2016 Reds

Stephenson vs. Reed, choose your metric wisely

Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, two of the organization’s top pitching prospects, have each made a handful of starts for the Reds – two for the former and five for the latter.

In other words, way too few data points to make inferences about the future, even tentative ones. But can we say anything about how they have pitched so far?

If you look at the measures (metrics) for pitchers that are emphasized by broadcasters and the press, you would conclude that Robert Stephenson has been more impressive and effective in his major league appearances. You’d also believe that Cody Reed has been an outright failure.

PitcherStats1

Yikes. Send Cody Reed down! Call Bob Steve back up!

But if you take a closer look at the measurements referred to as “peripherals” (aka fundamentals), outcomes the pitcher can control, you’d reach the opposite conclusion.PitcherStats2

Cody Reed has had a great strikeout rate, while Stephenson’s was awful. In his two major league starts, Stephenson walked as many batters as he struck out. Reed has struck out about three times the number of batters he’s walked. Cody Reed has a much better ground ball rate.

Here’s a pleasant surprise. Not only has Reed been better than Stephenson, but Cody Reed has been better than major league average in all three measures – K%, K-BB% and GB%.

Reed’s SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA, a future-ERA estimator) therefore, is superior to major league average, too. If you haven’t paid close attention to the higher rate of home runs league wide this year, it might surprise you to learn that average ERA for MLB starters has risen to 4.36. Reed’s SIERA is half a run below that.

Reminder, the sample size here makes any predictions based on this data silly. You shouldn’t use it to conclude that Reed will better than Stephenson or league average next month or next year.

What you can conclude is that Cody Reed – again looking at the factors the pitcher can most control – has not only performed better than Robert Stephenson, but better than major league average.

Calls for Cody Reed to be sent back to the minors are ridiculous.

47 thoughts on “Stephenson vs. Reed, choose your metric wisely

  1. Cody Reed has already passed up Robert Stephenson development-wise. Amir Garrett is on the threshold of passing up Stephenson. Next up, will be Jackson Stephens passing up Stephenson.
    As Kenny Rogers says, you got to know when hold them, know when to fold them, and know when to trade them away.

    • Not trying to bait you into dogging one of our own, but why are you down on RS? I haven’t seen him pitch, even on TV, but he seems to be regarded well in scouting services. I seem to remember him crushing the minors early this season, but hitting always seems to catch up as a season wears on.

      • Not as down on Stephenson as you may think. But the trend with him is perplexing. Since second half of 2013 season, Stephenson has been averaging nearly 5 BB/9, while his K/9 is dwindling. Every year since 2013 it has been the same thing, nice arm but lacks command and control. Next year will be his 6th year in the organization, but his control is still streaky. His value/stock as a prospect is going down and has taken a hit this year, and last year. He was a top-25 prospect in all of baseball, but now has fallen well below 50 and is trending backward. He might not be in the top-100 next year.
        Look, I hope Stephenson can someday command his fastball and become that top-of-the-rotation type pitcher we all thought he was going to be. But maybe top prospects when they stall out at AAA should be viewed like veteran stars. Trade them when their value is still high before it falls off more. If Stephenson isn’t going to be part of the re-build effort if he keeps walking 5 per 9 innings, trade him for a bat that might be a part.
        Other pitchers in the Reds minor league system are seeing their stock increase this year, while we are seeing Stephenson’s decline. Sometime in the coming future the Reds will have to decide on him.

  2. I went to the Lville game the other day. Bob Steve was hitting 94-95 and got out everyone but Josh Bell for whatever that’s worth. Stephenson looks like the next Bud Norris and Bell looks like a 23 yr old Big Pappi (2-2 in his 2 atbats w/the Bucs with a grand slam). It was kind of depressing!

    • I am not worried about Stephenson, he will be fine.

      Reed does need to work on his change up and whether he does that here or in Louisville doesn’t matter as they are both AAA teams right now

  3. Also worth mentioning is that Cody Reed’s HR/FB% is 40.9%. FORTY-POINT-NINE.

    For reference, the highest HR/FB% in single-season recorded history (2002, as it were) was Ryan Howard’s 2006 at 39.5%.

    Since 2002, there have only been 10 individual player-seasons over 30%.

    The highest career average in history is Jim Thome at 27.8%.

    So, basically, the average hitter Cody Reed has faced has been the greatest home run hitter in history.

    IF you don’t believe that, you have to believe Cody Reed is getting some bad luck on fly balls leaving the yard.

    • Why he has an eight and a half ERA is easier to understand after that explanation.

    • So you are saying that Cody Reed will turn me into Hank Aaron? Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.

    • An alternate explanation for Reed’s high HR rate is that he is simply making too many bad pitches, despite apparently having the kind of stuff to accrue the metrics cited by Steve.

      On Sunday’s pregame radio Bryan Price offered up the opinion that Reed’s fastball has been too much on a single vertical plane (flat) and likewise with his slider plus the additional issue that the slider has been too fast in relationship to his fastball.

      Price went on to explain that these things were happening because Reed has fallen into the habit of gripping the ball with his fingers too much to the side of the ball versus on top of the ball. Price said this conclusion was reached using video analysis.

      What Price did not say which I would be interested in knowing is whether Reed had been throwing the ball with this low grip while at AAA as that might indicate how much of an issue it is going to be for Reed to make the required adjustment..

      • Making bad pitches, while not good, really isn’t causing Reed’s issue. It’s bad luck, plain and simple.

        So, here’s an example…

        Imagine someone like Giancarlo Stanton has a true-talent level of hitting a 5 home runs every 10 pitches, on average. (arbitrary numbers)

        Now imagine a pitcher throws him 10 pitches down the middle, and he hits 4 home runs. Ok, 4 is close to 5. Nothing to see here. Seems like a plausible scenario.

        Now, then, imagine the same pitcher throwing him 10 more pitches down the middle in exactly the same spot. Stanton hits 6 homers on these 10 pitches. Ok, 6 is close to 5. Nothing to see here. Also seems like a plausible scenario.

        In aggregate, Stanton hit 5 homers per 10 pitches. But, if you look at the pitcher’s performance over those two periods, one has a 40% rate and one has a 60% rate. The talent level or execution of the pitcher didn’t change. What changed was the hitter’s distribution of his home runs.

        Cody Reed has given up tons of homers, but we’re looking at a small slice… the “6 of 10” scenario, if you will. Eventually, someone will hit a fly ball that dies on the warning track. Eventually, someone will swing at a middle-middle fastball and pop it up.

        After all, even Stanton did that in his titanic display last night against batting practice pitches. No one can sustain homers on 40% of their fly balls, even if they get 95mph middle-middle every pitch.

        • Patrick, it would be fools’ golds for me to debate statistical theory with you as I’m sure even at your relatively young age, you have forgotten more about it than I knew in my prime which was probably at least a couple of decades or so ago 🙂

          This said. I get that Reed isn’t going to continue at a 40% HR/FB rate in this universe. However if Price and Co. have detected this flaw, it would tend to indicate Reed’s issues are about more than luck and things beyond his control. So, I also think it is fools’ gold to believe everything will be “automatically” OK with him over time (as the sample sizes grows). Flat fastballs and sliders are essentially pitches on a tee for talented MLB hitters. Thus how far toward norms his rate settles to will likely be a function of how effectively he addresses this issue.

          At this point Reed is like a lot of talented young pitchers who arrive at the big leagues amidst much fanfare. At one end of the spectrum, they pitch well enough to put up dazzling numbers such as Steve cites in this post. Then at the blink of an eye on the other end, they can have ghastly outcomes like Reed has largely had due to untimely bad pitches. Learning to maximize the good and minimize the bad is what separates Randy Johnson and his ilk from the legions whose names and careers we soon forget. Only time will tell where Reed falls on this spectrum.

  4. I feel really dumb as I expected Reed to be great from Day 1 since major league hitters aren’t any better than AAA hitters. I doubt that pitchers improve with experience….aren’t most Cy Young Award winners rookies?

  5. I’m glad to see Reed in Cincinnati and getting starts. He appears to have plenty of “stuff” but he needs to learn how to pitch at the highest level. He hasn’t been unlucky (at least not much) to my eye. He has grooved quite a few pitches that have been hit hard, and his pitch sequences (e.g. back to back hit table sliders to Stanton = home run) have been problematic. But he does appear to be learning and I see no reason why he can’t be a very good starter. I fully expect him to be a key part of the rotation for five years or more.

    • How the sliders were thrown is on Reed, of course, but it seems unlikely that he is calling his own pitches.

      • Someone somewhere in the last few days wrote that Price in his pregame comments said that Reed needs to get on top of his pitches and when he doesn’t everything flattens out, making them (particularly the slider) much easier to hit. Sounds like a mechanical thing if that is the case and likely can be corrected.

        • That’s pretty much true of any pitcher. When they aren’t on top of the ball, they tend to see their stuff flatten out and stay up. It is correctable. Sometimes it can even be corrected in game.

  6. Reed needs a couple successful starts to gain confidence; feels like they’re right around the corner. It’s not the worst thing in the world to get beat up early. Humbling experience and makes one work harder. Encouraging insight Steve. Thanks

  7. Reed is learning on the job along with Lamb and Finnegan.Disco did it last year and it shows.Learning how to pitch at the big league level is really hard but all of these guys including Iggy and Lorenzen have swing and miss stuff.This plays at all levels.Once they cut down on the walks,look at Disco’s free passes in his starts,then they go farther into games.In the second half if we can get to the 6th or 7th with the lead.I will take my chances with Iggy,Lorenzen and Cingrani closing it out.I can also see Bailey taking Finnegan’s spot when he slides to the pen so our pen continues to get better.I say we bring up Stephenson and let him pitch as well.Our pitching is and will be deep and talented they just need experience.In two years we could have a top 5 staff now if we could just hit and defend better which is in mind the only reason we won’t contend for a playoff spot in 2018.

  8. Robert Stephenson is going to be a future closer. That is where I see him at least. Doesn’t have the endurance, has already developed a history of injury, and walks way to many batters.
    Code Red will eventually get his act together. He just needs to improve location and pitch selection. Maybe for the time being he needs a designated catcher? I know most aren’t in favor of that but maybe a young upstart just may need the same face behind the plate everyday to build a consistent pitch call selection and also so that the catcher can learn to look for specific issues that the pitcher might be having.

  9. It’s curious that this is somewhat deja vu for me (us). We had this guy Homer Bailey who was a mortal lock as a #1 starter and this other guy named Johnny Cueto who profiled more as a 2 and two seasons later Cueto had progressed and Homer was also progressing, just not as quickly.

    If Reed becomes Cueto, and Bob becomes Bailey, I’ll be a happy man.

    • Your thought process is too logical. Reed has had a few bad starts so he must suck….forever. The same people who were demanding his call up…because the Reds owe that to their “great” fans….are now the one’s who want him sent to the minors and attacked by a pack of hungry hyenas.

  10. Cody Reed doesn’t have the fastball to miss up or in the middle of the zone. He’s missing up and in the middle of the zone and big leaguers who only need to worry about two pitches at this point, are. not. missing.

    Yeah, his home run rate is incredible and it’s not going to last – but he’s got to stop missing in the middle of the zone. I wouldn’t send him down – but to pretend that people that believe he should be sent down when he’s getting absolutely destroyed are crazy, is, well, a little bit crazy.

    • As usual, I agree with you Doug. It seems to me that Reed needs to work on location and his change up and it makes the most financial sense to have him doing that somewhere he won’t be accruing major league service time. This is not to say that I think Stephenson is or will be a better pitcher, he has things to work on as well.

    • I wasn’t pretending. And I didn’t say people were crazy (a word I’m more careful in using than you are) for believing that. I said calls for it (not the people) were ridiculous. I stand by that. Reed has better than league average strikeout, walk and ground ball rates in his first five starts at age 23. He’s where he needs to be.

      • I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all to suggest that a guy with an ERA over 8.00 and a WHIP over 1.80 may have something to work on in the minor leagues.

        Reed’s got a good strikeout rate. His walk rate has also been good. But between those things he’s also making a lot of mistakes. And he’s paying for them.

        • My point was using ERA isn’t a reliable indicator. Nor is a fantasy baseball stat like WHIP, which is a function of an unsustainable BABIP of .380.

        • While I think that it’s highly unlikely that Reed continues to have a BABIP of .380, it’s certainly sustainable.

          WHIP isn’t a fantasy baseball stat any more than another stat.

          Here’s the facts: He’s absolutely getting his brains beat in at the big league level right now.

          Someone suggesting he has something to work on to improve that isn’t ridiculous.

          We can talk about the likelihood of it continuing moving forward all day long, but the fact is that to this point, he’s been absolutely destroyed at the big league level. He’s absolutely, without question, got things he could improve upon. That someone thinks that should happen in Triple-A isn’t ridiculous. I wouldn’t send him down just yet, but I absolutely get why someone would and why they think he would.

          • Concluding Reed is “getting his brains beat in” and “destroyed” depends entirely on what stats you look at and how you assess the amount of bad luck involved in his HR/FB and BABIP. That was the point of this post. ERA and WHIP vary significantly based on issues beyond the pitcher’s control.

            To me, a pitcher who is striking out more batters than average, one who *leads the team* in swinging strike percentage (also well above league average) isn’t getting destroyed or his brains beaten in. That’s the entire point of the ERA estimators, to isolate the pitcher contributions. He’s a full half-point below league average ERA in SIERA.

            You always preach that pitcher can best be judged on Ks and BBs. He’s been better than league average in both of those.

          • Luck or not, he’s giving up am incredibly high rate of hits, runs and home runs. You are confusing getting destroyed with what may happen in the future. So far, he’s been utterly destroyed.

            Your post is on target about what’s likely to happen in the future. Your take about what has happened in his big league career so far, it’s a bit off target.

            And I preach that walks, strikeouts and home run rates predict the future pretty well. They don’t, however, change what actually did happen.

        • Maybe this is splitting hairs, but…

          The worst pitcher BABIP in MLB history (min 1000 IP) is Glendon Rusch at .326.

          A .380 pitcher BABIP is certainly not sustainable in any form, given the mathematical definition of “sustainable.”

          Even if Reed faced all Ty Cobb’s, he wouldn’t have a .380 BABIP over a long period of time. (Cobb all-time BABIP leader in the .370s)

        • The problem with that PJ, is that Rusch was good enough to stick around long enough. If you or I went out there, the BABIP against us would be .750. They just wouldn’t keep running us out there.

          As I said, it’s not likely to keep happening – but it’s certainly not unsustainable. You keep throwing meatballs in the middle of the zone, guys are going to have a very high BABIP against you. Right now, Cody Reed is doing a lot of that.

        • Now I want to pitch 1000 innings to see if I could hit that .750 mark. 🙂

  11. No way I would send Reed down because of how much I believe in his swing and miss stuff. I do understand Doug’s point though. You can reasonably argue that Reed should stay in the big leagues or go back to the minors. I think it’s a more compelling case that he should stay.

    I’m a big fan of both Reed and Stephenson. Stephenson obviously needs to walk fewer batters, but he has struck out a ton of people in his last two starts, and the stuff is impressive.

  12. As a general comment, I don’t see why so many people think problems can’t be worked on at the MLB level, only in Magical AAA Land. (Not specific to this article, but also of the Billy Hamilton hitting scenario, and many other things over the years.)

    I’ve never seen one piece of evidence suggesting it is easier to learn things in AAA than in MLB. I don’t think I ever will, because everything in my head tells me it is wrong.

    • I will tell you why it’s easier to work on things in Triple-A: The competition isn’t as good. It’s easier to work on things in an environment where you are more confident. It’s also easier to work on things when you are more confident you cna “get out of trouble” if you need to because you got into trouble in the first place because you were working on something.

      A team can literally tell a pitcher he’s throwing 20 change ups today, no matter what, at the Triple-A level because they frankly don’t care about the result of that game. They care about the guy learning to throw better change ups. They aren’t doing that at the big league level. They care about those wins and losses.

      • I’m sorry, but, the competition angle is self-contradictory. If the competition level being lower is a positive, why not send someone to AA? To A?

        Confidence makes things easier to work on? Perhaps Does being demoted to AAA give you confidence? Maybe the loss of confidence on demotion evens out the increase in confidence you get from playing against worse players. Who knows. Again, all just speculation given that “confidence” is such a relative and intangible thing.

        The change-up example makes the most sense, I’d say. But throwing pitches is a zero sum game, right? If you’re throwing all change-ups to learn how to throw it, you are doing so at the detriment of increasing the command of your fastball or the bite of your slider.

        And can’t you work on the change-up exclusively on the side in MLB? Can’t you mix it in more in the majors? Because, really, the Reds don’t care about wins and losses right now either. They could tell any player to throw more change ups during their start. Having Reed, for example, throw his 3rd pitch 20 times in a game is something completely reasonable. He could still throw a bunch of fastballs and sliders.

        I hope I didn’t strike a chord, I really am not trying to be argumentative just for argument’s sake, but this (to me, just my opinion) feels like one of those old-school bastions that people hang on to just because it’s always been around, rather than actually having a good reason to believe it.

        • Well, there are rules against sending some guys down so far, so there’s certainly that part of it.

          But, the confidence part is actually very easy to understand. Have you played baseball in your life? After the offseason and it’s time to get back into the swing of things you probably went to the batting cages. Are you stepping into the cage to face the 90 MPH machine right out of the gate, or the 70 MPH machine?

          And yes, you can work on stuff on the side. But that doesn’t really help you as much as doing so in a game against hitters who can directly show you the progress you’re making, or not.

          You can say the Reds don’t care about winning or losing right now, but you’re wrong. The manager cares about it. And he’s going to pull you. And he’s not going to mandate you throw X number of a certain pitch every game.

          There’s a good reason to believe it. It’s absolutely, 100% true.

        • Of course the Reds care about winning. I should have picked my words more carefully. That’s on me. What I meant was winning is not their top priority from this point to the end of the season I think that’s pretty inarguable.

          I understand players are humans and all react differently, but practicing against the best just seems like such a better way to learn than practicing against inferior talent.

          If you are at “100%” true, then I guess I’ll just close the topic.

          (Yes, I did exactly what you described in the batting cages. Didn’t help me at all! I was a swing-and-miss slugger… as much as you can be at 14 years old.)

      • If a player has the confidence and talent….he needs to grow as a player by failing at the highest level. Cody Reed can go back to AAA ball and dominate. He can beat Crash Davis and Donald Lutz again ….but why? Cody Reed has been facing Kris Bryant and Giancarlo Stanton and losing. Most pitchers do. Let him mature as a pitcher. Part of maturation and development as a player…as painful as it it…is failure. Now is the time to experience growing pains. Everyone talks about growing pains….well…its time to live through them. I am excited to watch him pitch against Stanton and Bryant the next time.

  13. Because winning is usually the most important thing at the ML level. Development is the most important thing in the minors. There’s a big difference between the two. However, since this season we suck at the ML level, then a development-first approach may not be so bad. Many who have played sports can tell you that it’s easier to work on stuff and experiment at lower levels. The game doesn’t come at you so fast. You can make improvements that will better serve you at the ML level. For less-experienced guys, that experimenting and tinkering is better done in the minors. Billy Hamilton would, no doubt, have benefited from extra time in the minors. He wasn’t ready for the majors when he was thrown in.

    • See my reply to Doug.

      Statements like “the game doesn’t come at you so fast” is exactly why I question this notion to begin with.

      • I wish I could explain exactly what that meant but it’s more a feel thing than something tangible. Everything seems slower against competition with a lower talent level. The ball doesn’t seem to explode out of a pitcher’s hand and doesn’t have that late life. You can work on things like hitting the ball the other way or working on identifying breaking pitches. You have more ticks in your internal clock to make it happen. As the competition gets higher and there are a higher number of people better than you, you find that you’re just trying to hit it hard somewhere, anywhere. If you make a conscious effort to work on identifying pitches, you find the fastball is by you before you’ve made the identification. You have to rely on what you’ve done at the lower levels and just react. Does any of that make sense?

        • It all makes some amount of inherent sense. I know you guys are all smart people, after all, you’re posting on RLN! 😉

          I guess I just can’t accept something as truth unless there’s some sort of data to support it. Someone could do a study on this, I’m sure. What happens to MLB hitters/pitchers who are in the majors for some amount of time (say at least 2 months in a starting role) and are then demoted to AAA. How are their next 2 months once called up again?

          Until I see something like that, it honestly feels the same as telling me guys who hit .400 with RISP just “rise to the occasion” and someone’s heart can’t be measured and I’m a heartless mathematical meany!

    • Agree. i believe a lot of it is about human psychology; and, folks are different.

      In retrospect, Bailey has talked about being pushed to MLB, feeling overwhelmed and not being ready for the experience. Then on the other hand while the sample size is extremely small, Stephenson may be one of those would thrive on being pushed as he found a way to get done what he needed to get done in his 2 MLB starts but now seems to be playing to the level of his competition at AAA. To date, Reed seems to be a toolsy guy that hasn’t consistently found a way to give his team a chance to win at the MLB level.

  14. Different pitchers react differently to failure and it’s up to the Reds to determine what’s best on an individual basis.

    My son’s hitting coach played college ball and made it to high A in the pros. A huge takeaway from him was consistency: the major league hitter can put a major league swing on a ball nearly 100% of the time. This is why they are major leaguers and not stuck at AAA, AA, A or wherever.

    Cody Reed is finding that out first hand. He makes a mistake up or over the plate and it’s jacked at a higher rate than he’s used to in the minors because major league hitters don’t miss mistakes (usually).

    His ability to miss major league bats tells me that he has a bright future so long as he can limit his mistakes. Right now he can’t, but I don’t see a reason to send him down from this team during this year. He will learn (I hope).

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