What do the ZiPS Projections say about the Cincinnati Reds?

It’s that time of year again where Dan Szymborski starts releasing the ZiPS projections for the next year. You can check out all of the projections over at Fangraphs, but we’re going to take a look at a handful of the projections here. It’s worth noting here that the projection system itself isn’t adjusted for expected big league playing time. There are some players – particularly minor league players – in the projections that have full season playing time but will not see a single inning in the big leagues. The depth chart image at the link is, however, scaled toward expected playing time.

The Pitching

This is where the Reds can have some hope, both now and in the future. Starters Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and Graham Ashcraft all come out with ZiPS projections as slightly above-average to above-average pitchers in 2023. Looking at the depth chart projection, Lodolo and Greene are sitting at 3.3 and 3.2 WAR, while Ashcraft is at 2.2 WAR (your league average player is generally at the 2.0 WAR mark).

The ERA projection for Lodolo is 3.89 and for Greene it’s 3.92. For Ashcraft he’s about half of a run back of those two at 4.45. There are some other starters in the projection, but without knowing who those spots will be going to after the three second-year guys it’s not worth spending a ton of time looking at it.

The only other pitcher in the organization with an ERA projection under 4.00 is Alexis Diaz. ZiPS forecasts a big step back in ERA from where he was at in 2022, but his 3.68 ERA projection is the best on the club.

The Hitting

There’s a lot of bad in the team projection here. Cincinnati’s best projected hitter is Jake Fraley with a projected .250/.346/.439 line – good for a 106 OPS+. That’s just barely above-average. The next best projected hitter hasn’t even played in Triple-A yet. Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Minnesota in the Tyler Mahle trade, is projected to hit .255/.309/.482 – good for a 105 OPS+. Among the rest of the players in the organization only Nick Solak and Joey Votto project to be league average hitters, with several others just below the 100 OPS+ mark. Cincinnati’s new shortstop, Kevin Newman, projects as the 29th most valuable hitter in the organization.

The Surprises

Tyler Stephenson’s projection is certainly one that’s tough to wrap your head around. He’s got 605 big league plate appearances and has hit .296/.369/.454 in that time. That’s a 115 OPS+. His projection, however, is for a .262/.332/.413 line and a 96 OPS+. That’s good for a catcher, but it’s a far cry from where Stephenson has been in his career.

Not necessarily a surprise in terms of projection, but more of a surprise in terms of just seeing a good comparable pitcher is the top pitching comp for Alexis Diaz. ZiPS has former Reds reliever Scott Williamson as the #1 comparable pitcher for Diaz.

To Close It Out

This paragraph from Dan Szymborski near the end of his breakdown of the offense summed things up well.

And, in something that’s good for fans since the team’s not going to be ambitious in free agency, all the most interesting players are young and cost-controlled for a very long time. It’s a long way from corn kernels to cornbread, and hopefully by the time this team’s ready to compete, fans are blessed with a new owner that’s up to the challenge of maintaining a quality contender in the Queen City. Until then, it’s going to be painful.

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