Coming into Spring Training, fans were excited to see the abundance of young pitching talent the Reds had developed or acquired. Unfortunately, as pitchers tend to do, several of those players sustained injuries during the spring, and the Reds essentially put an entire starting rotation on the disabled list to start the season:

  • Homer Bailey
  • John Lamb
  • Michael Lorenzen
  • Anthony DeSclafani
  • Jon Moscot

But, with the return of Moscot last Sunday and recent good reports on the rest of the walking wounded, it won’t be long before the reinforcements charge in with full force.

And thank God for that. The Reds pitching staff has inspired little confidence thus far. They have the worst xFIP (5.09) and the fourth worst ERA (4.90) in all of baseball.  The starters have a middle of the pack ERA, but don’t let that fool you. They have the worst xFIP (4.83) of any starting unit in the Majors. It’s too early in the season for xFIP to be too predictive, but those numbers are certainly troubling. The bullpen has pitched as bad as you think it has, if not worse.

Part of the pitching staff’s issues have resulted from an organized effort to walk every batter on the face of the planet. They haven’t succeeded yet, but they’ve certainly tried.  An average pitcher walks hitters around 7.5%-7.7% of the time.  The Reds pitchers have collectively walked 11.8% of batters.

But, that’s the current staff, which undoubtedly won’t look nearly the same a month from now. As the cavalry arrives, the Reds have important decisions to make about both their rotation and bullpen. These decisions may give us insight into how the Reds view each player’s long-term role. For this post, I’d like to focus on the rotation.

Right now, the only current starters who seem to have a lock on their spots are Brandon Finnegan and Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias has the track record from last year and has pitched well early. He looks plain nasty at his best, striking out eight Rockies in his last start. Finnegan continues to display at least three impressive pitches, even as his command remains uneven. Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs recently wrote an article on how Finnegan looks like a starter, in part because of a developing changeup.

Bailey and DeSclafani will take two more spots upon their return. That leaves one more rotation slot for John Lamb, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, or Dan Straily. They each have their own unique selling points, and the three who don’t land a starting spot may end up in the bullpen.

The one guy with a large enough sample size to matter is Dan Straily, and the results haven’t been promising. He has struck out batters at about an average clip or just a tick below for his career, but he walks way too many people. What Straily can do is throw some innings. He threw at least 160 innings from 2011-2014 and even put up a 1.8 WAR season in 2013 with a sub four ERA.

He profiles as a decent back end of the rotation guy if things go perfectly, but his career 4.61 xFIP suggest he may not even be that. The other potential starters have much more talent and upside, and so it’s hard for me to see how Straily doesn’t end up back in the bullpen or AAA.

That leaves us with three viable candidates for the last spot in the rotation. Here’s a quick comparison of the three.


First, I like Jon Moscot. I think he is a major league pitcher. But, his stuff doesn’t match the other two. As Matt Wilkes outlined recently, he lacks a plus pitch, and he doesn’t project to develop one. He doesn’t strike out many batters and never has. His stuff is solid, and he could pitch well enough to start for a number of teams. When compared with Lamb and Lorenzen, the upside just isn’t there.

These three players have a very limited sample size of big league innings, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Based on their performance thus far, Lamb is clearly the guy. His xFIP, which is more predictive of future performance than ERA, is much better than the others, and his K% is extremely impressive.

He has only pitched 49.2 Major League innings, but we are talking Clayton Kershaw type strikeout numbers thus far. Lamb isn’t a once in a generation pitcher like Kershaw, but it’s easy to see how Lamb could be pretty good. Again, the sample size is too small to draw too many conclusions, but here are a few more numbers comparing Lorenzen and Lamb that are favorable to Lamb.


Lamb gets a lot of swings and misses, and his changeup is a big reason why. While his fastball velocity is about average for a lefthander, he throws the changeup almost 15 MPH slower than the heater, one of the biggest velocity differences in the Major Leagues. Batters whiffed almost a quarter of the time when Lamb threw it. He also got strong swing and miss rates on his cutter and curveball. Lamb’s stuff is actually quite impressive when taken as a whole. His problem has always been staying healthy. If Lamb is going to have three plus pitches and average fastball, he will be hard to keep out of the rotation. We don’t know if he can sustain that quality over 200+ innings, but the potential is obviously there.

But, Lorenzen has good stuff too. No, he isn’t as polished as Lamb, and the numbers look pretty poor from last season, but remember, this guy played mostly centerfield in college and was on the draft board for many teams as a position player. The Reds took him with the 38th overall pick in the 2013 draft as a pitcher and quickly turned him into a starter. In 2014, he was a starter in AA and finished with a 3.13 ERA.

Then, 2015 happened. Lorenzen unexpectedly spent a majority of his time in the major leagues and struggled mightily, but he clearly should have spent the year in AAA. Remember the Reds rushed Homer Bailey to the Majors, and he struggled for years. Lorenzen is in a similar situation to Bailey: he has a strong fastball and off speed stuff that needs work.

He has to improve his command and off speed pitches, but he has only been a starter for two full seasons and pitched only one full season in the minors. That’s crazy!  For comparison sake, Lamb has pitched in parts of six seasons in the minor leagues. Robert Stephenson has pitched three and a half years in the minors and continues now. With that context, Lorenzen has actually developed quite quickly, and his potential is through the roof. Neither Lamb nor Moscot can match Lorenzen’s fastball, and he has such potential with the other pitches. Beecause of that, the Reds have to think twice about rushing Lorenzen to the pen, though the current state of the Reds might dictate that move.

Lamb will likely make it back first as he has already started his rehab. This timing will afford him the opportunity to nail down a rotation spot before Lorenzen fully recovers from a tough bout of mono. Sometimes, opportunity is all that separates two talented, young pitchers. Regardless of what the Reds decide, they certainly have the talent to fill out a solid pitching staff when everyone is healthy.

20 Responses

  1. Mike Bittenbender

    With Lamb’s swing/miss rate on that changeup, and durability concerns, would think the bullpen/closer role might serve him better long term. Not to say he’s Trevor Hoffman, but he made an average fastball/wicked changeup work for a long time

  2. Shchi Cossack

    We are going to find out how committed the Reds management is to talent evaluation aqnd long-term contributions compared to short-term gains. If the Chapman mindset continues, Lorenzen or Lamb will find their way to the bullpen this season. If the Reds are fully invested in talent evaluation, Lamb will land a starting job at the major league level with Lorenzen pitching at AAA while working on his secondary pitches and stamina, all at the expense of the 2016 bullpen.

    Straily and Moscot are almost certainly headed to the bullpen, along with Simon, unless additional injuries/setbacks strike the starting rotation. That provides a good long look at the 2016 starting rotation of Bailey, Iggy, Disco, Finnegan & Lamb. Iggy will be subject to an innings limit this season, so Lorenzen may get another shot at the major league starting rotation late in the season, after a few months at AAA.

    Now, about tjhat bullpen…

    • WVRedlegs

      “That provides a good long look at the 2016 starting rotation of Bailey, Iggy, Disco, Finnegan & Lamb.”

      I think this is what the rotation will look like from late May until end of July. Finnegan and Lamb will have their shots at nailing down a rotation spot. Unless, Stephenson and/or Reed push the issue through their performances at AAA. I say end of July because I still think DeSclafani could be a perfect trade candidate at the deadline for a Shelby Miller type of trade. Houston’s rotation is already fraying apart and they could be big buyers with a big need at the deadline, if they aren’t out of it by then.
      My biggest wish is for the Reds to be on the receiving end of a good return of Houston prospects that is centered around SS Alex Bregman. Where is Bregman’s future with Houston when they have Correa at SS, Altuve at 2B, and power hitting top prospects at 3B?? They have top OF prospects galore, too. Could be a near perfect match.
      Not that I’m looking to deal DeSclafani to just any team, but to a team like Houston who has the top farm system, well you would have to give some serious consideration to that. And Houston just might be in the position to overpay for DeSclafani.

  3. Kurt Frost

    We saw Bailey in Louisville last night. He was throwing hard. I heard 97 mph in his last inning at the game. I’m not sure if that’s true because the pitch speed board wasn’t working.

  4. cfd3000

    Long term I like Lorenzen in the rotation and Lamb in the bullpen. The Reds could still end up with two solid lefties starting (Finnegan and Reed) so a nicely balanced rotation. Id love to see Bailey, Iglesias, DeSclafani, Stephenson, Finnegan, Reed and Lorenzen battling to fill the rotation next year with Lamb and the two that don’t make the rotation anchoring a good bullpen in 2017. I’m not sure I see where Moscot fits in, even before you start thinking about Garrett, Travieso, or any other pitching prospects. Perhaps he’ll eat some innings this year and look good as a trade target at the deadline or in the offseason.

  5. Shchi Cossack

    It’s a long way from given, but the Reds could soon sport a starting rotation composed of five, #1-caliber starters. The question then becomes, should they and what do they do with the abundance of #2 & #3 caliber starters who can’t crack the starting rotation.

    • cfd3000

      That would be, hopefully will be, a nice problem to have.

    • TR

      A starting rotation of five #1-caliber starters sounds like the foundation of a winning team. Then the abundance of #2 and #3 starters could fill out the bullpen or be used in trades to strengthen the offense. In spite of yesterday’s historic defeat, there is a glimmer of light down the road.

  6. sezwhom

    I will say this: last year, the Reds were boring and done by the end of July. Good or bad this year and yes, small sample size, they’ve been interesting. It’s not often you get to watch you team lost 16 to 0 and get no hit!

  7. Indy RedMan

    I’ve made this comparison before but Lamb reminds me a little of Kenny Rogers! Rogers was a hard thrower when he was young but then developed that big loopy curve and a nice changeup and he pitched forever….and he did a big majority of that in Texas in a hitters paradise like GABP. I like Lamb a lot….more than Finnegan as a starter although Finn is younger and has a lot to like as well!

  8. sultanofswaff

    I think the number of available spots will come down to whether Finnegan can get his walks under control enough to stick as a starter. His changeup has impressed, so the repertoire is there, but the command needs to improve. Lamb’s mix and temperament strike me as a starter and I think the Reds view him in that light as well. Moscot is a long man on a good team. No shame in that either for a 4th rounder.

  9. Indy RedMan

    Straily>Moscot from what I’ve seen but maybe this weekend will tell us a little more? Obv either one is a long man (at best) on a good staff as mentioned.

    Moscot has given up 4 HRs in 17 ip in the show so that’s worrisome and Straily has actually only allowed a .234 avg in his major league career so far. Their minor league #s are very similar except Straily’s K rate is much better and he kept the ball in the park better….and presumably while pitching in the PCL where pitchers #s go to die. When its all said and done someone like Cotham might be the long man and Straily/Moscot will both be somewhere else? Finding out is what this season is for.

    • Big56dog

      Straily just over a year older than Iglesias and Disco, it is not as if he is some old veteran. I thought I heard he altered his grips that has improved his control and things are starting to click.

      I think Finnegan future is in the bullpen- hopefully him and Cingrani can get their control issues under wrap and you would have a lot of diversity if a righty can jump out as dominant- with Hoover , Simon or whomever as the 4th and 5th options

      • Steve Mancuso

        There are reports that he has picked up a couple MPH on his fastball. If that holds, it would be a good sign. Straily, on paper, is a much better pitcher than much of the rest of the curb-shopped bullpen.

  10. RedsFaninPitt

    The Reds should keep Straily in the rotation until the trade deadline and then should look to trade him for a decent return. See fangraphs article about the reasons for his improved velocity which gives him more confidence to throw strikes and avoid too many walks.

    The Reds should keep Iglesias/Desclafani/Bailey/Finnegan/Straily in the rotation until July. Keep Stephenson/Reed/Lorenzen developing in AAA until mid-season. Move Moscot and Lamb into the bullpen. And, then look to trade Straily and Desclafani at the deadline for a good return – preferably to the Jays/Astros/Yanks who could all use younger pitching. They could then move Lorenzen/Stephenson/Reed or even Lamb into the rotation or bullpen depending on what they makes the most sense. IMO – the Reds need bats in the worst way – preferably who can play CF/RF/3B or SS.

    A Bruce trade to the Dodgers for Verdugo would be good (they have a lot of injured OFs). And, a trade of Straily and Desclafani to either the Yanks for Fowler/Wade or to the Jays for Pompey/Urea or the Astros for Moran/Tucker or Cameron would cover most of those needs. I don’t think the Astros will trade Bregman since Correa will probably be moved to 3B ultimately.

  11. ohiojimw

    This looks to me like a lost season for Lorenzen unless they use him in the pen. The injuries have put him behind the curve plus his stamina would figure to be an issue when he returns. The way to get him major league experience this season is in short stints out of the pen then reevaluate where he is at over the next off season.

    As fans, we need to put the Chapman experience behind us and understand that just because a guy is in the pen one season (or two) early in his career, that doesn’t mean he has to stay there.

    • pinson343

      Bravo. The fear of “once in the pen, always in the pen” has become so (understandably) strong here that we ought to have a name contest for it.

      Price has said that he sees Lorenzen in the bullpen, at least when he first returns.
      I think he could be a legit closer in 2016. I admit bias based on how good he looked (throwing harder) with only 4 relief outings last year.

      I see Lamb as a starting pitcher due to his combination of pitches and his smooth, consistent delivery. Is there really a reason to think his injury problems are chronic ?

      I’m glad that Finnegan is starting now, because that’s the best way to learn whether he belongs in the starting rotation or the bullpen. I do picture him as nasty coming out of the pen, but if he’s good enough to be an above average starter then he should.

  12. pinson343

    Excellent post, Nick, and good timing, I needed to read something positive about the Reds in 2016. I learned a lot and your analysis also reinforced a number of perceptions I had about the Reds young pitchers.

  13. GreatRedLegsFan

    Looking into some weeks ahead, starting rotation and most of the bullpen should be set at least for the season, with Bailey, DeSclafani, Iglesias, Finnegan and Lamb on one hand and Ohlendorf, Cotham, Wood, Lorenzen, Straily, Cingrani and Ramirez on the other. Regarding position players, CF is a deep hole, none of Hamilton, Schebler or Holt can be regulars and there’s anybody coming up from the minors in the near future. All other positions are set, hopefully Votto and Mez will come out from their slumps soon. Eventually, the likes of Peraza, Blandino and Winker shall take over Cozart, Philips and Bruce, respectively, so I guess management should focus in signing a CF’der and a new Manager. Go Reds!

  14. Fish

    Lorenzen needs to spend the rest of this year and the first part of next at AAA working on commanding off speed stuff. It will give 2 benefits:

    A) reset his service clock, probably giving the reds an extra year of GOOD service

    B) If he proves he’s notca starter, they can transition him to closer when they might actually contend.