RED MONDAY | A week to forget, the starting pitching wasn’t fine, power projection, reinforcement shortage

Welcome to Red Monday, where fans of the Cincinnati Reds can start the week with clear-eyed analysis of how the team is doing and where it’s headed.

The Week That Was 

We wrote up a scouting report on new acquisition Sam Moll and offered our thoughts on the Reds’ quiet trade deadline.  We also took an in-depth look at the Reds poor plate discipline and how that might be an explanation for inconsistency at the plate. 

The Reds lost an important series to the resurgent Cubs.

  • Monday The series started off well with a tight 6-5 win. The bullpen contributed 5+ innings of 1-run baseball. Alexis Diaz recorded his league-leading 32nd save. The bottom of the order carried the offense with Joey Votto, Will Benson and Christian Encarnacion-Strand getting two hits each and Luke Mahle driving in two. 
  • Tuesday This starts the part you might want to skip. Ben Lively gave up 13 runs in four innings. Even though the offense scored nine runs, it was still a double-digit 20-9 loss. Tyler Stephenson hit his 8th homer and Matt McLain had three hits. 
  • Wednesday It’s hard to believe, but the Reds led this game 5-3 after four innings, before losing 16-6. Brandon Williamson gave up five runs in 4+ innings. The bullpen, in a complete team effort, gave up the rest. The deluge overshadowed two homers by Joey Votto (10,11) and one each by Spencer Steer (16) and TJ Friedl (8). Four errors, three by Nick Senzel at 3B didn’t help. 
  • Thursday A win today would have given the Reds a series split. But the Cubs momentum carried over to a 5-3 win. Luke Weaver gave up four runs in three innings, a fitting conclusion to a horrendous series for Reds starting pitching. Elly De La Cruz homered (8) as did Spencer Steer (17). Jake Fraley stole his 20th base. After the Reds had closed the gap to 4-3 in the 8th, Fernando Cruz surrendered a deflating insurance run.

The Reds returned to Cincinnati after a long road trip hoping the familiarity of GABP and home town fans would reverse their fortune.  

  • Friday This game was going to plan until two outs in the top of the 8th. Graham Ashcraft was cruising to his best game of the season. Solo homers by Nick Senzel, Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain had staked the Reds three runs. David Bell was making defensive substitutions. Then Nationals DH Joe Menesses hit a 2-2 Ashcraft slider 400+ feet into the night to tie the game. Alexis Diaz gave up three runs in the tenth in a deflating 6-3 loss.   
  • Saturday The Reds were no-hit through five innings by Joan Adon. Andrew Abbott had a second bad game in a row, giving up six runs on nine hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. TJ Friedl had the Reds’ only extra-base hit, his 9th homer in the 6th inning, accounting for all three Reds runs in a 7-3 loss. 
  • Sunday The Reds concluded an awful week with a 6-3 loss. They never recovered from the four runs Lyon Richardson gave up in the 1st inning of his debut start. The Reds chipped away and got within a run on homers by Joey Votto (12) and TJ Friedl (10). But the Reds bullpen couldn’t cover the six innings left from Richardson’s start.  
The Week to Come

The Reds finish the long home stand then head to Pittsburgh to play the last-pla … wait … sorry … the Cardinals are still in last place:

  • Three at home against the Miami Marlins (6:40 pm, 6:40 pm, 12:35 pm)
  • Thursday – off day
  • Three on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates (6:40 pm, 4:10 pm, 1:40 pm)
More Thoughts on the Trade Deadline

About a week has passed since the trade deadline. The Reds opted against every trade except the one that brought left-handed reliever Sam Moll (scouting report) in exchange for SP prospect Joe Boyle. Here are my thoughts as bullet points.

  1. I liked the Moll trade.
  2. The Reds lost ground relative to the Cubs and Brewers.
  3. The Reds received a chorus of disapproval from national analysts.
    1. CBS:  It’s disappointing that they couldn’t — or didn’t — find a rotation upgrade. Grade: D
    2. Jim Bowden:  The Brewers got better at the deadline and the Reds didn’t. Grade: D
    3. Ben Clemens (FanGraphs): Come on, man. The NL Central probably won’t be this winnable for years to come. The Reds sat on their hands, which meant the Brewers’ additions went unopposed.
    4. Keith Law: How do the Reds do nothing at this deadline? The Reds have needs they could have addressed, including the rotation and they have surpluses from which to deal, particularly in the infield.
    5. Michael Bauman (FanGraphs): Lodolo and Greene aren’t slated to return until the end of the month. In context, that’s a really long time to wait in a tight three-team division race, particularly when both the Brewers and Cubs brought help in more help than Cincinnati at the deadline.
  4. The Reds needed reinforcements. The rotation could have benefitted from adding one or two starters (more on that below) and the bullpen itself could have used relief. The dugout also could use an additional veteran right-handed bat or two.
  5. Assuming both Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo will be healthy and effective in 2023 is not a credible plan.
  6. You can “overpay” for something and still benefit from acquiring it.
  7. The Reds have an enormous stockpile of young players. Even if they had dealt, for example, Noelvi Marte, they still would have had many many years of: Acosta, Allen, Arroyo, Benson, Cabrera, Collier, De La Cruz, Dunn, Duno, Encarnacion-Strand, Fraley, Friedl, Hinds, India, McLain, Stafura, Steer, Stephenson, Stuart, Abbott, Ashcraft, Diaz, Floyd, Greene, Lodolo, Lowder, Petty, Phillips, Richardson and Williamson. Add to that list whatever player they acquired for Marte, say Dylan Cease through 2025. It’s obvious a trade like that wouldn’t have “mortgaged the future” or “decimated the system.”
  8. If acquiring reinforcements can boost a team’s morale, the opposite of that is what the front office did to the Reds. Sure, the players said all the right things (“We didn’t need anyone else.”). What else would they say? But I’ve read several GMs talk about the value of new players beyond contributions on the field. In Wrigley last week, the Cubs had the enthusiasm edge. The Reds funk carried over to the Washington series. Maybe the team’s poor play last week was related to the trade deadline swing-and-miss.
  9. Help didn’t have to be a rental. The Reds could have traded long-term for long-term.
  10. The Reds were in first place at the trade deadline. The notion that “nothing could have helped” is silly. Beyond a morale booster, the front office could have patched more than one hole. See Milwaukee’s moves, for instance. 
  11. Framing a trade as “present vs. future” takes too narrow a view of winning more in 2023. It ignores the huge future value it would provide this young team to succeed in a division race and have meaningful postseason experience. Short-sighted. Narrow vision. 
  12. Lack of reinforcements makes it more likely they’ll have to call up players like Connor Phillips, which starts a valuable service time clock. It could pose the choice between losing a full year of a key prospect’s reserve clause time and remaining undermanned.
  13. This Reds team has played hard and massively overachieved. It deserved the benefit of the doubt and help from the front office. If nothing else, fighting to get in first place ought to be worth something to the front office. I wish it felt like the front office tried as hard as the team has played, but it didn’t. 
  14. Joey Votto deserves it. He’s fought to get back from shoulder surgery and is on a 50-home-run pace. The Reds owed him a genuine best-effort to compete in what may be his last year with the Reds.
  15. Good, creative GMs figure out trades that help their teams. Don’t throw the word “genius” around in the context of such complete failure. Think about the inability to find a player better than Nick Senzel or Kevin Newman or Derek Law or Luke Weaver.
  16. Reds fans deserve it. The club hasn’t won the division since 2012 or a postseason series since 1995. With no show of good will from ownership, fans have flocked to GABP and bought Reds merchandise. The Castellini family is banking it all. The front office gave us the back of its hand.
  17. Flags fly forever. Even ones ahead-of-schedule.
In Fact, The Reds Starting Pitching Was Not Fine

As the trade deadline approached last week, I saw the following stat quoted many places: From the end of the All-Star break (July 14) through Trade Deadline Eve (July 31), Reds starting pitchers had an ERA of 2.92, second-lowest in the league. This one stat led many people to conclude that acquiring a starting pitcher/s may not have been the high priority as had been assumed. 

The problem: ERA is a lousy stat for evaluating how pitchers actually pitch, especially over a short period of time. ERA is polluted with enormous factors outside the pitcher’s control such as luck, defense, park dimensions, bequeathed runs, scoring decisions, etc.

Instead of ERA, let’s look at other easily available stats for Reds starters over that same period:

  • 22nd in FIP
  • 22nd in xFIP
  • 23rd in SIERA
  • 25th in average exit velocity
  • 20th in xERA
  • 25th in strikeout rate
  • 20th in walk-rate

Last week, the Reds ERA was over 11. If you had looked at the right stats, you could see the adjustment in ERA coming a mile away. Analysts and fans should quit relying an ERA as an important indicator of pitching quality. Let’s hope the front office isn’t influenced by ERA or stats like it. That reliance can lead to serious mistakes in analysis. Or trade deadline strategy. 

Power Projection

A couple weeks ago we looked at how the Reds have transformed from a team where little power was expected to one that has hit the third most home runs since June 1. Despite that surge, the Reds don’t have a single prodigious home run hitter. Spencer Steer leads the club with 17, less than half the league leaders.

As an exercise, let’s calculate how many homers each of the Reds starters would hit based on their 2023 rate should they play a 156-game season. Data through Sunday’s game. 

  • Joey Votto (49)
  • Elly De La Cruz (27)
  • Matt McLain (26)
  • Jake Fraley (25)
  • Spencer Steer (24)
  • Jonathan India (21)
  • Nick Senzel (18)
  • Will Benson (17)
  • TJ Friedl (17)

Another measure of power that weighs all extra-base hits, not just home runs, is ISO (isolated power). League average ISO is .164. Here are the ISO numbers for Reds hitters.

  • Joey Votto (.310)
  • Will Benson (.237)
  • Matt McLain (.220)
  • Jake Fraley (.204)
  • Elly De La Cruz (.202)
  • Spencer Steer (.194)
  • TJ Friedl (.164)
  • Jonathan India (.157)
  • Nick Senzel (.150)

Note that Benson’s prodigious number of doubles and triples shows up nicely in his ISO. At the other end of that spectrum, Nick Senzel is more of a homer-only power guy. The Reds have six players hitting for well above average power.

[Featured image: Reds Facebook]

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

1 Response

  1. citizen54 says:

    Even if the Reds got a front line starter this team still wouldn’t be very good. The Reds have been more lucky than good as they are 5 games over what they should be based upon their pythag record. Almost every starter has a higher wOBA than their xwOBA. So in actuality, the Reds are worse then their pythag record.

    It’s ben fun watching them play this year but this team isn’t quite ready to be buyers at the trade deadline.