3 Reds players who exceeded expectations through the first 81 games of 2023 and 2 who fell short

The Cincinnati Reds, through the first 81 games of the 2023 season, are in first place in the NL Central.
Cincinnati Reds center fielder TJ Friedl (29) dives into third base.
Cincinnati Reds center fielder TJ Friedl (29) dives into third base. / Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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Reds starter Graham Ashcraft has fallen short of expectations through the 1st 81 games of the 2023 season.

Nobody expected this type of regression from Graham Ashcraft in 2023. While a sophomore slump is always part of the equation as a player enters Year 2, Ashcraft is experiencing a sophomore nosedive.

This is not the same player that was pitching to contact and getting routine ground balls during his rookie campaign. Ashcraft has lost all feel for his sinker, and it shows. After posting a ground ball-rate of a 54.5-percent in 2022, that number has dipped to 47-percent in 2023 according to FanGraphs.

Ashcraft's ERA has skyrocketed from 4.89 a year ago to 7.17. Even the right-hander's FIP, which is more accurate way to evaluate a pitcher's performance nowadays, has risen from 4.21 in 2022 to 5.55 through the firs-half of this season.

The biggest bugaboo, however, has been the long ball. After allowing 0.94 home runs per nine innings in 2022, that number sits at 1.57. Ashcraft also has a HR/FB of 18.2-percent, which is up from 12.5-percent from last season.

With the injuries to both Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene, the Cincinnati Reds need Graham Ashcraft to return to form over the second-half of the season. He doesn't need to be the team's ace, but a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher would be a good place to start.