Stuff has been happening this offseason. Big stuff. And we can all agree, I think, that the Reds are a better team than they were last season. The question is, how much better. Most of the improvements have come to the pitching and pitching is hard to value correctly. It’s not a simple matter of picking your favorite version of WAR and doing the math.
I have frequently had an argument with our new “leader” Doug “Often Wrong” Gray about which pitching stats to use. And it was that arguing which spurred the process I’m about to layout for you. It seems to me that, in the offseason, we need to use both version of WAR. Baseball-Reference, has a pitching WAR which very much reflects what actually happened. FanGraphs has a pitching WAR which reflects that which is most likely to happen going forward. If we combine them, we can, perhaps, make a guess as to what kind of improvement we can really expect to see in the rotation.
So, according to Baseball-Reference, Reds starting pitchers had the following values last season (presented in order of innings pitched):
Castillo: 1.6 WAR
Romano: -0.4 WAR
Harvey: 1.3 WAR
DeSclafani: 0.3 WAR
Mahle: 0.0 WAR
Bailey: -1.5 WAR
Finnegan: -0.6 WAR
Now, Stephenson, Lorenzen, and Reed all started and relieved for the Reds last year. Their performances were such that we can probably call their starts, roughly, replacement level overall. With Reed and Lorenzen adding some positive value and Stephenson taking it right back.
In total, that gives us 0.7 WAR from the rotation. “Yikes,” is the correct word here, even if that’s not really a surprise.
But ERA (which is, essentially, the basis of bWAR) is a terrible predictor of itself, so let’s slide on over to fWAR and look at the 2019 rotation’s 2018 numbers.
Alex Wood: 2.6 WAR
Tanner Roark: 1.9 WAR
Luis Castillo: 1.9 WAR
Anthony DeSclafani: 0.6 WAR
Those are the spots that are more or less spoken for right now. If those guys – as a group – duplicate what they did last year in terms of their peripheral numbers (the basis of fWAR), we should expect a 6-win improvement.
There are some real growth candidates in the rotation. What we saw from Castillo, Disco, and and Mahle, for instance, probably represents the floor of what those guys are capable of (I’d discuss Romano, but he seems consigned to the bullpen). Reed certainly seemed to right the ship last year as well, making him an interesting candidate. So now, let’s branch into fantasy land and say this happens:
Castillo: 3.0 WAR
Wood: 2.6 WAR
Roark: 1.9 WAR
DeSclafani: 1.5 WAR
Mahle/Reed/Etc: 2.0 WAR
IF that happens, the Reds will have improved by 10 games, and their pitching rotation will be above average.
That’s still not a .500 team.
So now it’s time to look at the lineup. Billy Hamilton has been replaced. fWAR has him at 1.3 and bWAR has him at 0.3 last year. Most of his playing time will go to Puig who was good for 2.7 bWAR or 1.8 fWAR. (The WAR differences here are entirely a result of how the different sites measure defense, and as far as I know, they are both equally bad at it.) We can probably call that a 1.0 WAR improvement.
Even the conservative projections that are out think Votto will be better next year. Let’s call that another 1.0 WAR. Everyone else is, I think, a fair bet to hold steady. We could fuss around with OF value if you want but that’s gonna get into some deep weeds and I’m not ready for that post yet.
The remaining conundrum is Senzel vs. Gennett. And here’s the rub: Gennett had a .358 BABIP last season. That’s not sustainable. Yes, some players sustain that level over multiple seasons. They have names like Trout and Votto. Gennett’s true-talent BABIP (as far as I can estimate) is probably around .325 or .330 since he made his adjustment (I have to regress him hard until we have more data). He is, frankly, unlikely to be as good as Senzel next year (who is a good defender and who the currently available projections have as a 110 wRC+ hitter). However, Senzel is also unlikely to be as good as Gennett was last year – barring some luck. So, here we are. Gennett should probably not be a starting player on the 2019 Reds. Yell at me in the comments if you want, I guess.
Okay, let me boil this all down: I don’t have to squint, really, to see this as a .500 team. I think Castillo, Mahle, Winker, Disco, Votto, and Schebler are likely to improve or to improve the team by playing more. I think there are no obvious candidates for regression beyond Gennett, and that can mostly be avoided by swapping him for Senzel.
I think – in short – that they are still a player or two away. Another pitcher would really, really, really make a difference, but only a top-30 or so pitcher.
Could this team, as currently constructed, make the playoffs? Sure. Young talent makes giant leaps fairly frequently. Is it likely to? No. But if the goal is to get to 85 wins and be in the wildcard hunt, they’re close.