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About Them Bone-Dry Spells

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As Vin Scully (respect) mentioned several times during the last series, the Reds are second the NL in runs scored. While Vin is certainly correct, there are a couple of caveats (at least if you're going to use it as a shorthand for the quality of an offense):

  • Park matters. There's a reason the Rockies and Reds are tied for second in runs, despite both being below average in wRC+ (park-adjusted offense).
  • Competition matters - both by team and opposing starter. The Marlins are bad, but Jose Fernandez is good.
  • The Reds have played more extra inning games (15) than the almost all the teams immediately behind them: Rockies (13), Braves (11), Diamondbacks (15), Mets (12). They've had a few more innings to score a few more runs.
  • The Reds have also played at least one more game (106) than almost all the teams immediately behind them: Rockies (106), Braves (105), Diamondbacks (105) and Mets (102).
When you put some of these downers into the punch, the Reds come out to be about a major league average offense. In the NL, that still makes them better than about 3/4 of teams because of how top-heavy the league is this season. That's good news.

What makes the Reds' offense frustrating is not that they're bad: since the last time I checked all this stuff, they've actually moved up a few rungs from middle-of-the-pack. The frustrating part is those desert periods against mediocre talent.

Getting shut down by Clayton Kershaw is one thing. Getting shut down by Chris Capuano is another.

Last season, the Reds' offense was a notch below where the Reds' offense has been so far in 2013 (lower wRC+, lower OPS+, lower runs-per-game). But they were only shut out 4 times the entire season.

The 2013 Reds have already been shut out 8 times. With 56 games left, that puts them "on pace" to be shut out 12 times (though it's a really noisy statistic). That fact alone makes it feel like the Reds' offense is worse than it is.

When you expand to look at other low scoring situations (1-run and 2-run famines by the offense), things aren't as stark:

Offense scores... 2013 games (on pace) 2012 games
0 runs 12 4
1 run 18 23
2 runs 21 18

So, really, the 2013 squad is just getting shut out at a much higher rate. And shut outs are more memorable. Although they aren't memorable for long - I'd forgotten that the 2010 division-winners were shut out 13 times.

What I think is actually happening is that the distribution of low-scoring games among zero, one and two runs is really noisy. But the distribution of "low scoring games" (0-2) is more obviously predictable: the Reds are on pace for 34 "low-scoring games" this season, which is just 2 shy of the 2010 squad. The surprising thing there is that the current Reds' team is the weaker offense of the two.

The one other thing going on here is that the Reds have been shut down by some middling starters. Here are the four guys with ERA+ less than 100 that have started shut outs of the Reds' offense:

Chris Capuano (current ERA = 4.54)
Wily Peralta (4.54 -- not a typo)
Martin Perez (4.37)
Charlie Morton (3.59)

With the first three, I'd say there's almost no excuse to be shut out. There was also AJ Griffin and Jake Westbrook, who are bordeline league average, at least talent-wise.

In baseball, of course, there's usually an excuse for something weird to happen in any given game.

So I'm not sure there's enough going on here to say the Reds have any weakness other than your standard share of bad luck and "feelin' off." Maybe if you looked at the 1-run, 2-run or 3-run games something would emerge. I do think the lineup has been more bipolar than in the past - with very little production at SS and (until recently) catcher, along with no power where you'd most expect it (left field).

Other than that, shut outs just make you feel bad. They don't make you bad.