What We Have Learned About the Cincinnati Reds So Far in 2024

As of today, the Reds sit at 17-23, 7 games back in the Central. A team with legitimate promise and playoff aspirations has fallen flat. Let's break down what is and isn't working for this Reds team.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 10: Elly De La Cruz #44 of the Cincinnati Reds is congratulated by teammates after he scored against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the third inning at Oracle Park on May 10, 2024 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

As of Monday, May 15th, the Cincinnati Reds sit at 17-23, 7.0 games back of the Brewers. The Pirates just slid in front of the Reds who are 1-9 in their last 10 games. A team with legitimate, not just pie in the sky, promise and playoff aspirations has fallen flat.

Now, before we go any further, I do not think this team is dead. I’m not calling it a lost season. Doing so on May 15th, with 120 games left, does nothing for me. While I won’t ask the fat lady to sing, not saying they are in a bad spot would be irrational.

The injuries to Matt McLain and TJ Friedl and suspension to Noelvi Marte was always going to take a massive hit to this lineup, but also the depth. Losing three of your regulars is tough to replace for any organization. But, this is the Major Leagues. Injuries are expected and no one cares about excuses. Fair? Maybe not. But it’s the truth. The games still get played regardless of the names on the jersey.

Outfield Production Isn’t Enough

Cincinnati came into the season with an outfield that had plenty of upside but has failed to produce. Jake Fraley has been productive (.313/.382/.400) but has missed some time and as a platoon player, isn’t in the lineup everyday.

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Will Benson has not taken the step forward we were all hoping to see. While he’s offered some power, a 39.6% strikeout rate is tough to swallow. He’s not making nearly enough contact to produce at the level the Reds need him to, especially when Friedl was out. A 70% zone contact rate does not lead to much success.

Spencer Steer, who’s also played some first, has stood out at the plate, even after you factor in a slump. A 120 wRC+ with four home runs and 11 stolen bases is definitely helping this team. However, his defense needs work.

I understander Stuart Fairchild‘s role on this team was never supposed to be this big. But he doesn’t get a pass because he was pushed into action. A 59 wRC+ with three total extra base hits is not good enough, even for a bench player. While I appreciate his defense and speed it does not make up for his production at the plate.

Starting Rotation Has Depth and Talent

The Reds would be a complete disaster if not for their rotation. Hunter Greene (3.38 ERA/3.38 FIP) continues to make improvements and has seen his HR/FB% drop from 14% to 5.7%. He’s cut down on hard contact and is looking more like the pitcher fans were promised.

Nick Lodolo has returned from injury and looked great. He’s rocking a 3.34 ERA, 2.91 FIP, walking 2.31 per nine and striking out 11.06. His curveball has held batters to a .151 average and produced a 49.4% whiff rate. Could not ask for a better start to his season.

Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter, Frankie Montas, had a rough end to his outing this past weekend but has been solid when healthy. Graham Ashcraft and Andrew Abbott have both stepped up nicely, as well. Abbott has allowed two or less runs in seven of his eight outings. While we would all like to see more than five innings out of him, I can’t complain with a five and dive that has been productive.

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Brandon Williamson is still working his way back from injury and could factor in at some point. Reds top prospect Rhett Lowder dominated in High-A and was just promoted to Double. There’s a non-zero chance he could find his way into this rotation later in the summer.

“Quad-A Players” Are Usually Just That

Bringing in waiver wire guys, career minor leaguers, and others who just haven’t had much success in the past is something every team does. I’m not faulting the Reds for doing this as you need a few players you could call up briefly and not worry about having to DFA them when a player returns.

Injuries have forced these level of players to have a bigger role than expected, and the production has not been there. Nick Martini had has Opening Day moment and was responsible for the Reds winning that game. He did more than I would have expected all year, in that one day. Martini ultimately showed why he has bounced around – 39 wRC+, 2.3% walk rate, .177/.200/.329. Bubba Thompson was not trusted to hit and now we wait an see the fate of Mike Ford, who has two hits in 16 at bats.

This is why I advocated for an upgrade to Fairchild. The Reds did not need (on paper) to go out and fill multiple starting positions. They were in a situation where they could spend to get a higher level platoon for Benson/Fraley and upgrade the fourth outfield spot. While the free agent market wasn’t strong, perhaps a trade could have netted this type of player. Mark Canha was acquired for little, but might not have been possible to trade with Milwaukee. Free agency is a two -way street, so who knows what happened but I find it hard to believe an upgrade simply wasn’t available.

Tyler Stephenson is Showing Signs of a Bounce Back

Concern over the catcher position hovered throughout the winter. Stephenson did not return from injury in ’23 looking like the batter we saw in previous seasons. So far, he’s cut his strikeout rate by four percent while also impacting the baseball more.

Avg. Exit VeloBarrel %Hard Hit %SLGxSLG
202389.4 mph7.6%43.2%.378.397
202492.3 mph17.9%55.2%.393.450

You would hope to see his contact data translate to more hits, but these are at least signs pointing in the right direction. With Luke Maile drowning at the plate, Stephenson’s improvements are even more important.

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We should also note his improvements behind the dish. His framing has improved from a -9 catcher framing runs last season to a 1 this season. Blocking data has improved as well and he looks more comfortable than he did in 2023.

Minor League Depth is Lacking

Before you panic, this is to be expected. When you call up as many prospects as the Reds did last season, it will take a hit to your prospect pool. Right now, in my opinion, there is not a position player in Double or Triple-A would could come up, start, and I would expect average to above average play as the floor.

Blake Dunn certainly has a shot at helping this team at some point. However, he’s slashing .219/.336/.354 good for a 86 wRC+ through 115 plate appearances. His 29.6% strikeout rate is higher than you’d like to see and his power has dipped from last season. He did deal with an early season injury which should be noted.

Peyton Burdick and Livan Soto have some intrigue, but are also players who have bounced around on waivers and are not exactly a sure thing. Willing to give them a shot? Sure. But my expectations are not that they could provide consistent offense.

That’s not to say this system doesn’t have any bats. The issue is most of the higher end prospects are either in Dayton or injured (Edwin Arroyo).

Your Wildest Dreams are not Out of Reach for Elly De La Cruz

We know the the hype that came with Elly as a prospect and we saw flashes and flaws during his rookie season. He’s made adjustments in year two and has tapped into potential showing us he has the ability to be a top player in the game.

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Elly has dropped his strikeout percentage, increased his walk rate, ISO, average exit velocity, and barrel percentage. Oh yeah, he’s also stolen 25 bases in 40 games.

He’s making better contact and when you have the talent he has, that can change a game. At only 22 years old, he still has room to grow. A 73% zone contact rate and 33.2% whiff rate come with some concerns but I have faith in him continuing to improve over time.

Elly has singlehandedly won this team some games and I’m sure that will be the case many times this season. He’ presence alone on the basepaths takes attention away from the batter while stealing second and third is no sweat.

The Reds are Going to Gamble on the Basepaths

There’s a thin line between aggressive and reckless baserunning and the Reds flirt with it nightly. Personally, I want Elly to be as aggressive as he is comfortable with. I know he’ll run himself into some outs but when you tally up the positive results and the negative results I’d expect 2/3 will be positive. Of course, there’s caveats to any situation. Stealing third with no outs is a little difficult for me to get behind. Single likely scores him either way.

For better or for worse, the Reds will push the envelope. We saw a hit and run turn into a double play. We’ve seen taking the extra base pay off. Testing outfield arms is usually a worthwhile risk. When your offense is struggling, like the Reds have at times, manufacturing runs in other ways might be your best bet.

Expectations for the Rest of the Year

The magical start to finish first place dream was thrown out the window after knowing three regular would miss significant time. Hell, you could argue it was never in play but I’ll let myself be a fan.

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As we sit here today, losses piling up, the Reds need to start kicking before they drown. It’s been ugly, and the group of players isn’t going to change much right now. Best bet is to see if you can be around .500 come the return of Marte. Jeimer Candelario is starting to play better and Marte added to this lineup does help.

The rotation is good enough to keep the team from a downward spiral. I believe they can be around .500 after this difficult stretch, but it will depend where the Brewers and Cubs are to determine if you look to add at the deadline. Having to rely on others teams success is not a great plan, but the reality of the situation.

A 1-9 stretch should be enough to test what this team is made of. Do they crumble? Is David Bell’s messaging stale? What’s the vibe in the clubhouse? You either show some fight and turn it around or we’ll be hearing about the Bengals preseason in July.