clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 vs. 1982: A Critical and Definitive Comparison

A very old writer steps back in time to reference a prior bad version of the Reds.

The Aristocrats!
The Aristocrats!
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

My first lasting childhood memory having to do with Major League Baseball is from 1981.  I was not yet five years old, was precociously enthralled with all things baseball, and I was having a conversation with my dad while he worked in the backyard.  He was agitated, specifically about a decision which led to the exclusion of Reds from the postseason, despite having the best record in baseball.

The underlying data behind the cursed decision was a labor strike by the player's union, which carved nearly two months out of the season.  The owners and commissioner declared that the season, having already been split into two unnatural halves, would feature a postseason that pitted the division winners of each half of the season, rather than using the full season results.

Regardless of the merits or flaws of this decision, my initial understanding of the major league landscape was this: The Reds were a good baseball team.

The following season permanently fused my association of baseball with data and cemented my fanaticism of the sport.  My grandparents, residents of the greater Cincinnati area and encouragers of my burgeoning baseball obsession, regularly mailed me media guides, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and scorecards from the 1982 season.  While this practice would continue over the next few years, the bait and hook were set firmly in that year.  It's had a lasting impression; I would be more likely today to correctly identify a picture of Paul Householder than of Adam Duvall.

That 1982 season, of course, remains the only season in which the Reds lost at least 100 games.  It wasn't the worst season in franchise history, on a winning percentage basis of comparison, but 100 losses certainly sticks out.  Incidentally, I was living in Minnesota at the time.  The hometown team there was also in the midst of a hundred-plus loss season in '82.  Good times.  And so it was that my initial knowledge that my inherited franchise was good was instantly mixed with the new reality that they were very, very bad.

It's likely that the younger portion of the Red Reporter audience has no recollection not only of 1982, but also of a popular form of analytical content found in the sports pages of major newspapers: head-to-head matchup write-ups.  These typically ran just before a postseason series or a big game, such as the Super Bowl.  Basically, a writer would compare the players at each position between the two teams (e.g., Catcher: Darrel Porter is an outstanding defender, but only hit .231 against Ted Simmons' .269 with power.  Edge: Brewers), then would add up the totals to signal the likely winner.  In retrospect, this was pretty meager content, but it was a tasty elixir to a kid cutting his teeth on sports analysis.

Roughly 40% the way through the 2016 season, the Reds are on pace to lose 100 games for just the second time in franchise history (note: this was true prior to the win over the Braves last night).  Should they be successful in jettisoning players like Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, or Zack Cozart, reaching the century mark may be a mere formality.  But before the makeup of the team changes dramatically, let's embark on the definitive comparison of these two anti-titans.


1982 Reds

2016 Reds



Alex Trevino

.251/.318/.304 (74 OPS+)

29% CS rate

Tucker Barnart

.262/.320/.376 (88 OPS+)

37% CS rate

The one home run that Trevino hit in 1982 didn't stand up forever as a career high, but it didn't miss by too much.  Barnhart has at least some power, and gets the job done behind the plate.  Edge: 2016

First Base

Dan Driessen

.269/.368/.421 (119 OPS+)

17 HR, 57 RBI

Joey Votto

.231/.354/.435 (112 OPS+)

On pace for 28 HR, 90 RBI

I listed Driessen's HR and RBI totals because I remember having a baseball card that listed him as the team leader in both categories.  I didn't realize at the time how pathetic that really was, though.  On the whole, the players had similar offensive numbers and graded out below average defensively, but Driessen totaled about 2 WAR for the year, while Votto is still looking up at zero.  Edge: Black Box metrics

Second Base

Ron Oester

.260/.303/.359 (84 OPS+)

5 SB, 6 CS

Brandon Phillips

.263/.297/.415 (90 OPS+)

4 SB, 5 CS

Throughout history, the necessary break-even point for a stolen base to be value additive for a team is somewhere in the 70%-80% range.  I don't necessarily expect players to be thinking of these things, but there's something awfully sad about a player having a sub-50% SB success rate on a horrible team.  Oester was bad in the field, too.

Edge: push

(note: it's important to throw some "pushes" in your comparison, since that evokes images of gambling, which leads the reader to believe that you are the inside scoop to trust on these write-ups)

Third Base

Johnny Bench

.258/.320/.396 (98 OPS+)

.917 fielding pct at 3B

Eugenio Suarez

.231/.291/.431 (92 OPS+)

.925 fielding pct at 3B

Arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history and almost certainly the greatest defensive catcher in baseball history, Bench played almost exclusively as a third baseman in 1982.  Predictably, a 34 year old ex-catcher with limited experience at the position associated with quick reflexes had terrible range and made a bunch of errors as well.  Suarez, on the other hand, has been trained to play infield his entire life.  Edge: push


Dave Concepcion

.287/.337/.371 (97 OPS+)

RF/9 at SS: 5.17

Zack Cozart

.284/.312/.495 (114 OPS+)

RF/9 at SS: 4.68

As best as I can tell, the worst part of having no memories of the 1970s is that I didn't see the Big Red Machine in action.  There are many aspects of that team that I would have liked to see firsthand, but one of the top items would be to watch Concepcion's fielding range on a daily basis.  It's a different game today than it was 35 years ago, and fielders have fewer opportunities as strikeouts increase.  Still, to have above average range as a 34 year old is like, woah.  All the same, give me the guy who can field and has some pop.  Edge: 2016

Left Field

Eddie Milner

.268/.338/.378 (99 OPS+)

41 BB, 40 K

Adam Duvall

.259/.288/.580 (127 OPS+)

On pace for 18 BB, 165 K

Coincidentally, this represents both players' age-27 season and was also each's first season as an everyday-ish player.  Obviously, this one is going to Duvall, but look at that BB/K split!  Something tells me there might be a bit of a market correction in the near future.  Milner's the smart bet for better career out of the two.  Edge: 2016

Center Field

Cesar Cedeno

.289/.346/.413 (110 OPS+)

35 doubles

Billy Hamilton

.269/.308/.394 (88 OPS+)

On pace for 31 doubles

Along with Concepcion, Cedeno is a key member of the Hall of Very Good.  Unfortunately, that placement for Cedeno is on the basis of his accomplishments with the Astros.  I listed doubles here because my mental image of a guy who hits lots of doubles is of a pure hitter.  Cedeno led the team in doubles in 1982 and while he was fast, he was not a punch hitter, hitting 199 career home runs, despite playing most of his career in the cavernous Astrodome.  Hamilton, on the other hand, is no one's idea of a power hitter but is tracking for 30 doubles.  They all count the same, of course, but it makes me wonder if kids looking at stat sheets 50 years from now will have any idea that most of Hamilton's doubles came as loopy line drives falling directly in front of an outfielder, rather than a sharp liner to the wall.  Edge: 1982

Right Field

Paul Householder

.211/.265/.326 (64 OPS+)

9 HR, 34 RBI

Jay Bruce

.271/.325/.570 (136 OPS+)

14 HR, 44 RBI (through 6/12)

My grandfather went to Spring Training around this time and reported that Householder was his new favorite player, on account of the fact that he took the time to sign an autograph.  Perhaps Householder should have spent more time in the cage.  Edge: 2016


Dave Van Gorder (C)

Wayne Krenchicki (IF)

Tom Lawless (IF)

Duane Walker (OF)

Larry Biittner (OF)

Collective OPS+: 74

Devin Mesoraco (C)

Ivan DeJesus (IF)

Jordan Pacheco (IF)

Tyler Holt (OF)

Scott Schebler (OF)

Collective OPS+: 51

Another key pro tip on these comparisons is to lump multiple players into one category whenever possible to cut down on writing.  Edge: 1982

Starting Pitching

Mario Soto (258 IP, 132 ERA+)

Bruce Berenyi (222 IP, 110 ERA+)

Frank Pastore (188 IP, 93 ERA+)

Tom Seaver (111 IP, 67 ERA+)

Bob Shirley (153 IP, 103 ERA+)

Brandon Finnegan (on pace for 196 IP, 109 ERA+)

Dan Straily (on pace for 191 IP, 131 ERA+)

Alfredo Simon (on pace for 134 IP, 45 ERA+)

John Lamb (on pace for 108 IP, 81 ERA+)

Raisel Iglesias (on pace for 73 IP, 119 ERA+)

Obviously, some of the "on pace" statistics don't make much sense in this case.  If Alfredo Simon completes 134 innings this season, that will qualify as a hate crime under current Ohio law.  Conversely, DeSclafini will likely end up on in the conversation as a significant contributor when the season accounting is complete.  All the same, 1982 featured one of the Reds all-time best pitchers having one of his classic seasons.  And it didn't include Simon (although can you imagine the hand-wringing if a guy like Tom Seaver had a season like that in today's environment?).  Edge: 1982

Relief Pitching

Tom Hume (64 IP, 119 ERA+)

Charlie Leibrandt (108 IP, 72 ERA+)

Jim Kern (76 IP, 130 ERA+)

Joe Price (73 IP, 130 ERA+)

Tony Cingrani (on pace for 74 IP, 102 ERA+)

Blake Wood (on pace for 80 IP, 111 ERA+)

Ross Ohlendorf (on pace for 71 IP, 98 ERA+)

JC Ramirez (on pace for 59 IP, 59 ERA+)

LOL.  This capsule is totes misleading, in that it doesn't capture the cast of thousands who have brought shame to their community.  All in, the 2016 bullpen's ERA is 6.48.  1982's pen was actually pretty good.  Edge: 1982

Final tally: 2016 -€” 4, 1982 -€” 4, Other -€” 3

Ooh, that was inconclusive.  As a tie-breaker, consider that the Reds' brass in 1982 drafted two key contributors to their next World Series victory, Barry Larkin and Randy Myers.  However, the team failed to sign either player.  Dammit.

I think what's been interesting for me, as this hopeless iteration of a team trudges towards 100 losses is that the individual victories are surprisingly satisfying.  I like watching the anonymous Duvall climb the NL home run leaderboard, and seeing Jay Bruce resurrect his career, and finding signs of life in Hamilton's bat.  There are better days ahead, if only by default, but if the chart above is any indication you may look back at 2016 a bunch of years from now and remember that it wasn't all bad.