|Sportsbook||Win NL Central||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 84.5 (BetOnline)|
It will be in your best interest to get in on the Cincinnati Reds as quickly as you can. This isn’t a cart before the horse thing, as I still encourage you to read through my season preview for the Reds. This is simply to say that this will be one of the popular teams of Spring Training and the lead-up to the 2020 season.
We saw a lot of Reds interest last year before the season and it didn’t play out as anticipated, largely because the Reds were unlucky and on the wrong side of variance. When the dust settled on the 2019 season, the Reds finished 75-87…with a -10 run differential. The alternate standings metrics are far from the be-all, end-all, but the Reds spent most of the season under .500 with a positive run differential. This team deserved a better fate.
The Reds were -18 in run differential over their last nine games to push them to the negative side for the season as a whole. The only time the Reds had a winning record last season was at 1-0. They lost eight in a row after that to open the season. It was a hole that they could never climb out of. They were 24-33 in one-run games and 57 one-run games was the most in baseball.
I talked at length in the Cubs intro about the alternate standings metrics. The Reds were five games worse than their Pythagorean Win-Loss expectation, nine games worse than their BaseRuns expectation and more than 11 games worse than their 3rd Order Win% expectation. This will be a very popular team in the preseason markets and also in the day-to-day betting markets. The helium for this team is going to quite a sight to see.
It isn’t just about last season, either. It is about the fact that the Reds were one of the few teams to spend money of significance in the offseason. There were some big free agent deals that got inked, but a lot of teams sat on their hands. The uncertainty of the upcoming CBA has owners in big markets actually bending over to pick loose change off the ground and hoard it.
The Reds are going for it, man. And that’s good. It’s good for baseball when small-market teams seize free agent opportunities in what is something of a depressed market aside from what the big names like Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon raked in. They signed Mike Moustakas. They signed Wade Miley. They signed relative unknown Shogo Akiyama. They spent money to improve a ballclub that is right on the cusp of being very good. They tried and failed to trade for Corey Kluber prior to last season in their quest for another ace-like starter and wound up with Trevor Bauer at the Trade Deadline instead. Controlled aggression typically pays off, particularly for teams that already had a good talent base in place.
So, the Reds will be popular. They will be viewed as a legitimate contender to win what looks like a watered-down NL Central this season with the Brewers showing signs of regression and the Cubs and Cardinals unwilling to spend. Fortune favors the bold and few teams have been as bold as the Reds this winter. That garners respect in the betting community and in the media and we all know what the court of public opinion can do to a team’s perception.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+28 (4.51/4.34)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||86.4-75.6|
|Record in One-Run Games||24-33|
|Additions: Pedro Strop, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Biddle, Nate Jones, Boog Powell, Brooks Raley, Shogo Akiyama, Matt Davidson, Tyler Thornburg, David D. Carpenter, Wade Miley, Mike Moustakas, Justin Shafer, Jose De Leon, Travis Jankowski, Mark Payton, Josh D. Smith|
|Losses: Jose Peraza, Kevin Gausman, Christian Colon, Derek Dietrich, Jackson Stephens, Keury Mella, Alex Wood, Jose Iglesias, Juan Graterol, Brian O’Grady, Jose Siri, Jimmy Herget, Nick Martini|
If you aren’t a Reds fan, don’t read on. This is going to be a love fest. I love what the Reds did this offseason. It isn’t just the players that they replaced or who they replaced them with. It is a full-on, balls-to-the-wall buy-in with analytics.
It didn’t take long. Shortly after the season ended, the Reds hired Kyle Boddy to take over as the team’s director of pitching initiatives and pitching coordinator. The founder of Driveline Baseball has altered pitching around the league in ways that you cannot imagine. Driveline’s most notable client is Trevor Bauer, who, as we know, joined the Reds at the Trade Deadline in 2019. The Reds also hired Caleb Cotham, a Driveline client, as the director of pitching. Eric Jagers, also from Driveline, was a pitching strategist for the Phillies last season and now works for the Reds.
The Reds pulled Derek Johnson out of Milwaukee prior to the 2019 season, so their commitment to pitching development is far-reaching.
They also have a far-reaching commitment to hitting with a complete overhaul of the staff and development plans on that side. Cincinnati native, and now manager, David Bell was the VP of Player Development for the Giants before coming back to the Reds, where he was a minor league manager for four seasons after his playing career ended.
Commitment to player development is invaluable. And the crazy thing is that the Reds even spent a lot of money in free agency as well. They signed Mike Moustakas. They signed Nick Castellanos. They signed Wade Miley. They signed Shogo Akiyama. They even added to the bullpen with Pedro Strop and one of my favorite bullpen gambles in Tyler Thornburg.
I cannot say a single bad thing about the offseason for the Reds except that I wish the other Ohio team was as interesting.
For all of this to work, this offense needs to get better. We saw the dramatic changes on the pitching side, which I will discuss in deeper detail in a bit. The offense has to be better. Great American Ball Park plays as one of the smaller parks in baseball, particularly when the hot summer sun shines down on the Ohio River. The fact that the Reds haven’t been more productive is concerning.
Rather than sit and wonder and hope about internal options, the Reds went out and spent money. They did so in one of baseball’s smallest markets while teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were crying poor. Do all of the puzzle pieces fit together? Admittedly, that remains to be seen. The Reds are just trying to load up on as many useful bats as they can and then make places for them.
Mike Moustakas will play second base when Eugenio Suarez is good to go, but his bat plays anywhere in the lineup. He has posted wRC+ marks of 105 or higher in each of the last five seasons. He is a solid and reliable, versatile, and generally healthy player, minus the torn ACL he suffered in 2016. Moustakas was basically average as a second baseman in 359.2 innings last season. He’s an upgrade on offense and shouldn’t be too much of a downgrade on defense.
We can’t say the same about Nick Castellanos, who is a downgrade on defense. But, you know what? Castellanos is another good hitter and he goes from cavernous Comerica Park to Great American Ball Park, where his power should play up in a big way. Castellanos got out of a toxic situation and slashed .321/.356/.646 for the Cubs in 225 PA to finish out 2019. I don’t know if that is necessarily the Castellanos that we can expect, but he puts a lot of balls in play, should have 30-homer potential in Cincinnati, and ranked in the 90th percentile in xSLG last season. That will help a Reds lineup desperate for power and contact quality.
Eugenio Suarez is recovering from shoulder surgery, so we wait with bated breath to make sure that his power hasn’t gone, but he hit 49 homers last season with .381 wOBA and a 133 wRC+ in what was a career year for the third baseman. He also walked over 10% of the time for the third straight year. He actually had a higher wRC+ in 2018 with the lower run environment in baseball, but he set a career-high in wOBA and looks like an offensive stud for this Reds lineup again.
We’ll see how much Aristides Aquino plays this season, but he hit 47 home runs in 548 PA between Triple-A and the Majors last season. That’s not a bad bat to have in a pinch. We’ll have to see how Shogo Akiyama transitions to the big leagues after slashing .303/.392/.471 for Seibu in the NPB last season. He has three straight 20-homer seasons under his belt and owns a career .376 OBP in the NPB.
All of the sudden, the Reds don’t need Joey Votto to shoulder the entire load, which is good because it seems like he can’t anymore. Then again, maybe last season was just an outlier for Votto. His .357 OBP was the lowest of his career and he is only two years removed from posting a 163 wRC+. Votto saw a big K% spike last season, as pitchers stopped being afraid of his power. He has only hit 27 HR over his last 1,231 PA. I get the fear about Votto, but now he doesn’t have to be the run producer and the power guy. He can use his elite plate discipline and a little bit of a power bounce back would not surprise me.
Jesse Winker is an above average hitter. Freddy Galvis isn’t, but he is a strong defender at shortstop. Neither is Tucker Barnhart, but he’s a solid defensive catcher and does make up for his offensive shortcomings with a solid walk rate.
All of the sudden, the Reds have something that resembles a league average lineup with a chance to be a lot more than that. They have more guys with good walk rates and power. Remember, it isn’t just about who you add. It is about who you replace. Jose Iglesias was third in plate appearances and posted an 84 wRC+. Nick Senzel played a lot and only posted a 90 wRC+. Castellanos is a big upgrade to Yasiel Puig offensively. Jose Peraza played 141 games and had 403 plate appearances with an atrocious 62 wRC+. He is replaced by Moustakas.
Of the top eight in plate appearances, three had wRC+ marks over 100. All three – Suarez, Votto, Winker – are back. Barnhart and Senzel are still within the org, but won’t be called upon to shoulder a lot of the offensive burden.
I don’t think the Reds go from the bottom third of the league in just about every category to the top third of the league. I think league average is a good bar for this offense. With their pitching staff, that should be plenty good enough.
Derek Johnson’s influence can be seen all over these numbers. Johnson really elevated the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff when he was there from 2016-18. The Reds were 24th in ERA, 27th in FIP, 21st in xFIP, 24th in K%, 17th in BB%, and 20th in LOB% in 2018 before Johnson got his hands on this pitching staff.
What happened? Well, Sonny Gray figured it all out for starters. He had the best K% of his career and posted a 2.87 ERA with a 3.42 FIP and a 3.65 xFIP. He had an 11.3% SwStr%, which was the second-highest mark of his career. He looked like a more confident hurler, with elite pitching runs rates on his slider and curveball. His changeup returned as a weapon. His command profile was all around stronger and we have every reason to believe that this is the new and improved Sonny Gray. The .255 BABIP will go up a bit with a high ground ball rate, but I would expect his ERA in that 3.40 range where his FIP was. That’ll play.
Luis Castillo seemed to tire as the season went along, but I have some faith that his second half was the exception. For one thing, Castillo cut his walk rate from 12.3% to 7.4%. He fell victim to some BABIP luck and his command fell off a bit, but he found more strikeouts under the tutelage of Johnson. With an elite ground ball rate and a high K%, Castillo is going to have lots of success again this season. He is a Cy Young Award candidate and I’m not exaggerating. He racks up a ton of strikeouts and ground balls.
Admittedly, I don’t know what to really expect from Trevor Bauer. Bauer is the kind of guy that can swing out of balance really quickly. I think the trade from the Indians was a real shock to the system, particularly because Bauer had worked so hard to develop a rapport with his teammates. His numbers after joining the Reds were not good. His wOBA against in the first half was .299 and he went to .343 in the second half. He allowed 17 HR in 132 innings in the first half and 17 in the second half over 81 innings.
I do think it takes Bauer a while to get comfortable somewhere, but his chief confidant in Boddy is now in the org. I know he respects a guy like Johnson. He’s been making a concerted effort to get comfortable with his teammates. How all of this comes together is a question for me, but Bauer won’t repeat last season’s 65.1% LOB% in the second half and his K% was actually better in the second half. I think he’ll be just fine.
Here’s one for you. Anthony DeSclafani had a .264 wOBA against in the second half over his final 80 innings. He was having a decent season up until that point, but he actually had the eighth-lowest wOBA in the second half minimum 150 results. His teammate, Sonny Gray, was fifth. The Reds also added Wade Miley, who is an extreme ground ball guy with a plus cutter and a really underrated profile. I like him, too.
In my estimation, the Reds have the best rotation in the NL Central and it could very well be fourth behind the Nationals, Mets, and Dodgers in the NL. Depth is a bit of a concern, with Tyler Mahle the only guy that has a lot of MLB experience, but the Reds have made that big investment into player development, so it wouldn’t be a stunner to see some of their minor league arms make a little bit of a jump.
The Reds bullpen also looks really strong for the upcoming season. I love the potential of Pedro Strop and Jose De Leon to link up with guys like Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen, who were top-20 caliber relievers in the second half. Strop struggled last season, but that season snapped a string of seven straight seasons with a FIP under 3.60 with a whole lot of appearances in that span. De Leon was once a top prospect for the Dodgers, but he just can’t stay healthy. The stuff is there.
Guys like Tyler Thornburg, who I think found a great landing spot in camp with the Reds, could add depth to the pen. Thornburg, who Johnson is very familiar with from their days in Milwaukee, had a 2.15/2.83/3.28 pitcher slash in 2016 before injuries cost him all of 2017, a bit of 2018, and also most of 2019.
The Reds are lacking a little bit of pitching depth and I preach a lot about depth. It is the only reservation I have about this team.
Positives & Negatives
Call me biased if you want, but teams that make a huge push towards analytics are always viewed in a favorable light by me. The Brewers and the Twins are the two biggest recent examples and it is hardly a coincidence that their market sizes are akin to that of the Reds. You have to win from within when you can’t spend a ton of free agent money.
The irony is that these teams have started to spend a little bit more. The Twins did that going into 2019 and won the division with a player like Nelson Cruz. The Brewers added a lot of money through trade, but also signed guys like Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal.
The Reds are building from within and they should take another big leap in that area this season. They’re also spending more in free agency. These are the types of moves that win divisions and lots of games.
Pick: Over 84.5
Even if you don’t like my love fest of the Reds, let’s consider what we saw last season. Okay, the Reds won 75 games. That’s not very good. They had a positive run differential last season until the final week of the year. Their BaseRuns record was 84-78. Their 3rd Order Win% had them with nearly 86.5 wins.
Can you honestly tell me that this team is not better than last year? A full season of Bauer, the additions of Akiyama, Moustakas, and Castellanos. Another season with Johnson. The Reds played 57 one-run games with a team that most would say was lacking last season, especially on the offensive side. The offense is better. The pitching staff should be about as good as last season, if not better.
The division, in my estimation, is weaker. The Cardinals have dropped a couple of pegs. The Cubs are fine. This is the first year in forever that I haven’t been all that high on the Brewers. The Pirates are a dumpster fire and in a half-assed rebuild.
The Reds could very well win this division and they’re going over this season win total. This is my favorite season win total bet in the National League.
It has only moved up from 83.5 to 84.5, but I anticipate this one going up even higher as the season approaches. This is the exact type of team that bettors look to back. A team that built up its personnel after underachieving badly last season relative to the advanced metrics is the type of team that takes action.
I like the over a lot. I think the Reds could very well win the division, too.