Friday, September 5, 2014

Flyover: Cincinnati Reds

This continues a series of looks at each team over the past month.

The Cincinnati Reds made the playoffs last year as a wild card (eliminated in the coin flip game by the Pirates) and were picked by some to win the division this year. No such luck. With star first baseman Joey Votto injured most of the year, second baseman Brandon Phillips having his worst season as a Red and looking old at 33, and right fielder Jay Bruce having the worst year of his career, the Reds are scoring the third-fewest runs per game in the National League, betraying a pitching staff that has a better-than-average 3.57 ERA. The only above-average hitters have been third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Devin Mesoraco. Rookie center fielder/speedster Billy Hamilton has been OK with the bat and better than expected in the field, but he has somehow manged to steal only 72% of the bases he's attempted to swipe, exactly equal to the league average. Fastest player in baseball, maybe ever, and he's only an average base stealer. At least the team's other speedster, flamethrowing reliever Aroldis Chapman, has been ridiculous: 87 strikeouts in 44.1 innings, striking out 52% of the batter's he's faced (nobody's close), only pitcher with an average fastball velocity in excess of 100 mph. The Reds have fourth place in the NL Central pretty much locked in.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Reds have the worst record in the National League, 9-18, over the last 30 days. The pitching's been bad, especially the bullpen, and the offense has been terrible. Well, it's not like they're playing for the postseason.

What's Going Right? Um. Well. They lead the league in stolen bases over the past 30 days. The pitchers are second in strikeouts. I'm behind writing these or I'd dig up something else. Nothing jumps out. The team has been pretty bad lately. Say this about the offense: the Reds are batting .259 on balls in play over the past 30 days. That's last in the league, by far, way below the league average of .301, suggesting that there's a large dollup of bad luck in their hitting numbers. Batting averages on balls in play don't generally don't persist at the extremes.

What's Going Wrong? This is a much longer list. They're last in batting average (.220), last in on base percentage (.280), second to last in slugging (.332) over the past 30 days. The pitchers are third in walk rate overall, and the relievers have walked 12% of the batters they've faced, by far the most in the league. Remember the On The Field Of Play mantra, It's good to throw strikes, it's better to get strikes. About 48% of Reds relievers' pitchers are in the strike zone (throwing strikes), league average, but they're inducing swings on pitches outside of the strike zone (getting strikes), last in the league. 

Who's Hot? Over the past 30 days, the average National League hitter--this is the league where pitchers hit, remember--is batting .252 with a .314 on base percentage and a .387 slugging percentage. There isn't a single Reds batter who's exceeded those figures. Mesoraco's led the team with a .348 on base percentage and a .432 slugging percentage, but as you can see, that's nothing all that special.

All-Star starter Johnny Cueto's been pretty good over the past 30 days, 3-2 with a 3.31 ERA, and starter Mat Latos has a 4.06 ERA with a 2-1 record. Other than strikeouts (18 in 9 innings), Chapman's had a just OK record (4.00 ERA). He and setup man Jumbo Diaz are the only relievers with nine or more innings pitched over the past month. 

Who's Not? Phillips has had a terrible time at the plate over the past 30 days, batting just .138 with a .194 on base percentage and a .172 slugging percentage. Bruce's slash line is .202/.242/.340 and he's struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick's slash line is .179/.238/.321. 

What's the Outlook? This is the shortest if these team reports I've written. It's partly because there aren't very many Reds who have been exceptionally good or bad. But mostly, it's because this is an unexciting team. They're clearly playing out the string.

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