I’m You From the (Optimistic) Future

I’m You From the (Optimistic) Future

When I was in high school and college, I was very active on my school’s speech & debate team. While the general population is likely very familiar with the fact that people who compete on such a team engage in debates and deliver speeches, they may be surprised to know how many other competitions exist, from reading poetry and short stories to even putting on short dramatic skits.

One that I always enjoyed (and was particularly good at) was called Improv Duo Interpretation. The rules were fairly simple. A team of two competitors would receive a short prompt, which could be broad or very specific in nature. After reading the prompt, the two would have just two minutes to create a ten-minute interpretive skit that could be humorous or dramatic in nature.

To make life easier, my partner and I always started the same way. She’d look my way and shout out, “I’m you from the future! No time to explain!”

Clearly, we preferred to lean towards towards having a humorous interpretation of the prompt.

I write this, because I recently received a text from a friend that posed an interesting question:

If you from the future told present you that the Reds would win 85 games in 2023, what would I assume happened for the team to reach that level of success?

Great question. Let’s answer that.

First off, if I did meet myself in the future, one of the first questions out of my mouth would be about the state of baseball in Cincinnati. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of, but it’s certainly the truth.

So, in this hypothetical scenario, if all I know is that the Reds won 85 games, this is how I would assume it would happen.

Some Basic Math

For starters, we need to use math to figure out how good this team would need to be in order to win this many games. A winning percentage of .500 would result in an 81-81 in the Win/Loss column. Hypothetically, a team with a perfectly 100 wRC+ and ERA+ would be perfectly average and would likely win 81 games. For context, the 2022 Reds had a respective wRC+ and ERA+ of 84 and 93. An 85-win season would be 5% better than average (technically 4.94% better, but I rounded to make the math easier), so we could expect a 105 wRC+ and ERA+.

The 2022 Rays and Brewers (who both won 86 games last year, the closest to 85 of any team) serve as great evidence of this theory. They won 6% more games than the average MLB team, and they were both 4% better than average last year. Check out their team stats below:

So, an 85-win Reds team would need to average out to be about 5% better than the average MLB team.

From where would this production be coming?

12.2% Better Than Projected Offense

As things stand today, FanGraphs projects the Reds’ offense to have an average wRC+ of 93 as a team. That’s significantly better than 2022’s score of 84, but it is still below the desired number of 105. To reach the magic 105 number, the offense as a whole needs to perform 12.2% better than projected. This is what that would look like if every player unilaterally reached that level.

I don’t know about you, but it seems unrealistic for some of these players to hit these needed numbers. It’s also totally unrealistic to expect the team to unilaterally outperform their metrics by the same amount. Fortunately, because some players will receive more plate appearances than others, to reach a team wRC+ of 105, the key starters need to carry the brunt of the weight.

Because of this, if me from the future told me the Reds were going to win 85 games, this is what I would expect things to look like:

  1. Jonathan India returning to 2021 Rookie of the Year form.
  2. Joey Votto having a resurgent year, similar to 2021.
  3. Spencer Steer performing at a level similar to last year’s Rowdy Tellez, Willy Adames or Jesse Winker (we miss you, Jesse!)
  4. Elly De La Cruz putting up a ROY-type season.
  5. Jose Barrero hitting at an above-average level.

Any of these five items would be exciting for fans. Barrero having a breakout year would specifically provide me with a lot of optimism about the team’s future. The team is banking on the success of unproven prospects, and being able to rely on Barrero gives Nick Krall one less thing to worry about.

You have to squint a little bit (okay, maybe a lot) to see this happening, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

2.6% Better Than Projected Pitching

Pitching is extremely difficult to project. Pitchers, particularly relief pitchers, tend to be more volatile from year to year. Additionally, it’s difficult to project the health of pitchers, which relievers will receive the most innings, the success of short-term call ups from AAA and more.

With all those disclaimers, let’s dive into projections.

As of today, FanGraphs is projecting Reds pitchers to collectively average an ERA+ of 102, good for 2% better than average. That’s very exciting and should give fans a greater sense of optimism moving into the 2023 season. However, to reach the magical ERA+ of 105, we’d need to see the team pitch 2.6% better than projected. Here is what that would look like on a player-by-player basis.

Similarly to the hitters, it is completely unrealistic to expect a unilateral 2.6% improvement over projections. However, it is reasonable to believe that the Reds’ big three starting pitchers (Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft) as well as returning key relievers (such as Lucas Sims) can pick up some of the slack to carry the team to the 105 ERA+ mark.

Similarly to my analysis of the Reds’ offense, if me from the future told me the Reds were going to win 85 games, this is what I would expect things to look like:

  1. Solidly above average pitching from a healthy Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft.
  2. Consistency and health from the bullpen.
  3. A strong return from injury from Lucas Sims and Tony Santillan.
  4. Consistent decent performances from the starting pitchers in the #4 and #5 slots.

I’m not expecting the Reds to win 85 games. I’m not even expecting 80 wins.

Frankly, a successful 2023 year looks like this:

  1. Not finishing in last place.
  2. Resurgent and healthy seasons from Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India
  3. Continued development of Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft
  4. An indication that our top prospects — specifically De La Cruz — will live up to the hype.

An 85-win season would be an absolutely wild success and a dramatic improvement over 2022’s 100-loss season. By examining the team’s projected hitting and pitching metrics, it’s obvious that offense is likely going to be the 2023 weak spot and winning 85 games relies on a lot of things going right for the team.

Regardless of the win total, this is a significant year for the Reds. There are a lot of unproven young players on the roster, and if all goes well, fans may get to watch the beginning of the formation of the next great Reds team.

Featured photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

Mike Perry

Mike is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up watching games at Cinergy Field with his family. A recent MBA graduate, Mike has always had a passion for data analytics and uses his understanding of big data to better understand and appreciate what is happening on the baseball diamond and in the front office. When he's not watching baseball, you can find Mike and his wife frequenting different restaurants and coffee shops in the area. For questions and inquiries, please reach out to [email protected].