75 Wins Above Replacement is quite a number. WAR, while an imperfect statistic when used as an end-all, be-all, still gives a pretty accurate realm of total performance relative to one’s peers, and is a decent enough way of framing just how good certain players have been.
Johnny Bench posted 75 career WAR, for instance, and the Cincinnati Reds legend is widely regarded as the greatest catcher in baseball history. Paul Molitor and Old Hoss Radbourn also were credited with 75 WAR in their careers, at least according to Baseball Reference. If FanGraphs’ version of WAR is more your thing, nary a pitcher in history has been good for exactly 75 WAR, but Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts both checked in just shy of that number with 74 and change in their great careers.
So, yes - 75 WAR is quite a number. And if you’re wondering why the hell I’m so caught up on that number, look no further than this particular leaderboard.
Team Pitching, 2015-2018
|Indians||368||278||153||2631||646||5775.2||9.29||2.65||1.11||.294||74.9 %||44.5 %||13.0 %||3.65||3.66||3.61||95.2|
|Astros||374||274||174||2659||648||5810.0||9.23||2.84||1.04||.294||74.6 %||46.0 %||12.5 %||3.72||3.66||3.68||90.4|
|Dodgers||379||270||193||2899||649||5819.1||9.31||2.66||1.04||.287||75.6 %||45.2 %||12.6 %||3.48||3.57||3.58||89.5|
|Yankees||362||286||181||2613||648||5791.0||9.26||2.98||1.19||.293||74.1 %||45.8 %||14.0 %||3.93||3.92||3.75||88.4|
|Nationals||357||291||173||2673||648||5787.0||8.85||2.82||1.07||.291||74.2 %||43.3 %||11.8 %||3.77||3.79||3.91||81.2|
|Red Sox||372||276||168||2636||648||5829.0||8.83||3.00||1.12||.299||74.0 %||42.3 %||11.9 %||3.96||3.94||4.04||74.5|
|Cubs||387||261||170||2835||649||5844.2||8.69||3.20||1.00||.278||75.2 %||46.2 %||12.4 %||3.53||3.85||3.88||73.3|
|Cardinals||357||291||186||2755||648||5818.2||8.21||3.15||0.94||.298||74.4 %||47.1 %||11.5 %||3.72||3.86||3.99||70.3|
|Mets||324||324||180||2740||648||5805.0||8.61||2.94||1.10||.303||73.2 %||44.3 %||12.3 %||4.03||3.91||3.96||70.2|
|Pirates||333||313||181||2654||647||5815.0||8.00||3.09||1.00||.303||73.6 %||46.5 %||12.0 %||3.92||3.98||4.07||60.4|
|Blue Jays||331||317||161||2772||648||5799.0||7.92||3.04||1.19||.292||72.2 %||44.5 %||12.5 %||4.22||4.24||4.26||58.7|
|Rays||318||330||207||2727||648||5773.0||8.55||3.07||1.16||.285||73.9 %||42.4 %||12.1 %||3.92||4.04||4.11||58.4|
|Diamondbacks||323||325||157||2859||648||5822.0||8.45||3.31||1.13||.300||72.9 %||46.7 %||13.3 %||4.14||4.11||4.02||57.9|
|Rockies||321||328||171||2833||649||5745.2||7.85||3.42||1.16||.310||70.3 %||47.6 %||13.8 %||4.70||4.33||4.19||56.8|
|Brewers||323||326||189||2767||649||5776.0||8.12||3.36||1.11||.295||73.6 %||45.3 %||12.8 %||4.02||4.20||4.18||56.2|
|Phillies||280||368||155||2758||648||5760.0||8.17||3.10||1.24||.307||71.4 %||43.3 %||13.1 %||4.51||4.29||4.22||52.5|
|Giants||308||340||152||2831||648||5818.0||7.70||2.92||1.01||.293||73.0 %||44.6 %||11.0 %||3.97||3.97||4.18||50.5|
|Mariners||329||319||193||2697||648||5809.0||8.01||2.85||1.28||.292||73.2 %||43.1 %||13.3 %||4.18||4.30||4.22||50.1|
|Athletics||309||339||149||2730||648||5774.2||7.49||2.98||1.17||.288||71.0 %||44.9 %||12.5 %||4.29||4.28||4.30||46.3|
|Twins||305||343||150||2787||648||5765.1||7.46||3.04||1.26||.304||71.4 %||42.8 %||12.7 %||4.57||4.44||4.43||46.3|
|Tigers||288||358||151||2679||646||5720.2||7.47||3.12||1.27||.302||70.2 %||41.5 %||12.4 %||4.71||4.48||4.52||45.2|
|White Sox||283||365||139||2616||648||5758.0||7.94||3.56||1.23||.295||72.1 %||42.7 %||12.5 %||4.43||4.49||4.52||45.0|
|Orioles||292||356||160||2526||648||5738.2||7.71||3.44||1.31||.302||72.3 %||44.1 %||13.6 %||4.61||4.59||4.46||44.1|
|Angels||319||329||153||2837||648||5740.0||7.93||3.10||1.26||.292||74.3 %||41.5 %||12.6 %||4.14||4.37||4.37||43.4|
|Padres||279||369||157||2726||648||5768.0||8.33||3.37||1.19||.301||71.2 %||46.3 %||14.0 %||4.41||4.28||4.11||42.3|
|Royals||314||334||169||2634||648||5761.2||7.53||3.24||1.19||.299||72.9 %||43.5 %||12.1 %||4.38||4.39||4.47||40.4|
|Rangers||328||320||172||2595||648||5751.0||7.01||3.27||1.26||.294||71.4 %||44.2 %||13.1 %||4.56||4.65||4.58||39.7|
|Braves||297||350||159||2849||647||5771.0||7.88||3.61||1.08||.295||71.4 %||43.9 %||11.7 %||4.35||4.29||4.42||38.7|
|Marlins||290||356||154||2817||646||5746.2||7.80||3.66||1.06||.296||71.7 %||42.7 %||11.2 %||4.42||4.30||4.50||34.3|
|Reds||267||381||134||2701||648||5766.1||7.88||3.66||1.42||.296||71.8 %||43.7 %||15.2 %||4.77||4.81||4.46||19.3|
You can argue all you’d like about when the Cincinnati Reds began ‘rebuilding.’ The fact is, both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon were dealt away on the same December day in 2014, and while it took longer to shed the rest of the veterans from that previously solid era, that’s the date that I choose to reference as the beginning of the hibernation.
That block of data up there is sorted by team pitching WAR since the start of the 2015 season - or, if you’re on board with me, since the Cincinnati Reds began dismantling things. It’s the far right column, and you might need to scroll over. You might need to cover your eyes and take a deep breath, too, since dead last by a long shot are the Reds in that category. In fact, you could double the 19.3 collective WAR they’ve posted in that four year window and they’d still rank second to last.
The difference between the Reds and Cleveland, who ranks atop that list? Just some 75 WAR. That’s nearly 19 WAR per season, if my fuzzy math is working. That’s a starting rotation of five 4 WAR starters every year for four years. And even if you worry less about the difference between the Reds and the absolute best of the bunch in that span, it’s worth noting that the teams ranked 1-7 on that list have been the absolute Who’s Who of the baseball world for the bulk of that period. Cleveland, Houston, the Dodgers, the Yankees, Washington, the Red Sox, and the Chicago Cubs sit 1-7 on that list, each of whom have had rosters as rock solid as they come during that spell - with postseason runs to boot.
Last in pitching WAR and last in the standings in that time, the Reds have a veritable mountain to climb to become a team known for its pitching. So, when owner Bob Castellini reiterated last week that the Reds are going to ‘get the pitching,’ well, that’s a bit like standing in Dubai, looking skyward, and saying you’re going to ‘get the concrete.’ One gas can will not fill the Reds tank. One George Washington will not get you past this bouncer and into the club. The idea that there is some pool of pitching out there for the pilfering is a fallible one in its own right, but the idea that it’s there and that the Reds are just going to drive up to it and load up their bus with it is downright fiction.
It’s true that there’s a smidgen of pitching out there. The Reds themselves are going to be able to get a bit of it. That said, there’s no one move that’s going to make things suddenly hunky dory. Signing Clayton Kershaw won’t do it. Signing Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel won’t do it, either. Would those kinds of moves help? ABSOLUTELY they would help - but the financial ramifications would likely cripple another aspect of the franchise. Trading for Noah Syndergaard would help, as would acquiring Marcus Stroman or Carlos Rodon or Madison Bumgarner. Those additions would move the needle, to be sure - but they would also cost Hunter Greene, or Nick Senzel, or Jesse Winker, or Tyler Mahle, or all of them.
The fact is, the front office of the Reds has the unenviable task of both knowing exactly what it is they need and knowing that it’s the single most scarce, most costly attribute in the baseball world. They also get to deal with knowing that the entire rest of the baseball world knows that’s what they need and are looking for, too, which certainly isn’t the best scenario to go looking for bargain after bargain. This Cincinnati front office, this winter, is about to try to salvage the last four years of rebuilding with their quest for pitching, and will be trying to do so without crippling the next wave of Cincinnati Reds baseball hopes, too.
A quick glance back at the biggest pitching moves the Reds have made in recent memory only serves to highlight that importance. The Reds simply cannot afford to hand out another $100 million to a pitcher and have it blow up the way the Homer Bailey contract has. On the other hand, finding a cheap, pre-arbitration starter that can slot in atop the rotation the way Mat Latos did would be an incredible addition, but you’ve got to take into account that the current equivalent of trading away Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez to get that kind of piece would be akin to, say, Taylor Trammell, Hunter Greene, Tony Santillan, and Anthony DeSclafani.
And again...the Reds don’t need one new Mat Latos, they need several.
It’s important to note that pitching, obviously, is not everything. The Kansas City Royals made a World Series run in 2015 and rank just 26th on that WAR list, though you’ve obviously seen the slide they’ve endured after they pushed all of their chips in to hang that banner. The Atheltics, Brewers, Rockies, and Rays rank in the middle of the pack on the list, yet each has made the playoffs or topped 90 wins in recent years. The Reds have a position player group that’s solid enough to be able to win without absolute elite-level pitching, but even then, they have a mountain to scale just to get to that level - and while that’s obvious to all, the front office now has public pressure from their owner to make it happen ASAP.
It seems inevitable that there will be some major arms added to this pitching staff this winter. That much of a baseline has been established. The major question now, though, is how much future talent and payroll are the Reds willing to sacrifice to make those moves with 2019 as a priority?