Dan Szymborski, his supercomputer, and FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli released the ZiPS projections for the 2015 Cincinnati Reds this morning, and as usual, there's a wealth of interesting talking points embedded in the huge amount of information. With the heavy turnover in the rotation, injury riddled and lost seasons from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, awful lines by much of the bullpen, and Devin Mesoraco's thumpy breakout, there were certainly a lot of variables that the ZiPS system had to work with, but considering how awful the actual 2014 season turned out, there seems to be a decent bit of optimism in the projections.
Well, optimism in the projections for the regulars, at least...
They've fared poorly in my ZiPS sims. In other words, the Reds have about as much depth as Jenny McCarthy's medical knowledge.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 9, 2015
Dang. And I thought that was the case before looking at what ZiPS had to say about Skip, Negron, & Co.
Before digging deeper, it's worth emphasizing the disclaimer for the projections, which essentially states that the projections don't attempt to anticipate playing time at the big league level. Also, certain baseline assumptions are used for mean performance in both the American League and National League, which is how the individual player projections include the league-relevant stats (like ERA-) and overall zWAR. The entire disclaimer can be found at the bottom of the FanGraphs link, too, in case you're into actually reading and paying attention to details.
To the breakdown...
ZiPS actually holds the core of the Reds lineup in decently high regard, and projects both a solid bounce-back for Jay Bruce (.255/.326/.470, 28 HR) and a relative rebound from Billy Hamilton (.262/.314/.368, 63 SB). The aged and newly acquired Marlon Byrd is also projected to have the third consecutive solid campaign in his late-career renaissance (.271/.314/.481, 26 HR), bucking his recent spike in K-rate to squeeze out another power-fueled campaign before his 40th birthday. Todd Frazier (.258/.323/.454, 25 HR) joins both Bruce and Byrd as Reds projected to whack at least 25 dingers, and the newly extended 3B is also expected to chip in with a solid 3.6 zWAR campaign.
And yes, Joey Votto projects to lead the team in wOBA (.377) while posting a vintage .417 OBP.
The pitching also has several positives, led primarily by the otherworldly projections for Aroldis Chapman. ZiPS sees the Reds' closer consuming batters with fireballs from his eyes (63 IP, 1.71 ERA, 1.79 FIP) and bolts of lightning from his arse (45.0 K%, 45 ERA-), which should be nearly sufficient enough to have batters simply lay down in the batter's box and cry for three pitches. Homer Bailey also projects to have a solid second season since signing (say that four times fast) his $105 million extension (3.54 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 93 ERA-, 172.2 IP, 150 K), and Mike Leake is seen having nearly as Mike Leake of a season as any Mike Leake type could expect to Mike Leake (194.1 IP, 3.94 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 104 ERA-).
Newly signed bullpen cog Burke Badenhop projects to fit in nicely as late-innings help (3.52 ERA, 64 IP), and ZiPS predicts each of Sam LeCure, Jumbo Diaz, and even JJ Hoover to toss over 55 innings with mid 3's ERAs to help put 2014's relief struggles further from our memories.
While ZiPS has solid on-field production in mind for both Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto, the amount of time it sees them spending not playing is troublesome. Fresh off a 240+ inning season, ZiPS sees Cueto only on the mound for 181.1 IP in 2015, although the projected 2.88 ERA and 76 ERA- suggests he should be every bit as dominant while on the mound as he's shown in previous years. As for Votto, I mentioned he's projected to lead the team in wOBA by a wide margin, but he's only tabbed for 468 PA, which naturally diminishes his overall counting stats projections (15 HR, 51 RBI). ZiPS also sees the Reds quarter-billion dollar 1B as having just a .279 average next season, which is well off the lofty averages he's posted in every season aside from his disastrous 2014.
Zack Cozart again projects to be quite poor with the bat, though at least his .282 projected wOBA is leaps and bounds better than his 2014 mark of .254 (which was the worst among qualified hitters in all of baseball). Also, ZiPS is calling for another 2014-like season for Brandon Phillips (.263/.307/.389), reaffirming most everyone's worries that his best days are behind him.
Also of worry is the sad case of Sean Marshall, as he's projected to pitch a meager 25.2 innings. If that's the case, the Reds will have paid the former lock-down lefty reliever $16.5 million to throw a total of 40 innings over three years (on top of the trade that sent Travis Wood and others to the Chicago Cubs in order to acquire him). Oof.
The Reds bench.
All of the Reds bench.
The entire Reds bench, including the actual bench they sit on and the forest in which the trees for the bench they sit on were harvested, which itself is projected to be burned to the ground tomorrow in an attempt to prevent other benches that poor from ever being assembled again in human history.
If the current 40-man roster is to be believed, there's a solid chance that the offensive players in the dugout when the first pitch is thrown at most home games will be Brayan Pena, Kris Negron, Skip Schumaker, Jason Bourgeois, and possibly Donald Lutz. While Pena at least projects to duplicate what he's done in prior seasons and provide numbers in-line with what you'd expect from a backup catcher (.255/.286/.354, .278 wOBA), the projections for the others fell off the top of the ugly tree and landed right into Dan's spreadsheets. Negron's 2015 projections (.216/.267/.343, .272 wOBA) show that 2014 may actually be the clear offensive outlier season in his career, while both Skip's (.244/.305/.319, .278 wOBA) and Bourgeois' (.246/.283/.313, .266 wOBA) make you wonder why either over 30 player is still going to get a shot at the big league level.
Both Skip and Bourgeois project as -0.5 zWAR players. I feel like that's even being generous to the kind of defense Skip would have to play with that type of offensive season. As for Lutz, well, he also projects as a -0.5 zWAR guy, his schnitzel and mustache not enough to overcome a projected season in the doldrums (.223/.272/.378, .286 wOBA).
The 4th and 5th starter race should also fall in The Ugly category, as neither Tony Cingrani (104 IP, 3.98 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 105 ERA-) or Anthony DeSclafani (127.1 IP, 4.45 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 117 ERA-) project to sniff league average, and the decently touted pitching prospects behind them on the SP depth chart don't appear to project much better. None of David Holmberg, Dylan Axelrod, or Raisel Iglesias projects to have better than a 130 ERA-, both Keyvius Sampson (160 ERA-) and Daniel Corcino (168 ERA-) project to be better as Reds broadcasters than 5th starters, and top prospect Robert Stephenson's projected 5.28 ERA and 139 ERA- makes me want to stick my head in a blender.
Hell, Scott Diamond is projected to throw the fourth most innings on the staff next year.
Raise your hand if you even remember who Scott Diamond is.
With any system that doesn't attempt to predict playing time comes a set of surprising projections, and this year's version for the Reds is no different. Some have a far more realistic chance of happening than others, of course, with one or two being seemingly feasible while the others are still worth looking at to have a good chuckle (Scott Diamond, for instance).
Likely the one that's most intriguing is Eugenio Suarez, the SS the Reds picked up from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Alfredo Simon. At 2.2 zWAR, he actually projects to be more valuable than both middle infielders (Cozart and Phillips) he sits behind on the depth chart. While many have assumed he'll be getting everyday reps as the SS in Louisville due to his young age, that projection coupled with the awful one for Negron certainly makes you hope otherwise (at least from a short-term perspective). Also surprising is the positive projections for Tucker Barnhart, who is seen as a 1.6 zWAR contributor despite only being in line for 392 PA with a .240/.299/.331 slash line. In other words, ZiPS sees a ton to like about Mother Tucker's glovework.
Lastly, there's Josh "Boring Name" Smith, who projects as a 0.5 zWAR starter seen as logging the 5th most innings on the pitching staff. In fact, Smith's projections stack up quite evenly with DeSclafani's, and while I'd love to believe that we've overlooked a budding star in Smith, I'm still firmly convinced this is just statistical noise.