Across the sporting world, frontrunners, bandwagoners and championship chasing fans are abhorred. Real fandom does not and will not exist without a strong, well-developed bond between fan and team. To cheer just for the sake of a victory shows the worst side of the human character.

That being said, with one of the most abysmal Reds’ seasons staring down our fan base, jumping on a bandwagon doesn’t seem like the worst thing to do. Whether it be a favorite son rooting interest (White Sox and Todd Frazier) or an underdog story (the Cubs against themselves), switching allegiances can bring happiness in an otherwise joyless world.

What if there were a third option? A new path where you don’t have to forsake the Reds, but you also don’t have sit through the summer angry, numb and slightly existential. Well, with Steph Curry in the NBA and Cam Newton in the NFL, 2016 is officially the year of the bandwagon superstar. These athletes don’t play for your favorite team, but have so dominated their respective sport that you can’t help but cheer for them. Also, they’re kind of seen as the underdog. You’ll never hear a pundit say Steph is better than LeBron, and Cam did drop the Super Bowl to Mr. All-Era Quarterback himself, Peyton Manning. These players give you an out: You aren’t a bandwagon fan, rather you just want to witness greatness on a historic scale. Who could have a problem with that?

Given that baseball is the only major league not to have a 2016 historic superstar (mostly because the season has yet to begin), I figured that a watch list was in order. These guys, who are poised to break out, give Reds’ fans a welcome reprieve from Great American Ballpark’s daily drudgery.

The Frontrunner: Mike Trout

Much like Steph Curry in the NBA, Mike Trout is far and away MLB’s best player, revolutionizing the game as he goes. Trout has already won one MVP award (should’ve been three) and can claim to be the most electric player in the game. Even just halfway through the season, Steph Curry is garnering calls to be named the Most Improved Player–one season removed from being MVP. Trout has a similar aesthetic where no matter how high he sets the bar, the next season it seems like he was just taking it easy on everyone else.

The only reason Trout can’t be the sole entry on this list is that he’s too easy a pick. What Steph and Cam are doing now, Trout did in 2012 when he won Rookie of the Year and finished second in MVP voting. He didn’t receive the same sort of awed recognition that Steph and Cam are because he was entirely unproven. The current incarnation of bandwagon fandom depends upon a superstar going supernova. Trout’s already hit the untouchable point that the other two are just now reaching; cheering for him to do more is having your cake, eating it and asking for another three cakes.

The Hurler: Chris Sale

The formula for the bandwagon superstar depends upon three factors: a great but not historic previous season, moderate name recognition and a particular quirk upon which fandom can latch. The White Sox’s Chris Sale hits all three points and more with but one hitch: he’s a pitcher.

In the Age of the Pitcher, it’s hard to standout as a historically great hurler. When the threshold is so high (think of last year’s three way National League Cy Young race), bandwagon worthy seasons can be lost in the shuffle.

Sale’s 2015 was impressive with league-leading 274 strikeouts and 2.73 FIP, but a 13-11 record with a 3.41 ERA is not going to turn heads. He gets enough coverage to where casual baseball fans know him but baseball outsiders don’t, and Chris Sale has the greatest quirk of all: throwing sidearm. To truly become a bandwagon superstar, Sale will need to put up Nolan Ryan strikeout numbers while throwing multiple shutouts and no-hitters with a perfect game in the mix. Emulating Steph just isn’t an easy road for a pitcher.

The Newbie: Carlos Correa

Putting Correa on this list may seem ambitious considering he’s starting his second year in the league, but winning the American League Rookie of the Year is a good way to get all the name recognition you need. Correa’s .279/.345/.512 campaign is astounding, but there’s so much room for improvement. A full season may buoy his numbers a bit, but the wear and tear of the long grind could also bring him back down to earth. Correa is as much a dark horse candidate to fill this role in baseball as he is a new guy on the cusp.

Often described as well-rounded like Alex Rodriguez, Correa has an exorbitant ceiling but also a ridiculous floor. A-Rod was a (comparatively) scrawny kid when he broke into the league. Correa already resembles Steroid Era Rodriguez, raising the expectations of his abilities. In order for 2016 Correa to be seen as historic on the same plane as Steph and Cam, he’ll need to top A-Rod’s 1996, .358/.414/.631 that set the bar so high.

The Bloop: Mookie Betts/Joe Panik

As we’ve seen with Steph Curry (and to a lesser degree, Cam), becoming an underrated superstar often becomes more feasible when you possess a unique skill set. Just as Curry’s long game sets him apart in the NBA, small ball could give an unconventional superstar MLB player an historic platform.

Both the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and the Giants’ Joe Panik proved themselves last year to be good-to-great players (Betts garnering MVP votes; Panik named an All-Star), but neither were particularly historic. However, each has his own specific brand of small ball that can be translated into dynamic baseball with mass appeal. Betts is the prototypical leadoff man, playing centerfield with speed and decent on-base skills. Throw in a little pop (18 homers last year) and Betts becomes a Swiss Army knife player, able to fill any role in a pinch. Panik offers a different side of small ball, playing a strong middle infield and hitting for contact, if not power. Where Betts bests Panik is his speed, stealing 21 bases last season to Panik’s three.

That being said, while both players have the potential to be the next MLB dynamo, small ball just isn’t that compelling. A big part of the reason that Steph and Cam have acquired the following that they have is they’re taking the most exciting parts of their sports and adding an extra bit of flash. Dee Gordon tried to make small ball sexy last season and look how many fans that earned him.

The Blast: Kris Bryant

Outside of Mike Trout, Kris Bryant is the most likely bandwagon superstar to emerge in 2016. Yes, he plays for the Cubs. But he’s reigning Rookie of the Year, looks like a movie star and can hit the ball a country mile. If Bryant can cut down on his strikeouts, he could potentially have a season reminiscent of Trout’s sophomore campaign. Couple that with the ridiculous expectations for the Cubs’ season (a big part of the bandwagon superstar is the team’s success: Warriors are 49-5, Panthers were 15-1), and Bryant looks like the MLB’s next poster boy.

Steamer projects Bryant to slightly regress in his second season, predicting a .273/.360/.507 batting line. Steamer also expects 31 homers, but if Bryant can top 40 and push 50, his superstar potential explodes. At base, Kris Bryant will be a fun player to watch in 2016, but if he wants to be the next Steph Curry, he’ll have to end the Cubs 109 year exodus from the holy land.

The Hometown Hero: Raisel Iglesias

Nothing describes the state of the Reds better than naming a pitcher with fewer than 100 innings under his belt as being the most likely to have a historic season. While Joey Votto would’ve been the easy choice given his superstar status, hoping for him to top his 2010 MVP campaign not to mention some of the best seasons of all time is unrealistic. Iglesias has the highest ceiling of this Reds’ team simply because he is unproven but demonstrated glimpses of greatness.

Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/Enquirer

Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/Enquirer

For Iglesias to become a superstar though, he will need to dominate on a level comparable to Clayton Kershaw or Jose Fernandez. With reports that he’s increased his stamina and worked out issues with his fluctuating velocity, Iglesias seems poised to be a strong top of the rotation candidate. Developing his slider into a more extreme strikeout pitch (51% of his strikeouts came on it) could also distinguish him in a league filled with exceptional pitchers.

At the end of the day, Iglesias is not going to be MLB’s version of Steph Curry. No Reds player is going to be MLB’s version of Steph Curry. This Reds’ team just doesn’t encompass that level of greatness. Hopefully, someone steps up to guide the team and bring it back to relevancy.

In the meantime, remember that cheering for another team’s player isn’t bandwagoning, it’s finding great baseball outside of a wall of mediocrity.

Join the conversation! 41 Comments

  1. Blasphemy. Just reupped my baseball package. Took the discount and just got single team package. Don’t care about the Cubs. Care about Votto. Don’t care about Mike Trout, The Red Sox, Puig, Harper or Dusty Baker.
    Care about the young pitchers… Mesoracos hip. Baileys elbow. Will Bruce hit. Cozarts knee. When will I see Stephenson and Winkler?
    Even talking about it makes you a suspect.

    • For some reason when I read this comment, I pictured you staring intently at Mesoraco’s hip/Bailey’s elbow instead of watching the rest of the game. It gave me a good laugh so thank you for that

      • must serve a purpose. seen a lot. both in person growing up and thru early adulthood…. now from afar. not nostalgic. just willing to watch the reboot with as much interest and a long term view.

  2. I’d watch a rerun of Justified before I watch a match up of the Cubs and the Cards.

  3. Great idea! And great post!

    Fernandomania 2016? Linsanity? Ickey Shuffle?

  4. Joey Votto just might be worth adding to the list. In his 2010 MVP season, Votto had a ..424 OBP and .600 SLG. In 2015, he put up 459/541. The high OBP was aided by 143 walks. The 1.000 OPS in 2015 was not far off his 1.024 in 2010.

    Opposing pitchers will have even less reason to pitch to Votto this year, so he may see a sizable increase in the number of walks. If he adds a small uptick in SLG, his OPS can eclipse that of his MVP season.

    • Of course, it’s possible that opposing pitchers will have more reason to pitch to Votto, thus giving us a bandwagon we can happily ride.

  5. Nice pick on Iglesias. He is my breakout player this year for the Reds and in the NL. The baseball world will learn who Raisel Iglesias is this year.

    • My breakout player is Jay Bruce, whether he is a Red or not. wrong year to be trading him. Even when he has 20 HRs by the All Star Break and makes the All Star Team again through this great year, his value has been tarnished by the last 2 years. Play him in Cincy this year, build his value, pay his $13.0 million for 2016, then trade him in the off season after his option is a no brainer.

      We will get more by trading him at the end of 2016 than we will right now.

      talk about taking a player low and flipping them. Jay Bruce is that ultimate flip

  6. I have a built in second team to root for (O’s) so bandwagoning isn’t something I generally engage in. That said, I love the idea of rooting and pulling for individual players. It’s something I’ve always done as a fan anyway. Sometimes I’ll follow a star player and sometimes even a utility guy. It just depends on who I like at the time.

    For those who play fantasy sports, they may already to used to the idea of rooting for specific players (their fantasy team). This is just sort of the next level of that and with pulling for the best players in the game just to watch history in the making.

  7. Love the article and the idea, Wes.

    To me, the steroids era put a huge black eye on the game of baseball. Because of that, I find myself always rooting for great young talent to re-write the record books so we can all forget about the Bonds/McGwire/ARod type guys.

    To that end, I love watching Trout, Harper, Bryant, Correa, and Kershaw and hope they can all continue to put up huge numbers.

    Specific to Reds, I’ll be watching for (of course) Joey’s dominance, and how Raisel and company will develop. If the Reds are going to compete any time soon, 2-3 of our young pitchers need to be pretty dang good. Thankfully, DeSclafani and Iglesias are almost in that “pretty dang good” category already.

    • I also recently had my own bandwagon experience… I have lived in Colorado for about a decade, so after the most recent Bengals playoff meltdown, I swore them off until Marvin Lewis is shown the door. Naturally, I jumped on the Broncos bandwagon before their first playoff game. It sure was fun to be able to root for a winner for once. With that said, I didn’t really feel the elation at the SB win that a real fan would have.

    • Bonds, as much as I don’t like him, is still the best hitter I’ve ever seen in person. Yes, PEDs were a big part of that but so much talent to begin with. I don’t know if I want to forget those guys.

      • Certainly reasonable. I’ve always believed Bonds would have been a first ballot talent w/o PEDs, so I’m not sure why I have such an emotional response to these types of issues…

        For me, these guys played mostly when I was a kid. I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to watch all these guys break all these records. The race for the HR record in 98 with Sosa and McGwire captivated me to no end.. then the trust was broken. Now, an entire era (my formative baseball era) is marred by PEDs. For me, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I think about it.

        • After the strike, which turned off so many fans, it was good to see baseball breathe again. There was the HR chase between Sosa and McGwire. There was Cal Ripken Iron Man. There was Griffey. There were so many good players and it’s a shame that PEDs were so prevalent. Many of these guys would have still been excellent without them. We’ll also never really know who all was using and who wasn’t so now everyone is a suspect. Heck, even Tony Phillips by a few people.

      • I have always said that of course Roids help the strength but more importantly the quick return from dings and injuries. They do help improve a players numbers but there is no pill or injection that improves hand eye coordination. Bonds could still make good solid drive the ball contact without the chemical help. That is why I know he was a great hitter and it ticks me off that he felt the need to cheat.

  8. Harper>Trout, 2016 will prove it if it hasn’t already been proven

    • I still think Trout is the guy but you may well be right. I don’t like Harper, as he rubs me the wrong way for some reason, but he is one heck of a ballplayer.

    • Huh? Yes Bryce had a better year than Trout last year but Harper plays RF, Trouts plays CF. Trout is projected to provide 9.0 WAR in 2016, Harper 6.6. Not even close in my mind.

      • How is it not even close? I admit my comment was a bit brazen, but Harper actually had a higher WAR than Trout did last season. As for this coming season, projections are just that, projections. Would you have projected Harper to have the season that he did before last year’s spring training? My guess is no. I’m in no way trying to belittle Trout, he does have a longer track record of success and a less concerning injury history. However, if Harper stays healthy, Harper has greater power potential and MUCH better plate discipline (.460 OBP to 131 k’s, compared to Trout’s .402 OBP to 158 k’s–5th most in MLB), not to mention above average defense and one of the strongest arms in the game. My point is that it is not as clear cut as you make it out to be

        • Well for starters, Trout plays a premium position in CF, Harper plays RF, a postion with a negative postional adjustment. Trout has had a track record of success, Harper had one great season. Trout is one year older but has amassed 38.5 fWAR, Harper, 19.4 fWAR. As for Trout being the clear cut favorite, that’s according to projections 9.0 fWAR vs 6.6 fWAR.

          If you want to cherry pick stats then Trout has a lifetime OPS of .956, Harper .902, wRC+ Trout 167, Harper 147. How about ISO, which measures power? Trout .255, Harper .229. Again, keep in mind we are talking about the offense coming from CF vs that of RF.

          Harper had a great offensive season last year and he does have the potential to become of one the greats, no question about that, but he still has a way to go before being comparable to Mike Trout.

      • Harper is only projected for 6.6 WAR and Trout for 9.0 WAR because those projections take past years into account. If folks believer Harper has truly “turned the corner,” projection systems don’t properly account for Harper’s situation.

    • Folks tend to talk past each other on this topic quite often, I think.

      Here’s where I stand:

      Trout had the better first 4 years. That isn’t in question. Trout has been a FAR superior player to Harper to date. Anyone who argues opposite is 100% wrong. There’s no room for opinion.

      However, Harper just had a better offensive season that Trout’s ever had, by around 12-15%, depending on the measure you like.

      SO…Harper profiles (and somewhat proved last year) to be a better hitter than Trout, even if only by a small percentage. A player’s batting value continues to grow through your late 20s, following normal aging curves.

      Trout’s defense and base running (speed, basically) is already declining, and that’s what has given him such a huge lead in the WAR column. These are the things (based on the positional He will never be more valuable than he’s been unless he continues to hit better and better.

      Going forward, I think it is very likely Harper (as long as he’s healthy) will be more valuable than Trout on a per-season basis… barely. However, since Trout had such a mammoth head start in terms of WAR, Harper will likely never catch Trout in that category.

      Put another way, I think Trout has already peaked in terms of overall value because his defense and base running value will continue to decline as he ages, and Harper’s value will likely increase because he’s a better pure hitter than Trout.

      • I didn’t finish my parenthetical in the third to last paragraph…

        * These are the things (based on the positional WAR adjustment for CF) that have made his WAR numbers so high.

      • ^^^Very well said

      • Trout is only 24 and is only one year older than Harper. Baseball players typically peak at 26-28 so I think is a bit premature to say that Trout’s value has already peaked. You bring up Trout’s declining speed as the main reason you think Harper will be more valuable but the truth is in 2015 much of Trout’s value came from his bat. In 2015, Harper and Trout were close in BsR 3.2 vs 3.3 and defensively Trout had a UZR of .2.

        Trout might be past his prime speed-wise but wRAA, a big component of batting runs and thus fWAR, is not heavily reliant on speed. Here Trout has amassed a large lead and projects a bit better in 2016, 54.4 vs 48.8. Also, there is no reason to think Trout’s batting has peaked. His OPS and ISO have both improved from his 2012 and 2013 10 fWAR peak going from .963 to .991 and .238 to .290 respectively.

        Positional adjustment is independent of base running runs and fielding runs so Trout will receive the same CF adjustment regardless of his defense and base running.

        The deciding factor for me is injury history and here Trout wins hands down. In my eyes, if you are a GM and are building a team no question that the first guy you pick should be Trout. Yeah, Harper had a heck of a year last year but at this point we don’t know if that season was an outlier or the norm.

  9. I cheer for the Reds through the best and worst times. Period .

    • I don’t think Wesley was suggesting you do otherwise. Simply that baseball fans can find enjoyment in additional places than just the Reds.

      Basically, you can be a BASEBALL fan without only being a Reds fan.

  10. Cheer what has earned a cheer.
    Jeer what has earned a jeer.

  11. I love baseball/football/basketball and hockey but if the Reds/Vikings or Buckeyes aren’t playing I can’t bring myself to watch.
    I’ve tried to watch other teams a few times but can’t stay interested enough to enjoy it. I couldn’t even watch Cueto pitch in the playoffs this year even though I loved him as a Red! I loved to watch Super Todd during his time as a Red and I’d love to keep watching him but there’s no doubt in my mind I won’t be able to do it.
    It is a major turn off for me to see someone dump the team they have rooted for most of the season and jump on a playoff contenders’ bandwagon at or near seasons end, only to pretend they’ve been a life long fan of said team.
    I’m not saying it’s right or wrong it’s just not my thing. I guess I’m loyal to a fault and I miss out on watching a lot of good games because of it, I’m sure. Go REDS!

  12. Now it feels like spring training and the rebirth of a baseball season. The Old Cossack is not a big believer in projections for individual players, just a lot of gut and heart.

    Votto finished the 2015 season, slashing .362/.535/.617. Votto started the 2012 season slashing .348/.471/.617. I recall Votto making a statement regarding an adjustment he made at the plate during the 2015 season with spectacular results. I see no reason why Votto can’t or won’t put up a slash line of .340/.470/.610 for the 2016 season. Those are elite (deviant) MVP numbers and realistic for a healthy Votto. I’m making Votto the leading early season NL MVP.

    I have no confidence in Hamilton getting on base anywhere near league average, so hopefully he will get locked into the #9 hole of the lineup. The flip side of Hamilton’s continued struggles will be Phillips and Suarez adopting the KC approach to hitting, line drives early in the count producing good BA and marginal BB%, but above league average OBP from the #1 and #2 holes.

    Mesoraco is healthy, hungry and angry. He attacks the ball and barrels up with relish, slashing .270/.350/.520. The league finally tires of pitching around Votto and having Mesoraco blast 2-run and 3-run HR’s.

    Bruce is 100% healthy and strong, slashing .260/.340/.480 for the season and makes the Reds give pause at the trade deadline. Do the Reds want to keep an .800+ OPS OF with strong defense for 2017 @ $13MM or trade him for a haul of prospects.

    The LF platoon isn’t a complete flop, producing a combined slash line of .230/.290/.440 with average defense.

    Cozart struggles to replicate his strong 1st half offensive performance from 2015, but shows good range and continues to slap the leather at SS. His .250/.290/.400 slash line looks nice in the #7 hole for an elite defensive SS. The Reds trade Cozart prior to the trade deadline with Peraza taking over at SS after a strong defensive and offensive performance at AAA.

    The Reds have a fearsome middle of the lineup with the #3, #4 & #5 hittiers putting up an .800+ OPS. Votto leads the league in BB, OBP & 2B, making a strong case for MVP honors in the NL. Mesoraco leads the NL in RBI & HR. Bruce makes the all star team. In September, Winker gets a call up and never looks back. The Reds do not trade Bruce and excercise his option for 2017.

    The starting pitching and bullpen work out the talent from the pretenders. Iggy demonstrates true top of the rotation capability and Disco proves to be a solid middle of the rotation innings eater. Bailey comes back from his TJ surgery and regains his velocity by the end of the season to team with Iggy as a top of the rotation starter. Stephenson and Reed get September call ups after superior resuilts at AAA and stake their claim on the final 2 starting rotation slots for 2017.

    The Reds are able to trade Finnegan, Moscot and Lamb after successful performances in 2016 for 2 premier hitting prospects (3B & OF). The rebuild/reboot is over and the run for the playoffs in 2017 commences with the end of the 2016 season.

  13. I’d prefer that the Reds be good, but luckily my self worth isn’t tied to the performance of a baseball team that doesn’t know I exist.

    • Good point, Chuck and, for me at least, that was a hard lesson to learn.

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