How will things shape up in the NL Central?
The Reds, last in the NL Central every year from 2015 to 2018, began pushing their chips to the middle of the table with the trade deadline acquisition of Trevor Bauer in 2019. After the 2019 season, they added free agent infielder Mike Moustakas, outfielder Nick Castellanos, and Japanese import Shogo Akiyama. The moves resulted in the team's first postseason appearance since 2013. Cincinnati exited the playoffs quietly, though, dropping two straight to the Braves, scoring a grand total of zero runs over 22 innings.
The team hit the jackpot with Bauer, who led the league with a 1.73 ERA and 0.80 WHIP and won the NL Cy Young Award. The other big acquisitions were less impressive. Moustakas missed over a quarter of the season due to COVID-19. Castellanos had power (14 homers) but couldn't get on base (.298 on-base percentage). Akiyama was the opposite, getting on base at a .357 clip but slugging only .297.
Bauer — who signed a record free-agent deal with the Dodgers — leaves a hole in the rotation. But the starters, headlined by Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, had a 4.04 ERA without Bauer and are still better than all but five NL clubs.
Questions abound on offense, though. Joey Votto's .226 batting average was a career low, and the three years remaining on his contract, at $25 million per, look like a millstone. Can Moustakas return to his 30-homer form? Can Castellanos rebound from his worst year at the plate since 2015? Can Akiyama maintain his September form (.317/.456/.365) rather than his performance to the end of August (.196/.282/.250)? Can injury-riddled Nick Senzel, too old to still be considered a prospect, put together a decent season? Who's going to play shortstop?
Further, in December, the team non-tendered reliever Archie Bradley and traded closer Raisel Iglesias, both obviously money-saving moves. It's fair to wonder whether they're withdrawing those chips that they pushed in.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Reds
"This is a very strange team, an all-or-nothing sort of club. Some days you watch them and think they could win it all, and other days they just look like a beer-league softball team going up there to take three big swings. They can't execute any kind of small-ball situation; it's always grip-and-rip. There's nothing wrong with Joey Votto, he just got old. With Tucker Barnhart, that's two outs in the lineup, and the shame of it is that Eugenio Suarez has regressed, too, when he should be in his prime. Nick Castellanos has never been much of an on-base guy, and he hurts them in the field, too. Their rotation gives them a chance, especially if Tyler Mahle can take that final step; he was excellent last season after developing a slider and dropping his curveball. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are All-Star types, which is great, but with their stuff, they should be in the Cy Young conversation every year. I hated to see them trade Raisel Iglesias, but their coaches are smart enough, and they'll find a good closer in that mix."
Beyond the Box Score
Pitch counts be damned The Reds led the league in starting pitchers throwing at least 100 pitches (20) and 110 pitches (six) in a game. The team had only five 100-pitch games in 162 games in 2018. A rotation headed by three quality veterans, of course, helps.
Suing for lack of support The Reds scored 2.8 runs in Luis Castillo's starts, the third-lowest total in the league for 69 pitchers with at least seven starts. Trevor Bauer's 3.7 was 10th lowest. By contrast, Sonny Gray got 5.5 runs of support and had the best won-lost record (5–3) of Reds starters despite a 3.70 ERA, higher than Bauer's 1.73 and Castillo's 3.21.
Latter-day Babe? In 2019, Michael Lorenzen became the first player since Babe Ruth to have a game in which he was the winning pitcher, played the outfield and hit a homer. It was speculated that he might serve as a DH in 2020, or bat as a starting pitcher. No such luck. He played four innings in center field and pinch-ran four times but had only one plate appearance. He got hit by a pitch, so at least he had a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage.
Time to move? By Baseball Info Systems' (BIS) Defensive Runs Saved, Joey Votto was the worst-fielding first baseman in the majors. Per Statcast's Sprint Speed, he's one of the slowest runners as well. Yet he's started only 12 games at DH in his career (five in 2020), and the last time he didn't bat primarily in one of the top four spots in the order was in his rookie season of 2008. He's a Reds all-time great with a strong Cooperstown case, but it's probably time for both of those to change.
Foiled by the shift Per BIS, the Reds lost 30 net hits to the shift (74 lost, 44 gained), the most in the majors. While laying down a bunt or going the other way isn't nearly as easy as many believe, the shift cost the team 16 points in batting average. On the other side of the ball, the Reds, who led the league with 36 four-man outfield alignments in 2019, didn't try it at all in 2020.
Less auspicious exit Longtime radio play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman retired after 46 seasons after the 2019 season. His son, Thom, was dumped from the team's TV broadcasts after he was caught on a live mike using an anti-gay slur on Aug. 19.
CF Shogo Akiyama (R)
RF Nick Castellanos (R)
1B Joey Votto (L)
3B Eugenio Suarez (R)
2B Mike Moustakas (L)
LF Jesse Winker (L)
SS Jose Garcia (R)
C Tucker Barnhart (S)
OF Nick Senzel (R)
C Curt Casali (R)
C/INF Kyle Farmer (R)
UT Dee Strange-Gordon (L)
OF Aristedes Aquino (R)
RHP Luis Castillo
RHP Sonny Gray
RHP Tyler Mahle
LHP Wade Miley
RHP Michael Lorenzen
LHP Amir Garrett (C)
LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Lucas Sims
RHP Noe Ramirez
RHP Tejay Antone
RHP Sal Romano
RHP Jose De Leon
RHP Jeff Hoffman
2021 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central
(Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez photo courtesy of @Reds)