This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Reds, who aside from a few bright spots, are coming off an injury-plagued, forgettable year. Second-year manager Bryan Price has quite a task on his hands to get these guys back into contention, but if they can stay healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to do it.
Projected Lineup: CF Billy Hamilton, 3B Todd Frazier, 1B Joey Votto, C Devin Mesoraco, RF Jay Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, LF Marlon Byrd*, SS Eugenio Suarez*
Projected Rotation: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Mike Leake, RHP Anthony DeSclafani*, RHP Jason Marquis*
* new additions
The Reds are not a bad team.
Repeat that with me. The Reds are not a bad team. Write it on the chalkboard over and over like Bart Simpson until the message sinks in.
So much went wrong for the Reds last season that you can hardly blame them for the poor finish: Aroldis Chapman took a liner to the face. Joey Votto missed more than half the season. Ryan Ludwick played in Major League Baseball games. All these things normally spell doom for a team, but the Reds actually managed quite well despite their unfortunate circumstances.
In fact, their pitching was nothing short of phenomenal.
Let’s start with Johnny Cueto, who had a pitching season for the ages last year.
First of all, he won 20 games for a sub-.500 team, the first guy to do that since R.A. Dickey in 2012. He also led the National League in hits per nine innings as well as total innings pitched, the first guy to do that since Greg Maddux in 1994. And he did all that while pitching in Cincinnati, in one of the biggest bandbox ballparks in the league!
With Johnny Cueto anchoring the staff, the rest of the guys should fill the 2-5 slots with quality.
Keep an eye on Mike Leake in particular, because I think he’s on the cusp of an All-Star season. He’s been pitching a lot deeper into games, and finished sixth in the NL in total innings pitched last season. If he can continue to improve, he’ll be a solid #2 starter.
Having the best closer in the game doesn’t hurt, either—Aroldis Chapman struck out more than half the batters he faced last year. With him closing out games, and a halfway-decent group of starters, the pitching will always keep the Reds in ball games.
The offense is where they need some work.
Billy Hamilton is kind of a crap shoot. He’s deadly when he gets on base, but more often than not he either strikes out or hits a weak fly ball to the outfield.
And therein lies my big question for Billy Hamilton: If you’re the fastest guy in baseball, why are you hitting fly balls?
Anybody who’s seen Major League will tell you that for fast guys, be they Hamilton or Willie Mays Hayes, it’s better to drop down a grounder and leg out the infield single. But Hamilton must not have seen that movie. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is just 0.73:1, which is well below the Major League average. That means he’s hitting a higher percentage of fly balls than most players in baseball, a pool which includes all the big home run guys—i.e., the players who actually should be hitting fly balls.
If Hamilton makes that slight adjustment at the plate, that alone could get the team’s offense back on track. Todd Frazier, coming off of a breakout year, will benefit by seeing better pitches to hit. Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco will have more RBI opportunities, and just like that, one cog activates the entire big red machine.
You’ll notice an absence of Zack Cozart in my projected starting lineup. Generally, when a guy is bad enough to be the worst qualifying hitter in baseball by OPS+, management should ask themselves why he’s a qualifying hitter. I expect Cozart to receive much less playing time this year, especially with newcomer Eugenio Suarez in the fold.
The Reds are built to win now. Cueto is an impending free agent, and I don’t see the Reds putting together any type of playoff run unless he’s involved. Depending on how they stand at the trade deadline, look for the Reds to either go all-in and add help, or to cut their losses and trade Cueto.
Projected Finish: 83-79, Third place in NL Central