Bryan Price said that four spots in the starting pitcher rotation are already claimed, according to Zach Buchanan, who spoke with the Reds manager today. Most observers would agree with slotting Luis Castillo, Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani into that list, assuming good health. Each has pitched at least one successful, complete year as a starter.

But Price added Brandon Finnegan to the list of pitchers who deserve a guaranteed rotation spot. Finnegan made just four appearances spanning 13 innings last year before being sidelined by injuries to both his shoulders. Price is basing Finnegan’s status off the lefty’s performance in 2016, when he started 31 games, pitching 172 innings. Finnegan’s ERA as a 23-year-old was respectable 3.98.

Yet, Price’s decision to assure Brandon Finnegan a rotation spot is hasty and unwarranted.

Let’s remember the context. Dick Williams, the Reds president confirmed on national television today what he’s been saying for months — while 2018 is a year the Reds expect to improve, they still don’t view the team as ready to compete for the postseason. To that end, Williams said the Reds would be significant buyers at the winter meetings next year, not in 2018. Put another way, the team will use the upcoming season to set up the roster for contending in 2019.

Nowhere on the roster is that more important — and up in the air — than the starting pitching rotation. Beyond Brandon Finnegan, the Reds have six other pitchers — Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and Cody Reed — who have reasonable claims to getting a fair tryout as major league starters. To be sure, even though he didn’t pitch much last year, Finnegan belongs in that bunch. But he should be fighting for one of two remaining spots, instead of being granted immunity from the challenge. Here’s a specific plan for that.

Let’s review Finnegan’s 2016. His FIP was 5.19 – fourth worst in the major leagues. He had the **highest** walk rate among qualified major league pitchers. Finnegan’s K-BB% was 11th worst in the majors, behind a bunch of guys who are no longer in the league or who are looking for jobs. Finnegan made all those starts in 2016 not based on merit as much as being healthy enough to throw a ball from the mound to the catcher. Finnegan might belong in the bullpen.

Yes, Brandon Finnegan might be one of the two best out of those seven pitchers. But he easily might not be, especially after missing almost an entire year. What the Reds should not do, is make that decision last September, which is what Bryan Price has done. Who is picking personnel for this team? A guy with a career record of 276-372 as a manager?

The Reds are about to repeat the same mistake they made last year. They aren’t giving their young pitchers a sufficient major league tryout. The pitchers — unfortunately — are not far enough along in their development to be judged fairly. The Reds could easily choose the wrong pitcher for the long term. No small failure, there.

Spring training is not an adequate basis for choosing starting pitchers. The meaning of the small number of games is clouded by uneven competition. It takes an extended trial starting major league games to figure it out. One could appreciate Price’s eagerness if the Reds were expected to contend for the division championship. But that’s not where they are.

Injuries might bail out the situation, creating more opportunity than now appears available. But why start off with such a flawed, cramped framework? Price’s vision is too rigid. His eagerness to drop players into role boxes could prevent adequate assessment.

The Reds did a lousy job with starting pitchers last year. If they follow today’s proclamation by Price, they could blow it again.

38 Responses

  1. JD

    (Hopefully, nay, painfully, optimistic) Theory: Price knows we’re sending three of the younger guys to Baltimore for Manny Machado, a move that will be announced once MM’s new 10 year, $280 million deal is announced.

    • Colorado Red

      Tell us when you wake up from your dream

  2. Jim Walker

    It is times like this when I miss Chuck Schick being around to question how likely it is (isn’t) that Price would make such a decision as this in a vacuum and announce it publicly without running it by his boss, DW.

    So yeah, I disagree with the decision but it is a Reds mistake, not just a Bryan Price mistake

  3. Sandman

    Between Price & Williams, I am not happy with a lot of the decisions they’re making. Beginning to wonder if either of them know how to run a club.

    • TR

      Williams, apparently, hasn’t been in the corner office very long, but after four years of Price, I think he is the wrong manager for the Reds.

      • Citizen54

        Williams seems to be a saber guy and Price and old school guy so I’m not sure why after seeing of of Price’s awful personnel decisions, decided to give him one more year. Bronson Arroyo got 14 starts in a year where the Reds were supposedly trying to sort out their younger talent. The Reds still don’t know which of the younger starters they can count on, aside from Castillo, who was pretty much forced out there. And I’m not yet sold on Finnegan being a starter. It’s not like he has an extensive track record of success.

  4. J

    It’s not just a problem with starting pitching. We see this same theme again and again and again: Price settles on something for reasons only he seems to understand, then sticks with it no matter how badly it fails. Hamilton leads off because Price decided he’s the leadoff hitter. Duvall Plays every day no matter how badly he’s been slumping because Price decided he’s the every day left fielder. The catcher hits 7th or 8th because catchers should hit 7th or 8th. And on and on and on. He simply refuses to allow a player’s actual performance on the field play much of a role in his decision-making. It’s an arrogance that drives me nuts, and obviously hurts the team’s chances.

    • David

      It’s the Dusty Baker Syndrome. DBS for short. Bryan Price has DBS. Making shoot from the hip decisions because it seems intuitively correct….to him.

    • james garrett

      What concerns me is that Price will say and then do something,you can make a long list of these things,and DW does nothing.So does that means he agrees or doesn’t care?Some have said that Price is just a lame duck manager and won’t make it through the half way point of this year but if true why bother with him at all for 80 or 90 games?

  5. old-school

    Bryan Price wont be the manager a year from now.
    Finnegan can be “announced” as a starter and that’s fine.
    Lets see where he is in mid may 6 starts in. Ultimately, its how you do,

  6. Ron Payne

    I bet Mahle, Romano, Stephenson and others are really pumped up after hearing Price’s statement.

    • David

      Actually, it might get them pumped to really “show Bryan” this Spring. This might be a psychological ploy by Price, to make them all hustle for that final spot.

  7. Still a Red

    I didn’t read it that way…that those 4 are set in stone. I think he thinks those 4, right now have the inside track just based on experience. The Reds page article noted that he does not have the final say anyway. Does Finnegan have to improve…yes. Is he further along than Stephenson, Reed, Garrett. I think so. Does Romano, Mahle need more time, yes. To me what was more telling was there seems to be agreement by management that two previous starters will be assigned to the bull pen most definitely. They can only be Garrett and Reed. So maybe the competition will be Finnegan vs Lorenzen (who the article said will also be stretched out in the spring.)

  8. earl99

    Considering the innings limits on some of the young guys, if they just hold pat, they are probably going to need to split up the starts probably among six guys anyway.

  9. Scotly50

    I have read that Price has acknowledged that he “does not” have the final say in naming the rotation. Maybe the better question would be, since it is not Price, then who is?

    • lwblogger2

      The GM sets the roster, so I’d have to say Williams.

  10. cupofcoffee1955

    My hope is everyone is healthy to start the season especially Homer & Disco. If those two are well and get off to good starts we could climb out of the cellar next year.

  11. BK

    I agree that Finnegan hasn’t earned a permanent slot in the Red’s starting rotation, but I do think he belongs in the rotation coming out of Spring Training. I also agree, “Spring training is not an adequate basis for choosing starting pitchers,” but this is precisely why the Reds should be making those decisions now. The fact that, health permitting, Finnegan starts in the rotation coming out of Spring Training does not imply that he can be replaced later based on performance. This is the year where the Reds need to see where he best profiles and the best time to find out is right out of the gate.

  12. Sliotar

    BK, I will take your points a little further….

    I would be the last person on RLN to give Bryan Price credit, for anything, but I don’t think he is potentially “blowing it” by giving Finnegan a shot in the rotation….to start the season.

    -The only other choices for a LH starter, which likely every team will have one of in 2018, are Garrett and Reed, both of whom have issues with HRs and BBs, respectively.

    -Whether it’s internal data or just personal preference by Price to pick Finnegan as the LH starter to begin the year, Finnegan is at least 2 years further ahead on service time than the other two.

    Finnegan begins arbitration in 2019. While he likely would not cost that much, may as well “sort” him in a non-competitive season.

    -The off-days in the 2018 schedule and the example set by the Dodgers last year with the 10-day disabled list and shuffling 9-10 starting pitchers mean there are opportunities for starts for of all the Reds young arms.

  13. BuckeyeJoe6

    I have a question.

    Will Finnegan and DeSclafani be on innings limits?

    If so, what are they? How about this. Disco at about 175 and Finny at 140. Sounds reasonable, right. Why not piggyback them? Think about it, Disco goes 5 innings and then Finny finishes the last 4. Over 35 games you get 175 and 140 respectively. They will account for 1 game. Then you don’t have to shut them down in August when they hit their limit.

  14. Steven Ross

    Comments made in December by Price should be taken with a grain of salt. A lot can and probably will happen by April.

  15. Bill

    I think we all knew Disco, Bailey, and Finnegan would get there starting spots back if healthy. We can also all agree that Castillo earned a spot. After that there are probably seven people with a “chance” to get the fifth spot. I think Stephenson probably has the inside track on that spot. Mahle and others could be at AAA when an injury occurs or someone isn’t performing. Reed is probably going to the bullpen for now. I don’t think Lorenzen has a real shot, and after last year’s performance in the pen doesn’t deserve it.

    It is also important to keep in mind that those five guys chosen aren’t going to pitch 200 innings each. Three are returning from injury and chances are someone else gets injured. Between pitch limits and injuries someone else is going to have the chance to prove themselves.

  16. JR

    This is why Price should not have been brought back. Our young pitchers should sort this out through honest, tough competition. If Finnegan earns it, so be it. This is depressing.

  17. cfd3000

    What’s the point of acquiring and developing prospects if their development is consistently stalled just as they reach the major leagues? There seem to be only two scenarios. Either a high ceiling player reaches Cincinnati and fails to be a superstar from day one, and is almost immediately relegated to marginal relevance with little hope of a serious second chance. Exhibits A: Winker, Ervin, Romano, Lorenzen, Reed, Mahle, Garrett. Or they are anointed and given seemingly endless opportunities in spite of consistently mediocre or unreliable results. Exhibits B: Hamilton, Peraza, Stephenson and now Finnegan (maybe the last two will pan out, maybe not). The only player in recent memory that has come up through the Reds system since Votto and Bailey that has actually been allowed a “normal” development is Tucker Barnhart, and that would never have happened if Mesoraco hadn’t proven so fragile. It’s so frustrating. As has been pointed out already if this really is set then I feel bad for the pitching prospects – Garrett, Romano, Reed, Mahle and Lorenzen. I’d really like to find out which of those might be future Reds all-stars but apparently we’ll never know. Very frustrating.

    • Bill

      cfd3000 does it seem to you the only players that get constant chances are the ones that acquired in traded. Again my thought is what Texas is considering is a 6 man rotation, but don’t get anybody a free ticket right now.

      • cfd3000

        Well at least acquired Bill. That’s true of Duvall, Schebler, Suarez and Gennett most recently. Scooter had to play his way into the starting lineup (with help from Peraza) but I agree those four didn’t seem to be on the same tracks as Reds prospects coming up through the minors. Now to be fair, all four have been productive between league average and well above, so no complaints there. And I suspect Senzel will get more chances than most and I expect him to contribute almost from the start. But if a guy like Winker can’t get a real chance I worry about other prospects. Yes, I expect Winker to start nearly every day in 2018, but if none of the other three mainstays are moved this offseason I won’t be surprised if he’s fourth in the outfield pecking order in 2018. He should be first. If I’m Shed Long or Jose Siri or Taylor Trammell or Alex Blandino I’d be wondering if I’ll ever get a real chance with the Reds or if that will have to come with another franchise. All this would make sense if prospects were trying to crack the BRM lineup but makes no sense to me given three straight years of 90+ losses. And with no movement so far this offseason we might need to prepare for a fourth straight. Frustrating.

  18. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I wouldn’t be giving Finnegan an automatic spot, either. Using the same logic, even stronger actually, I wouldn’t give Disco an automatic spot, either. Maybe Homer, if he’s healthy. But, there’s no guarantee Homer will be healthy. So, I wouldn’t be giving Homer a guaranteed spot, either.

    As well as, I seem to remember last season we were talking about a lot of names who could surface as starters, and none of them included Castillo, Mahle, and Romano. Where did all of them go? I believe they all saw time on the DL last season. Again.

    That’s right, again. I can understand a team in one season having bad luck with injuries. However, with this team, our pitching staff annually seems to resemble a MASH unit. Where, common sense would dictate one has to start looking at that maybe what the team is doing is causing these injuries. It’s called epidemiology. Look it up.

    I predict that whoever ends up being our “initial 5”, that at least 3 of them will see time on the DL during the season. I’m not talking about “taking a rest”. I’m talking about an actual injury. And, “only 3” would actually be considered a good season for the Reds right now.

  19. Andy

    First: DeSclafani is recovering from injury that made him miss the last 1.5 years. I’m not giving him a automatic rotation spot until I’m convinced his post-injury performance is better than the other contenders.

    Second: Given injuries and youth, I don’t think we have a single pitcher that will give us 200 innings. Castillo might be stretched out to there, but we’ll see.

    Third: Reds we’re willing to try 6 man rotation for Otani.

    As stated above, we have about 8-10 pitchers who could be considered for rotation. The Reds should go with the 6 man even without Otani.

  20. Eric The Red

    So….I basically agree with you. But if spring training isn’t adequate to make these decisions, what are you suggesting? We go into spring training with 3 spots “guaranteed”…and then what? I think it’s basically reasonable to send the signal “we’re not planning to put Finnegan in the bullpen at first, and we’re not planning to send him down even if he has a few bad spring training starts, so the rest of you prepare yourselves accordingly.”

    If Finnegan continues to walk the stadium and he’s still pitching in the rotation in June while one of the young guys is tearing it up in Louisville, then we have a problem.

  21. WVRedlegs

    I think that age old sports adage is coming into play here with Price, a starter doesn’t lose his job through injury. When that starter comes back from injury, if they are then ineffective or just plain bad, they then lose their starting job.
    With Finnegan and DeSclafani, it is more of semantics with Price. Publicly he says this. However, more realistically, I think with the pitching coaches and Price, both pitchers will have to seize their jobs and they will give them the inside track to claim those spots. But if one or both stink it up in spring training and the younger pitchers are shining, they risk being omitted from the Opening Day 5.
    I think the question will be, how much rope does Price give both of them? End of spring training? Into April? He can’t let one or both languish on the mound through April and May.

    • Bill

      Did that adage start after 1925 when Gehrig replaced Pipp?

      • WVRedlegs

        I don’t know. I was only knee high to a grasshopper in 1925.

  22. bengalsfan1919

    Finnegan was a young developing pitcher in 2016, and there were a few positive signs at the end of the year that he had really turned a corner.
    Finnegan 4/6/2016-8/15/2016: 24G, 4.54 ERA, 5.80 FIP, 16.9% K%, 11.7% BB%, 11% Changeup usage
    Finnegan 8/20/2016-4/5/2017: 8G, 1.62 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 31.8% K%, 9.7% BB%, 21.1% Changeup usage

    That’s huge improvement that’s backed up in his peripheral stats, and lines up closely with increased usage of an improved changeup (

    Finnegan was one of the most exciting parts of the end of 2016 and continued that into 2017 before injury. I don’t know if he should be guaranteed a spot in the rotation, but he should at least have an inside track if he can stay healthy

  23. Aaron Bradley

    I simply do not understand this philosophy of admitting we aren’t competitive. I mean this team is not awful by any stretch of the imagination. You got arguably the best hitter in the league in Votto, with proper lineup construction he should be able to produce far more than 100 RBI. They had like 6 guys hit 25+ home runs, right? So the offense can be good if not great. Sure the pitching is up in the air, but the weakest area is the bullpen which is also the cheapest thing to fix. Maybe instead if these 2 million dumpster fires we should actually pay 5 million and get a quality set up man. The goal should be to make the playoffs. And yes I think they have the talent to pull it off, barring injuries and bad luck. But first we need to make our own luck with proper lineup construction, intelligent roster management, etc.

    Price was a good pitching coach. If there is anything he should be capable of, it should be managing the pitching staff. The GM needs to take firmer control of the lineup and let Price focus on the pitchers. I think they also need better in-game strategy in terms of working the count, being selective at the plate. Players that show zero patience or pitch recognition need to be moved ASAP. I know you guys are into advanced metrics, I would like to see numbers of our guys vs. top tier pitchers as compared to league average. If we get fat on middle relievers and back of rotation guys to compensate for getting owned by quality pitchers something is wrong. Votto is the prototype hitter we should strive for. Selective, never gives in, shortens his swing when behind in the count, etc. Anyhow, I am rambling here, but just wanted to share my thoughts. As Al Davis said, Just Win, Baby!

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Starters ERA 5.55, last in the NL. Bullpen ERA 4.65, 14th out of 15th. Not obvious at all that the bullpen is the part that needs fixing. It looks more like the starters need fixing.

      As for fixing the bullpen, a good bullpen is almost a “shot in the dark” each year for each team. Just look at ours through the recent years. We went from one of the best to one of the worst almost overnight. How? With bullpens, they are simply a “shot in the dark”. You simply hope you get the right combination and it works. Either that, or you are looking at spending just as much if not more on your relievers as you would your starters.