2023 Cincinnati Reds MLB season predictions, odds and preview

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Cincinnati Reds 2023 Season Preview

The burning question—or maybe the raging inferno question—is whether or not 62-100 was rock bottom for the Cincinnati Reds. This proud and storied franchise hadn’t lost 100 games since 1982 and the 40-year anniversary of that season marked just the second time ever that the Reds lost 100 games.

 

Cincinnati used 66 different players last season and 38 different pitchers. Both numbers were far and away the highest in franchise history. The Reds were 83-79 in 2021 and 31-29 in the COVID year, but they had six straight losing seasons prior to that. Those 90-win teams of the early 2010s feel like an eternity ago and the 2023 season will feel like it takes an eternity.

The Reds have one of the lowest season win total lines and one of the lowest ceilings in baseball. This season is about the development of the Big Three in the rotation with Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft, as well as prospects like Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer and Noelvi Marte.

After trading away Luis Castillo, Brandon Drury, Tommy Pham and Tyler Mahle at last year’s Trade Deadline, this is a roster that could look vastly different in August than it does in April once again.

Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.

2023 Cincinnati Reds Odds

(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 18, click for updates)

World Series: +20000
NL Pennant: +10000
NL Central: +6000
Win Total: 65.5 (-120/+100)
Make Playoffs: Yes +1800 / No -5000

Cincinnati Reds Offense

There are a few interesting players to follow on the Major League roster and there are some guys with a lot of tools knocking on the door. Great American Ball Park is essentially Coors Field East, but opponents took way more advantage of the friendly hitting conditions than the Reds did, as Cincinnati gave up 420 runs (5.2 R/G) at home. The Reds did score 367 runs at home (4.5) compared to 281 runs on the road (3.5), so the park factor did play to their advantage, but not nearly enough.

wRC+ is a park-adjusted stat, which is part of the reason why Cincinnati was 27th in that metric last season. They had an 84 wRC+, which means they were 16% below league average. When you consider that the Reds only managed a .299 wOBA for the year and had a .316 wOBA at home, it illustrates just how bad of an offense this was. The park can only help so much and the Reds were clearly awful away from GABP. I’m not sure that changes much this season.

Hopefully, Joey Votto is healthier, but I’m not even sure how much punch he can provide at this point. Votto had a 92 wRC+ over 376 plate appearances before spending the second half of the season as a fan and guest commentator. The 39-year-old made some fascinating adjustments in 2021, as he tied a career-high with 36 homers and had the highest Barrel% of his career with a 53.2% Hard Hit%. He was an elite bat with those numbers. C. Trent Rosecrans at The Athletic wrote prior to 2022 about how Votto changed the model of his bat for the first time in hopes of capitalizing on his newfound power.

Well, that backfired badly and then his left shoulder eventually gave out. There is a path in which Votto, who still has elite plate discipline, gets back on track and is a productive bat once again. The Reds have a team option on him for 2024, which will be an interesting decision. It would be a rather unceremonious end to Votto’s career with Cincinnati, but they have no reason to pick it up and only have $6.25 million ($13.25 with Votto’s buyout) on the books in total for 2024.

Votto wasn’t the only promising Red to have a down year and be impacted by injuries. Jonathan India went from a 120 wRC+ in 2021 to a 95 wRC+ in 2022. He walked a lot less and had a huge drop in contact quality, as his Hard Hit% dropped over 9% and his Barrel% was cut in half. India also reportedly added 3 mph to his sprint speed, so he could be an all-around better player this season.

Catcher Tyler Stephenson is a fine player and one in need of better health. He’s a big catcher at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, so the Reds will look to use him as a DH and 1B as well, but he slashed .319/.372/.482 in 183 plate appearances on the heels of a solid 2021 with good offensive and defensive numbers. With better health for those guys, plus maybe more contributions from oft-injured Nick Senzel, the homegrown guys may provide more punch.

The Reds did a good bit of wheeling and dealing last season, picking up Jake Fraley and Spencer Steer in the trades for Castillo and Mahle. Fraley enjoyed his 68 games with Cincinnati, slugging 12 homers with a 121 wRC+. Steer, a top-50 prospect per FanGraphs, struggled to sip his first cup of coffee, but he’s hit at every level of the minors and is a versatile player around the diamond.

This offseason, Cincinnati signed Wil Myers, Kevin Newman, Will Benson and basically a brand new set of reserves. Myers was a buy-low guy off of an injury-shortened season and his power should play up in Cincinnati after eight seasons with the Padres. That’s the hope with Benson, who gets from base-to-base in about two strides but has major contact holes at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.

I guess we could see some of Cincinnati’s top youngsters late in the year, but their impacts will likely come in 2024 or 2025. Elly De La Cruz is a long, lanky shortstop who has gotten compared to Oneil Cruz. He is the Reds’ top prospect and I saw him taking grounders on the back fields in Goodyear prior to checking out a Guardians Spring Training game. I don’t think he’ll stick at short, but his prospect profile has always been tied to what he does with the bat and on the bases. He hit 20 homers and stole 28 bases in High-A last season and added eight bombs and 19 bags for good measure at Double-A.

Noelvi Marte also has the power and speed combo to be a potential impact player at the next level. He’ll likely join De La Cruz in Double-A to start the year, so you may want to watch a lot of Chattanooga Lookouts games when you get the chance. If nothing else, this gives Reds fans a little more hope for the future, even if the present looks iffy.

The Reds seem to be looking to load up on guys with power that work well in Cincinnati, but also guys that can steal bases. Cam Collier is another one with a high power ceiling. Help is coming. It’s just probably not coming in 2023.

Cincinnati Reds Pitching

Some weird things have been happening behind the scenes with the Reds. They hired Kyle Boddy, who created Driveline Baseball in Washington, after the 2019 season to be a consultant and pitching coordinator. He and the organization split after the 2021 season a few months after Senior Director of Player Development Eric Lee left the organization. Cincinnati also saw the departure of Driveline disciple Caleb Cotham, who went from being the Reds’ Director of Pitching to the Phillies’ new pitching coach.

Under the watchful eyes of Boddy and others, the Reds saw enormous production spikes out of their pitchers, particularly in the strikeout department. As the dynamics of the front office changed, some of the parties responsible for those K% increases moved on. The best organizations are consistent with their hires, replacements and messaging. It does seem like the Reds have gone through some identity changes and I’m not sure those are positives for this season or future seasons on the pitching side.

Anyway, the aforementioned Big Three of Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft are the triumvirate that dictates whether or not this season is a success. If those guys take significant strides in their careers, not only will the Reds win more games and exceed expectations, but they will be far better equipped for the future. If those guys don’t take advantage of their opportunities or deal with injuries, it will set the Reds back.

Green threw 125.2 innings in his first MLB season with a 4.44 ERA and a 4.37 FIP while averaging 99 mph with his fastball. He gave up 23 home runs in his first 90.1 innings last season, but he finished on a really high note over his last 35.1 innings with a 1.02 ERA and only one homer allowed. Greene missed most of August and was definitely monitored closely as the season went along. His last four starts were certainly something to build on with two earned runs allowed over 23 innings with 37 strikeouts.

His 99th percentile fastball velo, 90th percentile K% and 88th percentile Whiff% show a ton of promise. He’s predominantly a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball and a slider. Guys did very little against the slider, but they hit 17 homers off the fastball. He won’t turn 24 until August and the sky is the limit for him if he can sharpen his fastball command a little bit.

I also really like Lodolo and Ashcraft. Lodolo is the lone southpaw of the group with a wipeout slurve and a heavy fastball. He threw 103.1 innings at the MLB level with a 3.66 ERA and a 3.90 FIP, but that wasn’t the entire story. Lodolo went from April 24 to July 5 without a start at the MLB level. He had one good start and two rocky ones upon returning, but after the All-Star Break, he had a 2.92 ERA with a 3.57 FIP. He struck out 93 and only walked 27 in those 77 innings.

The under-the-hood stuff for Lodolo is special. PITCHf/x calls it a slider and Statcast calls it a curve, but his primary breaking ball has 83rd percentile spin, which helped lead to an 86th percentile K% and an 81st percentile Whiff%. Lodolo found a lot of success with the fastball/curve combo, as his sinker was a batting practice pitch. He spent the winter working on his changeup and it has the potential to be an elite pitch based on the limited sample size.

Ashcraft found less success with a 4.89 ERA and a 4.21 FIP, but he pitched to a lot more contact than the other two. He wasn’t a huge strikeout guy in the minors, but I think there’s a lot in there. He had a solid Hard Hit% with a 36.3% mark and a strong Barrel% at 4.8%. He throws a 97 mph cutter, but he wasn’t able to generate a lot of swing and miss. I think Ashcraft throws too many strikes. He also spent the winter working to refine his slider, which had a strong spin rate and good results last season.

When you have somebody like Derek Johnson as your pitching coach/Director of Pitching, you’re going to get results. Johnson was the architect of the really strong Brewers pitching staffs from 2016-18 and he has a ton of raw talent and tools to work with here. 

What concerns me about the Reds is the rest of the pitching staff. Luke Weaver, Connor Overton and Luis Cessa appear to be the first in line to fill out the rotation. Weaver can’t stay healthy and has been hit hard over the last few seasons. Cessa is a below-average innings eater as a starter. Overton is a JAG (Just A Guy). It is a bummer that Tejay Antone and Justin Dunn are both on the shelf to start the year because those guys have higher upside than Weaver and Cessa. If Brandon Williamson, also acquired in the Castillo deal, gets his walks under control, he could be a really nice midseason addition.

Daniel Norris is the only addition to a bullpen that wasn’t very good last season. The Reds pen was 28th in ERA and 30th in FIP. Alexis Diaz was tremendous with a 1.84 ERA and a 3.32 FIP over 63.2 innings, but he didn’t get a whole lot of help. Buck Farmer had a 3.83 ERA and a 3.03 FIP over 47 innings. Ian Gibaut is back after just pitching for Great Britain in the WBC. The return of Lucas Sims, who only pitched 6.2 innings last season, could be a nice boost after a couple of solid years in 2020 and 2021.

Miscellaneous Notes

I spent a lot more time on the Reds than I expected to, but I like looking at these young teams for in-season value. Remember how bad this team was at the start of last season? Cincinnati was 3-22 after 25 games. They had an 11-game losing streak, a win and then a nine-game skid before May 6. Honestly, while they still finished with just 62 wins, they were 59-78 after that, which isn’t good, but it’s at least a 70-win pace.

How much did injuries hurt the Reds? They had one batter (Kyle Farmer) with at least 432 plate appearances. They used 17 different starting pitchers and only one (Green) had at least 20 starts.

Player to Watch

SP Graham Ashcraft: I wanted to spend more time on Ashcraft because he’s a guy who had mediocre numbers on a bad team, so he’s likely to have some betting value, whereas guys like Greene and Lodolo may not fly as far under the radar. Let’s start with how Ashcraft effectively negated left-handed batters as a right-handed pitcher, as they posted just a .254 wOBA against him in 212 plate appearances. The problem is that lefties crushed him to the tune of a .387 wOBA with a .323/.377/.524 slash. They hit 10 of the 11 homers he allowed. They crushed all three of his offerings.

In looking at some of his pitch data, a big reason is because hitters just completely eliminated the inner half. Everything was on the outside corner and, as I mentioned, Ashcraft didn’t expand the zone enough to get chases and weaker contact. I don’t think this is a stuff problem as much as a location problem and I think it’s totally correctable. Most pitchers have platoon issues on the other side, so it’s probably a silver lining that he doesn’t.

Cincinnati Reds Season Win Total Pick

This team is better than last year’s team and last year’s team spent the majority of the season on a 70-win pace, which would comfortably go over this year’s 65.5 win total. Unfortunately, there are three reasons why I can’t lock in the over. Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft. As high as the ceiling is for those three guys, I don’t see the Reds pushing any of them to a potential breaking point. I think Ashcraft could throw the most innings of the three and has the lowest ceiling of that group.

The depth with the starting rotation is non-existent. The drop-off from one of these three guys to the next man up is substantial. I do think Lodolo could be a breakout star this season and I’m hoping to find some game-to-game value on him.

I think the offense is better, but every offense will be good when visiting Cincinnati, so that doesn’t help and the Reds scored a full run lower per game on the road than at home. Rather than lock up money on a season-long wager with the Reds, I’d rather pick and choose spots during the season to back them because I do think they are an improved bunch. I do think they’ll have some value and people won’t realize how good this Big Three is. I do lean towards their over, but I can’t get there with a bet and lock in a future for 162 games.

That being said, if you have a book that offers head-to-head win totals and the Reds vs. the Pirates are listed, I think the Reds are a better team. Given the three-win difference between the two, it would have to be plus money.

Lean: Over 65.5