Despite five consecutive losing seasons Cincinnati Reds fans have every reason to be optimistic 2019 will be the year the franchise returns to its winning ways.
Following the 2013 season, in which the Cincinnati Reds made their third playoff appearance in four years, the franchise has fallen on tough times. A seemingly unending rebuilding project beginning in earnest following the 2014 season left many wondering when the team would return to relevance. However, wholesale changes to the roster and coaching staff this past offseason has provide the most talented ball club since their postseason run at the start of the decade.
That’s the number of starts made by pitchers in 2018 not named Luis Castillo or Anthony DeSclafani was 110. The 2018 Reds starting rotation tossed 838.2 innings which ranked 13th in the National League. An ERA of 5.02 among its starters was only bested the 5.09 mark compiled by the San Diego Padres hurlers. In addition, the Reds had a league-worst 1.62 home runs allowed per 9 innings. The woes of the rotation were dramatic.
Homer Bailey and Matt Harvey are no longer with the organization. When the Reds head north following Spring Training, barring injuries, the likes of Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Brandon Finnegan and Robert Stephenson also will no longer be in the rotation.
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A rotation that produced a -6.4 bWAR has three new faces. Joining holdovers Castillo and DeSclafani will likely be Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, and Sonny Gray. The latter three were acquired in offseason trades.
The new look rotation for the Cincinnati Reds appears to be vastly improved on paper. Roark, Wood, and Gray combined to produce a 5.0 bWAR last season. Add that number to those compiled by Castillo and DeScalfani and you have a starting rotation with a 7.0 bWAR. For comparison’s sake, that figure would have ranked 5th among NL starting staffs last season.
Although the starters struggled to record outs on a consistent basis, the Reds bullpen was a bright spot. Relying heavily on closer Raisel Iglesias and set-up men Jared Hughes and David Hernández, the bullpen ranked 5th among all NL teams. Receiving strong performances from Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and the newly acquired Zach Duke, the team should have one of the top relief corps again this season.
An infield of Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suárez, and Jose Peraza all produced a bWAR above the league average for their respective positions. Where the Reds struggled to produce was in the outfield. In 2018, the Cincinnati Reds were below-average in all three outfield positions. Overall the outfield compiled a -4.9 bWAR which placed 13th in the Senior Circuit.
Add Jesse Winker to the mix and the outfield is now a strength. Per ZiPS, an outfield of Puig, Senzel, and Winker is projected to produce a 6.2 WAR. The Reds new look outfield would be best among the best in the league.
A backstop tandem of former Gold Glover Award winner Tucker Barnhart and last year’s surprise addition Curt Casali ranked slightly below league average last year. If Barnhart can have a rebound year defensively and Casali continues to produce offensively, the Cincinnati Reds catchers should be at least hovering around league average.
The final piece of the puzzle is the bench. Last year the Reds broke camp with a bench of Adam Duvall, Devin Mesoraco, Cliff Pennington, Phil Gosselin, and Phillip Ervin. That group combined for a 0.6 bWAR. A potential bench of Matt Kemp, Scott Schebler, Derek Dietrich, José Iglesias and Casali compiled a 5.7 bWAR in 2018. Needless to say, this should be the deepest Reds squad in recent memory.
Given health and players producing numbers similar to those on the back of their baseball cards, the Cincinnati Reds have assembled a winning team. With a little luck there’s no reason the team should not be playing meaningful games in late September and possibly even October.