The Reds have some difficult decisions to make before Opening Day 2017, but some of those decisions will come from a position of strength. Through the draft, trades, and a couple shrewd signings, the Reds system contains an abundance of arm talent. Arms for day, my friends. Here are some of the usual suspects with age in parentheses:
- Raisel Igesias (26)
- Michael Lorenzen (24)
- Homer Bailey (30)
- Dan Straily (27)
- Brandon Finnegan (23)
- Anthony DeSclafani (26)
- Robert Stephenson (23)
- Cody Reed (23)
- Amir Garrett (24)
- John Lamb (26)
All of these talented pitchers are either in the Major Leagues or AAA and could affect the Reds fortunes in 2017. While most of them would likely be groomed for starting roles in other organizations, teams typically only have five starters; meaning that if trades do not happen, some of these guys will pitch in AAA or the Reds bullpen.
Starters are typically far more valuable than relievers for at least two reasons: (1) it is more difficult to face a lineup multiple times a game, which requires better pitchers to get more outs, and (2) starters pitch as much as three times more innings than relievers.
You often see failed starters become great relievers. Wade Davis, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton are recent examples. I’m struggling to remember a failed reliever that anybody tried to turn into a starter. If a guy struggles to get three outs a game, he likely won’t succeed in getting 18-24.
It’s not that relievers aren’t important, but if you had a guy who could effectively pitch for either 200 innings or 70 innings, which would you choose? You need both, but your best guys better be starters.
Which brings me to the point of this post: I don’t believe Dan Straily is one of the best five starters on that list. At least not going into 2017 and beyond.
He has pitched well in 2016 and compared to the pitchers the Reds threw out there early in the season, Straily has performed at near Cy Young levels. But as we near the offseason, the comparison should not be between Straily and the likes of Alfredo Simon, but between Straily and the other potential 2017 starters.
Dan Straily is not a bad pitcher. In many circumstances, I’d be excited to have him in the back end of a rotation. His walk and strikeout rates are close to league average, and you can easily argue that he is about a league average pitcher.
I just prefer the stuff and potential of other guys and frankly, I don’t believe Straily is as good as his current ERA suggests. Let’s look at Straily’s career numbers, season numbers, and the numbers of a 2016 average Major League starter.
I know. Scary numbers. But these particular numbers give us the best insight into how good Straily is right now.
Let’s deal with the flaws in ERA first. ERA does not tell us how many runs were a pitcher’s fault because ERA gives credit to a pitcher for elements that are out of his control. Through the new(ish) StatCast data, Rob Arthur of 538 found that the batter’s contribution to how hard a ball is hit is five times more influential than the pitcher’s.
That means that some pitchers can limit hard contact to an extent, but the batter’s skill impacts how hard or soft a ball is hit by a far greater margin. ERA assumes just the opposite: that pitchers have lots of control over how hard a ball is struck and whether it becomes a hit or an out.
Pitchers greatly influence whether contact is made, meaning they affect strikeouts, walks, and hit by pitches. To a smaller but still significant extent, pitchers influence home runs hit against them. As far as balls in play, batters and the defense play the largest role in whether a batted ball becomes an out or a hit.
On defense, Billy Hamilton gets to balls that no one else could dream of reaching, thus saving the Reds pitchers earned runs. He’s seemingly at his best when Straily pitches. When Jay Bruce couldn’t get to a ball that most outfielders would get to, it gave Reds pitchers earned runs they shouldn’t have received. None of that really reflects on the pitcher’s true talent.
That’s why smarter people than I came up with fielding independent pitching statistics. These statistics, through fancy mathematics, try to take some of the randomness, defensive variance, and luck out of pitcher evaluation. They focus more on factors that pitchers control. xFIP and SIERA are both such statistics.
They look like ERA because they are supposed to. A good ERA is also a good xFIP or SIERA. What we’ve found through the years is that xFIP and SIERA are more predictive of future performance than ERA with SIERA being the most accurate. You’ll notice that Straily’s career SIERA and career ERA are awfully similar.
A pitcher may have a year where luck, sequencing, and defense lower his ERA below career norms, but we should look at more predictive stats to see whether he can sustain that level.
For Straily, that means that he is probably a half run worse than his ERA going forward. He has out pitched every predictive measure thus far, which is unlikely to continue.
You can argue that he has improved as a pitcher from past years, which is certainly possible. Unfortunately, his stuff looks exactly the same as it did in 2015, and he is throwing his pitches at a similar rate to last season. His velocity remains stable, and has not changed the way he approaches hitters, at least in terms of pitch rates.
Also, Straily’s 2016 BABIP is extremely low. His career mark is actually quite low, which is impressive, but as Arthur found out, he has likely influenced that very little. The data suggests he is benefiting from some of the randomness of batted balls and maybe some defense.
His BABIP will undoubtedly rise from where it currently sits. It’s hard to believe he suppresses contact more effectively than Randy Johnson (.291 BABIP), Curt Schilling (.293 BABIP), or Greg Maddux (.281 BABIP.
It’s possible that Straily could perform well enough in 2017 to be one of the Reds five best starting pitchers. However, if you are looking forward to the next 3-5 years, no way you bet on his potential over most of the other candidates.
I hope the Reds compete in 2017, but it’s much more likely they are another year away from contending. Just as Finnegan has come a long way by being in the rotation a full season, the Reds need to determine who they think will start for the next winning Reds team and make those guys starters.
Straily is a solid pitcher. I’m glad he’s a Red. As we look to next season and beyond though, he’s likely not as good as the other starting options they have. Who is? That’s certainly up for debate, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.