2017 Reds

Finding Joy in Reds Relievers

I vividly remember the joy of watching the Reds pitching staff during the 2010-2013 run as youngsters blossomed, and Bronson Arroyo arroyoed the competition. One night, Johnny Cueto would embarrass hitters with his ridiculous changeup and quick pitches. He even added that silly, little wiggle to his windup at some point. That was awesome.

The next night, Homer Bailey dominated with pinpoint command. His stuff was so good that when he hit a groove, no one could hit him. And none did…twice.

Mike Leake sometimes looked Maddux-lite with pitches that darted in and out of the zone. You could see the anguish on the faces of opposing hitters as they continued to make weak contact against a guy who has consistently averaged around 90 MPH on his fastball. They thought they could exploit Leake; they often failed miserably.

And yeah, Arroyo did his thing. Arroyo at his best thrilled baseball purists to no end. High leg kick. Hundreds of arm angles. He sometimes looked (looks) like he is pitching whiffle ball, and yet, he confounded the best hitters on earth.

Watching those guys would sometimes give me chills, especially as I reflected on past rotations. Those chills have been missing the last few seasons. We still had Cueto and Leake until the deadline in 2015, but since their trades, it hasn’t been the same.

But those feelings have returned in 2017 in the strangest way. The current rotation inspires little confidence or excitement. They continue to dwell in the basement in ERA and FIP in all of baseball. They often can’t get past the fifth inning.

And yet, their inadequacy has led to some of the most exhilarating pitching of the last year and a half. That’s because the most talented and exciting pitchers on the staff reside in the bullpen: specifically Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen.

I never thought I would get so excited about relievers coming in to pitch. Did your adrenaline ever jump up as David Weathers or Arthur Rhodes strode in from the bullpen? Nope. Didn’t think so. Aroldis Chapman was a different animal, but as soon as I picked my jaw up off the floor from watching his fastball, I realized he mostly pitch one inning with a two or three run lead. He was great; he just didn’t pitch enough to be that fun.

And yet, every time Igelsias or Lorenzen pitches, I’m giddy. Iglesias reminds me of Arroyo with elite stuff. He switches arm angles and willingly throws any pitch in any count. He overwhelms hitters with a mid to high 90s fastball and puts them away with a nasty slider. Batters have only hit .173 against Iglesias’ slider during his young career, and it’s been his best strikeout pitch by far.

He’s struck out plenty of batters too. His 26.3% strikeout percentage is 14th in all of baseball since 2015 among pitchers who have pitched at least 190 innings. He’s so good that he would likely be the Reds best starter.

Lorenzen bullies hitters with an elite fastball that touches 99 and a cutter that moves significantly when he’s throwing it well. He’s throwing a slider a little more than season, which has produced the most strikeouts of his pitches this season and an opponent batting average of .125.

Hitter’s frustration is obvious as they continually beat weak groundballs to the Reds stellar infield. Lorenzen’s 62.1% GB% is the sixth highest among MLB pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. It’s no fluke either; Last year, he had a 62.7% GB% in 50 innings last year.

On April 10, the Pittsburgh Pirates loaded the bases in the third inning and Bryan Price called upon Lorenzen to limit the damage. He needed only 14 pitches to strand all three runners. He proceeded to pitch two more perfect innings, striking out three in total. Out of 32 pitches, he threw 25 strikes. The Pirates were helpless. It was the most fun I’ve had watching someone pitch since Cueto was traded.

Both Iglesias and Lorenzen have moments where they lose their control, but their dominant stuff allows them to get outs even when they struggle to find the strike zone. When they command that stuff, and more often than not they do, they are borderline unhittable. And fun. Crazy fun.

Price deserves a hat tip here as well. If he was using these supremely talented pitchers for only one inning at a time, he would obviously limit their effectiveness, but he would also rob fans of the joy of watching them pitch. With Lorenzen and Iglesias, we sometimes get multiple innings of bliss.

As we struggle through the inefficiencies of young pitchers and the inadequacies of older ones, Iglesias and Lorenzen provide excellence and euphoria. Those kinds of pitchers are usually starters and for the Reds to seriously contend in the next few seasons, they need a few of those guys. Until then, or until Iglesias and/or Lorenzen start again, that elation will come when the bullpen gate opens.

20 thoughts on “Finding Joy in Reds Relievers

  1. What do we think the realistic odds are that either of these two guys are ever put in the starter’s role again? Not, what do we hope but what do we actually think is going to happen. I’m just curious.

    • There was an interview with Price several weeks ago in which he indicated that eventually, but not this year, Lorenzen will get an opportunity to start. Don’t know if that will actually happen but that’s what he said. Lorenzen had stated publicly that he would like to start also.

      • That’s encouraging. I’m guessing they just think Iggy’s shoulder wont hold up for 200 innings a year and I guess it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have a guy with nasty stuff in the pen.

        • The bullpen needs arm talent too. We all saw what happened last year when there isn’t any in the bullpen. At least until Lorenzen and Iglesias came back healthy and moved into that role. The Royals won a world series built around an elite bullpen.

      • 60% ground ball rate. 3 pitches, elite athlete. great bat

        the guy needs to be starting

        If the Reds fall out of it this year, they should start the project later this season to continue to build his innings

        • I prefer him in high leverage situations 3 times a week as opposed to playing once every 5 days.

          • If, as some have stated, he has the best arm in the organization, I would still prefer to see him start. That’s especially true with Iglesias in the bullpen, plus Peralta is looking like the real deal as well out there.

  2. Thanks for the article. Watching Lorenzen and Iglesias is fun, although like many, I wish Lorenzen had been given an opportunity to make the starting rotation this spring. Maybe someday… I disagree on Chapman. Watching him was fun, at least for me.

      • I always looked at Chapman and thought ‘What if Ryan Madson doesn’t get hurt?’

        I don’t think Iglesias’ shoulder can hold up to starting, and I think Lorenzen will get another shot, but Chapman was never tried. I don’t know that he would have succeeded, but I would have liked to see an attempt. Like you, Nick, I felt he was under-used, landing on Dusty’s Island of Unused Toys too often, as someone once said.

        • I also would have liked to see Chapman as a starter but alas, that never happened. The Madson injury was very unfortunate as far as the timing.

  3. Wandy Peralta and Drew Storen have also been excellent this year. Peralta seems to finally have found some semblance of control that he never could as a starter or in his first year as a reliever in the minors. That hitch in Drew Storen’s delivery has to drive hitters nuts. Especially when he varies how long he holds it anywhere between about a half a second all the way up to about 2 seconds, it has to really throw off timing. That coupled with keeping the ball low has made him very effective despite not having the mid to high 90’s heat that he had earlier in his career.

  4. I’ll throw Wandy Peralta in there as well. His top shelf fastball combined with a plus slider and changeup are truly elite……….so long as he throws strikes. So far so good!

    This sort of 3 headed monster can carry you a long ways in a playoff scenario.

    • Hmmm – reminds me of three former Reds bullpen pitchers in 1990.
      We just need some starters to go with our current nastiness!

  5. Starting pitching becomes very expensive. Cueto, Leake and Bailey are making a combined 53 million this year. In order for a team with limited resources to have sustained success, you need to creatively allocate your innings in such a way so your best arms are pitching fewer innings, but pitching in more important situations.

    If you have an inordinate number of good pitchers, you can keep cost down by avoiding having all of then start. While players and agents may bemoan that strategy, eventually the market will reward good pitchers who are used when it’s important. OBP was once not valued by the market and now it is extremely expensive. For now, the Reds can exploit that inefficiency.

    • Perhaps it is time to eliminate the traditional pitching staff paradigm. Forget the notions of closer.setup.starters 1/2/3/4/5….lefty specialist.etc…etc.
      Break the pitching staff into 4 tiers and allocate resources and identify players as such.

      1.) Tier 1 starters – 2 starters who can pitch 200 innings and win playoff games. The Reds can’t afford in the FA market so draft and develop or aggressively trade to acquire. Hopefully those 2 are in place…if not…mega trade for young controllable pitcher who is. Castillo/Stephenson/Homer/Disco.
      2.) Tier 2 starters- 3-4 quality starters who can win games and give you innings and help you win 93-95 games.Draft and develop them but consider FA market. Spend money here (leake) or find FA pickups( straily.Feldman) or sort good young mature pitchers(Garrett and Mahle/Romano/ Finnegan/
      3.) Bullpen high leverage guys-3 elite pitchers… 2 are in place. lorenzen/Iglesias. A third is soon to declare.

      4.) Bullpen tier 2 pitchers- 3-4 other pitchers who are a step down from tier 1…either the experienced cost friendly veteran( Arthur Rhodes….Drew storen) or the up and comer…..Wandy Peralta. Hernandez…

      Mike Leake was worth $75 mil over 5 years in that 2 nd tier starting crew.

      Cody Reed and Stephenson are to be sorted.

  6. I’ve been mulling that theory, too, but it’s hard to manage. Each team pitches about 1440 IP a year, so 12 slots would require 120 IPs each, on average. Some are blowouts, either way, so you could have a designated take-one-for-the-team guy when you’re losing bad, and a designated cruise-control guy when you have a bid lead. It works out to a guy having to throw 3 IP–on average–every 4 games, plus some extra rest on off days. Not impossible, but the 1-innings stints would be make rest hard to figure.

    I have suggested using today’s late-innings guys (for the Reds, Iglesias, Lorenzen and Peralta) as starters, with the idea of going through the lineup once, then bring in a guy designed to go through the order twice, like a Feldman or Finnegan. That would get you to about the 7th, then hope for the best with the rest of the staff.

    It would work better if a team had at least one regular horse, like a so-called #1 starter in today’s parlance, so you could run the new-wave stuff on the other 4 days.

    You and I both know that a MLB team is not close to doing this, but I agree that it might work, and that the Reds actually have the makings of the staff to pull it off. In another 8-10 years, somebody will give it a shot.

  7. News flash. .Bob Steve was a pitcher…nice back to back change ups to induce double play….

  8. In the beginning of the season, the reds had 3 lefties in the bullpen. They were able to matchup and win the averages. When you have 1 lefty, things change. They have really underperformed with Astin who shouldn’t even be in the major leagues, and others. Astin had a 6.79 era this year in AAA . How do you get a promotion? All the good arms are in AA. Pick from there. If you cantmatch up well against the cubs or the cardinals, you’re just wasting your time. An all right pitching staff especially inexperienced, is suicide against rizzo, and company.

    The reds are acting as if lefties don’t matter. The lack of lefties through the whole organization should be alarming for everyone.

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