The Cincinnati Reds have been to each of the last two postseasons; the club has a gorgeous ballpark, eager fans, and perhaps the most exciting player in the game. The Reds have a top-five starter, a reliever with a fastball that should be arrested, and a manager who is not Dusty Baker. This paragraph alone probably warrants having a pool party in the Ohio River.
And yet, the Reds stink. They've turned Great American Ballpark into Just Kinda Alright American Ballpark. The team stands at 71-82, fourth in the NL Central, behind the Marlins, Mets, and Padres in the Wild Card standings. Cincinnati went 90-72 last year. Uhhh, what happened?
The simple and prudent things to say are that Joey Votto got hurt and Jay Bruce got Space Jam'd. But teams have withstood injury before. Cincinnati's own divisional brethren, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, endured stretches without their premier players, Yadier Molina and Andrew McCutchen, and emerged with winning records. But to succeed with so little room for error -- with Votto languishing on the disabled list and Bruce hitting like a post-alien invasion Muggsy Bogues -- requires precise roster construction, and guys playing really good baseball.
What went right
We'll start here, because some things have gone swimmingly in the GABP this summer. Todd Frazier has gone swimming in home run balls, cranking 26 to go along with a .277/.337/.454 slash line (Frazier's OPS of .791 is below his breakout rookie season's .829, though). Devin Mesoraco is a beast, hitting 23 homers himself, while posting a ridiculous .901 OPS. Johnny Cueto has a 3.29 FIP in a career-high 227 innings. Aroldis Chapman has struck out 17.6 batter per nine (that number is LOL-worthy). Billy Hamilton is fast.
The team let Shin-Soo Choo walk in the offseason, which was probably smart ($130 million over seven years!). The Reds instead put all their centerfielding eggs into one awfully speedy basket, and Billy Hamilton has been a mixed bag -- or, he's scrambled those eggs, if you will. Hamilton, whose ehhh bat was supposed to be why he'd never make it to the bigs, has hit better than expected -- just not good enough. He's hit .256, which is alright, but the leadoff man has been on base just .298 percent of the time, which is not good enough for someone who can and will steal 100% of the time. In his last Cincinnati year, Choo's OBP was .423. They could build another Ohio River between Choo's and Hamilton's on-base percentages.
The Reds also have experienced overall offensive regression throughout the non-Frazier and Mesoraco portions of their roster. Zack Cozart, a key cog in last year's offensive attack (.254 with 12 home runs in 2013), has plummeted, slugging just .297 (!) this year. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati's longtime second baseman, has slugged a not-that-much-better .366, with just 7 home runs (he hit 18 in '13).
And this is to say nothing of Jay Bruce, who has faltered in every statistic Bill James ever dreamed of. His splits (.213/.282/.364) are way down from last year (.262/.329/.478), he's cut his homers in half (from 30 to 16). Bruce has struck out only slightly more often this year, though (a 27.4 K% compared to last year's 26.5). What's really hurt the formerly-slugging right fielder is his disproportionate groundball/flyball percentage (1.38, compared to 0.93 last year), and a resulting .267 BABIP (.322 in 2013). Bruce is making just about the same amount of contact -- he's just hitting it weakly, and on the ground.
Add all this to the looming specter of Joey Votto's missing production, and it all adds up to a not-so-great season at Great American Ballpark.