The Reds are currently 5-19. They were never supposed to good but they weren’t necessarily supposed to be this bad either. Recently they decided to pursue new managerial direction, firing both the manager and pitching coach. Whether they were actually the problem is up for debate, but they haven’t exactly been a net positive.
In 2016, the Reds actually managed to have the worst pitching staff of all-time. This year, they’re already in last with an impressive -0.8 fWAR (the Marlins are second-worst at -0.2). Last year they finished with 3.6 fWAR on the season from their pitching staff. Luis Castillo was worth approximately half of that.
Last year was pretty interesting as the Reds finished 10th in position player WAR. This was primarily led by Joey Votto (6.6 fWAR), Zack Cozart (5.0 fWAR), and Eugenio Suarez (4.0 fWAR), with a whole cavalry of 1-2 fWAR players behind them.
They were, in a sense, at least interesting entering the year. They had the should-have-been NL MVP Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez who had made some impressive plate discipline gains, and a very intriguing Jesse Winker. Not to mention, Raisel Iglesias has been a stalwart in that bullpen and continued to be excellent. Luis Castillo looked like a budding ace, and there have long been intriguing arms that just needed to inch forward a bit to make substantial progress.
So how did we get here?
Well, Joey Votto’s been…”bad” with a 98 wRC+, Luis Castillo has actually been bad, carrying a 6.51 ERA into today, and FIP/xFIP isn’t particularly generous to him either. Eugenio Suarez is injured, and Raisel Iglesias has been quietly ineffective despite a 1.70 ERA. Jesse Winker has a 133 wRC+ but it’s buoyed by an unsustainable .442 OBP and he’s hitting the ball with no authority (.362 SLG%).
Everyone else has ranged from bad to, mainly, really bad.
The path forward for the Reds is very, very difficult to project. Joey Votto is one of the game’s premier players (he’s always had slow April starts), but will be thirty-five by the end of the season. Everyone says he’ll age well–and I agree–but he’s still aging. The Reds did well by locking up Suarez this offseason (seven years, $66 million), making him a significant part of their long-term plans. Stunningly, he’s only twenty-six years old.
For a team that seemingly isn’t going places anytime soon, this can be confusing to some people. But, this is one less position you have to worry about. These are nearly guaranteed future wins, and in the future when you want to win, wins tend to be pretty valuable. The Reds never fully tanked, but have endured a brutal rebuild. The Reds won ninety games in 2013, but since then have only cracked seventy wins once since that season.
If we give a team anywhere from four to five years for a rebuild, the Reds should realistically be kind of competitive by now, but they are still very far from it.
Now, generally rebuilding teams spend a lot of time and effort building their farm up, and the Reds have a really impressive one. The top end talent of Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Taylor Trammell looks great and it seems like Jose Siri might be lumped in with this group by midseason. They have some pretty ridiculous depth in their minors behind these three or four guys, and while there’s something to be said about building around position players, the Reds still look bad on the pitching side.
After Hunter Greene and Tyler Mahle, there’s nobody who jumps out to me immediately. They have a group of 45 FV pitchers who are interesting to be sure, but we’ll address this later.
Let’s go back to Nick Senzel. Despite a slow start at AAA, Nick Senzel is really good, and generally has been a consensus top prospect in baseball the last few years. He now finds himself as one of the best ten or so prospects in the game, and should be up in the summer at some point.
He’s a polished college bat, so he’s got a high floor and the recent history of advanced college bats in the majors has been pretty excellent. Remember when I talked about Eugenio Suarez almost guaranteeing future wins? Well, Senzel looks like a pretty sure-fire bet to provide a lot of value down the road. The Reds should lock him up.
I’m not going to go into really any detail regarding what the contract should look like, but a player like Scott Kingery provides an interesting comparison. In order to create a sustained competitive team, there needs to be deals like Anthony Rizzo, Jose Altuve (pre-extension), Salvador Perez, or Jose Ramirez. The Reds can’t continue to operate by handing out large contracts to lock up homegrown guys (Homer Bailey, Joey Votto). The Votto extension has obviously worked out, but the Reds can’t afford to have, say, two Joey Votto contracts.
Cincinnati is not a particularly large market. Extensions for Eugenio Suarez, and the unheralded Tucker Barnhart are an enormous step in the right direction. Building around position players is a really terrific strategy; just go ahead and ask the Astros and Cubs how that’s worked out for them. Hell, lock up Winker while you’re at it. All of a sudden the Reds have a core they can build around.
The current problem the Reds also face is that outside of this hypothetical core, the Reds are still really bad. I hope there’s a day that we can finally acknowledge Billy Hamilton just isn’t very good, and we can all be happy with him as a defensive/baserunning specialist off the bench. In fact, when Taylor Trammell is ready, if Hamilton isn’t shifted to the bench I will burn myself alive.
We can also continue to delude ourselves that Jose Peraza will ever be anything, and Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall will have their customary hot month or so of the season and then continue to just be…there.
But, on the bright side, the Reds have a lot of position player prospects who are quite good and shouldn’t need to rely on these players for too much longer.
Given the most recent analysis in this article, it may seem like we should be bullish on the Reds and their prospects. I have a lot of faith in the position player side, but honestly, that doesn’t really matter very much.
How could basically half of your team not mean much?
Is it just the pitching?
Well, kind of, but not entirely. I’m not sure if you’ve ever listened to a Reds broadcast, but if you haven’t, you are one of the lucky ones.
What does the broadcast have anything to do with this?
Thank you me, I’m glad I asked. For anyone who’s ever listened to this broadcast, the announcers have been about twenty years behind everything related to baseball. This also extends to fans of the Reds (sorry to the ten of you), as well as radio personalities.
And the biggest roadblock of them all, for any of you familiar with Cincinnati, is that the city is ran by only a few powerful families. You may not have expected this from a city whose literal claim to fame is a gross chili, but yes, nepotism and tenure run amok here, more than almost any city in America.
Starting to see where this is becoming an issue?
The same people who got the Reds into this mess in the first place, are the same people running this team. Remember what a disaster of a tenure Walt Jocketty had as General Manager? Remember how the decisions he made are still hindering the team’s progress today? Me too, I’m glad he’s no longer a part of the organization. Instead he’s serving as Executive Adviser to the CEO of the Cincinnati Reds. Wait a minute.
This combination of the city’s obsession with keeping around garbage for the sake of keeping garbage around, as well as the general inadequacy of understanding modern baseball, will continue to cannibalize this team.
The Reds are about three years late to teams going almost entirely data driven. The major turnarounds the last few years (Astros, Cubs, Indians, Diamondbacks, Twins) have been almost entirely due to a philosophical change within the organization. The Twins and Diamondbacks turned themselves around in a year with a new regime change. It’s more than just coincidence.
Even the teams that aren’t competing are at least kind of experimenting with some things. The Rays, for example, have obviously been throwing bullpen games. They also made it a point to cut their bad fastball hitters this offseason. Maybe both didn’t, or won’t work as a whole, but through that maybe they learned something valuable.
Player development goes hand in hand with analytics. For example, last year Luis Castillo was always zigging. Well, this year the league has zagged. And Luis Castillo keeps zigging. I know these are professional athletes, but lately the league strategy has been pretty homogenous. The front office feeds information to the coaches, coaches generally feed information to players. The players then obviously carry out the adjustments and suggestions made by both the analytics department and coaches.
Now, truth be told, I think Dick Williams has done a pretty good job at reversing the damage from the Jocketty years so far and deserves more credit as an executive than he’s gotten. Unfortunately, I don’t think the organization as a whole has bought into analytics. When you have the old guard (remember the “Twins Way”?) still firmly intact, and when you’re in a city where the old guard is the right guard, it could very well be even more years before we see Cincinnati begin to buy in to these ideas.
Data is so shockingly cheap to purchase but is so valuable, considering it is a buyer’s market. The Reds can’t afford to buy wins in free agency necessarily, but they could afford to develop wins. They just don’t want to because of the irrational boomer fear of computers and the rise of the machines.
This is more than acquiring pitchers through free agency or trade. It’s more than just drafting pitchers and throwing them against a dart board and hoping one of them sticks. That’s not strategy. That’s Reds baseball.
You can have as many pitching prospects as you want. You can have a 60 FV, a 55 FV, and a multitude of 45/50 FV’s and I wouldn’t trust the Reds to develop really any of them. Why? Because that’s basically what’s happened the last five years, sans Luis Castillo. He had a good year last year and, case in point, the Reds seemingly just decided they were done helping him with anything so far this year.
And yes, it could be a small sample size thing. It’s still April, obviously and some starters take longer to get in game form than others. But this doesn’t excuse the rest of the abysmal track record the Reds have with pitchers.
While the thesis of many Reds articles seems to be getting better pitching, and I agree, I think this misses the bigger picture.
The Reds need a complete rebrand. Change the jerseys, wipe out the old regime, and pound analytics and player development. It’s shocking how fast an organization can turn around with the both of those, and it’s not like the Reds are lacking in intriguing arms. It’s more than a rebuild that the Reds are currently enduring; it’s the undulating dilapidation of player development and analytics. Maybe one day we’ll see the Reds be competitive again, but until then, Joey Votto is just gonna keep cloggin’ dem bases.