2017 Reds

The Cingrani Butterfly Effect

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.

16 thoughts on “The Cingrani Butterfly Effect

  1. The changes in performance by the bullpen pre and post Cingrani are also coincident with bullpen innings piling up as the rotation continued to be unable to get through the 6th inning. Losing an established, if erratic, arm from the ‘pen didn’t help, but I suspect it only hastened the inevitable.

    • The rotation has got to be the issue, what is Cingrani’s after he had a 2.55 ERA on July 16th and by end the month it ballooned to 5.40 – I guess 5 HR’s in 4 appearances will do that to you. Had some bizarre stat lines disparities
      2016 – 49/37 K/BB ratio in 63 innings only 5 HR
      2017 – 35/8 K/BB ratio in 33.1 innings 10 HR so far

      • Perhaps a lesson in how stupid the ‘throw strikes’ mantra can be. Throw good strikes, and good balls too, the kind that hitters sometimes chase. Don’t throw strikes indiscriminately or you will be hammered.

  2. In the war of arms versus bats, tired arms suffer more than tired bats, so the bats gain a little edge. August is a tired time in MLB. The decline in numbers feels unrelated to TC getting traded, but your post did get me thinking about the off-the-field aspects of trading out a fiery, competitive personality like Tony’s. While we have almost no way of knowing the dynamics between the bullpen personalities, we do know they spend a lot of time together each game. How intensely they are following the game, analyzing how each batter is hitting, what they would do if they were called in, etc. – and helping younger guys with advice on these things – can make a difference in performance when they take the mound.

  3. Kevin Shackleford replaced Cingrani’s innings. Shack had 10 G, 12 IP in Aug; Cingrani had 10/9 in July.

    As lousy as Shackleford has been (6.75 ERA), he’s been an improvement over Cingrani (10.00).

  4. I think this is a pretty clear sign of “correlation does not equal causation”. The bullpen has been overused and mismanaged throughout the season. There have been articles on RLN about the overuse, and Price is too quick to yank young pitchers instead of letting them learn how to battle through adversity.

    It was only a matter of time until it caught up with them. I don’t entirely fault Price, since it’s true many of the young pitchers were getting up into 90-100+ pitches thrown by the 5th inning, but at the same time, there were clear instances where the starter could have continued but Price stupidly wanted to try to win the game (that they would usually end up losing anyway).

    And this is what we have now. An overworked bullpen and young pitchers who haven’t been allowed to pitch enough. Price made this bed, now he has to lie in it. I just wish it weren’t at the detriment of the young pitchers’ development.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree with much of this, but it does seem as if Price has been using the bullpen arms differently in recent weeks — more appearances than before for the key guys (and despite a recent run of decent starts), shorter stints by Lorenzen, etc. What I didn’t say above is that it will be interesting to see how Price approaches September. If losing Cingrani affected his bullpen usage even to a small degree, will not having Wood as well add more weight to Storen, Peralta, Iglesias and Lorenzen? Even if he’ll have more arms at his disposal when rosters expand, I can’t see Price reaching for someone new and unproven when he’s trying to avoid being unemployed after the season.

      • Ironically enough, if I were Dick Williams, I would not fire Price for failure to win enough games. But I would fire him for failing to prioritize development of young players over winning.

        That’s something Price is blatantly guilty of, and it ties in with what you said about Price’s unwillingness to use new and untested options. The whole point in this “Season of Sorting” was to try out the new and untested options to see what they could do. For whatever reason, Price seemed to completely miss the point.

        • Whether he is to be believed or not, I think that early this season Williams said that Price wouldn’t be evaluated on wins and losses but on overall development. Price may not believe that and it may not be true but simply words, like “the manager’s/coach’s job is safe” followed by a firing within days or weeks.

          • Plus baseball players want to win games. If the players don’t feel like Price isn’t really trying to win, then he’ll lose the clubhouse. Price isn’t a very good manager in my opinion but he has been put in an almost impossible position. Try to develop players while trying to actually win games so he doesn’t “lose” his players. Failure in developing players or by “losing” his players both lead to his firing.

  5. Price is a Dusty clone.Even when rosters expand he won’t do one thing different.He will let guys go get coffee and then send them back for doughnuts.As stated August is a tiring month for an overworked bullpen.Also staring the Reds in the face is the end of another 95 loss season.All of this says play and pitch the young guys but it won’t happen.Duval needs a few days off as does Billy but it won’t happen either.Price has the backing of DW or Bob or both and he will continue to do it his way.Sadly he will return and do it his way next year.

  6. And yet despite this, the Reds are .500 in August and if it holds, the only logical conclusion is that trading Tony Cingrani has clearly made the team better. He was holding them back, particularly in July. That’s when they got wise. 😉

    Like you said… stats go all kinds of ways.

  7. High hopes for Cingrani faded a long time ago.Over and over it was said he needed another pitch and year after year it never happened.Never understood that at all because he still pitched and is still pitching and probably will be next year.Did he try to learn?Did he refuse?Did somebody work with him?

    • How much of the blame falls on the catchers? Didn’t notice Tony or any other relievers shaking off the signals all that much….

  8. #1) Reds didn’t replace Cingrani, they just got rid of him. Reds went from 2 lefty relievers to 1. Since the Reds are currently sending all rh starters to the mound, limiting your bullpen to 1 lefty makes little sense. #2) Dodgers continue to use Cingrani in leveraged situations although with mixed results. It’s common for another team to pick up a unwanted pitcher like Cingrani & give him a look-see, but not the best pitching staff in the ML & then use him in the 7th inning of close games. #3) Reds have a precedent of giving away lefty relievers for next to nothing.

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