The Reds Have Been the Anti-Cubs

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If we can take some liberties with this, let’s describe the Cubs as an action. An extremely powerful and overwhelming action! It’s an action that seems borderline unstoppable. With that in mind, the opposite of the Cubs is the Reds. The Cubs have been good at pretty much everything. The Reds, meanwhile, have been bad at everything.

You can stop there if you want. You already have the idea, and what follows below is just filling out the picture. Cubs good, Reds bad. I’m just fascinated by the magnitude and diversity of the bad. Before the year, I had the Reds pegged as the seemingly bad team with the best chance of being a decent team. I stand by what I believed, but that’s just not how it’s playing out. The Reds have been a spectacular mess, and though the Braves and perhaps the Twins have commanded the everything-sucks headline genre, the Reds have probably been worse. The Reds have been the worst.

There’s one particular way I want to show this, but we might as well get the simpler stuff out of the way. The Reds own baseball’s third-worst winning percentage. However, they own baseball’s worst run differential, and their BaseRuns record puts them in last place. By BaseRuns, the Reds should be 13-34, with the Braves next-worst at 14-31. That’s two games better! The Braves used to be the team that made me laugh a cruel laugh, but now the Reds have taken the honor, and here’s why — they’ve probably been lucky to have a run differential of -96. BaseRuns puts their estimated run differential at -109. The Reds have somehow been horrible and fortunate.

This shouldn’t surprise you, but given that the Reds have been the worst, they also have the lowest team WAR. They are the only team that has been, by our measures, worse than replacement-level. The Reds have a combined team WAR of -3.1; the Braves are at 0.0, and the A’s are at +1.3. Somehow, the Reds have gotten here despite a strong start by Zack Cozart, and despite a surprising performance by Adam Duvall. The seemingly invulnerable Joey Votto stands with a WAR of 0.0. Jay Bruce’s offense is back on track, but his defense has more than canceled it out. I could keep going, but that would be mean. I don’t want to pick on individuals. I just want to show you what the team has done as a whole.

Let’s go back to the headline now. The Reds as the anti-Cubs. The Cubs seem to have countless team strengths; the Reds would appear to have none of them. What I did is break things down in five categories. For team position players, I looked at wRC+, baserunning, and defense, where for defense I just combined DRS and UZR into one figure. Then for each team I folded in starting-pitcher WAR, and then relief-pitcher WAR. I ranked every team in all five categories, and then I calculated the overall average rank. This is not a direct measure of team ability — baserunning, for example, is far less important than hitting. But this captures well-roundedness, or the lack thereof. Anyway, the image:


The Cubs have an average team rank of 5.6. That’s the best in the league, and only the bullpen has been a relative weakness. The Cubs are in the top four in the other four categories. So, that’s a team that does almost everything right. Now look at the other side of the plot. In this plot, a tall bar is a bad bar. The Reds have an average team rank of 28.0. The Braves are separated by 3.4 points. The Reds are in the bottom five in all five categories, and in three, they’re in the bottom three. They’re dead last in starter WAR and reliever WAR. Everything has been bad. At least the Braves have gotten decent relief. At least the Padres have been awesome at running the bases.

The Reds aren’t the worst team in baseball directly because of this, but this is a great way to be the worst team in baseball. And, yeah, people are right when they tell you the idea this year was never to win — the Reds are rebuilding. Things suck when you rebuild. But no one wants to put this kind of product on the field. You can at least sell rebuilding as being in the fans’ best interests. A team this bad is more like a direct assault on fan loyalty. The Reds, in theory, should improve from now on, if the projections are to be believed, yet train wrecks leave an impression. This stretch of Reds baseball might be tough to forget.

Again, they should get better. Votto, say, should get better. They’re all, if only by definition, major-league players. But right now, Reds position players have a negative WAR, and Reds pitchers have a negative WAR. There have been negative-WAR teams, but not since at least 1900 has there been a team with negative WAR in both areas. Here’s a table of the Reds, and of the teams that’ve come closest:

Some Really Bad Teams, by WAR
Team Season Hitters Pitchers
Reds 2016* -0.8 -2.3
Padres 1974 0.8 1.9
Tigers 2003 -1.2 2.9
Astros 2013 1.0 2.0
Tigers 1996 0.2 2.9
Mets 1963 -4.6 3.1
Athletics 1954 -2.5 3.9
Mets 1965 -0.2 4.9
This is a table of teams that have threatened to have negative position-player WAR and pitcher WAR. The Reds’ season, of course, is incomplete. (That might be too bad for them.)

The Reds haven’t hit. When they’ve gotten on base, they haven’t run successfully. They haven’t turned enough balls in play into outs, and that’s rough news for what’s been a bad rotation and an even worse bullpen. Realistically speaking, teams don’t perform worse than this. You’ve gotten used to the Braves being lousy. You’ve taken time to feel bad for the Twins. Don’t forget about the Reds. Unless, I suppose, you’re a fan of the Reds.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Die hard Reds fan here. I started the 2nd week of the season, tuning in just to watch Votto hit, but now, I don’t even do that. Now, I just turn on Dodger home games. But in 2018, they’ll be adequate. I have a 2 year old daughter who is adorable and makes me laugh and that is more than enough for me.

5 years ago

Hope you can appreciate this line that I am repeating from another sites post, “The Reds will be lucky to finish 5th.”