Opening weekend did not go very well for the Reds as they were swept by the Washington Nationals. The Reds faced a very tall task as the Nat’s top three starters (Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez) all finished in the top six of National League Cy Young Voting in 2017. The Reds offense, as you might expect when facing pitching of that caliber, was relatively non-existent.

Earlier that week, Joel Luckhaupt had an article in The Athletic in which he proposed that Joey Votto would not have as tough of a time against the strong pitching. Votto’s career OPS vs Cy Young winners was 1.019 heading into this season, good for second all-time (min. 250 PA) behind Ted Williams. It’s no secret that Votto can hit and clearly he is not just padding his stats against inferior competition.

Reading Joel’s piece and then watching the Reds performance against the Nationals got me curious about how the rest of the offense has performed against premium pitching. Are there others who play up to the higher competition like Votto? Or was the Washington series a good indication of what to expect when facing elite hurlers?

Looking at the Reds hitters with at least a full year of major league at-bats behind them (everyone but Winker and Ervin), I broke down performance against any pitcher who has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting. The first year I started with was 2007 as this was Votto’s first year and seemed like a clean starting point.

As a unit, the results are in line with what one would expect and are worse than average, though maybe they are not all that bad considering what we just witnessed against the Nats.

 

Vs Top 5 Cy Young Finishers

Career Average

BB%

9.0%

9.8%

K%

21.1%

19.6%

AVG

.260

.270

OBP

.334

.353

SLG

.408

.432

OPS

.742

.786

All of these variances are less than 2% worse than the career averages. There certainly could be flaws with looking at top five finishers, as some could be flash-in-the-pan type performances. Also, using the pitcher’s entire career allows for the inclusion of the declining years. However, for the most part, the pitchers in this group either are or were extremely talented so less than 2% worse performance feels pretty good.

If we use OPS as the indicator of overall performance then Votto is best at hitting good pitching, posting a 1.000 OPS vs a career .987. Some notable pitchers that Votto has outperformed his averages against include Kyle Hendricks, Zack Greinke and Chris Carpenter. For anyone who likes a nice blast from the past, Votto’s OPS in 15 PAs against Aaron Harang is 2.233.

Scooter Gennett is the only other Red to have better numbers against the top five finishers, with a .779 OPS vs a career of .775. Jose Peraza is just slightly worse against strong competition and somewhat surprisingly boasts a 1.076 OPS in 21 plate appearances against Jon Lester.

Finding the players that struggle the most against the top five finishers is not hard to do as they are very well distanced from the pack. In 84 PAs, Phil Gosselin’s OPS is .499 compared to a career .691. In three times more opportunities, Adam Duvall’s OPS of .597 against premier pitching lags his career .779 OPS by over 23%. That is a huge drop driven by poor showings against John Lackey and Jake Arietta. Hopefully Adam will change that this year as both pitchers have moved on from the Cubs.

OPS does not always tell the whole story so I looked at BB% and K% rate to see if there is anything interesting there. Votto is actually worse in both stats by just around 3%, with notable head-to-head match ups including a 2.9% walk rate against Jon Lester and a 44.8% strikeout rate against Clayton Kershaw.

Scott Schebler has far and away the best peripherals against top competition relative to his totals. He owns a BB% of 9.0%  compared to his career average of 7.0% and also has an improved K%, only striking out 20.3% compared to a 22.9% career average. While this does translate to a slightly higher OBP, Schebler has struggled to find power against the top pitchers with a significantly lower slugging percentage.

After the three game sweep to start the year, Phil Gosselin stated that the Reds won’t see three better pitchers all year. While that is probably true in terms of talent, one does not need to look any further than the NL Central to find another very imposing rotation. The Cubs newly constructed rotation stands out as a potential force to be reckoned with.

Judging by the Reds past performances against Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish (Jose Quintana’s top Cy Young finish was 10th in 2016), the Cubs pitching could give the Reds even more trouble than Washington’s big three. Compared to their career average OPS of .786 and a respectable .782 against Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez, the Reds current lineup has only managed a .753 against the Cub’s trio. Factor in Quintana and his career 3.51 FIP, and the Red’s might be leaning on the pitching staff more than usual when the Cubbies come to town. At least we know Tyler Mahle got the memo.

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2018 Reds, At-Bat with Matt

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