The Reds were the only team in the NL Central that appeared interested in improving their club this offseason, as they made a series of significant adds while their rivals stood pat. The Reds’ haste to reach contention makes perfect sense in a very winnable NL Central, as each of the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers have a plethora of question marks heading into 2020; the Pirates will in all likelihood be awful as well.
The most intriguing facet of this Reds team is their loaded rotation, which will be one of the very best in baseball. The group includes Sonny Gray, who the Reds were brilliant to buy-low on after his miserable stint with the New York Yankees. Cincinnati traded for Gray prior to last season, and gave up minimal prospect capital in doing so; suffice to say, the Reds were rewarded handsomely for making the deal. Gray took full advantage of his fresh start with the Reds in 2019, as he returned to his previous all-star form by accumulating 4.4 fWAR. Gray also struck out a career-best 205 batters last season(10.52 strikeouts per nine innings), and recorded a 2.87 ERA (fifth-best among qualified NL starters), and a 3.42 FIP. The righty features a nasty mix of sliders, curveballs, and fastballs, and is able to put away hitters with each pitch interchangeably; Baseball Savant cites that Gray’s fastball and curveball spin rates were elite in 2019, as they were in the 92nd and 97th percentile of qualified MLB starters, respectively.
A member of the Reds’ rotation employs arguably the single most unhittable pitch in the game today, and remarkably enough, it is not the dominant Sonny Gray. This distinction belongs to Luis Castillo, who boasts a changeup that is truly devastating. Castillo has, however, struggled with control issues at times during his young career; this was evident last year, as he walked 3.73 batters per nine innings, which was the fifth highest mark in MLB among qualified starting pitchers. Yet, Castillo was still able to amass 226 strikeouts in 2019 – easily a career-high. The Reds’ righthander also has a lively high-nineties fastball and an excellent slider that compliment his changeup, which he threw 33% of the time – the most of any MLB pitcher in 2019 (minimum 3000 pitches).
The Reds’ three-headed rotation monster is completed by Trevor Bauer, who was acquired by Cincinnati at the 2019 trade deadline. Bauer’s best season came in 2018 for the Cleveland Indians, as he was the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award before he went down with an injury. During the ‘18 campaign, Bauer totalled 5.8 fWAR in just 27 starts; he struck out 11.34 batters per nine innings and posted a 2.21 ERA (2.44 FIP). The famously outspoken Bauer was not as effective in ‘19, as his ERA jumped to 4.48 (4.34 FIP), but his pure stuff remains some of the best in baseball – which makes Bauer a prime bounceback candidate in 2020.
Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley will round out the Reds rotation. Both are solid starting pitchers who are more than capable of performing at a back-of-the-rotation level, in order to ensure that Cincinnati’s one-through-five is one of the strongest in baseball.
The Reds’ bullpen is by no means short of talent, but the group’s reliability heading into this season is somewhat in doubt. Closer Raisel Iglesias was at one point regarded as one of the best in the game, but an up-and-down 2019 campaign significantly hindered the Reds. Despite Iglesias’ career-high twelve losses and six blown saves, his FIP in ‘19 was actually lower (3.92) than it was in ‘18 (4.23), even though his ERA increased from 2.38 to 4.16 between the two seasons. Iglesias should be able to hold down the Reds’ bullpen – assuming that his 2019 was, in fact, a fluke.
The performance of the athletic Michael Lorenzen, who has also seen time in the outfield and at the plate, will also be key to the success of this Reds ‘pen, as will that of newcomer Pedro Strop and familiar face Amir Garrett.
The offensive attack of the Cincinnati Reds was at times problematic for the club last season due to the group’s injury troubles and inconsistencies. The lineup appears to be much deeper and more powerful as the 2020 regular season approaches, as the Reds were able to add an influx of talent to the position-player core this offseason, including the Japanese free-agent centerfielder Shogo Akiyama.
Cincinnati was also able to poach two potent bats from division rivals with the signings of infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos; each should slot right into the middle of the Reds’ order. Moustakas, the former Milwaukee Brewer, has been one of the most consistent power hitters in baseball over the last few seasons, as he has homered at least 28 times in each of the last three campaigns. Whether or not the man known as “Moose” will be able to play adequate defense as an everyday second basemen is yet to be seen, but Moustakas will certainly be a fearsome presence offensively.
Speaking of questionable defense, Nick Castellanos is similar to Moustakas in that his bat makes up for a lack of defensive ability. After he was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the deadline last season, Castellanos absolutely raked – to the tune of a 1.002 OPS across 51 games played. His bat should play exceptionally well into the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark; Castellanos’ noted opposite field prowess will help him fit into the Reds’ offense like a glove.
Eugenio Suárez has established himself as one of the top third basemen in MLB, as his 49 homers in 2019 were the most ever in a single season for an NL third-basemen. Suárez has increased his OPS in each of the last four campaigns, his .728 mark in 2016 rising to .930 last season. Accompanying Votto near the top of the Reds’ lineup will be the great Joey Votto, whose 2019 was the worst of his career. The future hall-of-famer, who has led the National League in on-base percentage seven times, will be a pivotal table-setter for the home run threats of this Reds’ lineup.
While a Major League club that “wins the offseason” oftentimes does not end up translating this momentum into actual, on-the-field success, it seems that the Cincinnati Reds are poised to take the leap in 2020, as they seek their first postseason berth since 2013.
89-73 (National League Wild Card Berth)
Projected Divisional Finish (NL Central):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Shogo Akiyama CF (1.6)
Nick Castellanos RF (1.9)
Joey Votto 1B (2.0)
Eugenio Suárez 3B (3.7)
Mike Moustakas 2B (2.3)
Freddy Galvis SS (0.9)
Jesse Winker LF (1.2)
Tucker Barnhart C (1.9)
Sonny Gray (3.1)
Luis Castillo (3.6)
Trevor Bauer (4.3)
Anthony DeSclafani (1.7)
Wade Miley (1.1)