Each Monday morning, we ask a few of our authors to answer an important question concerning the Reds. Please offer your answer in the comments.
Question: Are the Reds better than their record?
Nick Carrington: No doubt the Reds are better than their record. They may not lead the National League in ERA all season, but the pitching staff is better than advertised and will keep them in games even as they regress a bit. Remember the glory days of Asher Wojciechowski, Tim Adleman, and Deck McGuire? The immortal Lisalverto Bonilla? Things look a little brighter on the mound these days. The offense has tried to give aneurysms to all of us. They have four regulars with a wRC+ of 78 or below and two former regulars (Schebler and Kemp) who gave them -1.3 in fWAR before they were shipped to AAA or cut. But the offense isn’t this bad. Joey Votto may or may not be an elite hitter anymore, but he isn’t 22% below average. Yasiel Puig has hit like Billy Hamilton in a bad year. No way that continues. Nick Senzel has arrived; Scooter is coming, and the runs will as well. The Reds will go on a good run soon enough. Keep the faith! This will be a fun season.
Chad Dotson: No question whatsoever. I’m not sure it’s even arguable, though I look forward to seeing the responses from the other distinguished writers here (and the commenters below). We can look at the simplest of metrics to see that the Reds are better than their record. For example, by run differential (Reds are +30), Cincinnati’s expected record would be 7 games over .500 at this point (and the sixth-best mark in all of baseball). That’s an admittedly crude way to look at it, but even BP’s adjusted standings are in full agreement that the Reds deserve better than their record shows. In addition, Cincinnati’s collective team BABIP (.242) is far and away the worst in the league. There is plenty of room for improvement, and I expect that we’ll be seeing some better baseball in the coming weeks and months.
Jeff Gangloff: I’m going to say yes, but only slightly better. For as much as the offense has underperformed/been unlucky to start the year (lead the league in BABIP, most players performing under career norms), the pitching has been performing above its ceiling. Is this pitching staff good enough to finish top 5 in MLB in pretty much every statistical category through the end of the season? Probably not. Is this offense going to continue to produce runs in the bottom third of all teams in MLB? I don’t think so. So for me, both of those components, as well as a little increase in luck, are going to end up meeting somewhere in the middle. How many extra wins does this equate too? I’m not sure … but it probably ends up being closer to .500 than 6 games under.
Matt Habel: I think the Reds are better than their record but still do not believe they are a playoff team. I predicted 78 wins prior to the year and I am still pretty confident in that number. The offense will most likely get better but the pitching will also most likely regress a bit. The biggest issue facing the Reds my opinion is the strength of the division. Wins are not going to be easy to come by against any NL Central team, all of which could potentially be fighting for a playoff spot down the stretch. If they were playing in a weaker division, I would feel much more optimistic about making a strong run to try to break .500.
Bill Lack: Guess it depends on what you mean by “better than their record”, but I believe so. I base this partially on analytics/statistics and partially on gut instinct. The pitching has been so much better than anyone could logically have predicted, especially the starting staff. If their offense had been even average, I think they’d be challenging for the top of the division (or even the NL’s best record) right now.
The offense has been almost historically awful, which you have to believe will turn around. Almost uniformly, their offense has been below career averages and even below expected norms for an off year. These many average/good hitters can’t continue to tank the way they have through the first quarter of the season, it’s almost an impossibility. If the offense gets to even league average, the starting pitching doesn’t implode, and David Bell doesn’t wear the bullpen to a nub by Memorial Day, I expect this team to go on a tear. The question is, how big a hole will they be digging themselves out of when it happens?
Jackson Thurnquist: Absolutely. The Reds have a +23 run differential, which comes out to a 22-16 Pythagorean Win-Loss record. Their pitching staff is 1st in the majors in fWAR, 2nd in ERA and FIP, 3rd in xFIP, and 5th in K%. Unfortunately, they’ve played in more one-run games than any team in the majors, and their record in one-run games is abysmal to the point of hilarity. There are serious concerns about an offense that, a quarter of the way into the season, still ranks in the bottom 5 teams in the majors in wRC+, wOBA, and fWAR. But a team that is 2nd in runs allowed and 22nd in runs scored should be much closer to at least an average team, not one that is again on pace to lose 90 games. There are a cacophony of bad-luck reasons one can point to (the Reds lead the league in missed ball-strike calls against them, their BABIP on hard hit balls is very low, the poor timing of their offense) but I suspect that until players like Raisel Iglesias, Yasiel Puig, and Joey Votto begin playing like they’re supposed to, it will be hard to argue about dumb luck much longer.