The Padres, Pirates, Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, Marlins, and Astros were the NL teams in 2012 that scored fewer than the Cincinnati Reds. The common thread amongst those teams: none made the playoffs.
Acknowledging that the Reds won 97 games and the NL Central title while only scoring the ninth most runs in the NL serves notice to exactly how well the pitching staff (from top to bottom) performed. When you add the fact that the pitching staffs of the Cubs, Astros, Pirates, and Brewers all ranked in the bottom half among all NL staffs in FIP, it becomes pretty evident that the Reds offense, by most accounts, either struggled or underperformed last season.
To me, at least, there are 3 obvious areas that should see significant improvement next season. First, of course, is having Shin-Soo Choo in CF and leading off instead of Drew Stubbs. Second, also of course, is replacing the suck that was Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez with any living, breathing entities that have metacarpals. Third, having Todd Frazier in the lineup every day (even if he regresses) should be an offensive upgrade over what Scott Rolen provided last season.
A few areas where you may expect to see improvement, however, aren't necessarily inevitable. You may mention that having Joey Votto for a full season should help a lot, and I can't totally discount that; however, Frazier OPS'd .884 in 149 PAs while at 1B last season, so there wasn't as much of a drop-off from Joey's 2011 (.947) as may be expected. You might also suggest that Devin Mesoraco should improve drastically on his 2012 campaign and that should help overall catching production; while I think he'll improve both his luck and his performance, I'm still not convinced he'll outperform Dioner Navarro's underrated campaign from a year ago (.755 OPS).
Also, if you replace Mike Leake in the rotation with Aroldis Chapman, something tells me we won't see 70 PAs of .750 OPS.
There are a few under the radar places that could see a boost, though.
Heisey's ISO dropped almost a full .100 from his breakout 2011 campaign to his rather pedestrian 2012, sinking from a likely unsustainable .233 to .135. I don't think either of those numbers truly represents Heisey, though, and his 2010 .179 ISO is much more in line with his numbers through the minors. If he can even get back to that type of power production (Bill James has him projected at .184 in 2013), his ability to be a threat off the bench becomes much more viable.
Also, it's entirely possible that he'll get a lot more run in CF than in previous seasons given Choo's inexperience (and potential poor performance) there. Choo sported a rather disgusting .199/.318/.286 line against LHP last season, so it's easy to believe Heisey will get plenty of opportunities to hit lefties this season. While Heisey's overall career features reverse platoon splits, his 2012 was much more representative of his minors' splits where he hit LHP better than RHP, as he had an .827 OPS vs. LHP as compared to a .680 OPS vs. RHP.
If Heisey is spot started in the right situations and sees a return of his power stroke to a more predictable level, it's easy to think he could be one of the more productive 4th OF in all of baseball.
BP, at .750, posted the worst single season OPS of his Reds' career in 2012. Yes, he's getting older, and yes, he's probably beginning to decline, but there are a few things about his 2012 season that stand out more as anomaly than predictive, if you ask me (which you didn't).
The primary culprit for BP's overall dip was due to the Abominable Suck Virus (ASV) that plagued every team member tasked with leading off. In his 124 PA batting leadoff last year, he "hit" .202/.254/.298; in 198 PA hitting 3rd, he hit .298/.324/.466, and in 309 PA cleaning up he hit .303/.344/.460. I'll let you choose which sample sticks out more than the others.
Also, BP has historically hit LHP much better than RHP (.832 OPS vs. LHP, .726 OPS vs. RHP). Last year, however, he hit RHP to the tune of a .754 OPS, while his numbers vs. LHP dipped to a career worst .741 OPS. If he can figure out lefties again, which I believe he'll do, his overall production should see a significant spike.
In the field he may be slipping a bit, but I don't see much in BP's 2012 at the plate that dictates he won't kick ass again in 2013.
The Jay Bruce Roadshow
I've mentioned Jay's home/road splits time and time again, so I won't dote on them too much here. In brief, he's consistently hit drastically better in GABP than he has on the road, and given GABP's dimensions and Jay's swing, that's to be expected to an extent.
What may be promising, though, are some of the trends underlying his road production. His Away OPS from each year since being called up: .636, .635, .759, .788, .719. His Away OBP each year since being called up: .258, .258, .345, .340, .297.
Essentially, he'd been improving each season to the point where the only difference in his production between Home and Away was his number of HR, and his walk rates had leveled...until 2012, for some reason. If whatever it was that caused his 2012 numbers to dip is corrected, the subsequent increase in his road production would synch quite nicely with the expected improvements at the top of the order.
83 days 'til Opening Day, amigos.