Hopes are high for the Cincinnati Reds this season. There is a lot to be excited about, as the Reds revamped their rotation and their starting lineup. They cut a lot of dead weight and replaced it with respectable production. That can only help this team going forward, even though the NL Central looks like a bear of a division this season.
For the Reds to reach their season expectations, the starting point is to do something that they haven’t done since 2014 and that is win 70 games. Then they have to do about 10 games better than that based on the win total market. Cincinnati was 10-29 in one-run games last season, so better fortunes in close games should give the Reds a head start. This is also a team that was 3-15 over the first 18 games of the season before Bryan Price was fired and Jim Riggleman took over.
This is also a team that finished the season with a 3-11 run. Outside of those two stretches with a combined 6-26 record, the Reds were 61-69. Maybe that’s some reason for optimism? This was a team that had some extremely bad runs, which is what happens when you have bad starting pitching and are forced to outscore the opposition every game.
Great American Ball Park provided a big boost for the offense, as the Reds scored 74 more runs at home than on the road. Unfortunately, they allowed 418 runs in 81 home games and were outscored by 33. The Reds were also awful against right-handed starters with a 45-69 record. Only the Giants, Royals, and Orioles had fewer wins against righties. Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig don’t really solve that.
Money Line Spots
The Reds didn’t score enough runs, but the pitching staff really held this team back last season. Cincinnati allowed 819 runs and 5.1 runs per game. That was the worst in the NL and only four AL teams were worse in that department. Now, we have a much better pitching staff to consider.
Let’s start, though, with a holdover in Luis Castillo. Castillo had a 4.30 ERA with a 4.32 FIP and a 3.69 xFIP, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Castillo got his head caved in during the first half with a 5.49 ERA and a .473 SLG against. He allowed 19 home runs and only had 96 strikeouts in 103.1 innings. In the second half, though, he allowed just a .362 SLG, cut his wOBA against by nearly 80 points, and posted a 2.44 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning. The secret is out about Castillo, but his prices will move quickly.
The Reds scored more runs at home than on the road, but there were some interesting splits at GABP. Cincinnati was 17th in wOBA at .543 on fly balls and line drives at home. Hitters overall posted a .581 wOBA in Cincinnati. Road hitters posted a .616 wOBA. Will the improved pitching staff give the Reds more of a chance at home? Time may tell, but I’d like to think so. If I can get some home dog prices with the Reds, I may look them up.
Of course, that would imply that Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood are the answer. More on them later.
The Reds were split down the middle on totals last season at 78-78-6. If the offense is in fact better with more power from Joey Votto and more of a presence from Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, this could be a fun trend to watch. The pitching staff will improve, but so will the offense.
It is worth noting that the Reds had the seventh-highest number of plate appearances with a runner in scoring position last season. They ranked 18th in wOBA and 11th in batting average. They had chances and should have more chances this season. This could end up being an over team this year, especially if the additions to the starting staff don’t pan out.
Individual Players to Watch
Sonny Gray – So let’s look at those pitchers. It’s rare to see a team replace 60 percent of its starting rotation in one offseason, so all three of these guys merit extra attention. I’m probably an idiot, but I actually like Gray. I think this park could be a challenge for him, but home runs have never really been the issue. Lately, it has been walks and bad luck. Last season, Gray had a 4.90 ERA with a 4.17 FIP and a 4.10 xFIP.
He was never a good fit with the Yankees. Gray likes to throw his fastball to set up everything else. The Yankees are part of the anti-fastball revolution. Most of Gray’s arsenal goes downward, hence his 53.3 percent GB%. Gary Sanchez was never a fit to catch him. Austin Romine did most of it last season and actually did a pretty good job.
The AL East sucks for pitchers. Three of the top five parks in fly ball and line drive wOBA are in the AL East. Gray still managed to post a league average swinging strike rate last year, even with a decrease in swings outside the zone and an increase in contact on pitches in the zone. I’m buying stock here. I think this is a good fit for him.
Tanner Roark – Roark isn’t great. We all know that. He’s a hell of a lot better than what the Reds had at the back of the rotation last season. He had a 4.34 ERA with a 4.27 FIP and a 4.42 xFIP in 180.1 innings. League average for starters was a 4.19/4.21/4.16 pitcher slash. So, he was basically a little bit below average.
When you consider that Sal Romano posted a 5.31/4.95/4.68 and Tyler Mahle posted a 4.98/5.25/4.45, this is a noticeable upgrade. If Roark gets back to a 48 percent GB% like he had in 2016 and 2017, that would play in Cincinnati. If he doesn’t, that HR/FB% is probably going up. He had a career-best season with the slider last year. Maybe he throws more of those this season. I’ll be watching his pitch usage and batted ball distribution a lot early in the year. Batted ball metrics reach a point of significant very early, so we’ll know what we’re working with.
Alex Wood – Right now, Alex Wood is dealing with a bad back. When he gets back, he’ll be a viable weapon. He owns a career 3.29/3.36/3.49 pitcher slash in 803.1 innings. He’s pitched in some good yards for pitchers, so I’m tempering my expectations some, but, once again, he’s still better than Romano and Mahle and we can throw Matt Harvey’s 4.50/4.33/4.14 in there as well.
Wood’s career GB% is 49.5 percent. It really does make sense for the Reds to go all in with ground ball pitchers given the park factor. Castillo is an above average worm-killer.
Anthony DeSclafani – Real quick, Anthony DeSclafani posted a 4.93 ERA with a 4.83 FIP and a 3.86 xFIP last season. He had a 19.8 percent HR/FB%. Look for money to hit the board on him early in the season. The scary thing is that his HR/FB% was 20.6 percent at home and still 18.9 percent on the road. Hopefully he can harness that. He did induce more ground balls in the second half.
Also, DeSclafani allowed just a .206/.246/.350 slash with a 59/9 K/BB ratio the first time through the lineup. He may be a really underrated piece for 1st 5 betting.