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Red Alert - Analyzing Cincinnati's Offensive Woes

Entering the 2019 season the Cincinnati Reds offense was shaping up to be a lineup that could regain the “Big Red Machine” moniker resemblant of the prolific teams from the 1970s. After acquiring corner outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, it brought depth to a batting order that already featured a pair of 2018 breakouts, some up-and-coming young studs, and a former MVP. It was a lineup that would, on paper, put fear into the opposing pitcher’s eyes.

As the regular season nears the end of April, that’s all the Reds offense has been, good on paper. With half of their games played in the most home run friendly park in the league according to 2018 Park Factors, it seemed almost set in stone that this club would be a juggernaut in the batter’s box this year. After averaging 4.30 runs per game a season ago, the 2019 squad has scored just 3.50 runs per game and is 28th in the league with a miserable .205 batting average.

With preseason injuries occurring to Scooter Gennett and top prospect Nick Senzel, the Reds start to the season was derailed slightly. With these bats missing, and the fact that the season is still in its youth, hitting the panic button now would be a hasty decision. The only way to truly understand what’s going on in Cincinnati is to plunge into the analytics and decipher the data. We’ll go around the horn identifying each relevant hitter in the Reds lineup and interpret whether we should credit the slow start to lack of ability or merely unwarranted misfortune.

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Joey Votto (1B)

It’s no secret that Joey Votto had a down year in 2018. When you continually bat in the .300 to .320 range, sure a .284 batting average is going to seem bad, but It looks even worse in 2019 now that he’s only hitting .228. Votto isn’t doing prototypical Votto-esque things so far like not striking out and taking a bounty of walks. His 26.2 K-rate and 10.8% walk-rate aren’t poor numbers in the grand scheme, but they are way off his 17.6% and 16.3% respective career marks. Votto’s decade-long history of elite plate discipline metrics are more believable than a 17-game sample size, so a return to his median seems inevitable.

To go along with his plate discipline leveling out to his lifetime norms, his unlucky batted ball metrics this season will help boost his batting average back up to a healthy pace. Votto has stunningly put up a weak contact-rate of 0%, and an equally as impressive 40.6% Hard Hit%. His line drive-rate will also positively regress higher than his low 12.8% clip, so his .316 BABIP has room to grow closer to his .352 career mark. Owners should remain patient with Votto and understand his three RBI are due to no one being on base for him than just simply an unproductive start. He’s currently 2-for-4 with runners in scoring position and 6-for-15 with men on base, so the opportunities for Votto haven’t come early, but time will mend this hardship.


Jose Peraza (2B/SS)

Batting primarily in the sixth spot this season for the Reds has been middle infielder Jose Peraza. Known for his speed and ability to make contact, he hasn’t shown either of these assets so far in 2019. The 24-year-old has just one steal on two attempts in the early going, but it’s his lack of reaching base that's holding back the youngster’s wheels. Peraza is batting a paltry .154 with a .189 BABIP, and he’s yet to draw a free pass. He’s never proven to be a walk machine, but he’s only seen two three-ball counts, and he’s struck out an abnormal 26.4% of the time, a distant mark from his 11.0% rate in 2018. Peraza is also yet to barrel up a baseball, and he may be the most worrisome player on the Reds roster.

Peraza doesn’t have the track record like Votto has where it’s a guarantee that personal numbers will return to an established career pace. It is worth noting that his LD/GB/FB slash line is similar to last season’s pace, but he has exchanged a few more line drives for fly balls. It sounds easy, but what Peraza needs to do to help himself is to lay off the first pitch and try to get into hitter’s counts. He’s swung at a reckless 35.8% of first pitches seen and is only 1-for-7 on these offerings whereas he’s 8-for-18 when he’s ahead in the count. If the youngster can improve in this area and stay a little more patient at the plate, his average will rise, and he’ll be on base more often to return to the 23-steal man he was in the last two seasons.


Eugenio Suarez (3B)

Eugenio Suarez is one of the few Reds players who is actually hitting the baseball at a respectable rate. He’s barreled 8.6% of balls in play and is mashing the ball at a torrid 45.5% Hard Hit%, both near to his 2018 marks in which helped him hit 34 homers and drive in 104 RBI. His .250 average is underwhelming, and we demand more from Suarez than three HR and seven RBI this year. The slugger’s big flies have all been of the solo variety as he’s still waiting to knock one out with at least one runner on, something he did 22 times last year.

Suarez hasn't had many opportunities either with men on base and has had just 14 ABs with RISP, but the good news is that he has gotten four hits in these situations good enough for a .286 batting average. There’s nothing wrong with what Suarez is doing at the plate we just need to bide our time until the rest of the lineup picks up their slack. The 27-year-old will benefit once more runners get aboard and especially when he begins to elevate the ball more often and deters from his irregular 54.3% groundball-rate.


Matt Kemp (OF)

After an All-Star season in Los Angeles a year ago, it’s been a sluggish start for Matt Kemp in his first month with his new club. In 49 at-bats he’s batting .208 with one homer, five RBI, and he’s yet to draw a walk. HIs K-rate is nearly 10% higher than what it was in 2018 as it’s currently sitting at a dreadful 31.1% rate due to him chasing a ghastly 43.8% of pitches out of the strike zone. Kemp has not only struggled to make contact but when he has put his bat on the ball, it hasn't been effective. The veteran has barrelled up just one baseball on the year and has produced a weak 27.6% Hard Hit% with nothing positive to show for it other than a .429 average against lefties.

In his age-34 season, it’s safe to say the best years are behind Kemp. As far as this season goes, the aging star will assuredly improve on his lowly Mendoza line batting average, but expecting a return to his .290 clip from a season ago would be extremely optimistic. Kemp has started in 12 of the team’s first 17 games, but once Nick Senzel gets his major league promotion, this will surely eat into his playing time, and he may only get the nod against southpaws. Kemp isn't reliable in fantasy mixed-leagues, and as far as the Reds are concerned, his bat isn’t the focal point of their offense but merely a complementary piece that will coattail the success from the rest of their lineup.


Jesse Winker (OF)

Jesse Winker entered the season as the Reds leadoff hitter which catapulted his preseason draft value. A darling in on-base percentage leagues, Winker was anything but this player over his first nine games going 1-for-26 with just one walk. The 25-year-old's inability to reach base has put a domino effect into place moving down the lineup with no one aboard for the likes of Votto, Puig, and Suarez to drive in. Winker turned it around after his early season cold streak and clubbed four homers in five games which was a bizarre, but welcoming display after the outfielder only hit seven bombs a season ago. The long ball is certainly accepted, but as a table-setter for the lineup, Winker’s on-base skill needs to return to form to spark the rest of the order.

Like most of the Reds batters, Winker hasn’t shown patience at the plate. After swinging at the first pitch just 21.9% of the time in 2018, he’s soared past this mark in 2019 swinging at 32.7% of these deliveries. Winker is batting just .143 on this pitch, and the repercussions have been significant as he’s cut his walk rate in half (7.7%) and has produced a detrimental .176/.250/.412 slash line. Winker’s LB/GB/FB line looks similar to last year’s numbers, but like Peraza, he needs to be more selective at the dish to not get himself out. Winker still has the tools to return to his stellar .405 OBP from a season ago, and once he rights the ship with a better approach at the plate, the rest of the lineup will begin to bloom.


Yasiel Puig (OF)

The Reds player with the most hype this preseason was Cuban sensation, Yasiel Puig. The added playing time and the shift in ballparks was a juicy upgrade to an already mouth-watering skill set. The move from the busy L.A. atmosphere was also thought to help him focus more on the field, but the jury is still out on Puig's new work ethic.

What Reds fans have witnessed from their new right fielder so far hasn’t astonished them, but his play of late has been encouraging. Puig hit home runs in back-to-back games earlier this week including one off of former teammate Clayton Kershaw in front of his old hometown fans. His .182 average is destined to increase as well the more we look into his underlying metrics.

Puig has a superb 41.4% Hard Hit% and 10.8% Barrel% so far in 2019, both well above his career rates. He’s hit the ball in the air more often than usual, but with the weather only becoming warmer, more of these balls should fly out of Great American Ballpark. The “Wild Horse” could improve on his plate discipline metrics, but with his solid batted ball stats, we can attribute his slow start to misfortune in his .200 BABIP. Expect Puig to still live up to his preseason hype as the rest of the year progresses.


Rest Of Season REDemption

With all of these Reds batters, one aspect appears to be constant - patience. As we all know baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, so we must also display patience with this ball club. The law of averages will always come into play in this sport to balance out snail-paced starts as well as white-hot beginnings. If this 17-game sample size were to occur in July, we wouldn’t think twice about it, but our natural reaction to April slumps has us in needless hysteria.

Cincinnati is a frigid city in April, and cold environments can cause cold bats especially for hitters in new settings. As the weather begins to warm so will the Reds offense especially once the optimal lineup is set with Senzel and Gennett occupying their spots. Time is the most significant factor to consider with these batters, and the more we wait, the more pleased we'll be with the results.

It may just take one guy, one game or one play to ignite this potentially lethal batting lineup, and then a slow April will suddenly turn into ash. Good things come to those who wait and persevering through troubling times is an attitude that will only make the rest of the season’s prosperity that much sweeter.

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