Titanic Sinking: A Review of the 2018 Cincinnati Reds

Titanic Sinking: A Review of the 2018 Cincinnati Reds

It’s hard to be a Reds fan. The team hasn’t won a postseason series since 1995 (Lord, please let me forget the 2012 postseason!), and have only had five winning seasons in the past twenty-two seasons. Ugh. This season, unfortunately, lived up to what are now Reds expectations: bad baseball. But since I’m glutton for punishment, let’s review the team’s 2018 season: the good (the offense), the bad (everything else), and the ugly (the ownership).

Related: Swimming Upstream S2, E8: 2018 MLB Season Review (with special guest!)

Season Recap

March/April: We’ve Sprung a Leak! (7-22 Record)

It’s almost impossible for the Reds season to start worse than it did. While no one except the most optimistic Reds fan expected them to compete for a playoff spot this year, no one could have predicted the Reds to be 3-18 out of the gates. A lot of reasons could be given, but it was mostly a combination of injuries (especially to Eugenio Suárez), bad luck, and lackluster effort under manager Bryan Price. Speaking of Price, he was quickly fired (at the 3-15 mark) and replaced by perennial interim manager Jim Riggleman (insert obligatory mention of his quitting on the Nationals mid-season here).

Price was a scapegoat, of course, but he should have been fired anyway. In fact, he probably should have been fired the year (or even two) before. Although hired with much promise, Price was the definition of a mediocre manager. He talked progressively, but managed by conventional wisdom. For a smaller-market team like the Reds, a below-average manager just doesn’t cut it (ironically, the only manager who is even more the definition of “below-average” than Price is Riggleman). Price wasn’t the reason for the 3-15 start, but he wasn’t the person to lead the Reds to the Promised Land, either.

After April, it was almost impossible for things to get worse, and happily, the Reds did start to patch up the sinking ship.

May/June: Patching Things Up (28-26 Record)

May and June were mirage months for the Reds: they gave fans hope that they were actually a solid team, with a 28-26 record over those two months. Although a few (sycophantic) reporters wanted to give the credit to Riggleman, the truth is much simpler: they were healthy and things went their way. All their offensive weapons (and, yes, they do have some offensive weapons) were healthy, and their starting pitching wasn’t as abysmal as it usually is.

Further, the Reds in May/June proved an immutable law of baseball: no team is as bad as their worst stretch, and no team is as good as their best stretch. The Reds aren’t as bad as their 3-18 start, but they aren’t as good as their 15-11 June. They are a below-average team, and by the end of the season, their overall record reflects that.

July/August: Never Mind (22-30 Record)

The stretch from July to August is probably the best indication of what the Reds actually are, as they compiled a .440 winning percentage, which would be a 71-91 record for the season (a little better than they actually finished). After all the praise directed toward Riggleman for a decent stretch, reality set in: this is just not a very good team. While the offense is above average, the defense and bullpen are mediocre, and the starting pitching is godawful.

September: Sinking to the Bottom (10-17 Record)

Perhaps the Reds players decided they didn’t want Riggleman to look too good. Or perhaps they wanted a nice “bookend” feeling to the season, as they finished the year 4-16. Whatever the reason, the Reds ended the season like they started it: terrible. Frankly, I pretty much checked out around mid-August, so I can’t even say what happened here.

Can the Ship Be Salvaged?

Now let’s look at various areas of the team and what it means for the future.

Jim Riggleman, Full-Time Manager?

I sure hope not. It’s impossible to come up with an adjective that describes how mediocre and forgettable Riggleman is. Other than a passion for bunting in every possible situation, he does nothing memorable. Although the team loved to promote how much he emphasized “fundamentals” with the team, there’s no actual evidence that the team improved in this area over the year (and at least by the eye test, they seemed to regress).

There are rumors that Reds owner Bob Castellini is fond of Riggleman and could bring him back. That says more about the problem of the Castellini ownership (see below) than anything good about Riggleman.

Three and Out

You might think I’m referring to the 2010 NLDS against the Phillies. I’m actually referring to most outings by Cincinnati Reds starting pitchers, who seemed to get pulled out of games faster than baby out of a burning building. I thought about looking up their season ERA, but I’m sure that would only depress me more. Starting with Homer Bailey, this year’s crop of starting pitchers was abysmal with a (very) few flashes of promise. This was supposed to be a time for the young crop of pitchers the Reds have been stockpiling to make a jump, but most of them instead took a plunge. I still believe in the promise of Luis Castillo, and Anthony Desclafani is a solid major league pitcher when healthy. But I don’t have confidence in any of the other starters (although I desperately want to believe in Cody Reed). Unfortunately, the Reds will go into next year knowing no more than they did this year about their starting pitchers (other than the fact that Homer Bailey and Robert Stephenson need to go).

Bright Spots on a Dark Landscape

Yes, even in this dreary season there were bright spots for the team. It starts with my new favorite Red, Eugenio Suárez. It’s still hard to believe we got him for a one-month-away-from-being-washed-up Alfredo Simon. After signing a very team-friendly long-term contract before the season, Suárez put up an MVP-caliber season before faltering in September. He was one of the few things to look forward to when watching a Reds game this year.

Other bright spots include Scooter Gennett and José Peraza. Gennett proved last year wasn’t a fluke, and while I think he’d bring more value to the Reds in a trade, it’s never a problem to have someone who can hit like him on your team. I didn’t believe in Peraza before this season, but he happily proved me wrong. He put in a very solid season, and he’s only 24 years old! Hopefully the Reds have found their long-term solution at shortstop.

Other than that, there’s not much positive. Jesse Winker was having a good season, but then got injured. Joey Votto, by human standards, had a good season, but by Votto standards, it was a disappointment. Jared Hughes was effective out of the bullpen, but it’s hard to get too excited about an older reliever on a two-year contract.

Another Steinbrenner?

The most troubling aspect of the Reds dismal season wasn’t anything that happened on the field. Instead, we discovered how involved owner Bob Castellini is in the day-to-day running of the team. Castellini, who has no experience in baseball, has apparently been very hands-on in his running of the team. Instead of letting the front office people—who he supposedly hired because of their baseball knowledge and experience—make decisions, instead he inserts himself into those decisions. He apparently was the reason the Reds didn’t (inexplicably) trade Matt Harvey. He also seems to love Billy Hamilton and won’t consider offers for him (and, for all we know, maybe it’s due to Castellini that the Reds continue to sometimes bat the light-hitting Hamilton lead-off). And, as already mentioned, he’s supposedly a fan of Jim Riggleman, even though Riggleman literally has no record of success in his past.

Of all that went wrong for the Reds this year, the meddling of Castellini is surely the worst. Pitchers can be replaced, managers can be fired, even front office staff can be let go. But owners are forever. They only leave when they want to leave (and usually to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars). So the Reds are stuck with Castellini. Which very well could mean that they’re stuck as a mediocre franchise for a long time.

Hitting Rock Bottom

I’ll be honest: I’ve never been more down as a Reds fan than I am right now. I’ve seen bad stretches (the early 2000’s, for example), but never have I had less confidence in the people running the team than I do now. I had high hopes for front office executives Dick Williams and Nick Krall, but they don’t seem to have actual power in the Reds front office. Instead it appears that decisions are mostly coming from Bob Castellini, with former GM (and baseball fossil) Walt Jocketty whispering bad advice in his ear.

Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully the Reds will sign a couple of front-line starters in the offseason, release Homer Bailey, and figure out what to do with uber-prospect Nick Senzel. But until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m preparing for a long winter as a Reds fan.