Even after finishing with a 90-72 record, I considered 2013 a disappointing season for the Cincinnati Reds if for nothing else than I picked them to win their division. Based on that, the current year is an even bigger disappointment as they are languishing in fourth place in the National League’s Central Division, two games below .500 and six and one-half games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.
While six and a half games out of first place doesn’t seem like much of a deficit with four months left in the season, there is more to the Reds’ situation than meets the eye. For starters, their home park isn’t very friendly to the team as they are barely playing break even ball there. Life on the road isn’t any better either with a losing record away from Cincinnati and home cooking. The move from Dusty Baker to Bryan Price hasn’t achieved the desired effects.
There are some big problems on the offensive side with the team batting just .241 overall and .248 at home, which is below the league average. The two top hitters are both catchers – Devin Mesoraco (.347) and Brayan Pena (.283) – a problem with some of the more recognizable names on the team. Todd Frazier is leading the team with 11 home runs, which is about half his projected total for the season. The nine homers that Mesoraco has already jacked puts him way ahead of pace for his projected season total of about a dozen. Even at this torrid pace, it’s still hard to believe he’ll actually wind up with the 25 or so total prorating would put him at.
The big name on the team is obviously Joey Votto. But his big name hasn’t translated into big stats for his fantasy owners. The 30-year-old Votto currently has a slash line of .257/.410/.449, which is well below his three-year average of .313/.437/.521. Battling a quad injury since May 16, the first baseman has only managed six home runs. Making matters potentially worse for the Reds and Joey’s fantasy owners is the just announced news from General Manager Walt Jocketty, who said it was a strong possibility Votto could be playing at less than 100 percent for the rest of the season. With that statement, the Cincinnati GM pretty much squashed any chance of getting full value for Votto in a fantasy league trade.
Adding to the Reds’ woes has been outfielder Jay Bruce. With a three-year average of 32 home runs, Bruce has added to the power deficit in Cincinnati with a meager three on the year. Granted, while he could be a very streaky hitter, the current long ball total only projects to eight for the year compared with an average of 32 for each of the past three seasons. Since the season is now one-third done, Jay will have to get really streaky over the final four months to come close to the three-year average in dingers. The 11 home runs by Frazier are more than Votto and Bruce combined. Chris Heisey, Ryan Ludwick, Brandon Phillips and Pena all have a higher OPS than the right fielder. This isn’t to say that they’ve been good, just that Jay has been that bad. Anyone putting stock in 27-year-old players having magical years have so far only pulled a skunk out of their hat with Bruce.
When looking at Jay Bruce’s OPS, even Billy Hamilton has a higher mark on the year. Yes, this is the same Billy Hamilton that some were saying wouldn’t last past the first month or so because of his lack of skill in getting on base. They said "Yeah, he can run, but you can’t steal first base." Those who didn’t listen to the naysayers have been rewarded for their faith in the speedster to the tune of 22 stolen bases. While a .256 BA and .293 OBP won’t reap any batting awards, it’ll be enough to keep the 23-year-old Hamilton in the lineup and doing what his owners drafted him to do – steal bases. Further, if Cincinnati continues to struggle offensively (they are the third worst in the NL at scoring runs) and Hamilton continues to get on base anywhere near the rate he currently is, he will be given the green light any time he gets on and his fantasy owners will reap the rewards.Things certainly haven’t played out the way the Reds and their fans had hoped coming into 2014. With most of their prospects needing more time to develop in the Minors, there isn’t much hope of reinforcements coming this year - certainly no one to immediately replace the likes of Votto or Bruce. The current year is slipping away and if Cincinnati is to make any noise in their division, their hitters need to wake up and start hitting. Everyone having a Reds’ player on their fantasy team certainly hopes the prince awakens sleeping beauty soon.