At the beginning of the year, roster construction is the hot topic around the Nation. We wonder who will be in the bullpen, who will make the team or go to AAA, who will be our fifth starter. And these are all good questions. This year’s medical-drama of a season made that early anxiety seem premature.

In my first Sixty Feet From Home column, I mentioned this article about pitching injuries. Jeff Zimmerman documents that, on average, teams use 7 starters during the year. Zimmerman goes on to say that pitching injuries are usually more severe than hitting injuries, so when pitchers hit the DL, they are usually on there longer than hitters.

This year, the Reds have used an entire 25 man roster just on pitching.* The pitching caravan was driven by a variety of causes: injuries, failed performances, or trades. Yet the result was the same: Reds fans were treated endured more pitchers this year than we have seen since 2007.

*Well, maybe a 24-man roster because Skip Schumaker is counted in that.

Here is a breakdown of the number of pitchers used by year:

  • 2014 – 25 pitchers used
  • 2013 – 20
  • 2012 – 17
  • 2011 – 21
  • 2010 – 23
  • 2009 – 22
  • 2008 – 23
  • 2007 – 25

The link becomes slightly more clear here. Not only are the Reds using more pitchers this year than they have in recent history, those pitchers are performing worse than their previous renditions. From this, it looks like teams use about 22 pitchers a season, plus or minus 2 depending on circumstance. If we keep in mind the Reds made the playoffs in 2012 and 2010. It doesn’t look like there is a strong connection between wins and pitchers used.

  • 2014 – 12 pitchers with negative f(WAR)
  • 2013 – 9
  • 2012 – 4
  • 2011 – 11
  • 2010 – 1
  • 2009 – 7
  • 2008 – 9
  • 2007 – 9

Perhaps the most impressive stat from this entire table is that in 2010 only 1 pitcher posted a negative WAR. (Compared to the current playoff contenders in 2014: Angels – 9; Braves – 2; Cards – 6; O’s – 4; Royals – 6; Dodgers – 9; Nationals – 2). However, in 2014, the Reds have had their worst year in terms of the number of pitchers used with negative fWAR.

Despite the great performances at the top of the staff by Cueto, Simon, Leake, Chapman & Co., the bottom of the staff leaves much to be desired. As painful as it may be, let’s take a closer look at the bottom of the Reds pitching staff and ask: Are these pitchers just having down years?

J.J. Hoover (-0.5 WAR, 58.0 IP) – He isn’t a free agent until 2019 or even arbitration eligible until 2016, so despite his less than stellar performance, it’s doubtful the Reds will cut him. Hoover is 27 years old, and this year was a serious decline from his previous two with the Reds.

David Holmberg (-0.5 WAR, 12.0 IP) – with only 0.002 service time, Holmberg is under Reds control until 2020 and doesn’t hit arbitration until 2017. Although that might be a good thing for Mr. Holmberg, because if he and the Reds went to arbitration, the Reds might ask for their money back.

Tony Cingrani (-0.3 WAR, 63.1 IP) – Cingrani was injured most of the year and will be back with the Reds as a starter next year.

Nick Christinati (-0.2 WAR, 12.0 IP) – Christiani and Holmberg are in the same boat: not arbitration eligible until 2017, not a free agent until 2020. He’s 27 years old, so despite his low cost and long contract, the odds are not good for Christiani making a long-term home in MLB.

Sam LeCure (-0.2 WAR, 48.2 IP) – LeCure was lights out at the beginning of the year, but regressed quickly to a 3.70 ERA (4.15 FIP/ 4.12 xFIP). His BABIP this year is outrageous (.345) but his strikeouts are down and his walks are up. At 30 years old, this year might be a down year, but Im not sure how much “up” there is left for LeCure.

Sean Marshall (-0.2 WAR, 15.0 IP) – Marshall is under contract in 2015 for $6.5 million. That’s about all we can count on.

Manny Parra (-0.2 WAR, 35.0 IP) – Parra is owed $3.5 million in 2015. He had a career year last year (115 ERA+ against a career 83 ERA+) and got the two year deal. This year Parra has been brutal, posting a 75 ERA+, the second worst of his career. At the age of 31, there’s not much to look forward to here.

There are others, too, but most of them are young (Corcino) with a few years left before we will know much about their potential. The worst part about the above list, however, is that there are a few big contracts hanging around in the negative numbers. All in all, the Reds had 284 innings of negative WAR pitching this year. So while there was a lot to be happy about with the 2014 Reds’ pitching, there are defiantly areas for improvement in 2015.

17 Responses

  1. GOREDS

    Bullpens are notiriously ficlle (sp?). That is why you do not commit big money or multiyear contracts to player after an “up” year in the ‘pen. The problem is I do not see an easy fix. The best thing is to bring up young guys and hope.

  2. WVRedlegs

    Wow. What a stark reality. When the post-mortem is completed on the 2014 season in October while we watch other teams in the playoffs, this is a very good place to start and then move to the offense. While you say, “It doesn’t look like there is a strong connection between wins and pitchers used” your table definitely shows that there is a strong connection between wins and pitchers used with a negative fWAR. Just look at 2011 and 2014. The two sub-.500 years in the last five seasons.
    This is prima facie evidence that the bullpen needs to be blown up and re-constructed.
    Nice article Michael. Other than injuries, some insights on the “whys” and “how comes”
    of the 2014 season tanking.

  3. Reed Bergen

    I am sure that many on this site have been thinking about what the Reds should do about the pitching. I have been as well and I favor getting what you can and using whatever money that you might save by trading guys to find some more. I like LeCure because he gets by on guile, but maybe he is done. I like Hoover and believe that part of his problem is mental and some is physical. Can anyone say Jared Burton? I say get rid of Parra-Christiani is not going to be a major leaguer-Cingrani should be moved to the bullpen so that his innings can be limited. Diaz? I do not know. Ondrusek should be traded for a box of bolts and some chewing gum. Trading Chapman may get you some of what you need, but will it be enough? Marshall’s contract should probably be eaten, though I hope I am wrong. Moving Simon back to the pen would help, but I believe that the Reds will keep him in the rotation. Holmberg is someone I think can help next year, as soon as he gets over the yips. Witness what he did when he did not think he was going into that game on Monday.

    In general, I think the Reds went through a season where just about everything that could go wrong, has. I would expect a big comeback from Hoover, and LeCure, and if Cingrani goes to the pen Parra becomes expendable. If Chapman or Jumbo could bring a sufficient return, then trade them. Trade Latos and/or Simon and keep Cueto, Bailey, Leake. Add to those three starters Axelrod and Holmberg/Cingrani/Simon and your starters would be pretty good and if they fail then hopefully one of the prospects who will be in AAA next year can be brought up to help.

  4. GOREDS

    My expected Reds 2015 bullpen:
    Chappy
    Jumbo
    LeCure
    Parra
    Hoover
    Cingrani

    • GOREDS

      My desired Reds bullpen (wont happen but I can dream):
      Chappy
      Cingrani
      Jumbo
      Lorenzen
      Iglesies

      • GOREDS

        I am sure we are stuck with Parra. Marshal is done. Ondrusek should be non-tnedered but I have been disappointed before.

  5. Hotto4votto

    I’d look at the pen first by thinking of the guys you can count on. That list is short, Chapman and Diaz. Then the contracts we simply won’t get rid of; Marshall, Parra, and LeCure. On top of that Cingrani and Simon need to be sorted out. Having Cingrani start at Louisville when there is a possibility of having Iglesias, Moscot, Axelrod, Stephenson, Lorenzen, and Holmberg already there seems like a misuse of resources, especially as either Simon or Cingrani would greatly help our bullpen (assuming Cingrani gets back to health and returns to form). The caveat would be trading a starter during the offseason, whereas you might need both in the rotation.

    After that you pick between Ondrusek, Contreras, Hoover, Dennick, Partch, Villarreal etc. An idealist might think that the combo of Marshall (when healthy), Simon/Cingrani, Diaz, and Chapman could get you from the 7th to the 9th on most occasions. And more often than not, assuming health and no seriously poor seasons, that likely would be true more nights than not. But awaiting a healthy Marshall is starting to feel like watching one of those Finding BigFoot shows. Also, a seamless return to the pen for either Simon or Cingrani is no sure thing.

    If it were up to me, I may set things up differently. I would keep Chapman and Diaz in their end of game/high leverage roles. I would evaluate whether or not Iglesias would be a better asset in the pen or at AAA as a starter. I’d lean toward the pen as I feel he’d provide more value next year. I would not count on Marshall until he showed through extended rehab that he can get hitters out at a high rate. I would trade Simon (for LF help or payroll help/prospect) and use Cingrani in the rotation. If Cingrani stumbles I rely on who’s pitching well in AAA once it gets to late May or so. I would allow Dennick and Parra to battle it out for LOOGY purposes in Spring Training. I would fill out the pen with LeCure ( hope he bounces back some), Contreras (long man), and sort out the final spot in Spring Training with Hoover, Partch, etc vying for the last spot.

    Chapman, Diaz, Iglesias, Dennick/Parra, LeCure, Contreras, (Hoover, LH, Ondrusek, etc) with Marshall rehabbing to begin the year. Not ideal but hopefully better.

  6. al

    If you go by xFIP, JJ Hoover was more or less exactly the same pitcher he was last year and the year before. I have been saying for years that a high walk, extreme flyball pitcher is a bad thing for the Reds, but he got lucky on BABIP and how many flyballs went out of the park. This year he didn’t.

    But it’s not like he really declined, he’s basically the same guy, who has never been that good.

    • docmike

      Going back to 2002, the ML average for HR/FB has varied a little year-to-year, but has mainly stayed right around 10%. So I agree that Hoover was lucky on flyballs on 2012 and 2013 (rates of 4.7% and 7.4%, respectively). But he has been very unlucky on them this year, with his HR/FB jumping up to a ridiculous 14.6%.

      The truth is that Hoover is probably not as good as he was in 2012 and 2013, but not as bad as in 2014. If he can get his walk rate back down, and his HR rate normalizes, he could at least be a decent middle-inning option in 2015.

  7. docmike

    The Reds have absolutely nothing to gain by cutting Marshall at this point. They have to pay his contract next year anyway, and no one would trade for him, so you just hope that he can get healthy and give you some value for the money. If he can’t get healthy, then he sits on the 60-day DL all year and you are no worse off than if you cut him. I still think a healthy Marshall can help the team.

    With Parra, I don’t think he should have been given a 2-year contract last offseason, but what’s done is done. I still think he has some value, as long as he is used correctly. Even with his negative WAR overall, he has held lefty batters to a .692 OPS, which is slightly above the league average. The problem is he has been blasted by righties, allowing a .960 (!) OPS to them. So, since Parra’s money is already spent anyway, keep him around and use him exclusively as a LOOGY. Don’t even let him sniff a righty batter, unless it’s the opposing pitcher.

    As for Hoover, it seems he has become everyone’s favorite whipping boy on here. I see people calling for him to be released or traded on a daily basis. And I understand he has regressed this year. But to cut him would be foolish at this point. He had excellent seasons in 2012 and 2013, both with sub-3.00 ERA’s and over 9.0 K/9. Interestingly, his K rate has gone up this year to an amazing 10.9 K/9, second on the team only to Aroldis. His problems have been a ridiculous HR/FB rate of 14.6%, and a walk rate that jumped up to 4.5/9. That HR rate is double what it was in 2013, and triple that in 2012. So, if he can cut back on the walks, and if his HR rate comes back to the norm, he should be poised to bounce back in 2015. Keep him.

    LeCure worries me. He was excellent in 2013 with a 2.66 ERA, although he also had a sub-3.00 FIP in 2012. But his fastball velocity was down this year, and his K/9 dipped to 7.8, the first time it has been that low since 2010. At 30 years old, I have to wonder if he will ever get back to his 2012-2013 form again. His future with the team may be as a mop-up man.

    Now Logan Ondrusek, I just don’t see any point there. He will never be more than a mop-up man. Cut him, unless something happens with LeCure and you need a mop-up man.

    • al

      The problem is that with Hoover, you’re saying that his rate stats in years previous were the “norm,” but in reality, they were abnormally low.

      His xFIP this year and last year are basically identical, and not great. He walks too many people, and he is an extreme flyball pitcher. His K rate is good, and that keeps him from being terrible, but he’s never been a truly elite reliever.

      • docmike

        I didn’t mean that his HR rates in the past were the norm. They were abnormally low. But his rate this year has been abnormally high. With the ML average HR/FB rate around 10%, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

        His walk rate, while never great, jumped up quite a bit from that in 2012 and 2013. Is this what we can expect going forward, or will his walk rate go back to previous seasons? That remains to be seen. But his K rate has always been good, and this year was even better. For a pitcher, the ability to get guys out on your own can never be ignored.

        You mentioned his xFIP was not great the last few years. But if you check out his SIERA, you will see that he has outpitched the ML average each of the last 3 seasons, including this one.

        No, I don’t mean to say he will be an elite reliever. But he’s not a scrub either. If he can improve his walk rate, he should be a decent middle relief option.

  8. Eric the Red

    I’m really sad Cingrani lost a year of development. He’s no closer to knowing how to use his secondary pitches than he was a year ago. That will hurt us. Not to mention, a year long shoulder injury is never a good thing.

    • GOREDS

      He doesnt need them in the bullpen. Remeber the reason he fell to the 3rd round in teh draft was that his delivery had the potential to put stress on his shoulder (it did). The real issue is will he EVER be healthy again.

  9. Jason Linden

    I know I have made this point before, but you simply can’t accurately assess pitching right now using only one of the two WAR models. We’re still figuring out how to measure pitching. FIP is good, and so is FanGraphs WAR, but they are far from perfect.

    Put it this way, by FanGraphs, the Reds’ pitching was very mediocre last year and Cueto is just good and not great.

    The truth lies between the two versions.