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.