Big League Ready

On the Rushing of Pitchers

Lately, it seems to me that every post discussing the lack of success of many of the Reds’ young pitchers is accompanied by some number of comments about the players being “rushed” because of need at the big league level.

This didn’t match my perception. My perception was that these guys were making debuts roughly when you’d expect, which is to say after half a season+ of success in the upper levels of the minor leagues. And at an age (23-25) when you typically expect prospects to debut.

But I’m always willing to be wrong.

So I did some research. The best article I could find was this one from Baseball Prospectus in 2012. One assumes the way in which players are promoted has not radically changed in the last five years. In any case, the article found that pitchers made their debut, on average at 24.4 years old with 350-400 innings pitched or so.

To the data mobile, Batman!!

Below is a list of the various heralded pitching prospects along with a list of how old they were for their debut and how many minor league innings they had pitched (note: that’s innings pitched BEFORE debut, not total minor league innings pitched).

Cody Reed – 332.1 IP, 23.2 years old

Amir Garrett– 496.0, 24.9 years old

Robert Stephenson – 450.0, 23.1 years old

Luis Castillo – 460.1, 24.5 years old

Rookie Davis – 450.2, 23.9 years old

Sal Romano – 616.1, 23.5 years old

Tyler Mahle – 431 IP, currently 22.8 years old, no MLB debut yet

Looking at the data, it’s hard for me to say the Reds are rushing their pitchers. I suppose they’re on the young side in terms of age, but other than Cody Reed, they all have higher than average innings totals in the minors before their debuts.

I understand the frustration of fans when it comes to highly-touted prospects failing to perform, but I think it behooves us all to consider the following things: 1. LOTS of players in every organization never do anything. 2. Sometimes players who DO end up good take a while to figure it out. 3. Some players simply can’t cut it. 4. Knowing who those players are on draft day (beyond the first half dozen players picked or so), is just about impossible.

The crop we’re currently seeing represent drafts that occurred when the Reds were very good and thus drafting quite low, which means much more uncertainty, with some players acquired via trade added in. This doesn’t mean giving the org. a complete pass on the failure to develop players, but the Reds may still end up with several very good starters from this crop. Castillo has been excellent so far, Mahle will have his shot soon, Romano has been okay, and one of the other guys could always get it together late.

Developing players is complicated and lots can go wrong and sometimes you can’t know what will happen.

26 thoughts on “On the Rushing of Pitchers

  1. I agree Jason in that I don’t think the Reds are rushing their pitchers at all.If they are quilty of anything I would suggest it be not giving them enough starts to see if they can or can’t.While each guy is different and each year brings different challenges I always refer to how Disco and Finny were handled.Each got 31 starts and last year if anybody needed to be given up on or sent down it was Finny after his first 12 -15 starts.Got to let guys pitch at the big league level.

  2. I’m not convinced that once someone reaches a certain threshold of innings, it means they are ready for the big leagues. My mind could certainly be changed on that. But, each of these can be taken on a case by case basis.

    Reed started great in AAA, but in his last five starts before his call up, he had a 4.50 ERA and 4.34 FIP. The league seemed to have adjusted to him some, and it would have been nice to see how he adjusted back before he reached the big leagues.

    Rookie Davis got killed in a short stint and AAA in 2016, posting a 7.50 ERA and 4.42 FIP. While his ERA was great in AA that year, his K% was 15% in AA, giving him a 4.42 FIP as well. I don’t think the Reds cared about his development that much because he had no business starting the season in the rotation unless they just needed a guy.

    Stephenson never had great success at AAA, but I understand at some point, you have to give him the opportunity. It would have been nice for him to have more success than his 4.41 ERA and 12% BB%.

    Garrett was already 25, so I get that too, but he also had an ugly BB% (11.3%) at AAA in 2016, which continued with the Reds (11.0%). I’m still wondering whether he is 100% healthy and what affect that had.

    I think we need to look deeper than just an innings threshold. Maybe the BP article does that, but I can’t get it to open for some reason.

    • I agree with Nick’s perspective. Pitching lots of minor league innings does not guarantee improvement — though those who don’t improve will probably be left behind at some point. You could have a guy who has pitched hundreds of minor innings and still hasn’t mastered a third pitch (see Romano, Sal).

      He is basically trying to learn a third pitch at the big league level. I would argue that despite more than 600 innings pitched in the minors, he is not ready to pitch effectively on a consistent basis in the majors. But there is nobody in the minor league system pitching well enough to move ahead of Romano. Therefore, I think he should be learning that third pitch at Class AAA, and has therefore been rushed.

      • Nice article, good points raised.

        The Phillies are at the moment in line for the no 1 draft pick next year, and they are further along than the Reds in developing their future, young, starting pitching core.

        Nola (3.0 WAR already)/Eickhoff/Velasquez/Pivetta. 3 of the 4, if not all, will be a Philly SP when they try and contend in 2019 or 2020.

        Some of all these names the Reds have to eventually go away, if only to give the remainers a true shot. 30 starts a year, grafting/developing/taking lumps and overcoming at the MLB level, which the minor leagues can’t truly replicate.

        (Even Finnegan still has to be proven out, one way or another. His track record is only 172 IP in 2016, with a xFIP of 4.87)

        Let the sorting continue.

        • Well said and right on.Especially the taking lumps and that the minor leagues can’t replicate part.Let em pitch and clean up the mess as they go.

      • Tom, interesting case with Romano. I wonder how much he was throwing the change up the last few years. Doug Gray could probably tell us.

        He certainly wasn’t comfortable with it enough to throw it much in his first few starts. The Reds seemingly have to force him to throw it. I agree with Bryan Price that Romano’s future role hinges on whether he can have an adequate third pitch.

        Maybe “rushed” isn’t the right word except for Davis and Lorenzen, but the warning signs were there for some of our pitcher’s struggles. In the Reds defense, it’s hard to foresee Reed tipping pitches, but he wasn’t dominating AAA at the time either.

        • Maybe I missed it but has Reed ever thrown anything under 84-85 mph? I think he could be the next Cingrani. Decent reliever…coming in and throwing smoke. He’s all over the place as a starter and will never get past 4-5 innings consistently…..same as Cingrani’s stint as a starter. That might fill one role atleast?

      • Tom,I see your point but is it Romano or the Reds who are fault for not learning or throwing a third pitch.600 or more innings is a bunch to then talk about a third pitch.I mean it may be normal since Fiiny was a two pitch guy and learned a third last year.Castillo is pretty much a two pitch guy although both are plus pitches.Both of these guys cam from other organizations.Could be they were pegged as relievers.Interesting discussion.

  3. Nice post.

    There has to be a difference between ‘rushing’ a player, and having said player pitch a few games in the majors as a measuring stick, letting the organization and the player see what needs to be worked on. Especially when the team is in dire need of pitchers because of injuries.

    If a pitcher is continually getting rocked, OK, send him down. Regardless of whether he was ‘rushed,’ he obviously couldn’t handle it yet. Let somebody else have an opportunity. At least these guys are pitching, in the bigs or at AAA. (As opposed to bringing up a position player and having him ride the bench.) To me, the crime would be giving a player an audition and giving up on him if things don’t go well. I don’t think the Reds are doing that.

    What concerns me is considering the alternative. If the Reds didn’t try these young guys, were they supposed to go out and sign more Feldmans or Adlemans or Wojos or Bonillas? These guys have had their moments, some more than others, obviously, but have also struggled to get past five innings a lot of the time, which shreds the bullpen.

  4. For the Reds, the whole pitching paradigm from the bottom of the minors to the major league level has to be reviewed, re-evaluated, and then re-worked.
    If a pitcher doesn’t have an effective third pitch by the time they reach AA, then they go to the bullpen until they do have one. If they want to remain a starter that is. AA and AAA should be all about location and learning to pitch on the corners. Learn the control at the lower levels, learn to command at AA and AAA before they get to he Majors.
    With the Reds, it seems like it is all about the MPH’s.

  5. Lorenzen had only 188 ip in the minors. Still a major work in progress. I have to say I’m disappointed that Romano has 600 ip in the minors and still throws 2 pitches 96% of the time? Its all up to each kid and how they listen to instruction and overcome adversity.

  6. I think Mahle is the only guy that deserves a shot in the minors right now. Let him come up and pitch and see what he does for the rest of the year. Hell if he does well then you have 2/5 of your rotation settled for next year in him and Castillo. I still would like to see Jackson Stephens get another shot this year. And if Romano keeps getting better then he could be your 3rd. They just can’t sit there and think that Homer , disco and Finnegan will be starters next year because they aren’t reliable. If they come out of ST next year healthy then they have a nice problem on their hands. But I don’t think they were rushed. They needed warm bodies and to many injuries.

    • Finnegan will likely work out of the bull pen next year. Disco is injury prone. I wouldn’t count on him at all. Good guy, works hard, and he wants to be good and everything, but he is injury prone; snake bit.
      Homer is Homer; he will be a starter next year, because the Reds owe him $20 mill, give or take some, unless he is really hurt.
      Beyond all that, who really knows? Guys that will be starting now in the ML until the end of the year may get an inside track, or maybe show that they don’t have it.

    • Someone who knows more about this, please correct me if I am wrong:

      Since Mahle is not on the 40-man roster, his “clock” on being able to be optioned to the minors has not yet started. I believe each player has three years once on the major league roster when they can be optioned to the minors without having to be exposed to waivers.

      Is it correct that if he is added to the 40-man roster, 2017 becomes one of those three years for Mahle (since he spent time in the minors already)? It has been my belief that they have been holding off on adding him to the 40-man to delay his first option year from going into effect until 2018. If that is the case, it makes sense not to start that clock now.

      • He would only burn an option if the Reds “purchased” his contract from Louisville (this procedurally adds a player to both the 25- and 40-man rosters) and then subsequently “optioned” him back to Louisville for 20 or more days before recalling him this season.

        For example, suppose Mahle’s contract was purchased on 12 August and he started one game before being optioned to AAA on 13 August. Next, suppose the Reds recall Mahle on 1 September when the active roster can expand to 40 players and he remained active through the end of the season. Then Mahle’s option would no longer apply as he would not have remained in the minors for at least 20 days and he would be awarded Major League service time from 12 August through the end of the season.

        The two downsides to recalling him would be the Service time he would earn could end up costing the Reds an extra year of control, and someone would have to be removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Mahle.

  7. Nice article Jason.
    The reality is most prospects don’t make it.
    Where would the reds be if they had traded Amir Garrett and Aristides Aquino and Cody Reed last winter for an elite SP?

    Luis Castillo…an afterthought of the rebuild….and Adam Duvall….a throw in with Keury Mella in the Leake trade …and Eugenio Suarez for Pasta Alfredo( Wily Mo Pena and Stephens are feeling better) are the best additions in the rebuild.

    Tucker Barnhart is the best defensive catcher in the NL. Joey Votto is improving ????? Yet he turns 34 next month . Raisel Iglesias is an elite relief pitcher. Billy Hamilton is the best defensive CF in baseball and is second in MLB in triples. Nick Senzel is the best young hitter in the minors.

    It’s time to be bold and creative. The Reds need an ace for 2018. Hunter Greene can give someone else hope for 2022. I want a World series by 2020.

    • Old School when did Castillo become an after thought. The reds just acquired him over the winter.

      • Sorry….not an after thought in the sense he’s not important…he’s crucial….
        An after-thought in the sense he was acquired after the reds had traded all their core players from the 2010-13 window….cueto.frazier.chapman.leake. bruce….
        He was acquired for Dan Straily in February of this year 3 years in to the rebuild.

  8. Can’t get the link to open…did the data show different innings/age averages for college, high school and international prospects as they all enter the minors with significantly different experience levels?

    • No. Much to my irritation I couldn’t find good data for that. But I think we can make all the reasonable assumptions without much worry. I’d assume HS players get an extra 2 seasons or so in the minors.

  9. It should be noted that many young pitchers are not great their first season or two. G. Maddox is a decent example. So is Cueto and Bailey. there are many examples of pitchers who are successful their first season or two and then flame out. I agree with those who think it is a good idea to let them take their lumps in the majors. The manager is one of the best pitching coaches in the majors.

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