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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Joey Votto (and the Cincinnati Reds) with Red Reporter

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Wick Terrell picks the next likely recipient of a free donkey.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, the Tigers will kick off a two-game road series with the Cincinnati Reds, where they will be hoping to continue their hot streak. The Reds recently fared very well against another AL Central team, the Royals. But, considering the Reds are also currently the worst time in the National League, the Tigers might find themselves in a spot of good luck.

We took some time to chat with Wick Terrell, the managing editor of the Reds SB Nation blog, Red Reporter, to find out what the hidden scoop is on that other Ohio team.

So what do you think makes Joey Votto so special? It’s that he’s Canadian, right?

I think the moment we found out he walked around with Ted Williams’ “The Science of Hitting” in his travel bag, we knew he was far from the stereotypical baseballer. That’s certainly a sniff of what’s special about Joey, though - he’s 100% a student of the game, and watching him continue to refine his game year after year is a freakin’ sight to behold.

Like, prior to the 2017 season, he mentioned that he thought his defense needed work and that he’d been striking out too often...and then, in 2017, his defense improved mightily and he just simply stopped striking out. Seeing a player be able to publicly identify his weaknesses is humanizing in its own right, but then to see him actually, y’know, fix those problems immediately was simply twenty kinds of awesome.

Truthfully, how great is it to still have one of the great franchise stars remaining, and have him on your team?

Having grown up in Reds country as a huge fan of Barry Larkin, it’s nice to have another generational stalwart who you know is going to be in that dugout each and every day. The fact that he’s made it this far while still putting up largely eye-popping numbers has certainly made it a lot easier to really enjoy it though, too.

Last Votto question, I swear... Who do you think he’ll promise livestock to this season, and how do you get better than a donkey?

Donkey Pact 2017 came between Votto and Zack Cozart, as our resident Canadian promised one to the Reds former SS of he made the All Star Game, and Cozart promptly had not just a career year, but career year^(career year). So, I’d like to think he promised it to a guy who between now and the All Star Game will go on some sort of ridiculous tear that belies the back of their baseball card, and on this edition of the Reds that’s likely Billy Hamilton - I mean, is there a single athlete in all of baseball who you’d rather see actually look like a good baseball player for a few weeks than Billy Hamilton?

More serious question: how has the management shakeup changed things this season?

Honestly, I’m not sure it really has at all. Four years ago, the Reds front office had Walt Jocketty, Dick Williams, and Nick Krall all in it. Today, the Reds front office has each of Walt Jocketty, Dick Williams, and Nick Krall in it. The fact that nobody has been fired while there have been re-shuffles and promotions suggests to me that they’re all still functioning as a unit in similar ways, and so far, the tactics have been eerily similar - avoid free agency like the plague, try to sign good young players to contract extension as they hit arbitration, and curiously drag their feet on promoting the talented hitting prospects in the system at a glacier-like pace.

What do you think the biggest thing hobbling the Reds is this year?

Cincinnati’s starting pitching has been collectively worth -0.6 fWAR this year, which is not only last in MLB, it’s the only negative mark on that list. Since 2016, Cincinnati starting pitching has only been worth a grand total of 4.8 fWAR, and while that’s not only dead last in MLB, it’s a full 10.5 fWAR behind the second worst team in that time (San Diego at 15.3).

Put it this way...Luis Severino, uber-talented Yankees pitcher that he is, has been worth 10.0 fWAR since 2016, which is the 9th best of all MLB starting pitchers in that time. If he’d been on the Cincinnati staff that entire time and pitched just as well, the Reds would have still had the worst starting pitching unit in the entire league.

In all honesty, the Reds position player core is pretty solid, the bullpen has been largely fixed, and the farm system is in pretty decent shape, yet the idea of them ever contending again still seems like a pipe dream thanks to how woeful their starting pitching continues to be.

What do you see as being the most important focus for the Reds to succeed in the future?

Well, I don’t suppose I can answer this question by saying anything other than ‘find some starting pitching’ after the way I answered the last question.

In a perfect world, the idea of Anthony DeSclafani, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle forming the 2-3-4 spots in the team’s rotation going forward isn’t terrible, assuming Disco’s health maintains and the other two young arms continue to evolve. That said, they still need a front-line starter, and that just doesn’t exist in their minor league system at all. Obviously, every team out there is looking for the next ace available, too, which means they’re going to have to fight and scrap and overpay to find one somehow, but that’s absolutely what separates them from anything close to contention.

Which under the radar player should Tigers fans keep an eye out for?

*coughs* Eugenio Suarez is still pretty under the radar nationally, I’d say *cough cough*

Scott Schebler’s a hyper-athletic OF who looks like he’s swinging a sequoia a million miles per hour when he swings, and has already put up 1.8 bWAR in just 55 games played despite missing some three weeks with an elbow injury after being hit by a pitch. He’s been both streaky and injured a bit in his early time with the Reds, but when right looks the part of a solid regular. He hit 30 dingers last year in what might well have been the single quietest 30 dinger season in club history, but we predicted before the season that he’d have 4 WAR potential, and that’s starting to play out.

Which Tigers player do you think will give the Reds the most trouble in these two games?

Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle will start for the Reds against Detroit, and considering they’re dinger-prone RHPs, I’ll say Jeimer Candelario’s going to the the one hitter I’ll have my fingers crossed while watching hit all series. Looks like his lefty-swinging splits aren’t quite as impressive as his righty-swinging ones, but the dingers are still there from the left side, and lord knows Reds pitching loves serving up meatballs.

How nice was it to sweep the Royals last week?

Considering it wasn’t just two wins, it was two wins fueled by a rare burst of excellent starting pitching, it was super sweet, to be honest. Although, as I watched deep fly ball after deep fly ball die before the warning track in Kauffman as fly-outs, it honestly made me wonder how different those outcomes would’ve been in Great American Ball Park or in Wrigley on a day where the wind was blowing out.

Still, Reds wins have been so few and far between for four years now that I’ll take them however I can get them.

Thanks so much to Wick for taking the time to answer our questions. You can read more of his fine work over at Red Reporter.