2017 Reds

Working Hard or Working Smart?

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Cody Reed pitches in relief on April 18. Enquirer photo (Kareem Elgazaar)

By any measure, the Reds bullpen has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the early 2017 season. General Manager Dick Williams has restocked the pen with a deep assortment of talented, hard-throwing, and (generally) young arms. Bryan Price has used these weapons creatively, calling on his best pitchers in the highest leverage situations and using them for multiple innings at a time. Going into the weekend series with the Cubs, the Reds bullpen ranked fifth in baseball with a 2.43 ERA. They have, by far, the most strikeouts of any bullpen.  Reds relievers are letting only 7% of inherited runners score — again best in baseball.

But this success has come with worries about workload. Reds starters are only going 4 2/3 innings a night; forcing relievers to throw 66 2/3 innings in the team’s first 16 games. Price has had to get an average of 3.9 outs per game from his relievers, which is just behind Minnesota for the most in baseball. Broadcasters, writers, and fans are all fretting about the situation, with most convinced that the current workloads will inevitably lead to a drop in bullpen performance later in the season.

While that all seems intuitive, is it really true? Can the Reds bullpen sustain its current workload and excellence, or does something have to give? The first question, which we aren’t going to look at today, is whether this is actually the bullpen’s true level? Can they sustain this performance, regardless of their workload?

Relief pitchers – especially young ones – are probably the least predictable creatures on the baseball diamond, but we can confidently say that all the Reds relievers are significantly outperforming their ZIPs projections. It takes a smarter writer than me to say this with confidence, but we should all at least consider the possibility that these guys are going to regress no matter what — so let’s be careful not to blame it on workload, just because it fits our assumptions and makes an easy narrative.

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Enquirer photo (Sam Greene)

The real issue I want to explore is whether Reds relief pitchers are, in fact, overworked. We know the Reds relievers, collectively, have pitched a lot, but what about the individuals? Remember, Williams and Price left spring training with a nine man bullpen.

Bronson Arroyo quickly replaced one relief slot, but there’s no denying that the Reds have been carrying a boatload of relievers. That may make a difference. Increasing the bullpen by 15-20% would seemingly decrease the workload any one pitcher throws by some amount. The question is how much.

We know that entering the Cubs series, the Reds had made 51 separate relief outings – but that ranks only 9th in baseball. Here are the Reds relievers’ workloads, through April 20 (16 games):

Name G IP IP/G
Raisel Iglesias 6 9.7 1.6
Michael Lorenzen 7 9.0 1.3
Blake Wood 9 8.7 1.0
Cody Reed* 4 8.0 2.0
Drew Storen 7 7.3 1.0
Robert Stephenson 3 6.7 2.2
Wandy Peralta* 7 6.3 0.9
Tony Cingrani* 5 4.7 0.9
Tim Adleman 1 4.0 4.0
Barrett Astin 2 2.3 1.2

That feels like a lot, but is it? Raisel Iglesias is tied for 6th in relief IP. Michael Lorenzen is tied for 15th. Blake Wood is in the 20s, but nobody else is in the top 60.

The Games Pitched list gets pretty jammed up this time of year, but Wood is tied for 15th (along with 10 other guys), with Lorenzen, Drew Storen, and Wandy Peralta among the 48-man logjam at 41st.

How does this look when projected over a full season?

Name Proj. G Proj. IP
Raisel Iglesias 61 98
Michael Lorenzen 71 91
Blake Wood 91 88
Cody Reed* 41 81
Drew Storen 71 74
Robert Stephenson 30 67
Wandy Peralta* 71 64
Tony Cingrani* 51 47
Tim Adleman 10 41
Barrett Astin 20 24

Okay, now it starts to look heavy. Only six relievers in MLB threw over 80 IP last year. Nobody threw 90. But it’s not insane. Twenty-seven guys did throw between 70-80 IP. Lorenzen and Iglesias, in particular, are on pace for a bullpen workload that nobody has seen in almost 20 years.  But don’t forget: These guys are former starters, and on the most recent Redleg Nation Radio podcast, Dick Williams told Chad that he hopes to get 100 IP from Lorenzen to make his presence in the bullpen worthwhile.

Which leads me to one last data point I’d like to check: Rest. If your usage patterns are non-traditional, what do your rest patterns look like?

Here’s how many days’ rest each pitcher has had, by outings:

Name Total 0 days 1 day 2 days 3 days 4+ days
Raisel Iglesias 6 2 2 1
Michael Lorenzen 7 1 2 1 2
Blake Wood 9 1 5 2
Cody Reed* 4 3
Drew Storen 7 3 3
Robert Stephenson 3 1 1
Wandy Peralta* 7 1 3 2
Tony Cingrani* 5 1 2 1
Tim Adleman 1
Barrett Astin 2 1

This is pretty reasonable. Price has asked relievers to go back-to-back only three times all seasons. Reed is getting a starter’s rest. Iglesias is getting a good deal of recuperation time. Wood’s usage matches his 2016 pattern almost exactly. Storen hasn’t pitched back-to-back days – his pattern is very close to how he was used in 2015.

My tentative conclusion: Bryan Price is asking a lot from his bullpen as a whole, but since he has so many different guys to choose from, the workload isn’t outrageous from any of them — particularly when several of them have experience (or even 2017 plans) as starting pitchers. (Caveat: Drew Storen has always been a 50-55 IP guy. His current pace may be pushing it.) The relievers themselves also deserve credit, for being very efficient (and effective) in their outings.

I gave the Reds some grief when they broke camp with a (feeble) four-man bench and nine relievers, but it’s proven to be a very useful toolkit to cope with their inconsistent and injury-prone rotation. We can hope the Reds starters pick up their share of the workload, but mostly because they’re (supposed to be) the more talented pitchers. The current bullpen workload is heavy, but not unsustainable.

What do you think?

37 thoughts on “Working Hard or Working Smart?

  1. Almost every pitcher in the Reds bullpen is somewhere between a starter and a reliever. I think just about all of them can endure 100 plus innings
    So for me over use is a non issue. Maybe it is ground breaking and we will see other teams follow suit. So far I am only seeing positives with this approach.

  2. Another point I didn’t see in your analysis is bullpen appearances, how many times is a reliever warming up in the bullpen but not making a game appearance. In a ‘normal’ bullpen usage pattern, this adds a significant amount of actual innings during the season that are not registered as IP or appearances.

    I think the Reds may be leading the league in fewest appearances in the bullpen without making a game appearance.

    • Good point….with most of the pen not being used in back to back games, it seems like at the very least, the non B2B guys aren’t having to warm up on their skip day. This lessens the fatigue factor IMO.

      • I think frequently relievers run into problems when they get up and sit down multiple times in a game and this happens over time, not just on rare occasions. If the Reds are able to give relievers days off as seen in the chart and not get them up to warm up then sit them back down too often, I think several of them may be good for 80+ innings.

    • That’s a good point. I thought about it, but without any real way to quantify it (particularly as to the rest of the league), I gave up.

  3. It’s almost as if Price is using an “A” group one day and a “B” group the other.
    Iggy and Peralta one day, Storen and Lorenzen the next. With Wood, Cingrani (before injury), and Reed (before starting) as swing guys every other day as needed.

    I really like this plan. It allows Price to use his best (Iggy and Lorenzen) for multiple innings if the situation warrants, instead of B2B days of only 1 inning. They will need the call ups to perform swing roles as replacements for Cingrani and Reed.

  4. The only issue that concerns me, and it can be seen as a usage issue or an effectiveness issue, is the number of pitches thrown. I don’t have data handy but I can recall at least a few outings lately with more than 40 pitches thrown by a single reliever. If it’s a three or four inning outing that’s fine, but if it’s 45 pitches to get five outs, that’s not sustainable. I suppose it all comes back to the old mantra “walks will haunt”. More pitches, under more stress = less durability and less effectiveness. I think the bullpen will be fine if walks are manageable, and in big trouble if walks are too common, for the obvious reasons, and the subtler but compounding factors as well.

    On a related question, how old is this data? Where, for example, is Bonilla’s recent outing?

  5. Not being able to pitch back-to-back days after throwing 1-2 innings is the downfall of this system. Only 3 times has Price let a bullpen P go out the next day after throwing an inning. Iglesias couldn’t go last Friday night when he was needed the most. Instead he gets into a game with a 4 run lead over the weekend.
    Now Lorenzen is struggling badly. Iglesias struggled Sunday. Not many arms that are trustable in the bullpen now. Bring back Barrett Astin. Guys that won’t walk the leadoff hitter in a late inning or half the lineup.

    • I think it is too small a sample size to say Lorenzen is struggling badly. If his next two outings are a struggle I might change my tune on that though.

      • Maybe. The whole bullpen is a work in progress. Much better than last year.
        I thought Lorenzen had 2 bad games out of his last 3 games, but it is actually 2 out of his last 4. With a third game being iffy.
        I forgot he had a save vs. MIL the day after MIL hitters treated him rudely. Coincidently it was his only back-to-back day. Seven runs in 3 innings sandwiched around a game he gave up 2 hits in 1 IP, but no runs. Its been a not-so-good 8 day stretch for him. He did have that one good outing where he got the save in that 8 day stretch. Coincidently again, all 4 of these games have been just after the “unconventional” game he came in early against PIT.
        I don’t think it means anything, just a weird observation.

    • “Not being able to pitch back-to-back days after throwing 1-2 innings is the downfall of this system. ”

      I think that’s much less of a problem when they have so many good relievers. Plus, I’m a strong believer in “win the game you’re in; worry about tomorrow then.” If it’s close and you need to use Lorenzen, do it. There’s no guarantee that you’ll need him tomorrow anyhow.

  6. UZR is now live on FG. I prefer UZR to DRS, but don’t ask me why. It just feels better to me. (Reminder, UZR is part of FanGraph’s “Def” metric, which they use to calculate their version of WAR.)

    Mitchel Lichtman, one of the co-author of The Book, has updated UZR for 2017 to incorporate hang time data for fly balls, rather than just bucketing balls into “hard fly ball” or “medium line drive” sort of categories.

    So, here are a few highlights of the early (very early) defensive numbers…

    – Joey Votto is the best NL 1B by UZR/150 and 2nd in Def. The reason for this discrepancy is that Lucas Duda has played far fewer innings than Votto, thus receiving less of a negative adjustment (all 1B get a negative adjustment because 1B is the easiest position on the field).

    – Eugenio Suarez is #1 in Def, UZR, and UZR/150 for NL 3B. The word “duh” comes to mind if you’ve watched Geno play this year.

    – Billy Hamilton is #1 in Def, UZR, and UZR/150 for NL CF. Yep. No surprise.

    – Scott Schebler is #1 in UZR/150, and 2nd in Def and UZR for NL RF. That’s a nice surprise.

    – Zack Cozart is 3rd in Def and UZR, and tied for 1st in UZR/150 among NL SS.

    -Adam Duvall is 5th among LF in Def.

    -Jose Peraza is 2nd in UZR/150 and 4th in Def for NL 2B. (Brandon Phillips is 10th.)

    -Tucker Barnhart is #1 in Def for catchers, and is #1 for all players of any position for Def in the NL. This is a weird stat, because the only thing incorporated for catchers is throwing runners out and how many innings you’ve caught. So, Barnhart has caught the most innings of anyone in the NL and has thrown out pretty much everyone. Good for Tucker.

    The last implication of all this… now that Def is rolled up into fWAR, our boy Eugenio Suarez is 3rd in the NL in WAR (1.6), behind Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman (1.7). Remember, 2.0 fWAR makes you an “average” MLB starter for an entire season. Suarez is nearly there in 3 weeks.

    • A few validations of surprises coming into the season…

      Suarez has improved his stock among all NL players and his 3B defense is at an elite level to this point in the season. A few of us expected a breakout season for Suarez, but even his early performance has exceeded those expectations. THis building on his 2nd half performance from last season.

      Votto said he was going to double down on his defensive mechanics and repetition with superb results after last season’s defensive pitfall.

      Barnhart is a good defensive catcher, but it’s a long season and he’s playing a lot of difficult innings behind the dish. At this pace, he will break down later in the season unless he gets more time off.

      Cozart is 100% healthy in every respect. DW has a huge trade chip at his disposal when the need eventually arises.

    • We knew this coming into the season…

      Billy Hamilton is the best of the best in CF, as long as he stays healthy.

      Duvall is a good defensive LF, but psrt of that is that LF is routinely patrolled by poor defensive players who are even worse at any other position.

    • I’m not believing the numbers…

      I have not seen elite defense from Schebler this season. A lot of effort, but very average results.

      • This is almost definitely an early season/small sample sort of thing. Most of Schebler’s UZR comes from the “Arm” component. He has 1 outfield assist, and I’d bet plenty of RFers don’t have one yet this year. It’s about opportunity as much as arm strength and accuracy, I’d say.

        Also, how many or how few runners advance 1st to 3rd goes into your “Arm” rating, so I’m guessing he’s doing a good job of getting to balls quickly to hold runners from taking extra bases.

        Most good outfield defenders don’t do it with diving plays, they do it by getting to balls quickly and getting the ball back to the IF quickly. By my eye test, Schebler has been doing this.

        Also, though, Schebler has made 23 of the 24 plays labeled to be “in zone,” and 6 plays “out of zone.” That’s a fairly good rate. And his “Rng” protion of UZR is also positive because of this.

  7. I don’t see it being a problem.In fact could see 3 or 4 guys between 80-100 innings and for the most part being extremely effective in doing it.Of course they will have a stinker every now and then just like Lorenzen and Iggy had this weekend.Keep in mind in both cases they went back out for inning number two and it just didn’t work out.Even with all the injuries we still have a bunch of young power arms so just let them pitch.Young guys trying to become a part of the future is a great thing to have going for you.I would expect them to take the ball and pitch until Price says that’s enough for today.

    • The thing we don’t know (I think) is the effect of maximum effort over a season. I think, again, that bullpen guys often throw as hard as they can, since pacing shouldn’t be an issue. Starters, believing that they might pitch 6,7 or even (be still, my beating heart) 8 innings probably don’t often extend to their upper limit. If my supposition is correct, the innings pitched by relief pitchers aren’t equivalent to those pitched by starters, particularly when the ‘pen is full of guys hitting mid to upper 90s.

  8. Some of the earlier comments note this, but is pitches thrown more relevant that # of appearances? Seems the Reds are 40-50% of the way to an experiment I’ve wondered about – no starters, just relievers every day throwing 20+ pitches per. A knuckleball SP would help, but they seem extinct.

    • I am convinced a knuckeballer would dominate in todays game. All the batters are now teeing up for that 98 mph fastball that they all throw…. sans Bronson Arroyo. Heck Bronson might show the way for old timers who are running on vapor. Maybe it really isn’t about how hard you throw and it is all about location?

      • Brantley said something to that effect yesterday, that young guys try to throw harder when things get out of whack when actually they need to throw less hard and locate the pitch. Yesterday for Arroyo it seemed like it was all about location and aggressive hitters over swinging.

      • It’s about deception and disrupting timing. I’ve seen many a slowballer succeed at every level. Bronson’s “speed” introduces extra thought into the batter’s mind which takes him away from his typical approach. Major Leaguers can hit most anything, but they can especially square a fastball. You can see it now where a 95 mph heater doesn’t even move the needle success-wise unless it has good movement or pin point location. Also, don’t discount a hitter allowing himself to get over-eager thinking he can hit an Arroyo offering into the Ohio. Bronson is playing with their minds. It really isn’t that different from Wiffle Ball where you just have to wait forever, read the break, and react. It’s a different swing than baseball, though.

        That said, the margin for error is thin because the hitter has so much time and major leaguers have awesome hand-eye coordination.

  9. I noticed one thing this weekend. Price can push a late inning guy for more than an inning and it will work vs most teams but the Cubs are a different sort! They pushed Lorenzen to 40 pitches before Rizzo’s hr. They almost broke thru vs Iggy as well. As an organization they can take/foul off pitches and you don’t want that nights closer throwing 40 pitches in his 2nd inning.

    On another note….little surprised that there hasn’t been much made of Tyler Mahle’s perfect game? Wonder if he’ll get sent up to Lville pretty soon?

    • I’m not sure the amount of pitches had anything to do with Lorenzen’s success or failure, other than the law of averages finally caught up with him. Lorenzen was in trouble from the time he entered the game, but wiggled off the hook twice, before Rizzo made him pay. It was just a very poor outing for Lorenzen that game. It happens.

      • Well Lorenzen wasn’t sharp but my point is that he got thru 30 pitches ok and that could get you 5-6 outs vs most teams but not the Cubs!

  10. The other thing that will help is the 10 day disabled list. This will allow the Reds to move a tired arm far more easily and get a fresh arm. Now, other teams have the same option. But other teams don’t have a war-chest of near-ready MLB arms at AAA/AA.

    I like the way Williams is building and Price is managing this team.

    • Only in the respect that the Reds will be more prone to using the DL when it’s needed rather than carrying a player on the 25-man roster who is not available to play. The Louisville-Cincinnati shuttle is where the relief for the bullpen will be found and it is being utilized a lot. In this respect, the ‘war-chest of near-ready arms at AAA and AA’ is a great benefit which can be utilized by DW.

      • If you caught Chad’s podcast with Dick Williams, this came up. Dick didn’t mention the 10 day specifically (or contrast his approach w/ Walt Jocketty’s), but he did say that he is going to be very aggressive in making roster moves to give Price a full roster of usable players as much as possible. I don’t think we’ll see that business where a guy is “day-to-day” for 11 days, then pinch hitting, then going to the DL for 15.

  11. Dick Williams made some excellent choices to fill the bullpen.While I would rather see Reed/Stephensen start over Feldman/Arroyo it is what it is for now.He put a bunch of young power arms in the pen.You could say along with the two I mentioned plus Iggy and Lorenzen he has 4 guys that have started and may start again coming out of the pen and letting it rip for a couple of innings every other day or every third day.You throw in the veteran in Storen and even the one pitch Cingrani that can give you an inning and add Peralta who is just nasty right now and you have a very very good pen.I didn’t mean to leave out Wood who at times is great and at other times average.Add in what is injured that may come back and start or go to the pen + what’s in the minors and you have a bunch of young arms.The Reds can play around all year with their staff and give everybody a shot and not over use or over work anybody.Matter of fact that’s exactly what they should do to find out who is part of the next great Reds team maybe as early as next year or 2019.Pitching will not be an issue to get us to the next level.In fact I expect we package a couple of them in a deal to get a really good bat.

    • Agreed. Gotta keep the shuttle bus between Cincy and Louisville running on a regular schedule.

      We’re one difference making reliever away from rivaling the Cubs for late inning supremacy. I think Tanner Rainey is that guy like Carl Edwards Jr. was for them last season.

      Get the rotation healthy and sorted, call up Winker, drop one/both of Hamilton/Peraza in the order……………..then watch this team really take off.

    • You have to have a decent rotation though? KC rode a C+ starting staff to a WS win but they prob had the best pen & defense in baseball. Plus that model didn’t last long because teams started stacking power arms in the pen just like they did and their run is over already! The Reds have to find 5 arms to give them innings with a 3.50ish era. Feldman & Arroyo aren’t part of the answer longterm and of the young guys…only Garrett looks like he knows what hes doing! They have youth on their side though for now plus we have some arms coming up pretty fast in the minors!

  12. Pretty much the same lineup tonight. Turner at C instead of Barnhart. Hopefully they can get some run support this time around for Amir Garrett.

  13. It’s worth noting that relievers throwing 100 innings wasn’t uncommon all that long ago. In the 80s and 90s, it was common enough. And it’s not like pitchers are injured less often today. It’s the managerial approach that changed.

    Also, as far as I can tell, the 1999 Reds were the last team with 2 reliever to throw 100 innings. Sullivan and Graves.

  14. Here’s a post I wrote last year about a mythical 120-inning reliever. It’s got some of the history (Sullivan and Graves pitched 110+ innings in 1999) and a breakdown of the way the Reds used Iglesias and Lorenzen last year. It wasn’t at a 120-inning pace. Not near it. But this year may be different.

    https://redlegnation.com/2016/09/16/a-120-inning-reliever/

    Price has also done a better (more ruthless) job of putting those two pitchers in exclusively high-leverage situations, even if it means using them in the 3rd and 4th innings. 120 innings of high leverage use could get pretty close in value to a starter throwing a typical mix of 200 innings.

    I’m still not convinced the numbers will get to 120 or even 100+ but Bryan Price is certainly running a legit experiment. Plus, the Reds have been in enough close games that Price hasn’t had to use either of those two pitchers in games the Reds were either way ahead or way behind.

    Through the first 19 games, Iglesias has been used at a 96 inning pace and Michael Lorenzen at 94. Of course it’s still so early in the season that one or two appearances (or non-appearances) can move the projection around a lot.

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