Baseball’s Opening Day is a time for shared optimism. Even with the Reds projected for another losing season, that doesn’t change the thrill that baseball is back. For the first time in since the pandemic, I was able to take part in a true Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. Even with the game ending in a loss, a sunny afternoon at the ballpark is the best way to spend time.
The long baseball season is a hot iron that tends to smooth out statistical anomalies in teams and players. But with several games in the books, here are a few “way-too-early” observations to the Reds’ season so far.
Jonathan India Looks Great
The 2021 ROY winner had a rough go his sophomore season. Battling injuries and inconsistency through the season, India generated an OPS+ of 91 in 2022, far below his 116 of the previous year.
So far this year, while the sample size is too small to generate any meaningful conclusions, the Reds second baseman has looked fantastic. Over 50 plate appearances, India’s generated a slash line of .310/.420/.452, good for a wOBA of .390 and a wRC+ of 133. That’s excellent! He’s also managed to drop his strikeout rate to 16% (vs. 21.8% in 2022 and 22.3% in 2021) while increasing his walk rate to 14% (vs. 7.2% in 2022 and 11.3% in 2021).
On the other hand, India’s barrel rate is still low. League average is 8% and India’s barrel rate is a tick below at 5.9%. It’s an improvement over 2022 (4.8%) but worse than 2021 (9.6%).
If he doesn’t improve his ability to barrel the ball, he’s a strong regression candidate as the season continues. This regression is indicated in his expected stats found in Statcast. Based on the quality of batted balls, India’s expected batting average is .259, with an expected slugging of .397. Even if this takes place, his strong walk rate will keep him a valuable member of the lineup.
Also, check out what may end up being the coolest picture of the year:
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 1, 2023
The Bullpen is a Problem
Opening Day was fun. You know what part of it wasn’t? Watching Fernando Cruz walk three consecutive batters.
Going into the 2023 season, it appeared that the plan to fix the bullpen was to hope for the health of Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims and Tony Santillan. Assuming they are all healthy and playing to the level they historically have, the Reds would actually have a decent bullpen-especially when Alexis Diaz is thrown into the mix.
However, those three have not been healthy, so Reds fans have been treated to some nerve wracking situations as a volatile group of relievers step on the mound in high leverage situations.
So, just how bad has the bullpen been?
As of writing this (4/13), the Reds have pitched 38 (technically 37.7, but let’s round up to make them look better) innings in relief. Over the course of these innings, they’ve given up 23 earned runs, good for a bullpen ERA of 5.45. As mentioned earlier, walks have been a major weakness of this group, totaling in 21 so far. The bullpen ranks last in all MLB with a Win Probability Added of -1.71.
The Reds front office knew this could be a problem, since it was a huge weakness last year, but it did little to remedy the situation. You wonder how many leads will get blown by the bullpen and what the team’s final record would have been if the bullpen had even been average.
Will Benson Looks Overmatched
In the minor leagues, Will Benson had a solid combination of speed and power (FanGraphs rated him a 70 in raw power and 55/50 in speed), which I thought would play well in Great American Ballpark.
Unfortunately, Benson seems a bit over his head. His strikeout percentage is 57.1 (20% is average). This would place him dead last in all MLB among hitters with at least 20 plate appearances. As with all stats taken during the first week of play, the sample size is still too small to make a meaningful conclusion. Even the game’s best players can have stretches in the middle of the season where they strike out too much. However, Benson has struggled with strikeouts in the minor leagues, and those struggles seem to be magnified at the MLB level.
Given Benson’s struggles, he’s a candidate to be optioned to AAA once Nick Senzel or Joey Votto comes off the injured list.
Spencer Steer is Lots of Fun
Spencer Steer, who the Reds acquired for Tyler Mahle at the trade deadline last season, is entertaining at the plate. After displaying a mature approach at the plate in Spring Training, Spencer Steer looks like a Rookie of the Year candidate. Over 41 plate appearances, he’s hit .306/.390/.583, good for a wRC+ of 149 and wOBA of .416.
While it’s unrealistic to expect Steer to continue at this MVP-like rate, many of his underlying metrics suggest that he might continue to be a solid, above average hitter this season. He’s generated a barrel rate of 10.3% and maintained strong, better-than-average strikeout and walk rates of 17.1 and 12.2. Steer has also shown to be a fast runner, with a sprint speed in the 83rd percentile. While he hasn’t stolen any bases yet, Reds fans might see him swap a few bags over the course of the season.
The Viking Celebration is Awesome
While the game outcomes aren’t always satisfying, you hope the players can continue to find joy in aspects of the game. It’s impossible for a fan on a couch to make accurate assessments of the team culture, but last year, fun appeared to be lacking.
2023 — so far — stands in stark contrast.
Jonathan India took it upon himself to set the team tone and culture this year and the Viking celebration appears to be part of that. I’m not the only fan who enjoys it. At the ballpark, several kids were wearing Viking helmets in lieu of Reds hats. Who knows how the celebration will evolve as the season continues, but the culture shift seems to be off to a good start.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 2, 2023
Cubs Fans are Still Annoying
When arriving for a game against the Cubs, the parking garage attendant promised me a great game (and you were right Angie!). But Cubs fans are still annoying. In advanced analytics terms, their wAC+ (weighted annoyances+) is around 195, good for 95% more annoying than the average fan base.
I get it guys. There’s a lot of you here. Can you tone it down a couple notches?
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire