Are the 2015 Cincinnati Reds Better Than the 2014 Version?

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2015

Are the 2015 Cincinnati Reds Better Than the 2014 Version?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    As spring training approaches, the Cincinnati Reds are eager to prove the doubters wrong and show that last year's down season was just a product of an injury-riddled team.

    Cincinnati went 76-86 last season, which put the team in fourth place in the National League Central. It was a disappointing result for a team that entered the season with postseason aspirations.

    This offseason, the Reds dealt away some key players. Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Chris Heisey are all gone. Those players will not be easily replaced, but with key players having time to get healthy this offseason, the team has a chance to be better in 2015 than it was in 2014.

    With the season drawing closer, it's time to see how this year's club compares to last year's version. Keep reading to see how each unit compares to last year's. 

    All stats are via MLB.com.

Lineup

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
    2014 Lineup2015 Projected Lineup
    C Devin Mesoraco*C Devin Mesoraco
    1B Joey Votto*1B Joey Votto
    2B Brandon Phillips2B Brandon Phillips
    SS Zack CozartSS Zack Cozart
    3B Todd Frazier3B Todd Frazier
    RF Jay Bruce*RF Jay Bruce
    CF Billy HamiltonCF Billy Hamilton
    LF Ryan LudwickLF Marlon Byrd

    *Indicates player spent time on disabled list.

    There won't be many new faces in the Reds' lineup in 2015, but the offense should be more potent this year—mainly because the core has had time to rest and get healthy.

    Cincinnati ranked 29th in batting average and on-base percentage last season, which is why it also ranked 28th in runs scored. Players moved in and out of the lineup, so it was tough for the team to score runs consistently.

    First baseman Joey Votto, who had led the league in on-base percentage for four straight seasons entering last year, was limited to just 62 games because of a quad injury. He went on the disabled list in May but returned after about a month on the shelf; however, he was eventually shut down for the year in July.

    Right fielder Jay Bruce had knee surgery in May to repair a torn meniscus. Although he only missed 15 days, the knee clearly bothered him the rest of the season.

    Getting those two healthy and back in the lineup is the key. If they are both at 100 percent entering the season, the Reds are going to be just fine in 2015. Votto is going to put up a .400-plus OBP, and Bruce is good for 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

    With the emergence of Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco last season, a healthy Votto and Bruce will go a long way in making this team dangerous at the plate.

    Oh, the Reds also made a significant upgrade in left field. Last year, Reds left fielders hit .233 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI. Marlon Byrd, the team's new left fielder, hit .264 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI in 2014. Adding his bat adds a lot of depth to this lineup.

    Frazier, Bruce, Mesoraco and Byrd have all proven that they can drive in runs and hit home runs. With Votto getting on base ahead of them, those four—all of whom have made All-Star teams—will get plenty of chances to help the team put runs on the board.

    Between key players getting healthy and the addition of Byrd, this offense is going to be much improved in 2015. 

    Better or worse than 2014? Significantly better. 

Bench

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
    2014 Bench2015 Projected Bench
    C Brayan PenaC Brayan Pena
    UT Skip SchumakerUT Skip Schumaker
    OF Chris HeiseyINF Kristopher Negron
    INF Ramon SantiagoINF Eugenio Suarez
    INF Kristopher Negron*OF Brennan Boesch

    *Indicates most notable player who held the roster spot.

    Although this year's bench should be filled with players who can give quality at-bats when called upon, it will be missing a major threat.

    From 2010-14, Cincinnati had one of the most dangerous bench players in the game in Chris Heisey. The versatile outfielder could come off the bench and hit home runs, lay down a bunt, run and play strong defense. In his five years with the club, he hit 10 pinch-hit home runs.

    The Reds dealt Heisey to the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason in order to save some money, and now they must deal with the fact that they no longer have a versatile weapon on the bench for late-game situations.

    Brayan Pena and Skip Schumaker are each good enough to give starters games off or come through with big hits off the bench. Last year, Kristopher Negron proved that he can play anywhere the club needs and come up with enough hits—with some pop—to earn at-bats.

    Eugenio Suarez is a new addition to the bench after coming over from the Detroit Tigers in the offseason. The shortstop hit .242 in 244 at-bats last year, which was his first stint in the majors.

    Suarez may not be a great hitter, but he should give the team more offense than some of the veteran infielders—Ramon Santiago, Cesar Izturis, etc.—the team has had in recent years.

    The final bench spot is up for grabs. If outfielder Brennan Boesch wins the spot, he would help make up some of the power that the team lost in the Heisey trade.

    Cincinnati's bench will include several good players. However, it's not going to be easy to replace Heisey's versatility and production off the bench. The team won't feel the impact of the Heisey trade until a clutch late-game situation presents itself, and then, that trade will start to hurt a bit.

    Better or worse than 2014? Slightly worse.

Rotation

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    2014 Rotation2015 Projected Rotation
    RHP Johnny CuetoRHP Johnny Cueto
    RHP Mat LatosRHP Homer Bailey
    RHP Homer BaileyRHP Mike Leake
    RHP Mike LeakeLHP Tony Cingrani
    RHP Alfredo SimonRHP Anthony DeSclafani/RHP Raisel Iglesias

    The rotation has been the strength of the club for the past few years, but in 2015, it may not be as consistent as it has been in recent seasons.

    Losing Mat Latos (33-16 and a 3.31 ERA in three seasons in Cincinnati) and Alfredo Simon (15-10 and a 3.44 ERA in 2014) won't be easy to overcome. Latos is a legitimate No. 1 starter, and Simon made the NL All-Star team last year.

    Latos and Simon were entering the final year of their contracts and were getting too expensive for the club to keep. Although it may have been tough to let the two pitchers go, it had to be done.

    Cincinnati does have some quality options to replace Latos and Simon. Tony Cingrani (3.50 ERA and 1.233 WHIP in 29 career starts) is likely to earn one of the two open spots in the rotation if he has recovered from the shoulder injury that forced him to miss the second half of last season.

    Anthony DeSclafani (3.23 ERA in three minor league seasons) will get a good look this spring after coming over in the Latos deal. He appears to be ready to get a chance to pitch in the majors every fifth day.

    The Reds were able to hang around last season because of their rotation. In fact, despite Latos missing the first two-plus months of the season, the team was just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot when the right-hander made his season debut. That shows that the team can still hang around in the playoff race without Latos.

    Having Johnny Cueto (20-game winner last season), Homer Bailey (two career no-hitters) and Mike Leake leading the way will take some pressure off the youngsters in the back of the rotation.

    Cingrani has the potential to put up Simon-like numbers. Replacing Latos, on the other hand, won't be as easy. If Cuban pitcher Raisel Iglesias lives up to the hype and earns a spot in the rotation, this rotation may be able to move on without skipping a beat.

    However, it's going to be tough for the rotation to top last year's, which was tied for third in all of baseball with a 3.37 ERA.

    Better or worse than 2014? Worse.

Bullpen

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images
    2014 Bullpen2015 Projected Bullpen
    LHP Aroldis ChapmanLHP Aroldis Chapman
    RHP Jonathan BroxtonLHP Sean Marshall
    RHP Sam LeCureRHP Sam LeCure
    RHP J.J. HooverRHP J.J. Hoover
    LHP Manny ParraLHP Manny Parra
    RHP Jumbo DiazRHP Jumbo Diaz
    RHP Logan OndrusekRHP Burke Badenhop

    If the Reds rotation takes a step back this year as expected, the bullpen is going to need to step up and bounce back from a rough season.

    Last season, Cincinnati's bullpen ranked 26th with a 4.11 ERA. 

    When the Reds had the lead, their relievers had trouble getting the ball to closer Aroldis Chapman. Reds relievers combined for 19 blown saves in 2014. When the team was down, the relievers frequently put the team in a bigger hole by giving up runs.

    Although Jonathan Broxton is no longer a member of the bullpen, the unit should be much better than last year's. Chapman, Sam LeCure and new Reds pitcher Burke Badenhop all have good track records.

    Sean Marshall should provide stability from the left side, assuming he is healthy. J.J. Hoover (1-10, 4.88 ERA, 13 HR) needs to put last year behind him and get back to the pitcher he was the previous two seasons. 

    If both Marshall and Hoover are able to regain their old forms, this bullpen is going to be very deep. Even if they are just average relievers, the Reds bullpen will be much improved this season. That just says a lot about last year's unit. 

    Better or worse than 2014? Much better.

Overall

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Lineup: Significantly better

    Bench: Slightly worse

    Rotation: Worse

    Bullpen: Much better

    Looking at the team on paper, the 2015 Reds should be much better than the 2014 Reds.

    Having a healthy Joey Votto in the lineup will make the team significantly better. His ability to work the count and get on base was missed in a big way last year. His presence in the lineup will be a big boost to the offense.

    Add that to the fact that Jay Bruce should return to form and Marlon Byrd was acquired this offseason, and Cincinnati's offense will be much improved this year.  

    The bullpen's struggles cost the team frequently last year. The rotation—which will still be pretty good—will take a bit of a step back this year, but the improvement of the bullpen will help soften the blow. 

    Does saying the team will be improved mean that the Reds will make the playoffs? No. The team's playoff chances will come down to how healthy the team is throughout the season and how the young pitchers perform in the back of the rotation.

    Make no mistake about it, Cincinnati has the talent to contend for a playoff spot. However, there are some "ifs" that need to go the Reds' way in order for them to get back to the postseason.  

    Better or worse than 2014? Significantly better.

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