Our friend Zach Buchanan of The Enquirer put e-pen to e-paper on Monday about the current travails in the win/loss column of the lovable Cincinnati Reds. On the heels of another blowout loss - this time with Homer Bailey rocked by the St. Louis Cardinals - the Reds are again on pace to lose more than 94 games, the third such season in a row that lofty total will have been reached if things continue.
That’s not good. In fact, as Buchanan noted, it’s more or less the second worst stretch in the franchise’s illustrious history. And any time those types of stints are sustained, there probably isn’t much positivity around to lean on.
Such is the case with the Reds at this time, although during a concentrated effort to rebuild and reboot, that’s actually most of the plan. It’d be terrible if this was a $130 million payroll squad that had been put together to win in 2016-2017, but that’s obviously not the case. What’s happened is akin to the Reds sending their 16 year old to the DMV to get a learner’s permit, knowing the only way they’ll ever be a good driver is to put them behind the wheel and let ‘em wreck things along the way.
Amidst the wreckage of the 2017 season, however, there have been a few bright spots. A few things that have not just gone well, but have actually gone according to the best-case-scenario plans laid out by the front office. Let’s look at those.
Joey Votto being Joey Gawdang Votto
Not a lot of rebuilds get centered around players who are about to turn 34 years old and have at least $157 million guaranteed on their contracts beyond the 2017 season. The Reds, however, have continued to bank their hopes on Votto continuing to be one of the great offensive forces in baseball history, and the his 2017 season has certainly been more of that.
As of writing this on Monday, Votto’s 1.031 OPS would be the second best single season mark of his career, bested only by his short-circuited 2012 season (1.041). He leads the NL in OPS+ (165), all of baseball in games played (111) and walks (83), and is on pace to club more homers than he ever has. Add in that those 83 walks come against just 56 (!) strikeouts, and it’s reasonable to claim it may well be the best offensive season of his career.
Add in that his defense, which dogged him throughout 2016, has been markedly improved, and it’s hard to think the front office could expect any more out of their superstar.
The emergence of Luis Castillo
Even here, you could make the argument that seeing Castillo in Cincinnati’s rotation in mid-June qualifies more as a “wreck” than a bright spot, since it took the repeated failures of everyone above him on the starting pitching totem pole to cause the Reds to call him up straight from AA in the first place. That does have some validity to it, I suppose.
That aside, what the Reds have received from Castillo on the mound has been electric at best, and still sturdy at worst. Would Dan Straily have helped buoy the awful start to the season from Cincinnati pitchers in 2017? Sure, but 2017 was about finding pieces to make the 2018-2020 Reds contenders, not just water-treaders, and Castillo oozes that upside. With a 3.64 ERA, the highest average fastball velocity in all MLB among starters who have pitched as many innings as he has, and a calmness on the mound that sets him apart from his peers, his 2017 emergence has been exactly what the Reds hoped they’d get from several of their young arms this year.
Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez becoming lineup cogs
Sorting through the endless blah of potential starting pitchers this year has become the focus for obvious reasons, so it’s easy to forget just how much turnover there has been with the position players since this rebuild began, too. Replacing the likes of Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Todd Frazier from an everyday lineup was no tall task, yet both Duvall and Suarez were immediately tasked with just that, in their parts.
The 2016 season for both was a roller coaster. Early season defensive struggles at 3B and a mid-year slump at the plate drew into question whether Suarez, always a SS, could hack it as the regular at the hot corner. And while Duvall took the baseball world by storm early on, the .224/.296/.420 he hit over the final 82 games (351 PA) of the season made us wonder if he really was just the 28 year old AAAA player the San Francisco Giants thought he was.
2017 has seen both players kick those worries to the curb, however. Suarez hasn’t just become a maestro defensively at 3B, he’s ridden a vastly improved walk rate and continued power development into an .817 OPS, meaning he’s now a Gold Glove caliber defender with an 111 OPS+ making league minimum. That’s a key cog. As for Duvall, he’s hit all year the way he did during the first two months of 2016, and while his defensive metrics have slipped a bit (in a sample size and stat that’s wonky to begin with), he still looks the part of a solid glove man while also ranking among the league-leaders in extra base hits. A dependable cog, too.
What’s gotten into Scooter Gennett
Albus Scrabbledore took a closer look at Scooter’s breakout 2017 season just a week or so ago, and it’s a great dive into the numbers behind the back-of-the-baseball-card counting stats that have spiked tremendously for him this year. Considering the Reds landed Scooter on waivers by simply claiming him and his $2.5 million contract for this year, the .881 OPS, 124 OPS+, and career-best power production (already) would be a 100% win even if he never gets another hit the rest of the season.
That does draw us to an interesting question, though. Scooter will be in his second arbitration year in 2018, meaning he’ll stand to get a raise off the $2.5 million he’s earning right now. And considering how well he’s played this year, that’s going to likely be quite the raise. For the Reds, they’ll have to think hard about how sustainable what Scooter provided early this season truly is and whether they can bank on that going forward. If he slips back to a semblance of the .279/.318/.420 guy from his four years with the Milwaukee Brewers - with so-so defense, to boot - it’ll be tough to palate the $6-7 million he’ll make next year, especially with the likes of Nick Senzel, Alex Blandino, and Dilson Herrera likely to be viable infield options.
Still, for 2017 return-on-expectations, Scooter’s been phenomenal.
The signings of Scott Feldman and Drew Storen have been generally solid, especially given their cheap prices, but inconvenient injuries and the failure to flip them for longer-term assets keeps them off the 100% right list for now. Similarly, Zack Cozart’s astounding breakout has been great to watch, but lingering quad issues and a bottomed-out SS market have kept the Reds from cashing in on their single best trade chip with only months before he walks as a free agent.
Raisel Iglesias almost made the cut here, too, his 240 ERA+ and career best WHIP and K/9 having been outstanding. However, he’s logged “just” 53.2 IP in his 45 appearances, which means he’s been much more of a traditional “closer” than the multi-inning dynamo we were teased with earlier in the season. Perhaps that’s a conscious decision from management in a lost season and something we’ll see revisited when wins and losses matter more, but it was enough to cause him to just miss out on the list.
And no, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis, Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey did not almost make this list.