This week I will investigate the five pitchers in the current starting rotation. The goal is not only to evaluate how have they have performed so far, but also to predict how they will perform for the remainder of the season. To do this I will look at both their traditional stats and their more advanced underlying metrics. I will leave out Homer Bailey because he is out for the season after pitching only two games, and he will be out for most or all of next season as well. Since Raisel Iglesias has only pitched one game so far I will leave him out too, because we can not draw any meaningful conclusions based on a single game.

Let’s start with the old-fashioned stats that we see every day on the TV broadcasts. The Reds as a staff have amassed 11 Wins and 10 Losses with a 3.26 ERA in 187 innings across 29 games. The ERA is excellent. In fact, four of the five Reds starters have ERAs under 3.00! The odd man out is veteran Jason Marquis with a 5.66 ERA that drags down (or up I guess) the staff ERA quite a bit. Given the fact the staff has such a golden ERA it is rather disappointing to see they have won only one more game than they have lost. The biggest reason for that is the bullpen that has been just plain awful, blowing quite a few leads entrusted to them by the starters.

Here are the starters’ stats for the season thus far:

2015 Reds Starters Evaluation

The stats in the green columns are known as defense-independent or fielding-independent metrics. This means they separate the performance of the pitcher from the performance of the fielders. They focus exclusively on the things that only the pitcher can control. ERA is affected by factors outside a pitcher’s control and is also subject to wild swings. These FIP stats do a much better job of predicting the future than ERA does. So if you want to predict how a pitcher is going to perform over the rest of the season you should use his FIP, xFIP or SIERA rather than his ERA. For example, Mike Leake has pitched to a 2.36 ERA so far in 2015 but over the next few months he is likely to pitch to an ERA in the range of 3.89 to 4.31. In other words, Leake is not going to continue pitching as well as he has thus far.

FIP factors in a pitcher’s strikeout, walk and home run rates. xFIP substitutes a league average home run rate for the pitcher’s own home run rate because HR rates for pitchers tend to fluctuate wildly and are therefore unreliable indicators of a pitcher’s true ability to limit home runs. Studies have shown pitchers have very little influence on their own home run rates beyond their groundball/flyball tendencies. SIERA is a stat from Fangraphs that expands upon FIP by factoring in pitchers’ batted ball profile. All three of these stats are much more predictive than ERA. I prefer xFIP and SIERA over FIP as a predictive tool, but FIP does a better job of explaining what happened in the past.

The stats in the blue columns are the strikeout and walk ratios. These are the stats that explain why a pitcher is good or bad. Strikeouts and walks are the two outcomes that separate good and bad pitchers. Good pitchers almost invariably have high strikeout rates and low walk rates. Bad pitchers almost always have low strikeout rates and high walk rates. Pitching really is that simple. The art of pitching can be boiled down to strikeouts vs walks. Pitching is not as mysterious or complicated as we used to think it was. The blue columns above will tell you 90% of what you need to know about pitching.

The stats in orange are WHIP, which is simply Walks+Hits per inning pitched. WHIP is a fairly common stat that shows how many baserunners a pitcher allowed, but it is not a very useful stat for predicting future performance. BABIP is batting average on balls in play. It is a good way to tell if a pitcher has been lucky or unlucky in terms of balls falling in as hits when they could have been turned into outs by the fielders. I covered BABIP and it’s effect on the Reds pitchers in last week’s column (read it HERE).

Johnny Cueto — The ace of the staff currently has the 2nd-worst ERA, but it is not fair to associate the word “worst” in any form or fashion with a stellar 2.98 ERA. Cueto has by far the best strikeout and walk rates on the team. He is the only Reds starter with a K-BB% that is better than league average, which is important because I believe K-BB% is the most critical stat that exists for pitchers. Cueto’s 8.24 K/9 is only a little better than league average, but his walk rate is very low — less than half the league average. That results in a K/BB ratio that is more than twice as good as the league average. Cueto is one of the very rare pitchers who can consistently achieve results better than his FIP, xFIP and SIERA indicate he should. Cueto’s career ERA is 3.26, which is more than a half a run per game better than his 3.86/3.84/3.83 career FIP/xFIP/SIERA line. The reasons why would require another full article, but the short version is his ability to control his opponents’ running game by picking off runners and preventing stolen bases, his ability to field his position well and the Reds’ elite defense. Given Cueto’s proven ability to exceed his peripherals throughout his career we can safely assume that he will continue to deliver a sub-3.00 ERA into the future, but we should not expect the same level of dominance he exhibited last year during his Cy Young runner-up campaign. Prediction: 17-12 record, 2.80 ERA, 215 strikeouts at season’s end.

Mike Leake — The other impending free agent has the best ERA so far this season at 2.36, which unfortunately is much better than his 4.31/3.89/4.11 FIP/xFIP/SIERA. That means we should expect his ERA to climb steadily throughout the season. The FIP stats have done a great job of profiling Leake since he entered the league in 2010. Leake’s career 3.83 ERA is closely matched by his career 4.22 FIP, 3.79 xFIP and 3.93 SIERA. His FIP stats this year mirror his career stats, meaning he is not pitching any better this year than he always has despite his excellent ERA so far in 2015. Leake’s strikeout rate this year is well below average. His walk rate makes up for the lack of whiffs but his K-BB% and K/BB ratio are still below league average. That means we should expect his ERA to be worse than the 3.97 league average as well. The Reds’ great defense may help him beat that by a small margin but we are likely to see reduced effectiveness from Leake as the season rolls on. Prediction: 10-12 record, 3.75 ERA, 130 strikeouts at season’s end.

Anthony DeSclafani — Disco started the season hot but has cooled off since then. His 2.50 ERA is far better than the realistic level of performance we should expect to see moving forward. His FIP stats are actually worse this year than they were last year when he had a 6.27 ERA. Last year he had a 3.77 FIP , 3.80 xFIP and 3.70 SIERA that were much, much better than his ERA. This year his 4.06 FIP, 4.56 xFIP and 4.59 SIERA are worse than last year and about two full runs per game higher than his current ERA. That is not good. His strikeout and walk rates are both subpar, leading to a poor 8.10 K-BB% that is well below the 12.02% league average in that key metric. DeSclafani has been very lucky with his .216 BABIP that is due to rise drastically, leading to a lot more base hits. Anthony’s peripherals show a pitcher who needs to improve quite a bit if he wants to stay in the major leagues for long. Prediction: 8-14 record, 4.25 ERA, 135 strikeouts at season’s end.

Jason Marquis — Most people expected Jason Marquis to be a tire fire this season after missing all of 2014 due to injury. So far they have not been wrong. His 5.66 ERA has been dreadful, yet somehow he has a winning record at 3-2. The Reds have scored an absolute ton of runs in his starts. He has already given up 7 home runs, which is a pace to challenge Bronson Arroyo’s 46 HRs allowed in 2011. The good news is that Marquis’ predilection for the longball is not likely to continue at that rate. The high home run rate is the reason why his 5.09 FIP is so much higher than his 4.00 xFIP and 4.01 SIERA. Marquis’ strikeout and walk rates are near league average, leading to an 11.80 K-BB% that is the second best among Reds starters. Marquis is the one Reds starter who has not been lucky on his BABIP, which should see a nice drop in the right direction. Marquis should continue to do what he was brought in here to do: eat innings and keep the team in most of the games he pitches. He won’t win any awards but he should help stabilize the rotation as a decent back-end starter this year. Prediction: 10-12 record, 4.50 ERA, 140 strikeouts at season’s end.

Michael Lorenzen — The former college outfielder was one of the Reds’ top three minor league prospects coming into this season. In his minor league career he has consistently delivered excellent ERAs, but his strikeout and walk numbers have been quite worrisome. He has only pitched 16 innings for the Reds so far, but the whiffs and walks are still a big problem. His walk rate is way too high. His 4.10 K-BB% is very, very poor. It is so bad that he has zero chance of being an effective major league pitcher unless he makes huge strides in improving that deficiency. His 1.38 K/BB ratio would have been the worst in the major leagues last year. The worst K/BB in the majors last year was 1.44 by Roberto Hernandez and only 10 pitchers were less than 2.00 (the best was 11.63 K/BB by Phil Hughes of the Twins). Here is a weird stat for you: Lorenzen has allowed a whopping 23 base runners in his 16 innings, but only one of those runners has scored. That 96% strand rate is obviously unsustainable. In addition to the lone base runner who came around to score, Lorenzen has already allowed four solo homers in his three games, but home runs were not a problem for him in the minors. I believe Lorenzen will eventually be a good pitcher, but he has been rushed to the majors before he is ready because the Reds needed a replacement for Homer Bailey and had no other alternatives ready to step in. Lorenzen is still learning how to pitch and he is going to have to do it in the majors. That is a tough situation for any young pitcher, especially so for a guy who was still an outfielder a couple years ago. He has a very strong arm and a lot of athletic ability. I think he will succeed but there will be a lot of bumps in the road along the way. Prediction: 7-15 record, 5.00 ERA, 125 strikeouts at season’s end if he remains in the rotation.

The starting staff as a whole  has been very effective through the first 33 games. Their 3.26 ERA is likely to rise a bit after Leake, DeSclafani and Lorenzen see their ERAs rise. But Cueto and Marquis should stem the tide as their ERAs drop. I think the final ERA for the season will be about 3.75, which is comfortably better than the current league average 3.97 ERA. The Reds starters as a unit suffer from a lack of strikeouts. They are effective at limiting walks. They have been BABIP-lucky but should still benefit from the excellent team defense. The bullpen is probably going to be a major problem all year long and will cost the starters quite a few more wins. The final numbers may also suffer big blows if Cueto and/or Leake are traded away after the Reds fall out of contention.

The Reds’ options to fill a vacancy in the rotation are grim. Raisel Iglesias will start today and is really the only interesting starting candidate the Reds have who is ready to step in. Iglesias is another youngster like Lorenzen who still has a lot of developing left to do and an innings limit to face. The Reds have a few minor league journeymen struggling to remain viable at Louisville. There are several young pitchers who can be considered true prospects in the low and middle minors. Amir Garret, Jon Moscot, Nick Travieso, Nick Howard, Sal Romano, and Jonathan Crawford offer good potential. I will stay positive and look for steady growth from Lorenzen and Iglesias along with acceptable if mediocre innings from Marquis and DeSclafani. I also hope the Reds will remain in contention and keep Cueto and Leake through the full season unless they can get a real haul in a trade.

24 Responses

  1. Reds Fan in Indy

    Interesting analysis – going from your projected numbers, I believe the total W’s add up to 52. If we are to hope that the Reds are at least a .500 (or better) team, then that would require 30 or more wins to come from the pen or other starters not listed here.

    That might be steep.

  2. Gaffer

    Well that was a downer, not just for this year. I guess we were spoiled with the pitching for 3 years before now.

  3. RWALTERS32

    Cueto and Leake to have 24 losses combined! What are you smoking?

    • George Mirones

      Cueto / Leake 2014 combined 31 – 22.
      Not too far a stretch to see 24L

  4. wdwrolen2713

    It seems odd that Cueto and Disco both have 3 losses despite sub-3.00 ERA. I know wins and losses are sporatic and our bullpen blows leads, but a large amount of losses wouldn’t have to do with bullpen. Those two guys must have awful low run support if they give up less than 3 runs a game and still lead the staff in losses.

  5. Daytonian

    Over-determined. Your numbers allow no room for growth and learning by young pitchers. The past, in this case, is not a great predictor of even the near future.

    • docmike

      I agree that for the youngsters Desclafani and Lorenzen, their handful of starts this year is not very predictive of the rest of the season. I would interpret the data as saying that they have not pitched as well as their ERA would suggest, and that unless they improve, their numbers will get worse as the season goes on.

      But you hope that both of them will improve as they gain more experience. If they can do a better job cutting down on walks and maybe get a few more strikeouts, then the outlook will be much brighter.

  6. wdwrolen2713

    I hope you are right about Marquis and he starts to get a little better. Then the Reds could implement the plan of splitting Lorenzen and Iglesias in the rotation and bullpen. Not only is this almost necessary to keep 5 guys in the rotation for the duration of the year, having either of these rookies in the pen would tremendously help the bullpen. They seem to do really well at the start of the game and only begin to get hit the second or third time through lineup.

  7. Vanessa Galagnara

    I fancy the notion of Lorenzen, Iglesias, and Moscot sharing the duties of 2 starting spots in the rotation. We will need all 3 at the start of 2016 so might as well break them in now.

  8. George Mirones

    Nick; thanks for the effort and statistical look forward. I think that many fans who post to this blog will look at the numbers and start discussing the lack of offense that the starters are receiving. During last nights game Jeff B. made the observation that the Reds have scored first in 21 of the games played so far (I may be wrong on that as I am old). The bullpen inefficiency has created a dark hole that will reflect in the wins and loss column of the team. The BB/9 and WHIP of anybody not named Cueto or Leake tell the sad story. The other starters don’t or haven’t shown they have an “out pitch”. Yes it will be a .500 or less season. Yes the team will miss Cueto but whether it is sooner or later he will be gone. I wonder if there is a statistical approach for charting the maniacal approach to not “doing anything” by Reds operations management. Probably not as it is too vague and has little information to work with.

    Anyway thanks

  9. docmike

    Desclafani seems to me like one of those “pitch to contact” guys who needs a strong defense. I think he has definitely benefited from the Reds’ excellent defense so far, but I still don’t see that 2.50 ERA lasting too much longer.

    However, I think he could carve out a nice little career as a #3 / #4 starter, which is perfectly fine. Hopefully, the Reds will have guys like Lorenzen and Stephenson ready to step in at the top of rotation.

  10. streamer88

    Great work. These (and more often hitting) analyses make me wonder if we’re causing serious, statistically significant Hawthorne effect with the predictive statistics boom occurring in baseball. Broadly summarizing to make a point – fifty years ago a walk for a hitter was a less-machismo outcome and therefore suboptimal whereas pitchers would often prefer a walk than to chancing contact. Similarly, hitters would choke up on two strikes and attempt contact to avoid striking out. This, of course, likely decreased their batted-ball hitting speeds and strike out rates, and by expanding their strike zone to “protect the plate” also decreased walk rates, but those stats weren’t being reported therefore the “subjects” weren’t aware that portion of their “behavior” was being monitored (ref: Hawthorne effect). Has anyone studied era specific variations in these advanced metrics? Are these advanced statistics changing how the game is played? If so, then that also changes the value of the predictive statistics over time. What I mean is this: the value of OBP, e.g., and its relationship to scoring runs, was established using baseball statistics generated from an era in which none of the “subjects” were aware (or less aware) that they were being studied. As these findings become more mainstream, might we not see an alteration in their value?

  11. Shchi Cossack

    The Reds have not had a #4/#5 starter since 2011 (Volquez & Wood). Cueto has been an indisputable #1, Latos/Bailey have been solid #2’s and Leake/Arroyo/Cingrani/Simon have been solid #3’s. We have been spoiled by a simply elite starting rotation.

    Now the Reds have an indisputable #1 in Cueto, a solid #3 in Leake, and average to questionable #4/#5 in DeSclafani/Lorenzen/Marquis. That starting rotation wouldn’t be quite so bad IF(!) the bullpen and bullpen utilization were solid, but such is not the case.

  12. Jeremy Conley

    Good breakdown. This gets at why it always felt like the Reds front office was selling fans snake oil when they were talking about contending this year. You don’t lose 86 games one year and then trade away 40% of your very good rotation to get better in the next.

    I think the Reds rotation has some promise going forward. Assuming Cueto moves on I don’t see us having a true ace at the top, but I think Bailey, Lorenzen, and Iglesias will all be above average. Desclafani looks like he might end up being above average too. That means that we just need one or two of the prospects noted (and Stephenson who was left out) to pan out, and we’d be back to having a deep rotation of above average starters.

  13. Redsfan48

    My predictions (I will not predict W/L record because that depends highly on the offense)

    Cueto: 2.75 ERA, 225 strikeouts
    Leake: 3.35 ERA, 145 strikeouts
    DeSclafani: 3.45 ERA, 160 strikeouts
    Lorenzen: 3.75 ERA, 140 strikeouts (if he stays in the rotation)
    Marquis: 4.75 ERA, 130 strikeouts (if he stays in the rotation)

    I will also predict for Raisel Iglesias, because I think he has a shot at taking either Lorenzen or Marquis’s spot at some point in the year (Lorenzen might go to the bullpen to save innings at some point). Will not predict strikeouts on him either, because I’m unsure how many innings he will get, but I’m guessing he will have a K/9 of around 7

    Iglesias: 3.55 ERA

  14. Indy Red Man

    If Leake ends up at 3.75
    Tony Disco at 4.25
    Lorenzen at 5.00 then the Reds will lose atleast 90? We’re not that bad plus at some point soon Jocketty/Price will figure out what everyone else already knew and send Marquis off to the happy hunting grounds w/Mr. Gregg. I think the pen will improve and might be halfway decent if Badenhop gets it together? Lets see how Inglesias looks tonite? With his delivery…he should atleast be in the pen vs righties

  15. citizen54

    It’s kind of funny but when you look at the current advanced stats (SIERA and xFIP), Marquis is actually our second/third best pitcher. This can be explained by his unsustainable k% though. Unfortunately, these stats don’t paint a promising future for Lorenzen and DeSclafani who if judged just on their ERA alone would appear to be future stars.

  16. Frogger

    I keep hearing on this site the fip is a good predictor of future era. Does anyone have the breakdown on that across mlb? I would be interested to see the numbers. It seams to me that it always favors strikeout pitchers. Bailey seems to consistently have a better fip than era. Cueto and Leake are opposite. I don’t dispute there being merit in this evaluation, but I wonder to what level. If Cueto and Leake outperform fip on a yearly basis why would that be used to predict year end numbers? The sample size for Disco and Lorenzen seems to make their projections premature. Especially since I get the feeling Lorenzen is in the Cueto and Leake camp on the fip thing. His era in the minors outperformed fip at every level. In short, I am not sold on the specific interpretation of fips value. It seems to me to be a general indicator, but needs to considered with other numbers.

    Once again this team seems to be good enough to stay in the mix, but front office mistakes in the off-season keep biting them. Bullpen is the real problem for this team. As we have seen everyone will fail on occasion. Chapman can’t be counted on to make up for several bad relievers just as Votto couldn’t overcome holes in the lineup in years past. The frustrating part is this team has clearly had the foundation for the magical season we all want, but there is always a deficiency that never gets addressed.

  17. lwblogger2

    In recent history, the Reds defense tends to deflate ERA relative to the advanced metrics (good fielding team). Cueto also manages the running game exceptionally well and tends to have a lower ERA than the advanced metrics would suggest. So, it isn’t necessarily the case that we can expect Reds’ pitchers who seem to have gotten “lucky” as far as their ERA to regress to their advanced metrics. The most obvious regression candidate is Leake because there’s no way he’ll maintain a BABIP of ~.200.

    Very interesting indeed to see Marquis’ advanced metrics. I’m guessing it is because of his high number of strikeouts early on. He’s struck out more batters than he really ever has so we probably can’t expect that to continue. That said, his BABIP is unlikely to stay over .325 so he may get some balance there. I don’t see Marquis dropping his ERA to ~4.00, I just don’t. I do see him dropping it some though. Maybe he’ll end up around 4.50-4.75?

  18. User1022

    Nice to see Marquis getting an inkling of respect because, as I said in the Gregg DFA thread, he hasn’t been nearly as bad as his reputation thus far. If he keeps pitching the way he has, I’m perfectly satisfied with him being the #5 starter on this team.

    The very first time I saw Disco pitch, I was not sold on him (you could find the thread). Nice to see advance stats back me up there.

    And… Well, yeah, the rotation is a little shaky after being rock solid for so long. If we lose Cueto AND Leake…. We may have some dark years ahead that may make us pine for the days when a guy like Marquis was no better than the 5th starter on our team.

  19. lou

    And here comes Mr iglesias to the party .