Why there are reasons to believe the Reds could be much better in 2018

As the 2017 season winds down, we're giving each team once eliminated from postseason contention its own spotlight. You might not specifically notice it as such, but we've done it several times already. On this fine Sunday, I've tasked myself with grabbing the Reds and the avenue I'd like to take here is an attempt at some optimism moving into 2018. 

Why? Well, I'm generally a glass half-full person anyway. Plus, the Cubs aren't going anywhere, the Cardinals always seem to find a way and the Brewers appear to have arrived. Things haven't been good for a bit in Cincy, either. I feel like the fan base could use some positive vibes. Let's do it! 

Offense

Joey Votto is a treasure. He's hitting .316/.452/.572 with 30 doubles, 35 homers, 96 RBI, 101 runs and -- brace yourselves -- 130 walks against 78 strikeouts. The decline is coming, as Father Time is undefeated, but he's enough of a batsmith to expect another few stellar seasons. 

MLB: San Diego Padres at Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto is one of baseball's best hitters. USATSI

We knew that, though. Do the Reds have more? 

Actually, yeah. 

Sadly, Zack Cozart is gone via free agency. Past him, though, there are things to like. 

Scooter Gennett appears to have found a home and is one of baseball's best stories this season. He's under team control through 2019. Eugenio Suarez is under team control through 2020 and sports an OPS+ of 120. Adam Duvall has reached 30 homers for the second straight year. Scott Schebler is about to join him in the 30-homer club. Small sample, sure, but Jesse Winker is hitting .282/.363/.491 through 125 plate appearances. 

Jose Peraza is only 23 this season. The .256 average with a .295 on-base percentage aren't a great look, but we've seen some ability. There's enough for hope. 

As for Billy Hamilton, I'm running out of hope with the bat. He feels automatic to score whenever he gets on base, though, so he's still a weapon -- even if not nearly as effective a weapon as we've long hoped he would be. 

Overall, the Reds are seventh in the NL in runs and OPS while sitting third in home runs and second in steals. Cozart is out, but there's room for improvement from some of the names mentions. 

Oh, and Nick Senzel isn't far off. The second overall pick of the 2016 draft hit .340/.413/.560 in 57 Double-A games after his promotion this year. 

Defense

In terms of defensive efficiency (the number of balls put in play converted into outs), the Reds have been slightly above average this season. In Baseball Info Solutions' stat Defensive Runs Saved, the Reds collectively rank seventh. 

Hamilton in center has off-the-charts range, but Votto is also excellent at first and Tucker Barnhart behind the plate has proven an excellent asset. Duvall (LF) and Suarez (3B) also grade out well. 

The Reds could move Suarez to short and play Senzel at third alongside Votto and Gennett (2B), but Suarez is much better suited for third. Senzel isn't a shortstop either. The most likely approach is to go with Peraza and hope the bat comes around, which it very well might. If Senzel arrives, then, the Reds enter "nice problem to have" territory in terms of deciding who to play between Suarez, Senzel and Gennett on a daily basis. 

Overall, the team has been very capable defensively this season and there's not much reason to believe that changes significantly in 2018. 

Rotation 

OK, now we have some heavy lifting. The Reds enter Sunday dead last in the majors with a rotation ERA of 5.66. The NL average is 4.46. 

The awful starting pitching is the number one reason the Reds are 66-89 this season instead of something far better. The offense is capable, the defense is good and there are good bullpen pieces. The starters just flatly suck, as a group. 

It's not all terrible, though. 

Luis Castillo was mostly outstanding in his 15 starts before being shut down. The 24-year-old rookie has electric, front-of-rotation stuff. In his last five starts, he pitched to a 1.86 ERA with 39 strikeouts against six walks in 29 innings. 

luis-castillo.jpg
Castillo certainly looked the part in 2017. USATSI

That's one. 

Hey, you know who we haven't seen this season? Anthony DeSclafani. An elbow injury has sidelined him all season, but he should be set for 2018 (Cincinnati.com has a story from late last month on his plan). The man they call "Disco" had a 3.28 ERA in a very good 20-start season in 2016. 

Sal Romano, the big 23-year-old righty, has pieced together several very strong outings, most recently eight scoreless innings against what's left of the Pirates on Sept. 16. His ERA+ sits exactly at 100, so he's league average. That's pretty damn good for a rookie season on a bad team. There's promise. 

Rookie right-hander Robert Stephenson shifted permanently into the rotation in mid-August and did anyone outside the greater Cincy area notice? Because he's been good. Very good, actually. Stephenson has a 2.87 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings in his seven starts since the move. Walks are an issue, but there's enough upside here to be excited. 

Shoulder discomfort has sidelined Brandon Finnegan for nearly all of this season, but he had a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts last season. 

That's five! 

Rookie Tyler Mahle made just four big-league starts before the Reds shut him down. He was impressive, posting a 2.70 ERA, though the 14 strikeouts and 11 walks in 20 innings are concerning. Still, we've discussed six starters who have promise for 2018. 

There's depth as well, with Homer Bailey, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Asher Wojciechowski and others. 

Bullpen

The bullpen has been much better, though there have been concerns of late. Big ones. The first-half bullpen ERA was 3.97 and it's been 5.53 since the All-Star break. Ouch. 

Raisel Iglesias is outstanding. No need to go deeper there. 

The bridge is where some work is needed. Michael Lorenzen has been very inconsistent, but he still has good stuff and is only 25 this season. There's room for growth. 

Wandy Peralta was good for a while as the top lefty but has been unreliable in the second half. He's also 26 and in his first full season. 

Basically, it's reasonable to believe Iglesias, Lorenzen and Peralta are a good trio of relievers in 2018. From there, piece together a bullpen from the leftover starters and cheap free agent adds. Hope to hit gold. That's how it works with the volatility of relievers these days. 


From where I sit, it's very possible the Reds have a good offense, great defense, decent enough rotation and fine bullpen in 2018. That's a quality ballclub, no? 

Did it work, Reds fans? Are you excited for next season now?

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered the last six World Series beginning with the epic 2011 Fall Classic. The former Indiana University... Full Bio

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