How the Reds became the biggest embarrassment in baseball

The idea of ​​Opening Day being the optimistic start of a new and potentially successful season for every team in the league has gone by the wayside in recent years. At this point, there’s a pretty solid hierarchy of teams who have expectations to potentially be playing baseball in October and teams who are just giving their organization another year to let their prospects grow in the minor leagues while putting out a major league team that is seemingly just out there to play out the string. Sure, the Dodgers and the Pirates may have the same record on Opening Day but that’s as close as they’ll get to each other in the standings.

With that being said, the Pirates have actually managed to avoid the cellar so far in 2022. They’ve put a little breathing room between them and the team that currently holds baseball’s worst record right now: The Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were one of those teams that were definitely not in Dodgers territory when it came to preseason expectations, but they also weren’t thinking that they’d be bringing up the rear in their own division after getting off to a historically bad start, either. It feels like every year there seems to be one or two teams who end up being terrible by accident. Last year’s accidentally terrible team was the Diamondbacks and it sure seems like it’s going to be the Reds this year.

While the Reds came into this season with somewhat modest expectations, it’s a fitting result when you look at how their offseason went. This is a team that shipped off Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Sonny Gray, Tucker Barnhart, and Amir Garrett. While trading Garrett for Mike Minor appeared to be a genuine attempt to make their pitching staff better, it’s still strange to see those other good players getting traded from a team that finished over .500 last season and actually made the expanded postseason in 2020. Despite that, the Reds were set for a reset after signing four players to one-year deals instead of making any serious financial outlays in the free agency market during the offseason. The fact that they didn’t make a serious attempt to keep Nick Castellanos around was a clear signal of which direction they were going in.

That brings us to the Castellini family, who have been taking a massive amount of criticism for giving the directive to Cincinnati’s front office to cut payroll. That act alone is what makes this fire sale seem less like a calculated tear down (which has worked out for multiple recent World Series champions) and more like ownership has decided that competing is too rich for their blood and they’d much rather prefer to sit on their hands and watch the incredibly safe investment of a Major League Baseball team continue to grow. GM Nick Krall’s objective to “align our payroll to our resources” was successful, but what did it cost them?

At first, it seemed to just cost the Reds a ton of fan enthusiasm. Reds fans were already down in the doldrums after their bummer of an offseason and then Reds president Phil Castellini poured gasoline on the fire of fan apathy with the now-infamous quote of “Well, where are you gonna go,” where he basically dared Reds fans to not show up. In one of the most textbook examples of “screwing around and finding out” that you’ll see, the baseball fans of Cincinnati took Castellini up on his dare and responded by leaving the seats of the Great American Ball Park mostly empty. It got to the point where Castellini had to apologize for what he said – twice!

However, Reds fans weren’t just boycotting the team because of ownership putting its foot in their mouth. I don’t care where your baseball team is located; it’s going to be very difficult to get excited to show up to the ballpark for a team that won a grand total of three (3) games in the month of April. While a team can’t exactly start planning for the postseason following a good April, you can definitely play your way out of the conversation with a really bad April. The Reds had a historically bad April – one that put them in the same breath as teams like last year’s Orioles and Diamondbacks. They were even being compared to historically bad teams who came out of the gate stinking, like the 2003 Detroit Tigers and the 1988 Baltimore Orioles.

So what’s been the issue for Cincinnati that’s caused this calamity? As you could probably surmise by their record, it’s been everything. They’re the worst-hitting team in the National League as evidenced by their NL-worst marks in team wRC+ (81) and wOBA (.289). They also have one of the highest strikeout percentages in baseball (25.1 percent) and when they actually do get hits, nobody is really hitting for power. Their Hard Hit percentage as a team is abysmal and they’re also having a tough time barreling up the baseball. Even with the offense that they’ve had on display this past week, their Expected wOBA is only at .304 right now – suggesting that even if their improvement is sustained, that’s still not great production!

Cincinnati’s pitching has also been dreadful. Their pitching staff is currently sporting baseball’s highest ERA, the highest FIP, the highest opposition wOBA and the NL’s highest Expected wOBA. Hunter Greene is an exciting prospect, but he’s been getting lit up as of late. Tyler Mahle is doing fine, but he shouldn’t be the one expected to carry this rotation. Luis Castillo should provide some help once he’s finally settled in after starting the season on the IL. Other than that, it’s just been a nightmare on the mound for the Reds.

When it comes to their defense, I’m just going to post this video from one of their games in Colorado:

Over the weekend, the Reds threw a combined no-hitter but still lost to the Pirates, 1-0. It’s been that kind of season for Cincinnati.

If there’s a silver lining to this calamitous start for the Reds, it’s that there’s no way that they’re going to be this bad for the entire season. This is still not going to be a good team by any stretch of the imagination, but this team has just enough offense to keep them all the way out of the gutter. Jonathan India is still pretty good, the aforementioned Drury and Pham should continue to be fine at the plate, Joey Votto should still be respected at the plate and Hunter Greene should figure it out at some point. If you squint really hard, there’s something decent here! They’ve actually had a pretty successful short run against the Pirates and the Brewers and are starting to look like the simply bad-to-mediocre team that we expected instead of the dumpster fire that they currently are.

As far as right now is concerned, this is a very, very bleak situation. If there was a clear rebuilding plan on display combined with confidence in ownership would invest in payroll when necessary, then this rebuilding period for the Reds would be an easier pill to swallow. Instead, it just feels like the Reds are fumbling around in the dark with no real idea as to what to do going forward.

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