Three reasons to watch the Reds in 2015

We’ll be pardoned, I think, if we don’t get all weak in the knees about the Cincinnati Reds in 2015. So far in 2015, anyway. In the wake of their fourth-place season, the Reds have signed Marlon Byrd, and traded Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos, two of their better starting pitchers last season. Now, I’m not saying they should not have traded Simon and Latos – well, Simon anyway – but what I am saying is that the Reds don’t seem to have improved themselves over the winter, and in fact our latest projections have the Reds finishing with essentially the same record as last season, but dropping from fourth place to fifth.

Fortunately, this story’s not being written to mollify demoralized Rhinelanders. Rather, it’s for the rest of us who might be wondering if there’s any reason at all to watch the Reds this season.

There are reasons! Good ones! Forthwith:

1. Joey Votto might still be a hitting god.

The Reds’ first baseman got into only 62 games last season, and when he did play he wasn’t great. But over the previous five seasons, this guy was the best hitter in the major leagues. No matter what Marty Brenneman says. Still, we tend to remember what we’ve seen most recently, and what we’ve seen most recently wasn’t all that impressive. So this season is sort of a big deal for Votto. Maybe 2014 was just a little detour on his path to Cooperstown. Or maybe it was the beginning of an injury- and age-related decline. Which would be pretty lousy news, considering Votto’s contract runs through 2023. Yeah. By the time Joey Votto’s contract expires, we’ll all have jet-packs and pet drones with the proportionate strength of a spider.

On the other hand, if Votto does hit like he used to – and yes, if some other unlikely things happen, too – the Reds might be a lot better than fifth.

2. Aroldis Chapman

In almost every instance, the reasons to watch teams that I’ve been offering are the same reasons I would watch them. In the case of Aroldis Chapman, though … Sorry, but the #StrikeoutScourge leaves me cold. Now, I know Chapman’s special. Last season he struck out 52.5 percent of the batters he faced. In fact, among pitchers with at least 50 innings in a season, Chapman owns three of the six highest strikeout percentages in major-league history. So if strikeouts are your thing, then by all means keep an eye on the scores, and tune in to the Reds if they’ve got a lead in the eighth inning. Me, though? I’m more of a Jumbo Diaz sorta guy.

3. Billy Hamilton

Ah, now here’s the good stuff. Votto’s season might well be an exercise in sadness, while Chapman’s dominance exemplifies what’s going wrong with baseball. Fortunately, we’ve got Billy “Hey I still need a good nickname” Hamilton representing the best of baseball. At its best, baseball is about guys running around on the field and doing things, and fewer are better at running around than Hamilton. In 2012, Hamilton stole 155 bases in 132 minor-league games. Alas, he’s not found the basepaths quite so exciting in the majors, swiping only 69 bags in 165 games so far. Of course, that’s due in part to his .297 career on-base percentage; if Hamilton doesn’t significantly improve his OBP, he’s never going to pile up truly impressive base-stealing numbers.

The good news is that Hamilton, an ex-second baseman, has taken so well to center field that he’s both valuable and interesting even if he’s not running wild on the bases. Which means there’s a pretty good chance that if you watch one whole Reds game, you’ll see Billy Hamilton do something exciting and impressive. Even if they really do finish last.

Cincinnati Reds

2014 record: 76-86

Playoffs: N/A

Projected 2015 record: 77-85*

Key additions: OF Marlon Byrd, P Anthony DeSclafani, SS Eugenio Suarez

Key subtractions: SP Alfredo Simon, SP Mat Latos, OF Ryan Ludwick