To put it mildly, it’s been a bumpy season for Reds hurlers. At times, the pitching staff — especially the bullpen — has been unwatchable. Things have gotten considerably better as players have returned from injury, but the unit still ranks among the worst in baseball by most measures.
The Reds have the highest FIP (5.33), xFIP (4.83), and SIERA (4.64) in the game, and they are the only team to be below replacement level (minus-2.1 fWAR) as a staff. They also lead the league in walk rate (10.3 BB%) and are 27th in strikeout rate (18.9 K%). Only the Diamondbacks (5.10) have a worse ERA than the Redlegs (5.09).
That being said, all of those numbers have gradually gotten better as the season has worn on and guys like Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias have come off the disabled list. There have still been hiccups (Monday night’s ninth-inning, nuclear meltdown comes to mind, though that could hardly be classified as a mere hiccup), but the Reds are no longer on pace to have a historically awful pitching staff. As Wesley Jenkins put it last week:
The Reds pitching staff is no longer “the worst in baseball history;” now it’s just your average, everyday bad.
But there is still one area where the Reds just may end up being the worst in baseball history: home runs allowed. Sure, half of the team’s games are played in the notoriously home-run friendly Great American Ball Park. But every other Reds club since 2003 can say the same thing, and none were even close to giving up the long ball at the pace this year’s team has.
In fact, no other team in history has allowed dingers like the 2016 Cincinnati Reds — not even a Colorado Rockies ballclub or a team from the Steroid Era.
Through 111 games, the Reds have allowed 179 home runs, by far the most in baseball. The next closest team is the Twins, who have given up 154. Cincinnati relievers have been particularly afflicted by the long ball, allowing 74 — the 23rd highest total in history. With 51 games remaining on the schedule, the record of 88 seems likely to fall. What’s more stunning is the amount of home runs given up by relievers to the first batter faced in a game, something that has been well-documented throughout the season:
23 — and Reds lose
— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) August 6, 2016
Per nine innings, the Reds have allowed 1.62 home runs. Want to guess how many teams in baseball history have put up such an unsightly number? That’s right: zero. The 1996 Tigers have the next-worst rate, and they’re a ways behind at 1.51 HR/9.
In terms of homers allowed per fly ball, the Reds are also the worst (16.3 percent) since the stat began being measured by Fangraphs in 2002. No team has ever had a higher HR/FB rate than 14.1 percent (the 2012 Blue Jays). Four teams are above that number this year: the Yankees (16.1%), Royals (14.3%), and Diamondbacks (14.3%). Since pitchers have little control over whether a fly ball goes for a home run, this number tends to be luck-based and will normalize over time toward the league average; typically, that has been around 10 or 11 percent. This year, it’s at 12.8 percent, the highest rate on record. That’s something to keep in mind when looking at the Reds’ high mark, but that doesn’t make their number any less staggering.
These numbers have also been improving as the season has worn on, but the Reds are still giving up home runs at a higher rate than most teams.
After horrific home run rates in the first three months, Reds pitchers were simply bad in July and have been average so far in August. The good news is the team is showing real progress. But will it be enough to prevent them from setting an undesirable record? Even if they allowed long balls at their August rate (1.29 per nine innings) for the rest of the year, they would still allow 245 home runs, breaking the all-time record by four. If we assume every game for the rest of the season lasts nine innings, they would still break the HR/9 record as well (1.52).
Thanks, Alfredo Simon.