10 reasons for Hope and Optimism with the 2021 Cincinnati Reds

10 reasons for Hope and Optimism with the 2021 Cincinnati Reds

Last night, I invoked my yearly rule of Hope and Optimism with the Reds.

If you can't find hope and optimism in your team at this time of year then you should pick another team.

As anticipated, I received a great deal of pushback. Many fans defended their right to be pessimistic about the 2021 Reds. I get it.

I've been asked about the reasons to be optimistic about the Reds? Well, here you go.

Market correction: The offense will be better. It certainly can’t be worse after the Reds hit .212 a year ago, the lowest in franchise history. The team batting average on balls in play (.245) last year was so far out of whack there has to be a correction. Their BABIP was 21 points worse than any other team. That number should move closer to last year’s ML average of .292. It’s an offense primed for a collective return to the back of its baseball card.

More approachable: This offseason, Mike Moustakas, Barry Larkin and David Bell have each spoken about a ‘refocused’ approach at the plate for the Reds. Larkin referred to the Reds learning from being ‘exposed’ by pitchers last season. Bell has talked about grinding and battling during at-bats, hitting the ball hard and hitting line drives.

Table setter: With a season under his belt to get him more comfortable and confident, Shogo Akiyama should be better positioned to jumpstart the offense from the leadoff spot. He struggled, hitting just .183-.264-.232-.495 in his first 27 games last season. But he adjusted and settled in to hit .315-.451-.370-.820 over his final 27 games. In September, he led the team in hits (20), batting average (.317) and on-base percentage (.456).

Tag teams: More teams than not would take a top of the rotation that includes Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The same can be said for Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims as power arms to close out games. The Reds certainly have questions to answer in rounding out the rotation and pen, but those four arms are solid starting points.

Bounce back candidate: Eugenio Suarez had a nightmare 2020. It started with an offseason shoulder injury suffered in his swimming pool. It ended with an embarrassing .202 batting average. In between, he was hindered by shoulder surgery recovery and what certainly appeared to be weight gain. The start/stop/quarantine of spring training followed by just a two-week ramp up to the re-start was a recipe for a disaster season. His batting average was 59 points of his career average. His slugging plunged from .572 to .470. David Bell spoke to his new approach this offseason and the great shape he’s in.

Breakout candidate: 25-year old Tyler Mahle took a big step forward in 2021. He become less hittable with the league batting just .198 against him, a drop from .266 the previous season. His strikeouts per nine innings spiked from 9.0 to 11.3. His ERA was better than Sonny Gray (3.59-3.70). Mahle didn’t allow a home run over his last four appearances. He has said pitching coach Derek Johnson “saved him”. Mahle will really begin to reward Johnson’s work this season.

Self-discovery: Joey Votto tinkered and tweaked and finally something clicked with his swing. His OPS of .857 in September showed reason for optimism. He clubbed five home runs with an OPS of 1.000 over his final 16 games. He 11 home runs in 54 games projects to 33 over a full season. He matched Trevor Story in homers and outhomered the likes of Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor.

The swinger: Tejay Antone is the perfect chess piece in a season where teams will struggle to navigate and cover innings with the jump from 60 to 162 games. He splashed onto the ML scene last season and showed versatility and flexibility as he started and relieved. He pitched in every inning but the 9th inning. And offered multiple innings of relief work in six of his nine appearances.

A Wink(er) and a nod: Jesse Winker his entering the prime of his career. The 26-year old is coming off a season where led the team in on-base percentage (.388), slugging percentage (.544) and OPS (.932). His OPS+ of 142 showed a performer 42% better than the league.

The division: Most preseason projections toss a blanket over four teams in the NL Central (sorry, Pirates). The perceived front-running Cardinals have been projected to win the Central with as few as 85 games. Vegas has set the Reds total at 79.5. My Butler math tells me that’s a 5.5 games cap. That’s certainly doable. That’s within slam range (hat tip Brandon Sosna)…..a hot streak away.

Thoughts? Did I leave anything/anyone out?

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