2016 Reds

On Cincinnati’s abysmal pitching staff

Yes, we have known for a long time that Cincinnati’s pitching has been brutal this year. Yes, this staff broke the record for most home runs allowed in a single season. Yes, they’ve been almost impossible to watch at times.

But do we really need to keep being reminded?

Last week, FiveThirtyEight declared that the 2016 Reds may have the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball. Sounds hyperbolic; maybe it’s not.

With two weeks left to play, the Reds’ pitchers have allowed the most home runs of any team in major league history. It’s a staggering total: Cincy hurlers allow an average of 1.6 homers every 9 innings, or one every 21.2 at-bats (meaning they effectively turned average NL hitters into Larry Doby or Joe Carter).

But it’s also symptomatic of a pitching staff that is, by another measure, the worst ever — and the only one in history that would have been better off being stocked with replacement-level players instead.

Indeed, according to FanGraphs, the 2016 Reds are the only team in the history of Major League Baseball whose pitchers compiled a negative fWAR total as a staff.

But no, they’re probably not actually the worst pitching staff in history. As noted by FiveThirtyEight, if you use bWAR (Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculation), the Reds aren’t even the worst pitching staff this year. If you average the two together — go read the entire piece for all the details — the Reds turn out to be only the 29th worst pitching staff in baseball history.

Huzzah! Reds pitching is historically bad, but not the worst!

A couple of days ago, The Ringer piled on.

Yet as long as the list could extend — at 244 home runs and counting, there are still plenty of names to go — it’s worth noting that the “HR” column isn’t the only one on the stat sheet that has given the Reds trouble. Cincinnati also tops the majors in walks, with Finnegan leading in individual bases on balls. (As if that statistical dominance weren’t enough, the Reds also pace the pack in hits by pitch and balks.)

Combine the home run and walk binges, and Cincinnati owns the worst pitching staff in the last century by fielding independent pitching, adjusted by ballpark and league environment. Not since the 1915 Athletics — a team so cheap that it included a unit derisively deemed the “$10 infield” — has a team posted worse adjusted FIP numbers.

Even more troublingly, Reds pitchers have combined for negative 1.1 wins above replacement this season. The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys — a team that went 23–113, finished 66.5 games out of first place, and featured a veteran pitcher named Phenomenal Smith — were the last team with a staff below replacement level over a full season.

The intern who wrote that piece laughingly pencils the Reds into the 2026 World Series, but he seriously underestimates the factors that caused this year’s pitching staff blowout (and, conversely, the reasons why I expect the pitchers to be significantly better next year.

After all, Homer Bailey was injured all season, and Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, and Raisel Iglesias all missed substantial amounts of time. That’s 30% of a pitching staff that was unavailable for much of the 2016 season. When you’re replacing those guys with a parade of guys like Layne Somsen, Dayan Diaz, Steve Delabar, JJ Hoover, Tim Melville, Drew Hayes, AJ Morris, Caleb Cotham, JC Ramirez, Josh Smith, Jon Moscot, Tim Adleman, Alfredo Simon, and Ross Ohlendorf…well, that makes your pitching staff weaker. Some of those guys have a chance to stick with the Reds next year, but none of them are as talented as Bailey, Lorenzen, Iglesias, or Tony Disco.

Maybe those guys won’t be healthy again next year; depending on any pitcher’s health is a fool’s game. But if those four can actually pitch next year, the Reds’ pitching staff will be measurably improved from day one.

The other reason why Cincinnati pitching should be better next year is something we’ve discussed here at Redleg Nation over and over — but it’s something which a writer who isn’t as familiar with the Reds might choose to gloss over. That is: there’s plenty of pitching talent that is right on the cusp of making a difference for the big league club. Coming soon: Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Nick Travieso, Keury Mella, Rookie Davis, John Lamb. Already here: Iglesias, Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan.

Sure, some of those have struggled in their first taste of the big leagues (which is partially why the 2016 pitching stats for the club look so bad), but that’s what young pitchers do often. And sure, some of those guys won’t make it. But that’s a lot of quality arms in the pipeline. Guys like Finnegan, Reed, and Stephenson can be expected to make a significant leap next year and the year after. There’s reason for optimism.

Listen, it’s difficult to sugarcoat how awful the Cincinnati Reds have been in 2015 and 2016. This club just lost 90 or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early 1930s. They haven’t scored runs, and the pitching staff has been historically bad. There’s plenty of criticism that can be leveled at the Reds for that lousy performance, and none of us are happy about it.

But I’ll be very surprised indeed if next year’s pitching is isn’t significantly improved. And within a couple of years, I’d be surprised if pitching isn’t one of the strengths of the team. Then maybe we’ll be able to bump up that World Series prediction to 2018. Perhaps?

27 thoughts on “On Cincinnati’s abysmal pitching staff

  1. the vast majority of our DFAs should be pitchers. Ok maybe all of them save Yorman will wind up being pitchers. we have plenty of youngsters to protect and plenty of cannon fodder to make room for them.

    • Here’s my best guesses.

      Near Locks to be removed: Alfredo Simon, Ross Ohlendorf

      Very likely to be removed: Tim Adelman, Josh Smith, Abel de los Santos, Matt Magill, Wandy Peralta, Raffy Lopez, Jon Moscot (coming off of TJ surgery in August)

      Players I expect to be removed (but wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t): Jumbo Diaz, Tyler Holt

      Coin Flip: Steve Selsky, Ramon Cabrera, Keyvius Sampson, Tony Renda, Ivan De Jesus Jr, Hernan Iribarren (he goes if DeJesus stays and vice versa)

      Unlikely to be removed, but still possible: Caleb Cotham, Yorman Rodriguez, John Lamb

      Assuming we need somewhere between 8-14 spots on the 40-man, if we removed all of the players from the first 2 categories, that’s 9 players, and players from the other categories would be removed.

  2. John Lamb cannot be included on good young pitchers “coming soon” as he has had plenty of MLB time. He has been horrible, is not young, and now is injured. He may get another chance but, I think he will rapidly move into “DFA” category. Cody Reed and Stephenson will definitely get another chance but they are also “here” already.

    • In the “here” category Finnegan is a big reason this staff had such horrible numbers. He leads the league in walks and HR allowed. Actually he has nearly identical meaningful numbers to Eric Milton as a Red.

      OVERALL the “Cueto 3” all massively contributed to this debacle.

      • Yes they contributed to it but they also have a much higher likelihood of improving and becoming above average pitchers than the majority of the other pitchers who contributed to the mess

        • Totally agree (maybe less so for Lamb) but this was more about the idea that these guys are coming to the rescue which is not really true. I don’t know that anyone other than Garrett can really count as “coming soon.”

        • I agree and would add that the Reds really need to find a pitcher named “Phenomenal.”

        • Agreed, in the cases of Reed and Finnegan, we need to be patient. With Lamb, I’m not sure we are ever going to see anything better than a middle reliever, but I guess time could prove me wrong on that one.

          • Yeah, I included Lamb mostly because he’s a relatively young guy who pitched with the big club this year. I still think Lamb can be an effective lefty reliever, but I’d be surprised if he ever started another game for Cincinnati.

  3. What are the pitching stats for the second half? This is what really should matter to reds fans.

      • Also for those that prefer conventional stats, 15th in ERA (4.10) and 20th in WHIP (1.34). If you’re looking for reasons why the pitching has struggled, the Reds are 21st in K/BB (2.42) and 20th in opponent OPS (.753).

  4. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with the Reds attempts at rebuilding the pitching is that similar to the position side, they’ve seemed reluctant to go all in. If the pitching is going to be as bad as this year’s, i.e. sub replacement level value, then why not go on and push the younger guys?

    They could have brought Stephenson up with Reed. Garrett who is older and down to one option year could have been given the David Price treatment and put in the MLB pen. Thus, much of the remaining staff that dominated at AA could have been pushed on up to AAA, not to mention, that a guy with potential like Daniel Wright who was lost to waivers and since resurfaced at MLB with the LAAoA would still be around instead of the tired suspects filling out the Reds pen.

    Balancing length of player control and player cost across a pitching staff with desired production is a complicated process. As things stand now, after the 2017 season Disclafani will be arbitration eligible for sure. If Super2 survives into the next CBA in any form resembling its current one, Iglesias and Lorenzen will like also be arbitration eligible at the same point as Desclafani. Meanwhile aside from Finnegan, none of the “next wave” will have significant, if any MLB exposure. We could well be moaning about Disco, Iggy, and Lorenzen along with Finnegan becoming too expensive or about to advance to free agency just as the “next wave” truly hits its stride. If so, it will have turned out to be penny wise but pound foolish to have wasted the opportunity presented to start to truly build the pitching staff from the ground up this year.

    • I agree in principle (not playing Peraza but using up MLB service time is criminal) but as I said above they gave long looks to Reed and Lamb who struggled. Stephenson got enough time to not risk Super 2 so that is OK in my book. I think the reason we did not see more of these guys is that they couldn’t based on performance. I cant comment on Garret but he needed AAA time so his missed time is minimal to me.

      • I would have liked to have seen Stephenson up in time to get 10-15 starts in addition to the 2 early season starts. I think the reason we did not see him in late May when they would have preserved the year of control but still been risking him eventually becoming a Super2 is that his performance had started to slip a little.

        What his run at MLB in September has largely shown is that he has pitched the same in MLB and hasn’t fared much worse than he did at AAA in June thru August. So to me that is three months of lost time. Plus much of what he is on the cusp of learning now at MLB may well be lost and have to be relearned because the season will end before he gets it firmly incorporated.

  5. I’m not surprised by the Reds pitching results this season. Most of those in the know at the start of the season predicted 100 losses, so there we are. Lorenzen and Iglesias have been the stars of the bullpen during the second half. If either one or both become starters we’ll see who replaces them in the frazzled Reds bullpen. I think too much optimism was extended to Reed and Stephenson as well as Finnegan and Lamb. And injuries certainly affected the pitching again this year. Pitchers take time to mature. The Reds are going to have a good starting staff down the road. What worries me is the future strength of the bullpen.

    • I am less worried about the pen given that most of our guys will fail as starters.

  6. Jackson Stephens is a down the draft (18th round; 2012)) who was also putting up some strong numbers at AA this year in addition to the guys mentioned by Chad.

    Another guy who may be a bit of a sleeper is Scott Moss, the Reds 4th rounder this last June. He was drafted late in the 2013 draft (Rockies) out high school despite being college committed; but, went on and enrolled at Univ. of Florida. At U of F, he subsequently had TJ surgery and was just returning to competition at the end of this past college season. The Reds were able to sign him at slot money and sent him to Billings where he pitched very well. If he continues to be healthy and productive, he could be a fast mover.

    • I agree 100% with you on Scott Moss. He will rise quickly next year and will probably surpass Mella, Mahle, Santillan, and Lopez. He will be one to definitely keep an eye on next year. Moss might end up being the best pitcher in the Reds system by the end of 2017.
      Stephens too. He may have to start at AA again next year if a logjam develops at AAA. Very consistent and throws strikes.

  7. I feel pretty positive about the pitching staff moving forward. Regardless of the struggles that Reed, Finnegan, Lamb, and lately Stephenson have had this year, they all show the ability to improve. Maybe the won’t all make it but the potential is certainly there. Finnegan has already shown improvement over the last few starts, as he learns to command that changeup better he will be a pretty service pitcher. Stephenson, Reed and Disco certainly show the stuff to be top of the rotation starters. Maybe none of them are #1 starters but all have the potential to be a #2.

  8. “But I’ll be very surprised indeed if next year’s pitching is significantly improved.”
    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. (wink)
    I was reading along and building up hope and then that. That was like stepping onto a dog turd. I had to read it again to realize what it was.
    Hopefully is=isn’t.
    Typo? Or Freudian slip into next year’s rotation?

  9. I realize we can all pick our stats and time frames…but I thought Finnegan was solid from mid July on and developed as a pitcher…his strike out numbers went up ..his walks down and home runs are bad if u walk guys….but Tom browning and arroyo gave up some really long meaningless solo shots. I saw him strike out 9 and no hit the dodgers thru 6 innings. He has a chance to be a solid pitcher.

  10. The thing I find most incredible is that this pitching staff has been worse than any of the ones the Reds fielded during the Griffey/Dunn years. Jimmy Haynes? Jimmy Anderson? Brandon Claussen? Jose Acevedo? Ryan Dempster?

    But I guess looking back, they did always have one or two decent anchors (like Harang) and decent bullpens (Sully and Graves). The difference is, this current crop has hope for the future, whereas the pitching of 15 years ago was always a stop-gap solution while hoping to just outslug the competition.

    • Scott Sullivan was amazing with that frisbee

      You could use him almost anywhere in the pen

      We could use 3 of him next year

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