Here are two things that are true about the 2016 and 2017 Reds. One is that their record is one of the worst in baseball. That’s irrefutable. Through Tuesday, the Reds are 45-66. Their .405 winning percentage is the third-lowest in the National League, better than only the Giants and Phillies. Last year, they were 68-94, tied with the Padres for the worst record in the league.
The second thing that’s true about both the 2016 and 2017 Reds is that their pitching staff is bad. Last year, the Reds had an ERA of 4.91, 13th in the league. Or, if you prefer a pitching statistic that’s more process-driven than output-driven, their DRA was 5.14, also 13th. This year? It’s even worse. They’re last in ERA, 5.22, and last in DRA, 5.80. Their WARP is -4.5, which means that Reds pitchers have cost the club four-and-a-half wins relative to replacement-level hurlers.
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One year ago, when the All-Star game loped into the eighth inning, the National League team trailed 4-2, and then-Yankees terror Andrew Miller came in to face the third wave of Terry Collins’ squad. To spare you the mess of a Midsummer Classic box score: After two outs and two singles, it became apparent that the ultimate destination of the tying runner would be decided by Reds outfielder Adam Duvall and Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz.
Duvall was hitting .249 to that point in 2016—in his first sizeable stretch of major-league action after coming over from San Francisco in the Mike Leake trade—and getting on base at just a .288 clip. But (but!) he’d tallied 23 homers for a team that, by rule, needed an All-Star. When he stepped into the box, you could almost hear the chorus emanating from America’s armchairs. Adam Duvall? Who’s that?
Cincinnati views the rookie left-hander as a long-term building block, but maybe he's in the wrong role.
The Reds are treating Amir Garrett like a central part of their rebuild, and perhaps a part of their very long-term future. After his start on Saturday, Garrett was optioned to Triple-A, a move the Reds say will allow them to manage his innings and keep him on the mound well into September—an important consideration, if you’re willing to make a certain set of assumptions, because the team leads the NL Central at the moment.
Of course, a more cynical person might point out that the Reds are unlikely to be contending by the time Labor Day comes, so Garrett could just as easily be shut down then to protect him from accumulating an undue workload for the full season. That person might also observe that the demotion will probably last long enough to keep Garrett from accruing a full season of service time this year, thus delaying his potential free agency by a year. If that person were a real bulldog, they might also say that Garrett turned 25 years old last week, has faced between 550 and 600 batters in each of the past three seasons while in the minors, and might not really need this kind of protection.
This season is old enough to know better, but some early hitting performances really stand out.
I know it’s still too early in the season to draw meaningful conclusions about much of anything because my beloved Twins have a winning record, but we are far enough along that only seven hitters with 100 or more plate appearances are beating their 90th percentile PECOTA projections by at least 200 points of OPS. Two of those seven, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, are great hitters off to especially strong starts, leaving five genuine, out-of-nowhere surprises among full-time position players. By the end of the season they may all have turned back into pumpkins, but in the meantime my curiosity is piqued.
The Situation: The Reds found themselves without Homer Bailey and Anthony Desclafani, the former due to bone chips, the latter to an elbow sprain. Cincinnati decided to press some of their young prospect arms into service, and Amir Garrett—their top pitching prospect—will get the ball every fifth day at the back of the Redlegs rotation.
The Background: The Reds drafted Garrett in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft, but gave him a cool million bucks as part of a two-sport deal that also allowed him to play basketball at St. John’s. As you’d expect, he moved rather slowly through the Cincinnati system, not getting an extended full-season ball assignment until 2014, while playing 20+ minutes a game as a swingman for the Red Storm in the offseason. Since he started focusing fully on baseball, Garrett’s stuff and performance ticked up and posted sub-3.00 ERAs the last two years, striking out nearly a batter an inning. He will turn 25 in a month, but there may be more improvements yet to come considering how late he came to baseball full-time.
Reds prospect Zach Vincej explains how he changed his hitting approach through tinkering and ignoring cliches.
Late last May, Zach Vincej’s career was on life support. He’d turned 25 years old a few weeks earlier and was playing for the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola—or, worse and more accurately, not playing for them.
Traded from the Reds to the Marlins, Dan Straily is an example of how new pitching data can help change a repertoire.
For nerdy baseball fans, the worst trade of the offseason was the Reds’ swap of Dan Straily to the Marlins. That’s not because there was an especially egregious mismatch in value in the deal; it was because the move separated Straily from the Reds’ beat reporters.
Just before being dealt, Straily spent almost an hour on a podcast with Zach Buchanan, one of the Reds writers for the Cincinnati Enquirer (and author of the Reds chapter in this year's Baseball Prospectus Annual). It was a delightful listening experience: wide-ranging but detailed, relaxed, smart. They talked about hunting and (ironically) what it’s like to be blindsided by a trade. My favorite discussion centered on the trip to Driveline Baseball from which Straily had returned just before the interview.