Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Cincinnati Reds PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 766
Runs Allowed: 831
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .249/.320/.408 (.251)
Total WARP: 18.9 (6.3 pitching, 12.6 non-pitching)
Craig Goldstein: The Reds are in a bit of pickle, in my opinion. They are molded as more of a classic rebuild, rather than the stripped-down-to-the-studs rebuild, but they’ve kinda been doing that classic rebuild for … five years now?
Patrick Dubuque: I’m out of the fantasy baseball business, but a cursory glance at the names on the Reds’ roster, especially on the pitching side, gives the impression of will-o-wisps trying to lure a young person in the later rounds of their draft to their doom. It’s a menagerie of pitching prospects, past and present, who haven’t quite busted yet but also have been whispering the same promises for years now, to the point where we know the words by heart. Stephenson will cut down the walks. Garrett wasn’t really healthy last year. Lorenzen’s a hell of an athlete. But what choice do the Reds have? You’ve got to keep walking, and this is the swamp they’re stuck with.
Goldstein: The pitching staff has been the Achilles’ heel of this team for a few years now, only if Achilles’ heel was actually his entire lower half. They’ve been one of the worst rotations in baseball the last few years, and while some of that is growing pains from the aforementioned young prospects, some of it is also Homer Bailey regrettably missing time and then, more regrettably, Homer Bailey pitching every fifth day. Luis Castillo provides some hope in that regard. He was the only Reds pitcher with more than 80 innings to post an ERA+ better than 100 last season. At some point he could be joined by Tyler Mahle, whom we think of as a back-of-the-rotation guy, but he does have some upside beyond that.
We can bemoan the status of the Reds staff of yore, but given the latent talent (Amir Garrett and Brandon Finnegan are both former premium prospects), is there even a whiff of a chance that something like what occurred with the Mets’ staff takes hold? Would it even matter?
Dubuque: It would sure help if they had a Travis d’Arnaud. The Reds had the worst walk rate as a staff in the National League last year, which was exacerbated by a collectively mediocre set of presenters behind the plate. Walk rates, especially in young pitchers, still tend to be stereotyped as some sort of willful act, a youthful cowardice; Lou Piniella used to fume about it constantly. And yet the Reds actually threw more pitches in the zone than the league on average; it’s just they tended to do it in 2-0 and 3-1 counts. If you’re trying to instill confidence in a young staff, that hardly seems like the way to go.
Goldstein: Throwing pitches in the zone on hitters’ counts seems like a good way to go about getting rocked, which is something the staff did on the regular. Not to mention, that is not the ballpark in which you want to be allowing contact.
The bats on the other hand aren’t bad, outside of Jose Peraza and Billy Hamilton. They should have more outfield depth with Jesse Winker and Phil Ervin in the fold, and Nick Senzel could provide a boost midseason—and word is they’re working him out at shortstop a bit. Losing Zack Cozart definitely hurts, but they’re not close enough to contention that it would have made sense to keep him, I suppose. Still, Senzel is a natural third baseman, and it’d seem to make more sense to shift Eugenio Suarez over to shortstop rather than Senzel.
Dubuque: Losing Cozart hurts, but they might have lost this particular Cozart even if they’d re-signed him; there was a lot of precedent in place before that .321 True Average showed up out of nearly nowhere. (PECOTA is even more skeptical than I am.)
The young hitters for the Reds, outside the few extremes, are a competent lot. Perhaps that’s why this rebuild, while hardly the achievement of a Houston or Chicago, might not be so bad; you’d rather have your pitching prospects be the wild cards, since pitching prospects are wild cards already. This rebuild looks a lot different if they hit on even one of those arms, beyond Castillo: where would the Astros have been at the beginning of their window without stumbling onto Dallas Keuchel, or the Cubs with Jake Arrieta? Unless there’s some coaching at the minor-league level—and I haven’t heard anything—can you blame the Reds for ignoring the market, just throwing all those pitchers against the wall, and hoping a few stick?
Goldstein: Not really, although it raises the question: was this offseason an opportunity for Cincinnati to put their foot on the accelerator in terms of their rebuild, and bring in a guy like Arrieta? As you said, the rebuild looks a lot different with one more breakout arm, beyond Castillo. Doesn’t it look way different with Arrieta, Castillo, and a breakout arm?
Dubuque: When it comes down to it—it being winning—every team should spend more money. It’s as simple as that. The Reds aren’t in quite the same position that the Phillies find themselves in, with a couple of graduated young players to bank on and a nice window already in place. A couple of injuries, a few stalled prospects and the team could find themselves needing to blow it up again in a year’s time. But even then, Arrieta’s probably not worthless, and even if he is, he’s not getting franchise-crippling money. The risk is, I think, overrated, and the team has a couple ways, either through service or trade, to get value out of him.
In order for the team to be on the upswing in, say, Year 2 of what is now a purely hypothetical Arrieta contract, they would have needed at least one of their young players to take a major step forward. Who’s most likely to exceed expectations, in your opinion?
Goldstein: It’s funny, because you said “franchise-crippling money” and Homer Bailey‘s face flashed across my mind. To answer your question: Senzel is best candidate for that, even though he’s not on the team yet. He’s mashed at every stop in the minor leagues, including some places that suppress power. While the knock on him (such as there are knocks on second overall picks) out of the draft was that the power might only be average, he’s slugged over .560 in two of this three minor-league stops, including Double-A.
He should arrive at some point this year, which means Year 2 of a hypothetical Arrieta contract would have been either the dreaded sophomore slump, as the league adjusts, or a year where he’s gotten his feet wet and builds upon his debut.
Dubuque: Maybe we should be talking about Year 3 of the Arrieta contract, which would have been Year 0 of the next Homer Bailey contract. To me, one of the key stories for 2018 will be the recovery of Anthony DeSclafani. Returning to the rotation woes, the Reds have already lost the real Bailey and two-thirds of Raisel Iglesias to injury, getting 60 innings a year instead of 200. A healthy third-ish starter would go a long way toward remedying that, if he’s capable of returning to the role. He never had the kind of weaponry to make the scouts sing, but his control and secondaries are good enough to keep the baserunners at a minimum, and even if the Reds are terrible again, at some point other teams are going to realize they still need starters, right? Right?
Goldstein: It’s difficult for me to fathom other teams trading for Reds pitchers, at this point, unless the Brewers need a BP pitcher for Eric Thames. Disco (Desclafani) did miss the 2017 season and PECOTA has him as a replacement-level pitcher, which seems unnecessarily harsh for a guy who amassed two WARP in 2017 in only 20 starts. Is there anyone else you think PECOTA is unduly down on?
Dubuque: You think Reds starters are bad? Wait until you get to the AL West segment of the previews, Craig. The Mariners and Rangers are slated to be around .500 and feature fifth starters with names their own parents can barely remember.
You’re the prospect guy, so you’ll have to tell me, but PECOTA’s 0.0 WARP projection for Tyler Mahle feels, at the very least, like it falls on the low end of expectations. Sure, the low-strikeout high-fly ball model isn’t the best fit ever for Great American, or for a fantasy team, but his control and high popup-luring tendencies in the minors make it easy to imagine holding down a spot in the back of the rotation fairly soon, especially this one. Any personal favorites of your own?
Goldstein: I tend to agree with your thoughts on Mahle. Even with the negative contextual factors, I’d struggle to see him being merely replacement level when called upon. He’s unlikely to be a season-saver, but then, this team is unlikely to have a season to save.
I don’t know that I could go so far as “personal favorite,” but Suarez at 1.5 WARP feels rather conservative. Suarez has cleared two wins every season since becoming a full-time player, and fell just shy of four wins last year. I know his defense has been up and down per FRAA, but the guy is entering his age-26 season, so I am failing to understand why it’s so down on the offense. Even if you regress Suarez toward his career norms, he should easily clear 1.5 wins, and that’s ignoring that at 25 he improved his walk rate, cut down his strikeouts, and added power. That’s the holy trifecta from a batting standpoint.
Dubuque: OK. So somehow we got through nearly 1,700 words about the Cincinnati Reds (and didn’t even touch on Joey Votto, because what’s there to say? He’s a late summer sunset). We know this is a 75-win team. We know they’re not making the playoffs. We know that their best-case scenario for 2019 is an 85-win team, that probably won’t make the playoffs.
So what are you doing if you’re a Reds fan this year? Usually seasons like this are for panning the stream of 8-5 losses looking for glints of gold, but these guys are all 25, 26. They’ve done that already. Is there some other way to actively consume this particular hue of baseball product? Have a Joey Votto poetry slam? Devise a variant of SB Nation, but with fansites that hate each team, just to mock the Cubs? How does one actually be a Reds fan right now?
Goldstein: Stick your head between your knees and pray? It’s tough because this team doesn’t really have a window. Their far-and-away best player is 34, and while he shows no signs of slowing down, time comes for all of us. I don’t have an answer to how to be a Reds fan in the short-to-mid term, so I’ll pivot to another question: We see a lot of talk about the Angels “wasting Mike Trout‘s career/prime,” but have we seen one way that ends with the Reds and Votto?
Dubuque: I’m going to go ahead and treat this as a rhetorical question.