The Rain Delay

Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

2016 MLB Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds

This is part of my 2016 MLB team preview series. I will preview each team before  Opening Day, unveiling teams in reverse order according to my power rankings.

Previous: 30) Braves 29) Phillies 28) Brewers

27. Cincinnati Reds2016 Cincinnati Reds

  • 2015 Record: 64-98, 5th in NL Central
  • Key Additions: OF Scott Schebler, 2B/CF José Peraza, RP Caleb Cotham, RP Blake Wood, RP Chris O’Grady, SP/RP Keyvius Sampson
  • Key Losses: CL Aroldis Chapman, 3B Todd Frazier, C Brayan Peña

On September 23, 2013, the Cincinnati Reds were flying high, tied with divisional rival Pittsburgh for 1st place in the Wild Card standings with 5 games remaining. They never won again that season, losing six consecutive games, including a season-ending 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card game. Unhappy with the team’s late-season swoon, the Reds fired manager Dusty Baker after the season, promoting pitching coach Bryan Price in his stead. The Reds haven’t been the same since, tumbling to 76 wins in 2014 and a lowly 64 wins last season. In sports, championship windows often end abruptly, and they tend to slam shut much quicker than they open.

Reds fans have learned that lesson the hard way, and have had to bid adieu to franchise stalwarts Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Todd Frazier in recent months. The trades of Cueto, Chapman, and Frazier were like popping a dislocated shoulder back in place – it had to be done, but it sure as hell hurt when doing it. With superstar Joey Votto entering his age 32 season, the Reds will need to piece together complementary pieces around him in the next couple years to avoid wasting what’s left of his prime.

Project Line-Up (with 2015 Slash Lines)

Setting the table for the Reds’ lineup is speed demon Billy Hamilton. The Reds hope  Hamilton can finally break through at the plate this season. If Hamilton could get on base even 30% of the time, he’d be a powerful weapon due to his ability to wreak havoc on the base paths. The rebuilding Reds will continue to be patient with Hamilton, whose progression at the plate will be a major storyline for Cincinnati in 2016.

The middle of the Reds’ lineup contains the three remaining prominent members of the 2013 club: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce. If the Reds had their druthers, Bruce and Phillips would already have been traded. Unfortunately, Bruce’s back-to-back poor seasons and Phillips’ vetoing of two trades has stymied their plans thus far. Phillips’ return2016 Cincinnati Reds Lineup elicits ambivalent feelings for the Reds. On one hand, he’s a franchise icon with an effervescent personality – and one of the genuine good guys in the sport. On the other hand, he doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans and is blocking MLB-ready José Peraza from taking over the reigns at second base. Determined to force his way onto the MLB roster, Peraza has shined so far this spring, hitting .367 with a homer and 4 stolen bases. Ultimately, the Reds hope Bruce has a resurgent season and Phillips finds a trade destination that suits his needs. Cincinnati needs to obtain as many cost-controlled assets as it can, and Bruce and Phillips represent the two trade chips that give it the best chance to do so – that is, unless the Reds decide to shop Votto.

Votto had an MVP-caliber season last year, but is still criticized by fools who decry his lack of RBIs. Let me dispel this notion that Joey Votto doesn’t know what he’s doing. Joey Votto knows exactly what he’s doing. Last year, Votto hit a robust .291/.484/.509 with runners in scoring position. His relatively low RBI numbers are a product of the sub-par hitters slotted ahead of him, not a shortcoming on Votto’s behalf. While it’s true Votto could be a bit more aggressive in these situations, as noted by his extremely high walk rate, that’s simply not who he is as a hitter. Let Votto be Votto. He’s an MVP-caliber player.

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto

The Reds hope Joey Votto has a few more MVP-caliber seasons left in him.

The ancillary components of Cincinnati’s offense – Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco, Scott Schebler, and Eugenio Suarez – will determine whether the Reds have a poor offense again in 2015 or if they will surprise some people. Mesoraco, in particular, is intriguing. After breaking out in 2014 with a .893 OPS, he managed to play only 23 games in 2015 due to a nagging hip injury. If Mesoraco is able to revert back to his 2014 form, the Reds should have an improved lineup from last season, despite the loss of All-Star Todd Frazier.

Projected Starting Rotation (with 2015 Stats)2016 Cincinnati Reds Starting Rotation

With Homer Bailey set to open the year on the disabled list, the Reds’ rotation appears to have two reliable starters, along with three question marks. Likely Opening Day starter Anthony DeSclafani had a solid first full season in the majors, posting a 4.05 ERA over 184.2 innings. While his ERA rose to 4.52 ERA in the 2nd half of the season, that statistic belies the fact that DeSclafani actually improved in the 2nd half. DeSclafani’s second-half “struggles” were driven by an fluky .354 BABIP against him. In fact, his strikeout percentage rose from 17 to 22% in the second half while his walk rate fell from 9.4 to 4%. Extrapolating his 18% ‘K-BB’ (22%-4%) rate over a full season, DeSclafani would find himself at 18th in the league – just behind AL Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel. While I don’t mean to insinuate that DeSclafani is Cy Young-bound, I do believe he is a sleeper candidate to make the All-Star team this season. Draft him in your fantasy leagues this year and thank me later. (Of course, if DeSclafani struggles, pretend I never said this.)

Sliding in behind DeSclafani in the rotation is the talented Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias showed great promise last season, striking out 9.82 batters per nine innings and notching a cool 3.55 FIP. He struggled to maintain his top-end velocity as the game went along, but if he is able to fix that, he has the ability to develop into a frontline starting pitcher. The Reds may limit Iglesias’s innings this year since he has yet to throw even 100 in a season, but the innings they do coax out of him figure to be very effective ones.

The remainder of Cincinnati’s rotation is inhabited by a variety of question marks, starting with a pair of southpaws, John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan. Lamb and Finnegan, both acquired in the Johnny Cueto trade, will seek to establish themselves at the MLB level this season, and their progress will go a long way toward shaping the Reds’ future. Uninspiring options are abundant for the 5th starter’s job, but one name to remember is Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati’s top prospect. Stephenson, a 23-year old right-hander, doesn’t figure to be in the Reds’ rotation until May at the earliest, but he could force the Reds’ hand with a strong spring showing.

Overall, Cincinnati has a very intriguing, young pitching staff. I expect everyone outside of DeSclafani and Iglesias to struggle, but there is tremendous upside here. Reds fans should take solace knowing their future starting pitchers might already be in the organization.

UPDATE: Alfredo Simon signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Reds. Presumably, Simon will supplant Jon Moscot for Cincinnati’s 5th starter role. Simon struggled mightily in 2015, but had the best success of his career in Cincinnati. Perhaps he can rebuild his value and give the Reds a stable, veteran presence.

Projected Bullpen (with 2015 Stats)2016 Cincinnati Reds Bullpen

The Reds’ bullpen will take a big step back in 2015 due to the loss of the game’s premier closer, Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen is comprised mostly of journeymen and unproven youngsters. The one established commodity the Reds have, J.J. Hoover, is expected to open the season as Cincinnati’s closer. Hoover doesn’t possess typical closer stuff and will never post gaudy strikeout numbers, but he has been a proficient reliever two of the past three years. The Reds certainly hope he doesn’t revert to his 2014 form when he posted a disappointing 4.88 ERA over 54 appearances.

If Hoover falters, the hard-throwing and aptly-named Jumbo Diaz should be first in line to vulture saves. If I was Bryan Price, I would give Diaz a shot to close out of the gate due to his high-octane fastball, but I’m not. Hopefully Price doesn’t read this and construe this as criticism because he might curse me out:

A couple other notable arms are Tony Cingrani and Caleb Cotham. Cingrani is a lefty with good stuff, a combination that makes baseball men drool like they’re looking at Beyoncé. In 2013, Cingrani burst onto the scene with an excellent 2.92 ERA over 23 appearances, 18 of which were starts. Cingrani came unglued in 2014 and was unable to re-establish himself last year, walking 6.75 batters per nine innings. But he still struck out a quarter of the batters he faced last year. If Cingrani can cut down on the walks and develop a reliable pitch besides his fastball, he still has the talent to be a very good pitcher.

On the surface, Caleb Cotham, who was part of the Aroldis Chapman trade, wouldn’t appear to be notable whatsoever. He’s a 28-year old reliever who didn’t make his Major League debut until last season – and he didn’t perform well in his limited appearances. But after digging deeper, I found that Cotham posted an excellent 72/14 K/BB ratio last year in the minors – his first full season as a reliever. If the Reds can coax this kind of performance out of him at the Major League level, they may have uncovered a diamond in the rough.

Conclusion

After cutting ties with Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, the Reds aren’t projected to be competitive in 2016. But even despite my low ranking of 27th overall, I’m a little higher on the Reds than most pundits. The rotation is young and has two members, DeSclafani and Iglesias, who have the makings of becoming foundational players for the Reds. The bullpen has a few intriguing arms and the lineup still has Joey Votto. With that said, this roster has too many holes as currently constructed. The Reds will be good again. It just won’t be this year in a loaded division.

Prediction: 4th place, NL Central

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