The Cincinnati Reds are getting no love.
In the most recent season outlook, Grantland writer Ben Lindbergh's NLC Preview uses a lot of data and makes mathematical projections, and not even the numbers are improving this team's outlook. In case you haven't got around to it, here's an excerpt on why we can expect the Reds to suck in 2015:
Projected Record and Over/Under: 76-86 — PUSH. With [Joey] Votto injured, Ryan Ludwick and [Jay] Bruce banged up and slumping, [Brandon] Phillips declining, [Billy] Hamilton disappointing and [Zack] Cozart being Cozart, the Reds had one of the weakest lineups in baseball last season, despite [Devin] Mesoraco's breakout and Todd Frazier's dependable bat. Votto's return, Bruce's likely rebound and Marlon Byrd's arrival should restore the scoring to a respectable level.
If GM Walt Jocketty keeps the roster intact, the Reds could rival the [Milwaukee] Brewers, but if he resigns himself to a rebuild and deals [Johnny] Cueto and Byrd at the deadline, Reds fans will be in for some bad baseball in the second half.
According to this outlook, if everything goes in the Reds' favor, they should be good enough to compete with the Brewers.
It's hard to knock something so objective. But, you clicked to read why we should be optimistic, and there are a few reasons, actually. The Grantland article makes several predictions that, if true, would probably cause the Reds to perform as poorly as everyone thinks they will.
First, the article assumes Votto will miss about 40 days. That would be crippling. Second, the projections say Raisel Iglesias will finish with a 4.93 ERA. And finally, the rotation includes Jason Marquis right now, not Homer Bailey. While this is accurate, it shouldn't be the case going past April.
The following is a short list of reasons to be optimistic for the Reds' 2015 season:
1. The team has proven MLB talent.
No one outside of Cincinnati cares that an almost identical roster managed 90-to-90-plus in three of the last five seasons. But the irrelevance doesn't make those feats invalid. The roster is full of talent.
Hardly anyone is talking about what the Reds offense could look like. But ESPN's Doug Glanville is. He recently pegged the Reds offense as No. 2 in the National League in a live broadcast on SportsCenter.
With the arrival of Byrd, and hopefully prolonged health for the annual contributors, it's hard not to be excited about the potential of this lineup, which features speed, patience and some power.
Everyone knows what they can expect from a healthy Votto, Phillips and Bruce. And then, of course, there's Frazier and Mesoraco, who became contributors last season. But consider how the bench has performed this spring:
Brennan Boesch: .382/.379/.655
Chris Dominguez: .327/.333/.618
Kristopher Negron: .385/.475/.577
There are suitable options off the bench, a luxury the Reds haven't enjoyed in a long time, minus former fan-favorite Chris Heisey, who is no longer with the team.
The Reds currently boast an MLB top-10 offense this spring, and at +36, only three teams in all of baseball have a better run differential. It's not necessarily optimism at this point; it's just what is physically happening.
2. The starting rotation has performed well this spring.
This is not by any means is an indicator for success. But it's a lot better than a questionable rotation getting shelled before the season starts. The following is a list of ERAs currently held by the starting rotation:
Mike Leake: 0.64
Anthony DeSclafani: 3.51
And one unforgettable detail is that this isn't the 2015 rotation, just the one for April. The Reds still stand to gain Bailey and his 3.71 ERA from last year. His ZiPS projection is 3.54 in 173 innings, via Rotochamp.com, where you can see it next to every other projection, most of which all predict a good season out of Bailey.
We know what we'll get from the front of the rotation because we've seen Cueto, Leake and Bailey for years. We know how good they are. We have absolutely no idea how MLB-good DeSclafani will be, or Iglesias.
I take their projections with a grain of salt only because they virtually have no MLB data to base anything on. They're question marks. If even just one of them can replicate what Alfredo Simon gave them last season, the Reds will stand a good chance of winning four out of every five games.
3. 2014 can't happen again.
Nothing analytical about this point, just pure subjective assertion. Everyone's over the injury talk, and they should be—we're like a week from Opening Day. Move on, but don't forget a pivotal lesson we all learned: injuries to critical players have critical consequences.
We watched a team go from winning 90 games in 2013 to winning 76 games in 2014, with virtually an identical roster. Regardless of popular tough-guyisms bestowed upon us by local media, a team isn't going to overcome the loss of that many vital contributors in a season.
Even local media that dismissed injury as a reason for 2014 are finding it harder to validate their previous convictions. Take this dramatic 180 from The Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty in his morning blog just this week:
I saw two more entities pick 'em to finish 5th in the Central. That'd be last, scorekeepers. SI.com and W. Leitch think that way. Leitch figures they'll win 74. Ouch. I'm not known for bubbling optimism, and I'm no FanBoy, but ... doesn't anyone else believe this team can win 85-ish, not barter Cueto at the deadline and at least keep us interested through Labor Day? They can't possibly be as hurt as last year, right? Jay Bruce had an aberration last season, not a definition, yes? Joey Votto will be back to his new self, getting OB 40 percent of the time, depending on others to provide the semi-meaningless RBI, yeah?
Why no love for the Redlegs?
Why no love for the Redlegs? A great question, as there were probably readers asking Daugherty the same thing last September when he wrote this:
Do not go into the offseason believing this year was an injury-fueled aberration.
Do not believe that a healthy Joey Votto would have made a 15-game difference. Or even a 10-game swing. Ten games better would still put the Reds a game behind Pittsburgh, for the second wild card.
Do not think the season would have been a roaring success with Mat Latos healthy in April and May, with Homer Bailey whole now. Believing that health is the answer is a fool's game. Who's healthy this year might not be next year.
This isn't about any one columnist. I'm simply making the point that not even the most ardent and unforgiving of critics last year can stand by what they wrote. And we shouldn't either.
The negative outlook surrounding the Reds, mathematically, incorporates data from a time when it didn't matter. National analysts and computers only care about the data, which is never a bad thing. But that's data from a bombed and depleted 76-win Reds team. That's data on two pitchers, Iglesias and DeSclafani, who have virtually no MLB data on them.
I think the outlook for this season is grossly underrated. And on that note, I must defer to Chuck D and Flavor Flav.
Stats courtesy of MLB.com, unless noted otherwise.