It’s incredible how quickly a the emotions of a fanbase can turn around. After a 100 loss season that began with Phil Castellini’s infamous “Where Ya Gonna Go” tirade, the passion from the fans of a historic franchise was at an all time low. One year later, after an influx of young and exciting talent that culminated in an 82 win season, fans are back on board.
As the saying goes, winning changes everything (side note. It’s a bit sad that Reds fans are so excited by a team barely above .500 that missed out on the playoffs).
Spring training is only a few weeks away, and Nick Krall has stated that the roster has largely been set, with no other major offseason moves on the horizon. This has led many fans to ask this question:
Have the Reds done enough to make the postseason?
Evaluating the Offense
Projection systems are out, and we can use these projection systems to compare the Reds to their competition. Weighted Runs Created Plus is an excellent stat here, because it measures overall offensive value in comparison to the average. For context, an average wRC+ would be 100.
So, what are the experts projecting for the Reds this upcoming season?
Upon closer inspection of the projections, considering uniform plate appearances for every player, the team is anticipated to perform 1% above the league average. This may appear marginal, yet the impact is substantial – a team operating at a 1% superior rate would culminate in an 82-win season. To put this into perspective, the 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks reached the pinnacle of the World Series with a modest 84-win record.
It’s crucial to highlight that a significant portion of last year’s roster comprised rookies, a factor prompting most projection models to anticipate a degree of negative regression. While some players are expected to experience a downturn, others may well surpass their achievements from the 2023 campaign. An additional nuance in these projections lies in the assumption of equal plate appearances for all players, a scenario that’s far from realistic. In light of this, you’re not crazy if you believe the offense-as currently constructed-is the offense of a playoff team.
However, as my childhood baseball coach was apt to say,
“It doesn’t matter how many runs you score. If you score 20 runs, and the other team scores 21, you’ll still lose.”
Let’s take a look at the 2024 starting pitching rotation.
Evaluating Starting Pitching
This is a fairly difficult rotation to project. The Reds have remarkable depth as this position, and there are a number of names that could be starters, relievers or in AAA. To build this chart, I looked at the players with the best projected stats for 2024.
Similar caveats apply to the starting pitchers as the offense. The designated pitchers won’t log identical innings, and the rotation is bound to see starting appearances from other players, including Nick Martinez, Brandon Williamson, and Connor Phillips. Furthermore, certain players are likely to surpass their projected performance, while others may falter, potentially opening the door for those aforementioned players to secure a spot. Given these intricacies, there’s a fair expectation that the rotation could surpass the outlined projections.
However, assuming they do not surpass their projections, the starting rotation projects as perfectly average. A perfectly average team would have 81 wins at the end of the season.
It’s essential to emphasize that this analysis intentionally overlooks the bullpen, acknowledging the inherent challenge in projecting bullpen performance. The intricacies of bullpens pose a formidable obstacle, given their operation in minuscule sample sizes and the fluctuating cast of relievers throughout the season. Furthermore, external factors, beyond their control, can significantly influence bullpen dynamics, such as the necessity to cover extensive innings due to early departures by starting pitchers.
How Many Wins Do the 2024 Reds Need?
Whatever your opinion is of the expanded postseason, we can all agree that the number of wins needed to reach the postseason has decreased. A case in point is the 2022 season where the Rays secured a playoff spot as the #6 seed with a modest 86 wins, closely followed by the Phillies with 87 wins. The trend continued into 2023, with the Blue Jays clinching a postseason berth with 89 wins, while the Diamondbacks accomplished the same feat with only 84 wins.
When we aggregate these instances, the average comes to 86.5 wins. Let’s hypothesize that, for the Reds to make the playoffs, they would need a minimum of 87 wins. This implies that the Reds would be performing 7% better than the average MLB team, given the recent shifts in postseason qualification criteria.
When delving into the realm of projected performance, the Reds emerge with a forecast of roughly 81-83 wins. At present, this tally falls short of the postseason benchmark. Yet, there exists compelling evidence to support the notion that the Reds are poised to exceed these projections. As mentioned earlier, my evaluation of the team is riddled with flaws. The model assumes uniformity in both pitcher innings and hitter plate appearances, sidelining the bullpen entirely. It neglects the potential improvement in the bullpen compared to 2023 and disregards the prospect of impactful mid-season acquisitions.
This team is incredibly hard to project. For instance, you don’t have to squint to see Franky Montas, Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo being the best starting pitcher trio of the season. You also don’t have to squint hard to see all of them spending extended time on the injured list.
In other words, the 2024 Reds are Elly De La Cruz. They have a fairly high ceiling and carry lofty expectations of fans, but they also have a lower floor and could end up being a disappointment. For me, this makes the team all the team all the more exciting, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out for them.