Every year there is a team that vastly outperforms preseason projections, and either makes the MLB postseason, or pushes the envelope into September. Last season, it was the Baltimore Orioles. They were projected by PECOTA to win 72 games. The O’s ended up winning 89 games (+17), and played in the wild card game.
2015 was even wilder. There were seven teams that won at least 8 more games than they were projected: Royals (+23), Pirates (+18), Cubs (+15), Twins (+13), Blue Jays (+11), Astros (+9), and the Mets (+8).
The Reds are projected to finish 74-88 in 2017. Since the second wild-card was established in 2012, the second spot has won 88, 90, 88, 97, and 87 games each season. If 2017 was as kind as 3 of the last 5 seasons, 88 wins would get a team to the playoffs. That begs the question: could the Reds be 14 wins better than they are projected?
Let’s look at the 2016 Orioles. Their offense did what they were projected to do. Their eight most used hitters (Machado, Davis, Hardy, Trumbo, Schoop, Wieters, Jones, and Kim) combined for 19.7 fWAR. Those eight players were actually projected to put up 19.9 fWAR. The Orioles pitching was where they were better, but even that wasn’t an insane leap forward. Kevin Gausman (+1.2 fWAR) and Zach Britton (+1.3 fWAR) were the only pitchers to vastly outperform their projections.
Now to the 2017 Reds. When you look at the offense, there is reason to be optimistic at literally every position:
Catcher – Mesoraco is back….at least he should be. In Mesoraco’s last healthy season (2014), he was the best hitting catcher in all of baseball posting a 147 wRC+. Even if Mesoraco doesn’t survive spring training, or has forgotten how to hit in the last two years, Tucker Barnhart has proven to be a capable.
First Base – Joey Votto was the best offensive player in the NL in 2016, posting a 158 wRC+.
Second Base – Jose Peraza is the big wild card for this team. He hit .324/.352/.411 in 72 games last year. Peraza was the #54 prospect following 2014, and the #66 following 2015 by Baseball America. He is only 22 years old!
Shortstop – Zack Cozart is a solid SS. He has been about an average hitter the last two seasons, and plays very good defense.
Third Base – Eugenio Suarez hit 21 home runs in his first full season in the big leagues, and is only 24 years old. Jason Linden thinks he will be the breakout star in 2017 for the Reds.
Centerfield – Billy Hamilton’s OBP jumped up to .321 last season. Since he broke into the league in 2014, he ranks 13th out of the 34 qualifying MLB CF in fWAR at 8.7.
Other OF – Adam Duvall has legit power. He hit 33 home runs last year in the MLB. He hit 35 total between different levels in 2015. He hit 34 total home runs between different levels in 2014. Jesse Winker is coming soon. His lack of power has been concerning, but Winker has a .400 career OBP professionally. And that Scott Schebler guy, well he now has a 104 career wRC+ in 101 games in the big leagues.
When it comes to pitching, the Reds have stockpiled there. We don’t know what the Reds wil get from Homer Bailey in 2017, but both Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan have a lot to like. Then there is the trio of top prospects Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, and Amir Garrett. Scott Feldman is also there to fill the gaps. The Reds just need five guys to stick.
The bullpen also looks promising. I wrote about how The Reds are quietly building a solid bullpen last week. The trio of Iglesias, Lorenzen, and Storen could solidify the back end.
It would not be wise to put all of your money on the 2017 Reds. They are certainly still rebuilding. But I also don’t think this team should be completely counted out. Baseball is very unpredictable, and also many times comes down to luck. You know what, if anyone deserves some good luck to come their way it is Cincinnati sports fans.
Why not us?