5 Cincinnati Reds who will outperform their 2022 ZiPS projections

Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) hits a home run in the seventh inning.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson (37) hits a home run in the seventh inning. / Meg Vogel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Every year, FanGraphs releases their ZiPS projections for the upcoming baseball season. This year, the website pegs the Reds offense to drop off a bit from last year's stellar production and the estimates assume that Cincinnati will hover around the .500 mark all season.

The Reds exceeded expectations last season, and they'll have to do so again if they hope to compete for the NL Central Division crown. Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers are expected to finish higher than the Cincinnati Reds.

There's still time for Cincinnati to make some solid roster additions; maybe re-signing Nick Castellanos? But given how the offseason unfolded prior to the lockout, most fans foresee more of a selloff than a buying spree.

Despite all the changes, Cincinnati still looks to field a competitive team in 2022 while reducing payroll. That's a bold strategy, but perhaps it'll work. Let's take a look at five Reds players who will outperform their ZiPS projections next season.

1. Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds catcher

First, let's look at Tyler Stephenson. After platooning with Tucker Barnhart last season, Stephenson has been given the keys and will be the Cincinnati Reds everyday catcher next season. Whether his backup is Mark Kolozsvary, Andrew Knapp, or another backstop not yet on the roster is irrelevant. One should assume that last year's rookie should get 120-plus starts behind the dish in 2022.

FanGraphs predicts Stephenson to hit .266/.347/.402 with 10 homers, 45 RBIs, and be worth 1.9 fWAR. That's not a bad season to be sure, but it's a drop-off from Stephenson's rookie season when he hit .286/.366/.431 with 10 homers, 45 runs batted, and 2.0 fWAR.

Sorry, but I'm not seeing a sophomore slump from the Reds catcher in 2022. In fact, I think we'll see Stephenson find a home in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup and be given plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.

The moment never seemed too big for Tyler Stephenson last season, and I'm expecting more of the same from the Georgia native in 2022. I hesitate to put a number out there, because I believe the projected slash line isn't too far off from what we will see, but I think there's a lot more pop in Stephenson's bat and we may see him lead all NL catchers in homers next season.

Cincinnati Reds center fielder Nick Senzel (15) scores.
Cincinnati Reds center fielder Nick Senzel (15) scores. / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

2. Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds outfielder

Is this the year that Nick Senzel finally realizes his potential? Let's hope so. The former first-round pick has been dogged by injuries during his first three major league seasons, and the patience of the fanbase is wearing thin. Some have already written Senzel off, but I think that's very premature.

Senzel is projected to hit. .255/.316/.412 in just 324 plate appearances. FanGraphs predicts the 27-year-old will hit eight home runs, record just 31 RBIs, and be worth 0.6 fWAR. Wow! That's a fall from grace if I've ever seen one.

The reason, of course, for the lower than expected projection is centered around Senzel's inability to stay on the field. The former No. 2 overall pick has finished two of the past three seasons on the injured list, so it's more than fair to assume that the University of Tennessee alum will struggle to compete in 100-plus games during the upcoming season.

But make no mistake, the only thing keeping Nick Senzel from being one of the Cincinnati Reds best contributors is his ability to stay healthy. If Senzel can prove that he's able to remain on the field, the sky is the limit for the converted third baseman.

I can't see David Bell counting on Senzel as the team's everyday centerfielder. But, as the season goes along, if Senzel proves that he can stay on the field, his role could expand. It all boils down to one ability for Senzel; avail-ability.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett (50) prepares to pitch.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett (50) prepares to pitch. / Albert Cesare / The Enquirer via Imagn

3. Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds reliever

Call me crazy, but I think we will see a HUGE bounce-back season from Amir Garrett in 2022. The left-hander knows how poorly he played last season, and if he ever wants to secure a big contract, he'll have to show that 2021 was a bump in the road.

AG could not be counted on last season. The southpaw appeared in 63 games, but only pitched in 47.2 innings. Garrett posted a 6.04 ERA and an obscene 13.5% walk-rate. AG was worth -0.1 fWAR and lost his job as the Reds closer.

Amir Garrett will have to fight tooth and nail to regain the title of closer, and to be honest, I don't think it's David Bell's intention to hand out that role in 2022. But if Garrett is able to rebound from his atrocious 2021 season, the Reds skipper may lean on the lefty late in games when an opposing team has a left-handed heavy lineup.

FanGraphs projects AG to go 2-2 with a 4.25 ERA over 48 innings of work. The prediction also sees a spike in Garrett's strikeout-rate (31.3%) but foresees his walk-rate (13.1%) remaining about the same. That is the area where Garrett must improve.

Amir Garrett's K-BB% in 2020 was 27.5%, but last year that number fell to 14.9%; the lowest since his rookie season in 2017. ZiPS projects that number to be 18.4% in 2022. That's not good enough for a player of Garrett's talent. Look for AG to improve upon last year's disastrous campaign and get back to being the dominant left-hander we all know and love.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman (23) reacts.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman (23) reacts. / Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content

4. Jeff Hoffman, Cincinnati Reds reliever

I am on the Jeff Hoffman bandwagon. The right-hander wasn't cut out to be part of the Cincinnati Reds rotation last season, but after returning form the injured list, the coaching staff moved Hoffman to the bullpen. That may have saved Hoffman's Reds' career, and may pay dividends for Cincinnati in 2022.

The bullpen was a disaster last season, and with Tejay Antone out heading into the 2022 season, there seems to be a lot of questions marks once again. But the relief corps looks better equipped to handle the rigors of the upcoming season, and I think Hoffman could be key to keeping things in check.

As a starter last season, Hoffman posted a 5.20 ERA and recorded 39 strikeouts over 45 innings of work. As a reliever, the 29-year-old punched out 40 batters over 28 innings and put up a 3.54 ERA. Hoffman also fared much better against right-handed hitters, surrendering only four his 15 doubles allowed and five of his 12 home runs versus right-handed bats.

Coming on in relief gives David Bell better control of who Jeff Hoffman will be going up against. Hoffman's time as a starter also gives the Cincinnati manager the ability to count on the right-hander for more than one inning of work.

ZiPS projects Hoffman to post a 4.50 ERA over 62 innings in 2022 while striking out 77 batters. I think the 28% strikeout-rate is a bit low, and if Hoffman can keep the free passes down, that ERA could be drastically lower than FanGraphs is projecting.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Cessa delivers a pitch.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Cessa delivers a pitch. / Emilee Chinn/GettyImages

5. Luis Cessa, Cincinnati Reds reliever

With Tejay Antone sidelined for the 2022 season following Tommy John surgery, every Reds fans (myself included) is looking for who will step up and become Cincinnati's bullpen ace during the upcoming season. Luis Cessa should be near the top of everyone's list.

Per ZiPS projections, the right-hander is expected to post a 4.41 ERA, 21.9% strikeout-rate, and be worth 0.5 fWAR in 2022. I'm sorry, but that seems incredibly low; especially considering how well Cessa pitched once he joined the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline.

The New York Yankees shipped Cessa and left-hander Justin Wilson to the Queen City last July. Both pitchers played well during the second-half of the 2021 season, but Cessa really shined. The one stat that stuck out to me was his 2.0% walk-rate. Cessa issued just two free passes in his 24 appearances out of the Reds bullpen.

That is a staggering statistic, and one that he'll be hard-pressed to duplicate. But, if Cessa can keep the base paths clear of free runners, he can continue to keep the ball low in the zone and allow his defense to do their job and field ground balls behind him.

Next. 3 Reds who'll struggle to make the 40-man roster. dark

Luis Cessa isn't overly impressive with his velocity, like Lucas Sims, but the right-hander picks his spots and can locate his pitches very well. Look for Cessa to be one of the better relievers in the Reds pen during the upcoming season.