The regular season is over, and the focus will now shift to the playoffs and debating which players are worthy of MVPs, Cy Youngs, and numerous other awards. Since the Reds didn’t make the postseason, we’ll skip right to the latter. A 68-94 record for a second straight year doesn’t bring much to celebrate, but regardless, the Redlegs still had their fair share of exciting moments and memorable performances. Let’s look back on some of the positives of the season and hand out some team awards.
Team MVP: Joey Votto
What more can you say about Votto? Even as he enters his mid-30s, the Reds first baseman continues to put up huge season after huge season, and the National League MVP award could very well come down to him and Giancarlo Stanton. Votto’s 2017 season was similar to his 2010 MVP season. He led the Reds in nearly all major offensive categories by slashing .320/.454/.578 with 34 doubles and 36 home runs — one away from his career high. His 165 wRC+, one of the best ways to measure total offensive production, was first in the NL and third in baseball, trailing only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge among qualified batters.
Per usual, no hitter in baseball was more disciplined; Votto again led the league in walks (134), drawing a free pass in 19 percent of his 707 plate appearances. Perhaps the most impressive part of his greatness was his significant drop in strikeouts. Votto’s strikeout rate decreased from 17.7 to 11.7 percent, the ninth-lowest rate in baseball. For the third time in his career, he walked more than he struck out, something only Trout, Justin Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Anthony Rizzo can also claim. But most of those players had a BB/K ratio just slightly over one. By comparison, Votto (1.61) left them all in the dust, posting the best BB/K ratio in baseball since Victor Martinez in 2014.
In addition to cutting down his punchouts, Votto also made it his mission to improve on defense, where his performance had notably dropped off in 2016. In true Votto fashion, he led the league in defensive runs saved (11) and was second in ultimate zone rating per 150 games (6.8) among first baseman this season.
How much longer Votto produces at this level remains to be seen, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s to never count him out. He’ll simply devote his time to proving you wrong.
Honorable mention: Zack Cozart
Best Hitter: Joey Votto
It only makes sense that the team’s MVP wins the best hitter award. No-brainer here.
Honorable mention: Cozart, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett
Best Pitcher: Luis Castillo
The pitching staff was the unquestionable weakness of a Reds team with a surprisingly potent offense. If these awards were handed out after the first half of the season, this one probably would’ve gone to Scott Feldman, which should tell you all you need to know about how poor the group was. But a kid named Luis Castillo made his big-league debut on June 23, and each of his starts quickly became must-watch affairs.
In only 15 starts, Castillo led the staff in nearly every relevant stat (ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, K%) and trailed only Raisel Iglesias (1.9) with a 1.7 fWAR. Castillo’s stuff is the most electric of any Reds pitcher since Aroldis Chapman, dialing his fastball up to an average of 97.5 mph — tied with Luis Severino for the fastest heater in the game among starters. His changeup is also an elite offering (23.6% whiff rate, fifth among SPs who threw the pitch 200+ times), and he even developed a sinker in the middle of the season. As long as he stays healthy, this kid is going to be special.
Honorable mention: Raisel Iglesias
Most Improved Player: Zack Cozart
Following his disastrous season at the plate in 2014 (56 wRC+), Cozart made steady improvements over the next two seasons, though both were cut short by knee injuries. He couldn’t escape leg problems for a third consecutive year in 2017, but he didn’t let it slow him down. In fact, he took another leap forward and was one of the top-five shortstops in the game. In spring training, Cozart had a noticeably different stance at the plate, resting his bat on his shoulder until the pitcher delivered the ball. The reason for that change, he said, was it helped him relax his hands and see the ball better. It clearly worked, as he batted .297/.385/.548 with 24 home runs — all career bests — and finished fourth in fWAR (5.0) among shortstops, trailing only Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa.
But the power surge wasn’t the most impressive part of his 2017. Rather, it was his overall transformation at the plate into a more disciplined hitter. Coming into the season, Cozart had a very poor career walk rate of 5.3 percent. While it had risen to a career-high 7.3 percent in 2016, his approach still left something to be desired. This year, he suddenly developed an elite eye at the plate, walking in 12.2 percent of his plate appearances, the best rate among shortstops and 29th in baseball among 181 players with 450 or more trips to the plate. Who did he credit, at least in part, for his success? That’s right — Joey Votto.
Cozart, of course, will be a free agent soon, so if this was his last season in Cincinnati, he certainly made it a memorable one.
Honorable mention: Suarez, Gennett, Tucker Barnhart
Biggest Surprise: Scooter Gennett
While you could easily give this award to Cozart, as well, Gennett’s season felt even more out-of-nowhere. Designated for assignment by the Brewers at the end of spring training, the Reds claimed him off waivers and he became the team’s utility-man off the bench. He was a solid, if unspectacular, offensive player, owning a career .279/.318/.420 slash line, 35 home runs, and a slightly below-average 97 wRC+ in 1,637 plate appearances. Not bad for a bench player, right?
Well, he ended up being a whole lot more than that. Gennett took over the starting second base job from Jose Peraza by midseason, hitting .295/.342/.531 with a 124 wRC+ for the year. He nearly doubled his season-high (14) and career home run total, mashing 27 long balls. Four of those dingers were grand slams; only 23 other players in baseball history have hit that many in one season, none since Albert Pujols in 2009. And, of course, there was that special performance on June 6 — but more on that later.
Honorable mention: Cozart
Rookie of the Year: Luis Castillo
An easy choice here. Castillo was dominant and took advantage of his opportunity more than any of the many other rookie pitchers. If Jesse Winker (.298/.375/.529) was called up earlier and received more playing time, he would’ve given Castillo a run for his money in this category. But as things stand, Castillo is the runaway winner.
Honorable mention: Jesse Winker, Sal Romano
Gold Glove: Billy Hamilton
The Reds were one of the best defensive teams in baseball, so this award could’ve gone to several players. But after two years of being snubbed for the Gold Glove award at his position, it’s hard not to give the nod to Hamilton. The speedster makes difficult plays look routine on a daily basis, and while his defensive numbers were down slightly, he was still one of the elite all-around defenders in the the game. His range, as always, was outstanding, with nine DRS and a 10.0 UZR/150. Hamilton also got it done with his arm more than he had in seasons past. He racked up 13 outfield assists — trailing only teammate Adam Duvall (15) for the league lead — and his rARM rating (6) was the highest of his career, with Duvall being the only outfielder to beat him in that category (7).
This award was a toss-up between Hamilton and Tucker Barnhart, who finished second in baseball in defensive WAR and threw out more runners trying to steal than any other catcher. Defensive metrics for catchers are, admittedly, far from perfect, but another big aspect is pitch framing. While this isn’t the end-all and be-all of statistics and the quality of his pitchers likely did him no favors, Barnhart struggled in this area, according to Baseball Prospectus. This was ultimately the tiebreaker, as Hamilton had a more well-rounded defensive season without any glaring weaknesses.
Honorable mention: Barnhart, Cozart, Suarez, Duvall
Best Single-Game Performance (Hitter): Scooter Gennett
Was there any doubt about this one? When a player does something done only 16 other times in MLB’s long and storied history, it makes this award easy to decide on. Gennett’s performance on June 6 was not only the best offensive showing of the 2017 season for the Reds but arguably the top performance in team history, as well. Of course, that was the day he inexplicably mashed four home runs and picked up 10 RBI in a single game. Coming into that night, Gennett had only 38 career home runs and three on the season. He hadn’t homered since April 11. But that’s what makes baseball so incredible. On any given day, you’re bound to see something you never thought you would.
Best Single-Game Performance (Pitcher): Luis Castillo
Castillo’s season was the most encouraging development for the starting rotation in 2017, and he saved his best showing for last. In his final start of the season on September 6, the right-hander dominated a Milwaukee Brewers team that narrowly missed the postseason. Castillo fired eight innings and allowed only one run on four hits, walking no one — the first time he’d ever done that in an outing — and punching out a career-high 10 hitters. Fans were already excited about Castillo’s future, and he only solidified that feeling in his 2017 swan song.
Honorable mention: Amir Garrett’s big-league debut (April 7), Drew Storen’s immaculate inning (April 18), Garrett’s 12-K performance vs. Baltimore (April 19), Scott Feldman’s CGSO (May 7), Robert Stephenson’s 6 consecutive Ks to start the game (Aug. 25), Sal Romano’s eight shutout innings (Sept. 16)
Best Defensive Play: Billy Hamilton
Surprise, surprise: Billy Hamilton wins best defensive play of the year. Of his many jaw-dropping catches, this was one of his best. Against the San Diego Padres on August 8, Hamilton sprinted straight back and leapt against the wall without turning his body around to rob Carlos Asuaje of an extra-base hit. One could probably argue that he misjudged it, which should disqualify him from this award, but his adjustment at the end of the play more than made up for it. That description hardly does it justice, though; take a look for yourself.
Honorable mention: Scott Schebler’s home run robbery
Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.