Disclaimer: All stats referenced are as of 8/25/2020 before play.
The 2020 season for the Cincinnati Reds has been defined by a combination of under-performing players and bad luck. Once projected as the favorites in the NL Central, the Reds find themselves in fourth place in the division with a 11-17 record. Looking ahead, 26 of the remaining 32 games on the Reds schedule are against NL Central opponents, including a stretch of 24 in a row from now until September 16th. If the Reds don’t turn things around soon, they might dig themselves into a hole they can’t get out of in this shortened season. The Reds have two paths to choose from as the trade deadline inches closer, they can buy, hoping the new addition(s) will be enough to turn things around, or they can sell some of their valuable pieces on expiring deals to set themselves up to compete in 2021.
If the Reds decide to sell, two players immediately stand out as guys to move: Anthony DeSclafani and Trevor Bauer. Both pitchers find themselves on expiring deals and could help bolster a rotation for a competitive team. The numbers on Anthony DeSclafani are skewed heavily by a start against the Pittsburgh Pirates where Disco gave up nine runs in two innings. It later came out that DeSclafani was tipping his pitches during the game, but, when healthy, DeSclafani has quietly been one of the Reds’ best pitchers over the last five seasons, compiling 8.5 fWAR over 607 IP. While DeSclafani likely doesn’t bring back the kind of return Trevor Bauer would, especially in a shortened season, it would still be more than they get if he walks at the end of the season.
The second player the Reds should move if they decide to sell is Trevor Bauer. If made available, Bauer will be one of the most coveted players on the trade market this deadline. In 32.2 IP, Bauer has a 1.65 ERA with a strike out rate of 39.8% and a walk rate of 7.3%. Bauer has accumulated 1.2 fWAR in his five starts and sports a LOB% of 98%. Unfortunately, the return on a Bauer trade would not be nearly what it would be in a regular season, as he essentially would be a 30-game (plus playoffs) rental. If the Reds move Bauer, it would likely be for more MLB-ready talent that would be ready for 2021, if not sooner.
On the other hand, the Reds front office could decide to go all in with this team. With the expanded playoffs, it’s likely the Reds could fight their way into the playoffs, and once they are in, they will be a force to be reckoned with because of their strong rotation. So, what would the Reds need to target?
The first piece the Reds should target is another arm for the bullpen. On paper, the Reds bullpen looked solid coming into the 2020 season, but it was filled with guys who were going to have to prove themselves. Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett have dealt with inconsistency in the past, Pedro Strop and Nate Jones were coming off seasons where they dealt with injuries, and Raisel Iglesias had yet to overcome his struggles in non-save situations. So far in 2020, outside of a few bright spots, the bullpen has struggled with inconsistency and injury. Now, Pedro Strop is on the IL, Robert Stephenson is recently removed from the IL and has yet to pitch since returning, and in 82 IP the bullpen has combined for a 5.60 ERA. If the Reds can add a dependable reliever to stabilize the bullpen, they have a real shot at turning things around.
The other piece the Reds should look to add is a right-handed bat for the lineup. Outside of Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos, the Reds offense has struggled. As a team, they are slashing .205/.310/.401. Tucker Barnhart, Phil Ervin, Josh VanMeter, Christian Colon, and Travis Jankowski all have a wRC+ of 35 or lower, with VanMeter, Colon, and Jankowski all in the negative. Couple that with Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel both missing significant amounts of time along with early struggles from Eugenio Suarez and Shogo Akiyama, and it makes sense why they Reds offense has struggled the way it has.
What also must be taken into consideration is the affect the shift is having on left-handed batters. Steve Mancuso, from Reds Content Plus, recently wrote an article breaking down the effect which can be read in full here. The main takeaway is that, league-wide, there is a much larger gap in batting average (BA) and expected batting average (xBA) than ever before. In the case of the Reds left-handed hitters, that difference is about 40 points. Some hitters have been affected more than others. For instance, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has a xBA of .273 but is only hitting .207. The large gap can be attributed to teams shifting an infielder into shallow right field against lefties at a higher rate, allowing them to take away more ground ball and line drive singles. Right-handed hitters are facing the shift more often as well, but it isn’t quite as effective because teams are unable to play an infielder in shallow left field.
The Reds could add two righties to their lineup immediately by recalling Tyler Stephenson and Aristides Aquino, but Stephenson only has three at-bats at the MLB level and Aquino really struggled at the end of the 2019 season, so it would be hard to count on them to turn the Reds struggles around. The addition of another MLB-proven right-handed bat could be just what the Reds need to help counteract their bad luck on balls in play.
This next week will be a huge for the Reds, as it will likely define the rest of the season. If they can get hot, then it could persuade the Reds front office to add to the current roster and fight for a playoff spot. If they continue to underperform, then it could mean saying goodbye to some players on expiring deals, and looking ahead to 2021. Ultimately, because of the expanded playoffs this season, the Reds should look to add as they only need to be one of the top eight teams in the NL, but the teams performance this next week will be very telling.
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