With the Reds looking up from the bottom of the NL Central standings, fans have spent much of the 2017 season speculating not about the postseason, but about which players would be dealt at the trade deadline. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the team would part ways with Zack Cozart, and pitchers Scott Feldman, Drew Storen and even Raisel Iglesias were all mentioned as potential trade fodder at one point or another. In the end, only reliever Tony Cingrani was dealt, and considering his lackluster numbers this season and his continued inability to develop a second pitch, few complained about his departure.
Even though his 2017 stat line wasn’t impressive, however, Cingrani still occupied an important role in the Reds’ overworked bullpen this season as an experienced reliever with at least some past experience in getting batters out on a regular basis. Indeed, after coming off the disabled list in early June, he was one of manager Bryan Price’s favorite tools, making 10 appearances over a 22-day period that month before making another 10 in July prior to being shipped off to the Dodgers.
Since that trade, the remaining members of the Reds bullpen have all shown varying signs of wear and tear. It’s of course impossible to say whether Cingrani’s departure is the primary cause, but still, a closer look at the numbers of the Reds’ five primary relievers this month implies that sharing whatever load Cingrani was shouldering is putting added stress on arms that might already be running on fumes.
Exhibit A: Blake Wood
Before the Cingrani trade: .272 BAA, 4.10 ERA, 53/23 K/BB
August: .341 BAA, 14.00 ERA, 9/6 K/BB
Prior to the trade deadline, Wood sported a mediocre (but for the Reds, respectable) 4.10 ERA through 42 appearances – nine in July and 11 in each of the months of April, May and June. After Cingrani’s departure, though, Price called on Wood 12 times – that is, more than he had all season – over a 22-game stretch, during which his ERA skyrocketed to 5.65. The line for those dozen appearances is frightening – 14 earned runs given up in just nine innings, capped off by two dreadful showings in which he retired just three of 13 batters he faced. At the beginning of the month, Wood seemed like a near-lock for the Reds’ 2018 bullpen, but just a few weeks later, he was designated for assignment and claimed by the Angels. (The August stats cited here are all from his tenure as a Red.)
Exhibit B: Drew Storen
Before the Cingrani trade: .232 BAA, 3.24 ERA, 37/16 K/BB
August: .383 BAA, 9.00 ERA, 9/6 K/BB
During the first four months of the season, Storen was called on consistently, as he made 11 appearances in both April and May, 12 in June and 10 in July. He’s already made 12 appearances in August, though, and they haven’t gone well: In 11 innings, Storen has allowed 14 runs (11 earned), given up 18 hits and walked six. He’s also plunked three. In just four weeks, his ERA for the year rose from 3.24 to 4.44. Granted, that’s largely due to an ugly outing against the Braves on Aug. 20, when he yielded six runs while recording just two outs, but still, that appearance was just six days removed from a blowout loss to the Cubs in which he gave up three earned runs.
Exhibit C: Michael Lorenzen
Before the Cingrani trade: .232 BAA, 3.98 ERA, 16 pitches per inning
August: .306 BAA, 5.40 ERA, 19.1 pitches per inning
Lorenzen made 11 relief appearances in each of the first four months of 2017. In August, however, he’s already made 13. Again, the results haven’t been great: In 15 innings pitched this month, he’s given up 19 hits and walked six. Opposing batters are hitting .306 off of him, and his ERA has risen from 3.98 to 4.28. Because he’s been used so frequently, his appearances are also getting shorter, even though he’s throwing more pitches on average. Also, he hasn’t gotten more than five outs this month – a sharp contrast to each of the first four months of the season, when he made multiple appearances of two innings or longer.
Exhibit D: Wandy Peralta
Before the Cingrani trade: .207 BAA, 3.23 ERA, 44/14 K/BB, 66% strike rate
August: .293 BAA, 4.22 ERA, 7/4 K/BB, 57% strike rate
No pitcher has appeared in more games for the Reds this year than Peralta, but as with the other pitchers listed above, we’ve seen him on a more regular basis in August than during the first four months of the season. On Sunday, Peralta pitched in his 13th game of the month, tying the number of appearances he made in June (which was previously his busiest month). Granted, he threw more innings then (13 2/3) than he has this month (10 2/3 and counting), but his August results aren’t exactly encouraging, as his 4.22 ERA for the month has raised his overall ERA from 3.23 as of the trade deadline to 3.41.
Exhibit E: Raisel Iglesias
Before the Cingrani trade: .175 BAA, 1.95 ERA
August: .281 BAA, 2.45 ERA
As Zach Buchanan noted after Iglesias gave up two runs during the 9th inning of Tyler Mahle’s major league debut on Sunday, his ERA for the season climbed above 2.00 for the first time. Perhaps that’s due to a combination of pitching more frequently and for longer durations. In April, when Iglesias made four two-inning appearances and another two of five outs, he pitched a total of 14 1/3 innings but only appeared nine times. This month, meanwhile, he’s already thrown 14 2/3 innings over 12 appearances. That ties the number of times he appeared in both May and June, but in both of those months, he only threw 12 innings. His ERA has gone from 1.95 as of the trade deadline to 2.07 – a modest gain, to be sure, but still, August has seen Iglesias give up runs in three different appearances. In the first four months of the year, that never happened more than twice.
Numbers may not lie, but they can certainly be manipulated. In sports especially, statistical endpoints tend to be chosen arbitrarily to fit one’s argument. “He’s gotten a hit in 10 of his last 12 games” implies that a hitter is doing well as of late, but if said hitter went 1-for-5 in each of the games with a hit and then went 0-for-5 in the other two games, his batting average was a paltry .167 during his “hot streak.”
That said, it’s entirely possible that the trade deadline is just a meaningless date in a long slog of a season, and that the month of August has provided a small sample size in which each of these five pitchers has coincidentally performed worse than they did when Tony Cingrani was still a Red. Perhaps, however, over-usage is taking its toll, and a manager who’s fighting to save his job is actually accelerating his demise.