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.

Join the conversation! 42 Comments

  1. I propose that we trade him to Detroit for Suarez, oh wait we did that already. Guess you can’t go to the well twice.

  2. I really don’t think there is a debate. Straily pitched his tail off this year. He will be a starter going into spring training and will have to perform to keep his spot. If he has a terrible spring…he’s not in the rotation…If he has a bad April……he’s out of the rotation…We are in perform and prove yourself time….he did that this year….Certainly, no one is suggesting you hand out starter spots???? Its a competition from here and you earn it. I really like what I saw from Robert Stephenson today.

    • I certainly didn’t suggest they hand out starter spots. I don’t know who is? When I say determine who they think are their starters, that is based on competition and based on the data we have, that’s probably not Straily going forward. If he proves me wrong, great.

      • Straily may also provide the chance for Stephenson or Reed to further tune up in AAA for first half of 2017 if service time is seen as an issue.

        • stephenson has shown that he belongs in the bigs,His inferior effort in the minors tells it all.Keep him right where he is and he will be a stud before age 25

  3. OLD SCHOOL said it all.I agree 100%

  4. Nick, you raise two specific, but noncorrelated issues when you point out “… 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.”

    The Reds need to identify starters and relievers for the future, but 2017 is probably not the future in question. After his 2016 performance, a role for Straily as the 5th starter to begin the 2017 season seems reasonable and desireable. Bailey, DeSclafani and Finnegan are probably locks going into the 2017 season. If Iglesias is ready for another attempt as a starter, he probably gets the nod as the 4th starter. If Iglesias is not ready for another attempt as a starter, he goes to the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever (100-120 innings pitched per season) and the 4th starter role opens to the next man up, probably Stephenson. Lorenzen seems destined for the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever (100-120 innings per season).

    That leaves Reed and Garrett (along with Stephenson if Iglesias begins the season as a starter) as possible starting candidates for the future. They begin the season in AAA as starters waiting for their opportunity. That’s a good thing. If an injury occurs, next man up! If a starter falters (Straily?), next man up! I everyone stays healthy and productive, then the Reds have successfully staggered their potential starters for the future. I’m not sure Lamb is destined for a starting role, but he should have the chance to prove himself too and should join the AAA starting rotation to begin the 2017 season.

    Michael Lorenzen, Blake Wood, Tony Cingrani & Keyvius Sampson will probably comprise the bulk of the bullpen with Iglesias included if he is not starting. They will still need another LH reliever in the bullpen and an additional unknown reliever if Iglesias joins the starting rotation. Lamb might fill a bullpen role, but I would prefer to see him work as a starter at AAA to begin the 2017 season. There are other bullpen options among the young in-house relievers for the 2017 season. If Straily falters as a starter in 2017, he would be a bullpen candidate.

    After 2017, then the starting rotation and bullpen could be significant altered based on 2017 performances and possible trades to aquire a bat they need to put them over the top.

    • I understand this point of view, but I disagree with the underlying premise. How does 2017 not connect to the future? Bailey and Cueto took 2-3 years in the majors to figure out how to get big league pitchers out. Stephenson, Reed, and Garrett have all had substantial time in AAA now. Why wouldn’t we want them to develop in 2017 in the majors in preparation for better the following seasons? If 2017 isn’t connected to the future, let BP and Cozart start and finish out their contracts.

      Also, Straily’s performance in 2016 and before (xFIP, SIERA, and BABIP) is exactly why I think they have better options. His results have been better than he has pitched.

      Finally, why is Lorenzen destined for the bullpen? Because he’s had sucess there? So would the other starting candidates. I laid out my starting case for Lorenzen previously.

      He pitched like a young Homer Bailey last year. The numbers are staggeringly close.

      If Lorenzen beats out the others, why can Finnegan, Reed, Garrett, or Stephenson be 120 inning relievers? They should at least give Lorenzen a chance. He’s too talented not too. He made not win that competition but the idea that he’s destined for the bullpen is short sighted in my opinion.

      Just my thoughts. Again, I understand your reasoning. I just don’t agree with the premise.

    • Straily’s situation will be interesting to see how it plays out this winter. Straily could possibly be the #5 starter for 2017, but he might be more valuable as a #4 or #5 starter on another pitching starved team. At his salary and team control, he becomes a little more valuable as that trade chip. And with his “stellar” .000 batting average, maybe an AL team is where he should be. Not all, but most contending and wanting to contend AL teams could use him in that #4 or #5 role.
      I firmly believe the Reds will give Lorenzen another shot as a starter, especially if Iglesias stays in the bullpen. One of these two will be in the rotation for 2017. If the 2017 rotation is shaping up to be DeSclafani>Finnegan>Bailey>Lorenzen>, then that leaves Reed and Stephenson to battle it out for the #5 spot.
      Unfortunately for us fans, I don’t see Garrett, and for that matter Winker, on the Reds 25-man roster on Opening Day 2017. Super-2 considerations will be followed to a T, and we won’t see either before mid-June.
      And don’t discount a significant move this winter by GM Dick Williams to put his stamp on this team going forward. He could go out and get a starting pitcher with 3-4 years of team control left to help lead the rotation if Bailey’s arm just isn’t up to it to be a #1.

  5. He’s probably a ways away in his recovery, but Jon Moscot was omitted from that list.

    Probably not or will ever be one of the best 5 arms in the organization, but definitely another good depth piece

  6. I think Dan Strailly earned his spot but I also believe that he will more than likely wind up with a short leash. If any of our starters begin they year struggling I would imagine that they will be quickly replaced, sent to the bullpen, or back down to the farm. We have to much talent stacking up at Louisville. We may have to trade a few for top prospects at lower levels just to keep the farm system flowing. A good situation to be in.

  7. I’ve been saying this for a year. If the anyone makes a trade, you either have to trade position for position and/or include some pieces of what you have too many of. And, we have too many of these young stud pitchers.

    With Strailly, I believe he’s at least earned a starting pitcher position with his performance this season. Either that, or trade him off for a high minor league prospect, preferably non-pitcher, or maybe a major league reliever.

    I see Homer, Strailly, Finnegan, and DeSclafani as 4 definite for next season’s starters. All the rest will vie for the 5th man. Then, the “losers”, lack of better word, will have a choice or be assigned to the bullpen or to AAA.

    Ideal for me, the Reds are winning next season, with Homer just doing so/so. Our minor league starters are tearing up the league. So, we trade off Homer for a bunch of beans and bring one of the minor leaguers up.

    (Oh, by the way, I told everyone last season we won’t see Homer until the AS break. And, then, I said back then I wouldn’t be surprised if he got re-injured/got sent back to the DL/shut down for the rest of the season.)

    Another question for me for next season is the 2nd/SS/3rd situation. We have:

    (Duvall played mostly 3rd in the minors)

    The last 4 having showed some promise hitting at the AAA level. Hitting, the aspect this team needs most I believe, past bullpen pitching. But, all of these for 3 positions. Something’s gotta give.

    • YOu can thin this list quite a bit actually

      Cozart will be gone over the winter.
      BP will eithr be shopped, take the bench, or split time as he tries to mentor whoever replaces him
      Iribarren is 32 and will never be given the chance to be an every day player.
      That cuts us to a reasonable 6 with a backup for every starter
      3B is Suarez’s I believe until Superman Senzel arrives
      SS is Peraza’s to inherit I don’t think that is debated
      2B is going to be Herrera if his arm holds up
      3B Duvall
      SS Curtis
      2B Renda

      • We can cut the list down. But, will the Reds? After all, the pitching list needed to be cut down, but few have stepped up. With these, it seems like many have stepped up.

  8. I’ve been hyping my boy Lorenzen since the start! I agree Nick….give him a shot at the rotation. He’s already matched his double-play balls generated from last year in 100 less innings. His groundball % is off the charts and if he doesn’t hack it then put him back in the pen. What do you have to lose? He has the potential to be as good or better then anyone they have. I would take Iggy at his word since he prefers the pen. Obviously we need bullpen help too! Homer Baileraco had great stuff there for a couple of starts but then got hurt again. They can’t count on him for next year so they need viable alternatives!

    • I wonder if Lorenzen’s ridiculous GB% has something to do with the new cutter he brought into this season. Probably a small sample size issue as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cutter, which he throws almost a quarter of the time, generated a bunch of those ground balls.

  9. 2 other things….Bob Steve looked good but that was the Mets B team (no Cepedes, Walker, Reyes, etc) and they’d be up all night. Still though…his stuff looked good and his control and focus was there!

    Also John Lamb…if you’re out there? Look at Lorenzen and Iggy and see how they added muscle in the offseason. You have talent (7ip/1 earned in Colorado) but I highly question your commitment! Your days of being an extra on Breaking Bad are over so it better be the gym>tattoo parlor or you will be out of the bigs well before you’re 30!

    • The pitcher has no control over who the other team plays. They have to be judged by how they perform, not how he might have done versus a different line up. Maybe the Metz “A” team does better versus RS yesterday; but, then again maybe they do worse. We’ve certainly seen Reds “B” team line ups jump all over some pretty good pitchers and conversely the Reds best line ups look punch drunk versus lesser or suspect pitchers.

    • Right, just because someone has long hair and tattoos means they can’t be dedicated or hardworking…

      You sound like my dad

    • I’m not so sure that bulking up helps Lamb. In the first place, we don’t know how strong he is, strength not being solely a function of bulk and, in the second place, his style is reminiscent of Bronson Arroyo: Effective with an arsenal of off-speed stuff. I’d rather see him work on his command. Note that Ohlendorf throws 95.

  10. Competition is good all the time.Its great that we have so many options on the pitching front.I am a firm believer that learning to pitch at the big league level and having some success is so valuable.Disco did it last year and Finnegan/Straily by default this year.I realize based on just pure stuff Straily is way way down the list but he can pitch and he is given credit with helping Finnegan with the change up and we know what that pitch has done for him recently..Again I agree with OLD SCHOOL in that somebody must out pitch him to take his spot.Regardless he has a job if I am making the call even if it is the pen.

  11. This is such a nice problem to have, let’s start by appreciating the change in outlook. There’s nothing bad about a surplus of potential and options. I have concerns about Bailey’s recovery and about Iglesias’ durability. Both should be on strengthening and conditioning programs, closely monitored. Either or both could command a rotation spot, but I won’t be surprised to see Iggy in the pen and Bailey come back strong. As for the rest, I hope Lamb doesn’t sniff the starting five – it means the Reds have injury problems. And I’d slide Keyvius Sampson into the list with Lamb sliding out. Keep Straily in the system. He’s a durable, smarter, better, younger version of what we wish Alfredo Simon had been. A valuable asset and insurance policy, but again probably not top five material. To my eye that leaves Bailey, Disco and Finnegan as locks or close, with Stephenson and Lorenzen as first up to fill the rotation. If anyone is hurt or falters then Reed, Garrett, and Sampson can drive up from Louisville, or Straily can stroll in from the pen and switch from long man to starter. See how easy that was? But the best thing about this speculation is that there are half a dozen different but equally valid possibilities. What a nice problem to have!

    • Fantastic comment. Agree.

    • I agree in principle but in practice things like age, player contract control time/ arb eligibility and option status come into play.

      For instance, I believe neither Lamb nor Sampson, both of whom will be age 26 next spring, will have an option next season; and, Garrett, 25 next spring, will have only one remaining. Disco will be arb eligible after the 2017 season; with Iglesias and Lorenzen almost locks for Super2 early arb eligibility at the same time time unless they spend significant time on option during the 2017 season.

      So, the Reds really need to have a general idea of what path they prefer to follow, all things being equal.

  12. Bailey

    10 pitchers that could potentially be part of the starting rotation in 2017 and beyound. All have either had MLB success as a starting pitcher or are well regarded prospects.

    My hope is that 1 from this list is traded for a hitter. I would hope Bailey has a good first half of the season and look to move him at next years trade deadline. If no other team is offering much for Homer then I would look to move DeSclafani next as I think he would bring a big return.

    Out of the remaining 9 pitchers we should be able to find 5 quality starters and 4 relievers. Mahle, Rookie Davis, Mella, Travieso, Sal Romano, etc. still provide some depth in the minors.

  13. You’ve had a bad day when you down Straily. Until he stops getting outs, he is the number uno in ’17.

    • ERA doesn’t really measure “getting outs” that’s Matt’s point.

    • Not down on him at all. Just reporting what the numbers suggest.

      • Straily is a good pitcher to have considering he is cheap and the current injury risk/rehab scenarios and the young but unrealized potential of some great arms…if he comes back to earth….plan B/C/D are right there….if he doesn’t…..he has some trade value next July and next phenom up. Im not suggesting I want Straily starting game 3 of the 2018 NLCS.
        Price has cultivated a workhouse mentality amongst his starters….the cueto.latos.bailey.leake.arroyo season was a Picasso. Disco.Finnegan and Straily fit that give me the ball workhorse mold. Finnegan threw 100 innings in college!!!! Lorenzen threw 44 innings combined in consecutive seasons while playing the outfield…he threw 150 last year and got hurt…Iglesias is 26 in January….a career reliever who got hurt twice in a year after pitching every 5 th day for the first time…how’s the Nick Howard create a starter again program going???? It’s not that simple.
        Stephenson and Garrett have logged the innings mileage and are next starters up…. Cody Reed is getting coached now and will go to AAA for the first part of 2017. I hope Homer comes back to his 2012/13 form.

        • I don’t believe that original list was meant to down Strailly. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for what Bailey “has done in the past” (which still wasn’t that much), one could make an argument for Strailly to be #1, at least based on this year.

          What I believe the initial post was about was to show how we have a wealth of young stud pitching. That he, and I, believe it would be enough to get another hitter in here. And, even though while I do agree, I can’t help thinking that none of this “talent” has really “stepped up”, at least in my book (aka, being a stopper, #2 or #3 guys minimum, etc.). As of now, something tells me to trust Disco and Finnegan. I would like to see another season of Strailly; I do believe he’s earned at least one more season. Disco I believe is more consistent. Finnegan, he’s held his own against the best but has also pitched horribly in others. I would trust Homer only from what he’s done before, but definitely not what he’s done the past 2 seasons. And, past these 4, I really don’t see a “plan B” here yet. Or, maybe a “Plan #5 man”.

          I do believe we need to stop this reliever-to-starter thing. Especially when at this time where our biggest weakness is we need to strengthen the bullpen.

        • Lorenzen pitched 120.2 innings in 2014 and 156.1 innings in 2015. So, he didn’t go from 44 to 150. Not sure what you trying to point out there. Howard and Lorenzen are two very different cases.

          No idea how to eyeball test the old “workhorse mold” but have you seen how hard Lorenzen works? Dude is jacked. If anyone’s body can withstand a lot of innings, it’s his. The bigger question with Lorenzen is whether he can develop an off speed pitch.

          It’s fine to want Straily. I like the guy. The numbers suggest he’s no better than a league average starter and maybe a tad worse. I believe the Reds have 5 guys better than that.

        • Don’t need an eyeball test for a workhorse. Sustained periods of high performance with high workloads compared to the norm.
          Look at the back of the baseball cards of Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo Lorenzen is a supremely conditioned athlete but he dabbled in pitching for 4 years as a primary outfielder.

          2011 0 IP outfielder
          2012 22 IP closer/outfielder
          2013 22 IP closer/outfielder
          2014 120 IP starter
          2015 156 IP starter
          2016 38 IP and counting- significant elbow injury
          2017 180 IP starter?????

          If anyone can do it….it’s Lorenzen.

        • Lorenzen had a mild elbow strain. Nothing serious. He missed most of the time because he had a severe case of mono and lost a ton of weight and strength. he would have been back in late April or early May otherwise.

        • I hope you are correct. I do think it will be a challenge to build Lorenzen’s arm up to be a starter next year. The Reds do seem to be using him much more than Iglesias in the last part of the season. He went 2 innings last night on 2 days rest after pitching on back to back days for the first time all year. Didn’t go so well though.

  14. To me, the bottom line is that he’s in the rotation until somebody beats him out, and that could happen as early as next spring. And if the Reds aren’t competing next year either, but he is doing well enough to stay in the rotation, maybe he becomes a trade chip.

  15. Nice article. After reading it I went to Bronson Arroyos career stats page and looked at his xFIPs and SIERAs and then compared them to his next season’s performance. I did it all on my smartphone and just eyeballed it but his predictive stats from the year prior always suggested he’d be worse the next year, … And were usually wrong by 0.75-1 run per 9. I picked Arroyo because he’s my career comp for Strailly.

    Bottom line- I think our predictive pitching metrics have a weakness for crafty, steady pitchers who “know how to get outs.” Whether Strailly will become Arroyo remains to be seen. But managers LOVE guys like Strailly sitting there as 5th starters. Low maintenance, no ego, not mad when they’re skipped, predictable. Good luck getting him out of the rotation any time soon. He’s earned it.

    • Thanks for reading. I think this is a great comment. As far as Arroyo’s career numbers:
      ERA: 4.19
      xFIP: 4.36
      SIERA: 4.38

      So he out pitched his peripherals slightly but not nearly as much as you thought. Normal variation one way or another. Some players can consistently outperform their peripherals, but it’s usually related to suppressing BABIP and limiting home runs. Straily has done the former in ways I can’t understand, so maybe there is something to your comment. However, his home run rate is slightly worse than average over his career, and he does have a career 4.32 ERA and 4.49 SIERA. Those numbers are pretty close and what we should probably expect going forward.

      Arroyo was a very unique pitcher who used different arms angles and a unique windup that helped him with deception. I’m not sure that’s a great comp, but I see why you made it. Neither had overwhelming stuff.

      I think it’s completely reasonable for people to think Straily should be in the rotation. Based on the numbers and what we know about evaluating pitching, I just think they 6-8 better options.

      • Arroyo also pitched for some great defensive teams. That’s another factor in ERA being below FIP/SIERA for some pitchers.

        • Yes, definitely. We saw the defensive impact last night for Straily too. Billy Hamilton likely catches the two-run double that Peraza couldn’t get to, thus saving Straily earned runs. Hamilton has made such plays specifically for Straily several times.

        • Strong work, fellas. Appreciate you digging up those Arroyo stats – not as impressive as I originally surmised. I do agree there are many potential options possible for us instead of Strailly. However I always try to temper my enthusiasm for prospects with the advice–One in the hand is worth two in the bush, if that makes sense.

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