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.