Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AnalysisCincinnati RedsMLBNational LeagueNL Central

Alloyed Delights in Cincinnati

Tyler Naquin has been a bright spot for the Cincinnati Reds this season, posting a 110 wRC+ so far this season. He is due to become a free agent at the season’s conclusion. Photo Credit – All Pro Reels (Marked for Reuse) License

The Cincinnati Reds are not going to make the postseason this year. As of May 26th, Baseball Reference gives them only a 0.5% chance to have a spot in the playoffs. FanGraphs’ algorithm is even more pessimistic, only giving them a 0.2% chance. I can’t say that it’s a great feeling to be a fan of a team de facto eliminated from contention nearly six months out from the postseason, but that is the nature of a team going 3-22 in its first 25 games. Unless they win games at an unprecedented pace, nothing will change the reality of their season despite the team’s recent surge of competence in the month of May.

The Reds are 15-10 since their 3-22 start.

The phrase “unalloyed delight” means happiness that is pure, without blemish–thus unalloyed. Any individual success with the Reds this season is alloyed because of the team’s overall record. But, even with the unfortunate overall success of the team, there have been some individual standouts this season for the Reds. Today we are going to look at two pitchers and two hitters that have been part of the silver linings for Cincinnati this season. Note- Alexis Diaz is a notable omission from this article as I plan to write about his incredible season in a standalone article.

The first bright spot for the Reds is Connor Overton, who is an unlikely candidate for a Major League starting rotation, but before his back injury last month, the 28-year-old had a 1.82 ERA and a 257 ERA+. The Cincinnati Reds are his sixth organization after being a 15th-round draft pick in the 2014 draft, signing a minor league deal with Cincinnati this past offseason. Overton achieved his place in the rotation after rookie Nick Lodolo suffered his own back injury. Overton does not strike out very many batters (only second percentile in K%) and generates whiffs at an equally low rate- the paragon of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. He generates flyballs and groundballs around the Major League average but trades a solid amount of line drives for pop-ups. Statistics such as xFIP and SIERA are not kind to a pitcher of his profile so they suggest regression upon his return from the IL. I do not expect Overton to keep pitching at the level he was prior to his injury, as it would be unfair to expect him to be a top-5 pitcher in the NL. I do expect Overton to maintain some level of success as an end of the rotation starter or a solid spot starter because he keeps the ball in the park so well. He did not allow a single home run in his four starts which is a good indicator of his batted ball profile. He had a 2.84 ERA for AAA Louisville in 2022 and a 2.03 ERA for AAA Buffalo in 2021 in a combined 76.2 innings pitched. When Overton returns from the IL, expect some regression but also expect a solid performance.

Jeff Hoffman has been a standout for the Reds pitching in relief, featuring a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings of relief this season. I was a bit too optimistic about Hoffman when the Reds first acquired him, however, the hopes the Reds had for Hoffman seem to be finally coming to fruition. His time in 2021 as a spot starter/long reliever didn’t necessarily work out, but as a high leverage pitcher in Cincinnati’s depleted bullpen, he is finding quite a lot of success. His three-pitch mix of slider, changeup, and four-seam fastball works well. His elite spin rates survived the sticky substance purge of last season (fastball still has 94th percentile spin). His slider is used as his primary put-away pitch and it has a whiff% of 42.9%, and he strikes out batters at an above-average rate while limiting line drives and pulled fly balls. Hoffman’s success is sustainable by nearly all measures (2.85 FIP, 30.2 Hard Hit%) and is a great piece to the Reds’ bullpen.

Could Jeff Hoffman be the second option out of Cincinnati’s bullpen?

Tyler Stephenson took over as Cincinnati’s everyday catcher following Tucker Barnhart‘s trade to Detroit over the offseason. Stephenson has taken his starting job in stride, as his 123 wRC+ is everything Reds fans could want from the former top-100 prospect. One can argue Stephenson could have been the NL Rookie of the Year last season if he had not been so overshadowed by teammate Jonathan India. Oddly enough, Stephenson’s exit velocity has decreased nearly 2 miles per hour since 2021 and his BB% decreased more than 3%. His batted ball profile makes up for his lack of walks and hard-hit balls though, as his BABIP is up to .385. He is hitting more line drives, pulling more fly balls, and barreling more balls than in 2021, which is helping sustain his high BABIP. Stephenson’s framing is below average and he throws runners out at around an average rate, but his uninspiring defense is more than made up for by an offense that is as good as it is, meaning one can safely assume Stephenson will continue to be top ten at his position as long as he can hit.

Tyler Naquin is building off of his success of last season, as he currently has a 110 wRC+. Naquin was usually able to hit well during his tenure in Cleveland, but injuries frequently hampered his ability to get consistent playing time. A new opportunity in Cincinnati and a relatively healthy two seasons means Naquin has returned to the success he saw in his rookie season. His slash line is down from 2021, but the depressed offense across the majors this season means he is basically the same hitter he was in 2021 (110 wRC+). Naquin has been the best outfielder and second-best hitter for the Reds this season behind Tyler Stephenson, both hitting the ball hard (89.9 mph average EV) and barreling the ball at an above-average rate (9.9%). Naquin’s BABIP and peripherals are nearly identical to last season, pointing to the consistency that is necessary to put faith in Naquin’s numbers as being legit. This is Naquin’s final season of team control and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Reds choose to offer him an extension before the season ends.

Tyler Stephenson caught the Reds pitching staff in their first win at Fenway Park since the 1975 World Series.

Even if the team’s playoff chances are handicapped by a historically bad start, they can still be a fun team by playing competitive ball for the remainder of the season. Tyler Stephenson, Tyler Naquin, Jeff Hoffman, and Connor Overton have been bright spots on this team and are a few of many standouts on this team. As an outsider, it may be easy to mark the entire 2022 Cincinnati Reds team as a total loss, which I would say is unfair, as the players mentioned in this article have performed well. Additionally, players such as Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Hunter Greene, Tommy Pham, and Kyle Farmer are trending in the right direction. There is still a lot of baseball to be played and the Reds are hot and, hopefully, both the individual and team’s recent performance keeps trending in a good direction.