2019 Record: 75-87
Fourth Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.18 ERA (8th in MLB)
Team OPS: .738 (21st in MLB)
What Went Right
The Reds broke a string of four consecutive last-place finishes in the National League Central by posting their best record since 2014. They still have a long way to go to turn themselves into a playoff contender, but the seeds of success have been sown. They made great strides with their pitching staff this year, finishing in the top half of the league in ERA for the first time since the 2013 season. New pitching coach Derek Johnson worked wonders with starters Sonny Gray (2.87 ERA), Luis Castillo (3.40 ERA) and Anthony DeSclafani (3.89 ERA). The Reds also got breakout seasons from relievers Michael Lorenzen (2.92 ERA, seven saves), Robert Stephenson (3.76 ERA, 81 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings) and Amir Garrett (3.21 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 56 innings). Third baseman Eugenio Suarez set a new National League record for home runs by a third baseman with 49 round-trippers, one more than Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt hit for the Phillies back in 1980. Rookie outfielder Aristides Aquino modified his swing during spring training and surged to a huge breakout season in the minors and kept right on rolling in the majors. He hit 19 home runs in just 57 games and was named the National League Player of the Month in August. Outfielder Yasiel Puig hit 22 home runs and stole 14 bases before being traded to the Indians for Trevor Bauer at the deadline.
What went Wrong
Hitting has been the Reds' strength through good times and bad but the offense went south in 2019. Aging superstar Joey Votto saw his performance tank this year. His .768 OPS was not bad but it wasn't anywhere near his normal level of elite production. Promising youngster Jesse Winker hit well with an .830 OPS but struggled to stay on the field due to a back injury. Second baseman Derek Dietrich hit 18 home runs in the first half and just one after the All Star break. Rookie center fielder Nick Senzel has been injury-plagued throughout his professional career and this year was no exception. He was limited to 104 games and didn't play in the month of September due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery and could even threaten his availability for Opening Day 2020. Closer Raisel Iglesias struggled at times -- he notched 34 saves but lost 12 games, which is a mind-boggling total for a relief pitcher. The Reds acquired Trevor Bauer in a deadline trade with the Indians and he struggled badly, going 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts. Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were rock-solid relievers in 2018 but both of them got hammered in 2019 before being released. The Reds made one of the biggest trades of last offseason, swapping Homer Bailey and two prospects for Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Kyle Farmer and Matt Kemp. Bad contracts went both ways but the Reds viewed Alex Wood as the prize of the trade. Wood ended up missing nearly all of the season due to a back injury and pitched poorly in the seven games he was able to start. To make matters worse from the Reds' perspective, the two prospects they gave up -- Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray -- both developed into top 100 prospects in baseball this year for the Dodgers.
** Have we seen the last of Joey Votto as a fantasy asset? After a decade as a perennial first-round pick in fantasy drafts Votto has now put up back-to-back mediocre seasons. Combine the poor results with his advanced age and he seems like a poor bet moving forward. Some of the blame for his down 2019 season can be pinned on a back ailment that plagued him throughout the season, but most 36-year-old athletes have chronic health problems that affect their play to the end of their careers -- there is no reason to believe that Votto will be fully healthy in 2020 either. On the other hand Votto is likely to be very cheap on draft day this coming spring and could bounce back enough to provide a solid return on a late-round investment. There are players older than Votto who are still stalwarts in fantasy lineups -- Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols and Shin-Soo Choo are some examples.
** Eugenio Suarez has cemented himself as a top-notch fantasy third baseman and an under-appreciated fantasy hitter. He ranked second in the major leagues with 49 home runs this year and slashed .271/.358/.572 with 103 RBI. If the Reds improve the lineup around him next year he could easily drive in and score more runs. At 28 years of age he should continue to play at this level for at least a few more years.
** Aristides Aquino was called up to the majors on August 1st and immediately made a splash. In his first month in the league he batted .320 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI in 29 games. He cooled off tremendously in September but his rookie season was a huge success no matter how you slice it. Overall he slashed .259/.316/.576 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI in just 56 games. He is clearly not an all-or-nothing slugger -- he can do it all on a baseball field. He is fast and covers a lot of ground in the outfield. He has a laser-rocket arm in right field as well. Many people may have missed that he stole seven bases without getting caught. Aquino completely overhauled his swing in spring training and it worked out beautifully. He missed a month early in the minor league season with a shoulder injury but caught fire soon after that, bashing 28 home runs in just 78 games at pitcher-friendly Triple-A Louisville. Many fantasy owners will write off Aquino's hot start as a one-month fluke but this kid can play.
** Jesse Winker was a sleeper in drafts last spring but didn't deliver the goods for his fantasy owners this year. He missed big chunks of the season with a back injury and was often platooned in left field. His .269/.357/.473 slash line was decent but his owners were expecting a much better batting average and on-base percentage. Winker is a liability on defense and that could end up costing him playing time down the road. He doesn't steal bases either. While it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him win a batting title someday or lead the majors in on-base percentage, his lack of power and speed slams the brakes on his overall fantasy potential.
** Nick Senzel was the second overall pick of the 2016 draft and has been a mainstay on top prospect lists ever since. He has suffered multiple injuries every year of his professional career. His rookie season came to an end after 104 games due to a torn labrum. He has the potential to develop into a star but his real-life value may exceed his fantasy value. He should be able to contribute solidly across the board without excelling in any individual categories. Fantasy owners would be wise to let him prove he can play a full season at a high level before investing too heavily in Senzel.
** Josh VanMeter put up some huge numbers in the minors early in the season before getting called to the majors. He hit well for stretches and could develop into a useful fantasy hitter if given enough playing time. He was used in a platoon role at second base and left field for most of the season and provided good pop and speed. The Reds are likely to spend some money to upgrade their hitting on the free agent market this winter and their top priorities are outfield and second base. If they do bring in a proven bat it is likely that VanMeter will find himself on the bench on Opening Day.
** The Reds acquired Sonny Gray prior to the season in a trade with the Yankees. It proved to be a brilliant move as Gray worked with new pitching coach Derek Johnson and emerged as a true ace, the first one the Reds have had since Johnny Cueto departed. Gray went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts. He set a new career high with 205 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings. The one knock against Gray is that he rarely went deep into games. He burns a lot of pitches nibbling around the corners and refuses to give in to hitters with a fastball over the heart of the plate. It is hard to accumulate a lot of wins without pitching deep into games and that will put a cap on his fantasy value.
** In terms of pure stuff Luis Castillo is one of the most talented pitchers in the major leagues. He can hit 99 miles per hour with his fastball and has perhaps the best changeup in baseball. He went 15-8 with a 3.40 ERA and struck out 226 batters in 190 2/3 innings. As he gains experience he should develop more consistency and maybe a third plus pitch. He has Cy Young potential.
** Trevor Bauer is one of the smartest and most analytical pitchers in the league. He was an early proponent of pitch tunneling, spin rates and pitch modeling. He has been working with Driveline Baseball for years and will now have the advantage of Driveline founder Kyle Boddy's tutelage throughout the season. The Reds hired Boddy as their new pitching coordinator in October. Bauer was fantastic in 2018, going 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA in 27 starts before suffering a season-ending injury when he was hit in the ankle by a line drive. 2019 was a different story -- he went 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA in 34 starts overall. He was traded from the Indians to the Reds at the deadline and his performance nose-dived from then on. He went 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts for the Reds. The downturn was a bit fluky however because his strikeout and walk rates actually improved after the trade. His BABIP spiked and his strand rate plummeted -- two things that are largely outside of the pitcher's direct control. He did serve up a rash of home runs and he will need to fix that issue as he heads into a full season at Great American Ball Park. Bauer's rough finish to the season will likely hold his draft day price down more than it should. As long he is healthy he should be considered one of the better starting pitchers in baseball.
** Closer Raisel Iglesias drove Reds fans and his fantasy owners bonkers with his inconsistency. He fared well in save situations but got shelled in tie games and other non-save situations. He saved 34 games and struck out 89 batters in 67 innings but he had a 3-12 record and a 4.16 ERA. He put up the best strikeout and walk rates of his career but gave up a ton of fly balls and served up homers at the worst possible times. He has proven himself as a reliable closer over the last three seasons and will likely keep the ninth inning role for the Reds throughout next season despite his misadventures in 2019.
Team Needs: The Reds have said they will be players on the free agent market this winter to a far greater degree than they ever have been before. They have big holes at shortstop and second base. The club will likely bring back Freddy Galvis but he is more likely to be a backup than a starter if the Reds are successful in their search for an offensive upgrade. Jose Iglesias is a free agent and is unlikely to return. Iglesias was signed to a minor league deal last offseason but thanks to an injury to Scooter Gennett he was pressed into duty as the starting shortstop and hit much better than expected, although that is not likely to happen again next year given his track record. His glovework is top-notch as well. The Reds would love to have Iglesias back but his price will be much higher and the Reds would prefer to spend their money on a more impactful hitter. The team would also like to add a big bat for left field. The starting rotation looks good with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Mahle. They could look to add one more starter. They will look to add veteran depth to their bullpen. The Reds are also in the market for an upgrade at catcher and could make a run at Yasmani Grandal, who began his career in the Reds' minor league system after being drafted in the first round in 2010.