RED MONDAY | Sweet Home Chicago, Early Elly, Mariners 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 |  Sweet Home Chicago

A future so bright

The Reds squeaked out a series-opening win against the Brewers before getting the worst of it the final two games.

  • Monday The Reds jumped out to an 8-0 lead then held on for a 10-8 win in the series opener. A 2-run Will Benson homer started the scoring, driving in Elly De La Cruz who had reached on an error. Another Milwaukee error led to two more runs before Benson doubled, Stuart Fairchild walked and Spencer Steer doubled giving the Reds a 7-0 lead. A ground ball single by Jeimer Candelario plated the final run of a 6-run 4th inning. Two solo homers by De La Cruz — one inside-the-park, the other decidedly outside the park — finished the scoring for the Reds. They would need almost all of that production as Graham Ashcraft and Justin Wilson allowed eight Brewers runs. Lucas Sims, Fernando Cruz and Alexis Diaz finished the game with three shutout innings.
  • Tuesday The Brewers pounded the Reds the next day, coasting to a 9-5 win. They built a 9-1 lead off Frankie Montas, Carson Spiers and shaky defense. The Reds went homer-less but did get 10 hits and two walks. Jake Fraley, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Tyler Stephenson each had two hits.
  • Wednesday The third game of the series didn’t go better for the Reds than the day before. The Brewers jumped out to a 6-0 lead before winning 7-2. Starter Hunter Greene struck out nine and walked only one over six innings. But he continued to be his own worst enemy, hitting two batters leading off innings and failing to back up home leading to another two Brewers runs. Greene also gave up his first two homers of ’24. The Reds offense was quiet (4 hits, 2 walks), particularly against left-handed pitching. De La Cruz did hit a solo homer in the 5th.
  • Thursday The game was rained out and rescheduled for August.

The Reds flew to Chicago where they played three against the woeful White Sox. Not only did offseason projections peg the Pale Hose with 100 losses, but they also lost their three best hitters (Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert Jr. and Yoan Moncada) to injury the previous week.

  • Friday The Reds jumped out to an early lead behind home runs from Tyler Stephenson and Elly De La Cruz and never looked back, winning 11-1. Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Santiago Espinal each had a couple hits driving in three runs apiece. Jonathan India walked four times. On the mound, Andrew Abbott went seven innings allowing a run on four hits and no walks. He struck out three. (White Sox caveats apply.)

Nick Lodolo dominates in his first ’24 start

  • Saturday Nick Lodolo made his debut start of ’24 throwing no-hit ball for five innings (White Sox caveats apply). All his pitches were sharp as he struck out ten and walked just one. He allowed one single in the 6th, throwing 91 pitches. His next game should be at home against the LA Angels. Through his first three starts, White Sox pitcher Garrett Crochet had been one of the best starters in baseball, behind his 97 mph fastball. But after striking out the side in the 1st, he gave up five runs in the 2nd. A Luke Maile single drove in two, then a few batters later, Spencer Steer cleared the loaded bases with a double down the left field line. That’s all the scoring the Reds managed but it was way more than enough for their 5-0 win.
  • Sunday The Reds completed the sweep of the White Sox with an 11-4 thrashing. Graham Ashcraft gave up an earned run in 5.2 innings (White Sox caveats apply). He struck out eight. Bell used Alexis Diaz in the 9th to get him work. Will Benson walked four times and singled. Christian Encarnacion-Strand started the scoring with a two-run homer (105.4 mph EV) his second long ball of 2024. Jake Fraley had two hits and two walks. Nick Martini belted his third homer. Tyler Stephenson hit three balls harder than 98 mph, including three above 100 mph.

The Reds finished the week with a 10-6 record.

This Week | The AL West

The good guys travel from Chicago to Seattle for three games with the Mariners. Remember the record-setting Mariners team of 2001? Led by Ichiro and Edgar Martinez, it won 116 (!) regular season games. The third baseman on that team was David Bell, Norm Charlton pitched from their bullpen and Sweet Lou was the manager. That Mariners team lost the ALCS 4-1 to the New York Yankees. Since then, Seattle’s baseball team has reached the postseason only once, in 2022, checking out in the ALDS 3-0.

Mariners 3B David Bell, 2001

The Reds haven’t won a postseason series since 1990 and before that back to the Big Red Machine. So, in terms of historic postseason futility, this series represents a matchup of two powerhouses.

The 2023 Mariners did win 88 games, finishing third in the AL West behind the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. A National League team with 88 wins would have made the postseason with ease, but not so in the AL. Manager Scott Servais’ players watched from home like the rest of us. The Reds won two-of-three from the Mariners last year, in a September series played at GABP. For the record, Reds starting pitchers were Lyon Richardson, Connor Phillips and Tejay Antone (a bullpen game).

Prognosticators for the 2024 Mariners squad were bullish, ranking them about 10th in preseason power rankings. They were expected to have the best rotation in the division, a dominant bullpen and strong defense up the middle. Overall, due to a lack of offense, those predictions have fallen short. The Mariners enter these games against the Reds with a 6-10 record, still looking for their first series win of the season.

  • Monday (9:42 pm) – Jackie Robinson Day
  • Tuesday (9:40 pm)
  • Wednesday (4:10 pm)

Then the Reds head back home for a weekend series agains the Los Angeles Angels. The series starts a 13-day stretch of games with no break for David Bell’s club.

  • Friday (6:40 pm) – City Connect Friday
  • Saturday (6:40 pm) – Reds Team Calendar promo
  • Sunday (1:40 pm) – Reds Fleece Blanket promo
Checking in | Early Elly

What do we love about Elly De La Cruz?

Quoting rock star Russell Hammond: To begin with, everything. The easy power, blazing speed and powerful throwing arm. Elly has it all.

Reds fans know about his rookie season. The exciting MVP for 16 games. The Cycle. The Ball Had a Family. Superman. Then, for the final 82 games, Jimmy Olsen. Strikeouts, ground balls, more strikeouts, more ground balls. A wRC+ of 65.

Given these two Elly De La Cruz realities — our infinite passion for him and his not-ready-for-the-bigs rookie season — it’s not surprising we will leap to new conclusions every time he does something spectacular. We’ll rush to say now he’s this or that.

He’s given us a few of those moments already in 2024. Two prodigious home runs (450 and 449 feet) and a thrilling inside-the-park round trip. He’s batting .286 (compared to .235 last year). Maybe it’s his new open stance or lesser leg kick.

But it’s something, right? Let’s dig in to the stats and find out.

Before we go any further, we have to acknowledge the sample size is way too small to draw any conclusions, one way or another. These stats are based on 14 games and 57 plate appearances. That’s nowhere near enough to produce meaningful data. Of course it reveals some fundamentals about what De La Cruz has done so far, but says nothing about where he’s headed. Keep that in mind more than anything.

These numbers don’t include his 0-for-5 game yesterday, with two strikeouts and two ground outs.

Average Exit Velocity (EV)

Hitting the ball hard is one of the most important metrics for impact at the plate. Despite his struggles for most of last season, Elly hit the ball hard, finishing in the 79th percentile. In 2024, he’s hit the ball harder, now in the 83rd percentile.

Launch Angle (LA)

The launch angle of a hit baseball relative to the ground is one of the key factors in determining how far the ball will travel and what kind of hit it will be. It doesn’t do much good to hit the ball hard if it goes into the ground. (less than 10º). Statcast “barrels” are considered the best hits and they are between 26-30º launch angle. But the harder you hit it, the wider the range for a barreled launch angle. At 100 mph exit velocity, the barrel range is 24-33º. The LA on Elly’s two massive home runs this year were 28º and 27º.

Ground Ball Rate (GB%)

Elly has continued to be an extreme ground ball hitter. Yes, a few ground balls go for hits, others for double plays. A ground ball down either line could even go for extra bases. But ground balls don’t become home runs.

Strikeouts (K%)

Elly has been striking out about the same rate as last year. When you add his K% to his GB% you get 88% compared to the average major leaguer of 67%. That K% is in the bottom 11th percentile.

Whiff Rate (Whiff%)

Whiffs are the percentage of swings where the batter misses. Elly has been whiff-ier so far in 2024 than he was in 2023. That rate for 2024 is in the bottom 10% of MLB players.

Chase Rate (O-Swing%)

The chase rate is percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that the batter swings at. Elly is doing about the same as last year, in the bottom quartile both seasons.

Bottom Line

You can’t formulate a bottom line only 57 plate appearances into the season. These numbers are still swinging significantly based on just a couple games. Drawing positive or negative inferences on Elly De La Cruz or any other player on such a few at bats is a recipe for getting analysis or projections wrong. It’s frustrating and takes patience, but we have to wait a while to have reliable and meaningful data.

Mariners | Position Players 

As you can see from this table, the ’24 Mariners offense has yet to set sail. It ranks 27th out of 30 in batting average, 29th in strikeout rate, 29th in hitting for power and 28th overall in run production (wRC+).

Stats through Sunday morning

You won’t find any former Reds players on the Mariners’ position player roster. Jesse Winker is long gone, now raking for the Washington Nationals. The Mariners traded Eugenio Suarez to the Diamondbacks this offseason. And Taylor Trammell was DFA’d this spring.

Superstar Julio Rodriguez manning the No-Fly Zone.

The Mariners do feature 23-year-old superstar Julio Rodriguez, who shares uniform #44 with Elly De La Cruz. The young centerfielder followed up a 5.7 WAR rookie season as a 21-year-old with a 5.6 WAR 2022. The 2021 AL Rookie of the Year has won Silver Slugger awards in both of his seasons. He’s the classic five-tool guy, averaging 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases while playing terrific defense.

Their main offseason acquisitions were free agent catcher/DH Mitch Garver and 2B Jorge Polanco who came over from the Twins in a trade.

Mariners | Pitchers

The Reds will miss Mariners staff ace Luis Castillo, who pitched yesterday. But they will face a trio of young studs, all right-handed starters, drafted in 2018, 2019 and 2021. In case you were wondering about the Mariners 2020 first-round pick, that would be Emerson Hancock, who is also in the M’s rotation.

George Kirby (26, RHP) was selected out of Elon University (NC) by the Mariners in the first round of the 2019 draft with the #20 pick overall. He debuted in May 2022. Across 56 starts in 2022 and 2023, Kirby has been ace quality, posting a 3.35 ERA in 2022 and 3.39 ERA in 2023. This will be his fourth start of the 2024 season. His early stats are 3.66 xERA and 4.17 xFIP along with 13 strikeouts and two walks in 14.1 innings. Kirby throws a bunch of pitches, but first and foremost are his 95-mph four-seam fastball and sinker. For off-speed, he features a slider and splitter that operates like a changeup. And, oh yeah, about twice a game he throws an 81-mph knuckle curve.

Logan Gilbert, RHP

Think of Logan Gilbert (26, RHP) as being a year ahead of Kirby. Gilbert was chosen with the 14th pick of the 2018 draft out of Stetson University (FL) and debuted in early 2021. His 2022 ERA (3.20) and 2023 (3.73) were top-shelf. In his three ’24 starts, he’s got a 3.58 xERA and 3.12 xFIP. Gilbert has struck out 23 and walked three in 20.1 innings. His two main pitches are a 95-mph four-seam fastball and a slider. A cutter and off-speed splitter are his secondary pitches. He also threw a knuckle curve in 13% of his pitches last year but according to Statcast hasn’t tried one yet in 2024.

Bryce Miller (25, RHP) was drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 draft out of Texas A&M and debuted last year. In his 25 starts last season, he posted a 4.32 ERA with a 4.86 xERA and 4.31 xFIP. So far in 2024, he’s put up a 3.58 xERA and 4.02 xFIP. In 18.1 innings, he has 17 strikeouts and six walks. As for a pitch portfolio — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — he features a 95-mph four-seamer. His other tough pitch is a splitter-changeup. Miller throws a slider, sinker and sweeper as secondary pitches.

Andres Munoz emerging among Mariners' top bullpen options

Mariners closer and flamethrower Andrés Muñoz

Andrés Muñoz (25, RHP) is in his third full season pitching for the Mariners. He became their closer when the M’s traded Paul Sewald to the Diamondbacks at last year’s deadline. From 2022-2024, in 122 relief appearances, Muñoz has been sub-3 in ERA, xERA and xFIP. He’s been one of the highest strikeout relievers in MLB, averaging more than 35%. He throws an 88.5 mph power slider (that’s his offspeed pitch) to go with a 98-mph sinker and 99-mph four-seamer, putting the “fast” in fastball.

[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.

2 Responses

  1. Ernie Pantusso says:

    It is very weird to me to think that Ichiro and Norm Charlton were ever teammates. They seem like guys from two different eras.

  2. Raymond says:

    The Reds won their NLDS series against the Dodgers in 1995, but I’m not sure that makes it any better than the 1990 marker noted in the writeup.