The 2019 Cincinnati Reds were kind of a bizarre team if we’re being honest. A team who could’ve given up and embraced the tank, they instead used the season to stock up and prepare for a shot at contention in 2020. With a mid-season trade for Trevor Bauer, the emergence of Luis Castillo and the late-season explosion of Aristides Aquino, the Reds announced to the rest of the league that they’re a sleeping giant. Their offseason moves so far have only reinforced that plan. A bona fide top-tier pitching staff and explosive lineup could shift the balance of power in a suddenly wide-open NL Central in 2020.
Run Differential, Shmun Differential
On June 1, 2019 the Reds were sitting dead last in the NL Central with a record of 27-31. Not necessarily a shocking fact when you consider the roster that the team had at the time. The shocking aspect of that record is the fact that on June 1 they also had the 7th best run differential in MLB at +39.0. MLB.com says that their record should’ve been 33-25 based on that number. The six teams above them were all either leading their divisions or no more than 2.5 games back of the division lead and averaging 37 wins.
The reason for this discrepancy is hard to pinpoint as at the time the Reds pitching staff had a combined 9.1 WAR, second best in MLB, while the offense ranked 20th in runs scored. Whats even more baffling is the fact that the pitching staff’s combined ERA at the time was 3.68, ranked 26th in the league. If someone can explain that to me, I would love to hear it. The stats don’t seem to support anything other than their sub .500 record, yet the run differential placed them in elite company, surrounded by eventual playoff teams and contenders.
The Reds would even out and end the season with a -10.0 run differential which made a little more sense with their 75-87 record; so the mystery of the phantom run differential became more of a forgotten storyline by October.
It’s Always Sonny in Cincinnati
Arguably the biggest surprise of the Reds season was the re-emergence of Sonny Gray as an ace. After a forgettable stint in New York with the Yankees, Sonny entered the season looking for a bounce-back with the change of scenery. Well, Sonny must be a huge fan of Cincinnati chili or something because he had one of his best statistical seasons as a major league starting pitcher in 2019.
Gray led Reds starting pitchers in HR/9, K%, LOB%, ERA, FIP, opponent BA, WHIP, and WAR. A major reason for this is the fact that the Reds didn’t ask him to throw a breaking pitch that he clearly wasn’t confident in. In 2018 with the Yankees he threw his cutter 20.4% of the time compared to just 0.3% in 2019 with the Reds. He also lowered his hard hit percentage from 39.5% in 2018 to 33.3% and raised his K% from 21.1% to 29.0%.
Whatever magic fixed Sonny Gray is nebulous and hard to define as Sonny himself is not even the best judge of how well he throws his pitches. However, we can’t ignore the turn around in statistics and overall demeanor on the mound. Going into 2020 the Reds have a rotation led by Gray, Castillo and Trevor Bauer, one of the most intimidating top threes in recent memory if they all perform to expectations.
Red Legs on the Rise
This offseason the Reds added some potentially huge pieces to the roster in the form of Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley and Shogo Akiyama. Moustakas is penciled in as the every day 2B and Shogo will hopefully add a little certainty to an otherwise patchwork outfield. Questions loom about former top prospect Nick Senzel’s future with the team and whether Aquino can translate his late season outburst into a full season of production, though. If I had to bet though, I would say that the Reds find a spot for Senzel somewhere and he finally takes that step forward.
I think a significant amount of the ability to accurately predict the NL Central in 2020 revolves around whether St. Louis actually pulls off a deal for Nolan Arenado. If the Cards can add him, they could potentially run away with the division. If not, the NL Central might just be the most competitive division in baseball with the possible rise of the Reds. As rosters stand, the only team that looks like a non-factor is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who seem to be embracing the tank.
I think ultimately this team is one more year away from being a true contender. They should benefit from backslides by the Brewers and Cubs to finish above .500 but I have a hard time penciling them in as a playoff team at the moment. They’re going to score runs for sure but, my hesitation comes from banking on the pitching staff replicating so many superb performances from 2019. Until I see them pitch consistently at a high level, I’m only cautiously optimistic about their chances.
Record: 85-77, 3rd in the NL Central
Best Hitter: 2B Mike Moustakas
Best Pitcher: SP Trevor Bauer
Team MVP: 3B Eugenio Suarez.
Surprise player: OF/INF Nick Senzel
Statistics provided by FanGraphs.com
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