Home runs, blown saves, and a habit of breaking your heart: these are the things that defined the Reds’ bullpen in 2016. Not even a year later, what was a major detriment for the Reds in 2016 has turned out to be a major catalyst for them in 2017. Stale inconsistent veteran pitching has been replaced with youthful arms eager to make an impact.
In 2016 the Reds bullpen was bad…like historically bad. The pitching staff as a whole gave up 258 home runs (MLB record) with the bullpen alone accounting for 103 of them. The bullpen ranked dead last in all of baseball in earned runs, walks, saves, OBP, WHIP, home runs, and OPS. They were consistently ranked in the bottom 5 in every major statistical pitching category.
The start of 2017 has been anything but the same. The Reds bullpen has been one of the strongest parts of their team. They are currently ranked third in the NL in earned runs, first in OBP and OPS, and in the top five in every major statistical category. Red’s relievers aren’t allowing guys to get on base, aren’t giving up home runs, and are simply shutting teams down. The performance between last year’s bullpen and this year’s has been night and day.
The key to success that the Red’s bullpen has been having so far this season can be traced back to an addition by subtraction. They have let poor veteran pitchers like Jumbo Diaz and Ross Ohlendorf go and have relied on an improved young core of relief pitchers. Players like Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and Wandy Peralta have all been called on to take a more prominent role in the bullpen and each has responded nicely. Peralta and Iglesias in particular have been lights out and sport a sub 2 ERA and a sub 1 WHIP. The addition of veteran free agent Drew Storen has also bolstered the bullpen. Storen has been dominant so far this year and also owns a sub 2 ERA and a sub 1 WHIP.
Although it may not affect an individual reliever’s performance much, I think there is also something to be said for how Bryan Price has managed the bullpen so far this season. In my opinion, Price has done a masterful job of bringing the right guys in in the right situations. He is using his best relievers in high leverage situations and has been maxing out the potential of his bullpen by bringing in the best reliever for the right situation. In essence, he is setting the bullpen up for success.
It’s not shocking that the bullpen has improved since last season; it’s just how much it has improved that has taken people by surprise. To see such a dominant group of young starting pitchers with such great “stuff” is exciting for this season and beyond.