RED MONDAY | being swept, sweeping, early looks at power hitting, strikeouts and walks, Phillies preview

Welcome to Red Monday at Reds Content Plus, a place where you can count on clear-eyed analysis of how the Reds are doing and where they are headed.

Last Week | Sweep >>> Swept

The Reds began the week going winless in Seattle, dominated by the Mariners’ young starting pitchers. The Reds handed out 19 free passes in three games. Meanwhile, the Mariners gave up only five walks while striking out 27 Reds batters.

  • Monday The Reds lost the series opener 9-3. The few hitting highlights were a 415-foot homer by Jeimer Candelario (2) and a couple doubles by Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Frankie Montas turned in his second sub-par start in a row. He made it through only two innings, walking five batters and giving up two home runs. Montas’ spin-rate and pitch velocity were down across his pitch portfolio. He generated only three swings-and-misses out of 66 pitches. Nick Martinez was effective in his first appearance from the bullpen, allowing only three hits and no walks over four innings in long relief. Buck Farmer surrendered three runs in two innings to finish out the game.
  • Tuesday The Reds got a strong, but inefficient start from Hunter Greene, losing a low-scoring game 3-1. Greene gave up only one run, but needed 98 pitches to complete four innings. Greene threw his slider 37% of the time and did get a 43% whiff rate on 14 swings. He’s maintained an excellent strikeout rate (32.6%, 88th percentile) and his xERA (2.57) is in the top 88th percentile.  The Mariners did take advantage of the Reds middle relief, scoring the game-winning runs in the 5th and 6th. Emilio Pagan gave up four base runners, walking in a run, while retiring only one batter in the 5th. Pagan has given up a lot of hard-hit balls (bottom 5th percentile) and his extreme low ground ball rate makes for a volatile combination. The Reds did almost nothing at the plate, with just four hits — all singles.
  • Wednesday The Reds scored just once for a second game in a row, wasting a strong start by Andrew Abbott, losing 5-1. Abbott continues to succeed by suppressing hard contact and minimizing walks. He still gives up a lot of fly balls — two turned into solo homers this game — and his whiff rate is in the bottom 6th percentile. Against the Mariners, he allowed two runs over six innings. Abbott threw 104 pitches, more than half his four-seam fastball. Lucas Sims couldn’t find the plate, walking four of the eight batters he faced. Sims also gave up a home run. Only 36% of his pitches were in the strike zone. The lone offensive highlight  — and only Reds hit — was a homer by Elly De La Cruz (25º launch angle).

The Reds flew home for a weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels and returned the favor. 

  • Friday Behind another strong start from Nick Lodolo, the Reds won 7-1, scoring five times in the 8th. Lodolo went 6.1 innings, pulled after 80 pitches. He gave up one run, striking out six and walking none. Lodolo maintained his pitch velocity, movement and spin rates from his first start. His early strikeout and walk rates are in the 90+ percentiles. Fernando Cruz entered with one out in the 7th and runners at second and third base and struck out the two batters he faced on 12 pitches. Lucas Sims pitched a shutout 8th and Buck Farmer cleaned up the 9th after the Reds had blown it open. The offense was held in check by a lefty starter for seven innings. Tyler Stephenson had homered to give the Reds a 2-1. At 111 mph, it was the second-hardest batted ball of Stephenson’s career. But in the 8th, they loaded the bases on two walks and a single. They then scored on a HBP and wild pitch before De La Cruz went opposite field with his 6th homer of ’24, driving in two other Reds.
  • Saturday The Reds offense overcame a lackluster start by Graham Ashcraft for a 7-5 victory. Ashcraft gave up five runs in five innings, walking three and striking out four. He induced only nine whiffs on 88 pitches. Nick Martinez, making his second appearance from the bullpen, followed with three shutout innings. Alexis Diaz pitched a clean 9th for his third save. He drew four whiffs on nine swings out of 13 pitches. Tyler Stephenson’s first-inning grand slam at 355 feet that just cleared the right-field corner fence gave the Reds a 5-2 lead. Stuart Fairchild had a double, single and walk, driving in two. The Angels didn’t seem to want any part of Elly De La Cruz, walking him four times. The Reds were one-for-three in stolen base attempts. Spencer Steer had three hits — two of which were hit 103 mph — and a walk.
  • Sunday The Reds completed the series sweep with a 3-0 shutout of the Angels. With a score like that, you’d expect a strong outing from the starting pitcher. But Frankie Montas left the game after Taylor Ward, the third batter in the game, drove a 101.3 mph liner off Montas’ pitching arm. The diagnosis of a bruise was good news. But it meant the Reds bullpen would have to cover the game. The combination of Brent Suter (3.1 IP), Emilio Pagan (2 IP), Fernando Cruz (1 IP), Lucas Sims (1 IP) and Alexis Diaz (1 IP) completed the shutout, working around six hits and five walks. The Reds offense was stifled by 25-year-old Jose Soriano. Elly De La Cruz recorded the Reds first hit, an infield hit, in the 6th inning. Angels manager Ron Washington left Soriano in a couple batters too long, as Christian Encarnacion-Strand doubled and Jeimer Candelario tripled to account for the Reds three runs. The Reds also turned two slick double plays. One went CES to EDLC to CES. The other started at Candelario and was turned by Santiago Espinal. 

The Reds finished the week with a 12-9 record, third in the NL Central behind the Brewers and Cubs.

This Week | Up in Class

The Reds stay at home for a four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, who haven’t been the team everyone expected. Their bats have been below average and pitching exceptional. They arrive to GABP with a 14-8 record, just a couple games out of first in the NL East, although they’ve been feasting off the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies the past week. The Reds took two out of three against them in Philly in early April.

  • Monday (6:40 pm)
  • Tuesday (6:40 pm)
  • Wednesday (6:40 pm) – Bark in the Park
  • Thursday (1:10 pm)

Then the Reds hit the road to play the defending World Series Champs Texas Rangers.

  • Friday (8:05 pm)
  • Saturday (4:05 pm)
  • Sunday (2:35 pm)
Checking In  | Strikeouts, Walks and Hitting for Power 

The Reds have played 21 games, about one-eighth of the season. Sample sizes are still too small to be predictive, but let’s take a peek at how the position players are doing in a few key metrics — their strikeout and walk rates and hitting for power. As a team, the Reds rank 3rd highest in power, 6th best in walk-rate and 25th out of 30 in strikeouts. 

Strikeout- and walk-rates are among the most elemental and old-school ways to evaluate hitters. Strikeouts tell you how often players fail to put the ball in play and are an indirect measure of contact skill. Walks indicate an on-base skill. There are also dynamic effects. Over time, high strikeout rates signal to pitchers they don’t have to throw strikes. High walk rates help batters get better pitches over time.

These stats don’t tell the entire story, of course. They say nothing about the ability to hit the ball hard or for extra bases. The average MLB walk-rate is 9%. The average strikeout rate is 22.5%.

The Reds as a team have been above average at drawing walks, with a combined walk-rate of 10.2%. Two players — Elly De La Cruz and Jonathan India — have been well above average, albeit for different reasons. India in the leadoff spot has been looking to walk as a way of getting on base. De La Cruz has cut his chase rate by a few points, but after hitting a few home runs the opposing team has pitched around him. Will Benson, Luke Maile, Spencer Steer and Tyler Stephenson have good walk-rates as well.

At the other end, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Nick Martini have abysmal walk-rates. Bubba Thompson has yet to walk in his 14 PA.

The Reds as a team are striking out more than league average. Benson Martini and Thompson have extremely high strikeout rates. Jeimer Candelario, De La Cruz, Encarnacion-Strand and Maile have quite high strikeout rates as well. Only Spencer Steer and Stuart Fairchild have low strikeout rates.

When you put the two together for a single metric, league average is 13.5%. Spencer Steer and Jonathan India lead the Reds with great K%-BB% numbers. Fairchild and Fraley are also quite a bit better than average. At the other end, Martini, Encarnacion-Strand and Benson have quite a bit worse than league average. Candelario is also at the high end.

To measure power, we’re going to use ISO (isolated power) and xISO (expected isolated power). Both measures indicates the number of extra bases per plate appearance the batter gains. ISO is the actual scorebook outcome while xISO takes the exit velocity and launch angle and calculates what the average outcome is for a ball hit like that. Reds players in general have a higher ISO than xISO because of GABP being a homer-friendly park. A front-row homer at GABP gets four extra bases in ISO but probably none in xISO, because that ball would be a fly out in the average stadium. In this case, neither ISO or xISO is a “better” metric, they just tell us different things.

Elly De La Cruz has hit for exceptional power as measured by both ISO and xISO. Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Tyler Stephenson have both hit the ball hard and deserved more than their actual outcomes, CES in particular. Stuart Fairchild is another gainer when looking at xISO instead of ISO. Santiago Espinal and Jonathan India have hit for little power by both measures. Batters who have been helped significantly so far by luck and/or GABP are Benson, Candelario, Fraley and Martini.

Phillies | Position Players 

The Phillies lineup hasn’t been the powerhouse everyone projected at the start of the season. Kyle Schwarber and JT Realmuto have been sluggish. The bottom third of Nick Castellanos, Bryson Stott and Johan Rojas has been awful. SS Trea Turner has been their best hitter and the Phillies have received good contributions in the middle of the lineup from 3B Alec Bohm and OF Brandon Marsh. 

Statistics through Saturday games

Phillies | Pitchers

The Phillies starting rotation has been — by far — the best in the majors this season measured by either xERA or xFIP. They have the highest strikeout rate and best ground ball rate. The Reds will miss Aaron Nola, who pitched yesterday.

Ranger Suarez (28, LHP) has spent his career with the Phillies including as a full-time starter since ’22. There is no other way to describe his ’24 season so far other than exceptional. Whether you measure by strikeouts (79th percentile) or walks (86th); or by inducing ground balls (97th); or looking at his ability to suppress exit velocity (99th) and hard-hit balls (93rd), Suarez has been excellent. Put it together and you get a 2.05 xERA and 2.42 xFIP. He throws five pitches, headlined by a changeup with a 40.5% whiff rate and a .000 batting average against (99th percentile). His 92-92 mph fastball has also been outstanding.

Cristopher Sanchez (27, LHP) made his Phillies debut in 2021. He started Game Four of the ’23 NLCS against the Diamondbacks. Over his first four starts, he’s put up a terrific 2.64 xERA and 2.79 xFIP. Filthy changeup that gets a 39% whiff rate. His 94-mph fastball is a sinker which explains Sanchez’s extreme ground ball rate (62%) good for the 98th percentile. He faced the Reds on April 1 and gave up two runs in five innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Spencer Turnbull (31, RHP) threw a no-hitter for the Detroit Tigers in 2021 and had been a second-round pick for the Tigers in 2014 out of the University of Alabama. He was derailed by Tommy John surgery after ’21 that caused him to miss all of 2022 and limited his 2023 to seven big league starts. The Tigers non-tendered Turnbull and he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Phillies. He’s off to a good start, with a 3.00 xERA and 3.46 xFIP. His ’24 portfolio has been four-seam (37%), sweeper (30%), sinker (12%), curve (9%) and slider (5%). He shutout the Reds over five innings (one unearned run) on April 2, with seven strikeouts and no walks.

Zack Wheeler (33, RHP) the Phillies’ ace inked a three-year, $126 million extension in early March that runs from 2025-2027. In 32 starts last year he posted a 3.18 xERA, fourth best in baseball. Wheeler has kept up that pace in ’24 with a 2.36 xERA and 2.73 xFIP in his four previous starts. He took a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his previous start. Wheeler ranks in the top 75th percentile or better in chase rate, strikeouts, walks, expected batting average, ground ball rate, whiff rate and average exit velocity. He threw a 56-mph fastball (four-seam and sinker) more than 60% of the time. His secondary pitches are a sweeper to right-handed batters and a cutter and curve to lefties. On April 3, Wheeler struck out ten Reds and walked one over six innings. He gave up four hits and allowed one earned run.

Jose Alvarado (28, LHP) and former Red Jeff Hoffman (31, RHP) have been co-closers for the Phillies. Alvardo throws a 98 mph sinker 70% of the time and a 93-mph cutter the rest. Hoffman has been slider, four-seam, splitter, with good success on all three pitches.

[Photos: Reds and Brewers 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.