2016 Cincinnati Reds: 5 Bold Predictions

Jul 6, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) singles against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 6, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) singles against the Washington Nationals during the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

The offseason has almost come to an end. In just twelve days, Reds pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. Although the Reds almost certainly won’t be good this season, baseball still will be played. There will be dingers, there will be exciting wins, and there will be heartbreaking losses. The Reds’ farm system represents a glimmer of hope for the future, and watching key members of the next competitive Reds team develop will be exciting (even if it’s not as many as it should be.)

Even in a season so widely viewed as meaningless, there will be surprises. There will be unexpected successes, and there will be failures. Joey Votto will probably be excellent. The Reds’ bullpen probably won’t. Devin Mesoraco might beat the odds to catch 140 games and match his .893 2014 OPS. Or, he could prove that 2014 was a fluke driven by an outrageous April (his .245 average for the rest of the season certainly is in line with his career number.) Baseball really is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy, and even the best projection models we have at our disposal miss as often as they hit.

With that being said, here is my probably-in-vain attempt to corral and predict the madness:

#1) The Reds Rotation Will Finish With One of the Top 10 Best ERAs in Baseball 

Like I said, these predictions are bold. This one actually isn’t quite as crazy as you might initially think, though. The Reds finished 2015 ranked 26th in rotation ERA with a 4.58 mark (that figure bloats to 5.34 in the second half when Cueto and Leake were dealt.) However, the return of a healthy Homer Bailey and a couple of pitchers regressing to the mean could allow the Reds to slip in to group. Assuming that 2016 is relatively similar to 2015, the Reds will need a rotation ERA of 3.80-4.00 to reach this mark. The Reds’ ZIPS projections provide some optimism on this front. DeSclafani is projected for a 3.78 ERA, Iglesias is projected at 3.79, Lamb at 3.92, Bailey at 3.93, and Finnegan at 3.79. However, if the Reds are going to have a Top 10 Rotation ERA based on these figures, they will need either ridiculously good luck health-wise (a la the 2012 Reds) or for some of these guys to outperform their projections. In particular, I think Raisel Iglesias represents a good bet to perform better than his 3.79 projection. I also think a healthy Homer Bailey pitches better than his projection by 20-30 points. This one might fall short, but if each of these predictions were a lock to happen, they wouldn’t be bold.

#2) Joey Votto Will Finish With 20 or Fewer Home Runs (While Still Being Great)

Joey Votto is a fantastic example of a player who knows his own limitations. In a FanGraphs interview with the excellent Eno Sarris, Votto admits that he doesn’t really care about hitting home runs. He knows that power ages poorly, and wants to work on improving the facets of his game that can reasonably be sustained as he prepares to enter his mid-30’s. Votto will let the home runs happen as they will, and he won’t force them. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine him replicating the 29 home runs he hit last season. His home run to fly ball ratio spiked to 21.6%, which is his highest mark since 2010’s clear outlier of 25.0% and second highest mark overall. A random spike in HR/FB typically is a sign of coming power regression, and I would expect this ratio to settle in at somewhere between 15.0% and 17.0% for the season. Additionally, of his 29 homers, 14 of them were categorized as “Just Enoughs” based on distance by ESPN’s Home Run tracker. This was enough to tie him for third on that list, behind Bryce Harper’s 15 (42 home runs overall), and the 16 shared by JD Martinez and Mike Trout (38 home runs and 41 overall home runs apiece respectively.) This means that around 48% of Votto’s home runs were considered “Just Enoughs”, which is a far sight more than Harper’s 35%, Trout’s 39%, or Martinez’s 42%. Predicting such a precipitous drop could be a reach, however, as Votto has never finished with fewer than 24 home runs in a full, healthy season. Still, even if Votto’s power regresses so heavily, he’s a virtual lock for 5+ WAR and MVP consideration- he’s that good.

#3) JJ Hoover Will Finish With an ERA Closer to 5 Than 4

To say that I don’t buy JJ Hoover’s 2015 rebound would probably be an understatement. While his 2.94 ERA last season was a massive improvement over 2014’s 4.88 mark, the underlying metrics suggest that he was probably actually better in 2014. Hoover’s strikeout rate plummeted last year, from a spectacular 10.77 per 9 to a below average 7.27 (as a reference, the average MLB reliever struck out 8.43 per 9 last year.) He didn’t significantly reduce his walks either, leading to a very poor K/BB ratio. The culprit behind Hoover’s success was simply good luck on balls in play. Hoover’s ridiculous .215 BABIP was second in the NL, just behind the Padres’ Joaquin Benoit. If Hoover proves that his decline in strikeout rate is no fluke, and he doesn’t reduce his walks, the potential for a complete meltdown in 2016 exists. Hoover will probably start the season as the Reds’ closer, given his experience and his good ERA last season, but if he performs like I expect him to, he won’t hold on to the role. Who will take the role of closer, then? Well…

#4) Tony Cingrani Will Finish as the Reds’ Best Relief Pitcher (And Closer)

With a crowded Reds rotation, and consecutive under performances after a dominant rookie campaign, the ship on Tony Cingrani being a starter has probably sailed. He will be competing for a spot in a rotation already consisting of Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and John Lamb, without even considering the Reds’ plethora of near-MLB ready minor league SPs including Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed. It’s safe to say that Cingrani is on the outside looking in there. However, given both the lack of talent in the Reds’ bullpen and Cingrani’s MLB experience, he should safely have a spot in the bullpen. After a sophomore campaign that can only be described as “disastrous”, Cingrani was ingrained permanently as a reliever last season. The results of this experiment were mixed, as Cingrani finished with an unsightly 5.67 ERA. However, he struck out a lot of batters and seemed to underperform his peripherals. Cingrani’s almost 7 walks per 9 were the likely culprit behind that ERA, and it’s hard to see him having success in any role if he doesn’t get that down. It’s unfair to completely write Cingrani off because of his 2015 season, however. He was hurt for much of the year, and was transitioning between the Reds and the MLB and the DL seemingly every other week. Cingrani’s fastball is his main pitch, and really the only above average pitch in his arsenal. He doesn’t blow hitters away with it, but he can throw it deceptively and generate some movement on it. It’s hard to have sustained success as a starter in the majors with one above average pitch, but it’s possible as a reliever. This is one of my more faith-driven predictions, as nothing in Cingrani’s numbers over the last two years really suggests coming dominance. However, I believe that if he’s healthy, he’ll have no problem being the best pitcher in this bullpen. I don’t have any faith in JJ Hoover, as you read earlier, and while Jumbo Diaz, Blake Wood and Caleb Cotham will probably be average to solid, none really stands out as a clear best. Don’t be surprised if Cingrani finishes 2016 with an ERA under 3, 10 strikeouts per 9, and the job of the Reds’ closer.

#5) Raisel Iglesias Will Finish as a Top 25 Starting Pitcher (In All of Baseball)

With a 3.28 xFIP, a 3.26 SIERA, and a 3.7 K/BB in his rookie season, Iglesias looks like a future stud. That future isn’t necessarily just the distant future, as I believe that Iglesias will have a huge 2016 season. For some reference on this prediction, the 25th best starting pitcher in baseball last year by FanGraphs WAR was Shelby Miller. If you go by ERA, it was Michael Wacha. Do the Reds have their own Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha? I think they do. Iglesias showed a ton last year in his 95 innings, both with his numbers and his stuff. His 3-7 record won’t blow you away, but when you look at the numbers that actually matter, you see a potential for dominance. Don’t be surprised if Iglesias finishes 2016 with a FIP under 3.30, which would easily qualify him for one of the 25 best in baseball.

So, those are my bold predictions for this upcoming season. Have any of your own? I’d love to hear them!