If you’ve watched a single second of a Reds game this year, you know just how bad the relief corps has been. Once the baseball is taken from the starter and the outfield gates open, fans are left holding their breath night in and night out. Numerous Cincinnati leads have evaporated with a reliever on the mound, and many other close games have been put out of reach.

No pitcher has been able to get outs consistently, leading to a constant revolving door of pitchers going to and coming from Triple-A Louisville in an effort to find some formula that works. Unfortunately, that equation hasn’t been solved yet, nor has it really even come close.

On April 13, Grant Freking wrote about the performance of the Reds’ bullpen one week into the season, which included this little blurb:

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.

It’s safe to say things have moved to full-on dumpster fire status.

With starters routinely coming out of the game after only four, five or six innings, the ‘pen has been undeniably overworked. Only the Diamondbacks’ bullpen (147.2 IP) has been used more than the Reds’ (137.0). But that’s hardly enough to excuse just how bad the group has been.

Three weeks ago, Rob Carpenter talked about the Reds’ relievers being historically bad, giving the 1950 Philadelphia Athletics and their all-time worst 7.77 bullpen ERA a run for their money and being the worst group in terms of ERA in the modern era (since 1969).

Not much has changed.

Since Rob published his piece, there has been no improvement and the bullpen even set a major-league record by allowing a run in 23 straight games, from April 11 to May 5. Through Monday, the group’s ERA was 6.44, still the worst mark in the modern era. But wait, there’s more! The bullpen also has the highest FIP (6.09) and home run rate (2.04 HR/9), along with the second-highest xFIP (5.08) in that time period. Right now, the ‘pen has been worth minus-1.8 fWAR. If that trend continues, the Reds will obliterate the record set by the 2013 Astros (minus-5.2).

Reds relievers have allowed 31 home runs this season, which is more than the Mets, Orioles, Cubs, Marlins, White Sox and Nationals have allowed as a team. While the home run rate is unsustainably high, little else boils down to bad luck. As a group, the bullpen has a .299 batting average on balls in play, just barely above the .292 league average. The Reds aren’t just getting hit, they’re getting rocked. Since 2002 (as far back as Fangraphs has batted ball data), only nine bullpens have ever allowed hard contact at a higher rate than the Reds have this year (33.2 percent).

But by far, the most maddening thing to watch has been the walks. The unit has already issued 73 free passes, amounting to an 11.6 BB%. Only the Cubs have a worse rate than that. If that pace continues, the bullpen will become the third in the history of the game to break 300 and will make a serious run at the 1997 Tigers record of 347. Making the problem even worse is that the Reds’ relievers also aren’t striking many batters out; their 18.8 K% is fourth-worst in baseball.

So as a group, the Reds bullpen is collectively and historically bad; that’s been established. But surely there’s at least one or two guys performing well, right?

Well…

On an individual basis, there aren’t any real standouts either. Only three members of the bullpen have an ERA below four: Blake Wood, Tony Cingrani and Dan Straily. The latter has been moved to the rotation due to the ever-growing list of injuries, leaving the Reds void of an at least semi-dependable relief arm.

Wood is the only member of the bullpen who hasn’t allowed a home run and has a FIP below four (3.65), but he has the highest walk rate of anyone in the group with more than 10 innings pitched (15.0 BB%). Cingrani has a 3.18 ERA and is throwing nearly two mph faster than last year, but he has shown no improvement with his control (14.1 BB%) and is striking out fewer batters than normal (21.1 K%, compared to 25.7 for his career), leading to a 4.04 FIP and 5.31 xFIP.

Cingrani and Wood have gotten the best results in terms of runs allowed, but ERA predictors indicate Ross Ohlendorf and J.C. Ramirez have pitched better. Not so coincidentally, they are the only two Reds relievers with a walk rate below 10 percent. Although their respective ERAs are high (Ohlendorf: 5.60, Ramirez: 4.91), they’ve been the best when it comes to SIERA (skill-independent ERA, which you can read all about right here, courtesy of Steve Mancuso), in which Ohlendorf leads the group with a 3.15 mark, with Ramirez right behind at 3.54. Ohlendorf is also tied for the best strikeout rate in the relief corps (26.7 percent). Home runs have been holding them back more than anything else, as both have allowed three, tied for second-most on the club.

Beyond those five, it’s been a disaster for basically every other member of the ‘pen.

Caleb Cotham started out well enough (2 earned runs in his first 11 appearances) but has imploded recently, allowing 12 earned runs over his last 7 2/3 innings.

J.J. Hoover and Jumbo Diaz were supposed to be the veterans of the group. Both are now in Triple-A Louisville after allowing a combined nine home runs.

Former all-star Steve Delabar was signed late in spring training and was promoted from Louisville recently, but the veteran hasn’t been able to find the strike zone, which was also why Keyvius Sampson was designated for assignment early in the season.

Drew Hayes and Layne Somsen have been called up from the minors to provide help and, well, they haven’t provided much. They, too, have seen the walks pile up in addition to getting hit hard in their first taste of the majors. Hayes has allowed three home runs in 9 2/3 innings. Five runs have crossed the plate in 2 1/3 innings against Somsen (although it should be noted that all of those runs came in an outing in which he was left in far too long, especially for a rookie).

And then there were the disastrous one-game relief stints from Alfredo Simon and Tim Melville. No need to relive those nightmares.

It was widely expected that the Reds’ bullpen would be a weakness coming into 2016. Almost no money was invested in the unit — Hoover being the only member making more than $1 million — with the hopes that some young players could step up and the veterans would fill the other holes. That isn’t the worst strategy for a rebuilding team. But the results have been painful to watch, and likely will be until some of the team’s injured starting pitchers return.

*All stats are through May 16, 2016

Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. I don’t know if y’all got my tweet, but I mentioned how I had read that article about the worst bullpens and how y’all said that it was the 1950 Athletics. But in my tweet I mentioned how I read that the 1930 Phillies bullpen had a 8.15 era. Is this true?

  2. I heard a tall tale when I was a much younger man about a mythical team somewhere in the Midwest that had a feisty lineup with a couple young studs, some solid role players and one future hall of famer, and a starting pitching corps anchored by a right handed horse of a man. They were led by a fiery manager with joy in his heart and steam coming out of his ears. And at the end of each game they had a magnificent triumvirate of firemen, each one stronger and hungrier and throwing harder than the last. These three men planted fear in the quivering hearts of every over matched opponent. Visiting teams new that if they had not somehow cobbled together a fragile lead before the sixth inning was up they were doomed to another inevitable loss. These relievers, known only as the Nasty Boys, carried that team all the way to a World Series victory. Wire to wire in one glorious summer, then rode off into the sunset leaving behind only the legend they had written with their strong arms and their indomitable will. It’s myths like these that give me hope that someday, somehow, from the ashes of our current despair, a team like that will rise again to bathe us all in renewed glory. Until then we wait and we suffer through this nightmare of a bullpen and we dream of days gone by and days to come.

    • I think you touched on part of the problem. Literally or figuratively there just are not many nasty boys around anymore. Olendorf showed a touch of it the other night. Cingrani does from time to time; but that’s about it.

      And yeah, one thing about Chappie that slid under the radar and buzz of his velocity was that at heart he was a nasty boy thru and thru.

  3. Keyvius Sampson’s WHIP at Louisville is 0.92 over 19.2 innings in 7 games with 20K/ 4BB. Maybe the jolt of being DFAed off the 40 man has awakened him. Perhaps another look at him in Cincy is in order.

  4. Our bullpen, the Walking Dead.

  5. There were 3 LH relievers that became available yesterday. LHRP Neal Cotts, 36, opted out of his minor league deal with the Angels. The Yankees DFA’d Phil Coke. And the Marlins passed up on Joe Beimel, 39, who had been released earlier.
    In the Reds bullpen, things would not be better with a Coke. Beimel probably doesn’t have much left if Miami passed on him after it was reported they had reached a deal.
    Cotts might be a good addition. He was pitching pretty good at AAA when he opted out. He couldn’t be any worse. A LH is needed down in that bullpen.

    • Here’s my likely scenario:

      Once three starters are available from among Bailey, Desclafani, Iglesias, Stephenson and Reed, the LH in the pen becomes Finnegan. Straily and Adelman have pitched OK except for being short on innings. They also go to the pen. Lorenzen or another power RH arm is also added. Cingrani, Wood, and Ohlendorf probably stay. And don’t look past the possibility Iggy returns to the pen at least for the rest of this year.

      As we’ve seen, predicting what is going to happen with injuries and rehab is a fool’s game, particularly where pitchers are involved but one way or another, I expect them to be to a configuration similar to this NLT the start up after the All Star break.

  6. You may be right, but I would get a jump start now on building 2017’s bullpen. Something has to happen to the bullpen very soon. Waiting this out until those starters heal is fruitless and futile. It does no one any good to wait any longer, except Big Bob Castellini’s checkbook.
    What might Brandon Finnegan’s confidence and development look like without those 4 games of his that were blown up by the bullpen??
    Straily has been another victim of the bullpen. What will Straily’s flip value be at the trade deadline if the bullpen keeps giving away his leads??
    The bullpen is costing the Reds in more ways than just in the bullpen and Win column.

    • I agree they need to be moving from tearing down and marking time to starting to go forward; and moving toward getting set with both sides of the pitching is the place to begin.

      They are about 3 weeks out from pretty much certain “safety” from Super 2 on the guys in the minors. It is sounding like Disco could be ready in a similar time frame. Moscot who I did not reference above could be ready in 10 days to 2 weeks unless he has another “setback”.

      I look for RS to be up, rather quickly’ but, I think they want to see Reed pitch more at AAA since this season is his first exposure at that level. I hope he will be up before September but wouldn’t be shocked if he wasn’t.

  7. I held my breath when Coco Cordero entered the game. Same with Danny Graves and Scott Williamson.

    I don’t hold my breath when any of the Reds current bullpen comes in. I switch channels and add 5 to the other team’s score.

  8. In his opening statement to his chat today at FanGraphs, FG Managing Editor Dave Cameron said “Happy Wednesday. Let’s see if we can do better than Steve Delabar did last night.”

    Ouch.

    • diaz and samson back.
      peraza and somsen gone.
      delabar still here

      • Delabar could be on hold pending on what they decide with Moscot. The last I heard they were leaning toward having Moscot do another rehab start (presumably friday or saturday) versus activating him for the pen.

      • Homer Bailey was also put on 60-Day DL to make room for Keyvius Sampson on the 40 man roster. Apparently, Sampson was DFA’d and off the roster when sent down. By the way, I know there’s no timetable yet, but does Bailey’s return look to be in June or July?

        • Bailey return….. 1 July to All Star break??? That’s just a guess from an article I saw last week in which Bailey said he had thrown on flat ground, was feeling fine, but was basically back to square one as far as “building up” his arm. He indicated his new regimen was more to take things they came and not to push for a date certain.

          I believe I saw that even from the 60 day list, he would still be eligible for activation during the first week of June.

        • And yes on Sampson going off the 40 man and having to be put back on. He was eligible for option; but, they needed a 40 man spot for some other move and he drew the DFA straw. He subsequently cleared waivers and was outrighted.

  9. I do not know much about the stats of our minor league pitchers, but are there any options in AAA that don’t have glaring control problems? I think I remember Somson was pretty steady, but otherwise everyone in Cincy seems to walk a ton of batters.

  10. Without looking at the deeper stats, I would like to see Josh Smith given another chance. He currently has a 2.70 ERA in 40 IP starting in Louisville. Though it may be smart to wait and see if his walk rate drops any lower (now 2.5 BB/9) and maybe more strikeouts. At 28 yo, he is no longer your typical ‘prospect’ and does not appear to fit in to our future rotation plans, so why not try him in the bullpen and see if his numbers this year are legit. I don’t think he is on the 40-man, which could be a problem, but the way our bullpen is going now I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone cut soon, maybe Pacheco gets DFA’d. But, the way I see it, there is very little risk as he is not a top prospect and doesn’t figure into our rotation plans – and so far has played plenty well enough to earn a spot on our horrible bullpen.

    Just a thought.

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About Matt Wilkes

Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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