Last week, Steve Mancuso wrote an excellent piece about the Reds possibly pitching both Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen for 100+ innings as relievers. Bryan Price has used both semi-frequently for multiple innings at a time this year with great success. No one is surprised by this; Iglesias and Lorenzen possess great stuff, and in short spurts, that stuff plays up quite a bit.
This conversation has as much to do with the rotation as it does the bullpen. Starters pitch far more innings than relievers and have the difficulty of facing a lineup multiple times. These factors make them far more valuable than relievers, though a good bullpen is still important. The Reds have found two guys with legitimate concerns regarding their starting potential (Iglesias: health; Lorenzen: off-speed stuff) and pitched them as hybrid-type pitchers for half a season.
But as I’ve watched some of the better pitching prospects struggle, namely Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, and to a lesser extent, Brandon Finnegan, and read the arguments for multi-inning relievers, I’ve come to two conclusions about the Reds future bullpen: (1) they should without a doubt employ a couple 100+ relievers, and (2) I don’t know who those pitchers should be yet.
The Reds don’t need answers to number two yet. But by 2018, they should have a better idea of how the pieces fit. The problem isn’t really a problem: they have a large number of talented pitchers who look like Major League starters.
That should mean competition to the betterment of everyone. It should also allow the Reds to do something unconventional with their bullpen by pitching several guys for two to four innings at a time because those who do not make the rotation will still have starter-like stuff.
Barring trades or injury, it seems likely that Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani will be part of the rotation for the next few seasons. Dan Straily is a safe bet to provide rotation insurance should the Reds need it. That leaves two to three starting spots available both next year and long term.
With three spots potentially available (maybe two, depending on Straily) in the rotation going forward, the Reds have a wave of players that will get the first shot:
- Raisel Iglesias
- Robert Stephenson
- Cody Reed
- Amir Garrett
- Brandon Finnegan
- Michael Lorenzen
At the Redleg Nation/Red Reporter event, Reds’ front office members insinuated that Lorenzen is likely destined for the bullpen. About a week later, Zach Buchanan reported that the Reds still hadn’t ruled out trying him as a starter and that he prefers a starting role. Mark Sheldon stated the same even more recently. For now, l’m keeping him as part of this conversation.
Each player has significant upside as starting pitchers but also carry with them significant concerns. Of course, they all have great raw stuff, but that stuff doesn’t negate potential roadblocks in their game. We could write an entire article about each player’s potential and pitfalls, and maybe we will this offseason. I feel pretty good about all of them to varying degrees, but for the purposes of this post, I’ve provided a quick summary of some of the concerns below.
The only concern here is his physical capacity to pitch 200 innings. The guy can really pitch. If Iglesias can handle the workload, one of those spots is probably his. I really hope he can. I think he would be their best starter next year and maybe beyond that. Unfortunately, it’s pretty iffy that his shoulder can withstand the rigors of 200 innings, and I’m afraid his stated desire for the bullpen will give the Reds an easy out to keep him as a reliever.
Baseball Prospectus raves that “In terms of pure stuff, there are only a handful of players who can match what Stephenson has.” And yet his problem, as we’ve seen this September, is his erratic command. Stephenson has walked over 11% of batters since he reached the AA level in 2013. The command has been so consistently poor that several outlets have suggested he may end up as a high-leverage reliever.
Prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen had this to say about Reed’s fastball before his first major league start: “Because Reed’s arm slot is just below the three-quarters mark and his arm action is a little long, right-handed hitters get a nice, long look at the ball out of his hand and will punish his fastball if it catches too much of the plate or if he falls behind and into obvious fastball counts.” Hitters proceeded to slug .756 against the pitch. Ouch. Small sample, yes. But when the numbers reflect the scouting report, you have to at least acknowledge a potential problem.
The arm slot is unlikely to change much. Can Reed find a way to make his mid 90s fastball less hittable?
Garrett may be the Reds best pitching prospect at the moment, but of course, there are a few concerns. Garrett’s primary issues are command and concerns about his secondary stuff. Baseball Prospectus states that “his command leaves a lot to be desired. His delivery will get out of sync, and he doesn’t always stay on top of his pitches. That could mean an eventual move to the bullpen if he doesn’t develop consistency…”
Garrett’s walk rates have been merely below average before he reached AAA, where it bumped up to 11.3%, a really poor number. In the past, scouts have also had concerns about the effectiveness of his changeup but that seemed to be because he had just started throwing it. It will be interesting to see an updated scouting report as new prospect rankings come out this offseason.
Finnegan made big strides with his changeup this season and showed plenty of potential, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has walked the most batters in all of baseball (84). His walk rate among starters is the highest by over a percentage point. He is also tied for eighth among all pitchers in home runs allowed (29). These issues led to an ugly xFIP (4.87) and SIERA (4.92). That all has to improve, or he won’t remain a starter.
Lorenzen’s command has improved substantially since last season but questions still remain about how effective his stuff would be as a starter. His fastball and cutter have enough movement and speed to be successful, even though they will lose a tick or two in the rotation.
But starters can’t live on hard stuff alone, and Lorenzen hasn’t yet proven he has an off-speed pitch to complement his fastballs and hard slider. His curveball has been really effective in a small sample this year, and Matt Wilkes noted that he gets tremendous movement on it. However, until he throws it more often, we won’t know whether it’s good enough to make him an effective starter.
Some of these players will overcome their deficiencies to more closely reach their potential. Right now, it’s really hard to tell who those overcomers will be. I hope the Reds have a better idea than I do, and they should let all of these guys compete as starters. The competition will likely last through 2017 and possibly into 2018 as some guys will still see time in AAA next season to work on command and other shortcomings. Injuries are sure to happen as well. Eventually, barring trades, they all need roles in the big leagues.
When the dust settles and the top five pitchers emerge as starters, the Reds should make at least two guys 100+ inning relievers, even if they aren’t Lorenzen and Iglesias. If Finnegan can’t substantially improve his walk and home run rates, pitch him extended innings out of the pen. If Reed’s fastball makes him too hittable to go multiple times through the lineup, do the same. And so on.
This doesn’t mean that the big inning bullpen pitchers will never start again either. Eventually, someone will get hurt. If the Reds have two or three bullpen arms pitching two to four innings each appearance, they can quickly transition into the rotation to cover one of those spots if need be. But until then, they will have talented pitchers adding significant value to the team by pitching 30-50 innings more than a normal reliever.
Lorenzen and Iglesias may indeed be the guys who fill this role, but even if they become rotation fixtures, the Reds shouldn’t abandon the idea of high-inning relievers. They have the talent to do it regardless of who ends up in the rotation or bullpen. By re-pioneering the role of such relievers, the Reds will take full advantage of their roster. And that will lead to one exciting pitching staff.