The Reds have gone 17-21 since August 1st, and negativity on the Internet is at a season low. Ok, it might not be as bad as it was during the 1-8 start in April. Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the positive developments that have happened this season. I’ve also apparently written this type of article in each of the last two years, why not keep it going for a third year?

Starting Rotation

In 2018, the Reds starting rotation had a 5.02 team ERA, fifth worst in MLB, and a 4.88 FIP, fourth worst in the league. In the off season, Reds fans started a hashtag on Twitter after the front office talked about getting the pitching. The front office stuck to their word and #gotthepitching. Adding both Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark for the first half of the season proved to be great moves. Roark wasn’t an ace, but he gave the Reds much-needed innings while posting a 4.24 ERA in 21 starts. After Roark was traded, the Reds essentially replaced Roark with Trevor Bauer. Bauer hasn’t been good since the Reds acquired him (4.36 FIP), but he has a career 3.91 FIP and the potential to contribute to an already stacked rotation in 2020.

Gray, however, has been the most pleasant surprise this season, resurrecting a career that looked like it might be on life support last year with the Yankees. After a dazzling month of August in which he had a 0.74 ERA and struck out 44 in 36.2 innings, Gray has lowered his ERA to 2.75 and his FIP to 3.38. He only needs 19 more strikeouts to reach 200 and will finish very close to 200 innings (he’s currently at 157.2).

Add Luis Castillo, a healthy Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle or Alex Wood, and pitching guru Derek Johnson to the mix and you have a rotation that has moved up to 9th in MLB in team FIP and all the way up to 5th in xFIP. Now instead of clamoring for the Reds to “get the pitching” this offseason, fans will be tweeting “get the offense.”

The New Dynamic Duo

Once upon a time, the two can’t-miss Reds prospects were Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. They came up through the organization together and were best friends off the field. For awhile, they were the cornerstone pieces of the Reds offense. Well, now the Reds may have another dynamic pair. They’re not at the level of Votto and Bruce, but Nick Senzel and Josh VanMeter

From the moment Senzel was called up, he’s played nearly every day. He’s shown why he was the Reds top prospect, posting a .263/.325/.455 slash line and a 98 wRC+ from May to the All-Star break. He’s also adjusted to center field very well. He has the speed to track down balls and has a good throwing arm. As of late, Senzel’s bat has cooled down, but he’s also dealt with some day-to-day injuries in the second half.

VanMeter doesn’t have near the track record as Senzel, but he too has made the most of his opportunities. Right now, his starts can be considered as auditions for next year, and he’s done nothing but hit at both levels he’s played at this year. VanMeter hit 14 home runs and had an OPS of 1.097 at Triple-A Louisville, and while he hasn’t replicated that at the big league level, he does have a .780 OPS with six home runs in 76 games. He’s also shown his versatility by playing first, second and left field when called upon.

A Breakout Year

Amir Garrett has always been a good reliever. This season he’s taken it up a notch, particularly in the first half. With a 1.70 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 37.0 innings, he had a chance at being an All-Star if not for being a middle reliever.  In 50.2 innings this season, Garrett has a 2.84 ERA with 73 strikeouts. He’s given up only six home runs and is in the top 3 percent of the league with an xSLG% (expected slugging) of .296. Garrett has definitely been a lefty specialist as well. He has a 2.76 FIP against lefties, but a 4.30 FIP against righties. Much of that is because five of the six home runs he’s allowed have been to righties. His struggle in 2019, however, has been walking batters. He has allowed 32 walks and his BB% sits at 14.6%, in the bottom two percent of the league.

Front Office Moves

From hiring an analytically minded manager to making trades that make sense for 2020, Dick Williams and his staff did a good job in actually advancing the rebuild this season. After picking David Bell to be the leader on the field, he allowed Bell to hire well-known and established coaches in Johnson and Turner Ward.

Trading for Gray and Yasiel Puig were two of the better trades in recent Reds history. Williams did things in a different way than MLB front offices have done business lately, acquiring free agents to try to win this year instead of hoarding prospects under team control for years. When that route didn’t work, he followed through and traded those free agents to get something of value back instead of just letting those players walk at the end of the season. He didn’t hold onto them to appease the fans. Did he make all the right moves? Maybe not. But it’s a far cry from the early stages of the rebuild when it seemed the Reds didn’t want to cut ties with players too soon for fear of fan backlash.

Right Fielders

From the moment Puig documented his first trip to Cincinnati on one of the coldest days of the year, he was a fan favorite in Cincinnati. He brought an energy with him that was desperately needed within the fan base. Puig only hit .252/.302/.475 with a .777 OPS while he was with the Reds, but he gave the fans something they had been wanting the last couple of years–exciting entertainment at Great American Ball Park. The home runs he did hit were bombs, he got a couple bat flips in there, and his throws from right field to home plate were done with perfect accuracy.

When Puig was traded, no one expected Aristides Aquino to do what he has done. As the Reds slowly slipped out of contention in August, Aquino gave fans a reason to tune in every night. Every home run he hit was a record setter for fastest to that number in a certain number of plate appearances. He has 15 home runs already and there’s still three weeks left. Now the question becomes, “Can he get to 20?”

Back to Winning

It’s been fun to watch the Reds be a relatively competitive team this season. It’s been much more fun to watch the fun personalities on this team. From Yasiel Puig to Jose Iglesias to Derek Dietrich, there was never a shortage of shenanigans posted to players’ Instagram stories or the Reds social media channels. And that doesn’t include the returning players like Eugenio Suarez, Michael Lorenzen and Joey Votto, who always been entertaining on and off the field. Regardless of the record, 2019 had a different feel to it and because of that, I enjoyed the season more than the previous four seasons. I have faith that Dick Williams and Nick Krall will make a big splash in the off season and the Reds will come back in 2020 better than they have been in a long time.

Stats current through September 5th. All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant.

19 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    There’s definitely been improvement this season. It’s more than obviously. You don’t need any deep saberstats to see this.

    Most obvious is the pitching. Not only the starters, but I will put in there the first half of the season for the relievers. Not so much since the break, I agree. But, before the break, they were still one of the best in baseball, also.

    We still have needs, of course. But, we see a front office who is more likely to adress those needs. Hopefully, at least what I see, we will:

    – Shore up the bullpen (probably use 1-2 left handers in there, also)
    – Yes, find the offense. I could see trusting the young studs trying to improve themselves. I believe I remember reading somewhere that Senzel believes he can be a 300 hitter. And, given his performance in the minors, I believe he would at least work for it. If we make any move, I believe it’s going to take some creativity. For, I don’t see us having much to trade. And, at the positions would could replace easily to improve offense (SS, 2nd, C), I don’t see any replacements that we would pay for.
    – Develop the minors. Get some instructors down there and press these kids on to get better. We need them to step up, at all levels. Especially pitching. I see none down there.

    • jon

      sounds crazy but trading suarez now while his ceiling is at its peak. Slide senzel to 3rd.What could they get for Suarez?

  2. RedNat

    Weird season in the sense that the big league club has had some good moments but the minor league players have been such a huge disappointment this year. At the beginning of the year I was hoping in September we would be seeing Siri, Trammel and possibly even India up here making a big splash with Senzel as a budding superstar. Well that didn’t exactly work out!

    The team is going to have to spend a lot of money in 2020 on POSITION players to be competitive and I was hoping that was not going to be the case going into the offseason.

  3. another bob in nc

    This is sort of like Mrs. Lincoln saying, “Other than that, the play was pretty good.”

    You made good points, AD. Sorry for taking my frustration out on you.

  4. SultanofSwaff

    I’m not sure when you say the front office has done a good job advancing the rebuild it is a true statement. I like what they’ve done and don’t want them sacked, but they unloaded nearly half our top 10 prospects for immediate benefit and we’re still 10 games below .500 with no improvement (sorry, meant to say MOMENTUM) in the second half.

    So frustrating…….like it takes an act of God to finish .500 when teams I thought had no shot (D-Backs/Rangers/Giants) win more than us in spite of themselves. And don’t get me started on the Cardinals……..

  5. Linkster

    Sorry to be a downer but, the improvements have just shifted around from one area to another. The Reds still need two solid starters, five bullpen players (with two being studs). Giant holes up the middle (except center) and need for some players that can hit. What they have found is a solid #2 (Gray) and some really good utility players (Van Meter, Galvis, Farmer). BTW, a great pitching coach, a very green manager and a hitting coach no one has bought into.

  6. Mason Red

    I admire anyone who can actually see positives with this team but to me the entire organization is a mess. The minors are suddenly bare which isn’t good for a franchise that doesn’t draft or develop very well.

  7. D

    Another bob from n.c. ,best post of 2019

  8. CI3J

    The thing is, the Reds should be much improved if they don’t do anything this offseason and keep the team as it is. To wit:

    1. Winker, Bauer, and Wood are all injured. If all 3 can come back healthy and play up to their skills, those will be huge boosts to the team. Winker is a .300/.400 hitter with 20 HR power, Bauer can be, at the very least, a very good #2 pitcher with the ability to be an ace, and Wood is a #2-#3 pitcher. It shouldn’t be too much to ask them to be healthy and just play their game.

    2. Senzel, VanMeter, Winker, and Aquino will all have MLB experience, will all be another year older and more physically mature, and should all be able to improve on what they have shown this season. VanMeter especially I think is being criminally overlooked, some are already referring to him as a “bench bat” or “utility player”. NO! The dude is a legit hitter, stick him at 2B and the Reds will have solved that position for the foreseable future.

    3. Suarez, despite his HR, has actually not hit as well as he did last season. He’s about to enter his age 28 season, which traditionally marks the beginning of a player’s prime. I expect him to eclipse the 4.2 WAR he put up last year and top 5 WAR. He has the tools, he just needs to put everything together.

    4. Galvis/Iggy are fine at SS. Neither is an awesome hitter, but they ain’t Billy Hamilton either. At least they will put up respectable offense stats.

    5. Votto….. Well…. Hopefully, he can put up about 2 WAR. Not ideal from the 1B position, but eh.

    6. Bullpen pieces are easy to replace. The Reds already have a pretty decent backend (Iggy’s struggles aside), so if they pick up a few useful pieces, they should be fine.

    7. Bell will have a year’s experience under his belt. Hopefully he has learned a lot this year and will be ready to apply it next year.

    All of this isn’t to say the Reds shouldn’t look to improve in the offseason. They need bullpen pieces. If they can upgrade the rotation for a reasonable cost ($$$ or prospects), they should. If they can improve at SS or C, they should. But things are not as bad as they seem. Honestly, the season did not go well this year, but the Reds were still competitive until very recently. Imagine if things go normal, or heck, if things go RIGHT. I firmly believe that the team, as currently constructed, could contend for a playoff spot next season.

    • Sliotar

      IMO, there is a lot of love given at RLN to marginal guys…guys who wouldn’t get a sniff on really good teams.

      And, a free pass (mostly) given to the front office for collecting a meh collection of positon players…and no near-term help in the farm system.

      2019 WAR by position for Reds, as of today

      C- 1.4
      1B – 0.7
      2B – 0.8
      SS – 1.5
      3B – 3.9
      LF – 1.1
      CF – 0.2
      RF – 1.4

      2 WAR is a rule of thumb goal for as a baseline goal for production at a position.

      The good NL teams have 3 position players, minimum, at/close to 3 WAR each.

      The odds of the Reds seeing internal upgrades across the positions, with the platooning and scheduled “sit down” days, etc. with this same cast and making the playoffs feels …. slim.

      Senzel, Aquino, Winker all have to bust out next year…and you still have 2B and Votto as potential black holes offensively, plus the catchers aren’t 25 years old.

      Lots of work to do this winter by front office to think of this as a 90-win team.

    • Jon

      Doing little or nothing to upgrade the Reds this winter would be the worst approach the team could follow. 2019 was a year in which the Reds could have gotten to the postseason ONLY if everything went correctly. But it didn’t. Kemp was useless, Puig had a horrible two months to start to the season, Votto had a terrible first half, Gennett was injured during ST and never contributed anything to the team, Schebler (the Opening Day right fielder)…well, we all know how that turned out. Barnhart’s first three months or so were awful offensively, Winker and Senzel have battled health issues throughout the season (as well as throughout their careers). Hernandez, Hughes, and Iglesias were not the same shutdown bullpen trio they were last year. Don’t forget Zach Duke and Wandy Peralta…

      Obviously the Reds had some bright spots this year. Another solid year from Suarez, and All-Star years from Castillo and Gray top the list. Dietrich had a good two months. Aquino has proven that he deserves at least a bench role on the 2020 team, if not more. Lorenzen has opened Bell’s eyes and will receive more outfield time and at-bats in 2020. Jose Iglesias has made a case to be re-signed as shortstop for 2020, if the Reds choose to go that route.

      However, back to my original point. The Reds must proactively upgrade their roster this winter and not sit back and hope for everything to go perfectly in 2020. (SPOILER: IT WON’T!) Position players will get injured, starting pitchers will get injured, bullpen guys will get injured. This is not to mention that most of the position players for the Reds in 2019 played at a below-average level. The Reds must look to upgrade anywhere they can and anywhere they can afford to do so, whether it costs cash or costs prospects. The only position players who have a definite spot on the 2020 roster are Votto, Suarez, and Senzel, with Winker being a near-lock unless he is packaged as part of a trade.

  9. Shchi Cossack

    With Bell’s lineups, there is little hope for next season.

    1. Alex Blandino (R) DH
    2. Joey Votto (L) 1B
    3. Eugenio Suarez (R) 3B
    4. Aristides Aquino (R) RF
    5. Jose Iglesias (R) SS
    6. Phillip Ervin (R) CF
    7. Freddy Galvis (S) 2B
    8. Jose Peraza (R) LF
    9. Tucker Barnhart (S) C

    Bell will play Iglesias and Galvis every game in 2020 if both players are available to him. Ervin in CF…again. Peraza in LF…again. I really want to be positive for the 2020 season, but with the way Bell is finishing the 2019 season, I really see no light at the end of this tunnel, except that white light summoning the Reds to the baseball afterlife.

  10. Steven Ross

    I have faith that Dick Williams and Nick Krall will make a big splash in the off season and the Reds will come back in 2020 better than they have been in a long time.

    It wouldn’t take much to better than we’ve been in a LONG time. They made a few big splashes last year and the end result is the same. Hope you’re right but I have to see it to believe it. I have zero faith in Bell though. His lineups make no sense to me.

  11. Eric B

    If this bullpen isn’t replenished and significantly upgraded any other improvements will be for naught.

    • John

      Imo.. Upgrade the bullpen and let these young guys get a year older and stronger and we got a chance next year.. Starting pitching is solid if not outstanding and ceiling for our young guys is the sky.. Votto is def showing his age but I think he has another solid year in him and peraza can play second. To trade Suarez would be criminal. Who would you get that is better? Nobody! Leave the team as is and I think we win 90 games next year.. The talent is on the roster right now.. I would have kept Puig! He brought a Pete Rose attitude to the team and kept everyone up and ready.. Just my thoughts

  12. TR

    I find it difficult to be positive, other than improvement in starting pitching, as the 2019 season draws to a close. In this fifth year of the rebuild, the Reds still have too many question marks. Last year I looked forward to a new manager but David Bell has been a disappointment with lineup construction and bullpen management. I grew up with starting pitchers often working complete games which is a rarity in todays game. I’d like to see more confidence that a pitcher can work himself out of difficulty instead of routinely bringing in a reliever. And I’ll be disappointed if J. Iglesias and Galvis are the double play combo instead of a young guy at second base. The Reds apparently have plenty of money to work with, so it should be an interesting offseason. Contending in 2020 is far off IMO. Playing .500 or better should be the first step.

  13. SteveLV

    Going into next year, and without changing anything, they have

    C – Barnhart (4 million), Cassali (1.5 arb guess)
    1B – Votto (25)
    2B – VanMeter (.6)
    SS – Iglesias (3.5 FA guess), Galvis (5.5)
    3B – Suarez (9.5)
    LF – Winker (.6), Ervin (.6)
    CF – Senzel (.6)
    RF – Aquino (.6)
    Bench – Blandino or Farmer (.6)
    SP – Castillo (.6), Gray (10.2), Bauer (18 arb guess), DeSclafani (3.5 arb), Mahle (.6)
    RP – Iglesias (5.7), Lorenzen (3.5 arb guess), Garrett, Stephenson, Sims, Reed, Bowman, Kuhnel, Romano all at .6. Powers ought to be considered, too.

    That’s a payroll of almost exactly $100 million. I would guess (hope?) that group would be somewhat better next year – a few wins – simply by having played as additional year. Votto and J Iglesias could regress, but I doubt the rest do, at least collectively.

    Significantly improving shortstop is an obvious way to improve the team, and DiDi Gregorius is the obvious SS to sign – 2 years at $18-20 per year should put them into the conversation. They could drop Iglesias or Galvis then and save about $4 million.

    That would leave them with about $20 million to play with to find a catcher, an outfield bat, and/or a solid bullpen piece.

    If they sign DiDi and commit to spending $135 million, I think they become one of the teams fighting for the Central title. Spending the additional money on a single additional difference making bat could make them the favorite in the division.