2018 Cincinnati Reds: A long way back

Next man up: Years from now, the Phillies’ pick of Mickey Moniak at No. 1 in the 2016 draft might be one of the worst ever — Steve Chilcott, Bryan Bullington bad — and Nick Senzel will be a big reason why. Senzel was taken by the Reds with the No. 2 pick, and he’s almost certain to debut soon after a .321/391/514 2017 season that ended in Class AA. Senzel plays third base, and the Reds have signed theirs, Eugenio Suarez, to a seven-year extension. No problem. The Reds moved Senzel to shortstop this spring, where Jose Peraza isn’t much of an obstacle, and second, just in case Scooter Gennett isn’t the .531 sluggger he was last year. Senzel will start the season in the minors mostly because of service time issues; Moniak will start it in the low minors after a .625 OPS in 2017, and probably stay there.

What he said:  Pitcher Cody Reed on the Reds’ rotation: “Who says I can’t be a starter? Who says I’m not one of the top five guys? Whoever does, they need to re-evaluate what they’re saying.” What he meant: “Who says I have 6.75 career ERA? Who says I’m not one of the top five guys, besides (manager) Bryan Price? He won 68 games last year. Maybe he needs to re-evaluate that.”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. Reds pitchers were 29th with a 5.17 ERA last year, but that’s a deceptive stat. They weren’t that good. They allowed 248 homers, most in MLB; walked 631 batters, one fewer than the most in MLB; and allowed an .810 OPS against, one-hundredth of a point better than the worst in MLB. Batters against Reds pitchers would have ranked 29th in the MLB in OPS. But last year’s Reds started Scott Feldman, Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo in 55 games, more than a third of their starts. This year’s Reds won’t be dependent on retreads like that, and have young pitching depth: Luis Castillo, who had a .638 OPS against in 15 starts; Tyler Mahle, who has a 2.85 minor-league ERA; Sal Romano, whose fastball averaged more than 95 mph last year; Robert Stephenson, who had a 3.30 ERA in the second half of the season after an 8.03 ERA in the first half; Amir Garrett, who has a 1.38 ERA and fanned 15 in 13 spring training innings; and even Reed, who’s not one of the top five guys, but could be if he could evaluate how to throw strikes as well as he parses words. 2. Tucker Barnhart won the Gold Glove at catcher last year, which might surprise Cardinals fans. He deserved it. He threw out an NL-best 44% of base stealers with a mostly young staff, had only four passed balls and batted .270 with a .347 on-base percentage. Devin Mesoraco hit 25 homers in 2014 and the Reds have bemoaned the injuries that have limited him to 95 games since. They might want to better appreciate Barnhart. 3. The Reds’ first baseman is a Hall of Famer even if he retired tomorrow. Joey Votto has a career .969 OPS and a baseball-reference.com page full of boldface, indicating he led the NL — six times in on-base percentage, five times in walks, once in doubles, once in slugging percentage, twice in OPS and twice in OPS+. Votto has a career .428 on-base percentage, which is 11th all-time, two-thousandths of a point behind Jimmie Foxx and two-thousandths of a point ahead of Tris Speaker. That’s more illustrious company than he keeps in the middle of the Reds’ lineup. At age 33 in 2017, Votto hit .320, slugged .578, had a .454 on-base percentage and 1.032 OPS, hit 36 homers, walked 134 times, drove in 100 runs and scored 106. He was two votes away from winning his second MVP. Some Reds fans like to criticize Votto, as old-time Red Sox fans did Ted Williams, for walking and not swinging at bad pitches in run-producing at-bats. That’s pretty good company, and criticism, to share.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. The Reds still have Billy Hamilton and they’re still batting him leadoff, despite a .299 career on-base percentage. Hamilton’s career would be the opening chapter in How Not to Score, should anyone ever write the book. Fangraph.com’s Travis Sawchik approached Hamilton this spring training with the idea of Hamilton being a “super sub” and entering the game as a pinch-runner for anyone — other than Votto — who reached in the early innings. Thus, Hamilton would be assured of what he can’t do naturally — being on base — and use his stolen base abilities to score. Hamilton’s response?  “This is the stupidest thing I’ve heard in my life.” Hmm. As long as the Reds bat Hamilton leadoff, it’ll never be more than second-stupidest. 2. The Reds got 30-homer seasons out of corner outfielders Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, but they were about as empty as 30-homer seasons could be. Duvall batted .249 with a .301 on-base percentage; Schebler batted .233 with a .307 on-base percentage and scored only 33 times other than his 30 homers, just 63 runs in all. There’s an opportunity for 24-year-old Jesse Winker, who has a career .398 minor-league on-base percentage, to play. 3. The Reds haven’t been able to keep pitchers healthy. That’s probably bad luck, but it’s been getting worse. Anthony DeSclafini, who missed 2017 (elbow), already has an oblique injury; Brandon Finnegan, who made just four starts in 2017 (shoulder), has a biceps injury; Homer Bailey, who’s still owed $44 million for the next two seasons, has made just 26 starts over the last three seasons and hasn’t been good in any of them. His 6.40 ERA since 2015 is hardly worthy of his contract. The Reds were properly cautious last year; they could use a change of fortune this year.

Team song: Beatles: The Long and Winding Road

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