Just in case no one has told you yet, allow me to break some news. The Reds aren't supposed to be very good this season. This harsh reality leads to an age-old question that has plagued baseball fans for years. If your favorite team has little to no chance of winning, why should you watch them? Maybe you're just the kind of person who likes baseball, and you'd watch the Reds even if Kevin Gregg was the number one starter in the rotation. Maybe you take satisfaction in watching prospects develop (or break your heart). However, some might need a better reason to stick around.
Charlie Scrabbles has already eloquently written, with some help from Kierkegaard, on how to enjoy a team during a losing season. Today I'd like to give you another reason to pay attention this season. Baseball is all about individual performances. One easy way to root for an individual over the course of a season is to invest in the career and single-season milestones they are pursuing.
With the Reds current roster construction there aren't a lot of players closing in on significant career milestones. Nonetheless, there are a number of players who could reach important goals over the course of 2016. Here are a few specific milestones you can keep an eye on this year.
Can Jay Bruce hit 30 home runs...again?
Many Reds fans spent this offseason assuming Jay Bruce wouldn't be on the team in 2016. There was a fairly constant stream of rumors, but for now Jay will be the starting right fielder. This milestone focuses on Bruce's power production. He hit over 30 home runs in three straight seasons from 2011-2013. In 2014, he only hit 18 while suffering through the worst offensive season of his career. Last year he rebounded with 26 home runs, and the seven he hit in September/October could be a sign that he's finally fully recovered from knee issues.
With the loss of Todd Frazier the Reds will be looking for someone, or a combination of hitters, to make up for the lost production. If Bruce's BA and OBP are going to remain below his career averages, then it will be even more important for him to keep his power numbers up. If Bruce shows that he's still the player who can hit 25-30 home runs in a season, then he will likely be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. However, as he gets closer to age 30 its worth asking if his best power years are behind him.
Can Joey Votto walk 150 times this season?
In the history of baseball, a player has accumulated at least 150 walks in a season eleven times. This is an exclusive club consisting of some of the greatest hitters in baseball history.
Last season Votto led MLB with 143 walks. It was also his career high. The debate about whether or not Votto should swing the bat more will likely continue this season. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you should still be rooting for this to happen. What would be more enjoyable than hearing Marty Brennaman, voice of the Reds and outspoken opponent of OBP, call each Votto walk as he...well "walks" toward the mark. If a team can't be good they should at least be interesting, and the conflict between the two could reach epic proportions if 150 comes in to play.
Honorable Mention Votto Milestone: At the start of 2016 Joey Votto will have 192 career home runs. Barring injury he should easily eclipse the 200 mark. If he doesn't he'll either be on pace to walk 300 times, or these spring training bunts will have signaled a change to his approach that he's decided to stick with.
Can Billy Hamilton reach a .300 OBP?
You're reading a Cincinnati Reds blog at the beginning of March, so I'm going to assume you're familiar with the team. Just in case you aren't, allow me to break down the Billy Hamilton experience. He is one of, if not the, most dynamic runners in baseball who really struggles to get on-base. His .226/.274/.289 line from last season was a step back in every category from 2014. Hamilton did struggle through shoulder issues a year ago, and the hope is that if he's healthy he'll take steps forward at the plate. Or at least he'll finally just start bunting every at bat.
However, the prospects of a .300 OBP for Hamilton are intriguing for a secondary reason. Fangraphs has a stat called BsR. It is an attempt to "estimate the value of a player's base running contribution." Basically it shows how many runs above average a player contributes to his team due to their base running (e.g. stolen bases, times caught stealing, taking an extra base on a hit). Last year Billy Hamilton had the 15th best season on the base paths in history by BsR. Only 14 times in the history of baseball has a player added more value to their team with their legs than Hamilton did for the Reds a year ago.
Hamilton accomplished the feat playing fewer games than anyone else above him, and with the lowest OBP in that group. Vince Coleman's .301 OBP in 1986 was the next lowest total. Simply put, Hamilton had one of the most productive seasons as a base runner in history with fewer opportunities to make an impact than the players above him.
Imagine if Hamilton could just get on-base at a .300 clip. It's an idea that makes Jon Lester wake up in a cold sweat. The league average OBP a year ago was .317. We're not even asking Hamilton to get to leave average! If he could be just under that his production could be insane.
This got me thinking, what would Hamilton's BsR have been last season with a league average OBP? I almost didn't graduate high school because of my statistics grade...so I'm not the right person to answer this question. However, it helps to have friends with math degrees from Yale. His quick and dirty work led him to believe that Hamilton's BsR of 13.4 would have jumped to 15.5 in 2015 with a league average OBP. That's a top-5 season all-time.
Hamilton has the potential to be a historically great runner. And if he does start to get on base a little more...you better watch your back Hugh Nicol.
Honorable Mention Hamilton Milestone: If Hamilton gets on base more in 2016 its also worth wondering if he could be the first player to steal at least 70 bases in a season since 2009 (Jacoby Ellsbury). It's only been done three times since 2000. He stole 57 a year ago, and he's as good a bet as anyone to accomplish the feat.
Will Homer Bailey get to 1,000 career strikeouts?
There's nothing that significant about a pitcher accumulating 1,000 strikeouts in their career. Baseball Reference found 438 pitchers who had accomplished this goal. For Reds fans, the reason this mark is significant has more to do with what it would represent. Bailey currently sits 168 K's from the mark. If he was able to reach 1,000 strikeouts in 2016 it would be the second most strikeouts in a season he's ever produced.
If nothing else this would mean that Bailey had a successful and injury free season. The fact that he won't pitch until at least mid-May means this projection might be pushing it. However, if Bailey can get close he will have gone a long way toward reestablishing himself as a promising option at the top of the Reds rotation.