Rebuilding season or not, falling short of the playoffs and finishing with a losing record probably means that more things went wrong than went right for a team. This series, however, will focus on those silver linings that each team can take away from an otherwise disappointing season.
[Related: “Top Bright Spots” archive]
Here are the biggest bright spots for the Cincinnati Reds.
1. Joey Votto, 1B
Votto had already proven in 2015 that he was still in the prime of his career, bouncing back from an injury-riddled and much less productive than normal season in 2014 by posting a 1.000 OPS in 158 games. Entering his age-32 season with eight years and $199MM remaining on his contract, any decline in performance would be alarming.
But Votto has not declined one bit. With an overall .974 OPS, including a ridiculous 1.103 OPS over his last 447 plate appearances, there’s no reason to believe he will slow down anytime soon. That’s great news for a Reds team that hopes to jump back into playoff contention while their star player is still worth every cent of his massive contract. (As a side note, Votto hit his 28th home run quite literally seconds before this post was published — his third hit in a 3-for-3 evening.)
While Iglesias and Lorenzen have pitched as well as could’ve been expected out of the bullpen, if not better—Iglesias has been dominant (1.37 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, four saves, seven holds) and Lorenzen has been very good (2.87 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, eight holds)—they needed to prove that they could stay healthy. After all, they’re both pitching out of the bullpen because of durability concerns.
They’ve done their part—Iglesias has appeared in 29 games as a reliever since returning from the disabled list in late June; Lorenzen returned shortly after and has appeared in 33 games. Both are on track to finish the season in good health. Now, it’s up to the Reds to decide if either returns to starting in 2017 or remains in a late-inning bullpen role. That’s a much better alternative than wondering if either will be healthy enough to contribute at all.
3. Adam Duvall, OF
Despite his second-half struggles, the 28-year-old Duvall has proven himself on multiple levels in 2016. His power surge in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (53 homers in 831 plate appearances in 2014-15) was obviously not a fluke. Yesterday’s multi-homer game, his third of the season, pushed his season total to 33. He also reached the 100-RBI mark.
While a sub-.300 on-base percentage and high strikeout total for a third baseman-turned corner outfielder would initially suggest a one-dimensional player, the NL All-Star has actually been a well above-average defender in left field in the view of Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. Combine that with his bargain salary—he won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2018 season—and defensive versatility, and the Reds may have found themselves a gem.
4. Dan Straily, SP
Despite a solid 34-start stint to begin his MLB career in 2012-13 while with the A’s (3.94 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 7.3 K/9), Straily hasn’t been given much of a chance to stick in a big league rotation. After being traded three times in less than two years, the 27-year-old has finally found a home with the Reds, who plucked him off the waiver wire just before the start of the 2016 season.
Since being inserted into the starting rotation on April 18, the right-hander has delivered a 3.76 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 7.5 K/9 and a 63% quality start percentage over his 30 starts. So, basically, he’s a well-traveled version of the guy the A’s had when his value was on the rise early in his career. Straily might be staying put for awhile this time. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season.
5. Billy Hamilton, CF
It was pretty much the same old story for Hamilton early in the 2016 season. The most feared base stealer in baseball was not reaching base enough for it to matter very much. After failing to reach base at a 30 percent clip in either of his first two big league seasons, Hamilton went into the All-Star break with an uninspiring .283 OBP.
But if his second-half performance is any indication—the 26-year-old posted a .369 OBP with 21 walks in 197 plate appearances before a season-ending oblique injury in early September—the days of 100 stolen base seasons might not be permanently behind us. In fact, Hamilton’s 36 stolen bases in 45 games would put him right on pace with Rickey Henderson’s single-season record of 130. Not that Hamilton could match Henderson’s .398 OBP over a full season, but you get the idea. Hamilton could conceivably steal 100 if he can somehow manage a jump into the .325-.340 OBP range.