by Matt Wilkes

The offseason mission for the Reds must be #GetTheHitting

Following the 2018 season, the Reds’ offseason mission was #GetThePitching. And boy, did they accomplish that objective. The story of 2019 has been the improvement of the pitching staff, which has gone from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best. The acquisition of Trevor Bauer, who is only under team control through next season, further strengthened the rotation and signaled the Reds are ready to go for it in 2020.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the Reds still have a lot of work to do before they’re ready to compete. At the top of the offseason to-do list must be one priority above all others: #GetTheHitting.

How bad has the Reds’ offense been?

Time and time again this season, the offense has fallen asleep at the wheel while the pitching staff spun gems. It started early in the season when the team lost 1-0 to the Brewers on April 3 despite Luis Castillo’s one-hitter through seven innings. The offense was later no-hit by Mike Fiers, who had a 6.81 ERA at the time and has been a mediocre to below-average pitcher this season, on May 7. One of Tyler Mahle’s strongest starts of the year (6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 8 K) went for naught that night in Oakland.

Then there was Anthony DeSclafani’s one-run, 11-strikeout performance in a 3-1 loss to St. Louis on July 21. Disco was on the short end of the stick again in Saturday night’s history-making loss; the Reds lost 1-0 despite allowing one baserunner all game.

Every team will have isolated examples like this throughout the season, but this has been a recurring theme for the Reds in 2019. They have 18 losses in games where the pitching staff allowed three or fewer runs, second most in baseball behind the Marlins. The team ranks among the National League’s worst in a variety of hitting metrics:

  • Runs: 12th
  • AVG: 12th
  • OBP: 12th
  • SLG: 11th
  • ISO: 10th
  • BB%: 11th
  • wRC+: 12th
  • wOBA: 11th
  • Chase Rate: 8th
  • Swing%: 5th
  • xwOBA: 12th
  • Avg. Exit Velocity: 14th
  • Hard Hit%: 15th

These aren’t cherry-picked stats — the numbers are brutal across the board. The power, Eugenio Suarez and Aristides Aquino aside, is lacking in a game where home runs are being hit at a record pace. The team collectively isn’t hitting the ball hard. The plate discipline took a huge step back from 2018.

How did the Reds get to this point? Wasn’t the offensive fairly formidable just last year? A little bad luck and some regression can go a long way.

Joey Votto, now 36, continued to regress. Scooter Gennett got hurt in spring training and was ineffective when he returned; he’s now a free agent. Matt Kemp was a predictable failed experiment. Scott Schebler had a horrendous April and never returned to the majors. Yasiel Puig was undisciplined at the plate and performed at a below-average level. Jesse Winker bashed right-handers after getting off to a slow start, but then he injured his back. Jose Peraza returned to his 2017 form and has been one of the worst hitters in baseball. Tucker Barnhart, who has never been a strong hitter, has had his worst offensive season since 2015. Nick Senzel hit the rookie wall and finished as a below-average hitter.

Among the position players with at least 300 plate appearances this season, only three are above-average hitters per wRC+ (Suarez, Winker, and Votto). Only one (Suarez) will finish with more than 2.0 fWAR. The last time that happened was 2003 when Jose Guillen was the only Red to eclipse that mark.

Two stats that best illustrate overall offensive performance are wRC+ and wOBA. League average wRC+ is 100, and league average wOBA is .320. With that in mind, here’s how the Reds have fared in 2019:

[table id=2 /]

What do the Reds have moving forward?

Suarez is in the middle of his prime and will be the centerpiece of the offense, but there isn’t a ton of firepower around him. Votto, while he isn’t an MVP candidate anymore, can still contribute. Winker should start every day against right-handed pitchers; Phillip Ervin could form a solid platoon if he continues to mash lefties. Senzel has a starting spot locked up and should improve in his second year, although his torn labrum throws a potential wrench in his development — shoulder injuries can seriously affect a player’s hitting and throwing. Assuming Senzel is healthy next season, though, a breakout would hardly come as a surprise.

Beyond that: a lot of question marks.

The Reds could use upgrades at middle infield and catcher. While Aquino’s historical start provided a reason to watch the Reds in August, the jury’s still out on whether he’s a long-term solution in right field. Center field could become a need if Senzel has to move back to the infield due to his shoulder injury — and no, rolling with Michael Lorenzen as the everyday center fielder shouldn’t and probably won’t be an option, as fun as that possibility sounds. Frankly, the Reds shouldn’t hesitate to target any proven outfielder as no position is set in stone and Winker and Ervin can move to either corner.

Several young players beyond Senzel, Aquino, and Ervin have received their first significant chances in the big leagues this season, including Josh VanMeter and Brian O’Grady. Alex Blandino should remain in the middle-infield mix as well — he brings more to the table than Peraza and has similar versatility. However, Aquino seems like the only player with a chance to be an everyday impact bat moving forward, and that’s still very iffy. VanMeter has shown flashes but likely projects more as a utility player moving forward.

The Reds don’t exactly have the cavalry coming from the minor leagues, either. Taylor Trammell is gone. Jonathan India could make his way to the big leagues in 2020 if he forces the issue, but his ETA is likely 2021. Tyler Stephenson is in a similar boat. Jose Siri still has highly concerning plate discipline issues and really struggled in Triple-A.

The front office needs to make multiple moves to take the offense from a liability to a strength the way they did with the starting rotation. Unless Dick Williams and Nick Krall want to further deplete the farm system via more trades, which could conceivably send the Reds right back to rebuilding in a few years, they may have to do something the organization has traditionally not done: be aggressive in free agency.

For many years, the Reds’ strategy has been to develop and later offer contract extensions to homegrown talent. There’s plenty of merit to that approach, but it’s not one that will work for the current situation.

The last time the team made more than a minor free-agent signing was in 2014 when they signed Raisel Iglesias to a seven-year, $27 million contract. Even when they were competing between 2010 and 2013, the acquisitions were flops (Fred Lewis, Edgar Renteria) and plops (Orlando Cabrera, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton) rather than big splashes. The biggest move during that stretch — the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo — was a trade.

Approximately $63 million will come off the books next season, cutting the 2019 payroll nearly in half. The Reds will have some money to spend if Bob Castellini is willing to do so. Some names that would fill positions of need:

  • Marcell Ozuna, LF
  • Yasmani Grandal, C
  • Didi Gregorius, SS
  • Yasiel Puig, RF
  • Nicholas Castellanos, LF
  • Corey Dickerson, LF
  • Mike Moustakas, 2B
  • Starling Marte, CF
  • Adam Eaton, CF

It remains to be seen how Williams and Krall will tackle free agency. They’ve been in rebuild mode since taking over the front office. If the Reds are going to compete in 2020, however, they must take a different approach than their predecessors.

[Photo by Ian D’Andrea]

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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Pete
Pete
1 year ago

Nice article.

I’m depressed over the Reds future as in I don’t see much of one. I’m inclined to give Johnson most the credit for the pitching improvement and probably the only coach I’d retain if Bell rightfully gets let go – not likely. I’m curious about Donnie Eckert however, The farm system is a train wreck. Basically we need to upgrade hitting everywhere but 3B & LF. Votto may or may not be productive depending on age and health. Face it, we need a organizational rebuild, it’s a mess.

Noticed you didn’t list Anthony Rendon in the 2020 FA class. Maybe an oversight but I don’t think AR would come to Cincinnati if they gave him a blank check. Good FA’s will get paid no matter what and going to perennial loser like the Reds is a lot for a fan to wish for. Potential overpays abound; however: Puig, Grandal, Marte, Gregorius, Ozuna, etc. They all be looking for a sucker who will overpay and offer long-term contract – perfect for the Reds in their current predicament. Older players looking for a last big payday.

R Smith
R Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Wilkes

Great analysis. The Pirates will pick up the option on Marte. He may be available in a trade- but not intra-divisionally with the Reds.

Michael Burke
Michael Burke
1 year ago

Excellent article, both in terms of 2019 and looking ahead. I’ve been waiting to see #GetTheHitting for the first time, this was it. The Reds have full control over one important move: Senzel from CF to 2nd base. Banging into outfield walls is not the best way to address his injury bug. And at 2nd base he would immediately be a better defender than he would probably ever be in CF.

That leaves a hole in CF that cannot be filled in 2020 by anyone currently in the organization. Get a legit CFer ! If no one is available who is above average on both defense and offense, try for one who is well above average at one and about average at the other.

The free agent who interests me the most is Yasmani Grandal. In addition to the obvious offensive upgrade, his pitch framing (and overall defense) are highly rated by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, which ranked him number 1 in the majors for pitch framing in 2018. In any case, an offensive upgrade at catching is high priority.

The above would improve the Reds at 3 positions: catcher, 2nd base, and CF.

(Commenter is aka pinson343.)

Louie Fetch
Louie Fetch
1 year ago

There’s no way the Pirates, don’t pick up the option on Marte, right? I feel like same with the Nats and Eaton.