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18 Games at a Time - Capsule 1

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Renewing an old series: Selective endpoints on the 2016 Reds.

Sir, have you seen my wallet?
Sir, have you seen my wallet?
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Well that wasn’t so bad, was it? I mean certain parts of this first stretch of the season were particularly awful but as a whole, things could have gone much worse. We all knew that the 2016 season was going to be tough from the moment the 2015 season ended. It was as if we were walking into our first chemistry test in college, dreading what was ahead of us but understanding that there was no turning back. We couldn’t simply skip the test and hope things were going to be okay. After all, there’s no fast-forwarding through the rebuilding years in the game of baseball.

We sat down for that first test and things started well enough. We remembered our chemical reactions and went 5-1 combined against the Phillies and Pirates. Our pitching staff bent but didn’t break, our offense did just enough to secure some wins, and our bullpen decided that they didn’t want to start giving up runs yet. We saw glimpses of a bright future in Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Finnegan, Zack Cozart picked up right where he left off after his gruesome knee injury last May and had the best offensive stretch of his career, and Robert Stephenson made two spot starts and showed us why he is our top pitching prospect. It served as a reminder that there were certainly some things to get excited about in the upcoming months.

Unfortunately, we also spent too much time playing Super Smash Bros on Nintendo 64 in our friend’s dorm room and skipped the part on Acid-Base reactions. "I remember that stuff from high school so it shouldn’t be too difficult," we rationalized, but the Cubs had different ideas. We had no answer for their pitching staff, were outscored 46-7 in our first 5 meetings with the Northsiders, and possibly hit rock-bottom in a no-hit, 16-0 loss on Thursday night. While the performance we had in 6 games against the Cubs shouldn’t be what we expect to have for the rest of the season, it is probably a little closer than what we showed against the Phillies, Pirates, and Rockies for the time being.

The good news is: We have reinforcements coming. Our best hitter has yet to heat up, and all signs from his career point to that happening sooner rather than later. Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and John Lamb will soon return to a pitching staff that have put up some of the worst numbers in the National League so far. If we did indeed hit rock-bottom against the Cubs last week, we at least get the pleasure in knowing that it can only go up from here. Our first test is out of the way and now we get to figure out where to go next.

Here are the stats and notes through the games on Saturday.

2016 Reds: Capsule 1

Record: 9-9

RPI (ESPN): .542 (4th best in NL; 5th best in MLB)

Baseball Prospectus post-season odds: 3.0%

Baseball Prospectus division odds: 0.7%

Offense:

  • .248/.306/.410 for the team, compared to NL average of .251/.323/.407.
  • The regulars, as defined by numbers of plate appearances: Votto, Suarez, Bruce, Phillips, Cozart, Duvall, Meosraco, Hamilton.
  • Zack Cozart was far and away the offensive MVP for this period, hitting a cool .400/.396/.580. Going into the season, nobody had a clue if he could pick up where he left off from his horrible knee injury in 2015. That's a natural question, especially when an injury as severe is his comes in what many considered to be an outlier season for the shortstop in 2015. Not only has he picked up where he left off, but he is carrying the offense for the Reds in the early part of this season in arguably the best stretch of his career.
  • Another amazing factoid about Cozart's run is that it wasn't until his 45th swing that he failed to make contact. He also didn't strike out until the 8th game of the season. The biggest contributor to that so far is that he has cut down on swinging at bad pitches. His O-Swing % (percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) is 24.2%, compared to a 30.6% average for his career.
  • Brandon Phillips has also started off well at the plate, with a solid .311/.338/.475 to start the season. One thing of note with BP is that he is swinging at an absurd rate this season compared to his career average. His O-swing % is 51.5% (compared to 36.4% for his career), Z-swing % (% of percentage of pitches swung at inside the zone) is 83.2% (71.6% career), and his overall swing % is 64.3% (53.3% career.) His BABIP is also sitting high at .327, so you can expect his numbers to normalize unless he becomes more selective at the plate.
  • Jay Bruce continues to hit the ball to the opposite field, as we have written about here before. He already has 13 hits this season either up the middle or to the opposite field. The sample size is small, but it seems that he does has a different approach this season and it is paying off so far.
  • Adam Duvall has made a strong case for himself to be the every day left fielder. He has started the season hitting .273/.333/.545 and has played well enough in the field to earn the majority of the starts so far.
  • Joey Votto has started off slow this season. This was pretty surprising considering that he tore it up this spring. He has been hitting against the shift more often this season while being pitched inside more often. This has led to a higher pull rate (50.0% in 2016; 35.0% career) instead of hitting the ball up the middle (22.2% 2016; 34.2% career.) This has led to a crazy low BABIP (.213) so far in 2016. The good news is: We are talking about Joey Votto. He will adjust, and things will be awesome again.
  • Billy Hamilton continues to struggle at the plate. It has become more evident that he needs to stick with hitting right handed. Not only do his career numbers back it up, it is painfully obvious watching him swing lefty vs righty.
  • Lastly, Eugenio Suarez continues to show the power that we all swooned over last season. He already has a team-leading 5 HR so far, is slashing .303/.361/.545 and is 2nd on the team in OPS at .907. Keep mashing the ball, Hinny.

Pitching:

  • Team ERA of 5.39 (13th in NL), compared to NL average of 4.13.
  • Let's go ahead and get the bullpen performance out of the way: it wasn't good. It was awful, really. They are league-worst in: ERA(6.72), earned runs (50!), home runs (16), and walks (42). And those are just the basic stats. We could go on-and-on about the overall performance of the bullpen as a whole, but we'd be beating a dead horse at this point. They have not been good.
  • J.J. Hoover and Jumbo Diaz, the two certainties headed into the season, have arguably been the worst coming out of the 'pen. Hoover, who was recently demoted from the closer role, has given up an amazing 13 earned-runs in only 6 IP. He certainly seems broken at the moment. Diaz, whose strength is striking out batters, has only struck out 4 so far in 6.2 IP. He was recently sent to Louisville to hopefully figure things out.
  • Caleb Cotham has been a nice surprise so far, only giving up 2 earned runs in 9.2 IP.
  • Our rotation has been a revolving door so far this season, mainly due to injuries. Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Finnegan are the only starters that have been in the rotation from day 1 of this short season, and they have been the best. Iglesias has shown the ball movement and ability to strike batters out that got us so excited at the end of 2015. Finnegan has shown that he deserves to stay in the rotation at this point in the season. He took a no-hitter into the 7th against that ridiculous Chicago lineup in his 2nd start of the season and followed that up by shutting down the Cardinals in his next start (save for a home run that wouldn't have been possible without his defense letting him down.)
  • Alfredo Simon, signed to be a veteran innings eater, has been the exact opposite. He's given up 9 ER in only 6.2 IP (through Saturday). He's battled some bicep tendinitis early-on, so hopefully he can turn it around once that heals up, but there is a solid chance that he is the odd-man out when everyone else returns from injury.
  • Our rotation also has trouble getting through the first 6 innings. Robert Stephenson was the first to pitch 7 full innings, and that didn't happen until game 15. That is a partial contributor to the poor performance of the bullpen. Once the rotation can start going deeper in games, the fewer issues we will have with giving up late leads.
  • Last note on the rotation: It is going to get really interesting in the coming weeks with the return of Bailey, DeSclafani, and Lamb. This will also bump some guys to the bullpen, hopefully improving our performance late in games. My quick dumb prediction once it's all said and done: Iglesias, Bailey, DeSclafani, Finnegan, Lamb. Bold, I know.
  • Lastly, a note on the defense: Our team DER (Defensive Efficiency Rating, or the percentage of balls in play converted to outs) for the first stretch is .711, good for 4th in the NL and 8th in MLB. A cause for concern is the number of errors we have made, so far. We've committed a league-worst 17 errors, 6 coming from Eugenio Suarez. We all knew he would struggle on defense, but hoped that his move to third would limit some of the mistakes. So far, that hasn't happened. Hopefully we can chalk it up to him learning a new position and we can see some improvement as the season goes on.

The Next 18:

  • 11 games at home, 7 on the road
  • 11 of the 18 against divisional opponents
  • 10 of the 18 against 2015 playoff teams
  • A note for optimism: At least we get to play 4 against the Brewers.