Over the past five seasons, no team in the National League has lost more games than the Cincinnati Reds.
That fact bears repeating. As of the morning of August 24, since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Reds have won eight fewer games than the second-worst team in the league and 10 fewer games than the third-worst team in the league. Meanwhile, they’re sitting 116 wins behind the best team in the league and 106 back of the top team in the Central.
In the past four seasons, nine of the 15 teams in the NL have reached the playoffs, with two of the remaining six clubs (some combination of Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee) likely to make the postseason this year. That will leave just four NL teams who haven’t played past game #162 since Opening Day 2014 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Padres, the Marlins, the Reds and whichever of the three drought-busters falls short this year.
Like the Padres and the Marlins, the Reds have not finished a season with a .500 record during this stretch, making them the only three teams in the league that have failed to do so. The closest they came was in 2014, Bryan Price’s first year on the job, when they went 76-86. (San Diego won 77 that same year Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a number they haven’t topped since Ã¢â‚¬â€œ while Miami’s best attempt was in 2016, when they won 79.)
As those numbers imply, the Reds have been the most reliably bad team in the league over the past five years. If you project clubs’ 162-game 2018 records based on their current winning percentages, the Reds have the lowest variance and standard deviations over the last five years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which is basically a fancy way of saying that they’ve been better at being consistently lousy than any of their NL peers.
We hear about Ã¢â‚¬Å“positive momentumÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“winning culture,Ã¢â‚¬Â but the numbers don’t lie. The Reds have neither, and the inexplicable decision to retain Matt Harvey for the balance of the current lost-cause season shows they still have no inclination to change that. The only possible justification I can see is that management fears Harvey might like it better in Milwaukee Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a team on its way to a second-straight 85+ win season, as well as a possible playoff berth (in other words, a club with actual positive momentum) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and the Reds would have less of a chance of signing him in the offseason.
To which I say, so what? Yes, the recent performances of Robert Stephenson have been discouraging, and Tyler Mahle was obviously sent down for a reason, but still, Harvey has averaged just 5 1/3 innings per start Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the same exact amount he threw just hours after the Reds decided to keep him around. Even if you ignore his first two games after joining the team (when he was pulled after just four innings), he’s still averaging less than 5 2/3 innings per start and has pitched into the 7th just three times.
For the sake of comparison, here’s how the Reds’ other starters have fared this year on average:
Mahle: 5 innings
Luis Castillo: 5 1/3 innings
Homer Bailey (pre-injury): 5 innings
Bailey (post-injury): 6 innings
Sal Romano: 5 1/3 innings
Anthony DeSclafani: 5 2/3 innings
In short, Harvey isn’t doing anything that the rest of the rotation isn’t doing already, and with one exception, the others are doing it for a much more economical price.
The best spin I’ve seen on the Harvey trade is that it led to the signing of Curt Casali. Even if you buy that argument, though, there’s no way to justify Harvey taking away starts down the stretch from Stephenson, Mahle, Cody Reed, Lucas Sims and others who, barring a trade, will definitely report to Goodyear next spring. If Harvey ends up doing the same, don’t get me wrong Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I’ll cheer him on as much as the next guy and hope from here to Gotham City that he’ll give the Reds have a fighting chance of winning every fifth game Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but the powers-that-be seem to think that by holding onto him, they’re making a down payment toward the future. Unfortunately, that payment has come with a hefty opportunity cost.