The waiting is finally over. The long, baseball-deprived winter months slogged by and brought us the tease that was spring training. It was baseball, but it wasn’t “This game actually means something” baseball. But April arrived and, lo and behold, we’re already 3 weeks into the 2017 season. Time all of a sudden seems to be flying by, doesn’t it?
The start of the 2017 for Reds fans meant that we will begin to have an idea of what this team might look like post-rebuild. While we all understand that the win/loss column will most likely resemble 2015 and 2016 rather than 2012 and 2013. A full season of Jose Peraza, another season of growth for Eugenio Suarez, the debuts of Amir Garrett and Jesse Winker, and watching how the rotation will shake out were all things that we could watch with anticipation of how they would affect the future of the franchise.
Out of curiosity, I looked back at the first 18 games post from 2016 just to see how things had changed over the last year. The Reds were 9-9 at that point. Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey were out with injuries, Robert Stephenson had just made his first two major league starts in the rotation, and we had a veteran innings eater in Dan Straily was beginning to make his move into the rotation. If you replace Robert Stephenson with Amir Garrett and Dan Straily with Scott Feldman then you will see that things are pretty similar to what they were last year, but the attitude around the club seems much different. Amir Garrett has been brilliant. So has Eugenio Suarez. Cody Reed has shown his potential and Joey Votto is still Joey Votto. One of the worst bullpens of all time turned into one of the strongest in the league. Things are finally starting to get exciting.
After all of the rebuilding over the last three seasons, we are finally getting a glimpse of what the future holds for the Reds. While the 6-1 start was fun in the short term, it was even more exciting to see Reed, Michael Lorenzen, and Wandy Peralta combine for 7 perfect innings out of the bullpen in Pittsburgh. Most fans don’t remember a random 7-1 win in the middle of April. There was no walk-off home run, or an amazing individual performance that will go down in the record books. But that win will stick out to me for the rest of the season. Because that night in Pittsburgh showed us the future, and that is what 2017 is all about.
2017 Reds: Capsule 1
Season Strength of Schedule: .503 (4th hardest in NL; 10th hardest in MLB)
Season RPI (ESPN): .514 (6th in NL; 13th in MLB)
Baseball Prospectus division odds: 2.2%
Baseball Prospectus post-season odds: 8.2%
- .250/.311/.440 for capsule 1, compared to NL average of .243/.312/.407.
- The regulars as defined by plate appearances: Barnhart, Votto, Peraza, Cozart, Suarez, Duvall, Hamilton, Schebler.
- This was sort of a feast-or-famine capsule for the offense. For as many solid performances they had in Suarez, Cozart, and Votto, they had some pretty bad ones in Hamilton, Schebler, and Peraza. All-in-all, they still put up decent numbers as a team and were slightly above league average in just about every category.
- Let’s just start this section off by talking about Eugenio Suarez. After a surge that saw him hit .272/.344/.421 over the second half of 2016, he picked up right where he left off to start 2017. This capsule saw him hit .367/.441/.733 with 5 home runs and an astounding 211 OPS+. He led the team in hits (22), extra-base hits (11), and OPS (1.175) over this period. As our own Tony Wolfe wrote just last week, he has been hitting more line drives, fewer fly balls, and been more patient at the plate to start the season which has contributed to his hot start.
- Speaking of hot hitters, Zack Cozart is on a tear to start off the 2017 season. Over the first 18 games, he has hit .370/.444/.630 with 5 doubles, 3 triples, and 1 home run. One contributing factor in to his success in the early part of the season is that he has been much more patient at the plate. He is swinging at fewer pitches not only out of the strike zone, but overall as well. His O-Swing %, or percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone, is at 23% this season compared to 29.6% for his career while his overall swing % is at 40%, compared with 46.6% for his career. His walk rate is also way up this year, sitting at 12.7% compared to 6.7% for his career.
- Despite the .239 batting average to start the year that many people have been citing as evidence of his slow start, Joey Votto has hit the ball pretty well so far. He has OPS’d .900 for the first 18 games, leads the team in home runs (6), and has more walks (9) than strikeouts (8). He is still sporting a wRC+ of 132 and an OPS+ of 138. He still has managed to put up these numbers while having a BABIP of .185, which is well below his career number of .356. Just imagine what he is going to look like when he starts to heat up.
- Speaking of guys with low BABIP’s, Scott Schebler had himself a rough start to the season. He has hit .153/.242/.339 over the first 18 games. He has been quite unlucky to start the year with a BABIP of .146, so those numbers will obviously go up as the season goes on. He is also walking at a 9.1% rate, which is up from his 7.2% career rate, so that is also encouraging for the Reds’ right fielder.
- At the top of the order, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza have not been getting on base as often as the Reds would have hoped in the early part of the season. Hamilton, who used a strong second half of 2016 to help him finish with a .321 OBP, the highest of his career for a full season, is hitting only .224/.274/.269 to start the year. His main issue so far has been that he is swinging at, and making contact with, more pitches outside the zone than he has in his career. His O-Swing% is up slightly from his career average (29.3% compared to 27.8%) but his contact rate is way up on those pitches (81.8% in 2017 compared to 71.9% in his career.) This has resulted in weaker contact, as his soft-hit ball % is up to 30.5% for 2017 compared to 22.4% for his career and his hard-hit ball % is down from 19.3% to 11.9%.
- Peraza, who also had a strong 2nd half in 2016, is also scuffling to start the year to the tune of a .229/.270/.271 line. His issue, other than his 2.7% walk rate (which is right at his 2016 number), is the fact that he is making really weak contact this year. His soft-hit % is up from 19.4% in 2016 to 38.7% in 2017 while his hard-hit % is down from 21.3% in 2016 to 11.3% in 2017.
- Tucker Barnhart also hit well to start the year. He hit .298/.353/.362 in 14 games to kick off 2017. The return of Devin Mesoraco is inevitable and will probably happen very very soon, and you can’t really say enough about the job that Barnhart has done over the last 2 years filling in as the starter. While he is never going to be the best bat in the line-up, it is nice to know that you have someone like him to be able to pencil in in the case that Mesoraco (hopefully not!) goes down again.
- Our best bat off the bench was easily Scooter Gennett. In 38 PA’s he hit .297/.316/.622 with a .938 OPS and 3 home runs. He also showed the ability to play multiple positions around the field which certainly comes in handy as guys need days off.
- Team ERA of 3.84, compared to NL average of 3.94.
- In a strange twist, the pitching was the strength of the team throughout the first capsule. After so many questions and injuries entering the season, the rotation stepped up in a huge way. After a miserable 2016, the bullpen was mostly lights-out. While it may not be sustainable, especially with the number of innings the bullpen has thrown so far, it has certainly been fun to watch leads get held onto instead of blown in the early part of the season.
- Amir freaking Garrett, man. You honestly couldn’t ask for a better start to a career than what Mr. Ball is Life just put up. 19.2 innings, 1.83 ERA, 3 walks, and 21 strikeouts in his first 3 major league starts. It took him 12 innings before he gave up a run and then he struck out 12 Orioles in his 3rd ever start. He is sporting a 9.6 K/9 and a 1.4 BB/9 to start his career. Obviously, teams are going to figure him out and he will have to make adjustments, but this performance certainly lends some excitement about his future with the Reds.
- Scott Feldman was one of the guys who was sort of a question mark entering spring training. After spending much of the last 2 years in the bullpen, injuries in spring training forced him into the rotation as the Opening Day Starter. After his Reds debut was somewhat rocky (lead-off home runs are never great first impressions), he has pitched much better. In his 3 starts since Opening Day, he has gone at least 6 innings twice and hasn’t given up more than 2 runs in any of those 3 outings. At this point, he sits at a 2.38 ERA over 22.2 innings with 8 walks and 19 strikeouts.
- After his first two starts of the season did not go as planned, Bronson Arroyo settled in pretty nicely. Since the 18th game was on Saturday, his start on Sunday wasn’t factored into this capsule. Through capsule 1, he posted a 8.40 ERA over 15 innings with 5 walks and 9 strikeouts. I have no idea what the rest of the season will look like for the 40 year old, but hopefully it’s closer to the last two starts than the first two.
- After the stellar debut of Amir Garrett, the bullpen has been the talk of the Reds’ pitching staff. After having one of the worst bullpens of all time in 2016, the combination of Raisel Iglesias, Cody Reed, Michael Lorenzen, Drew Storen, and Wandy Peralta in relief has been fantastic so far in 2017. Who knows how long Bryan Price will continue to manage the bullpen the way he has this season, but for now the players have responded very well to it.
- I have no idea what to think about Cody Reed at this point. After walking four in his first appearance of the season, he retired 19 straight batters and didn’t give up a hit. Things were much different when he got the call to start, as he gave up 7 earned runs and walked 5 batters in only 2 innings. He has obviously shown his brilliance multiple times this season, and I still believe he can be a starter, but he has certainly struggled in his short time as a starter in the majors. I just hope that Price doesn’t give up on him after a bad day against the reigning world champions.
- Raisel Iglesias continues to be our best pitcher on staff, which should surprise nobody. He has only given up 1 run through 9.2 innings, good for a 0.93 ERA, with only 3 walks and 13 strikeouts. Other than a couple of bad outings, Michael Lorenzen hasn’t been far behind him. He has walked 3 and struck out 12 over 11 innings of work and, like Iglesias, has been able to throw multiple innings each appearance. He also has shown the ability to hit the ball, as he has a dinger to his name already this season.
- The resurgence of Drew Storen has also been a welcome sight this season. Through 8.1 innings he has a 1.08 ERA with 4 walks and 10 strikeouts. He has put 11 men on base over those 8.1 innings, which is slightly concerning, but so far he has been able to limit the damage.
- The biggest surprise out of the bullpen so far has been Wandy Peralta. He has a 1.23 ERA through 7.1 innings and has struck out 12 of the 27 batters he has faced so far while only walking two.
- 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 capsule is .732, which is 2nd in the NL and 4th overall. We have only made 4 errors at this point. To put that in perspective, Eugenio Suarez made 6 errors in the first 18 games last season.
The Next 18:
- 10 games at home; 8 games on the road.
- 11 of the 18 against NL Central opponents.
- 2 of the 18 against American League teams, neither of which involve the DH.
- 6 of the 18 against 2016 playoff teams.
- .481 winning percentage for teams in the next 18.
- While the next 18 looks easier by the opponents’ winning percentage, I actually think this will be a tough stretch. The Cardinals have always been tough regardless of how they’re playing, the Brewers just took 3 of 4 from the Reds just over a week ago, and the Yankees have been mashing the ball so far in 2017. It will be really interesting to see how this pitching staff holds up over the next few weeks.