The Reds have gone 17-21 since August 1st, and negativity on the Internet is at a season low. Ok, it might not be as bad as it was during the 1-8 start in April. Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the positive developments that have happened this season. I’ve also apparently written this type of article in each of the last two years, why not keep it going for a third year?
In 2018, the Reds starting rotation had a 5.02 team ERA, fifth worst in MLB, and a 4.88 FIP, fourth worst in the league. In the off season, Reds fans started a hashtag on Twitter after the front office talked about getting the pitching. The front office stuck to their word and #gotthepitching. Adding both Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark for the first half of the season proved to be great moves. Roark wasn’t an ace, but he gave the Reds much-needed innings while posting a 4.24 ERA in 21 starts. After Roark was traded, the Reds essentially replaced Roark with Trevor Bauer. Bauer hasn’t been good since the Reds acquired him (4.36 FIP), but he has a career 3.91 FIP and the potential to contribute to an already stacked rotation in 2020.
Gray, however, has been the most pleasant surprise this season, resurrecting a career that looked like it might be on life support last year with the Yankees. After a dazzling month of August in which he had a 0.74 ERA and struck out 44 in 36.2 innings, Gray has lowered his ERA to 2.75 and his FIP to 3.38. He only needs 19 more strikeouts to reach 200 and will finish very close to 200 innings (he’s currently at 157.2).
Add Luis Castillo, a healthy Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle or Alex Wood, and pitching guru Derek Johnson to the mix and you have a rotation that has moved up to 9th in MLB in team FIP and all the way up to 5th in xFIP. Now instead of clamoring for the Reds to “get the pitching” this offseason, fans will be tweeting “get the offense.”
The New Dynamic Duo
Once upon a time, the two can’t-miss Reds prospects were Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. They came up through the organization together and were best friends off the field. For awhile, they were the cornerstone pieces of the Reds offense. Well, now the Reds may have another dynamic pair. They’re not at the level of Votto and Bruce, but Nick Senzel and Josh VanMeter
From the moment Senzel was called up, he’s played nearly every day. He’s shown why he was the Reds top prospect, posting a .263/.325/.455 slash line and a 98 wRC+ from May to the All-Star break. He’s also adjusted to center field very well. He has the speed to track down balls and has a good throwing arm. As of late, Senzel’s bat has cooled down, but he’s also dealt with some day-to-day injuries in the second half.
VanMeter doesn’t have near the track record as Senzel, but he too has made the most of his opportunities. Right now, his starts can be considered as auditions for next year, and he’s done nothing but hit at both levels he’s played at this year. VanMeter hit 14 home runs and had an OPS of 1.097 at Triple-A Louisville, and while he hasn’t replicated that at the big league level, he does have a .780 OPS with six home runs in 76 games. He’s also shown his versatility by playing first, second and left field when called upon.
A Breakout Year
Amir Garrett has always been a good reliever. This season he’s taken it up a notch, particularly in the first half. With a 1.70 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 37.0 innings, he had a chance at being an All-Star if not for being a middle reliever. In 50.2 innings this season, Garrett has a 2.84 ERA with 73 strikeouts. He’s given up only six home runs and is in the top 3 percent of the league with an xSLG% (expected slugging) of .296. Garrett has definitely been a lefty specialist as well. He has a 2.76 FIP against lefties, but a 4.30 FIP against righties. Much of that is because five of the six home runs he’s allowed have been to righties. His struggle in 2019, however, has been walking batters. He has allowed 32 walks and his BB% sits at 14.6%, in the bottom two percent of the league.
Front Office Moves
From hiring an analytically minded manager to making trades that make sense for 2020, Dick Williams and his staff did a good job in actually advancing the rebuild this season. After picking David Bell to be the leader on the field, he allowed Bell to hire well-known and established coaches in Johnson and Turner Ward.
Trading for Gray and Yasiel Puig were two of the better trades in recent Reds history. Williams did things in a different way than MLB front offices have done business lately, acquiring free agents to try to win this year instead of hoarding prospects under team control for years. When that route didn’t work, he followed through and traded those free agents to get something of value back instead of just letting those players walk at the end of the season. He didn’t hold onto them to appease the fans. Did he make all the right moves? Maybe not. But it’s a far cry from the early stages of the rebuild when it seemed the Reds didn’t want to cut ties with players too soon for fear of fan backlash.
From the moment Puig documented his first trip to Cincinnati on one of the coldest days of the year, he was a fan favorite in Cincinnati. He brought an energy with him that was desperately needed within the fan base. Puig only hit .252/.302/.475 with a .777 OPS while he was with the Reds, but he gave the fans something they had been wanting the last couple of years–exciting entertainment at Great American Ball Park. The home runs he did hit were bombs, he got a couple bat flips in there, and his throws from right field to home plate were done with perfect accuracy.
When Puig was traded, no one expected Aristides Aquino to do what he has done. As the Reds slowly slipped out of contention in August, Aquino gave fans a reason to tune in every night. Every home run he hit was a record setter for fastest to that number in a certain number of plate appearances. He has 15 home runs already and there’s still three weeks left. Now the question becomes, “Can he get to 20?”
Back to Winning
It’s been fun to watch the Reds be a relatively competitive team this season. It’s been much more fun to watch the fun personalities on this team. From Yasiel Puig to Jose Iglesias to Derek Dietrich, there was never a shortage of shenanigans posted to players’ Instagram stories or the Reds social media channels. And that doesn’t include the returning players like Eugenio Suarez, Michael Lorenzen and Joey Votto, who always been entertaining on and off the field. Regardless of the record, 2019 had a different feel to it and because of that, I enjoyed the season more than the previous four seasons. I have faith that Dick Williams and Nick Krall will make a big splash in the off season and the Reds will come back in 2020 better than they have been in a long time.
Stats current through September 5th. All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant.