In 2015, the Cincinnati Reds finished with a record of 64-98, scoring 640 runs and allowing 754 runs, and things don’t seem to be looking up. But hey, they play the games for a reason, right? Giant swathes of the fan base seem to think it’s a lock that this upcoming season is sure to be the worst in the history of the franchise. Let’s not get crazy. Have you ever looked at the 1982 team? Now that’s a bad team. How bad was that offense? The worst Reds offense since World War II, by wRC+. They only had one position player over 2 WAR, so basically, an entire team full of below-average players, but this isn’t about that team. That team lost a franchise record 101 games. I don’t believe that this is the year the record gets broken.

Cin Record wRC+ SP ERA- RP ERA- DRS UZR BsR Pay – $M
2013  .556 (11) 96 (15) 90 (3) 86 (9) 33 (8)  30 (8) -1 (16)  107 (13)
2014  .469 (21)  82 (29)  90 (2)  110 (26)  67 (1)  46 (4)  0 (17)  112 (12)
2015  .395 (29)  90 (24)  115 (26)  99 (20)  -5 (19) -9 (20)  12 (4)  117 (14)

 

A quick note: I like to use Baseball Prospectus statistics when I can because, without Effectively Wild, well, our little corner of the internet most likely wouldn’t exist, and it’s my small personal way of giving appreciation. However, since PECOTA was not available yet for the coming season, as of this writing, although it may be by the time you read this, when dealing with or referring to projections I will be using Steamer Projections.

 

How will they score runs?

Joey Votto, Joey Votto, and ummmm Joey Votto. Not much can be said in this space that hasn’t been said before. Cincinnati fans are truly blessed to get to watch this guy everyday. We aren’t likely to see the likes of him for a long time. If you’re lucky, once a generation your team gets a guy like this. Last guy for the Reds was Barry Larkin, before that, it was the whole darn Big Red Machine group. I imagine that the younger fans feel about Votto the way I felt about Barry Larkin in 1990. He’s a machine, and I implore Cincinnati fans to ignore the awful local media and please appreciate this guy while he’s still in town. OK, off my soapbox now.

Devin Mesoraco returns from a hip injury that required surgery and virtually wiped out his entire season, and according to reports, the surgery and rehab went well, and he’s good to go. Which Mesoraco will we get? Do we get the fantastic 2014 version who put up an .893 OPS and 146 wRC+ or the version in prior years to that was in the .640 OPS range? I don’t believe that 2014 was a complete fluke. There might have been a corner turned. However, I don’t think he maintains that line in 2016. I would place him solidly between the 2014 line and the Steamer projected .745 OPS. A .745 OPS would be right around league average, and almost any team would take that from their catcher spot. Last season there were only 8 catchers with at least 400 plate appearances who were above league average as a hitter, and I think Mesoraco can be a wee bit better than league average.

After those two guys, there’s a lot of question marks on this offense. They have a fairly average ceiling, but man, the floor is LOW. Brandon Phillips returns after having rejected two different trades, which is his right as a ten-and-five player, and had a fairly decent season in 2015: he was very nearly a league average hitter for the first time since 2012, posting a wRC+ of 96. However, his power continues to slowly decline. After a career high slugging of .485 way back in 2007, it’s been sort of a slow steady decline ever since then, down to .395 last season. Check out this graph of his ISO trends, courtesy, oddly enough, of Fangraphs. (I wonder how many people remember when the graphs were the main part of Fangraphs?)

791_2B_season_full_6_20151004

Eugenio Suarez is intriguing, likely moving over to man the hot corner after the trade of Todd Frazier. Shortstop probably wasn’t the place for him, because, well, he was kind of bad fielding wise, but he can probably handle third just fine. He surprised with the bat after his recall last season, and I think the power is legit. Steamer mostly agrees, projecting a line of .254/.311/.410, which I think he could very conceivably beat by a small amount. Maybe by 10-15 points in each category? His walk rate kind of cratered a bit from where it was during his Tigers stint, so some correction there would bump that OBP up a touch and then you’ve got a pretty good player, but as is I think he’ll be just average or thereabout.

Jay Bruce is an enigma. There will come a time when it’s just time to cut your losses and move on from the Jay Bruce era, and that could (and probably should) happen sooner rather than later. Bruce has a team option for 2017 that’s sure to not be picked up, unless he has a monster year, and I just don’t see it. We’re talking about a guy who has negative WAR for the past two seasons combined. Maybe this is what he is now. A replacement or maybe slightly above player. Steamer is projecting a 96 wRC+ and 0.7 WAR. For the life of me I’ll never understand what happened to Jay Bruce. I mean, he’s basically followed the Ben Grieve career path, albeit his good seasons are better than Grieve’s, and that isn’t going to work out. He’ll probably wind up leaving Cincinnati and going somewhere and bouncing back for a bit, and hey, if that happens, good for him. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery.

 

After that, there’s a whole lot of question marks. Jesse Winker won’t likely start in the majors, but we should see him at some point this year, and he’s by far the best position player prospect in the system. Steamer thinks Winker can be close to a league average hitter already, and we know projecting minor leaguers tends to take a very conservative tone. More than likely, until Winker comes up, left field will be manned by a platoon of Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler. Duvall is basically a Mark Trumbo starter kit, with quite a bit of power but not much in the way of on base skills. Steamer is projecting a .464 slugging percentage for Duvall. He might have a bit of a future as a lefty masher. Schebler is also fairly splitty the other way, so you could probably cobble together an average-ish platoon there.

Now, Billy Hamilton can run like the wind. Hitting, now, that’s another story. Steamer is projecting a 76 wRC+, and you think, well, that’s not very good, but it’s actually way better than last season, when he put up a 52. Of course, he’s going to provide value on the base-paths and in the field, but unless he ever can figure out how to get on base at an acceptable clip, those two skills are going to have to remain elite for him to stay in a major league lineup. And, as we know, those skills decline much sooner than people think.

 

How will they prevent runs?

The Reds have been a very strong defensive team over the past few seasons. They finished 13th in PADE in 2015, but they were higher than that before Zack Cozart suffered a season ending knee injury and Eugenio Suarez took over at shortstop, and Billy Hamilton also missed a lot of time in the second half of the season, and those are your two best defenders. They finished 3rd in 2014 and 2nd in 2013, so this group has a nice history of being able to play defense at a high level, and given the fact that the pitching staff is going to be young and in many cases not fully developed, you are going to want to put the best defense you can out there.

 

Moving on to the mound, there are only two guys penciled in to the starting rotation, Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias. Both guys were quite impressive in 2015. DeSclafani put up a 4.05 ERA with a 3.67 FIP. Being his first full big league season, he seemed to run out of gas a bit in July/August but bounced back late in the season. Steamer projects a 4.02 ERA and 4.17 FIP but I could easily see him in the high 3s. Iglesias is a bit of a trendy sleeper pick from fantasy analysts going in to 2016.  Iglesias put up a 4.15 ERA but underperformed his 3.55 FIP, perhaps because most of his starts came later in the season, when the defense had declined, as described earlier. He was hurt a little by the home run ball, with a 13.9% HR/FB rate, which translates to a 3.28 xFIP if that normalizes. Steamer likes Iglesias to be the Reds best starter, with a 3.58 ERA. Iglesias, along with a couple of pitchers that we could see sometime in late 2016 and definitely 2017, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, have the potential to form a bit of a poor man’s Mets kind of thing down the road, but that’s later, and right now we’re talking about 2016, and after those two guys mentioned above, this might get a bit ugly.

Other pitchers in the rotation mix are Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, John Lamb (expected to miss the first couple of weeks following back surgery), and Homer Bailey should return at some point following Tommy John surgery. A lot of people seem to think that Finnegan is destined for the bullpen, but the Reds remain steadfast at trying him as a starter first, which I agree with. Michael Lorenzen, on the other hand, I think is ultimately destined to be a bullpen arm, and maybe a very good one, but he’s probably going to start this season. When Stephenson, Reed, Amir Garrett, Bailey, et al, are ready to take their spots I think he’s the one who gets squeezed out. As a starter he just hasn’t missed enough bats and he’s walked too many guys. Lamb is intriguing because of his 10.5 K/9, but his overall numbers don’t look that impressive due to a high .376 BABIP and 14.3% HR/FB rate.  Keyvius Sampson will also return in his “in case of emergency, break glass” role. He’s not good, but if an arm is needed early, I’d use him rather than start the arbitration clock for a Stephenson or Reed. I think the future is fairly bright for this pitching staff, but they aren’t quite ready to be prime time players at this point.

 

As far as the bullpen goes, it’s very much going to have to be a “wait-and-see” sort of situation. It seems that J.J. Hoover will get the first crack at the closer position, however few opportunities may be, with Jumbo Diaz likely the next guy up should Hoover falter.  Other than those two guys, it’s pretty much a crap-shoot. If any of the young starters knock the door down to the rotation, or when Lamb and/or Bailey return, it’s not inconceivable that Moscot, Finnegan, or Lorenzen could wind up as bullpen arms, but as of right now you’ve likely got Blake Wood, Tony Cingrani, Caleb Cotham, Carlos Contreras, and Rule V draftee Chris O’Grady in the mix.  Looking at Steamer, Diaz, Wood, and Cingrani all have projected ERAs of 3.50 or lower of the guys likely to get higher leverage spots. Being the Rule V guy, I am imagining O’Grady will wind up being hidden as the long man, but his projection is actually fairly nice, with a 3.49 ERA. If these are even halfway close to being reality, Diaz will likely be the closer in short order, because Hoover only projects to be replacement level. If I were running the team, I would hope one of those guys starts out super hot and try to move them in a trade to a relief deficient team come July. Carlos Contreras has electric stuff, and if he could just figure out where the ball is going, he could be an asset, but as he is now he’s your 6th or 7th guy out of the pen.

 

What about the manager? How does he help the f&6king Cincinnati Reds? (sorry, I had to)

I’m not going to sit here and say that wins and losses are the way to judge a manager. Bryan Price hasn’t really had a chance to show what he can do in a good situation, because this franchise has been slowly circling the drain since he was hired, and frankly, even before that. It might mean something that the team under-performed their expected record via Base Runs in 2015, but they were in the expected range of deviation the previous year, so it could have just been crappy cluster luck. Price is fairly aggressive on the base-paths, but he also has Billy Hamilton, so that may be a case of the players making the strategy for the manager rather than the other way around. They were 2nd in baseball in stolen base percentage so that’s a positive, for now. Price also had the Reds attempt 70 sacrifice bunts. Seventy sacrifice bunt attempts sounds like a whole lot, but it’s actually only 10th in the league. Only 3 of the 9 teams ahead of them were competitive teams, so maybe that’s a symptom of managers of bad teams trying too hard to “make something happen,” but I sure wouldn’t mind that sac attempt number being cut in half or thereabout. Price is one of the more careful managers in the league when it comes to pitcher usage, having only used a starting pitcher over the 101 pitch mark 44 times. Only 6 teams did that less, and I’d imagine that to be a good thing, with the youth on the pitching staff. Now, the negative. Price uses the intentional walk way too frequently, opting to intentionally walk 42 batters last season. Only 5 teams walked more, with Arizona, Anaheim, and Atlanta all leading the way with 45.

 

What’s the bottom line?

The Reds won 64 games last year, but as mentioned above, under-performing their Base Runs record by 9 wins. I don’t think this was ever a true talent 64 win team, and I don’t believe that to be the case now, either. The pitching should be slightly better, just with potential growth from guys like Iglesias or Lamb, and not giving innings to guys like Keyvius Sampson, David Holmberg, and Jason Marquis, and the defense should bounce back. While the offense loses Todd Frazier, they also re-gain Devin Mesoraco, so that may be a little closer to a wash. Just like how a team can under-perform their Base Runs, they can also over-perform them. See the 2015 Twins for that. Could the 2016 Reds be the 2015 Twins, and pseudo-contend, albeit with smoke and mirrors? Sure. It’s possible. It’s not very likely, but it’s possible that they could luck their way into 83-84 wins, or they could go in the toilet and win 64 again. I feel like this team is around a 73 win team on paper, but I’m not going to predict 73 wins. That’s boring. Let’s go with 75. 75-87 and a small step in the right direction towards 2017-18.

 

Check out Effectively Wild‘s season previews and the schedule of our own companion previews.

2013-15 team stats via FanGraphs. Salaries via Spotrac.

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