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.