in every season he played in Cincinnati, except for one…and Reds fans ran Stubbs out of town on a rail. If Hamilton doesn’t improve his walk rate and on-base percentage, his honeymoon may be over very soon, indeed.We should be fair to Hamilton, though. The kid was just 23 this season. Stubbs didn’t even make his major league debut until age 24. Let’s not give up on Hamilton just yet, okay?
- Though the second half was an abject disaster, two Reds may have earned a spot on the 2015 roster with their late-season performances. The first of those is Jumbo Diaz, who appeared in 36 games out of the bullpen and posted a 3.38 ERA. He struck out 37 hitters in 34.1 innings, with a four-seam fastball that averaged better than 98 mph. Expect Jumbo to be in the mix for a setup job next season.The other guy who helped himself in this lost season was Kristopher Negron. Negron played 49 games at four different positions, while hitting .271/.331/.479 with six homers. He actually accumulated 2.1 wins above replacement. My good friend Chris Garber, an editor over at Redleg Nation, made a good point regarding Negron. Walt Jocketty continues to hand out contracts to the likes of Jack Hannahan and Ramon Santiago and Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez. Meanwhile, the Reds have a guy like Negron, who can provide equal or better production for the major league minimum salary. Why waste precious dollars on stiffs like Hannahan? There are guys like Negron all over the country, just waiting for a shot at the big leagues.
- Reds Assistant General Manager Bob Miller just resigned. I’m available to fill that open Assistant GM spot. Just give me a call, Reds. After all, as noted above, the Reds win every game when I’m at the ballpark. Just imagine if I were able to attend every game….
Okay, enough about 2014. It’s over, thankfully. During the offseason, I’ll write about what the Reds should do to improve the club, and you might be surprised to learn that I think the Reds have a pretty good chance of being competitive in 2015.
It’s baseball. We can always hope, right?