The Reds are not a good team. No one expected them to be one, despite a bit of a hot start. Yet they do maintain a threatening offense and quality group of position players. Intuitively, when looking for the reason why the Reds are not a good team, one turns to the cadre of arms the Reds have trotted out this season. The bullpen hasn’t been quite awful, but the starting rotation is another story.
The Reds entered the season with Scott Feldman atop their rotation. On the surface, that’s not promising. Along with him, the Reds started the year with Brandon Finnegan, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, and Bronson Arroyo rounding out the starting five. Feldman made it the furthest into the season, before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago. Prior to him falling out of the rotation, Finnegan and Arroyo were placed on the 60-day disabled list, and the young pair of Garrett and Davis were demoted to the minors.
Over the course of the season, the Reds have assembled the tenth-worst starting staff of all time by fWAR. The club is surrounded by 19th-century luminaries such as the 1872 Cleveland Forest Citys and Brooklyn Eckfords. When stripping out pre-1900s staffs, which were never more than a handful of pitchers, the club is second to last. Only the 2004 Washington Nationals sit behind them, with a 0.9 fWAR. The Reds do have a familiar face above their 1.3 fWAR mark in the 2017 Chicago White Sox, who currently sport a cumulative 1.5 fWAR.
When going down the list of names the Reds have trotted out, it’s no surprise that they’re sitting where they are. The likes of Garrett, Davis, Arroyo, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Homer Bailey all made multiple starts with ERAs over 7. Tim Adleman, Asher Wojciechowski, and Robert Stephenson have ERAs over 5 and each made at least seven starts. Meanwhile, Sal Romano’s 4.62 ERA over 12 starts is looking quite good when surrounded by this company.
It’s not quite all bad for the Reds. Ever since Luis Castillo’s call up in late June, the righthander has been a glimmer of hope for the club. By each version of WAR, he has hovered around 2 WAR over the course of his short season. His 3.47 DRA is one of the better ones in the league as well. He, nearly singlehandedly, has saved the Reds from competing for the vaunted title of worst rotation ever, regardless of time period.
Going forward, they may have a bit more to be hopeful for. The aforementioned emergence of Castillo, who was acquired in the Dan Straily deal, may place a quality arm atop their rotation for years to come. The eventual return of Anthony DeSclafani and Finnegan will add a pair of seasoned arms to the middle and back end of their rotation. A pair of prospects in Hunter Greene and Tyler Mahle provide a potential along the pipeline, with Mahle
knocking on the door in AA making his first pair of starts with the big-league team this past week. Finally, Garrett and Davis proved to need more seasoning, but they still hold promise.
The Reds neglected to field a competent staff of starters this season and it’s showing. In doing so, they may have rushed a couple of young arms in Garrett and Davis as well. However, it should be no surprise that a team destined for the basement of the league is ill-equipped to handle injury and lacks concern for current results. Still, it’s pretty “impressive” that they’re this bad.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.