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2013 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Mar 24, 2013, 9:43 PM EDT

votto getty Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Question: Is this the Reds’ year?

It certainly has that feel. The Reds tallied 97 wins in 2012 and made a massive roster upgrade this winter, acquiring outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians as part of a three-team, nine-player trade that also involved the Diamondbacks. Shoo boasts a shiny .289/.381/.465 career batting line and will finally bring some stability to Cincinnati’s leadoff spot. Reds leadoff men hit .208/.254/.327 last season.

First baseman Joey Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage for three straight years, Brandon Phillips is probably the best defensive second baseman in the bigs and has averaged 21 homers per season since 2006. Ryan Ludwick, who was re-signed to a two-year, $15 million free agent contract in December, posted an .877 OPS, 26 home runs and 80 RBI in 125 games last summer. Right fielder Jay Bruce carries MVP upside, Todd Frazier brings the thunder at third base and Zack Cozart has flashed good power potential while playing a fine shortstop. Then there’s catcher Ryan Hanigan, who owns a .370 career OBP and draws rave reviews from those in the know for the way he handles the Cincinnati pitching staff.

The Reds also have decent depth in young backup catcher Devin Mesoraco and outfielder Chris Heisey. Utility infielder Jason Donald came over in the Choo trade and Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent.

This is a team with ample big bats and a home stadium that caters well to raw power. Boom, suckas.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The outfield defense is iffy. Choo has started only 10 games in center field in his eight-year major league career, but that’s where he’ll play the majority of the time in 2013. Ludwick has good instincts, but he turns 35 years old in July and isn’t suddenly going to gain more defensive range. Bruce possesses a big arm but can’t be considered speedy. The group should do fine at Great American Ball Park — where the dimensions are tight — but there might be some unintentional comedy this year on the road.
  • The Reds’ top-five starters only missed one total outing in 2012 — and it was the nightcap of a mid-August doubleheader. That crew carries good health into 2013 and should again be one of the better rotations in the National League. Johnny Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting last year after posting a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 170/49 K/BB ratio across 217 innings. Mat Latos was also excellent, posting a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 185/64 K/BB ratio in 209 1/3 frames. Bronson Arroyo continued his inning-eating ways, Homer Bailey took a leap forward and Mike Leake was solid in bringing up the rear.
  • Aroldis Chapman was expected to finally make the transition from reliever to starter this spring, but the Reds cut the chord on that plan earlier this month. The flame-throwing lefty expressed a desire to remain in the bullpen and it’s what manager Dusty Baker wanted. Chapman’s value can be better maximized when he’s throwing more innings, but feeling comfortable is important too and he should again excel in the ninth-inning role. Setting him up this year will be Jonathan Broxton, who was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract this winter, and Sean Marshall, one of the steadiest middle relievers in the game.
  • Start stocking up on popcorn for the Billy Hamilton show. The 22-year-old speedster is converting from shortstop to center field and is scheduled to make his MLB debut at some point in 2013. He stole a record 155 bases in 132 games last season between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola while managing to hit .311/.410/.420. Baseball America ranks him the 11th-best prospect in the sport.

Prediction: First place in the National League Central, surpassing 100 victories.

  1. maldenmo - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:09 PM

    Now that’s what I’m talking about. Glad to see the writers are finally getting it right. GO REDS!

  2. tjg25 - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    Dusty is still the manager right? Welp that that answers the question of if it’s the Reds’ year.

  3. fukpittsburgh - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    Why the hell did you wait to do the AL East last?

    • spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:40 PM

      Why Not?

    • proudlycanadian - Mar 25, 2013 at 7:23 AM

      Got to leave the Beast to last. The drama going on in NY and Boston requires a big buildup.

    • aceshigh11 - Mar 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM

      It’s a simple case of dramatic buildup.

      Even though the NYY/Sox rivalry is played-out (IMO), it still fires a lot of people up. Saving it for last ensures that more people will wait for it and read it when it finally arrives.

  4. redguy12588 - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    Reds won’t get so lucky with injuries again. I’m thinking closer to 93 wins.

    • C Heinen - Mar 28, 2013 at 12:02 PM

      So lucky with injuries again? They lost the best player in the NL for a month and a half and lost his power for pretty much the second half of the season. It is amazing they did as well as they did losing a player of that importance. If Votto stays healthy all year, watch out!

      • redguy12588 - Mar 28, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        And ludwick was ridiculous over that span he was out. Don’t count on that again. And votto has never had 600 ab’s in his career. He’s an injury prone guy with bad knees.

  5. spudchukar - Mar 24, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    Surpassing 100 victories rarely happens, and while the Reds are talented, their starting pitching, outfield defense, light-hitting left side of the infield, so-so catching and only 5 offensive threats in the starting line-up make the likelihood doubtful. 93-95 is a more reasonable expectation.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:03 PM

      Don’t forget, they don’t get to beat up on the Astros for 18 games either.

      • okwhitefalcon - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:51 PM

        They’ll probably win the division and will probably not finish in the top half of MLB in attendance…again.

    • cggarb - Mar 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but your analysis is pretty weak, beyond the critique of the outfield defense.

      – Starting pitching — the Reds led the NL in ERA+ last year. Yes, the bullpen was great, but they also threw fewer bullpen innings than any other team. Starting pitching is a significant strength, and is superior to everyone but Washington.

      – Left side of the IF — Frazier’s 2012 OPS (829) ranked in the upper third of NL 3bs; Cozart (687) was in the top half. That’s not “light hitting.”

      – So-so catching — The article explains that Ryan Hanigan has a .370 OBP. He’s also very good defensively. He has no power, but he’s not “so-so.”

      – “Only 5 offensive threats in the starting lineup.” As a preliminary matter, I’m not sure who you’re excluding, other than Cozart and Hanigan. Are you writing off Ludwick or Phillips? But anyway, is there a team in the NL that has more than 5 “offensive threats”?

      Again, I think the Reds will be hard pressed to win 100 games – mostly because every team is hard pressed to do that, and they were extremely fortunate with pitching health last year. But I don’t think the specific criticisms hold up.

      • spudchukar - Mar 25, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        We all know what the Reds starters did in 2012. They also made 96% of the starts, a stat that is almost certain not to be duplicated in 2013. I also seriously doubt San Francisco would trade their starting 5 for Cincinnati quintet.

        Frazier post remarkable numbers in 1/2 a season. His minor league history indicates he won’t be able to replicate that in 2013. Cozart looked to be the answer in 2011, but teams seemed to have figured him out and he struggled in the second half of 2013 mightily. So I stand by the phrase. Plus .687 OPS is lame. Hanigan’s is only .703, he becomes so-so cause he is slightly better than average defensively.

        So when one gets to the bottom of the Reds line-up it goes Frazier, Hanigan, Cozart and the pitchers spot, that leaves 5, count it 5, threats, and 4 non-threats.

  6. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 24, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    the Reds, in the NL last year, were:

    7th – wOBA
    10th – wRC+

    t-1st – ERA
    5th – FIP

    As others have mentioned, I doubt the pitching health will last, so those pitching stats will take a slight regression. Not sure how you figure they’ll surpass 100 wins.

    • cggarb - Mar 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      Fair questions. Though replacing Drew Stubbs’ .277 OBP with Choo’s .381 will certainly help.

      • spudchukar - Mar 25, 2013 at 12:21 PM

        They better score more runs with Choo, cause they are going to need to with him in Centerfield.

  7. kicksave1980 - Mar 25, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    As a St. Louisan that now lives in Cincinnati, I’m looking forward to the rivalry this year. It is kinda funny though…when I moved to Cincinnati 6 years ago, you could shoot a cannon through GABP and not hit anyone. Now everyone is a die-hard…

    • Uncle Charlie - Mar 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      Yikes truth is a scary thing. My wife’s side of the family are all Reds fans, I still root foot the Cubs. When the Cubs clinched the division in 2008 it was like Wrigley south. Marty wouldn’t shut up about how there were only a thousand Reds fans at the park. It was like that until 2010.

  8. whitdog23 - Mar 25, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    a preview first or last.. who cares?? means ZERO

  9. dirtydrew - Mar 25, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    What about the fact Dusty Baker is the worst big game manager in baseball. He chocked game 162 in 93′, he choked a 1 game playoff in 98′ vs the cursed Cubs.He blew the World Series in ’02. And let’s not forget the bang up job last year in the playoffs. Oh yeah, I forgot Bartman.

    • cggarb - Mar 25, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      It’s true. He never should’ve given up that grand slam to Posey.

      • Aaron - Mar 25, 2013 at 1:55 PM

        I hate this line of argument. It does nothing but stifles debate.

        Of course, Baker didn’t give up the grand slam. He did, however, leave Latos in to give it up, even though it was obvious he was melting down.

        Baker was also the one that stuck with Rolen over Frazier. Remember how good of a series Rolen had? He couldn’t hit or field.

        Baker’s People Skills seem to have some value during the lengthy regular season. But when tactics really start to matter in the playoffs, he has continually come up short.

  10. gibbyfan - Mar 25, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    No question the REds look great –Chapman is awesome–sure wish the Cards had signed him–that one thing could have made all the difference

  11. sfm073 - Mar 25, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    And yet they’ll still be one and done in the playoffs. Ludwick won’t play more than 60 games, 2 or more starters will miss half their starts and Brandon Phillips will begin is decline as a player.

    • jm91rs - Mar 26, 2013 at 3:08 PM

      Cards fan I take it?

  12. metalhead65 - Mar 25, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    they have a chance to be great this year if dusty can somehow after all these years change his ways. you have a great bullpen use it! stop trying to get that extra inning from a starter who clearly does not have it anymore. you would think he would have leaned this by now after having to take the same pitcher out after surrendering the tying or go ahead runs. next stop resting the hot bat so the cold one on the bench can get luke warm strategy that you used for everyone but drew stubbs last year. that is one thing choo or hamilton will never have to worry about as long as dusty is manager. if you have speed you play no matter how bad you suck. not that he will let you use that speed to steal bases,we can’t have the bases clogged doing that can we?

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 26, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Wow. I don’t believe my eyes. He’s baaack!

    • jm91rs - Mar 26, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      Seems a little down on Dusty, but I did laugh about the cold bats comment. It’s funny how he thinks riding the cold bat til it’s hot makes more sense than riding the hot bat til it’s cold. Jay Bruce is going 3 for 4 every day for a week? Sit him on the bench and let Heisey try to get warm. The guy pushes a lot of buttons wrong, but he pushes a lot more right I guess. I have faith.

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