Good teams don’t get swept by the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates in a late-August series.
Bad teams do.
At 60-69, the Cincinnati Reds are no longer some potential up and comer, they’re pretty well rooted as a bad team. Are they perhaps the best of the bad teams? Sure. Make that argument and I’ll probably end up agreeing with you, even if the idea itself makes me chuckle through it.
Through nearly 130 games of this 2019 season, there have been ample storylines that have emerged, some that have taken completely off - see: Aristides Aquino - and some that have fizzled just as quickly as their meteoric rise - see: Derek Dietrich. Today, we’ll look at some of the under-the-radar materializations we’ve seen as this arduous season has worn on, leaving you, our dear readers, to take a stab at what they mean for the Cincinnati Reds going forward.
“Infielder” Nick Senzel
Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Nick Senzel had played a grand total of zero innings in CF in a professional, regular season game. Now, with some 33 games left on the big league slate for the Reds in 2019, he’s pretty well the lone CF on the active roster.
We’ve touched on the fact that, offensively, Senzel’s rookie season hasn’t exactly been as glorious as we all hoped. Casually, we’ve not really addressed or critiqued his defense this season, probably because we’ve all been willing to give him some time to evolve and adapt out there, even in spite of the fact that he rates as below average by both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
Aside from those points, it’s worth emphasizing that while the Reds did willingly jettison former everyday 2B Scooter Gennett, they’ve amassed a veritable army of options at 2B for the 2020 season, meaning the idea that Senzel could potentially return to the infield for 2020 (and beyond) now seems like a bit of a pipe dream. In other words, it appears the idea of him being anything other than a CF for the near future appears to have simply petered out.
Who knows if that’s a good thing or not. What I do see, though, is that at just 0.3 bWAR and 0.6 fWAR after 91 games played, Senzel’s overall production while in CF this season hasn’t really been up to par, so it does seem a bit odd to not even hear a whisper about letting him return to a routine as an infielder that is how he became such a highly regarded prospect in the first place.
Scott Schebler hit 30 dingers in a season back when that was still sort of a cool number. 30 dingers!
Unfortunately, it turns out that baseball players need two shoulders to be able to swat dingers at any sort of rate, let alone a prolific one. And at this juncture, Schebler cannot boast such a thing.
After his disastrous start to the big league season, Schebler’s return to AAA didn’t go any better, and a shoulder surgery has now ended his 2019 season altogether. In the meantime, Senzel has gotten his taste of the big leagues, while the likes of Josh VanMeter, Aquino, and Phil Ervin have emerged as legitimate OF options alongside Jesse Winker. Schebler, who turns 29 this fall and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, now sits as a potential non-tender candidate, or at the minimum a player whose name doesn’t even get mentioned by anyone anywhere discussing the purported promising future of these Reds going forward.
Two-way threat Michael Lorenzen
Perhaps it was some Ohtani fevor. Maybe it was just a subtle way to make sure Lorenzen reached the thresholds required for him to be a two-way player in 2020 thanks to the modified roster rules we’ll be seeing put in place following this season. But for a time, there seemed to be some legitimate scuttlebutt that Lorenzen would be a part of the team’s offense and outfield in a role of similar importance to that of his bullpen part.
It’s August 26th, and Lorenzen has 15 PA on the season. He has 5 hits, which is good, but...15 total PA. Pair that with just his 19.1 innings across the outfield this year, and not only does that entire two-way concept seem to have fizzled on paper, but it looks as if he’s not going to sniff the thresholds required to actually be classified as a two-way player for 2020.
So if that wasn’t the point, what was the point?
The real Joey Votto is walking through that door
Few things pain me more than talking about Joey Votto in a tone of anything other than reverence. The man has been a baseball phenomenon for the entirety of my blog-gobbling career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to witness utter brilliance at the plate from the man time and time again.
Unfortunately, it’s been quite awhile since witnessing the best of that brilliance, and all 2019 has done is make it seem less and less likely I’ll get to do so again.
At .262/.352/.410, Votto has not been bad. That OPS is better than Senzel this season, for reference, and is higher than Schebler’s career mark. It’s just not Joey Votto, and the way in which he’s reached that point this year hasn’t passed the Votto eye-test, either.
In the 7 seasons prior to 2019, Votto had walked a whopping 58 times more than he’d struck out. This season alone, he’s fanned 43 more times than he’s walked.
He’s tweaked his swing decisively, abandoning the choke-up crouch that he’d employed for many successful seasons in favor of being more upright, something that would seem odd from any player with his track record, much less in the middle of the season.
And, of course, there has been a recurrence of back pain, something that is far from uncommon for anyone on the cusp of their 36th birthday. It’s also something that I suspect has bothered him more often in the last few seasons than he and the Reds have truly let on.
So now, the Reds are in a position where they no longer need to be looking to build a lineup around Joey Votto, they need to find a way to fit Joey Votto into the lineup of their choosing. I do suspect there’s still plenty left in the gas tank of one Joey Votto, and he’s notorious for spending offseasons figuring out precisely what his biggest problem was in the previous year and correcting it. Still, the idea that he can recapture the days of 1.something OPS levels and striking enough fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers that they simply will not throw him strikes seems outlandish at this point.
I hated writing that. I don’t disagree with a bit of it, though.