RED MONDAY | the whiz kids, leaders down the stretch, week in review

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. Thanks to Matt Wilkes who pinch hit for me in this column last week while I was on vacation. 

The Week That Was 

The Reds swept the LA Angels.

  • Tuesday The Reds squeaked by with a 4-3 win behind seven strong innings from Graham Ashcraft and two shutout frames from the bullpen. Ashcraft gave up three earned runs while striking out ten. Alexis Diaz earned his 34th save. Matt McLain hit his 14th homer and the Reds stole three bases on four attempts. 
  • Wednesday (1) The Reds won the first game of the doubleheader 9-4 with Elly De La Cruz driving in six runs with a triple and double. Spencer Steer had three hits and a walk. Matt McLain scored four runs. The bullpen contributed five innings of one-run baseball.  
  • Wednesday (2) Matt McLain (15) and Tyler Stephenson (10) homered and drove in five of the Reds seven runs in a 7-3 win. The bullpen threw 4.2 shutout innings. Reds pitchers did walk eight batters. 

The Reds headed to Arizona for a four-game series pitting two teams competing for the NL Wild Card. 

  • Thursday The Reds suffered a crushing 3-2 defeat after pulling ahead 2-1 in the top of the 8th. Nick Senzel homered to tie the game in the top of the inning and then Tyler Stephenson drove in Noelvi Marte with the go-ahead run. Brandon Williamson had tossed six shutout innings with one walk and six strikeouts. Lefty Alex Young came in to pitch the 8th and after walking the leadoff batter, gave up a two-run homer to rookie Corbin Carroll (22).   
  • Friday Hunter Greene pitched three scoreless innings before running into control trouble and allowing five runs in the 4th. The Reds eventually lost 10-8. Brett Kennedy pitched the final four innings and also gave up five runs. Reds pitchers surrendered nine walks. Nick Martini homered twice and Will Benson hit his 8th, a 9th-inning grand slam. 
  • Saturday The Reds were victorious 8-7 in one of the season’s wildest games. After coming back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game with two runs in the 9th, the Reds scored three in the 10th only to see the D-Backs notch three of their own in the bottom of the inning. The Reds claimed the only run in the 11th on a balk. Tyler Stephenson and Matt McLain each drove in runs with hits in the top of the 9th. Alexis Diaz couldn’t nail down the save in part due to a rare error by McLain. 
  • Sunday The Reds wasted a solid start by Graham Ashcraft as the offense only scored twice and the bullpen (Ian Gibaut and Lucas Sims) walked everyone in the 8th leading to three runs. The lineup managed only four hits, all singles, in a 5-2 defeat. Inconsistent defense has cost the Reds a few times this season. But they made two outstanding plays Sunday. TJ Friedl and Elly De La Cruz combined to throw out Corbin Carroll at home on an attempted inside-the-park trip. Noelvi Marte and Matt McLain turned a terrific double play. 
The Week to Come

The head-to-head competition for the postseason continues with seven big games this week:

  • Three road games against the San Francisco Giants (9:45 pm, 9:45 pm, 3:45 pm)
  • Thursday – off day
  • Four huge home games against the Chicago Cubs
    • 1:10 pm Friday (makeup of game from April 5)
    • 6:40 pm Friday
    • 6:40 pm Saturday
    • 12:10 pm Sunday
What did I miss?

My vacation took me well out of the eastern time zone for 12 days, which made watching Reds games difficult. Instead of the usual game-by-game view, it was interesting to look back over those dozen games to see which players stood out. Here’s what I missed:

  • Matt McLain led the team with four home runs, five stolen bases and a .392 wOBA. He batted .273 with a 12% walk rate. 
  • Tyler Stephenson posted a 166 wRC+
  • TJ Friedl, batting leadoff, walked one time in 48 plate appearances
  • Spencer Steer had a 14.3% walk-rate and a 16.3% strikeout-rate.
  • Noelvi Marte debuted with an 83 wRC+
  • Elly De La Cruz (61 wRC+) and Will Benson (60 wRC+) slumped
  • Christian Encarnacion-Strand continued to struggle with a 75 wRC+ and .098 isolated power

As for the pitching:

  • Brandon Williamson was the rotation’s best, with a 3.61 SIERA and 3.14 xFIP over two starts. His 19.2 K%-BB% led the staff as well. 
  • Hunter Greene had the worst xFIP at 7.44, and he walked as many batters as he struck out
  • Lyon Richardson posted the highest SIERA at 6.42
  • Andrew Abbott had the highest xwOBA at .440
  • Overall, the starters had a 4.54 xFIP, 4.63 SIERA and 5.48 xERA
  • Among the bullpen, Ian Gibaut and Lucas Sims were the best in both xwOBA and xFIP. 
  • Overall, the bullpen ranked 26th in xFIP in large part due to a 9.8% walk-rate. The bullpen was terrific some games and vulnerable in others. 
The Whiz Kids

It’s no secret the Reds have chosen to provide enormous opportunity to several rookies in 2023. That large amount of playing time has given fans a glimpse of the future as well as providing valuable experience to the guys who will form the foundation of the club for the next few years. 

Let’s look at stats for five of they key rookies: Spencer Steer, Will Benson, Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz and Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Steer and Benson broke with the club out of spring training and started on Opening Day. McLain was called up on May 15. Elly De La Cruz landed in a Reds uniform on E-Day, June 6. CES debuted the day he was called up, July 17. Noelvi Marte deserves to be in this group except his number of plate appearances is less than 30, so Marte’s stats are meaningless right now.

In looking at 2023 stats, keep in mind these are not projections. They are merely descriptions of performance. Think of them as backward looking instead of forward.

With that in mind, let’s start by looking at basic rate stats, the ones that measure hit skill (BA = batting average), on-base skill (BB% = walk-rate), power (ISO = isolated power) and a run production composite (wRC+). 

Steer has played in the most games. CES, who has appeared in about a quarter of the season, has the fewest in this group. In terms of hit skill, Matt McLain has the highest batting average, while Steer and Benson are well above league average (.249). De La Cruz and Encarnacion-Strand are just below but close to average. 

League average walk-rate is 8.5%. Steer and Benson have strong walk-rates. McLain and De La Cruz are below average but not too far. CES has a low walk rate up to now. 

ISO measures the odds of hitting for extra bases in a given at bat. League average is .165. Four of the five rookies excel in this category. Almost all have a good number of doubles and triples to go with homers. 

Another way of measuring and comparing how these players have performed is to extrapolate their counting stats to a 162-game schedule. Here’s what we find when we do that:

McLain and Steer are doubles machines. With those numbers, each would have been in the top 25 major leaguers in that category in 2022. Only one big league player had more than seven triples in 2022. McLain and De La Cruz would be close to 30-30 seasons.

Finally, let’s look at a few Statcast numbers that access contact quality and speed.

All the rookies have better than average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. As a composite measure on contact quality xwOBA includes walk-rates. McLain and Steer are a good amount above average. De La Cruz and CES are a good amount below average, again due to walk rates.

The final column above is WAR (wins above replacement) that averages FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Both include defense, which explains the gap between McLain and Steer who have been similar hitters.

In Case You Missed It

Noelvi Marte’s first major league hit, a hustle double.

[Photos: 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.