Thursday’s Reds game against the Milwaukee Brewers was a bit unusual for MLB in 2019. After stringing some hits together in the first inning, the Reds scored the first and only run of the game. They proceeded to ride Luis Castillo’s no hit bid into the 7th inning, and the bullpen closed the door for a 1-0 win. In an era where the home run dominates baseball, the Reds won this game the old-fashioned way: great pitching, stellar defense and small ball. The Reds could use more of those kind of wins in the second half.
After a disappointing start, our Redlegs have found a way to keep their heads above water. The team is 41-44 and still in the playoff race before the All-Star Game, a welcome change from the past four seasons of losing. The story of the team during the first half has been the pitching. The entire staff is third in the league in ERA (3.65), second in runs allowed (323), fourth in BAA (.229) and WHIP (1.23), and have pitched nine shutouts this year, which is tied for second in the majors. Luis Castillo has led the staff so far, going 8-3 with a 2.29 ERA in 18 starts. Although the Reds have a run differential of +42 – fourth best in the National League – the offense has been remarkably dreadful in the first half. With three offensive All-Stars returning and two more coming from the Dodgers, the offense was supposed to be the backbone of this team. But while home runs and offense have risen around the league in 2019, the Reds offense has gone the opposite way.
In 2018, the pitching and hitting were reversed at this point last year. While that team had only hit 89 home runs through 85 games, they had racked up 380 RBI, 135 doubles, a .257 average, .739 OPS, and averaged 4.6 runs per game. On the other hand, the Red pitching staff had a 4.64 ERA. Somehow after a 3-18 start, the Reds were 37-48 at this point last year. While we’ve liked to think that this year’s team has been better than the 2018 version, it’s amazing how close the two records are. Obviously, the second half was not as good as the first, and the 2018 Reds finished 67-95. The team finished 20th in home runs (172), 17th in RBI (665), 15th in OPS (.729), 18th in runs per game (4.30), and 24th in doubles (251). After another poor season, the front office decided to take on multiple one-year contracts to turn the tide and play better baseball. They managed to get Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray for the small price of Homer Bailey, Tanner Rainey and a few prospects. The pitching has been great so far this year. The offense is a different story.
|2018||Reds in 85 Games||2019|
The Reds currently rank 18th in home runs with 116 of their hits flying over the outfield wall. The rest of the offensive stats aren’t as impressive, with Reds’ hitters ranking 23rd in OPS (.718), 25th in runs per game (4.33) and RBI (353), 27th in batting average (.237), and dead last in doubles (115). The Reds have multiple players with double digit home runs, but only Eugenio Suarez has reached the 20-dinger plateau. After sluggish starts, both Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig have turned on the heat in the past month, and the minor league free agent tandem of Derek Dietrich and Jose Iglesias have both been revelations for the team. Young players Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker have also been playing well in the first half. Those seven players have combined for 91 of the team’s 116 home runs so far this year, which isn’t out of the norm. Due to the offense’s low performance so far and the rise of home runs across the league, I decided to research and find if and how dependent the Reds were on the home run ball for offense.
In the league, more home runs are being hit at a historic rate. In the month of May, big leaguers produced 1,135 big flies, setting a new MLB record. That record lasted for a month as MLB players belted 1,142 home runs in the month of June. Since 2017, the home run rate has risen from 1.26 dingers per game to 1.37 per game today. Five of the top six team home run leaders are also leading their division. The league is also hitting solo home runs 58.5% of the time. The Reds have hit 71 solo home runs and 44 home runs with men on base, with only 1 grand slam, good for a 61.2% solo home run rate.
To break down the Reds’ reliance on the home run, I tracked the number of RBI that came from their dingers this year. So far, Los Rojos have produced 173 RBI from their 116 home runs, which accounts for 49.1% of the total RBI (352). In comparison, the Twins have hit 161 big flies so far in 2019. All of those bombs have added up to 227 RBI, good for 48.9% of their 464 total RBI which is second in the major leagues. Obviously, the Twins have been playing much better than the Reds so far this year, but to have a similar percentage of RBI coming from home runs is a good comparison. What’s not as good, though, is the Reds’ record organized by the number of home runs hit in the game.
The Reds have also managed to hit home runs in only 59 of their 85 games. When the Reds hit a home run, they are 35-24. When they don’t send a ball over the wall, they are 6-20. In games where the Reds’ offense only comes by the home run, they are 6-9. (Nice.) The Reds also average 1.84 runs per game when they do not jack a home run. When they do, though, they average 7.12 runs per game. In comparison, the Twins are 46-24 with a home run and 8-7 without a home run.
Winning those games without home runs has been helpful for Minnesota’s success this season, and the Reds need to spread their offense around more evenly. When the Reds are unable to drive home runs, they need to take walks and find holes in the defensive shifts to create runs. We are certainly far from the Dead Ball Era, but the Reds could use more singles and doubles.