The (Individually) Historic Reds

July 9, 2014
 
I’ve never been to Cincinnati. Moreover, I’ve never felt any particular urge to visit Cincinnati. I probably think about the city of Cincinnati about once every four or five months, usually when the theme song to the early 80’s sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati" rises out of the foggy memories of my misspent television-watching youth.
 
 
I got tired of packing and unpacking,
 
Town to town, up and down the dial.
 
That is a great theme song.
 
I’ve never been to Pittsburg, either. But while Pittsburg shares a few geographic traits with Cincinnati (both are rust-belt middle-of-America cities with rivers running through them; both cities have baseball teams that reject the designated hitter), I think about Pittsburg all the time. Really: I probably talk to my wife about moving to Pittsburg at least once every month. My obsession with the city is well-known among my family and friends. Last year, one of my closest friends visited the city for a conference, and sent me an audio account of him walking down a few random streets in Pittsburg, describing what it looked like. Sometimes I have fever-dreams where me and Andrew McCutchen tour the city’s dive bars, looking for a magical jukebox that plays Rusted Root’s "Send Me On My Way" no matter what digits you punch into it.
 
 
Semmmie ommmmmaayy (ommy way!) Semmie ond mah way-hay-hay!
 
But Cincinnati? Meh. I have no interesting in visiting the city. I understand they do horrible things to their chili.
 
Perhaps as a by-product of this indifference, the Reds are the baseball team I follow the least of all the teams in baseball. Do you know those online quizzes, where you have to list all 30 major league teams in a minute? I always get to the Reds last. 
 
This isn’t really logical, because the Reds have been a pretty team good team over my life as a baseball fan. They had a superstar, Eric Davis, whose career coincided with the start of my baseball fandom. They won a World Series in 1990, and they’ve made other runs in the postseason. They even have some historical ties with my favorite team: they’re the team on the losing end of Fisk’s homer.
 
But I’ve paid more attention, over the years, to teams like the Mariners and the Astros and the Brewers than I’ve paid to the Reds. This isn’t out of some geographic preference: I’ve never been to Seattle, Houston, or Milwaukee either. And it’s certainly not because those teams have a richer history than the Reds: the Reds are a great original franchise who’ve won multiple championships, while the Mariners, Brewers, and Astros are still waiting for that first flag-laden trophy.
 
Here’s a possible cause of my indifference: I don’t know any Reds fans. I’ve never had a conversation with a single person who identifies themselves as a Reds fan. I don’t know that I’ve have so much as an online interaction with a Reds fan. Are there Reds fans on this website? Raise your hands, please.

Anyway, I’ve made an effort to follow the Reds this year, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They’re certainly not a great team: at this writing, they’re just above .500, in the middle of a crowded NL Central that has four teams with winning records. They’re in fourth, but a good day might vault them to second. But it is very obvious that the Reds aren’t a great team. For some reason, baseball in 2014 has decided that all of the great teams have to be in California. All the great teams and the Padres. 
 
What’s compelling about the Cincinnati Reds isn’t their teamgreatness, but the number of astonishing individual performances they’re seeing this year. The Reds have a large number of players having Seasons of Historic Significance.   
 
Here’s a breakdown of their SoHS’s:
 
 
 
1.      Aroldis Chapman is striking out more hitters than anyone. Ever.
 
The record for the highest strikeout rate in baseball history is currently held by Craig Kimbrel, who did this:
 
Rank
Pitcher
Year
K/9 IP
IP
1
Craig Kimbrel
2012
16.66
62.2
 
There have actually been five seasons in which a relief pitcher has struck out 15 or more batters per nine innings pitched….let’s see who else pops up on that list:  
 
Rank
Pitcher
Year
K/9 IP
IP
1
Craig Kimbrel
2012
16.66
62.2
2
Kenley Jansen
2011
16.10
53.2
3
Carlos Marmol
2010
15.99
77.2
4
Aroldis Chapman
2013
15.83
63.2
5
Aroldis Chapman
2012
15.32
71.2
 
Kimbrel has the record currently, but Chapman has been challenging it just about every year he’s been in the majors. Though Aroldis started the 2014 season on the DL (thanks to a Salvador Perez line-drive that broke his face in spring training), the southpaw is currently posting a 17.55 K/9 rate.  
 
If you prefer strikeout percentage to strikeout rate, Chapman is still in rare air. 2012 Craig Kimbrel also holds the record for highest strikeout percentage in a single season. He is the only pitcher to strike out more than half the batters he’s faced in a single season:
 
Pitcher
Year
K%
Craig Kimbrel
2012
50.2%
Eric Gagne
2003
44.8%
Aroldis Chapman
2012
44.2%
Kenley Jansen
2011
44.0%
Aroldis Chapman
2013
43.4%
Billy Wagner
1999
43.4%
 
And Aroldis Chapman’s just ahead of him this year. The Cuban Missile has (at this writing) whiffed 51.5% of the batters he’s faced (52 out of 101). If he keeps this up, he’ll post the highest strikeout rate and strikeout percentage any pitcher has ever posted.
 
 
 
2.      Joey Votto is trying to win another on-base crown.
 
Alright…this one’s a long shot. Votto is currently on the DL, and he doesn’t currently have enough plate appearances to qualify for the league-lead in rate stats. Also, there’s some shortstop in Colorado who is going to be tough to catch up to. But Votto’s managed to post a .390 on-base percentage this year, which would rank him in the top-ten among NL hitters…it’s not impossible that he’ll lead the NL in on-base percentage for the fifth consecutive season.
 
It is already historic that Joey Votto has led his league in on-base percentage in each of the last four seasons. Just to put that accomplishment in perspective, here’s a list of all of the players who have ever done that:
 
Lou Gehrig
Ted Williams
Barry Bonds
Joey Votto
 
That is impressive company. Even if you lower the bar to consider players with just three consecutive on-base crowns, you’ll add Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Arky Vaughn, a couple stretches by Babe Ruth, a few stretches by Ted Williams and Barry Bonds, and two old fogies named Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner. You’ll also add Elbie Fletcher, who led the NL in on-base percentage in 1940-1942. He has to buy beer when the group gets together.
                                            &​nbsp;     
If Votto manages to grab his fifth straighton-base crown, he’ll be in an even more exclusive club. Here’s the only guy to lead the league in on-base percentage five times in a row:
 
Wade Boggs
 
And here’s the only player with six in a row:
 
Rogers Hornsby
 
(Just a note: Ted Williams led the AL in on-base percentage for seven consecutive seasons in his career: he led the AL in on-base percentage in 1940-1942, went to war in 1943-1945, and then came back to lead the league in on-base percentage in 1946-1949.)
 
Though Votto’s isolated power has declined steadily since his 2010 MVP season, he’s still a historically special hitter. If we gave on-base percentage half the love that the batting title gets every year, maybe people would notice.
 
 
 
3.      Johnny Cueto is the most unhittable NL pitcher in more than a century.
 
One of the most entertaining parts of watching the Reds this year has been watching Johnny Cueto take the hill every fifth day. On the mound, Cueto looks….well….determined. While the perennially brilliant Kershaw and Wainwright have each had remarkable seasons this year, Cueto’s been keeping pace, and should now be considered among the elite arms in baseball.
 
What makes Cueto’s 2014 season Historically Significant is how difficult it’s been for batters to get a hit off him. This year Cueto’s allowed just 5.619 hits per 9 innings pitched, a mark that is better than any National League pitcher ever, except for Sandy Koufax Steve Carlton Bob Gibson Ed Reulbach.
 
You’ve never heard of Ed Reulbach? Me, neither. He set the NL mark of 5.326 for the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Big Ed was famously unhittable: in every one of his thirteen major league seasons, Reulbach gave up fewer hits than innings pitched, a weird record that no other pitcher has come close to replicating. According to the excellent biography on the SABR site, Reulbach had weak vision in his left eye, which caused frequent spells of wildness.
 
Anyway….acknowledging that hits have a high ‘luck’ component, it is nevertheless true that Johnny Cueto has been as tough to hit as any NL pitcher in the last century of baseball.
 
This might change, of course. It’s highly likely that it will change: I bet that Cueto’s hits per nine innings pitched will be over 6.0 by season’s end. But that doesn’t change the face that Cueto is doing something historically unique.
 
 
 
4.      Devin Mesoraco is having one of the greatest hitting season for a catcher in major league baseball history.
 
I feel like no one has noticed how amazing Devin Mesoraco has been this year. Here’s where he ranks among major league catchers in some offensive categories:
 
 
Runs Scored: 11th
 
Home Runs: 2nd
RBI: 3rd
Batting Average: 2nd
 
On-Base Percentage: 5th
 
Slugging Percentage: 1st
 
fWAR: 2nd
 
And here’s where Mesoraco ranks in plate appearances by a catcher:
 
Plate Appearances: 23rd
 
He’s played about 65% of the 2014 season, and he’s hit like the second-coming of Johnny Bench. Actually, he’s hit better than Johnny Bench.
 
Here’s a list of the five best catching seasons (minimum of 200+ plate appearances), as judged by Weighted Runs Created (wRC):
 
Rank
Catcher
Year
PA
wRC
1
Mike Piazza
1997
633
183
2
Devin Mesoraco
2014
207
179
3
Mike Napoli
2011
432
179
4
King Kelly
1886
534
177
5
Bill Dickey
1942
284
174
 
Like Cueto, it’s highly unlikely that Devin Mesoraco will continue to post a wRC in the Mike Trout range for the rest of the 2014 season. But he certainly has the pedigree to have a breakout season: Mesoraco is a former first-round pick, and while the notion that catchers peak later than other hitters is a tad overstated, it’s not impossible that Mesoraco will be one of the better hitting catchers in baseball going forward.
 
Mesoraco is twenty-six. Here’s a list of the nine catchers to post a wRC of 160 or better between the ages of 24 and 27:
 
Player
Year
wRC
Devin Mesoraco
2014
175
Joe Mauer
2009
170
Mike Piazza
1995
168
Mike Piazza
1996
165
Carlton Fisk
1972
165
Don Padgett
1939
165
Buster Posey
2012
163
Derek Norris
2014
163
Carlton Fisk
1974
161
 
When you’re keeping company with the likes of Mauer, Piazza, Posey, and the young version of Carlton Fisk, you’re doing something right. Mesoraco’s having a terrific year (as is Derek Norris, incidentally).
 
 
5.      Billy Hamilton is very good at playing baseball.

Billy Hamillton is actually not having a Season of Historical Significance.
 
 
This is surprising, because if you were going to pick one Reds player to have a SoHS in 2014, Hamilton would probably be your guy. This is because Hamilton set the minor league record for stolen bases two years ago, and because he showed a similar talent for stealing bases whenever he wanted during his brief stint in 2013.
 
Coming into 2014, any bold prediction about Hamilton fell into one of two categories:
 
1.      He would steal an astonishing number of bases, or
2.      He wouldn’t hit anything in the majors.
 
Certainly, his Opening Day whiff-fest against Adam Wainwright had a lot of people jumping on the second prediction, just as his early feats of tagging up on an infield fly and tripling on a bloop single had people hoping his all-world speed would have people digging out their old Vince Van-Go posters from the mid-80’s.
 
The record-setting stolen bases haven’t exactly happened: while Hamilton’s stolen 37 bases so far, he's well off an 100-steal pace, and probably won't reach 80. He’s also been caught stealing twelve times, for a less-than-brilliant 76% success rate.
 
Instead, what’s happened is that Billy Hamilton has turned out to a very good baseball player.He’s been a league-average hitter: his OPS+ is now at 102, and he has a respectable .280 batting average. He’s managed to hit six homeruns, which is five more than just about every projection credited him with. All six of those homers have left the park…two actually came in consecutive at-bats.
 
More significantly, Hamilton has played brilliantly in centerfield. Keeping in mind that this is a position Hamilton learned last year, it is a remarkable accomplishment. He might win a Gold Glove this year. He certainly deserves to be considered for it.
 
So what’s happened with Hamilton is something no one really predicted: he’s been a competent major league hitter this year, a brilliant defensive player, and an excellent base runner.
 
Fangraphs credits him with a 3.2 WAR, which rates him 18th among major league hitters, right between Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve. He has been more than an adequate replacement for the departed Shin-Soo Choo….he’s been much better than Choo this year, at a fraction of the cost the Rangers are paying for Choo’s services.
 
David Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.  
 
 

COMMENTS (21 Comments, most recent shown first)

brianerts
I've been a Reds fan since the mid 70's, my wife is from Cincinnati (a town worth visiting) I've NEVER wanted to move to Pittsburgh, nor wanted to listen to Rusted Root.... I can say for sure I have never met anyone who likes Rusted Root.
10:25 AM Jul 20th
 
jimgus
Incidentally, if anyone is wondering, "Why would you need an umbrella?" it's because I'm a little bit scatter-brained.

Of course, I meant to say, "...you couldn't buy a BROOM in the entire town." I was catching up with my wife last night after being on the road for over a week and read my note... and she immediately corrected me.

:-(
JimmyG
9:34 AM Jul 17th
 
markincincy
Another raise of the hand here, been a fanatic Reds fan since 1969 and Gold Star Chili is great
5:19 PM Jul 16th
 
evanecurb
Late to the party here, but...

I went to a college in Southwest Virginia in the mid seventies. At that time, I learned that the Reds' fan base covered a huge geographic area: Southern Ohio, Indianapolis and southern Indiana, central and eastern Kentucky, Western half of West Virginia, Southwest Virginia, and Northeastern Tennessee, and Western North Carolina. This was not at all an odd phenomenon, as Cincinnati was the closest city to most of these areas, and they were also the best team in baseball. You could have said they were the team of Appalachia, although that would be an exaggeration, because Appalachia is a lot bigger than the areas mentioned above.

With the exception of Indianapolis and Louisville, the areas named above are rural areas, and the guys I knew who rooted for the Reds were, well, err...hillbillies. Well educated hillbillies, but to quote David Alan Coe, "my long hair doesn't cover up my red neck." So it wasn't easy to be around them when the Reds were playing well (which they almost always were).


11:29 AM Jul 14th
 
dejesus54
"Town Team" soundtrack by the Afghan Whigs.

"Somethin' Hot" would work.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffHhrfDyisY
9:07 AM Jul 13th
 
DMBBHF
Dave,

As a follow-up on the Cincinnati area "Town Team" just posted....

That team won a lot of hardware over the years:

8 MVP's (Schmidt-3, Rose-1, Parker-1, Griffey Jr-1, Clemens-1, Larkin-1)

5 batting titles (Rose-3, Parker-2)

7 Cy Youngs (all by Clemens)

2 Rookies of the Year (Rose, Justice)

And....a whopping 44 Gold Gloves (Schmidt-10, Griffey Jr-10, Maddox-8, Bell-6, Parker-3, Larkin-3, Rose-2, Brinkman-1, Youkilis-1) In addition, Yeager was an awesome defensive catcher who rates roughly top 10 all time on things like dWAR and Total Zone Runs at catcher despite mostly being a part-timer during his whole career. This team flashes some serious leather.

Also - 7 current Hall of Famers (Schmidt, Ewing, Bunning, Larkin, Haines, Alston, Huggins), 1 about-to-be HOF'er (Griffey Jr.) and 2 that certainly had HOF-playing careers (Rose, Clemens).

Thanks.

8:29 AM Jul 13th
 
DMBBHF
Dave,

In celebration of this article, it's time for an updated Cincinnati "Town Team". Bill put together one in the 1992 baseball book, and I've added to that.

I took the liberty of extending it to include the Dayton area, since those 2 cities are so close in proximity and are tightly linked with the Dayton minor league team being part of the Reds' system. I included anyone born in those cities and/or attended high school there. Including Dayton allows us to pull in Mike Schmidt and Roger Clemens, along with a few others.

Don't know how this will look when I post, but here goes. P.S. - this is a full 25 man roster, and it's a good one:

C - Buck Ewing
1b - Pete Rose
2b - Bill Doran
3b - Mike Schmidt
ss - Barry Larkin
lf - Jim Wynn
cf - Ken Griffey Jr.
rf - Dave Parker
p - Roger Clemens
p - Jim Bunning
p - Jesse Haines
p - Charlie Root
p - Joe Nuxhall
p - Kent Tekulve
p - Roger McDowell
p - Jeff Russell
p - Tom Hume
p - Nick Altrock
res - Steve Yeager
res - Kevin Youkilis
res - Eddie Brinkman
res - Buddy Bell
res - Shannon Stewart
res - Garry Maddox
res - David Justice
mgr - Walter Alston
coach - Miller Huggins
coach - Don Zimmer

Others just missing the cut include Chris Chambliss, Lance Johnson, Ron Oester, Leon Durham, Dave Burba, and Richard Dotson.

Also, it's worth noting that Mike Maddux, Greg's older brother, was born in Dayton. Their father was in the Air Force. If he had managed to stay based in Dayton a few years longer, Greg would have have been born there, and the starting rotation would have included BOTH Clemens and Maddux.

Oh, and Sandy Koufax, although clearly a Brooklyn boy, attended the University of Cincinnati, but I decided that was too much to try and include him too.

All in all.....a pretty darn good squad.


12:17 AM Jul 13th
 
mauimike
"If the Cincinnati Reds were really the first major league baseball team, who did they play?" George Carlin.
2:17 AM Jul 12th
 
DMBBHF
Oh yeah....I forgot Mays/McCovey/Marichal and Aaron/Mathews/Spahn.
10:52 PM Jul 11th
 
DMBBHF
I don't think one's quite as impressive, but Maddux, Chipper, and Glavine (or Smoltz) was pretty good together for several years.
10:49 PM Jul 11th
 
those
Griffey, A-Rod, Randy Johnson

And Edgar Martinez
11:12 AM Jul 11th
 
OldBackstop
Ruth, Gehrig, and a bat boy?

Would make an interesting thread, Dave.
8:35 AM Jul 11th
 
DaveFleming
I wonder how many teams have had three players of the same caliber as Morgan/Bench/Rose, all in their primes.

Mantle, Berra, Ford?
Jackie, Snider, and Campy?

9:24 PM Jul 10th
 
DMBBHF
OK....I'm raising my hand! Big Reds fan going back to 1970. Grew up following (and got spoiled by) the Big Red Machine. Thought that there was nothing unusual about having 3 players like Morgan, Bench, and Rose on the same team, not to mention Perez, Concepcion, Foster, Griffey, and Geronimo. What, that's not normal? Have to agree about the chili comment, though....can't say that I care much for it either. But Montgomery Inn ribs/BBQ sauce and Graeter's ice cream are hard to beat. It was fun listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall broadcast the games during those great years as well, although Brennaman frankly is getting hard to listen to these days. Also fun getting to watch local players like Rose and Barry Larkin succeed with their hometown team.
9:02 PM Jul 10th
 
DaveFleming
BH2's monthly splits:

April: .245/.280/.330 - .610 OPS
May: .260/.301/.351 - .652 OPS
June: .327/.348/.500 - .848 OPS
July: .278/.333/.583 - .917 OPS

Nice trending.

Also: Pittsburgh, PA, was spelled without the 'h' from 1890 to 1911. I prefer the retro spelling.
4:21 PM Jul 10th
 
jimgus
Hi, Dave.

I really like reading your stuff. Keep up the great work.

As for Reds fans... My wife falls into that category. She went to college in Dayton (Wright State, wrong school :-) and has lifelong friends that live in Dayton, Cin, and in between, so I have had the "Reds love" pressed in my direction from time to time.

Nowadays, it has distilled to: any time someone mentions 1990, Angela says, "oh yeah, wasn't that the year you couldn't BUY an umbrella in the whole town?" She says this with full understanding that I bleed Kelly Green and Gold. :-)

And, I now have a business partner who lives and dies with the Reds. So I have had reason enough to embrace these plucky go-getters.

Cordially,
JimmyG
1:23 PM Jul 10th
 
DavidTodd
I suspect Mesoraco may be clogging up the bases, but Dusty Baker is no longer the manager.
12:59 PM Jul 10th
 
OldBackstop
Alright, relevant comment. I sorta like draft crowdsourcing, since it goes off so many expert lists. Hamilton went 13th round in ESPN fake leagues, and they had a projection for him of 350 ABs and 52 SBs. Now he's won a job. Personally, I graded him pre-season as Emilio Bonifacio without the awesome position eligibility. HOWEVER...today's news has him out with a hammy and the revelation that he has had it since spring training. Gotta hate a chronic hammy in a 23 year-old speed guy...
9:34 AM Jul 10th
 
OldBackstop
Wouldnt'cha think he'd get "Cincinnati" wrong?

So, I actually found CTI to be a great town in 1979. Drive through liquor stores handing you open mixed drinks, I kid you not. Terrible homegrown skanky weed, though. I saw a Jethro Tull concert there 10 days before the infamous Who concert where 11 people got trampled to death. Tull had General Admission tickets as well and it was a tangle, and we just stood back. Horrible sh1t. The weed and the stampede.

Wait, what was the question?
9:05 AM Jul 10th
 
marbus1
Pittsburgh, with an "h"...
8:20 AM Jul 10th
 
wicky
In 1957 (the last years fans were allowed to vote until 1970) the few Cincinnati fans elected seven (7) starters to play in the All-Star game.
Just for the record, Frank Robinson was a HOFer. The other six elected were Ed Bailey C, Johnny Temple 2B, Don Hoak 3B, Roy McMillan SS, and all three outfielders, Robinson, Gus Bell and Wally Post. Commissioner Frick replaced Bell and Post with Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. By the way, those few fans of the Redlegs did have a small conscience; they voted Stan Musial to start at 1B. Maybe most of those few fans are no longer around. Keep writing, Dave. I enjoy your stuff. Regards, Bill Wickham, Los Angeles, CA
1:48 AM Jul 10th
 
 
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