Is it too unsparing, too pitless to call the 2022 Cincinnati Reds the depth and breadth of wretchedness? It says here: Nah, not really.
The current Reds edition, you see, presently sits under the weight of all its peers in the standings with a record of 7-24. Barely a month into the regular season, the Reds are already 12 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central. It also says something that the Reds right now are enjoying somewhat improved fortunes. After cratering at 3-22 through their first 25 games of the season, the Reds have since gone 4-2 -- a stretch that includes a series win over the first-place Brewers. Related content forthcoming:
That said, the Reds are still on pace to reach rarely glimpsed depths, and as such a cursory examination of their struggles to date is in order. Here is the final sentence before we begin undertaking just that – i.e., a cursory examination of their struggles to date – via the wholly contrived "Things To Know" format.
Team ownership asked for it
Maybe they did not expressly ask to be this bad, but Reds owner Bob Castellini and his hapless kiddo stripped a contending roster for parts and did so despite the promise of an expanded postseason. These days, MLB teams – particularly small-market teams – have so many guaranteed revenue streams that profitability is in essence guaranteed regardless of the quality of the on-field product. In that sense, Castellini was merely responding to those perverse incentives.
Said response involved trading away core names like Sonny Gray, Tucker Barnhart, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez; allowing popular slugger Nick Castellanos to depart via free agency; and bizarrely choosing to place the useful and affordable Wade Miley on waivers. That's a lot of wins shed from a team that couldn't afford to lose them, and that's not even an exhaustive list of the departures.
Again, this level of awfulness wasn't anticipated, but team ownership placed this within the range of possibilities by tearing the roster apart over the winter.
The Reds have been bad in every possible way, but their pitching is on another level
Not surprisingly, the Reds are doing nothing particularly well so far in 2022. They rank a middling 15th in MLB in runs scored and 24th in OPS. They're 29th in Defensive Efficiency, which is the percentage of balls in play that a team converts into outs. Cincy pitching, though, has been on a plane all its own. Right now, Reds moundsmen are lugging around an ERA of 6.61 on the season. That's the worst in MLB by a cavernous margin -- the Pirates and Nationals are tied for 29th with an ERA of 4.81. To pitch to a 6.61 ERA as a collective during a season in which run-scoring has been down markedly is a feat. If that holds up, then it'll be the second highest team ERA since 1900. Only the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics fared worse with a 6.71 ERA. That said, the Reds are putting up their figure in a league that averages 4.07 team runs per game. In 1930, MLB teams averaged 5.40 runs per game. Put in the proper context, the Reds' team ERA is far more "impressive."
They're on pace to be the worst team in franchise history
Presently, this dishonor belongs to the 1934 Reds, whose .344 win percentage (they were 52-99) is the lowest full-season mark in Reds history. The Reds' current win percentage of .226 "tops" that figure by a substantial margin. Basically, the 2022 Reds will break that record if they win 56 or fewer games this season. They need to win at a .374 clip or worse the rest of the way in order to make that happen. Can they do it? Of course. What a question.
They're also on pace to be one of the worst teams in all of MLB history
Let's put the Reds' 2022 body of work in context by looking at the worst teams in MLB history since 1900, according to win percentage. The horror:
Not listed above are the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who just miss the cutoff date. They went 20-134 (.130). While the Reds aren't playing at those depths, their current win percentage of .226, which puts them in line for a 125-loss season, would be the lowest across a full season since 1900. This of course is the case even after winning two straight series.
As for run differential, the Reds' current mark of minus-72 puts them on target for a full-season run differential of minus-376. That would also be a "record." Right now, the 2003 Tigers have the worst run differential since 1900 at minus-337. Going back further, the 1899 Spiders return to us. In defiance of natural order, they somehow assembled a run differential of minus-723 (!) in 154 games.
But wait: There's more bad news!
Normally, we'd operate in keeping with the timeless wisdom of creative-writing workshops and conclude by saying something nice about that which has been flayed. In the Reds' case, it would've gone a little something like this: If paces hold, then Cincy will secure the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft for the first time in franchise history. Alas and alack, the Reds don't even have that going for them. That's because the new collective bargaining agreement includes a draft-lottery provision that means the top pick is no longer the birthright of the team with the worst record. Here's how it will work:
In days of yore, the worst team in the league would have a 100 percent chance of getting the top pick, but now those chances have plummeted to 16.5 percent. Stated another way, the Reds, should they make good on these early paces, will be one of the worst teams ever and be rewarded with an 83.5 percent chance of not having the top pick.
To be sure, the Castellinis don't care about this because the motivation for tanking is being able to take the lazy route to profit maximization via reduced labor costs. Reds fans, though, won't be pleased if they're deprived of this very small consolation. Ah well.