2013 Reds / Take Five

Take Five: Starting Pitchers

The Reds have now cycled through their rotation ten times in 2013. Seems like a good opportunity to bask in the radiance. Key caveat: lots of games against the Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Cubs and Nationals, the bottom five offenses in the NL. But Reds’ starters haven’t lost a game since the Braves beat Mike Leake on May 8.

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Comments: 

As a whole, the Reds starting rotation has been the second best in the National League, behind only the Cardinals. All ERAs (and more importantly, all FIPs) are below league average. Despite pitching in Great American Small Park in half their games, they have kept their home runs surrendered in check. [Reminder: FIP better predicts the future than ERA. Helpful explanatory cartoon.]

Johnny Cueto has made only five starts, one of which was cut short due to injury. He’s been lucky so far on balls in play compared to his own career number (.284) so expect some regression. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine his walk rate staying that high. [*Does not include game pulled for injury.]

Mat Latos has pitched much better at the start of the season than in previous years. Relative to his career numbers, expect more strikeouts, a few more walks, and a lower BABIP. He’s been the victim of several blown saves by the bullpen, otherwise he could be 7-0.

Homer Bailey has been the best pitcher on the Reds staff so far. As I wrote in February, if Homer could sustain his numbers from the second half of 2012, he would become a “plausible top-of-the-rotation ace.” And so far he’s done just that. His underlying numbers for 2013 are right in line with those from the last three months of 2012. Best of all, neither his 2013 start nor 2012 finish has been fueled by lucky BABIP. Homer has pitched four games this year where he’s given up two runs or fewer and didn’t get a win due to lack of run support.

Bronson Arroyo continues to put up solid numbers that are consistent with his 2012 performance. His low strikeout rate is balanced by his low walk rate. His low home run rate is mostly believable because it’s not that much lower than what he accomplished in 2012 (1.2).

Mike Leake has shown the greatest improvement from 2012. With his strikeouts and ground balls up, it’s not surprising to see the decline in home runs. Don’t expect his ERA to remain this low, but all of his improvement hasn’t been luck. His FIP is better than his career number (4.35) by about a half run.

Tony Cingrani was both good (K/9, BB/9) and lucky (BABIP) in his six starts, all of which were against the bottom five.

45 thoughts on “Take Five: Starting Pitchers

    • @Richard Fitch: Funny.

      I would love to see W-L deleted from baseball. Really. Just because I hate seeing starting pitchers get removed from the game, and they are stressed out, they get really upset when a reliever blows the game. I hate watching starters having kind of a “letdown” reaction when they left up, say, 4-2, and the game gets tied, but then his team goes ahead and wins 5-4. They should be really happy, they pitched well, but the one completely dependent team-based stat changes their entire attitude.

      There’s nothing equivalent. It’s not like the leadoff hitter gets paid to score runs, in that he gets really upset at the #4 hitter when he gets left on base. He doesn’t storm back to the dugout and down the tunnel.

  1. Excellent article. It’s really good that Leake’s underlying numbers aren’t bad. I hope he can sustain this, though I don’t really see a different pitcher than last year, or any other year. Bailey is truly having a breakout year, so far, this year. He is a full point better in FIP than any other year. I love that the Reds pitchers walk so few guys. Cueto will, as you say, drop that walk rate, it’s way out of whack. I continue to think Mat Latos is overrated by people here. He’s really good, I love the trade, but he’s not, at this point, a great pitcher. (People were talking about the Cy Young. He’s not anywhere near that elite level.)

    One thing I don’t understand, or maybe I’m just ignorant, is they have an xBABIP stat for hitters based on line drives/fly balls/ground balls. Is there an equivalent stat for pitchers? xFIP is not it, as it just looks at expected homers based on fly balls, which I’m not a huge fan of. Why can’t there be a stat that gives me a real idea of luck, that is, if one pitcher gives up 20 bloop hits and another 5, then the first pitcher is unlucky. And so on, based on line drives, fly balls, pop ups, and ground balls.

    • @Hank Aarons Teammate: A change that I think I notice with Leake is that his control appears to be better–very important for any pitcher, of course, but particularly so for a pitcher whose stuff is all comfortably hitting speed. Agree with you about Latos, across the board, but I think that he is adapting to GABP and improving his command, so further improvement seems reasonable to expect. One thing that does bother me, a little, is that nobody gets out of the 7th inning on a regular basis. I expect (without knowing) that this is common to modern starters everywhere, but wonder if the logical but absurd ultimate consequence of this trend is to have a 10 or 12 man bullpen and no starters. Of course, somebody would have to start the games, but if the assumption is that they only pitch a few innings, they are little different from the long man.

  2. Mike Leake is the Bronson Arroyo of last year. Beginning of the year, everyone wanted him traded and towards the end we were perfectly fine with him starting a road game in the playoffs.

    Let’s hope the same for Leake.

    • @rfay00: I’d prefer to wait until September for proclamations. However, there’s almost no way I’m going to want Leake out there in the postseason, especially given the Reds rotation.

      • @Hank Aarons Teammate: It won’t make a difference if we want him or not, if Leake even maintains this ERA and wins 15 games where something like Bronson’s ERA may rise a full run and win less than 12 games. Baker will still go with Bronson instead of Leake because Bronson is the veteran, “Bronson’s been there before. Leake hasn’t been there before.”

  3. Excellent review, Steve.

    It’s sad that Latos has been the victim so often, if he was 7-0 with the dominance he’s shown, he’s already be front-runner talk for Cy Young 2013 (deserved or not). With all the blown W’s, and the talking-heads reliance on W’s as the sign of a great pitcher, he’ll not get any debate despite being above-solid so far this year.

  4. Thanks, Steve.

    I’m really excited about Homer’s sustainability, but worried about the prospects of keeping him. So far, it appears he and his agent don’t seem eager to pursue a contract extension. Given his past comments about pitching in GASP and his development, you have to wonder if he’d rather pitch somewhere else.

    • @Richard Fitch: That’s okay, Reds will squeeze out a great season or 2 from him, get a compensatory draft pick, and then move on. The decision has to come down to Latos or Bailey at some point. Latos is younger, less injury prone, and has been more consistent. Seems like a no brainer to me…

      Bailey can also be a decent trade piece this next offseason, though I doubt that would happen with Bronson likely waving goodbye.

    • @Richard Fitch: I don’t get the sense that Latos is eager to pursue an extension either, and honestly, with the amount of revenue sloshing around, I’d advise them to test free agency as well.

      The odds of losing both of them are rather high IMO.

  5. I’m not pessimistic about either Bailey or Latos and contract extensions. Starting pitching has been a huge priority with Jocketty. I’d be really surprised if he didn’t make a major effort to sign both of them. I don’t blame the Reds for wanting to see how Homer pitched this year — to find out if he would be the pitcher of the second half of last year or more like the one of the entire 2010-2012 period.

    The key is doing the contracts early enough so that the players are willing to trade cash for security. If they wait to become free agents, they may suffer injury or a bad season between now and then. Many players’ see it in their interest to take a little less money in exchange for the security of knowing they have the guaranteed deal. I think players are much more likely to do that with their first big contract.

    This is an industry-wide trend. Teams are locking up their own talent during the time when they are the only ones who can negotiate with the players. Only the really big market teams still rely on free agency. And fewer and fewer major players are reaching free agency.

    There is still plenty of time to get discounted deals for either Bailey or Latos.

    • @Steve Mancuso: I think you are being overly optimistic in this instance. The market for starting pitching is pretty absurd. Bailey will only have one more season to get through and he’ll be out in the market. Latos naturally seems like the better candidate this season as he’ll have more “cheap” (if you call the most expensive arbitration years ever “cheap”) years to give up.

      Cueto also becomes a free agent in 2016. Hard to see the Reds committing $180-220 million to 3 pitchers. So perhaps this becomes a pick 2 from Cueto, Latos, and Bailey.

      Of course,more power to the Reds if they could pull it off. They’ll all be in varying phases their prime too, so it makes a little more sense to do so. However, pitchers and long term contracts haven’t worked out all that well for other teams.

      The Reds have Leake & Cingrani for the long haul for peanuts, and Stephenson’s expected time frame puts him in the 2015 area. And then there is that Chapman guy (yeah, right). And we’re seeing college pitchers fly through the minors at rapid rates elsewhere…perhaps the Reds simply decide to spend their money on position players elsewhere.

  6. Money is not an issue or we would not have signed relievers Marshall, Chapman and Broxton to the contracts that they currently have.

    Revenue is increasing. 4 sell outs for the first time since the 1970′s is incredible. Walt’s model is building a very good team and then the fans come (see the hated st. louis cards).

    He built the same model in Oakland but never got the people through the turnstiles because Oakland is not a baseball town (never broke 2.0 mil with back to back to back).

    Leake can be a serviceable pitcher (a number 5 on this staff) for a number of years. The key is to constantly having new pitchers come up through the system.

    I can see them be very aggressive with Bailey.

    I remain bumfuzzled about Broxton and Chapman, but hey, when you have money to burn….

    oh how things change

    those draft picks for Choo and Bronson will feed those future pitching needs in 2018

    • @reaganspad: That’s right. Everything is predicated on drafting well.

      This year we have picks at 27, 38, and 67. I figure we’ll be in about the same boat next year. Those slots to me would seem to favor the high upside high schoolers rather than the solid floor/low ceiling college guys. I think the Reds scouting department has proven they’re quite good at projecting younger players, so it’s a risk worth taking IMO.

      • @Sultan of Swaff: Given the dearth of quality position players in the system, I wonder whether the Reds can afford to draft pitchers heavily (of course, I also know that they can’t afford not to).

  7. It would be great to see the Reds maintain the same core of players for most of the decade, baseball has been a mercenary sport for too long and i think it hampers its appeal with the fan base.

  8. Well done. Have to say it made me ill opening up my snail mail box recently to see all the Cards SP on the cover of Sport Ill. Let’s get some love from SI for our starters and some more wins so that at least one (perhaps Latos?) can be in the All-Star game this year.

  9. Considering the injuries that have started to pile up in St. Louis, it will be interesting to see how their starters perform in the next 10 starts or so.

  10. I’d rather not have any Reds pitchers be on the All-Star team.

    Steve, you did a good article on revenue in the pre-season report, the important thing of which was that the Reds stand to gain hugely with the re-negotiated or extended deal with Fox Sports Ohio (or whoever may outbid FSO). That deal runs out, I believe, in 2016 or so. Any news/rumors on that?

    Of course, other teams are getting new revenue streams, too, so I don’t know where that leaves the Reds in the long run on the Latos, Cueto and Bailey situations. You have to figure that at least one of them will have some injury issues, too.

    • @Big Ed: No news that I’ve seen on the Reds media deal. Hopefully they can get it done early. It is relevant to watch what other teams, like Cleveland, are able to do with their new agreements.

      Yes, other teams are gaining revenue, too. But as long as MLB’s luxury tax has some teeth, the rising tide of revenues will create some equality. In my article from the start of the year, I predicted the Reds could be spending $160 million in salary by 2017. Well, if the luxury tax remains below $200 million until then, the Reds will no longer be outspent by 2, 3 or 4 times as they were before. Been meaning to write a post on that but haven’t gotten to it yet.

  11. I’ve seen Homer pitch three times at GABP and I really don’t see him as the ace of this staff. He is still throwing way too many pitches. If he gets ahead 0-2, he picks at the corners to a full count. He still lets what he preceives to be bad calls get to him. He is nowhere near the pitcher he was at the end of 2012.

    • @stevechai: Ace of a staff is a tough one to give Bailey with Cueto around, and even Latos. But Bailey certainly is the pitcher he was in the back end of 2012. Almost exactly.

    • @stevechai: I suppose perception is up for debate. His FIP is lower than it was in the second half of last season (3.38). His current FIP is comparable even to his hot Sept/Oct 2012 (2.87). His strikeout and swinging strike rate in 2013 is an all-time high.

  12. I can not believe the noise in the media today about the Chapman/Swisher “incident.” It’s also making everyone hold onto the Cueto/DeJesus pitch as if that was an actual thing. The umps have to issue a warning before the game tonight, don’t they? If they really do want a clean game, there’s no way they can let these guys go out and start plunking each other on purpose. Especially when no one even got hit yesterday – just some hurt feelings.

      • @Steve Mancuso: Yeah I just watched that clip. What an idiot. He has clearly never seen Chapman pitch before. He was “certain” that the second pitch was intentional. I don’t know how you can be “certain” that ANYTHING Chapman does on the mound is intentional. I bet Hanigan and Mesoraco would back that up.

        • @eric nyc: It doesn’t even matter if Chapman was intentional on the second pitch. It’s still wrong for a broadcaster to advocate anyone get hit in the temple by a line drive. If Chapman admitted he threw at Swisher’s head on purpose, I’d estimate that everyone but Richard from Springboro would criticize him harshly.

          Pretty simple:

          It is wrong for Chapman to throw at someone’s head.

          It is wrong for an announcer to advocate an opponent get hit in the head.

      • @Steve Mancuso: I don’t know whether the Cleveland commentator is aware that an Indians’ shortstop named Chapman was killed by a pitch to the temple, in 1920, I believe. He probably doesn’t know that if he knows so little about the game that he seriously believes that our Chapman would throw not one but two purpose pitches in that situation.

  13. Arroyo is gone after this season with Cingrani the heir apparent for the open starting rotation. That leaves the Reds with a pretty solid starting rotation in 2014, assuming Cingrani makes the improvements this season as expected. The problem becomes the lack of a starting pitcher replacement at the major league level for 2014 and that’s a significant problem.

    Then in 2015, Homer is gone, leaving another opening in the staring rotation with no one yet viable or near major league ready to fill that opening.

    Then in 2016, the roof comes crashing in regarding the starting rotation.

    All of this unless some extensions are forthcoming.

    • @Shchi Cossack: I don’t think there’s any way they don’t extend Homer. More a question of if they can afford to extend Latos, too. I think they both have similar ceilings and Homer is homegrown. But if they continue this on the field success, i think they can afford both of them and Cueto. Cingrani’s going to be cheap for a long time and by the time they have to worry about Leake, Stephenson should be ready. I think they’re set up just fine. Just have to keep drafting well.

      • @eric nyc: I hope you are correct and if so, the future is bright, but just for clarification, Leake, Latos and Cueto are all FA in 2016. The Reds do not have Leake any longer than the others. Even if Stephenson continues to develop and is ready, he can only replace one starting pitcher and I don’t see any other starting pitcher prospect under development that the Reds can count on right now.

        • @Shchi Cossack: A lot can happen in 3 years. Like I said, I expect them to extend Latos and I personally don’t think Cueto is going to be super expensive to extend again. Plus there are always trades and surprise minor league guys who come out of nowhere – Leake was still in college 12 months before he made his first start in a Reds uniform. There isn’t a team in baseball that is set for 3+ years with starting pitchers.

  14. For all this talk about lower FIP numbers this year, remember:

    They have come against some really bad teams.

    Let’s revisit this after the Reds finish the first half. We’ll know more about our Redlegs after they play some winning teams (32 of their remaining 45 games are against winning teams).

  15. A perfectly executed squeeze play is the prettiest thing in all of sports. A poorly executed squeeze play is the ugliest thing in sports.

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