2022 Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Photo: Doug Gray

Cincinnati Reds

by William Gregory

2021 Record: 83-79 (.512 win%, 3rd in Division)

2021 Payroll: $125,902,769 (16th)

Projected 2022 Lineup:

1. CF Jake Fraley, 232 AVG/.331 OBP/.421 SLG, 0.2 fWAR 

2. 2B Jonathan India, .258 AVG/.357 OBP/.445 SLG, 3.6 fWAR

3. 1B Mike Moustakas .240 AVG/.314 OBP/.460 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

4. DH Joey Votto, .249 AVG/.356 OBP/.484 SLG, 1.5 fWAR

5. C Tyler Stephenson, .264 AVG/.344 OBP/.434 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

6. LF Tommy Pham, .258 AVG/.356 OBP/.444 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

7. SS Kyle Farmer, .235 AVG/.305 OBP/.405 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

8. RF Tyler Naquin, 256 AVG/.310 OBP/.439 SLG, 0.6 fWAR  

9. 3B Nick Senzel, .264 AVG/.329 OBP/.439 SLG, 1.4 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Luis Castillo, 185.0 IP/4.13 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 3.0 fWAR

2. Tyler Mahle, 176.0 IP/4.60 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR

3. Mike Minor, 170.0 IP/4.69 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR

4. Hunter Greene, 102.0 IP/4.80 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

5. Vladimir Gutierrez, 143.0 IP/5.81 ERA/1.53 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. Lucas Sims, 58.0 IP/4.00 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

2. Art Warren, 60.0 IP/3.92 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

3. Tony Santillan, 75.0 IP/4.85 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

“We must align our payroll to our resources,” Reds’ general manager Nick Krall said at press conference after trading longtime catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers “[We must] continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”

It’s a disappointment that Reds chose to cut payroll, but I’m able to understand the reasoning. The poor signings of Shogo Akiyama and Mike Moustakas, paired with the extension of Eugenio Suarez, pushed the Reds over budget, and they didn’t even make the playoffs. The November comment signaled how the Reds would move forward in the offseason after the disappointing 2021 showing

Sturdy back of the rotation starter Wade Miley, along his $10 million team option, were waived and picked up by the division rival Cubs soon after. Solid players like Michael Lorenzen, Mychal Givens, and Cionel Perez were let go. Nick Castellanos, a key contributor to Cincinnati’s 2021 offensive resurgence, was allowed to walk to the Phillies in free agency.

With the lack of big moves after losing Castellanos, Miley, and Barnhart, it seemed that the Reds would be content trotting out a slightly worse version of last season’s disappointing 83-win team. However, the moves pulled off in mid-March made it seem like Reds owner Bob Castellini barged into Nick Krall’s office to tell him to save the ballclub as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time.

In less than a week, right after the lockout ended, fan favorites Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez were shipped to Seattle (Justin Dunn was a nice acquisition, though), Sonny Gray was exiled to Minnesota, and reliever Amir Garrett traded to Kansas City for Mike Minor. Mike Minor? The dude who makes nearly as much money as Wade Miley but was worse than him in 2021?

Hunter Strickland was an under-the-radar signing to bolster the bullpen. He had a great second half of the season with Milwaukee, and just doesn’t let up home runs. He should be the veteran leader for the Cincinnati arm barn.

The remaining uninspiring additions to offset those head-scratching subtractions were Albert Almora Jr, Brandon Drury, and Kyle Zimmer. Cincinnati made more decent moves bringing in Donovan Solano and Tommy Pham. Even still, why even own a baseball team if you’re going to sell it off just as the young guys are coming up to mesh with the vets? The 2022 Cincinnati Reds offseason was a clinic in how to thoroughly disappoint your fanbase.

2022 Season Preview:

As of now, the Reds are one of the irrelevants. They’re not going to play October baseball, but their lineup probably won’t get clowned on Twitter for having 9 unknown scrubs since they’ll only have 3 or 4 unknown scrubs playing at a time. Castellini has put Cincinnati in baseball purgatory, and it’s going to be hard to claw their way get back out. Nobody will praise them, nobody will rip them. They’ll get barely any attention at all.

On the diamond, they have put themselves in a poor position regarding defensive alignment. Following the trade of Winker and Suarez, the Reds have voids in left field and third base. With the universal DH, it can be a bit easier to construct a lineup that is less defensively challenged, but with the personnel they have, it’s tough.

Newly acquired Jake Fraley was a great defender in left field for the Mariners last year according to Statcast Outs Above Average, but he is going to have to play center field for the Reds. If he can play well there, his mediocre bat should play fine. Nick Senzel was previously slotted at center, but I think he would be in a better position to move to third base and allow Moose to take over at first for Joey Votto. Votto can then transition in a DH-heavy role as he ages.

The outfield defense comes around to bite again with the signing of Tommy Pham, who was a very poor defender in the corner outfield spots last year, finishing in the 10th percentile in OOA. He still has a great eye, which plays with the rest of the Reds’ lineup, but he needs to improve his power.

Pham actually had an impressive .443 xSLG in 2021, but his real % of .383 was too low. A reason for optimism is that Savant projects Great American Ballpark to be the best park for Pham’s hitting profile. He was projected to hit more homers there than any other park in 2021.

Tyler Naquin, another awful defender, will start in the corner outfield along with Pham. Naquin had an .810 OPS with nearly a full season’s workload last year, but Steamer projects him to have a drastic dip in production. Naquin does have an interesting profile going into 2022. He doesn’t walk much, and he strikes out a lot. If his ability to hit the ball diminishes at all, he could be replaced by TJ Friedl. Shoutout to TJ Friedl.

Unlike 2021’s balanced production from all over the diamond, the infield is going to carry the load offensively in 2022. Maybe not so much at shortstop with Kyle Farmer, but India, Votto, Senzel, and Moustakas represent an interesting dichotomy of old and young players that all could have drastically different seasons from last year, but still end up pretty good.

Jonathan India just won NL Rookie of the Year, and if he can improve on his 21st percentile exit velocity and 36th percentile HardHit%, he could be an MVP candidate. He possesses great plate discipline after posting a .376 OBP as a rookie, so his power coming along could significantly boost his .835 OPS. Other areas for improvement include his defense at second base and his tendency to be a pure pull hitter; nearly all of his doubles tracked along the third base line.

Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas’ 2021 seasons possibly represent diverging paths for two aging stars on big contracts. Votto had a prime year with his .938 OPS being higher than his career average. There wasn’t really anything he could have done better offensively.

Moustakas, on the other hand, missed 100 games and was bad in the 62 that he played. Fangraphs projects him to bounce back and play nearly identical to his 2018 campaign where he mashed 28 homers, hit 33 doubles, and had 95 RBI. It wouldn’t be a great season, but it would be a welcome development.

I previously said that I project Nick Senzel to move to third base with how crowded the outfield has become in Cincinnati, and with the lack of good defensive depth they have at the position. Mike Moustakas posted -4 Outs Above Average in the short amount of time he got there last year, and India has not shown he can be a great defender at second.

Sure, Senzel can play center field, but he’s not above average defensively at the position, and it should limit a potential factor for injury. He missed 37 games in the shortened 2020 season and he only played 36 games in 2021. He has not been shown to be a great hitter in parts of his first three seasons in MLB, but there is reason to be optimistic.

Senzel is still only 26 years old, and in his short amount of time last year, he posted a career high .310 xBA, .438 xSLG, and .357 xWOBA. He walked more, struck out less, and hit the ball harder, more often, than any other time in his Major League Career. He’s not in my players to watch section, but if he can stay healthy he should be a .750 OPS player.

When it comes to pitching, the Reds will need to resuscitate their depleted rotation. I’ll talk about ace Luis Castillo later, and I don’t care about Mike Minor because I’m sad Wade Miley is gone, so I’ll talk about Tyler Mahle. Mahle is an above average pitcher in just about every facet of the game, but he isn’t elite any anything. That led to a very good 3.75 ERA in 2021. He just needs to keep limiting hard contact, and he’ll be a great number two in this rotation.

Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are the dudes, though. They’ll both see action this year, with Greene opening the season in the bigs. I really hope they both shine and can mitigate the losses of Gray and Miley. The talent is there, just please don’t screw it up.

The bullpen will be a collection of dudes shuttled back and forth between Louisville, but there could be bright spots. Art Warren had a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings pitched, and Lucas Sims has obnoxious spinrates, but there isn’t a ton else to discuss analytically, beyond what I said about Hunter Strickland earlier.

The Reds are going to give as many opportunities to younger players as possible. They want to squeeze all the value out of a player’s pre-arb years. By the trade deadline, any veteran worth trading will be gone, but that’s already been a foregone conclusion. The only solace is watching some of the younger players come up from the minors.

This team should pound on the bottom feeders and make their record look decent, but they’re guaranteed to struggle against real competition. They will have the facade of the team that could have made the playoffs, but had to sell at the deadline. It seems their goal is to be palatable enough to sell tickets. This was the year that they could have come into contention. I am sad.

Record Prediction: 74-88

In 2022, the Reds could very well end up with another low-80 win season or be one of the worst teams in baseball. I chose to go somewhere in the middle. If the Cardinals or Brewers misstep and the Cubs and Pirates bottom out again, the Reds could live in the middle of the pack. Young players like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Jose Barrero could end up in starting spots, and the patchwork of acquisitions could Moneyball the Reds into replacing their losses in the aggregate.

What also could happen is that all of the moves made were short-sighted and nonsensical, resulting in a lost season, in a city that has had nothing but lost seasons since the 90s. If the pitching staff implodes in the confines of GAB, if the standout hitters from last season regress to the mean, and if the Reds suffer through more major bouts of injury, they won’t have the depth to sustain that collapse. They would crater.

Both of those scenarios are the extremes, and I have chosen to take a path down the middle. I foresee the young Reds’ progression and regression evening out to be a non-factor in the win column. The young hitters will have their troubles in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, and it’s unlikely that both Greene and Lodolo come straight out of the minors hucking fireballs without an acclimation period.

The bigger issue is with what Cincinnati did to replace their outgoing stars. You can hope your Quad-A guys play well, you can hope your bargain bin veteran signings pan out, and you can hope your prospects all are ready at the same time, but it’s all only hope. It wasn’t enough.

It’s hard to get excited about a team when the motives behind their decisions are so opaque. With profit being the driving factor, it’s easy to predict what the end of the season will look like.

The one thing Cincinnati fans can actually hope for is that this team won’t be a disgrace on the field. We know that the team is less talented than last year’s team, and we know that the power structure doesn’t seem to be inclined to construct a consistent winner, but this team, as currently constructed. has enough talent to tread water. Expect mediocrity.

Player to Watch #1: SP Luis Castillo

Barring injury, there is no way Luis Castillo should be a Red this August. He underperformed his Statcast projections in 2021, but he still managed an ERA under 4. His Savant circles are as red as a traffic light, and he’s cost-controlled for the next two years. It’s understandable why the Reds kept him through the offseason. Castillo fits right into a gatecrashing team looking to make some noise in the postseason, but that’s not what Cincinnati is anymore. They voluntarily imploded their core.

Castillo is entering his age-29 season, his prime. He no longer fits into the Reds’ window of contention, and as shown by the moves this Spring, by the time he’s a UFA he’s not going to get a deal from the Queen City. Luis is a phenomenal pitcher, but with the pickle the Reds have put themselves in, the only logical move is to trade him for prospects ASAP. His value will never be higher, and you will never be able to predict injury. #FreeLuisCastillo.

Player to Watch #2: C Tyler Stephenson

There’s something in Cincinnati that makes guys walk; and they walk a lot. Joey Votto and Jonathan India both had on-base percentages 100 points higher than their batting averages, and even with the poor season Eugenio Suarez had, he still had a great eye. Of catchers with at least 200 plate appearances in 2021, Tyler Stephenson was third in OBP. You just don’t find catchers that get on base as much as Stephenson, and certainly not one who is at least a 50th percentile framer.

The problem with Stephenson, however, is his low slugging percentage. Out of the top five catchers in OBP, Stephenson’s 111 wRC+ looks out of place next to next to the others who own wRC+’s closer to 140. To truly make a difference in the middle of the 2022 Reds lineup, as he is assuredly going to hit in the heart of the order, Stephenson needs to pick up the knowledge Joey Votto put down that resulted in his power resurgence last season. In the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, there is no reason that Stephenson can’t slug higher than .450 with how often he gets on base. Stephenson is a key to keep the recently stripped lineup afloat.

Player to Watch #3: SS Jose Barrero

It’s been amazing how the Reds have managed to play decent baseball over the past few seasons without a real shortstop. Kyle Farmer, the converted catcher, has been the primary guy recently, but they need an injection of talent. Jose Barrero hasn’t played well in the limited burn he’s gotten in the Majors, but he has excelled in the high minors. Barrero represents another young bat that can slide into the lineup to replace the lost production.

The Reds are all about their cost controlled players, and the young Cuban represents an opportunity for Cincinnati to reap what they’ve sowed. Fangraphs projects Barrero to post an 89 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR in only 53 games. He’s an excellent defender at the most crucial position on the diamond. If the Reds are careful with him, and if Barrero gets on base more than 30% of the time, he should represent an upgrade at shortstop the Reds have been looking for since Zac Cozart posted a 5.2 WAR season (!) in 2017.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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