Last night was ugly. Last night was painful. And there’s just no way that all of this can continue for the Cincinnati Reds, right?
The offseason was full of signings that got everyone excited. Mike Moustakas was coming in and bringing a middle of the order bat to help an inconsistent offense. Shogo Akiyama was coming in to help the outfield and become Cincinnati’s first Japanese player, making them the last team in Major League Baseball to have one. Wade Miley, who was in the American League Cy Young race up until September, was going to join a strong rotation as one of the back end guys. And then the Reds went out and added another middle of the order bat by signing Nick Castellanos.
All of that led to the Reds being the division favorites in a close division. The same publications that all seemed to think that Cincinnati was the division favorites also raved about their rotation being among the best in all of Major League Baseball.
2020, with all of the insanity that it has brought us – this was the year that the Cincinnati Reds had the team they’ve been trying to build, hoping to build, wanting to build. And on Opening Day, things looked great. Sonny Gray dominated and the Reds offense handled the Detroit Tigers pitching and all was well with the world, if only for a brief moment.
Since then the team has gone 4-8, struggled to find any sort of offensive consistency as they’ve had multiple everyday players miss time for various reasons, but also had nearly everyone available slump all at the same time, and the bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster.
This team is simply too talented to look like this, right? The rotation has been the best in baseball according to Fangraphs so far. They have a 2.57 ERA through 13 starts and are striking out 33.6% of the hitters that they’ve faced. It’s been everything that was advertised and then some.
But the bullpen has been the exact opposite of that. After last night, the Reds bullpen has an ERA of 7.65. They are hardly alone this year in having a bullpen that’s been terrible. The Phillies and Cubs both have bullpens with an ERA over 7.00, and two other teams are also over 6.00. But the Reds bullpen has struggled to throw strikes – they’ve walked 11.5% of the hitters they’ve faced – and they’ve given up more home runs per 9-innings pitched, 2.48, than any team in baseball. That rate of home runs allowed is more than TWICE the Major League average in 2020.
At the plate the team is hitting .198/.310/.377 on the year. They are drawing walks – they are third in all of baseball in walk rate at 11.9%. The power for the team is middle of the pack, ranking 12th in isolated power (SLG-AVG). But they haven’t been able to find hits to save their lives, ranking 28th with a .198 batting average. A part of that is due to their league worst .224 BABIP. The league as a whole has their BABIP down from where we normally see it by about 20 points. The Reds, though, are about 70 points below where the league average normally falls.
Cincinnati ranks 13th in the league in line drive rate, but 26th in hard hit rate. However they also rank 2nd in medium hit rate, and 27th in soft hit rate (meaning 26 teams have made more soft contact). All of this suggests that they’ve been very unlucky at getting hits and it’s not exactly a matter of them just not making good enough contact to get hits.
Between an unlucky offense that’s been missing Mike Moustakas for a third of the games, missed Nick Senzel for a few others, a bullpen with a home run rate that in almost no possible way could continue to be this high – things almost have to get better on both the offensive and bullpen fronts.
But the problem is that it’s been this bad already. Normally things rebound over the course of the season and normalize. This year the time frame to normalize is much smaller. The bullpen ERA at the end of the year probably won’t normalize – they’ve been too bad for too long of a period of time compared to the season. The other side of this, too, is that while the rotation is very good, it’s not going to perform as it has for the remaining 47 games.
2020 has brought us the weirdest of times and for Cincinnati it’s carried over to baseball, too. If this team remains relatively healthy, it’s a much better team than they’ve played like so far. They’ve been both unlucky, and bad. The good news is that more than half of the league makes the playoffs this year, and that the Reds should play much better than they have moving forward. Getting to the playoffs is what matters and this year it’s a lot easier to do that. Get things right, get in the playoffs, and see what the talent can do.