The latest round of season projections provides some good news and bad news for the outlook of the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA estimates for 2018 show the Reds as an improving club, one projected to markedly increase their win total from last season and sport an offense capable of scoring the fifth most runs in the National League. That should have you nodding your head, if you’re an optimist, and constitutes the bulk of that good news I previously mentioned.
The bad news? Well, PECOTA still has the Reds finishing last in the National League Central, a 74 win club sunk by the worst pitching staff (by runs allowed) in the entire National League. That’s a story we’ve watched play out in each of the last two seasons, and is one that, if watched again, might well drive us all to stick our heads in our blenders.
A quick dive into the player-specific PECOTA projections gives a bit more detailed look into why the team itself as a whole isn’t eyed optimistically by the model. Each of Tucker Barnhart, Scooter Gennett, and Eugenio Suarez had breakout campaigns in 2017, totaling a solid 8.0 WARP between them. However, PECOTA sees all as unsustainable - at least in 2018 - as the trio’s combined projected WARP for this upcoming season is a meager 2.8, headlined by Suarez’s 1.3. In fact, among all regulars from last season, not a single player is projected to even equal their WARP from 2017, which is a pretty head-scratching thing upon which to stumble.
Pair that with a pitching staff that only has two pitchers projected to clear 1.0 WARP, and that’s a recipe for a cellar-dwelling season if there ever was one. Brandon Finnegan (1.2) and Raisel Iglesias (1.1) are those two, with Luis Castillo (1.0) the only other arm on the staff with a projection that starts with something other than 0 or -0.
There are a few snippets in here that do provide a bit of optimism, however. For one, Jesse Winker’s projections look a lot similar to what we’ve seen elsewhere, featuring adequate power and excellent on-base ability, which is something the Reds’ lineup has sorely needed for years. Cody Reed, Sal Romano, and Robert Stephenson also have rather positive projections given how their seasons started last year, and given how inexperienced that trio still is at the big league level an improvement to these specific projected levels would mark a solid step forward for each of them. Joey Votto’s projections fall far short of the historic production he’s provided over the last few years, but projections have always underestimated Votto across the board - and at least these PECOTA projections still see him as being an excellent, excellent player in 2018.
PECOTA projections historically take a very middle of the road approach, and given the Reds’ combination of recent breakouts offensively and incredibly inexperienced (and injured) pitching, it’s easy to see why projecting the Reds for excellence was never going to be in the cards. So, at least keep that in mind as you digest them while you simultaneously yell loudly about how Dick Williams and Bryan Price have mangled this rebuild. Also, you have Cheeto dust on your shirt and you should really, really put some pants on.