Kill the Win

Anthony DeSclafani is becoming one of MLB’s most underrated pitchers

Let’s start this week’s column off with a comparison of 2016 stats for two pitchers.

desclafani-cueto-comparison

Any guesses as to who Player B is? Here’s a hint: he’s a former Red.

That’s right, it’s none other than Johnny Cueto.

With Cueto out of the picture in Cincinnati for over a year, Anthony DeSclafani has quietly become the top pitcher in the Reds rotation, even if he doesn’t get much fanfare for it. Even among Reds hurlers, he’s probably not the first guy most people think of.

Just in the current starting rotation alone, Dan Straily, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Finnegan have grabbed more headlines this season, each for varying reasons. But maybe DeSclafani should be getting more attention, not just among Reds fans but around the league, as he’s easily been the best starter on the team and among the best in the league since making his season debut on June 10.

Coming into the season, the right-hander was tabbed as a potential breakout candidate after an impressive rookie season in the Cincinnati rotation. After missing the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, he fell off the radar of many people outside of Reds country, but he has quietly had the season many expected of him.

In only 101 1/3 innings pitched, over 50 fewer than Straily or Finnegan, the 26-year-old has been worth a team-leading 1.9 fWAR and has posted a 2.93 ERA to go along with a 3.72 FIP, 3.93 xFIP, and 3.95 SIERA. Among Cincinnati starters, DeSclafani trails only Homer Bailey and Raisel Iglesias — who have made only six and five starts, respectively — in the latter three categories. Since the all-star break, he’s among the top 25 in baseball in fWAR, xFIP, and SIERA among qualified pitchers.

DeSclafani’s promising trend from the final two months of 2015 has carried over into 2016, as his strikeouts continue to rise while his walks keep falling, both reaching Cueto-like rates.

He has struck out 21.4 percent of the hitters he’s faced in 2016, which puts him above league average (21.0%) and is a considerable improvement from his rookie season (19.2%). Since the start of July, after he’d gotten a few starts under his belt and shaken off the rust, his strikeout rate has been 23.3 percent.

The pitch that has really helped him get over the top is his knuckle-curveball, which he began developing toward the end of last season. It has not only become his preferred off-speed pitch over the changeup — it has also overtaken the slider as his best swing-and-miss offering. DeSclafani has been selective with the pitch, using it only 9.7 percent of the time, but when he has thrown it, he’s gotten 17.7 percent whiff rate.

Here’s a look at his progression with the pitch since last season by usage and whiff rate:

brooksbaseball-chart-18

brooksbaseball-chart-19

While his stats are above the league average across the board, what puts him among the best in all of baseball is his control. DeSclafani has walked only 5.3 percent of the hitters he’s faced this season, which puts him in elite company. Among the 125 pitchers who have thrown 100 or more innings this season, that ranks 12th, better than the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Chris Sale, David Price, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner.

“Disco” was supposed to get the Opening Day start for the Reds this season, not because he was the typical ace who gets such an honor, but because his 36 major-league starts made him the most experienced pitcher on the team (aside from Bailey, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery). While DeSclafani ultimately didn’t make that start after being sidelined with an oblique strain, he figures to be among the favorites to toe the rubber when the Reds take the field at Great American Ball Park for the first time in 2017.

If that happens, it won’t be by default, however. It will be because he’s quietly started to develop into what could be a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

18 thoughts on “Anthony DeSclafani is becoming one of MLB’s most underrated pitchers

  1. It is a good comparison. When Cueto pitched there was an air of confidence in that even when things were getting out of control, he was still in control. That’s what I loved about Cueto and I am seeing that mindset develop in Disco as well.

  2. Disco learned to pitch last year at the big league level and carried it over this year.If he stays healthy he could win 15-18 games next year on a 500 team.His mental toughness is outstanding as noted when he pitched a 13-0 shutout.Almost anybody would have let up with such a big lead and coasted through 6 or 7 innings and then took a shower.

    • Of course he could have 15-18 loses and still be a great pitcher, “kill the win”.

      • Why don’t we just kill the win for teams also? Let’s make it all about the way we play the game, not whether we win or lose. Oh qell, let’s just keep the win for pitchers and teams.

  3. I’ve been very impressed with Desclafani ever since seeing him pitch in ST of 2015. Very nice to see him capitalize on his opportunity and look forward to having him on the Reds for the next few years. Hard to believe he was obtained for Latos.

    • I poo pooed that trade from here to the moon. Boy does the crow taste good!!

    • Thanks! So do I. The low walk rate and ever-increasing strikeout rate are encouraging signs. I’d like to see him get a few more ground balls, though. He’s given up his fair share of dingers.

  4. DeSclafani reminds me a lot of Bucky Walters who I saw pitch toward the end of his career. Walters also gave up few walks and was a very smooth pitcher.

  5. Disco is a workhorse who has logged the innings mileage the last 4-5 years as he develops into a strong major league pitcher. Straily and Finnegan have a similar track record as mostly career starters with lots of innings under their belt. Could this grand Reds experiment of changing athletic relievers and position players into major league starters be ending?

    Iglesias is actually pitching less now than he did in July. Lorenzen is being used as if he is a relief pitcher to stay. Hard to imagine either one starting every 5th day for 6 months and capable of throwing 170 to 180 innings in 2017. It appeared maybe in July they were building towards that, but I don’t see it now. Bob Steve and Garrett have positioned themselves to be the next breakthrough major league starters who take the ball every 5th day against major league hitters for 6 months. Disco did it last year. Straily and Finnegan this year.

    • Lorenzen will likely stay in the bullpen. Hopefully, the same isn’t true for Iglesias, but even if Iglesias gets back in the rotation for 2017, he would be on an innings limit, likely 150 or less. Would be 2018 at the earliest that we could see him throw 180-200 innings.

      My guess for the ’17 opening day rotation:
      Disco
      Iglesias
      Stephenson
      Bailey
      Garrett
      with Finnegan and Straily, in that order, as the next two candidates if Iggy is in the bullpen or Garrett isn’t ready yet

  6. Disco’s reputation suffered significantly (rightly or wrongly) from his extended DL stint to begin the season. He needed that out pitch and has apparently found it. If continues to pitch with the effectiveness he’s had through rtrhe 2nd half of the season, by the end of the 2017, DeSclafani’s reputation may begine to rival the established aces in MLB and his trade value will skyrocket. After the 2017 season, Disco will become arb eligible (pending CBA negotiations of course) and if he continues to improve, he will be expensive, even as 1st year arb eligible. Depending on the development of the other starters, the offseason following the 2017 season may be the time to unload a starting pitcher for a yacht-full of top prospects and Disco and his 3 seasons of team control could be the chip to play for the best return.

    • Sign AD to a Johnny Cueto-like deal, or maybe a Jay Bruce type deal. Lets take up some of those arb.-eligible and free agent years in a 6 year deal.

  7. Look at the guys the reds have got in their trades…desclafani potential ace…duvall 30 hr guy…Peraza batting about .350 as a red. Schebler showing signs of being good 4th outfielder. Suarez Maybe 30 hr guy Maybe the reds know what they are doing? It took the cubs years to rebuild. Another solid starting pitcher or two and the reds could be one of those surprise contenders in 2017 like Houston last year.

    • I may very well be wrong, but I honestly think Schebler will end up being the starter over Duvall whenever Winker is ready to take over the other outfield spot. Maybe it will end up as a Schebler/Duvall platoon (not strictly RHP/LHP necessarily) like it was intended to be at the start of 2016, or maybe Duvall will rebound from the disappointing second half and grab that spot back.

        • Perhaps Rookie Davis will prove to be good enough to at least say that trade wasn’t a total bust.

Comments are closed.