After a disappointing performance by Robert Stephenson on August 20, Delino DeShields, called his young pitcher out in a public and personal way. Some people were big fans of the public humiliation, others weren’t.

Fast forward twelve days and two Stephenson starts and writers are rushing to announce that DeShields statement “worked” because Stephenson has thrown two “gems” or pick your synonym for gem.

That would make for a happy narrative. If it were accurate.

Set aside the small sample size of two games. Forget that just about any start would feel worlds better than what Stephenson offered on August 20.

The entire concern for Stephenson is his control. He walks too many batters. Has for years. That’s what triggered DeShields’ statement. On August 20, Stephenson had walked four batters in 2 innings.

In the two games since the public criticism, Stephenson walked 6 batters in 13 innings. That’s a 4.15 BB/9.

In the four August games prior to the Courier-Journal article, including August 20, Stephenson had walked 8 batters in 20 innings. That’s a BB/9 of 3.6. Is that too small of a sample for you? How about his entire career. Stephenson’s BB/9 in 5 years of minor league pitching is 4.19.

Yes, there’s more to evaluating pitching than walk rates. Yes, Stephenson and his coaches should be concerned about his control – and its lack of improvement. Of course we’re all pulling for him to get better and fulfill his promise as a top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher for the Reds.

The narrative-busting point: Stephenson hasn’t shown control improvement in the last two games.

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

Join the conversation! 30 Comments

  1. Which writers have concluded that DeShield’s statements actually worked? I agree with your conclusion that nothing has changed with respect to his performance in the time since. Even if it had, it would be too soon to say so.

    • Just way too early to know and it would seem that his BB-rate is pretty much the same. His end results have been better but 2 games is an awfully small sample. Writers saying “By golly it worked!!!” are jumping the gun more than a little.

      • To play off of Steve’s theme and to pay tribute to a movie classic, those conclusions are “Juuuuuust a bit outside”

  2. R. Stephenson is my #1 trade candidate this winter, before he drops out of many top-100 prospect lists. Before his value sinks further. With the talent the Reds are adding, Stephenson will be hard pressed to find himself in the Reds top-8 prospects, maybe even top-10 by next spring. It will be a precipitous drop off.

    • Randy Johnson and his control problems say hello. I bet the Expos regret trading him

    • Since RS’s problems are not a closely-held secret, it seems unlikely that they’d get much for him. It’s much too early to give up, and maybe being one of a number of good pitching prospects–rather than the focus of so much hope and expectation–will help him.

    • Other teams aren’t idiots. Why the Reds would want to sell low is beyond me.

  3. Well, but we don’t even know what DeShields and the AAA pitching coach had been asking him to do. It almost was certainly more specific than, “Robert, can you throw a few more strikes?” It may well be that Stephenson finally listened, that he made the requested adjustment, and that they are perfectly happy with that, even if he did walk 3 while fanning 7 in 7 innings last night. I suspect that DeShields etc. can accept RS’s inability to execute something new, but they cannot accept his unwillingness to try something new.

    I sure hope we see Amir Garrett pitching here Saturday instead of Undecided, on whom I have no information.

  4. We are all cut from different cloth. I’m inclined toward thinking that RS is one of those folks who performs to the level of his competition. Part of that is even within a game, within an inning the ability to make pitches to get through. On the whole Stephenson has demonstrated the ability to do this.

    In three seasons of ~135 innings each spent at AA and AAA his BB/9 varied by only a couple of tenths back and forth from season to season, 4.7-4.9. His Hits/9 range from 7.0-7.5 with the low year being 2015 which gives him a WHIP range of 1.30 to 1.38 over the period. The biggest difference I see this season is that his K/9 has dropped from 9+ to 7.9. So, what’s changed to make him less of a prospect now than he was when he arrived at AA?

    I think if the consensus is that he has the stuff to get MLB batters out; put him MLB games and see what happens. If he adapts on the fly and thrives, OK. If he has the Cody Reed experience, maybe that is what will finally drive him to overcome the perceived control issues.

    • I don’t know if he plays up or down to competition, but I think the Reds are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t give Stephenson, Garrett, and Lorenzen a couple starts each this final month to see what they may have into the off season.

      I know there are inning limit and service time considerations, so if they are saving arms I understand. On the other hand, they eventually need to figure out what their rotation will be and seeing those three guys in a few starts would give them some extra data as they head toward 2017.

  5. i think that it is an inexact science to point to AAA stats as an indicator of major league success. case in point cody reed.
    cody reed will be a good pitcher for the reds but he was killing it at AAA.
    brandon finnegan has a 4.19 per 9 walk rate though it has certainly dropped in his last 5 starts. must have been a heckuva number before that.
    stephenson being held to a different standard.
    i get to coach pretty good athletes every day. some were not worth a dime in practice but when the lights came on…. it was different. others leave it in the locker room on game day.
    time to left him finish out the year with a couple more starts with the big club.
    deshields was wrong. needs to be let go. wouldn’t let him run the Hakawi tribe on F Troop.

    • i agree with Nick also about Lorenzen and Garrett.
      We are going to learn exactly what from a start by Adelman or God Forbid… Simon.

  6. what if we made a reliever of bob/steve…maybe his control would improve if he used only two pitches. I’d actually like to try him soon at the major league level. If he’s sensational, you can increase his innings and use him as a starter. I don’t know if keeping him in AAA for five years will actually help him. If we trade him, he’ll surely turn into a star.

  7. From my eye test, I always thought BobSteve pitched a bit like David Cone. At AAA, Cone walked 98 in 157 innings at the age of 22 (Nolan Ryan walked 98 in 1331IP at 23!). Cone’s walk rate was always on the high side for the majority of his career, and yet he had a very nice career. I see a similar path for Stephenson. Why? Both have the ability to supress hits and induce strikeouts. That’s what pure stuff will do for you. It’s not an ideal method to limit pitch counts and go deep in ballgames, but it’s a strategy not without its successes either. Relative to so many that have come before him, critics need to chill out and just let him continue to track what is a typical development path for pitchers with his raw ability.

    • I’ll take that 7 days a week and twice on Sundays

    • Agree. it is also probably worth noting that the same decision makers who thought Cody Reed was ready to take a place in the MLB rotation are the ones saying RS still has something to prove; and don’t want to give the ball to Sampson to start in an MLB game despite his excellent performance as an AAA starter.

      • Jim, I think you’ve summarized it nicely from a fan’s point of view. There do seem to be some discrepancies in the club’s evaluations of these young pitchers and their readiness to pitch in the big leagues. Unless there is some other “thing” that Stephenson needs to work on, he appears to be just as capable as Reed to start at the MLB level now.

  8. Stephenson may not be as good as he was perceived to be. Would not be the first time a prospect became a suspect. He also may need more time. Throwing strikes is a skill that can be learned. Unfortunately some never do.

  9. I think every minor leaguer that may be a part of the future should get an audition.Reed was killing it in AAA and it didn’t work out so well up here but it would be foolish to give up on him.Stephenson should be given that same audition and see what he’s got up here.I get it that minor leaguers should indeed earn a promotion to the big show but has that been the case for everybody else that has been up with the Reds this year.I doubt it so lets get him up here pronto and I bet you if he has a good start or two then we can go on to someone else to talk about.

  10. I think Robert may have been a little pissed off he won both his games with the reds Cody wasn’t pitching well at the mlb level and he is still with the bats

    • I think the whole process of being left in AAA when he was clearly one of the 5 best available starting pitching options in the org had to have a negative impact on him. We are talking about 23 year old guy after.

      While the world was talking about service time and player contract control and millions of $$$ maybe saved by the org over the long haul, how could he not be looking at his bi-weekly pay stub and noticing that his pay as a 40 man player on option to the minors was about 1/6 what he would be making with the MLB team?

      it doesn’t matter that a person is a 1st round draft choice and signed for a reported bonus of $2M. When they are looking looking at pay stub that represents an annual rate of $80K and know the only reason they are not making $500K+ is to enhance the team financially, they are going to be just like we work a day Joes who resent being underpaid when we know we can do a job better than somebody who is being paid several times what we are to do the same job.

      • I would get him up to pitch with the Reds in September. If he does well, then a lot of this talk about his AAA time is just so much hooey.

        If he continues with his control problems and gets lit up, then maybe he begins to reconsider his approach and take coaching better.

        The Reds are going to be playing a lot of contending teams (Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs) in September. It will be interesting.

        Simon should be waived (he won’t be) as should Ohlendorf (and HE won’t be); bring up Garrett, the kid Peralta, Rookie Davis, and Stephenson.
        Winker, Herrera too. (Winker has to get on the 40 man).

  11. Robert Stephenson will be busy looking over his shoulder at all the talented pitchers rising up quickly behind him. Garrett and Reed have already surpassed him as a prospect and starting pitcher. A lot of pitchers knocking on the door. For BobSteve it is time to poop or get off the pot.

    • I think Garrett has, but Garrett got behind while playing college basketball; Garrett is older than Reed or Stephenson. I’m not so sure that Reed has passed him. Reed got a good shot this summer, and frankly was….not good. They both have things to work on.
      Rookie Davis may pass him, though. And look out for Tyler Mahle. There have been some very positive scouting reports on him. There are people in the front office that think he could be pitching as a reliever in the Bigs right now. He’s still a season away from the big club as a starter.

  12. I can understand the point that he feels like it’s time to move to the MLBs given his talent. We’ve all been in that situation, knowing we deserve a promotion – and don’t get it. It makes us actually less good at our current jobs.

    If this is true I hope it’s because he’s eager to prove himself at the MLB level and frustrated he’s not there, and NOT because he thinks he’s learned all he needs to learn about pitching, or perfected his craft enough to be a successful MLB pitcher.

    If he’s just over being in AAA, that’s one thing. If he’s “done” honing his skills, that another – he will not last long this next time up. Either way, I think it says something either about his ability to practice or his mental make up, which is mildly alarming.

  13. He’s 23. Again, he’s 23. Needs to mature and I’m certain the Reds are confident he’ll master his control issues. Big, strong kid with a ton of potential that any other team would love to have. Homer was an arrogant sob when he was coming up, too. Don’t think he’s the least concerned about what other guys in the organization are doing. Just needs to mature.

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About Steve Mancuso

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.