In a season that likely will see the Cincinnati Reds lose 90 games for the fourth time in a row, many will look at 2018 and see a lost year. But if you paid close enough attention, it’s easy to find some good things that came from a team mired in last place.
1). In 2017, the Reds bullpen was horrible, for the most part. But give the Reds credit this year. The front office made a couple moves in the off season to bolster it, signing two veteran relievers in Jared Hughes and David Hernandez, and both have been excellent in 2018.
Hughes has a 1.82 ERA and a 3.29 FIP with 22 walks and 57 strikeouts in 74.1 innings. The Reds signed Hughes to be a predominantly ground ball pitcher in hitter-friendly GABP, and he has not disappointed. His 65.6 GB% this season is better than last year’s 62.2 GB% when he was with the Brewers. Meanwhile, Hernandez has a 2.67 ERA and a 3.55 FIP with 17 walks and 60 strikeouts in 60.2 innings. He had given up six home runs and hasn’t been as good as Hughes has been, but when he’s been called upon, more often than not, he gets the job done (last night not included).
Both relievers are under team control for at least another year. However, the Reds have options with them as well. They could trade either player or stick with them next season for a reasonable price. Jared Hughes will make just $2.1 million, and David Hernandez will make $2.5 million. Don’t be surprised to see one or both of these pitchers back in 2019.
2). It’s been another disappointing year for the Reds starting pitching staff, with a number of the young pitchers struggling or failing to take the next step. However, the Reds got confirmation with one player that he can still be a solid starting pitcher. Anthony DeSclafani returned from the disabled list at the beginning of June to be one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the rotation in 2018. More importantly, he’s stayed healthy.
DeSclafani has a 4.92 ERA and a 4.99 FIP in 19 starts this season. His ERA inflated a little over the last month, as he’s given up nine earned runs in his last 13.2 innings. But there was a point in August where he pitched seven innings deep in three consecutive starts, allowing only one or two runs each time. It gave everyone hope that he can be the pictcher he was in 2016. Most of DeSclafani’s struggles stem from giving up home runs. He’s allowed 22 home runs in 104.1 innings, the most of his career, and his HR/9 is 1.9. Left-handed batters have given him the most trouble, with a .941 OPS against him. Of the 22 home runs he’s surrendered, 15 have come off the bat of lefties.
While the overall numbers are a little high, the main goal for DeSclafani was to stay healthy once he returned and he passed with flying colors. As long as no health issues crop up in the off season, he will be part of the 2019 rotation. Maybe (*knock on wood*) he can finally make an Opening Day start too.
3). Once again, staying injury-free was a major factor for the Reds at certain positions this season. When Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler were both healthy in 2018, fans got a glimpse of what the Reds outfield can look like at the corner positions. In June, Winker had an OPS of .944 with 24 hits, including five home runs, in 78 at-bats. He was even better in July, hitting .442/.517/.615 with an OPS of 1.132 in 16 games. Schebler hit .330/.392/.560 with an OPS of .953 in June, and while he cooled down in July with an OPS of .791, his wRC+ was still at 108 for the month.
Winker was a serious candidate for NL ROY before his season ended with a shoulder injury. Schebler went on the disabled list in August and has since returned, but hasn’t been the same. He’s hitting just .244/.327/.456, with five home runs, nine walks, and 27 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances over the last month.
The Reds record in June was 15-11 and 13-11 in July. It is not a coincidence that the wins were coming when the offense was running smoothly. Schebler and Winker played huge parts in those wins and need to be in the everyday lineup next season if the Reds want to take the next step forward.
4). A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about the season Jose Peraza has had. Fast forward to today and Peraza is still hitting like he’s hit all season long. In the last 14 days, he’s hitting .373/.385/.627 with three home runs, three stolen bases, nine runs scored, and a 1.012 OPS in 52 plate appearances.
He’s dropped his K% nearly three percentage points from a year ago. Peraza’s 98 wRC+ this season has skyrocketed from 62 in 2017. His BB% is still low at 4.4%, meaning he’s still not drawing walks (which has never been his game anyway), but he’s finding other ways to be productive at the plate. The best part about the season’s he’s had is that he’s still only 24 years old.
Peraza’s proved to everyone that he has the capability to play everyday. Shortstop was one position where a large question mark hovered over the Reds at the beginning of this season. Going into 2019, however, it’s clear that question has been answered.
5). The Reds haven’t had a legitimate backup catcher they can feel comfortable platooning with the starter in a long time, likely since the 2010 and 2011 seasons when Ryan Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez both played well. In every year since then, the starting catcher has been good, while the backup, even Devin Mesoraco or Tucker Barnhart, has been terrible. When Mesoraco was dealing with injuries, Barnhart got his chance to prove himself, but there seemed to be a revolving door of players backing him up.
Curt Casali may have solved that issue. The Reds purchased his contract from the Tampa Bay Rays on May 31. At the time, the backup catcher Tony Cruz was hitting .154/.154/.308 in nine games. Casali has doubled that production, hitting .305/.355/.473 with four home runs and 14 runs scored and a 124 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances. His defense isn’t the best, only throwing out five of 16 attempted runners, but as a backup catcher and bench player, defense isn’t the biggest thing needed. Even though some of his success could be luck due to a .360 BABIP, it’s clear Casali has earned at least a chance in spring training to try to claim the backup role in 2019.