Four pitchers and an outfielder walk into a bar. The outfielder orders drinks for all of them, setting the table so to speak. The first pitcher knocks his drink over while the second spills his all over his front. The third, seeing his friends’ mishaps, takes his nice and slow, making sure to hit his spots (his mouth) and keep his seat at the table. And the fourth, before he can even try to take his drink, finds his seat has been yanked out from under him and that he must go to the bar and mop-up any unfinished drinks from the other patrons.
Sound familiar? The kids have finally found their way into the bar, and — just like when the kids find the bar in the non-metaphorical sense — it’s been a bit sloppy.
But with time and practice, these kids — Jesse Winker, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, and Amir Garrett — will learn how to hold their own. They’ll be alright, but still worth checking in on them, right?
Jesse Winker (.273 /.467/.273; 125 wRC+)
Remember that brief moment at the end of spring training when we were all deked into believing that Jesse Winker had been eliminated from the outfield competition? Well guess who’s now tied for eleventh in the MLB and seventh in the NL for OBP — yup, Jesse Winker.
After putting career-OBP-of-.298 Billy Hamilton at the top of the lineup for the majority of games since 2014, the Reds finally have a table setter at the helm. His job may not be glamorous; his defense may not be superlative; and his speed may not ever be described as “blazing,” but Jesse Winker is the leadoff hitter this team has been waiting for.
I mean, just compare his production to that of the other leadoff hitters around the league (minimum 5 games leading off):
Two caveats here: 1) Small sample size quirks abound here with Cesar Hernandez posting an elite .444 OBP and 157 wRC+ while George Springer scuffles to a .289 OBP and 88 wRC+, and 2) Winker will never post the power numbers that prop up the wRC+ of other leadoff hitters like Mookie Betts (191) and Brian Dozier (198). But with Joey Votto behind him, that doesn’t matter near as much.
Acknowledging those two analysis shortcomings, Jesse Winker finds himself just behind Mookie Betts, Brian Dozier, Dee Gordon, and Adam Eaton in terms of production and just ahead of Lorenzo Cain and Brett Gardner. For reference, the former group will cost a total of $36 million in 2018 and the latter will cost $25 million. Winker is taking home $545,000.
When Scott Schebler finally returns to health, he’s going to have to knock down a different door for playing time. Assuming Winker can keep up his current rate of production (or at least keep pace with his current contemporaries), the Reds are getting an above average, nearing elite leadoff hitter for pennies on the dollar. Billy Hamilton’s contribution, however, is firmly in the red.
Bad news: mostly everything Reds-related
Good news: Jesse Winker is 100% as-advertised
— Red Reporter (@redreporter) April 7, 2018
Luis Castillo (10.0 IP, 5.07 FIP, 9 K, 4 BB)
The Reds ace in the wings hasn’t had the most auspicious start to the 2018 season, giving up six runs in his first appearance and four in his second. As bad as that may sound, any sort of panic regarding his 9.00 ERA is still premature.
For one, three of those runs came on a Matt Adams’ dinger in Castillo’s first start — the only time Adams swung at a Castillo offering and actually made contact. In other words, Castillo missed with his fastball and got burned.
Following that opening start, skipper Bryan Price told C. Trent Rosecrans, “When those pitches that needed to be made, if he was trying to make it with a fastball, it was balls that were left out over the plate and good pitches to hit and good teams don’t miss those pitches.” Or as catcher Tucker Barnhart put it, Castillo got rattled and started to fly open, leaving pitches over the heart of the plate. These aren’t end of the world type problems; they’re just the nerves of a young pitcher that will work out with experience and repetition.
If you need another reassurance (or maybe a cause for concern depending on your disposition), I don’t think Castillo is even near his peak playing form yet.
Compare his average 2017 velocity to that in his two starts this year. Even just by the eye test, you can tell that Castillo is sitting a good 2-3 mph slower than he did last year.
In normal circumstances, that might be worrisome, but it’s been an abnormally cold start to the year, Castillo missed a bit of time in spring training, and he’s never pitched a meaningful game this early in the calendar year….well, ever. As Castillo’s velocity ticks up and his nerves calm down, I’d expect to start seeing his exceptional stuff start working its magic a bit more effectively.
Sal Romano (11.0 IP, 6.25 FIP, 3 K, 5 BB)
Maybe I’m not the best person to be evaluating Sal Romano because I would much rather see Amir Garrett in his rotation slot. That said, even if he has had the worst start to the season of the Reds youngsters, Romano’s numbers are going to improve based on his normal production across leagues.
Causes for optimism regarding Romano moving forward:
— His walk rate is a touch high while his strikeout rate is far, far too low compared to his normal. At every level, Romano has proven to walk batters around an 8 percent clip and punch them out 18 percent of the time. The current 10.2 BB% / 6.1 K% split won’t last is what I’m saying.
— Romano gave up nine home runs in 87.0 innings last year. He’s already given up two in 11.0 this time around, a rate that nearly doubles his 2017 mark. Only once in his minor league career did he even approach his current 1.64 HR/9 rate and that was in 23.0 innings when he was first called up to AA at the end of 2015.
— His 6.25 FIP clocks in two full points higher than the 4.24 mark he put up last year. The only other time Romano broke 4.75 by season’s end before these two starts was, you guessed it, a 6.35 mark in those same 23.0 innings at AA. Generally, Romano is a 3.50 to 4.50 FIP pitcher.
And some causes for pessimism given Romano’s current performance:
— His .231 BABIP means he’s already getting lucky on balls in play, and he’s still getting drilled. If Romano’s strikeouts don’t regress to the mean soon, he’ll find himself in even more sticky situations.
— Much like Castillo, Romano’s fastball hasn’t quite hit the same sitting velocity that it did in 2017. Unlike Castillo, there’s not nearly as much room to grow. While an additional MPH won’t hurt, Romano can’t count on midseason form to add significant life to his heater.
At best, Romano is a No. 3 starter with innings eating potential. Not necessarily a prospect to write home about but when you’ve already got ceilings like Castillo’s and Hunter Greene’s, a No. 3 is all you need.
Tyler Mahle (10.2 IP, 4.95 FIP, 9 K, 3 BB)
Yesterday, Tyler Mahle did not have a good day at the ballpark. He had 4.0 innings of a good day, but 4.0 innings does not a quality start nor even a registered start make. But look at these numbers for a second: 10.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 9 K, 3 BB.
If Tyler Mahle does not walk out to the mound for the fifth inning, he basically takes Luis Castillo’s stat line and subtracts all the undesirables. If Tyler Mahle does not walk out for the fifth inning, then the Reds would still lose because Mahle is apparently the only who can hit.
The Reds have one hit today. That hit, of course, was collected by pitcher Tyler Mahle.
— Redleg Nation (@redlegnation) April 8, 2018
But Mahle did walk out to the mound as any good starter should reasonably make it through five innings, and the youngster served up two homers, yielding four runs in a flash. It’s a disappointment for Reds’ fans in the moment, but one bad inning across ten brilliant ones does not ruin a rookie pitcher’s career.
While I’ve said it before, it bears repeating: Tyler Mahle is the least concerning young Red. In his first start, he proved his exceptional control. In his second, he proved he can battle through adversity, weathering a 29-pitch opening frame. Mahle lacks Castillo’s upside but right now, one of them is a Major League pitcher and the other just a thrower with room for improvement.
Amir Garrett (5.0 IP, 1.67 FIP, 5 K, 1 BB)
Ah, Amir Garrett — the suitor scorned. The long, lanky lefty has only faced 17 batters this season but boy has he made them count. A 1.67 FIP in his only two appearances has left a lot of egg on the face of whoever left this man out of the rotation. Garrett is gunning for that fifth starter’s nod, and if Cody Reed doesn’t turn into Shohei Ohtani tonight, it should be Amir’s.
Man, someone important doesn't like Amir Garrett for some reason.
— Mo Egger (@MoEgger1530) April 6, 2018
Consider this: Where Castillo and Romano are still warming up for the season, trying to get their fastball up to snuff, Garrett has already recorded two of the top three average fastball velocity games of his career. Is he coming out of the pen firing harder than he would if he started? Maybe — I won’t speculate on a positive. But he sure does seem like he has something to prove.
Sadly, Garrett hasn’t pitched enough this season for there to be much else to say. He’s looked good and deserves a shot at more. That’s the long and short of it. The kids are all alright; it’s just the adults that keep making a mockery of the season.
Speaking of, where’s that other hot-shot new guy….?
Suarez headed to the DL. Nick Senzel should be the Reds 3B, but he will not be until the club has secured that extra year of control.
My best guess: Phil Gosselin is your starting 3B for the Cincinnati Reds until Senzel gets here.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) April 8, 2018
Reds could call up Nick Senzel on April 13 and avoid service time issue on team control.
— Steve Mancuso (@spmancuso) April 8, 2018
Belly up to the bar Nick because April 13 is right around the corner.