We are 37 games into the season and the Cincinnati Reds are still above .500. I was really hoping that first sentence would close with “...and the Reds are still in first place.” but dropping three in a row tends to change things up. And considering how things have gone for this team in the last three seasons, I will take a winning record every day and twice on Sunday. Regardless of what they have done in the past, and regardless of their 3-game losing streak, the 2017 version of the Reds is actually quite fun.
The most surprising thing about this team is how they are doing it. Despite the fact that the rotation is less than put together and has very little depth, the 2017 Reds are doing some exciting things. The offense, led by the always great Joey Votto, has performed better than the NL average in nearly every category and is in the top 5 in the league in most of the categories. The defense, which struggled mightily in the early parts of 2016 and then improved later on, is potentially the best in all of MLB. Lastly, the bullpen, who had the potential (is potential the right word?) to be one of the worst of all time last year, has completely reversed its course and is one of the main reasons that the Reds are in this position.
The big asterisk in all of this is that the team is still pretty young. There were seven rookies on the opening day roster and there are a few down in Louisville who have already debuted this season. As it always is with youth, especially in this sport, things can and most certainly will change. A couple of slumps here and an injury there can quickly turn a winning team into a last place team. But that’s all speculation and not a reality. The reality is that we have a winning team that is a whole lot of fun to watch. And until those things change, I’m going to enjoy what we have.
All stats and notes are through Saturday’s games.
2017 Reds: Capsule 2
Season strength of schedule: .499 (7th hardest in NL; 15th hardest in MLB)
Season RPI (ESPN): .506 (8th in NL; 15th in MLB) [Previous: .514 - 6th NL; 13th MLB]
Baseball Prospectus division odds: 4.3% (Previous 2.2%)
Baseball Prospectus post-season odds: 12.1% (Previous 8.2%)
- .270/.345/.450 for capsule 2, compared with NL average of .259/.331/.426 and .250/.311/.440 for capsule 1.
- The regulars as defined by plate appearances: Barnhart, Votto, Peraza, Cozart, Suarez, Duvall, Hamilton, Schebler.
- This was a pretty solid capsule for the offense, as they improved in every slash line category from the previous 18 games and were better than league average in each category as well. Only Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart had drastically worse capsules than their previous one and the rest of the lineup either improved or did about as well as the previous capsule
- Joey freaking Votto, man. He continued his hot start to the season by hitting .333/.457/.587 in capsule 2. He had 4 home runs, 4 doubles, and once again walked (16) more times than he struck out (11). His BABIP for this capsule was .354, which is pretty much right at his career average, while his BABIP for the first capsule was .185. I know I say this pretty much every time, but it is such a joy to watch this dude hit the ball each day.
- Zack Cozart also had a great capsule at the plate. He hit .304/.420/.500 for the capsule and collected 8 XBH. It is crazy how much better his plate discipline has been this season. In this capsule, he had 12 walks against 13 strikeouts and had 8 walks against 11 strikeouts last capsule (30/34 BB/K for the season). Compare that to this point last season, when he was still hitting the ball well, he had 3 walks against 16 strikeouts. His O-Swing% remains at a career low of 24.4%, compared to his career average of 29.4%.
- Continuing with guys who hammered the ball, Scott Schebler bounced back after an awful first period. He hit .353/.413/.735 for the capsule with 7 home runs and 5 doubles. He raised his season OPS from .581 to .885. It’s not exactly a shock that he rebounded this well. He was hitting the ball hard with an incredible low .146 BABIP. His fortunes quickly reversed this time around, as his BABIP was .362 for capsule 2.
- Adam Duvall also improved over this capsule, hitting .288/.342/.576 with 4 home runs and 5 doubles. One of the biggest reasons for his improvement is that he improved his BB/K from 5/21 to 6/12 for this capsule.
- Billy Hamilton also saw some improvement over this period, hitting .266/.326/.405 and raising his season OBP to .302. While that still leaves a little to be desired, it’s much better than the .274 OBP he posted in the previous capsule.
- Jose Peraza would have gone the entire capsule without collecting a walk had he not done it twice on Saturday. While this isn’t quite as big of a deal now that he has been moved down in the lineup, going at least 17+ games without a walk is something that definitely needs to be improved upon.
- It’s good to see Devin Mesoraco back in the lineup. He made his return from the DL by hitting .258/.378/.387. He is showing great plate discipline so far, walking 5 times against 6 strikeouts. His power hasn’t returned quite yet, but that should come around as he continues to play.
- Off the bench, Scooter Gennett continues to hit it well, hitting .300/.344/.467 in 32 plate appearances. Arismendy Alcantara also had a solid capsule, going 8-17 and putting together a stretch where he collected a hit in 7-straight plate appearances.
- Team ERA of 4.66, compared to the NL average of 4.50.
- Once again, the bullpen was the strength of the pitching staff while the rotation struggled. Given who is making up our rotation at this point of the season, it’s not exactly shocking that they aren’t the strength of the team. The question is how long the bullpen will be able to hold up at this rate. At this point, the Reds average just 5.1 innings per start, which is tied for worst in the league with the Marlins. On top of that, they also have the most relief appearances where the pitcher pitched multiple innings. The return of Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan will give the relievers some, well, relief, but in the meantime, there needs to be some more longevity out of the starters or the bullpen will start to falter.
- Scott Feldman continues to be a serviceable starting pitcher in 2017. In four appearances, he pitched 25 innings and amassed a 4.68 ERA. While he got roughed up a little in his first two starts of this capsule, he finished it off by throwing 16 innings of 2-run ball in 2 starts against the Giants, including a complete-game shutout last Sunday.
- It sounds crazy, but Bronson Arroyo had probably the best capsule of all the starting pitchers. In this capsule, he put up a 4.27 ERA in 21.1 innings of work with his best start of the year coming on April 23, when he gave up 2 runs in 6 innings while striking out 7. He also had the highest K/9 of any starter at 6.8. Also, the Reds won all four games that he started. The fact that the Reds are still, in the middle of May, relying on Arroyo to be a reliable starter shows just how depleted the starting rotation is at the moment. But good for him. The fact that he has performed well enough for the Reds to need him at this point in the season is pretty dang impressive for a 40-year old who hasn’t been healthy in two seasons.
- Although the 6.96 ERA in 16.1 innings isn’t great, Amir Garrett wasn’t bad in 2 of his 3 starts in this capsule. That one night in Milwaukee where he gave up 9 earned runs in only 3.1 innings really skewed his ERA in the wrong direction. He bounced back well, giving up only 2 runs in each of his next two starts. He did get a little wild, though, as he walked 11 batters in this capsule while only striking out 7.
- The two-headed monster of Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen continues to be pretty much unstoppable out of the bullpen. The two combined to give up only 2 earned runs in 19 innings over this capsule. While Iglesias struggled a little more than normal (He gave up 8 hits and 4 walks over his 9.2 innings), Lorenzen was lights-out as opponents only amassed a .125 batting average against him.
- A couple of other relievers who pitched well were Drew Storen and Blake Wood. While Storen will probably be remembered for hitting 3 Yankees in 1 inning, he was solid the rest of the way. He gave up only 3 runs in 8.1 innings while walking only 1 batter and striking out 7. Blake Wood only gave up 1 earned run in his 8.2 innings, showing that while this bullpen has talent, it also has a lot of depth.
- According to the team’s Defensive Efficiency Rating, the Reds are the best defending team in baseball. At the end of this capsule, the team’s DER sits at .728. The next closest team is the Minnesota Twins, who sit at .725. After all of the frustrations of last season, it’s pretty awesome to find a team this young playing defense this well.
The next 18:
- 12 games at home, 6 on the road.
- 3 of the 18 against NL Central opponents.
- 7 of the 18 against American League teams, 5 of which involve the DH.
- 11 of the 18 against 2015 playoff teams.
- .458 winning % for teams in the next 18.