What happened in 2019?
Reinforced by the additions of Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig and Sonny Gray, preseason optimism evaporated as the Reds slipped to eight defeats in their first nine games. Giving away such an advantage to the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals in the division of death meant the Reds were always struggling.
Their Pythagorean record suggested the team should have enjoyed greater success than their 75-87 results, but there was no disguising that this was a sixth consecutive season with a losing record.
No matter your opinion about the value of stats like saves or pitcher wins, when your closer (looking at you Raisel Iglesias) is tagged with 12 losses and six blown saves, you know it can’t be good. The prevalence of late-inning capitulations partly explains the Reds unenviable record of an MLB-leading 33 one-run defeats.
It is easy to pinpoint the acquisition of failed-starter-while-with-the-Yankees-but-soon-to-be-Cy-Young-contender, Sonny Gray, as the first meaningful move by the Reds front office to become serious contenders in 2020. He was joined at the trade deadline, in an unexpected move, by controversial starting pitcher Trevor Bauer.
Gray and Luis Castillo were the best front-two starting pitchers outside of Houston or Washington (but at a fraction of the cost).
One definition of a small-market is a team is having the most versatile player in the game, yet few people outside of Ohio are talking about him.
Michael Lorenzen led the team with 73 appearances. Only eight of the 831 pitchers in MLB last season, took to the mound more often. He is a workhorse.
However, the guy can hit. We’re not talking about a pitcher who has to hit in a NL stadium; we’re talking about a player brought on to pinch-hit in important situations. He has doubles-power, has homered off both lefties and righties, and has a walk-rate approaching 10%.
But that’s not all, Lorenzen spent 89 innings as a fielder; not hidden away like a defensive-liability, he spent the majority of them patrolling centre field.
And there’s more. Not only is he an elite reliever, underrated hitter and serviceable outfielder, the 28-year-old, who is often brought on as a pinch-runner, swiped five bags. Five! That’s the same as Alex Bregman managed in nearly 700 plate appearances. There is no-one in MLB quite like Lorenzen.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) The Bauer-Castillo-Gray front three is about as good as it gets.
(2) The signings of Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas transform the lineup. The potential of 30+ homers from second base is a game-changer.
(3) Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker and Aristides Aquino all flashed brilliance. There is no reason to believe why, with a little more consistency, this trio couldn’t match the production of Castellanos. That’s a batting lineup with very few holes.
(4) The acquisition of Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama is an unknown. With red-tinted glasses, he looks like a high-OBP leadoff hitter with excellent defensive skills and the likelihood of being driven in for over 100 runs this season.
(5) Kyle Boddy, the brains behind Driveline, the data-driven baseball performance training organisation, is part of the Reds team. The smart money in the game knows that player development is the next big thing, and the Reds have invested in the best.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps