The first seven games, non-bullpen content

Do whatever mental gymnastics necessary to bracket off the bullpen for a minute.

The Reds are 5-2 and have won series against the Phillies and Pirates. They’re tied for second in the division. In both their losses, they were ahead in the 8th inning.

Beyond the record – we agreed on Opening Day that this season isn’t about the wins and losses – noteworthy positives abound.

The Reds have operated so far with a starting rotation patched together like a worn out pair of jeans. They’ve sent raw rookies and washed up veterans to the mound in three of the seven games. The two anchors of the staff, Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Finnegan, have 24 major league starts between them, but both have made great, early impressions.


Brandon Finnegan / Photo: Dennis Wierzbiecki, USA Today Sports

The Reds have scored runs with limited contributions from Joey Votto and almost none from Devin Mesoraco. There are early indications that Eugenio Suarez’s offensive improvement is ongoing and durable (more on that below). Both halves of the left field platoon have made several big plays. Jay Bruce has hit the other way and with power. Until last night, when he was pulled with a sore quad, Zack Cozart looks back to form (more on that below). The Reds have demonstrated the ability to come from behind and win in the final at bat.


Eugenio Suarez / Photo: Dennis Wierzbiecki, USA Today Sports

The Reds surprising start hasn’t moved the needle much on the smart money regarding their ultimate prospects in 2016. Nor should it. We’re still in super-small sample size territory. There’s nothing to be learned from it, really. Let’s reconvene in May and see how we feel.

The first seven games, bullpen content

My thoughts about the bullpen from two weeks ago still stand.

Terrible. Legit reinforcements will arrive as health of pitching staff improves. Until then, rock bottom. This early-season crew will make us ache for Logan Ondrusek by the third week of April. The only way the front office shouldn’t hang its head in abject shame producing this crowd with their off-season moves is if we agree the bullpen just doesn’t matter because nothing matters for now.

The Reds may have the worst bullpen in the modern history of bullpens. Here are the deck chairs that Bryan Price has to shuffle in his Titanic struggle every night:

  • J.J. Hoover – Career FIP of 4.18 and declining K%.
  • Tony Cingrani – Career FIP of 4.38, astronomical walk-rate
  • Caleb Cotham – 28-year-old, career minor leaguer for Yankees
  • Blake Wood – 30-year-old minor league journeyman, released by Pirates
  • Ross Ohlendorf – 33-year-old, scrapheap pick up, released by Royals
  • Dan Straily – Picked up off waivers from Padres two weeks ago
  • Jumbo Diaz – 32-year-old, good in 2014 and 2015, lousy start in 2016
  • Keyvius Sampson – Career FIP of 4.99, gigantic walk-rate

That’s it. There isn’t a single pitcher out of that group who inspires confidence. The queasy feeling of “maybe Dan Straily” is all the proof you need. Yes, the bullpen will have nights or even stretches where they look OK. Even the worst major league pitchers retire more hitters than not. There are several lousy teams in the National League.

But there are going to be many, many nights like last night.

It’s nuts to agonize over it. It is what it is. Getting mad at Bryan Price for handling this bullpen is like King Lear yelling at the storm. This isn’t Burke Badenhop, Manny Parra or even Kevin Gregg. This is what it looks like when the front office doesn’t try.  And that’s OK. Given the Reds plans for 2016, it would have been ridiculous to spend real money or other resources acquiring relief arms. The current bullpen composition is the product of legitimate one-year neglect during rebuild and injuries.

Speaking of the latter, the Reds will gain pitchers over the next few weeks: Anthony DeScalfani, Homer Bailey, John Lamb, Jon Moscot and Michael Lorenzen. Several will end up in the bullpen and the ones who make the rotation will push other pitchers to the pen.

By May 30, the rotation should be: Bailey, Iglesias, DeSclafani, Finnegan and Simon. The bullpen could then include: Lamb, Moscot, Melville and Lorenzen. That’s a huge upgrade in arms. Maybe one of Moscot, Lamb or Lorenzen beats out Simon, who would then move to the bullpen. Maybe one of Moscot, Lamb or Lorenzen will go to AAA to develop as an emergency starter not named Stephenson or Reed. And when Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed get promoted this year, even more talent will trickle down to the bullpen.

Short version: The bullpen is terrible now. The bullpen will be alright by next year. Instead of worrying about it, enjoy the starting pitchers.

Leg kicking up a fuss

Owen Wilson at FanGraphs gives us reason to hope that Eugenio Suarez’s recent offensive prowess may be durable. Has to do with his leg kick and improved plate discipline.

We’re not going to be able to perfectly represent a player’s swing with just three examples, but this gives us an idea of the two major adjustments he’s made over the past two years: the opening of the stance pre-swing, and the leg kick that helps him keep his body closed at contact/generate more power. The last pitch highlighted wasn’t random, either; we can see the plate coverage he has by closing his body off better, driving the ball to right center.

Billy is fast and fly ball-free

You probably know that Billy Hamilton hit a home run last night, the over-the-fence variety. His run around the bases was the fastest recorded in the (brief) history of Statcast.

Statcast measured the amble at 16.2 seconds — the quickest for an over-the-wall homer in the tracking system’s history. caught up with the speedster after the game: “I didn’t know it was a home run. If you don’t know it’s a home run, you can’t expect it to be home run when you don’t hit home runs. My motto is, ‘If that ball falls, I’m trying to get an inside the park home run.’ I’m going full speed all the time. If it falls at the wall, I won’t be standing on first base. I’ll be on second or third where somebody has a chance to drive me in.”


Billy Hamilton hits home run / Photo: Dennis Wierzbiecki, USA Today Sports

Zach Buchanan (Cincinnati Enquirer) adds a more important point, that Hamilton so far (caveat: minuscule sample size) is keeping his fly balls in check.

The ball was launched at a 33-degree angle, by far the most Hamilton has lofted a ball so far (Has put only five in play, though). That should be taken as a good sign. Hamilton’s yet to hit what qualifies as a fly ball after lots of talk about focusing on hitting the ball on a line more this spring.

Peraza for Cozart?

Zack Cozart left last night’s game after feeling tightness in his right quad muscle. This sort of thing is expected with players coming off major knee surgery.

“He’s going to have some tendinitis that is consistent with guys who have had a major overhaul on his knee,” Price said. “A cold night, that’s going to happen. He’s dealt with it ever since he had the surgery and he’ll probably have to continue to deal with it. But once it started to affect his quad, then we got him out of the game.”

Before the words “quad muscle” cause your brain to conjure up Joey Votto, remember that Votto had tendonosis, a far worse condition that tendinitis. Nothing so far indicates this is serious. Today’s off-day comes at a good time. But the Reds do face two more chilly night games in Chicago this week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cozart get at least one of those off.


Zack Cozart / Photo: Dennis Wierzbiecki, USA Today Sports

In the near term, Ivan De Jesus can play shortstop. If this develops into a condition that requires a DL stint for Cozart, one step would be for the Reds to call up Jose Peraza. Peraza, the headliner in the return of the Todd Frazier trade, could play shortstop and take over Cozart’s lead-off spot in the batting order. Peraza is playing SS full-time for for Louisville.

However, if the Reds could keep Peraza at AAA for another 45 days – to the first of June – they would gain an entire extra season of control (2022) over the 21-year-old infielder. Acquiring the age-28 year of the promising infielder’s career would be a huge bonus for the organization.

Pitch counts and innings limits

Lots of controversy swirling about Bryan Price’s use of Brandon Finnegan for 111 pitches last night. Plenty of arguments on each side. In terms of winning, the third time through the batting order is a lot tougher. But regarding injury risk, it’s worth remembering that there isn’t as much research backing strict pitch counts and innings limits as you might think. Here’s a post from last year about various theories of preventing elbow injuries.

If the latest research fails to back it, why do teams continue their devotion to workload limits? It’s the perfect solution for the uninformed. The rules are easy to understand, the steps are simple to implement and it has the patina of statistical rigor. And following external rules takes human judgment about individual pitchers out of the picture and, more importantly, out of question. … Pitch and innings limits also have the perverse effect of encouraging pitchers to throw with more violence to achieve higher velocity. If a pitcher knows he’s going to be used for no more than 1 inning or 100 pitches, he’ll throw harder when he’s in there, risking more damage.

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46 Responses

  1. Jeremy Conley

    Great piece Steve.

    The only thing that really makes this bullpen so maddening is that so many other aspects of the team have surprised. With some decent relievers it looks like this team could scare some people.

    • gaffer

      This team is not that scary, as we know what this offense is capable of over 100 games (not just 7). Low OBP (other than Votto) and I worry a lot about Mesoraco and Bruce being real run producers. The starting pitching has been good but also lucky with a ton of stranded runners. Finnegan had 5 walks and Iglesius has had a small Pacific island worth or runners on base. Yes the bullpen is the worst part of this team, but the rest only looks better by comparison.

      I do think a future Reds team with the starters currently on the DL and a few of the young arms in the minors in the bullpen has a chance. They will need Winker to be a stud and probably a few other position players to arise (? trade/FA).

      • Indy RedMan

        I think the obp will improve!! Suarez knows what he’s doing up there….drew a 4 pitch walk in the 1st last night but the ump blew the 3-0 pitch? Mesoraco isn’t hitting but he’s got a decent eye. Schebler has impressed me too. Even Hamilton will take close pitches but they usually don’t have to be that careful with him! I think they’re in the process of moving away from hacking for the fences but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Schebler/Duvall have 6-7 doubles between them now? This team is going to be much better offensively if Meso ever hits and even Barnhart is a decent overachieving hitter!

      • VaRedsFan

        IMO…If Winker was a real stud, he would have been with the Reds by now.

      • lwblogger2

        I think he’s going to be a nice MLB OF. Any pick that ends up being a nice MLB starting caliber player is a successful pick. Now, I’m not sure there will be AS games in his future but it really comes down to if that’s what it takes to be considered a stud or if just being a good MLB starter makes you a stud? The hit tool and approach are both real. Will the power come? That’s what is going to determine if he’s simply a good player or perhaps a great one.

  2. Patrick Jeter

    FanGraphs has Hamilton with 3 fly balls, with 2 of them staying in the infield.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Perhaps a timing issue with the article above, most likely!

  3. WVRedlegs

    Nice reminder to stay calm. Year after year I keep hearing how building a bullpen is the easiest job for a GM. And year after year the Reds GM doesn’t get the memo, and then fills in the cracks with Bondo from the bargain bin. You would have thought that knowing how young and inexperienced the starting rotation was going to be, the Reds front office would have gone the extra mile to build a strong bullpen. To not let wins slip away and help the starters build more confidence.
    I read where Lamb is supposed to get a minor league start on Saturday and Bailey is tentatively scheduled for his first minor league start on April 21, just 9 days away. Good news and they can’t get back soon enough.
    Rebuilding or not, losses like last night just chaffe the rear end. Letting ones get away are always tough to reconcile.
    The only Reds LH in the bullpen can’t get out a LH hitter. He can’t even be a LOOGY now. And Jumbo, he is the equivalent to putting a frozen turkey down into a turkey fryer with boiling hot oil. We all know how that turns out. A Jumbo fire. If whoever is the Cubs music player, if Diaz gets into one of the other two games, they ought to play the Talking Heads “Burning Down the House” song while he warms up.

    • Tct

      I don’t know if building a bullpen is the easiest job for a GM. Relievers are volatile and unpredictable. You will have guys give you a couple good years then suddenly turn into pumpkins, a la Hoover, LeCure, and Arredondo. That unpredictability means you can build a bullpen for cheap, but you need a little luck.

      Credit where its due though. Walt did build one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2012 and 2013. Almost all of those guys were acquired by Walt; Chapman, Hoover, Simon, Marshall, Broxton, etc.. His big mistake was giving high dollar extensions to Marshall and Broxton.

  4. theshive1972

    This is a good read!

    The bullpen is weak, we knew that going in. Hoover is not a closer, but on this team, he is the best candidate…that certainly will need to be addressed in the future, whether it can be done in-house or outside the organization.

    But so far, I like what Cotham has done. Straily was impressive in his one outing, considering how idle he had been. I was hoping Diaz and Cingrani would step up and be reliable, but the early results are similar to what we have seen the past few years from them. And that’s not good. But it is early.

    With the pitchers expected back, I think the rotation will be DeSclafani, Iglesias, Bailey, Finnegan and Simon or one of the other guys coming back from injury. I would rather see Simon in the ‘pen and Lorenzen may end up there, since he has experience as a closer in college. And with the guys expected back, the Reds will be adding some intriguing arms which will give them some good competition for the bullpen…maybe that competition will help improve the bullpen. When everyone is healthy, there certainly isn’t a shortage of talented arms in the organization, so we have that to look forward to.

  5. ohiojimw

    I saw on Twitter that Moscot is listed as the starting pitcher tonight for AAA Louisville. I presume that means if all goes well he is on line to start for the Reds on Sunday in StL.

    • lwblogger2

      Looks like Moscot threw 82 pitches (55 strikes). He went 5.2 IP, giving up 5 R (all earned) on 6 H. He struck out 6 and didn’t walk a batter.

  6. wizeman

    Hard to beat Walt up over this one. I think he thought he had the arms for a good bullpen. They got hurt. You going to spend a lot of money on second tier arms when your guys will be back in a month? In a rebuild year? Lorenzen, Moscot, Lamb and Bailey are better than what is on staff now. We won’t even remember what some of these guys look like by Memorial Day. You can beat on these guys like a pinata if it makes you feel better. Am surprised some have forgotten the end game in 8 days.

    • Gaffer

      Good point, bullpens are impossible to construct quickly. All you can do is collect young arms year after year and hope. If you have 4 good starters, even a couple decent arms is all you really need. This team won 90plus games with Logan Ondrusek a few times!

      • greenmtred

        Yes, but I still don’t want Ondo back.

  7. wizeman

    Thanjks for the clarification on Peraza and service time. Louisville beautiful in May,. Will spring for Derby tickets so he has some fun.

    • Shchi Cossack

      The Reds could promote Peraza for 3-4 weeks to cover any time Cozart might go on the DL and have plenty of time remaining in AAA before September call ups. With the limited IF options available on the current roster, if Cozart is unavailable, that really leaves the Reds limited in IF coverage.

      • Patrick Jeter

        That’s a good point. Once he’s up doesn’t mean he has to stay up.

      • VaRedsFan

        Not that he’s a masher, but what if he comes up and hits like Trevor Story for 15 days?

  8. Shchi Cossack

    Hamilton has a higher SLG & OPS than Votto and the same OBP as Votto. If Hamilton can maintain an OBP and SLG equal to or higher than Votto, there will be a whole heaping lot of happy Reds fans!

    • CI3J

      If Billy does that, it’d be time to stop comparing him to Vince Coleman and start comparing him to the guy we all are secretly hoping he can emulate: Rickey Henderson.

      Pretty implausible, but April is a time when guys like Trevor Story are on pace to hit 189 HRs, so why not make the jump to thinking BHam can turn into Rickey?

      And yes, there would be a Nation of elated Reds fans if that ever happened.

    • greenmtred

      Unless Votto maintains an OBP and SLG as low as Hamilton’s.

      • lwblogger2

        Highly unlikely but certainly true!!

  9. Shchi Cossack

    Through 4 innings, Moscot has thrown 54 pitches w/ 0-BB, 5-SO, 2-H & 1-R. Headed into the 5th inning and gives up a leadoff single then a double.

  10. Shchi Cossack

    Tough 5th inning for Moscot, giving up 4-H, 2-2B, 1-HR & 4-R, but coming back out for the 6th innings after 75 pitches.

  11. doofus

    I would not be concerned about limiting Peraza’s MLB time to push out his free agent start. I highly doubt that he’s going to be the superstar that the front office envisions.

    • greenmtred

      He wouldn’t have to be a superstar, though, would he? If he turns out to be a good major league player, his service time will have been worth considering now.

  12. Shchi Cossack

    Moscot pulled after 5.2 innings and 82 pitches with no one on base. Apparently he had an 80-85 pitch limit in his 2nd rehab start. One bad inning when he got pounded in the 5th, but 0 BB & 6 SO tonight but an otherwise good outing with a couple of hits and a SF in the 1st inning.

  13. Chuck Schick

    Last night, perhaps the best team in baseball beat what will likely be a team that isn’t a contender. Lester wasn’t great, but he kept them in the game. The Cubs bullpen held serve and 2 of the best young players in the game (Hayward and Russell) came through in high leverage situations.

    As the Yankees have shown over the past 15 years,money can’t buy you everything……but it does buy you depth and the deeper, better team won.

    The amount of heat that Epstein, Rickets and Hoyer took between 2012-2014 was overwhelming….yet, they stuck to the plan, made good decisions and now they have more young talent than anyone and the financial resources to compete for years to come. As long as the Reds don’t panic….don’t shy away from the criticism,they’ll be fine. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic….they just need to have the courage to let the plan work. The Jumbo Diaz’s of the world are a current necessity….it is what it is.

    • kmartin

      Chuck, I am guessing that when the game began you did not think Hamilton would hit the only home run for the Reds and Russell the only home run for the Cubs.

  14. sezwhom

    I did donate. Tough call for Price on Finnegan but he still blew it. Once he gave up the hit to Ross, I would have pulled him. Unfortunately, nobody was ready in the bullpen. That’s on the Manager. Per the offense, please, for the love of gawd, stop bunting. I hate it beyond words.

    I always look at April as a mulligan. Just get out of the month at .500. I maintain, Reds will have outstanding pitching…next year! Lamb, Finnegan and Reed. Lock and load.

    • Indy RedMan

      Price, Cingrani, and Jumbo all blew it but we knew the pitching was going to be spotty at best with all the arms on the shelf right now! Straily looks like he has really good breaking stuff. Layne Somsen/Dayan Diaz both have control issues but nobody has hit them in the minors so far? Finnegan looked really good but he already had 1 shoulder high heater get popped out of GABP vs the Phillies. I’m not sure how that would play when it warms up? Lamb is a flyball pitcher too but I see no reason this team can’t do what Houston did last year in the next few years! Doesn’t BP come off the books after this year? We’ll see how Bruce progresses but we have to love how he’s beat the shift a few times this year already! It seemed like last year…every time he’d try to go to left he’d just make the LF go over and back about 4 steps towards leftcenter for a can of corn. He’s actually lining it that way this year! Duvall and Schebler look like they might be late bloomers too and I fully expected Suarez to mash! We’ll see?

      • lwblogger2

        I’ll answer the BP question… He is under contract through 2017. Unless he agrees to a trade, he doesn’t come off the books until after next season.

  15. ohiojimw

    It is going to be very interesting to see how the pitching shakes out if they stay essentially free of long term injuries.

    From what I saw of Lamb last year, I think he is better suited by his stuff and temperament to be a starter than a reliever. He reminded me a lot of Bailey several years back in that he misses a lot of bats but has a tendency to have have a bad inning where he is stung by a long fly then gets right back on the horse.

    I read where Lamb said his back had been bothering him much of the season last year. It will be interesting to see if maybe he will have a little more juice on his fastball and more consistency with his location following the surgery.

    Hopefully they find a way to get Lamb starts that is not the result of somebody else being injured or out of kilter.

  16. Kyle Farmer

    I wish I was as optimistic about seeing Lorenzen in a few weeks. Seems more likely to me to be in a year.

  17. VaRedsFan

    Pitch counts and innings limits….

    Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem like there are more young pitchers now than ever before? Is it because pre 1990, pitchers just didn’t report there aches and pains like they do now?

    Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone always had his pitchers throw PLENTY during off days. His guys hardly ever had arm troubles. (Smoltz later in career). Ryan and Clemens were well known for stringent pitching workouts.

    Is it a case where today’s managers baby the pitchers too much these days? When did 110 pitches become too much?

    • VaRedsFan

      Should read: young pitchers getting hurt now than ever before?*

  18. IndyRedMan

    Peraza 3-3 w/Louisville today but picked off once and thrown out at 2nd another time. He would fit right in with the Reds with that stellar baserunning!

  19. jaY jOHNSON

    are these stats pathetic?
    4 2/3 innings
    1.93 era
    4 hits
    1 er
    3 walks
    3 so
    3.50 go/ao

    not to shabby
    if players name was chapman everyone would be thrilled
    unfortunately 1 of those hits was a hr and cost the reds a game
    btw last name Diaz

    • Matt WI

      Well, 3 BB and 4 hits in 4 2/3 IP is not that good at all. Makes for a dicey dance. That’s a pitcher who is going to give up more runs, not less.

    • Matt WI

      And I think the frustration is that he’s been fairly inconsistent (a relief pitcher’s plague, I know) over time. Marty, in a rare fit of not just complaining, flat out said Price was flirting with danger given that Diaz seems struggle entering a game with runners on and being in the stretch. Next pitch… gone. That’s a worry for a relief pitcher.

      All this to say he can certainly put a good run together too, but he’s just no great shakes out there.

      • jaY jOHNSON

        i know that this is a very wrong way to look at this,but take away that one pitch and jumbo has a .000 era 4 2/3 innings giving up 3 hits and no runs.
        Reds fans shouldnt dump on the large fella for a one pitch mistake.We’ve seen every pitcher in the game through one bad pitch.He certainly isnt “the best of all time” but he shouldnt be burned at the stake for that one pitch.

  20. Dewey Roberts

    The first 6 games of this season will prove to be an aberration in my opinion. Remember that the Reds started 4-0 last year also. This team has a lot of prospects on the pitching staff but no really proven starters. No one knows what Bailey will be like when he comes back. The bullpen is beyond awful. Mesoraco may or may not ever be the same again. Suarez has great bat potential, but is a definite liability on defense. This is going to be a long season. Don’t expect things to be much better for 3-5 years at least. I hope I am still alive when the Reds get good again. I look for the Reds to lose over 100 games this year. They just are not in the same league with the good teams in the majors.