Hey there, how’s it going? It’s me, your resident baseball optimist that usually tells you that everything is going to be alright and then it’s not. Patience is a virtue, it’s a long season, all that bull. I’m here to write an article that is going to sound like that but, trust me, that’s not the goal. The goal is to point at some statistics, outside of the BABIP, that show us that the Reds have way more talent than what they’ve shown on offense. With time, those number should trend in a way that shows that ... if they have that time.
As my fingers are clanking on my keyboard, the Cincinnati Reds sit at 11-16. That’s not good. That’s exactly one month of normal play. In a normal season, that is 16% of the total games played. In the tragedy of 2020, it is exactly 45% of the season. If this season were normal, we wouldn’t be happy, but we’d understand that there is time. If this season were normal, I could tell you about the stats I’m about to show you and remind you to be patient. In the tragedy of 2020, I can’t tell you either of those things.
The Reds are at their sunset. It’s golden hour and they need to move. Luckily, if I can actually say that, the Reds are playing the vast majority of their future games against the NL Central and the playoffs are expanded. There’s time for them to get hot. There’s time for them to move. There’s room for them to get into a spot. None of this is impossible, and if you look at the stats, all that needs to happen is the ball find some grass. All that needs to happen is for the expected outcomes to become true outcomes.
I can’t tell you I’ve had fun watching Reds baseball the past two weeks. I can’t tell you that I’ve had fun watching Reds baseball the past five years. I can’t tell you that David Bell is the right guy. I can’t sit here and defend the front office. I can’t defend lineups or in play strategy. That’s all outside of my realm. What I can do is look at some stats, that you likely haven’t looked at, and show you the Reds should be way better than what they are on offense.
Note: I’m not Tony Wolfe, but I’m going do my best, so hold on for this one.
The Reds currently sit the lowest in Major League baseball in BABIP. If you don’t know what that stat means, it is your batting average on balls put in play, minus home runs. So, did you hit the ball in the field? What is the percentage that is scored a hit? This is the luck metric. Speed also plays a part but we’ll ignore that.
The Reds BABIP is .224. The next closest is the Texas Rangers at .257. League average is usually something around .300. I don’t have to tell you how bad that is. I don’t even think I need to do any research, but can just speculate, at how historically bad that is. The thing is there are plenty of other metrics that show the Reds offense is actually good but the outcomes are, well, a tragedy or sorts.
Key offensive numbers for the Cincinnati Reds.
- BB%: 11.4 (4th)
- K%: 22.3 (17th)
- ISO: .196 (6th)
These are the numbers I usually look at to see how an offense is doing. They’re simple. I understand them. If you look at them they’re good pretty good. That should translate into one of the best offenses in the league. Seriously. However, that also implies things are normal. They are not.
What I’m going to get into now are the more fancy stats. I’ll admit I don’t fully understand them all because I’m not the smartest man. However, I did a little research, and I think I got it. These stats that are reflective of how hard you hit the ball and what should happen with the ball. In caveman terms, hit the ball hard... good things happen.
When looking at these stats I decided to start in four places - Barrel%, Hard hit%, Exit Velocity, and launch angles. These are all pretty good predictors on whether you’re hitting the ball hard enough and what could happen to it. I’m also going to use the case study of the Minnesota Twins since they seem to be one of the best at smashing the ball over an extended period and breaking records and such. Don’t look at the Slam Diego Padres. Their numbers will honestly hurt your soul. You’ll be too jealous.
To put this into perspective, according to Fangraphs, the Twins are 14th in offensive value at +4.4 while the Reds are 22nd at -12.1. The Twins are 20-10 by the way. The Reds are not.
Barrel% - The rate of batted balls that were “barreled”.
- Reds - 8.0% (9th)
- Twins - 6.2% (24th)
- MLB Average - 7.5%
Hard Hit% - The rate of batted balls that were “hard hit”.
- Reds - 36.3% (16th)
- Twins - 35.4% (T-18th)
- MLB Average - 36.6%
Exit Velocity - The average velocity of batted balls. This one is easy. Basically, you want to go fast.
- Reds - 88.3 MPH (15th)
- Twins - 88.5 (T-12th)
- MLB Average - 88.4
Launch Angle - What is the degree in launch angle that you hit the ball on average.
- Reds - 14.4 (8th)
- Twins - 15 (7th)
- Athletics - 19 (1st) I just wanted to put this one down because it’s almost a freakish outlier. The next closest is 15.6
- MLB Average - 13.2
Like I said, this is all predictive that the Reds hit the ball hard at league average, at least, and on par with one of the best offenses in all of baseball, even one that probably isn’t performing exactly the way they expected either.
However, there are other statistics that show that the Reds are not hitting as well as the stats expect. Here is where things get super complicated, and above my pay grade, but stick with me.
I’m going to use a case example of a Reds player first. Jesse Winker is hitting the shit out of the ball. The eye test backs that up so does Statcast. But, Statcast is also predictive on whether Jesse Winker is getting lucky or just hitting the shit out of the ball. Even Jesse Winker is unlucky to a degree. Here is a link that shows the difference between two stats we’ll talk about, wOBA and xwOBA. There’s also something called xwOBACON that I’ll talk about too. Just bear with me.
First, wOBA is a value added stat that derives value based on the variety of different outcomes of getting on base. It’s weighted for better outcomes. It doesn’t just calculate how often you got on base. I don’t want to go into all the math but higher is better. xwOBA is just simply what was the expected number if there was an average defense. Basically, you hit the ball hard what should have happened when you hit the ball hard? Again, higher is better. xwOBA is predictive and wOBA is results oriented. For the rest of these comparisons, remember if there is an “x” in front of it that means expected. If there is no “x” then that is result we witnessed.
- xwOBA - .461 (8th)
- wOBA - .441 (9th)
- Diff. -.020
- MLB AVG Diff. -.021
You can go through that leaderboard from the link above. I found it fun. Jesse Winker is in some pretty lofty company when it comes to his offensive success this season. If you look at that leaderboard you can also see who has been incredibly unlucky and lucky. Go ahead and play around with it. Jesse Winker has actually been unlucky but most players are. He’s actually just as unlucky as anyone else. I can’t find one Red that is lucky. Not one that qualifies based on plate appearances, that is. The least unlucky Red? Freddy Galvis. He’s sitting at -.012. The most unlucky? Eugenio Suarez as -.072. The luckiest player in baseball is the Mets Dominic Smith at +.061 for comparison.
But, let’s look at the entire team for a moment.
- xBA: .245 (T-22) Not good, but battering average is a bad stat all around.
- BA: .207 (30th)
- Diff: - .038
- MLB AVG Diff: -.013
- xSLG: .453 (9th)
- SLG: .402 (21st)
- Diff: -.051
- MLB AVG Diff: -.024
- xwOBA: .346 (7th)
- wOBA: .308 (20th)
- Diff: -.038
- MLB AVG Diff: -.021
xwOBACON - measures the wOBA on balls put in play. So, walks and strikeouts are taken out of the formula.
- xwOBACON: .393 (T-14th)
- wOBACON: .334 (T-26th)
- Diff: -.059
- MLB AVG Diff: -.032
Baseball is doing a lot better job in present times of evaluating whether or not you have a good offense despite what you see on the field. It’s this kind of data that drives front offices to make the decisions that they make. Now, obviously, what matters is the results we see. That is what leads to wins and losses. The expected outcomes is noise to study in a vacuum to help us make predictions on the future.
The problem that we see in these numbers is that based on expectations the Reds have one of the better offenses in the league. It’s Top 10 if you believe that. However, when we look at the true outcomes, what actually has happened, they are in the bottom 10. The Reds are a team that hits for power and talks a walk with the best of them. Predictably, they do not hit for the best average but that isn’t something we put a lot of value in. However, what these numbers show us is that the 2020 Reds, in 27 games, have been freakishly unlucky.
In 2019, the Washington Nationals were 19-31 after fifty games. That’s a .37% winning percentage. That’s bad. The 2020 Reds are 11-16 that’s a 40% winning percentage. That’s bad. The Nationals had 70% of their season to make up ground. The Reds have 55%. The Nationals went on to right the ship and win the World Series. I’m not predicting that for the Reds. I’m not predicting anything, to be honest, but for now the Reds have some time to right their ship.
The problem with expected outcomes is that they’re not real world solutions. The predictive records are not real records. You have to put your money where your mouth is. The 2020 Reds have been incredibly unlucky. That sucks but its true. No one is going to feel bad for them.
The 2020 Reds are running out of time to prove these numbers wrong and by the end of the season all we care about are the actual outcomes. With all the numbers we have available the only ones that matter by the end of the season are the ones we can put in the record book. They need to find more grass or none of it matters.