The Reds appear to have a contending offense, defense, and bullpen, and yet, they remain under .500. Their struggles can be easily traced to an underwhelming starting rotation. Reds pitchers who have started more than one game are as follows:
- Bronson Arroyo
- Scott Feldman
- Tim Adelman
- Asher Wojciechowski
- Rookie Davis
- Lisalverto Bonilla
- Amir Garrett
Only one of those guys, Garrett, likely has a long-term future in the rotation; Davis has an outside chance as well. I don’t need to tell you that Reds starters have been bad but just to put some numbers to it, they have the worst ERA, FIP, xFIP, and WAR in all of baseball.
But hope has sprung forth from the depths of pitching despair as Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan appear on their way back by the end of the month. The Reds also sent Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson to AAA to stretch them out, and Sal Romano has returned from the disabled list for Louisville Bats. Young talent is on the way, and it seems likely that we will see some big changes in the rotation in the next month.
Obviously, Finnegan and Bailey will start once they are ready, but who else should fill out the rotation? The Reds certainly have plenty of candidates, which means there will be varying opinions. Those options include the following (besides Finnegan and Bailey):
- Scott Feldman
- Tim Adelman
- Amir Garrett
- Robert Stephenson
- Cody Reed
- Sal Romano
- Michael Lorenzen
With three spots available, let’s look at the case for each candidate.
You are who we thought you were! Which isn’t bad nor great. It’s quite Feldman. Feldman remains an adequate Major League pitcher who could start at the back end of a rotation or fill up some bullpen innings.
Right now, he has a 4.29 ERA and 4.52 SIERA. For those unfamiliar with SIERA, it’s a strong indicator of future ERA (think FIP or xFIP). He’s essentially an adequate innings filler who doesn’t fill that many innings. I don’t buy that he will have much in terms of trade value come the deadline, but he’s been the best of what the Reds have thrown out there so far. He will eat some innings and will keep the Reds in the game most days. If that’s enough to keep him in the rotation, the Reds may be concerned about innings limits for their young pitchers.
Tim Adleman is another guy that reeks of adequacy. In fact, he’s very Feldmany with a 4.34 ERA and 4.47 SIERA. He could probably succeed as a reliever with his deceptive delivery and stuff that plays up in short stints, but his ability to not embarrass himself has led to double-digit starts this season. Adleman has league average strikeout and walk rates for a starter, which impressed me. Likely his biggest problem has been the homerun ball. He’s given up ten homers in ten starts and let up another in his relief appearance. Adleman has a really high fly ball percentage, so the homers will likely continue, especially at Great American Ball Park.
He’s younger (29) than Feldman but still at an age where he is unlikely to get that much better. The Reds could rely on him to eat some more innings, and maybe he finds a way to limit the home run ball. But it’s hard to imagine Adleman will stand in the way of real prospects when the team deems them ready.
Garrett is an extremely athletic lefty that impressed initially. In early May, the Reds sent him down to AAA to manage his innings and do the service time thing. He has struggled ever since and went on the DL at one point for hip inflammation. The injury probably affected his performance, and I still wonder if he’s 100 percent healthy.
Even so, Garrett’s ugly ERA (7.40), and troubling walk rate (10.6%) suggest he has lots to work on. He has also allowed 16 home runs. His fastball command and execution has largely been the problem as opponents are slugging .630 against the pitch.
Still, Garrett showed enough promise early in the season that the Reds might let him ride out the struggles and adjust at the Major League level. However, he could refine some things in AAA, and the Reds would get an extra year out of him with just a few service days saved. His next few starts will be extremely important in terms of staying in the rotation as others get healthy.
Stephenson was shuttled back to Louisville so he could stretch out to start again. Dick Williams recently mentioned that the Reds had wanted to break Stephenson of some preparation habits by placing him in the bullpen to begin the season. As many have noted, he has great stuff, but the command continues to elude him.
For the Reds, he had an unsightly 13.2% BB%, and it has continued at Louisville, though he has yet to give up a run in 9 innings. Stephenson will strike plenty of people out, but the poor command has mitigated the benefits. In the Majors this season, opposing hitters obliterated his fastball, hitting .407 and slugging .797 against it. Ouch.
With other young starters making their way up through the minors, Stephenson needs to show improvement soon, and the Reds need to figure out whether he fits into the rotation or bullpen long term.
Reed got shelled by the Cubs in his only start this season. He was also inconsistent as a reliever and struggled mightily with command. He is apparently working on new mechanics to stop tipping pitches, which may have led to the wildness. His changeup and slider actually fared really well against big leaguers, but like the other young pitchers on this list, his fastball got shelled (.889 slugging against).
In AAA, he continues to walk too many people (12.7%), but the results are much better. He has a 2.56 ERA in 38.2 innings recently pitched an 8-inning gem where he walked only one batter and let up two hits. If that performance is a sign that the new mechanics are sinking in, watch out. Reed has some serious potential with a mid-90s fastball and nasty slider. His next few starts in AAA will be telling and success will likely lead to a call up sooner than later.
Romano does something that several of the other young pitchers struggle to do: throws strikes. He doesn’t walk many people and sits 94-96 with his fastball. He had one nervy start for the Reds early in the season and went on the DL soon after (he’s back now). In six starts at AAA, Romano has a 1.69 ERA while walking only 5.4% of batters.
Doug Gray thinks very highly of Romano and his stuff. The biggest question is whether he is ready to challenge MLB hitters; Michael Lorenzen, Homer Bailey, Cody Reed, and Rookie Davis were all rushed to the Majors with limited AAA experience, and it backfired. Maybe Romano doesn’t need much AAA development time. However, that would be the exception to the rule.
Whenever he becomes a regular, his ability to limit walks and keep the ball out of the air could play well at GABP.
Yes, I’m tired of this conversation as well, but it makes too much sense not to at least consider it. To recap, Lorenzen was rushed to the Majors a year and a half after being a full-time centerfielder in college. He spent exactly one season in the minors as a full-time starter. He struggled mightily in 2015; the biggest causes being a straight fastball and suspect command. Batters hit .302 and slugged .516 against that fastball.
To address the fastball issue, Lorenzen learned a hard sinker and biting cutter in the off season. Those are now the pitches he uses most often; two pitches he NEVER threw as a starter. His slider, which produced only 17 strikeouts in 113 innings in 2015, has struck out 15 batters in only 34.1 innings in 2017.
One misplaced narrative is that Lorenzen immediately became better out of the pen. Though a small sample covering only 7.2 innings, he was actually worse in some ways out of the bullpen in 2015 than as a starter. As a reliever, he let up a higher percentage of line drives, induced a lower percentage of groundballs, and struck out the exact same percentage of batters as when he was a starter. It’s seems quite possible that he was just a struggling young pitcher that needed a fastball with more movement and improved secondary pitches.
But questions remain. Can Lorenzen consistently get hitters out at 94-96 instead of 96-98? Should his previous elbow issue concern the Reds? They have consistently said they have no concerns about his health as a starter, but the risk is still there. The biggest one for me is whether his command can hold up over longer outings. We’ve seen some lapse in command at time this season, and yet, he’s also dominated in some three inning appearances.
We still have lots of things to learn over the next month. Will Reed continue to show improvement? Will Romano dominate AAA as teams see him a second time? Can Stephenson show some semblance of command? Is Garrett healthy and if so, will he bounce back to early season form? We will get more data to answer those questions as June rolls into July.
But right now, I’d like to see the following rotation three weeks to one month from now:
- Homer Bailey
- Brandon Finnegan
- Michael Lorenzen
- Amir Garrett
- Cody Reed
It’s time to see whether Lorenzen’s new repertoire can hold up over 6-8 innings. He might have the best pure stuff of any of these guys, and the Reds can find another multiple-inning reliever (Rookie Davis?). As a top prospect who had early success, Garrett gets the benefit of the doubt unless he isn’t healthy. In that case, I give Stephenson a chance.
Reed has the stuff and looks better with each AAA start. His command was solid before this season, so I’m betting the new mechanics led to some of those issues, and he will quickly return to the strike thrower he was in the minors.
I’m a big Romano fan, and yet, I also think he needs 15-20 AAA starts before the Reds give him an extended look. He pitched poorly in the first half of 2016 in AA before turning it on big time. Half a season of success above A ball isn’t enough, and the Reds should resist rushing him to the Majors too early.
I move Adleman and Feldman to the bullpen where their stuff can play up a little, and they don’t need to face a lineup more than once. I offer Arroyo a paid mentoring/coaching position for the rest of the season.
The Reds could certainly construct the staff a different way that makes sense. I’d understand if Feldman retained a spot for some stability, even if that stability is steeped in mediocrity. While I disagree with it, maybe they do want to give Romano a look soon.
Even so, I think the best construction as of now is the one I’ve laid out. In fact, that rotation could make things pretty interesting if the Reds can remain around .500 for a few more weeks. Regardless of what they do, the rotation should look a lot better in July than it has all season.