This was a pretty bad year for the Reds. Last year was a pretty bad year, too. But, you know, despite it all, we still got to watch Billy Hamilton catch everything and we still got to see Joey Votto hit like Joey Votto. And that got me to thinking, what are some of the best seasons from bad Reds teams?
Bad is a tricky word to define. 80-82 is a losing season, sure, but bad? I dunno. Feels kind of mediocre to me more than bad. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that 90 losses feels bad. You lose 90 and you stink. You aren’t mediocre. You’re bad. 90 losses in the modern 162-game season equates to a .444 winning percentage, which is the threshold I’ll use since the Reds aren’t exactly an expansion team.
Now, without further ado, here are the eight player seasons from Reds teams since 1901 with a .444 winning percentage or worse that both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference agree were worth at least 5.0 WAR (and if I missed someone, forgive me).
8. Buck Herzog, 1914, 5.4 fWAR
I honestly don’t know that I’d ever heard of Buck Herzog before. He had a very nice career (28.6 fWAR total), but only played 2 1/2 years with the Reds. It just so happens that his first season with them was when he was 28 and at the height of his abilities which lead to a .281/.348/.347 line that was really not bad for a glove-first shortstop in the deadball era.
7. Bob Ewing, 1907, 5.6 fWAR
As befits this list, pitcher Bob Ewing had a losing record of 17-19 this season despite finishing 7th in ERA (1.73) and 2nd in strikeouts (147) in a mere 332 2/3 innings. It was certainly a different time, wasn’t it?
6. Frank Robinson, 1960, 6.3 fWAR
I think we’ve all heard of this guy. He’s the one who catapulted the Reds to success by serving as trade bait for the immortal Milt Pappas. Robinson was, of course, always good, but it was never more futile than in 1960 when he hit .297/.405/.595 for an awful Reds team. Oh well, things worked out for him pretty okay.
5. Ewell Blackwell, 1950, 6.4 fWAR
Blackwell had a couple of truly great seasons and in 1950 one of them happened on a truly bad team. Despite the low-quality teammates, Blackwell lead the league in H/9 and K/9 while finishing 2nd in ERA and strikeouts.
4. Noodles Hahn, 1901, 6.6 fWAR
Well the Reds certainly didn’t come roaring into the modern era, did they? The 1901 team was bad, but Noodles Hahn was quite good. His career was short, but he still ranks as one of the best pitchers in Reds history. In 1901, he lead the league with 239 strikeouts in 375 1/3 innings.
3. Babe Herman, 1932, 6.6 fWAR
Here’s a fun one. Herman had a one-year stopover with the Reds on his way from the Robins to the Cubs (he’d return later) and managed to put up 6.6 WAR. Which, yeah, a .321/.389/.541 line can do that for you.
2. Mario Soto, 1982, 7.4 fWAR
Now we’re really getting to the big time. Soto’s 1982 is already pretty legendary, and deservedly so. He lead the league in WHIP and K/9 and was top-10 in most other stats that didn’t require his team to be good. According to FanGraphs, this was the 2nd best season from a Reds pitcher in the modern era (after Blackwell in 1947). That’s something.
1. Joey Votto, 2015, 7.5 fWAR
When I started this post, I was thinking about how good Votto was in 2016, but I’d nearly forgotten how transcendent he was in 2015. Votto, in case you’ve forgotten, hit .314/.459/.541 and had, according to FanGraphs had the fifth-best hitting season (ignoring defense) ever for the Reds, making him one of the few things worth watching the last couple of years.