Despite the dominant story lines of the winter — Reds trading away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, will Joey Votto be healthy?, will Jay Bruce bounce back?, everyone in the NL Central has gotten better, etc. — the Cincinnati Reds still have a pretty dadgum good team led by an open-minded, aggressive manager (who doubles as an evil pitching genius).
So let’s forget all the negative stuff and focus on why the Reds can contend in 2015:
Defense keeps you in nearly every ballgame, it makes average pitchers look good, good pitchers look great and it pays big dividends over the long haul. The Reds will once again feature one of the best defenses in all of baseball in 2015. The infield is strong across the board, led by Top 5 Defensive WAR performer Zack Cozart at SS. Billy Hamilton ranked as the best CF in the game according to FanGraphs, and Jay Bruce is a former #1-ranked RF.
Aroldis Chapman – The Hammer
Nothing else needs to be said other than: The Reds have Aroldis Chapman and every other major league team doesn’t. Well, maybe one other thing needs to be said: The guy with the 101-103 MPH heater showed last year he can throw not only one but TWO secondary pitches for strikes. Yikes.
Johnny Cueto – The Stopper
Forget the fact that Cueto will likely be suiting up for a different club in 2016 and make sure you really savor watching this cool customer hurl in a Reds uniform in 2015. The guy has been phenomenal. To go 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and .0960 WHIP in that ballpark with that offense is one of the more remarkable pitching seasons in recent history. If Clayton Kershaw doesn’t have a ridiculously ridiculous season, Johnny C walks away with the first Cy Young Award in Redlegs franchise history.
Cueto added the cut fastball in 2014, giving him five quality-to-devastating pitches in his arsenal. He’s a definite must-watch, and has been since his MLB debut, the day he struck out 10 Diamondbacks (without a walk) while allowing just one hit.
To have a chance, you need a stopper. And the Reds have Johnny Ortiz Cueto at their disposal.
Devin Mesoraco – The Clout
Offensively, ‘Raco’s 2014 season was one of the best for a Reds catcher in franchise history, as he finished with a 149 OPS+ and 4.8 WAR. To put that into context: Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi’s best OPS+ as a Red was 152 (1938 MVP season), Johnny Bench posted a 166 in 1972 but never had better than a 143 the rest of his years and Ed Bailey’s best was a 143 in 1956.
Defensively, #39 has work to do, but in his first full season behind the dish he ranked 11th overall on FanGraphs’ system. He gunned down 18 out of 69 (26%) would-be base stealers and that percentage has to improve. To put that into context: Buster Posey threw out thirty percent, Jonathan Lucroy nabbed 26, Russell Martin 38.5 and Yadier Molina took care of just under 48 percent.
Bottom line: The Reds have a catcher that can do serious damage in the middle of the lineup for the first time since … Eddie Taubensee? That was about fifteen years ago, my friend.
This is something that’s hard to prove, but you want to lean toward the law of averages. You’ve gotta think 2015 will see fewer injuries than 2014. Of course, certain guys are getting older (BP, Votto, even Bruce has a lot of mileage for a 28-year-old, Schumacher), but for the most part, it’s a relatively young, strong ball club.
Even a below average Votto season means more runs scored
Power numbers be damned. All we need is for Votto to be right around a .400 on-base percentage and the Reds will score more runs in ’15 than they did in ’14. More base runners equals more runs, it’s simple math. With the improvements of Frazier and ‘Raco, along with the expected bounce back of Bruce and the fact that Chris Heisey won’t get 300+ at-bats, somebody will drive Votto in. (I’d bat Votto in the 2-hole, for the record.)
The Jay Bruce bounce back
It’s gotta happen, right? The guy has too much pride. He no doubt has been studying, making adjustments, working drills, speaking with hitting gurus, learning from his mistakes, etc. I wouldn’t bet on JB being an MVP candidate, but as long as he can get near the numbers on the back of his baseball card, it’ll mean more runs scored.
Frazier and Billy H
Todd broke out in 2014, making his first All-Star team, finishing second in the HR derby and solidifying himself as one of the Top 5 third baseman in the game. HisÃ‚Â improved hitting approach and mechanics allowed Todd to be more consistent and thus more productive. Look for more of the same in 2015 with a truckload of enthusiasm and positivity to go with it.
Billy had a disappointing second half at the plate, but even so, he stole the 2nd most bases in MLB while ranking as the top defensive center fielder in all of baseball according to FanGraphs.
Overall, from an entertainment standpoint, this is a pretty freakinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ cool team. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got the hardest thrower and arguably the fastest man in the game. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got a catcher with clout, a smiling third sacker with cojones and an And-1 mixtape-style defensive second baseman. So, while itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s customary as a Cincinnati fan to focus on negatives, shortcomings, and a cloudy future, just remember this: At least Jimmy Haynes isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t your Opening Day starter this year!