A key and often necessary component of a rebuilding professional sports team is cutting costs. For example, we can say with relative certainty that at least four National League clubs are in some form of a rebuild — the Reds, Braves, Brewers, and Phillies. Via USA Today, those four teams rank 22nd (Reds), 25th (Phillies), 28th (Brewers), and 29th (Braves) in 2016 payroll.
Rebuilding teams typically rely on reclamation projects or cheap alternatives to fix glaring weaknesses rather than doling out cash to fix said weakness by more reliable means. Why spend the money to repair a problem when your philosophy is geared toward the development of your cheap, younger players and pushes the importance of wins and losses toward the back burner?
This strategy brings us to the Reds and their bullpen, whose present construction inspires the same confidence as pyromaniac overseeing a July 4th fireworks exhibition. An in-depth breakdown is needed because this group will be toeing the line between mediocre and dumpster fire until reinforcements arrive. A rundown of the Reds’ present options in the bullpen:
• Two should-be sixth or seventh-inning relievers (J.J. Hoover, Jumbo Diaz) miscast as high-leverage firemen.
• A young left-hander (Tony Cingrani) with control issues whose development was stunted by injuries and a minor case of the Brandon Finnegan Treatment (moving up and down between majors and minors in both a starting and relief role).
• A 33-year-old with a wicked-awesome windup (Ross Ohlendorf) who has only logged 19.1 major league innings since 2013 before this season.
• A 30-year-old near-career minor leaguer (Blake Wood) who had only recorded 7.2 innings in the bigs since 2011 before this season.
• A right-hander new to the organization (Caleb Cotham) who tallied a 6.55 FIP in 9.2 innings with the Yankees in 2015, his first taste of the majors.
• A talented right-hander with serious walk issues (Keyvius Sampson) who is pitching in a MLB bullpen full-time for the first time after putting up an 4.76 FIP in 12 starts for the Reds in 2015.
• A player with a career FIP of 4.69 in 263.1 MLB innings (Dan Straily) who joined his third team in five days when the Reds claimed him off waivers on April 1.
Now that we know what the Reds are dealing with, let’s take a look at how the Reds’ bullpen has fared through seven games:
April 4: Reds win 6-2 over Phillies
Relievers: Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf, Hoover.
Statistics: 3 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts.
April 6: Reds win 3-2 over Phillies
Relievers: Cotham, Wood.
Statistics: 3 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout.
April 7: Reds win 10-6 over Phillies
Relievers: Diaz, Cingrani, Sampson, Ohlendorf.
Statistics: 4 innings, 2 (earned) runs, 1 home run, 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 5 strikeouts.
Notable: The bullpen’s 8.1-inning scoreless streak ended in the top of the seventh when Sampson surrendered a two-run home run to Carlos Ruiz.
April 8: Reds lose 6-5 to Pirates
Relievers: Cotham, Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf, Hoover, Wood.
Statistics: 4 innings, 4 (earned) runs, 1 home run, 3 hits, 4 walks, 1 HBP, 3 strikeouts.
Notable: Each of the Reds’ first four relievers (Cotham, Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf) issued at least one walk. Ohlendorf retired the first two batters of the eighth inning before plunking John Jaso, hurling a wild pitch, walking Andrew McCutchen, and yielding an infield single to David Freese. Hoover took over for Ohlendorf and grooved a 1-0 breaking ball to Starling Marte, who deposited the ball in the left field seats for a grand slam. Wood was the lone reliever that failed to allow a hit or issue a free pass.
April 9: Reds win 5-1 over Pirates
Relievers: Wood, Cotham, Hoover.
Statistics: 3.1 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts.
Notable: With the Reds clinging to a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Wood walked Matt Joyce and gave up a double to Jaso to put runners at second and third. Wood recovered to get a groundout from McCutchen, and that groundout incredibly turned into a double play thanks to savvy fielding from Joey Votto and questionable baserunning from Jaso. Wood fanned Freese to end the threat.
April 10: Reds win 2-1 over Pirates
Relievers: Straily, Diaz, Ohlendorf.
Statistics: 5 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 3 strikeouts.
Notable: Straily spun three scoreless innings in his first action of the season. Adam Duvall’s spot-on throw from left field to nail Josh Harrison prevented the Pirates from taking a 2-1 lead in the eighth.
April 11: Reds lose 5-3 to Cubs
Relievers: Cotham, Cingrani, Diaz.
Statistics: 2.1 innings, 3 (earned) runs, 2 hits, 1 home run, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 0 strikeouts.
Notable: Entering the game with two outs and runners on first and second in the seventh, Cotham walked Dexter Fowler to load the bases. Cingrani replaced Cotham and left a 0-2 fastball over the plate that was hammered by Jason Heyward into right field for a two-run single. Cingrani induced a groundout to end the threat, but got himself in major trouble in the eighth. The lefty allowed a one-out walk to Ben Zobrist, unfurled a wild pitch to advance the runner, and then hit Jorge Soler with a pitch that (luckily for the Reds) bounced seemingly 10 feet in front of home plate but managed to nick Soler. Diaz relieved Cingrani and grooved a 95 mph fastball over the heart of the plate to Addison Russell, who clubbed the offering into the left field seats for a three-run homer and a 5-3 Cubs advantage.
Seven-game Reds bullpen tale of the tape: 24.2 innings, 9 earned runs, 16 hits, 3 home runs, 13 walks, 4 HBP, 17 strikeouts.
In jumping out to a 5-1 start through the first week of the season, the Reds injected the fan base with some optimism. Clutch hitting was everywhere. Even if the starting pitching couldn’t crack the seventh inning, the Reds’ young hurlers were keeping the team in the game.
The patchwork bullpen was (kind of) getting the job done … until Monday night happened. The bullpen’s performance in Chicago put a dent in the good it had accomplished before that. By taking a look at key statistics, it’s evident that the Reds’ bullpen stunk (duh) in 2015 even with Aroldis Chapman, and the group is trending even further in the wrong direction through seven games in 2016.
Key: xFIP=adjusted version of Fielding Independent pitching; IS%=Inherited Score Percentage, or runners inherited by relievers that score; LOB%=Left on Base percentage, the amount of runners relievers leave stranded on the bases; BB%=walk rate; SwStr%=swings and missed divided by total pitches. Rankings out of 15 National League teams.
Look, as Steve noted yesterday, this is the way things will be for awhile. Even when a few of the starters get bumped into the ‘pen, things will likely only improve marginally. The reality is that in part, the Reds’ bullpen is woeful by design; per Cot’s Contracts, Hoover is the lone arm making seven figures in 2016.
With that in mind, buckle up and keep the Pepto at the ready. It’s going to be a season-long roller coaster ride in the late innings.