New day, same old Robert Stephenson.

Since being called up from Triple-A Louisville two weeks ago Robert Stephenson has pitched in two games for a total of 5 and 2/3 innings. In those games Stephenson has an ERA of 7.94 and a total of 9 walks. Yes, you read that correctly…9 walks.

Stephenson has been with the organization since 2011 when he was drafted out of high school in the first round by the Reds. He has spent a considerable amount of time in the Reds minor league system and was recently pitching well in Triple-A before his latest call up.

The knock on Robert Stephenson is his control. It’s ALWAYS been his control. There have also been rumblings about his attitude and his willingness to improve upon and change his approach when it comes to his control. If you can recall back in August of 2016, Louisville manager Delino DeShields had this to say about Stephenson:

“This is what we’ve been going through with this kid for the last three or four years,” DeShields said, referring to Stephenson’s control issues. “Until he makes an adjustment, it’s going to continue. It’s not going to get better. It’s on him. He’s been told what he needs to do and what he needs to work on by numerous coaches and staff members. It’s up to him to make those adjustments. If I was him, I’d be embarrassed.”

 

Fast forward to Monday August 20th, 2018 and here we are – still talking about Robert Stephenson’s control and still questioning his willingness to change.

After his latest start against the Indians, Stephenson had these post game comments:

“The way I pitched tonight was unacceptable. Can’t happen. I had a really hard time tonight gripping the ball. As much as I don’t want to give an excuse, that’s the God’s honest truth. Obviously, I’m going to find a way between starts to figure it out and throw more balls in the zone.”

 

But wait…there’s more:

“Walks are part of my game,” Stephenson said. “But lately, the walks I’ve been issuing are not the walks I want to issue. There’s times for it and there’s times not for it. Lately, those are not the time.”

 

I have listened to the interview multiple times and Stephenson did hold himself accountable for his lack of control and his walks. He knows he needs to do better, which is good. He blamed sweat and his lack of grip on the ball, which may seem weak in some regards, but at the end of the day those issues are kind of on him and he seems to know it.

As far as his comments about “walks being part of my game” – I think some fans have misinterpreted those comments. Strategically, walks do make sense at times. I think he just communicated what he meant poorly. Obviously Stephenson isn’t out there trying to walk the pitcher on four straight pitches. That’s not “part of his game”. He even backed this up by saying “lately, the walks I’ve been issuing are not the walks I want to issue.”

So, does Robert Stephenson know that walking batters is an issue for him? I believe so. Is he willing to change or does he have the actual ability to throw more strikes? This is the question that still needs to be answered.

Robert Stephenson’s future in the Reds organization is muddy. He will most likely continue to get starts through the remainder of the year (and he should) but you have to wonder what’s going to happen with him if he continues to have control issues and continues to pitch poorly. Is there room for him and would he serve better in the bullpen? Does he become part of a trade package this winter that lands an upgraded rotation or roster piece for the 2019 season?

The window on Robert Stephenson is still open, but it’s closing in a hurry. Until he stops doing the things that have haunted him over the years he’s not going to be counted on to be a viable part of this team…and I’m starting to lose faith that’s ever going to happen.

Jeff is Cincinnati born, Ohio University educated. Reds baseball has been a central theme of his family ever since his mom and dad helped him skip school to attend Opening Day. Jeff has been accused of having a “man crush” on Joey Votto and longs for the day that he gets to witness the Reds finally win a playoff series. You can follow him on Twitter @Gaaangs

Join the conversation! 51 Comments

  1. This is a very fair summary of Stephenson. It is up to him to show he understands and can respond to his issues by pitching more effectively. For my money, it is up to us to give him the slack in the court of public opinion to do so.
    By virtue of the kind of stuff he has, he will always he a high risk/ high reward proposition. He will walk more guys than many are comfortable with but the numbers say he could miss enough bats to make the walks irrelevant. Pay more attention go his WHIP, K/9 and HR/9 rates and less to his BB/9 rate. In the final analysis judge him (and all starting pitchers) by their ERA/FIP/xFIP and how many outs they produce per start.

    • And unfortunately for the Reds, Stephenson may turn out be a player like Edwin Encarnacion who has to hit bottom and bounce a couple of times before he starts to find his true ability level of performance. So, if he turns out to be the next great thing for another org 3-5 years from now, just remember you saw him not that in a Reds uniform.

      • I think he’s a classic “change of scenery” guy. I’m not sure anyone in the Reds organization can fix him. If I was GM for another team, I would find out what my staff thought about rather or not we can fix Stephenson. If it’s determined that he might be fixable, I’d try to grab him while his value is relatively low. I think, at this point, going to a new organization may be the best bet for Stephenson turning it around. I hope I’m wrong because I really wanted to see him turn it around in a Reds uniform.

        • Agree. Somewhere there is a guy, probably with a body type similar to RS who had the same problem and found a fix. No one may know this guy’s name because his overall skill kit wasn’t complete; and, he didn’t get that far in baseball. But he had this problem spotting his fastball and fixed it.

          If he and RS get together and the fix takes for RS, look out! Once he can spot the fastball, with his slider to run away from RH or break in on the feet of LH hitters and splitter for the reverse action for each, he will be very difficult to hit. Actually, he is already difficult to hit, its just that he can’t effectively spot his heater.

  2. I have already lost faith in him. In my opinion, he has had enough opportunities to improve and hasn’t. Not every prospect works out. If he can be a throw in as part of an off-season trade, great. If not, DFA candidate. Santillan and other pitching prospects are going to need roster spots soon nd if he doesn’t start showing at the major League level hen he ahould be a goner.

    • 5 years ago last week, Robert Stephenson was promoted to AA.

      5 years AA or better. He was 6 weeks shy of 2 years in AA.

      The good news is that he is still only 25.

  3. Bob Steve has been a “change of scenery” candidate since last season. I was desperately hoping they would package him with BHam or Scooter for a starting pitcher in the last offseason and hope that a team would bite on Bob Steve’s obvious physical talents with an eye to getting his head straight too.

    It would have been the best move for all involved, but I’ve seen glaciers move faster than this front office.

  4. Lots of pitchers take time to develop.

    The problem is the Reds are 5 years into a Rebuild and Stephenson is 7 years into a pro career- drafted in 2011. His inability to throw strikes excludes him from pitching every 5 days on any 25 man roster that wants to win. His comments regarding walks aren’t smart either. Bronson Arroyo. Mike Leake, and Tom Browning all led the world in solo home runs given up. But, these guys believed in their pitching, didnt walk guys, challenged hitters and more times than not, beat the opponent, instead of themselves. Stephenson continues to be accept beating himself instead of challenging the opponent. Maybe thats the problem.Hes afraid. Regardless, his mindset is wrong.

    “Walks are a part of my game” is like an offensive lineman saying holding is part of my game.. or a point guard saying turnovers is part of what I do. The margin of winning and losing in pro sports is too small to consistently give the opponent opportunity after opportunity .That’s a very basic concept he refuses to embrace.

    I support giving him starts this year but if he can’t throw strikes, it’s time to move on.

  5. If Stephenson pitches 3 or fewer innings on Wednesday and walks 4+ guys, I’d be tempted to give his next turn to Reed, Sims, or Lorenzen. They have alternatives. Stephenson can’t keep forcing the bullpen to pitch 6-8 innings.

    • This is where Harvey comes into play as well. Without him, you could be using essentially 2 rotation spots to evaluate guys that may have a chance with this team next year. So you could run Stephenson out there AND one of the above…bullpen willing.

      • I agree Jeff. The front office needs to either sign Harvey now to an extension or trade him. He is taking starts away from guys who WILL be here next year.

    • Riggs will pull him in a heart beat because he wants to win,Bad place for Bob to be in and he won’t make it.He won’t be given any rope at all regardless unless he is pretty much perfect and he won’t be.

  6. 1) Really nice writing, Jeff. Encapsulates the initial promise and now frustration with Reds Nation and Bob Steve.

    2) To Old-School’s point, he has made 2 starts this season, and now 21 starts in Cincinnati, over 3 seasons, for his whole career.

    It’s because he has “been around” as a 1st Round pick in the organization that the fatigue with him has set in.

    If the Reds had acquired him in the winter, and he had made all 21 starts this season, maybe he would be more productive and/or maybe RS would be viewed differently.

    Guys can live with higher walk totals, if they have high K%.

    Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Mike Foltynewicz, Zack Godley all have BB/9 around 3.50 and higher…but all have K/9 rates of at least 9.50.

    The Reds may feel compelled to part with Bob Steve in the winter, but if so, I think RS will no trouble finding a new team. He has years of control left, is only age 25, and has that 10 K/9 potential in his arm, like the guys mentioned above.

    A team patient enough to start over with him, start the slate clean, might come out well.

    • This. Let the guy settle in for half a season and see what happens.

      For the life of me I don’t understand the knee-jerk reactions with some players like Stephenson, Peraza, Ervin, but Hamilton and gets 5 seasons worth of baseball because of one tool?

      • That was certainly the frustration in Redsland in 2017 with starts going to Adelman/ Arroyo/ Bonilla and with the lost season of 2018 after April. The problem now is he’s “suddenly” out of options and has to be on the 25 man roster in 2019. How do you justify a starting spot in 2019 now? He needs to perform well the next 6 weeks- which is still possible.

      • I said above that I would continue to start him the rest of the year. I said the “window is closing”, not that “its closed”.

        It’s not really knee jerk. Stephenson has been dealing with the same control issues for years now. Why does it matter whether its in the majors or in AAA?

      • Not really one tool, if you refer to the classic 5. Speed, defense, throwing. Looks like three to me, though he doesn’t have great arm strength, so accuracy and quick release are why he’s often among league leaders in outfield assists. Votto has, at this point, one tool. Suarez has two. BH is the undisputed king at eliciting knee-jerk reactions at RLN.

    • I agree with this, too. The thing is, he has pitched well (last part of last season in MLB and AAA this season), so it’s not like it’s impossible. He’s had two bad starts, featuring more walks than he was giving up in Louisville, and I don’t doubt that nerves could be playing a big part, since he’s probably aware that he’s running out of time.

  7. When he realized he had a difficult time gripping the ball, you would think he might have tried to do something between innings, like using a rosin bag or some other legal means of drying his hand. To think that he didn’t do anything about it while he was experiencing the issue is a bit concerning.

    • It is a bit concerning. Stephenson said he didnt want to make excuses, but he kind of did make excuses. Either way he needs to figure it out and it seems like he knows it.

    • That’s what Sam LeCure said after the game when he hear RS say in his press conference the ball was slipping out.

  8. Not so much at a personal level for Stephenson but at a level of organizational impact, consider how the Reds might have differently handled RS and Tyler Mahle this spring.

    Stephenson had a run of 11 MLB starts with league average performance to end the 2017 season. He was set to enter his age 25 season and last option year. Mahle, had made a similar number of AAA starts (10) in 2017, finished the season with 4 strong MLB starts. He was about to start his age 23 season with a full compliment of options remaining.

    There is no disputing that if in fact 2018 spring training was a sprint for the last rotations spots, the winners were Mahle and Romano.

    However from an organizational viewpoint, wouldn’t it have made more sense to chose the guy who had put together a third of a season as a league average starter and was 2 years older for the MLB rotation to see if he could pick up and move forward with what he had done? Mahle on the other hand could have been told to go to AAA and keep on developing and pitch as he had in the spring and he would be the next man up.

    Instead they did what they did and 5 months later Mahle crashed and burned at MLB. He is back at AAA trying to put the pieces together. Meanwhile the questions about Stephenson are even more muddled than in the spring.

    • Mahle’s had struggles in the starts leading up to his demotion, but I still see him with more positives going for him long term than stephenson and it comes down to walks and pitching efficiency.

      Mahle has part of that down in not putting lots of extra runners on. If he can find a good put away pitch (K or weak contact), sky’s the limit. Stephenson is just not going to get much done at the big league level with 56 pitch-27 strike nights like his last start…

      He can still turn it around, and had time to do so, but he’s gotta perform on the field. I’ve been more encouraged by reeds relief appearances the last couple of weeks than Stephenson.

      • Mahle looked gassed. He may not have exceeded the number of innings he had pitched before (I don’t know this), but they weren’t in MLB, and I noticed that his velocity was higher than we were led to expect, which, along with more selective hitters and umpires and more on the line, could easily explain the whole thing.

        • Your right he was gassed and tried to compensate by throwing harder which made it worse.He will be fine but he hit the wall two starts before they sent him down.Along with the two things you mentioned his body language went south at the same time and maybe because he had never experienced what he was going through but the team should have seen that.

      • Hopefully you are correct that Mahle will progress and return to the Reds as a productive starter. Only time will tell that.

        My question remains what other organization in the position the Reds were in turns its back on a 25 year old guy who ended the previous year on a streak of a third of a season of league average starts with an average length of 5.2 innings each and instead turns to a 23 year old with 10 career AAA starts and 4 career MLB starts?

        I think most orgs don’t do that unless the 23 year old projects as the next super ace and seems certain to hit the road running at near that level. Instead, they send the younger guy back to AAA to hone his craft, maybe actually accomplish some of the things Mahle is supposedly working on even now at AAA, and then when the time comes they spring him on MLB.

        At the least even if the Reds felt Mahle was this super ace waiting to happen, they should have started him at AAA to burn off 2 weeks of service time.

        • Bob Steve is gonna be fine. He finished 2017 strong and has had a fairly consistent year in 2018 at L-ville. He has worked hard to do what he was asked and he needs some reps at the ML level.
          Hard throwers need time to learn how to become pitchers and I think he will – again based on late last year and most of 2018. Hanging around the ML coaches, Harvey, Homer & the young staff will help him get it going. Here’s where I think Price failed and Darwin/Riggelman will succeed.
          He’s a high-strung kid that lets his emotions get to him – but mark my words, he & Cody Reed have ML stuff and will become solid ML pitchers… & I hope for the Cincinnati Reds!

  9. I really want Stephenson to succeed as a RED. Have followed him all the way through the minors and he really has nasty stuff, but unless he can get the ball over the plate on a regular basis and make batters swing at pitches that move out of the zone, that is probably not going to happen. A lot of that is on the Reds organization, he should have already had enough MLB starts to make a fair determination.

  10. I guess it’s not hot and humid in Louisville. I couldn’t care less if he never starts for the Reds again. frankly.

    • Of course it’s humid in L’ville. What you’re missing is that the balls are different. The balls at AAA have higher seems and are easier to grip. MLB balls are fairly slick. I don’t buy him not being able to grip the balls as a valid excuse but your response seems like an oversimplification in dismissing it.

  11. I don’t know whether the Bob Steve is a lost cause now or not, but what I do know is that the Reds shouldn’t be asking that question in September of 2018, nearly 4 complete seasons into a “rebuild.”

    Stephenson is going to be 26 before the first Spring Training game of 2019. He made his AAA debut in 2015 and between 2016-2018 he hasn’t pitched 100 innings in any single season at the big league level while the Reds were losing 94+ games a year. There’s really no reason for that at all.

    • Agree

    • I would respectfully disagree. He got pounded in his opportunities early last year and got sent down. He had a chance to win a job in spring training this year and didn’t do it. That’s why he hasn’t pitched in 100 innings in a MLB season yet.

      • I would respectfully disagree with your respectful disagreement. The start of 2018 wrecked both Stephenson & Reed. Their infrequent use bordered on insanity. I remember Price bringing in BobSteve after not having pitched for 10 days in Toronto with bases loaded against Troy Tulowitzki. What a joke! There were plenty of low-leverage opportunities to use him in 2017 (oops I forgot, we were playoff-bound in early 2017!).

        Eric’s point is, if you’re rebuilding why not let these young players with potential learn how to pitch at the ML level? I’m not sure why the Reds attempted to infrequently use these 2 young pitchers but still trotted out Arroyo, Feldman every 5th day.

        I’m of the opinion that Brian Price wanted ML-ready pitchers and was unwilling to deal with the pain & tough-love needed to get these 2 guys going. And Nick C had a similar point last week – we’re giving starts to Harvey instead of taking our medicine now and getting these guys the reps they need.

        It’s gonna be brutal at times – sure. It’s gonna take a year or two at the ML level – look at Castillo, Mahle, Romano and tell me if they’ve had growing pains this season. But when the light clicks watch out – Reed & Stephenson are gonna be solid IMHO.

        • I will say I have been very impressed with the way Reed is throwing strikes since he was called up. I’d love to see him get a start or two to see if he can sustain that over several innings.

  12. As frustrating as Homer Bailey. And Jay Bruce. And Todd Frazier.
    You just never know.

    • Agree. I keep thinking of Bailey’s development process when I think about RS.

  13. The Reds must keep Stephenson for as long as they possibly can. Even if they must hide him in the ML bullpen through 2019. It’s just too difficult to replace the kind of stuff he’s gifted with. He’ll figure it out when he figures it out. In my book he starts through this season & gets 10 starts in 2019. On the other hand, Riggleman should have him on a short leash each start. After 3 BB he gets the hook. It’s a learning curve & Bob just keeps going off on a tangent.

  14. This will be the ultimate test for Danny Darwin AKA ” Dr Death”. It looks like RS never had him for any significant time at AA as he’s been in AAA or with the Reds since 2016.

  15. He had made, at least apparently, a lot of progress in Louisville. In his first game back, I gave him a pass because he could well have just been too amped up on adrenaline. I just threw my hands up the second game. I would hope that watching Desclafani and Harvey both throw two controlled, steady games will help.

    Some team will want him, though, if the Reds can’t unlock him. Your own son can ignore your advice for two years, but then he will listen to some other adult who tells him the same thing in a different tone of voice.

  16. I think we’re getting close to the point where developing someone at the major league level is not going to be a priority for Reds management, and that point might be the final game of this regular season. In fact, none of the young starting pitchers should assume they have anything locked up for next year.

  17. The guy is frustrating to watch. I give him more starts but if he keeps pitching like crap then Riggleman needs to pull him. Let Reed come in for him and pitch. I just would like somebody to tell Stephenson to slow down and think through every pitch like Lorenzon does. And like I said up above , the Front Office needs to either sign Harvey to a extension or get rid of him. He is taking up starts for the younger guys if he isn’t going to be here next year. I mean for God sakes it isn’t that hard. Sign him or trade or release him. Why does this front office struggle with a rebuild?

    • He already spends a ton of time between pitches. He spends tons of time rubbing up the baseball, getting rosin, adjusting his cap, drying his hand and more. He might be thinking too much. Hard to say what the problem is. Part of the problem might be too many people telling him “You know what you need to do…”

  18. The reason the Reds have kept him down is because since hitting Pensacola in 2014, his BB/9 has been under 4.5 once in the minors. That would be this year, after his first 2 months yielded a roughly 5.5 BB/9 rate. And, predictably, that rate ballooned up at the MLB level the last 2 years.

    His stuff is great. He has a ton of potential. But he is almost certainly not a good enough pitcher to sustain MLB success issuing 5.9 walks per 9, as he did last year. His 11 games started included a good run, and his SO/9 was great (over 9!), but last year’s 4.92 FIP in the bigs also came after by far his most successful stint in the minors. Small sample size at AAA in 2017, but his peripherals were great.

    I think that Jason Linden’s interview with Jeff Fassero was awesome, and for me have much greater understanding about the Reds issues with Stephenson. Particularly the part about Fassero having to force Stephenson to throw fastballs. Maybe he did/does just need more time in the bigs to settle in. Maybe he did actually turn a corner this year. But when a guy is 25 and in his 7th year as a professional pitcher, and his coach has to force(!) him to throw fastballs to cut down his walk rate, I don’t know how much big league rope he should get. It can’t be good in the clubhouse to have someone *choosing* to play in a manner that often kills his bullpen and puts his team’s effort to waste. It’s like if Billy Hamilton decided he wasn’t going to listen to his hitting coaches and swing away whenever he darn well felt like it. How much rope would or should he get with that attitude? My answer would be about none.

  19. I have trouble believing the concept that the Reds have to put someone into the majors in order to “properly evaluate” him. While you’d be right to point out that we have almost no MLB sample size this year, but given his numbers for nearly his entire minor league career, it also should not surprise anyone that his walk rate has been atrocious in his first to big league games this year. Do the Reds really expect him to fix the one issue he hasn’t fixed after seven full seasons of facing professional baseball players by playing him at the highest level? After seven years in the minors, is there really all that much the Reds’ organization doesn’t know about the guy? Sure, he’s still young, and a lot of maturing happens during one’s 25th, 26th and 27th years on this earth, but that’s more of a hope than a strategy for developing pitchers.

    So, here’s hoping he turns it around, but it seems to me that the Reds have him up because they don’t have too many other great options, and he had a decent June and July in Louisville thus earning a promotion. I hope he can turn things around because if he doesn’t, he will not have earned a full time spot in the majors.

  20. should have traded him in 2014.

    • For? The Reds were starting their rebuild and they were hoping he’d be one of the starting pitchers. I don’t think any organization would have traded him at that point.

  21. Should trade him in a package to a team that believes that can fix him.

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About Jeff Gangloff

Jeff is Cincinnati born, Ohio University educated. Reds baseball has been a central theme of his family ever since his mom and dad helped him skip school to attend Opening Day. Jeff has been accused of having a "man crush" on Joey Votto and longs for the day that he gets to witness the Reds finally win a playoff series. You can follow him on Twitter @Gaaangs

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