The 2016 Cincinnati Reds bullpen wasn’t just bad in the first half of the season – they were historically bad. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated chronicled just how bad:
From April 11 through May 5, the unit allowed at least one run in 23 straight games; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that broke the previous record of 20 games owned by the 2013 Rockies. During that span, Cincinnati relievers combined for a Boeing-esque 7.68 ERA in 79 2/3 innings.
The Reds bullpen finished the first half of 2016 with a 5.73 ERA, over a half-run worse than the next worst Rangers (5.10). The peripherals were even worse. The Reds had a 5.86 FIP, 7.89 K/9, 4.93 BB/9, and 1.83 HR/9. The walks and homers were by far the worst in baseball.
There was some signs of progress in the second half. The Reds went from dead last to 26th in ERA, but it was down nearly a run-and-a-half to 4.29. The walks were still bad a 4.34 BB/9, but the K/9 was up to 8.48 and the HR/9 down to 1.29.
The biggest difference for the Reds was of course moving two starters coming back from injuries to the pen: Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen. Both pitchers made their relief debuts just days apart at the end of June. Iglesias posted a 1.98 ERA/3.21 FIP as a reliever, and Lorenzen posted a 2.88 ERA/3.67 FIP. The moves to the pen for these two arms didn’t come without controversy, as many, myself included, didn’t like moving two arms with great potential to the bullpen. That said, they did turn a historically bad bullpen into one with promise.
The biggest draw with Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen in the bullpen is their ability to pitch multiple innings. It was witnessed first hand in the 2016 MLB postseason just how valuable relievers can be with role flexibility and multiple inning capability. It is comfortable to say that if both guys are rested, your starter could only go 5.0 innings, and Lorenzen and Iglesias could finish the game by themselves.
When the first projections for 2017 came out from Steamer, there was something that caught my eye: the Reds bullpen. The Reds have six relievers projected to pitch 40+ games, all with an ERA below 3.80. That gets even more exciting when you factor in that the league average ERA for relievers in 2016 was 4.17. Let’s take a closer look at each of those six guys and their Steamer projections:
Raisel Iglesias – 65 G, 3.34 ERA, 9.92 K/9, 2.69 BB/9
Iglesias is a stud. To many of us, a 3.34 ERA for him as a reliever feels conservative. Keep in mind, Iglesias had a 1.98 ERA as a reliever last year, and he gave up 4 ER in his last appearance of the season. The only question with Iglesias is the health.
Drew Storen – 65 G, 3.71 ERA, 8.54 K/9, 2.79 BB/9
Storen was a really nice low-risk, potential high reward signing this off-season for GM Dick Williams. Storen is coming off a rough season where he put up a 5.23 ERA in 51.2 IP split between the Blue Jays and Mariners. Storen’s 8.36 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9 look good, but it was a career high 1.22 HR/9 that killed him (his career HR/9 is just 0.72). Storen might not be able to get back to his ridiculous 1.12 ERA/2.71 FIP numbers of 2014, but if he cuts down on the home runs, he could be a steal for the Reds at $3 million ($4.5 million max with incentives).
Michael Lorenzen – 55 G, 3.77 ERA, 8.34 K/9, 3.08 BB/9
It is hard to believe that Lorenzen was drafted in 2013. His audition as a starter in 2015 didn’t go so well (5.40 ERA/5.40 FIP in 113.1 IP), and probably led to his quick move to the bullpen. Lorenzen’s fastball was nearly 2 MPH faster is 2016 as a reliever, and his slider over 4 MPH faster.
Tony Cingrani – 55 G, 3.75 ERA, 9.81 K/9, 4.38 BB/9
Cingrani was the biggest surprise to see on the sub-4 ERA projection list from Steamer. Cingrani has great stuff, but his walks have just been brutal throughout his career. Cingrani’s career 9.29 K/9 was way down to 7.00 in 2016. Steamer is saying that was an anomaly. His saving grace the last two years has been keeping the ball in the yard, posting a 0.81 and 0.71 HR/9. It should also be noted that ZiPS projections did not agree with Steamer, and has Cingrani at a 4.53 ERA in 2017.
Jumbo Diaz – 45 G, 3.76 ERA, 9.14 K/9, 3.40 BB/9
You might not believe this, but Jumbo Diaz has pitched in 142 big league games with the Reds and has a 3.65 ERA. It must be the moon shot home runs in key spots that has tarnished Jumbo, but he has actually been a solid reliever for the Redlegs. There is no reason to believe he can’t keep it up in 2017.
Blake Wood – 40 G, 3.56 ERA, 9.81 K/9, 4.24 BB/9
There was a point in 2016 where it was plausible to say that Blake Wood deserved the Reds lone All-Star spot more than anyone else. He finished the year with a 3.99 ERA/4.12 FIP after struggling down the stretch, but Wood was very good early in the season. Wood can reach the high 90’s with his fastball, and has no problem striking hitters out. It’s just like Cingrani, where his biggest struggle is walks.
The Reds bullpen certainly is not going to compete with the Cubs, but this group looks like it could be pretty good. There is a lot of potential here, and that is really all you can ask for while you are rebuilding. Don’t forget, the Reds could add some quality arms here soon after the dust settles on the starting rotation.