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Four takeaways from the Cincinnati Reds 60 game regular season sprint

Taking stock of a regular season now officially in the books.

Cincinnati Reds v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds have played the entirety of their 60 game regular season, and did so winning more games than they lost. A trivial claim in some lots, but not here, not where winning has been so few and far between for the last handful-and-a-half years.

The 2020 Cincinnati Reds were a winning club, and while it took expanded playoffs for them to claim a spot in the postseason, claim they did. The topsy-turvy ride was rife with both disappointment and thrill, and while the whole danged thing still qualifies as a ‘small sample size’ in greater context, it’ll forever go down as the official full-time amalgamation of how baseball was played in this calendar year.

With that in mind, here are four takeaways from the stats we saw cobbled together this year, and if this coffee kicks in soon enough, maybe even some analysis of what they mean going forward.

Joey Votto found his thump again

ISO, or Isolated Power, is a measure of raw power, effectively measuring how often a player picks up extra-base hits, per FanGraphs.

Joey Votto’s 2020 ISO sat at .220. Quick question - do you think that was better, or worse, than his career mark?

I’ll wait.

I’m impatient. It’s better than his .213 career mark (which obviously includes that .220 from this season baked in). In fact, his .220 mark this year compares quite favorably to some of his most productive offensive seasons, of which he has had many. Though it peaked at a career-best .276 in his 2010 MVP campaign, his 2020 number sits closely in-line with his 2016 season (.225) and 2015 season (.228). You’ll recall that he led the National League in OPS+ in 2016, and hit a combined .320/.447/.546 across those two seasons.

We described in more detail how Votto is continuing to evolve from his peak last week, so I won’t rehash too much of that here. Point was, he’s likely not going to ever be the high-average guy he once was, but there’s still value left in his bat if he can just keep replicating the power surge he found again this year.

Shogo figured out his role

While we’re on the topic of ISO, I’ll quickly point out that 157 MLB players had at least 180 PA this season. The owner of the single worst mark of those 157, you ask?

Shogo Akiyama. And it doesn’t really matter that much.

Shogo, of course, struggled through the first half-plus of the season before becoming almost impossible to retire, posting a ridiculous .453 OBP over the final 25 games in which he played. That featured a 16/13 BB/K, and his 13.7% walk rate for the entire season was quite promising.

All told, he finished with a .357 OBP for the year, and did so while also playing generally rock-solid defense in whichever OF position he was placed.

The outsized hope was that the Reds would stumble into a global superstar when they signed Shogo out of Japan to a 3-year deal. That certainly does not look like it’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t end up with a quality part of their roster for this year and going forward, a versatile OF piece who gets on-base at an excellent rate and runs the bases at an above-average rate, too. A pretty classic leadoff guy, someone who doesn’t need to sock dingers to be a valuable piece, and that’s an absolutely fine addition.

Jesse Winker still can’t stay healthy, but can absolutely rake

Winker hit the bench after his back tightened up in the September 10th against the Chicago Cubs, sitting idly for 5 days before feeling loose enough to return to the lineup. At that point, he was hitting a robust .276/.400/.559, and that was despite being in the midst of an 0 for 16 streak at the time.

Just prior to that slump, he was hitting an absurd .315/.422/.648 through September 4th, at that point the owner of the 4th best wOBA (.437) in all of baseball. Better than Fernando Tatis, Jr., better than Freddie Freeman, better than Mookie Betts.

What that says, I think, is precisely what we’ve come to know with Jesse. When he’s right, he’s as lethal a left-handed hitter as there is in the game, and can go for stretches where he can absolutely carry a team offensively. He’s also just going to get dinged up here and there, and any plan to lean on him for an entire season is going to need some contingency plans.

That’s all well and fine, of course, as any team out there would take the injury frustrations to have a talent like Winker in their lineup, especially if the .844 OPS he posted against LHP this year proves to be an added trait to his repertoire. For the record, the .386 wOBA he posted against LHP this year was the 9th best of the 74 lefty bats who faced LHP at least 30 times this season, better than the likes of Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, and Freeman, to name a few.

Tyler Mahle has a 2021 rotation spot with his name on it

The clearest writing on the wall way back in January/February of 2020 was that this year, 2020, would be the year the Reds really needed to put wins on the board given their aggressive series of ‘win now’ moves. The starting rotation, in particular, was intimidating as hell for this year, but was set to lose both Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani to free agency at season’s end.

Tyler Mahle, at that point, didn’t even have a spot in the rotation anymore, let alone was it a lock he’d just step right in if both Bauer and Disco left after this year. I don’t think that’s an issue that needs any further discussion.

He pitched to a 3.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his 9 starts this year, holding opponents to a .198 average and .651 OPS against him in that time. He struck out 60 batters in his 47.2 total IP, and did so in large part thanks to an overhauled pitch-mix for this season.

He abandoned his slow curve and cutter, two pitches he threw roughly 30% of the time in 2019, and instead added a faster breaking ball. His curve sat at an average velocity of 80.5 mph last year, while his 2020 slider sat at 86.9 mph on average, and he threw that pitch a full 33% of the time this season to great effect. The new slider/fastball combo allowed Mahle to put away batters this year with better aplomb than in previous years, where he often would get ahead in counts but not have the ability to fan them completely.

What happens with Bauer and Disco once free agency rolls around remains to be seen. Regardless, the Reds have a solid piece of their future rotation in Mahle, a quite positive development going forward.