Yes, we have known for a long time that Cincinnati’s pitching has been brutal this year. Yes, this staff broke the record for most home runs allowed in a single season. Yes, they’ve been almost impossible to watch at times.
But do we really need to keep being reminded?
Last week, FiveThirtyEight declared that the 2016 Reds may have the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball. Sounds hyperbolic; maybe it’s not.
With two weeks left to play, the Reds’ pitchers have allowed the most home runs of any team in major league history. It’s a staggering total: Cincy hurlers allow an average of 1.6 homers every 9 innings, or one every 21.2 at-bats (meaning they effectively turned average NL hitters into Larry Doby or Joe Carter).
But it’s also symptomatic of a pitching staff that is, by another measure, the worst ever — and the only one in history that would have been better off being stocked with replacement-level players instead.
Indeed, according to FanGraphs, the 2016 Reds are the only team in the history of Major League Baseball whose pitchers compiled a negative fWAR total as a staff.
But no, they’re probably not actually the worst pitching staff in history. As noted by FiveThirtyEight, if you use bWAR (Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculation), the Reds aren’t even the worst pitching staff this year. If you average the two together — go read the entire piece for all the details — the Reds turn out to be only the 29th worst pitching staff in baseball history.
Huzzah! Reds pitching is historically bad, but not the worst!
A couple of days ago, The Ringer piled on.
Yet as long as the list could extend — at 244 home runs and counting, there are still plenty of names to go — it’s worth noting that the “HR” column isn’t the only one on the stat sheet that has given the Reds trouble. Cincinnati also tops the majors in walks, with Finnegan leading in individual bases on balls. (As if that statistical dominance weren’t enough, the Reds also pace the pack in hits by pitch and balks.)
Combine the home run and walk binges, and Cincinnati owns the worst pitching staff in the last century by fielding independent pitching, adjusted by ballpark and league environment. Not since the 1915 Athletics — a team so cheap that it included a unit derisively deemed the “$10 infield” — has a team posted worse adjusted FIP numbers.
Even more troublingly, Reds pitchers have combined for negative 1.1 wins above replacement this season. The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys — a team that went 23–113, finished 66.5 games out of first place, and featured a veteran pitcher named Phenomenal Smith — were the last team with a staff below replacement level over a full season.
The intern who wrote that piece laughingly pencils the Reds into the 2026 World Series, but he seriously underestimates the factors that caused this year’s pitching staff blowout (and, conversely, the reasons why I expect the pitchers to be significantly better next year.
After all, Homer Bailey was injured all season, and Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, and Raisel Iglesias all missed substantial amounts of time. That’s 30% of a pitching staff that was unavailable for much of the 2016 season. When you’re replacing those guys with a parade of guys like Layne Somsen, Dayan Diaz, Steve Delabar, JJ Hoover, Tim Melville, Drew Hayes, AJ Morris, Caleb Cotham, JC Ramirez, Josh Smith, Jon Moscot, Tim Adleman, Alfredo Simon, and Ross Ohlendorf…well, that makes your pitching staff weaker. Some of those guys have a chance to stick with the Reds next year, but none of them are as talented as Bailey, Lorenzen, Iglesias, or Tony Disco.
Maybe those guys won’t be healthy again next year; depending on any pitcher’s health is a fool’s game. But if those four can actually pitch next year, the Reds’ pitching staff will be measurably improved from day one.
The other reason why Cincinnati pitching should be better next year is something we’ve discussed here at Redleg Nation over and over — but it’s something which a writer who isn’t as familiar with the Reds might choose to gloss over. That is: there’s plenty of pitching talent that is right on the cusp of making a difference for the big league club. Coming soon: Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Nick Travieso, Keury Mella, Rookie Davis, John Lamb. Already here: Iglesias, Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan.
Sure, some of those have struggled in their first taste of the big leagues (which is partially why the 2016 pitching stats for the club look so bad), but that’s what young pitchers do often. And sure, some of those guys won’t make it. But that’s a lot of quality arms in the pipeline. Guys like Finnegan, Reed, and Stephenson can be expected to make a significant leap next year and the year after. There’s reason for optimism.
Listen, it’s difficult to sugarcoat how awful the Cincinnati Reds have been in 2015 and 2016. This club just lost 90 or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early 1930s. They haven’t scored runs, and the pitching staff has been historically bad. There’s plenty of criticism that can be leveled at the Reds for that lousy performance, and none of us are happy about it.
But I’ll be very surprised indeed if next year’s pitching
is isn’t significantly improved. And within a couple of years, I’d be surprised if pitching isn’t one of the strengths of the team. Then maybe we’ll be able to bump up that World Series prediction to 2018. Perhaps?