It’s one of those numbers that I’ll wonder about occasionally during a normal baseball season. But for some reason during this year, I don’t think I’d thought about it once.

And then I read Doug Gray’s recap of Sunday’s Reds win over the Twins, which included a note that the Reds’ 2020 .212 team batting average was the lowest for any major league team in 110 years.

Excuse me?

How could a team make the playoffs with a team batting average that low? But guess what? Four other teams that made the playoffs had team batting averages under .230 — the Cleveland Indians (.228), Oakland Athletics (.225), Milwaukee Brewers (.223), and the Chicago Cubs (.220).

Interestingly, the batting statistic that is now the “default sort” on is OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). If MLB makes it the default sort, that means they believe — and they believe that you believe — that is the most important batting statistic nowadays. No argument here. It’s just a big change from what those of us who have been following baseball for a lifetime are accustomed to.

Despite finishing last (30th) in batting average, the Reds were 19th in OPS at .715 — compared to the MLB-leading Atlanta Braves at .832.

All of these numbers made me curious. Just what was it that turned the Reds from disappointing dregs after 44 games (19-25) to a team capable of winning 12 of the final 16 against top competition? So I went to the data.

Chapter 1: The offense changed very little between the first 44 games and final 16

When a team is winning, everything looks better than it did when they were losing. But the actual numbers showed very little difference between the two segments of the 2020 season from a hitting standpoint.

This chart shows various team batting numbers over the first 44 games and the final 16 games:

Batting average? Only three points higher during the hot streak. Again, mostly very consistent between the first segment of the season and the second segment. The biggest differences were in a higher strikeout rate and in a higher BABIP (batting average on balls in play) rate. The two stats might be directly correlated. If you’re putting the ball into play less often, the ones that result in hits make up a larger percentage of the overall balls batted into play.

More team numbers:

These reflect the manner in which a ball was hit: GB (ground ball), FB (fly ball), LD (line drive), etc. The line drive rate was down 2.7% overall, which represents a decease of 12% from where it was in the first 44 games.. The hard hit rate dropped by 2.2% overall, which represented a 6.4% decrease from where it was in the first 44 games played.

Individually, there weren’t many numbers that would make you say “ooooh.” But the offensive leaders in the 16-game stretch were:

  • Joey Votto (1.005 OPS in the final 16 compared to .719 in the first 44; 163 wRC+ in the final 16 compared to 93 in the first 44; five homers in the final 16 compared to 11 overall; 11 runs scored in the final segment compared to 32 overall; 14 walks compared to 37 overall).
  • Shogo Akiyama (batting average .295 in the final 16, compared to overall .245 and .225 in the first segment; and .415 on-base percentage in the final 16 compared to .333 in the first 44).
  • Mike Moustakas (13 RBI in the final 16 games compared to 27 overall).

These three helped to keep an anemic team offense at least on par with the first 44 games during the late-season streak. Without them, who knows how poorly this offense would have finished?

But, then, there is the pitching.

Chapter 2: An amazing and possibly historic pitching performance

Feast your eyes:

As a relative old-timer, the number that jumps out and SCREAMS at me is the ERA: 4.24 in the first 44 games, 2.98 over the final 16 — AS A TEAM. When you’re allowing 1.26 less runs per game over any time span, you’re going to win more than you did previously. Also, note these significant statistical improvements between the first segment and second segment of the season:

  • Batting average against: .222 to .194
  • OBP against: .313 to .274
  • Slugging percentage against: .385 to .346
  • wOBA (weighted on-base average): .305 to .272

I’m sure someone knows how to find this out, but has ANY MLB pitching staff EVER held opponents to less than a .200 batting average over a 16-game span?

Here is something historic that my Redleg Nation colleague Nick Kirby uncovered:

But wait, there’s more:

Over the final 16 games, Reds pitchers left 11 percent more runners on base than they did in the first 44. WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was down .23 per inning. Over the course of a nine-inning game, that’s an average of more than two fewer runners per game than the average of the previous 44 games. Over the course of the final 16 games, that’s 33 fewer baserunners.

In the final 16 games, Sal Romano, Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Wade Miley and Michael Lorenzen all had WHIPs of 1.00 or lower. And 1.00 is considered excellent.

Strikeout percentage among the Reds pitching staff was up, while walk percentage was down.

What the numbers tell me is that this Reds team is riding a wave of pitching excellence that may be historic in nature. The offense didn’t wake up in the final 16 games, though they did score runs at a slightly higher rate despite basically hitting the same. The pitching just put all of the other teams’ offenses completely to sleep.

While the team offensive statistics did not improve significantly, many of the hits and homers in the final 16 games came in clutch situations at meaningful moments. I don’t have numbers to back up that argument. Just the eye test.

All of that being said, it was the pitching staff that made the difference in winning the final five series in a row against playoff teams (except four games against Pittsburgh). Cincinnati’s last nine games were essentially playoff games, and the pitching led them to a 6-3 record over that span.

The Reds begin postseason play Wednesday at Atlanta during the lunch hour. Of course, the objective is to win it all, but objective number one is to win the series opener and then capture the Wild Card series from the Braves. Interestingly, the majority of’s panel of experts is picking the Reds to advance to the NLCS against Los Angeles.

No Cincinnati professional sports team has advanced in the playoffs since 1995 when the Reds beat the Dodgers in the Division Series. Twenty-five years later, a pitching staff on a possibly historic streak hopes to continue its lights-out performance of the past 16 games — this time against the best-hitting team of 2020. Cincinnati’s offense can really only be counted on for three to four runs per game tops, so it’s up to the pitching — pitching that gives Reds players and fans true hope that a championship is possible.

15 Responses

  1. KDJ

    Thanks for digging into the data and sharing with us.

  2. Tomn

    Really interesting findings. Thanks Tom!

  3. Don

    100% Agree. Pitching drove the winning. Starters went a little longer giving up fewer runs and the bullpen improvements over the last month of the season was the difference.

    For the hitting, whom was hitting just changed over the 60 game season.
    1st 15 games – Castellanos carried the offense with help from Moose and Votto in week #1.
    Games 16-35 was mainly Winker carrying the offense in those games.
    Teams figured out that a slider that starts middle to far edge to Castellanos and he will swing and miss 9 out of 10 times so why show him anything else. Castellanos has not adjusted the last 45 games so why would the pitchers change what they are doing.
    Games 36-60, Akiyama started around game 35 and was solid the rest of the year which put someone on base with a possible steal as a threat which results in more fastballs the following hitters with Votto and Moose doing well.

    As John Smoltz said during Friday’s game (he was announcing the YouTube broadcast) a winning playoff teams need 3 starting pitchers on the top for the series.
    3 hitters each game to hits (can be different each game) and 3 relievers whom can shutdown anyone in key situations.

    Can 3 hitters get hits each game is the only question mark for the Reds?

  4. Steve Schoenbaechler

    It was most definitely the pitching. As a matter of fact, I will say it was the pitching that was keeping us as close as we were at Sept 1, at least as close as it seemed to be. The offense just hasn’t been there this year. I don’t know if there’s one person on the starting 8 who can say they were happy with their offense this season.

  5. IndyDoug

    Winker’s number were pretty good. Best of his young career, I believe. And he stayed healthy, albeit thru 60 games.

    • 2020ball

      The only guys I’m happy about are guys like Stephenson and Farmer. So, yeah….not the starting 9 (counting DH).

      • 2020ball

        oops, meant for @Steve. I’m happy to see some of the explosiveness out of Winker that we saw, now I just want to see some consistency.

  6. IndyDoug

    Winker OPS+ was 142. that’s excellent

  7. Klugo

    We need Castellanos to wake up. Like, now.

  8. Rednat

    get rid of these shifts and ” make batting averages great again”! seriously baseball is the only sport that favors defense over offense and it really is hurting the game. i want to see more hits and more people on base please.

    • jim walker

      I agree that 3 true outcome baseball isn’t really my thing either. What often gets lost in the discussion is that a lot of great defense is also being lost along this way. Some of the most exciting plays over the years have featured based running versus defensive gets and relays. Or how about plays like that GIDP started by Kyle Farmer on Sunday and turned at 2B by Jose Garcia to save a run and end an inning when the game was still close. These are real baseball.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        I still believe the great defensive plays get highlighted. But, one thing with the great defensive plays, I believe, is this. . .for that to have been a great defensive play, the batter more than likely hit the ball hard. But, good pitchers won’t allow that to happen that often.

        As well as, if the player is a MLB ready player, they should be able to play some defense. Now, regular good defensive players will be able to get to more balls, make more plays, etc., sure. But, like I said, that can also mean that the pitching is lacking, also.

        Nope, to build a team, I would still go with batting and pitching. To me, again, if they are major-league ready, their defense should be good enough. Teams aren’t going to put “Mr. Swiss Cheese” out there. Typical example, Encarnacion while he was here. His throws to first base were always a mystery where they would end up. His fielding wasn’t major league ready. But, he wento the AL, got into a DH position, and had success. As well as, I believe now, if he plays any defense, it’s first base, where he doesn’t have to throw nearly as much.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      The only thing, though, when I hear this, I think of, if batting averages were meaningful, why don’t more hitters look to hit the other way? Or, why don’t more hitters simply lay down that bunt. I mean, with the way some teams play the shift, I could see some players laying a bunt down and walking to first in time.

      Don’t get me wrong, I do believe batting averages are meaningful. I simply don’t believe that the players have even considered that yet.