Despite what it may feel like, this Reds season is far from over. To be exact, 96% of the season has not been played yet. But we have already reached a point where doubt and concern have reared their heads. Injuries, roster decisions, and poor play out of the gate have led to some pessimistic feelings, despite a strong off-season and favorable projections. Others are looking on the bright side, like our own Nick Kirby, who likes what he has seen despite the poor results.
Aside from how we choose to feel about the Reds so far, there are objective observations we can look at to try and understand what we have seen. Small sample sizes for individual stats make it impossible and illogical to predict what will happen based on five games, but there are other facts we can look at. One of those is Win Probability Added.
As Nick pointed out in the article linked above, three of the four losses were very close games, all decided by one run. To get a sense for just how close the games were, I used individual Win Probability Added, which considers the leverage of each at-bat and quantifies how much it contributed to the result, either positively or negatively. Looking at some key player’s performances in the Milwaukee series, the results are very telling. These games had very high leverage situations, and given the quality players that under performed, things could have easily gone the Reds way. The player details show just how close and volatile the games were.
Iglesias trended downward for most of 2018, giving up more hard contact and more home-runs per fly ball than ever before. Only time will tell if he will return to his dominant form from 2016 and 2017, but his appearance on Monday was certainly a step in the wrong direction.
April 1st was the 8th worst game in terms of WPA (-0.30, or a 30% decrease in win probability) in his career. Iglesias gave up a 9th inning double to Ryan Braun which broke a 3-3 tie and earned himself a loss. In his career, Iglesias has 26 losses or blown saves, and this was a bad game even relative to those as this fell into the bottom 4% of all games he has ever played. A poor performance in a very high leverage situation proved too much to overcome for the Reds.
Votto is another Red who had a forgettable 2018 (at least for Joey’s standards) and looks to bounce back this year. No stranger to slow starts, Joey failed to convert on some crucial opportunities this week that could have not only boosted his stats, but given the Reds some wins.
On Monday, Votto came to the plate against Josh Hader in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on second, needing just a single to tie the game. Wednesday, he also had an at-bat with a runner on in the bottom of the 9th. Both appearances ended in fly outs.
Both games are in the bottom 2% of -WPA (total negative WPA) for his career. He didn’t have awful games overall, but those plate appearances had high enough leverage to drive significant negative value, something that Votto does not normally do.
Lorenzen has not been quite as reliable as Iglesias in the Reds bullpen, but he is still a valuable asset who has been above average each of the past three seasons. On Tuesday, Lorenzen entered the game with two outs and two on, coming on to face Orlando Arcia, who blasted a three-run homer to break the 1-1 tie. That reduced the Reds chances of winning by 34%, and contributed to the 7th worst game (bottom 4%, in terms of WPA) of Michael’s career.
On Wednesday, Suarez was the Reds last chance with two outs and a runner on, needing an extra base hit to avoid the shutout. Eugenio had gotten his first homer in Tuesday’s game, and given he went five straight games with a dinger last year, a walk-off was not out of the question. He could have improved the Reds chances of winning by 80% and had the highest WPA game of his career.
Unfortunately, he grounded out and ended the game. Given the poor result and amount of leverage tied to that at-bat, it came in as his 12th worst WPA, or bottom 2% of his career. Interestingly, his strong game on Tuesday is in the top 2% of his career, as his performance improved the Reds chances to win by 31%.
A Reds post this week would not be complete without a mention of how poorly Scott Schebler has played. I personally am still high on Scott, but his WPA this week (along with every other stat), particularly against the Brewers, was very, very low.
Some key at bats were his RBI groundout with bases loaded on Tuesday (-0.019 WPA), 8th inning strikeout on Wednesday (-0.063 WPA), and his 9th inning strikeout against Hader on Monday (-0.163 WPA). All told, these game totals of WPA are the 14th, 17th, 19th worst of his career, all in the bottom 5%.
The Brewers are a good team who won 96 games last year. Given their shutdown bullpen, it is no surprise they went 33-19 in one run games in 2018. And while Josh Hader pitched well and picked up two saves this week, it was a starting pitcher and outfielder who did the heavy lifting.
Freddy Peralta is beginning just his second season in the big leagues, but his performance Wednesday (0.64 WPA) nearly doubled his next best WPA output from last year (0.37 WPA, also vs the Reds). That’s what happens with 11 strikeouts over 8 innings and only one run of support. Peralta put Milwaukee on his back in a big way.
Ryan Braun, who has played over 1500 games in his career, turned in the 21st best WPA of his career, breaking into the top 1%. Braun’s late double off Iglesias on Monday ultimately gave the Brew Crew their first of three victories in what proved to be a disappointing but very closely contested week in Cincinnati.