A Cincinnati Reds Mid-Season Analysis shouldn’t be focused on the team’s Win/Loss totals, their standing in the NL Central, their rank in the National League, or any incredibly low probability of a push for the postseason. The Cincinnati Reds Mid-Season Analysis should be focused on progress and whether the front office has demonstrated that they are capable of handling a long-term rebuilding process. Well, we are at the unofficial halfway point of the 2016 MLB season, and while the Reds are in the basement of baseball, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to talk about. Far from it.
Reds 2016 Midseason Report
Biggest Surprise: Adam Duvall
Those who followed the trading of Mike Leake to the Giants knew Duvall was an exciting return, but few could’ve predicted his phenomenal outbreak this season. Duvall flashed some of his power prowess in a limited sixty-four at-bats with the Reds in 2015 with five home runs, a .266 isolated power, and a slash line of .219/.306/.484 that sends mixed signals.
This season, Duvall has twenty-three homers, which ranks second in the NL and first among NL outfielders, a .556 slugging percentage, which is second among NL outfielders behind Yoenis Cespedes, and an isolated power of .306, which is also second in the NL and first among NL outfielders.
By also sporting the best defensive range factor of 2.37 and best defensive WAR of 0.9 among qualified NL left fielders, Duvall received a well-deserved selection to the 2016 All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby as well. With just 137 MLB at-bats before the start of 2016, Reds fans may not have expected such a superstar showing by Duvall, but it sure has been fun to watch amid the team’s struggles.
Biggest Disappointment: Brandon Phillips
The Reds were inches away from selling fan-favorite Brandon Phillips in two separate off-season deals and earning new prospects to grow on. Instead, the team has been forced to watch an undignified and painful spiral by one of the best Reds of this modern era and one of the best personalities in baseball. The former Silver Slugger, three time All-Star, and four time Gold Glove winner even had a decent start to the season that brought smiles to the faces of sentimental fans. In April, he had a .288/.321/.425 slash line with one home run and three stolen bases in five attempts.
In the sixty games and 239 at-bats since the optimistic first month, “Dat Dude BP” has been continuously more awful. In May, he had a batting average and OBP of just .233 and .277, and was caught in all three of his stolen base attempts, but at least he hit five home runs to bring his slugging percentage to .417 for the month. In June and the first twenty-seven at-bats of July, Phillips has been quite possibly the worst everyday second baseman in the MLB. He has had consecutive slash lines of .257/.296/.313 then .259/.310/.259, has attempted just three steals while being caught in one, has hit zero home runs, and has a walk percentage of just 3.4%.
Even his typically jaw-dropping defense has been suffering, as his defensive WAR of 0.1 ranks 9th out of twelve qualified NL second basemen, while last year he ranked 2nd behind just Dee Gordon. After recently suffering a hairline fracture on his left hand, Phillips doesn’t appear poised to improve at the plate or in the field anytime soon, and likely won’t recover even a fraction of the trade value he held in the off-season.
Mid-Season MVP: Zack Cozart
When Cozart started pairing a dangerous offensive bat with the Gold Glove-level defense he has played at shortstop his whole career, it turned him into the Reds most valuable player. Cozart’s 1.4 defensive WAR ranks fourth in the MLB and third in the NL among qualified shortstops, while his range factor of 4.73 is tied for second in all of baseball and is tops in the NL. With a .268/.318/.488 slash line, fourteen home runs, and a career-high .221 isolated power, Cozart is well on his way to the best offensive season of his career.
He is striking out just 14.4% of plate appearances and taking a career high walk rate of 6.7%, so his plate discipline has been great. His hard hit ball rate of 32.4% is his highest career mark by 4.3% and his soft hit ball rate of 16.6% is his lowest rate since 2012. Cozart’s WAR of 2.5 is 21st in the National League, 4th among NL shortstops, and best on the Cincinnati Reds by a nice margin over Adam Duvall (2.1), Billy Hamilton (1.2), Joey Votto (0.7), Tucker Barnhart (0.5), and Jay Bruce (0.2). By flashing such an overall great season and proving to be the Reds best player for the first half of the 2016 season, Zack Cozart is looking more valuable by the day to postseason contenders looking to trade for a top-notch infielder.
What to Watch For in the Second Half
The only thing more exciting than acquiring new prospects is watching them turn into starters and stars for the team that has desperately been awaiting their ascent. With top prospects Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson, and Amir Garrett honing their crafts at Triple-A Louisville, it shouldn’t take much to catalyze their big league call-ups. Winker has been batting .286 with a .381 OBP in 199 at-bats this season. Though he has had an unusually low slugging percentage with just ten doubles and two home runs,he should be filling a vacant right field spot for the Reds soon with a Jay Bruce deal all but certain.
Robert Stephenson has a 3.89 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in fifteen starts for the Bats. He even made two starts for the Reds early in 2016, but was sent back to the minors with a 3.00 ERA and 1.083 WHIP while averaging 6.0 innings per outing. Former St. John’s basketball player Amir Garrett was dominating Double-A Pensacola with a 1.75 ERA, a 1.026 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and zero home runs allowed in seventy-seven innings pitched before his promotion to Louisville. Since then, he has tossed 18.2 innings while producing a 2.89 ERA and 0.964 WHIP.
With the Reds bullpen being by far the worst in baseball with a 5.76 ERA and the starting rotation also ranking last with a 5.29 ERA, Cincinnati will probably be looking to call on Baseball America’s #32 and #73 prospects for some second half support. With Winker, Stephenson, and Garrett being 22, 23, and 24 years old, respectively, these promotions will be exciting reminders of what the rebuilt Reds could look like.
The Home Stretch for the Long Term Assets
Many young players whom the Reds are depending on, like Tony Cingrani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, Billy Hamilton, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Anthony DeSclafani, Cody Reed, and even Tucker Barnhart, are already learning at the MLB level at the average age of 24.5. Like any young players, they are all experiencing highs and lows as they tackle the learning curve of far greater skill than the minor leagues they have already conquered.
How these players finish this season is key for the Reds organization and the way they manage the roster moving forward. The Reds are currently the fourth-youngest roster in MLB, at 27.2 years old, and that is with several outlier veterans on their way out like Brandon Phillips (35 years old), Zack Cozart (30 years old), and Jay Bruce (29 years old). That means if the trade deadline goes according to plan, the Reds may even pass up the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are the most youthful team in baseball at 26.7 years old.
The Reds have a few key trades to make, a few international prospect signings, and the 11th-best farm system according to www.minorleagueball.com. While it isn’t vital that all of the Reds current roster turn into All-Stars, it is important that they turn into serviceable major leaguers. Some of the players have come along nicely, like Tucker Barnhart, who has a 1.123 OPS in his last thirty-three at-bats, and Raisel Iglesias, who has a 0.87 ERA and 0.87 WHIP since he returned from injury.
Others, however, have struggled with overall development, like Eugenio Suarez, who has been poor on defense and has struck out 26.3% of plate appearances for a .299 OBP, or Jose Peraza, who has just a .286 OBP and zero extra base hits in seventy plate appearances. It is important to watch how every young member of the big league club finishes the season so that the Reds organization has a better idea on how to proceed with the acquisition of talent at each position.
Injury Rehabilitation and the Core of Yesterday
With prospects Yorman Rodriguez and Caleb Cotham currently on the DL, the Reds are awaiting the real start to the season for the 23- and 28-year-olds. With former All-Star Devin Mesoraco recovering from a surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder and Homer Bailey working towards a return in late July from his surgically repaired elbow, the Reds should start forming a plan on how to reintroduce the veterans to a big league club that has been turned upside-down since they were at their peak point of performance. It’s kind of like the plot of Frankenstein: Some complex operations are performed to bring a physically impressive being back to life only for Frankenstein’s monster to find himself in a world he wasn’t meant to exist in.
In 2012 and 2013, Bailey started in a combined fifty-five games and pitched 417 total innings for an workhorse average of 7.6 innings per outing. Since 2014, Bailey has made just twenty-five starts and pitched 157 innings for 6.28 average innings per start. He had a 5.56 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in his two starts in 2015. After increasing his at-bats from 165, to 323, to 384 between 2012-2014, Mesoraco has just ninety-five at-bats since the start of the 2015 season.
With it looking less and less likely that Mesoraco’s body has the durability to play catcher again, and with Homer Bailey making minor league rehab starts, it is important to take careful note of how the 28 and 30-year old players recover. The Reds must pay attention to their levels of performance upon their returns. Bailey will be the oldest starting pitcher for the Reds by a three-year margin and Mesoraco will be 29 or even 30 by the time he retakes the field at Great American Ball Park. While they may be ready to return, the young core may not have an opening for them.
Yorman Rodriguez is a big flip of a coin, as a seven-year track record in the minors has seen him finish seasons with OPS anywhere from .625 to .817, with off and on showings of power and speed. He is still very young, but the Reds may have hoped he was further along at this point. Caleb Cotham’s status is also up in the air. Cotham was one of the returns from sending Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, and though he has a terrible MLB stat line with a 7.15 ERA and 1.74 WHIP, he could prove valuable in future relief. He made it to April 26 with 11.2 innings pitched, a 1.54 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, and zero home runs allowed before his injury caused his 12.2-inning-long meltdown. With a 3.99 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, and 0.6 HR/9 through seven season in the minors, it would be nice to see some big league production from a return piece that sent “The Cuban Missle” to the Bronx. Watch his rehab and see if he looks like a component of the Reds bullpen of tomorrow.