Nearly three weeks have passed since free agency started, and few dominoes have fallen to this point. The Reds have been linked to several notable pitchers thus far, including Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, and J.A. Happ. As of now, though, the team isn’t strongly connected to any players outside of the basic “Team X is interested in Player Y” tweets. If the team does land one of those big names, president of baseball operations Dick Williams has stated he’s looking for two starting pitchers.

It’s unlikely the Reds land two top-tier free agent starters, which means their second acquisition could be an arm to round out the rotation. Who could — and should — the team target?

Tier 3 (Back-End starters)

Lance Lynn

Pros: Although he had a disappointing season with the Twins, Lynn rebounded with a strong finish in his final 11 outings with the Yankees after a midseason trade. During his time in pinstripes, he posted a 4.14 ERA and significantly improved both his strikeout and walk rates, increasing the former from 21.3% with Minnesota to 26.4% in New York and decreasing the latter from 13.2% to 6.1%. What changed? As Pinstripe Alley explained, he began pounding hitters inside with his fastball more regularly was generally more aggressive in attacking the strike zone. It helped him get more soft contact, too. For the year, only nine pitchers with a minimum of 200 batted ball events gave up fewer barreled balls per plate appearance (2.7%). He also had a career-best ground-ball rate of 49.7%.

Lynn could be the workhorse the Reds are looking for. His only extended DL stint coming after Tommy John surgery in 2016. The right-hander’s overall numbers could mean he’s a bargain waiting to happen if he can replicate his second-half showing. Many fans would tout this signing as the Reds bringing in another Cardinals retread, but Lynn could provide real value at his projected cost.

Cons: Which Lynn will show up in 2019: the one who was walking 5.5 batters per nine innings or the one who was fanning a quarter of the batters he faced? That’s a huge question mark. Given his career marks (22.4 K%, 9.2 BB%), the answer is likely somewhere in between. Putting all that aside, he had some problems when the ball was put into play. He threw fastballs on nearly 90% of his deliveries to the plate. Although he throws three different fastballs, their similar velocity — namely with the four-seamer and sinker — can help hitters time up the pitches and punish them when left over the plate. The .336 batting average on balls in play is one thing, but Lynn also allowed a 35.4% hard-contact rate that ranked above the league average for starters. He mitigated that with a solid soft-contact rate (21.0%), which tells you that his pitches can get pounded when he has control problems like he did for large portions of the season.

Trevor Cahill

Pros: Cahill has bounced between starting and relieving with several teams over the last five seasons but finally settled in a rotation by returning to the A’s in 2018. By developing a slider in recent years, he’s gone from a below-average strikeout pitcher to, at the very least, an average one who is capable of fanning 10 batters on a given night. Cahill’s changeup has also moved from very good to elite, with the offering ranking in the top 10 in pitch value in 2018. The result was his highest career swinging-strike rate (11.7%) at age 30. Another quality that makes him attractive for the Reds: his propensity for getting ground balls with his sinker. His grounder rate since 2009 (55.0%), the year of his debut, is fifth-best in that span and third among active players. If the Reds are looking for someone to help them curb the rotation’s home run problems, Cahill might be a solution.

Cons: The strikeouts and the ground balls look nice. The problem is Cahill has battled health problems, spending time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons and making multiple trips in both 2017 and ’18. The injuries have kept him from sustaining his dominant starts in both seasons. Control often eludes him, as well. Since 2009, only six pitchers with 1,000 or more innings have a higher walk rate (9.6%). While he gets a lot of ground balls, limiting hard contact was problematic in 2018. He gave up a career-high hard-contact rate of 39.3%, which makes his relatively low .277 BABIP a little surprising and unsustainable moving forward.

Wade Miley

Pros: Under new Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson, Miley had a resurgence with the Brewers in 2018. The southpaw didn’t suddenly become a strikeout artist; in fact, his K-rate was the lowest of his career. Instead, Miley used his new cutter to keep hitters from putting the barrel on the ball. He was tied with Lynn in barreled balls per plate appearance (2.7%) and ranked ninth in average exit velocity allowed (85.0 mph). His ground-ball rate, which has always been strong, sat at a career-best 52.1% to put him 10th among all starters with at least as many innings. At his best, Miley can also dominate lefties; he held them to a paltry .268 slugging percentage in 2018, granted he only faced 83 of them. He made a strong case for interested teams with an impressive postseason performance with the Brewers (2 runs and 10 hits in 14.2 innings), though his last start was cut short after only one batter.

Cons: Miley has battled injuries, including groin and oblique strains that kept him out for half of the 2018 season. The biggest concern, though, is he was largely awful the two previous years, with an ERA above 5.00 in 2016 and 2017. His strikeouts have also disappeared, and missing bats was never a huge part of his game anyway. While he did miss the sweet part of opponents’ bats and generate a lot of grounders, his .269 BABIP is unlikely to last either, especially if he is backed by the Reds’ weak defense up the middle of the diamond. Finally, he has some glaring platoon splits for his career. Righties have hit .272/.337/.437 against him, although his newfound cutter has been able to mitigate the damage to some degree. Regression is likely coming in some form for Miley, and if the Reds sign him, they have to hope that doesn’t mean a return to his 2017 form.

Matt Harvey

(Check out a full rundown on the pros and cons of re-signing Harvey here).

Pros: Once Harvey’s calling card, his fastball velocity ticked up as 2018 moved along and he presumably felt healthier after battling numerous ailments in previous years. He was the Reds’ most consistent starter (although the bar was extremely low) after coming over from the Mets in May, posting his best strikeout and walk rates since 2015. He’s previously been one of the best pitchers in the game and has experience pitching on the game’s biggest stages, with appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

Cons: The aforementioned injury history is going to keep teams from wanting to sign him to a long-term contract. He was also, as a whole, mediocre in 2018 and had two horrific seasons in 2016 and ’17. Harvey is essentially a two-pitch pitcher at this point in his career, and his strikeout rate has suffered for it. His agent is also Scott Boras, who is notorious for demanding top dollar for his clients. That could make any sort of deal difficult if Harvey wants more than his market value.

Anibal Sanchez

Pros: It looked like Sanchez was nearing the end of the road as a major-league pitcher coming into 2018. The right-hander proved the doubters wrong, putting up his best season in four years. Although he was helped by a low BABIP (.255), a tweak to his repertoire helped him limit fly balls (45.0% ground-ball rate) and hard contact while getting more whiffs (10.5% rate) than in any year since 2013. No pitcher with at least 300 batted ball events had a lower average exit velocity than Sanchez (83.7 mph); only Chris Sale had a higher soft-contact rate (26.3%). The change: Sanchez largely ditched his slider and sinker in favor of his cutter, which he threw 23.1% of the time versus 8.6% in 2017. He also threw his changeup — his best swing-and-miss pitch — more regularly.

Cons: Sanchez’s bounce-back came after one of the worst three-year stretches in baseball. From 2015 to 2017, no qualified pitcher had a higher ERA (5.67), and only three surrendered more home runs (85).Sanchez is going to turn 35 before the start of next season. If he keeps throwing as well as he did in 2018, how long can he realistically do it? He’s spent time on the DL in four of the last five seasons, including a stint in 2015 for a rotator cuff issue. The injury risk only rises as pitchers get older. Sanchez has said he wants to play beyond 2019, so he may look to cash in on a multi-year deal like MLB Trade Rumors projects. It would be a risky proposition to sign an aging, injury-prone pitcher to any more than a one-year contract.

Clay Buchholz

Pros: Like Sanchz, Buchholz re-emerged onto the scene in 2018 just when it looked like his career was coming to an end. He became a valuable member of the Diamondbacks’ rotation after he was released by the Royals in early May. For the first time in three years, the right-hander brought his strikeout rate above 20%. The walk rate was the second-best mark of his career. From a pure stuff standpoint, there seems to be plenty left in the tank. Buchholz rediscovered the best version of his cutter to go along with a changeup that boasts a 21.3% whiff rate for his career (19.2% last season). The cut-fastball’s swinging-strike rate was topped by only James Paxton and Max Scherzer. If he focuses his efforts on the cutter-changeup combo while moving away from his ineffective curveball and four-seamer, there’s a lot to like in his repertoire.

Cons: The man simply can’t stay healthy. Buchholz hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings or made more than 25 starts since 2014. He’s only accomplished those feats three times in 12 seasons. While he did spend some time in the minors early in 2018, the injury bug bit him once again as he failed to eclipse 100 innings due to oblique and elbow issues. The peripherals also aren’t in favor of a repeat performance. His strikeout rate, while improved, was still below average; the whiff rate (9.7%) was in a similar boat. The BABIP (.255) was low and the strand rate was unbelievably, unsustainbly high (86.6%). Buchholz’s home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (8.7%) also figures to regress given his below average ground-ball rate (42.1%). Unless he takes a cheap deal, he may not be worth the risk for the Reds, who desperately need dependable starters.

Derek Holland

Pros: That’s right: a third straight pitcher whose career seemed dead in the water and had a resurgence in 2018. Remember that stat about Sanchez having the worst ERA in baseball between 2015 and 2017? Holland was second-worst (5.50). Following a disastrous season with the White Sox, he signed a minor-league deal with the Giants last offseason and wound up leading the rotation in innings pitched. The Newark, Ohio, native went on to post the highest strikeout rate of his career, powered by an uptick in slider usage (17.0% whiff rate), a change in his position on the rubber that helped him get out right-handers, and overall dominance against lefties (.164/.252/.189 and .209 wOBA). Holland tossed a few games out of the bullpen too, which would give the Reds more options (LOOGY, anyone?) if they want to get creative with his usage.

Cons: The recurring theme of the cons section strikes again: questionable health. Holland’s long stretch of ineffectiveness came after numerous left shoulder injuries and a knee surgery. He also had control problems, even if they weren’t to the extent of 2017’s horrendous 12.0% walk rate. Although he features a sinker, Holland is not a ground-ball pitcher in any sense of the word. His GB% has been south of 40% in each of the last three years, which could become problematic at Great American Ball Park. It was only a year ago that he allowed more than two home runs per nine innings; he certainly made improvements to bring that number down, but there’s no discounting the effect AT&T Park had on limiting the long balls. Only five of his 19 home runs allowed came at home.

Drew Pomeranz

Pros: If the Reds want to go for a buy-low candidate, Pomeranz could be the guy, as he likely wants a one-year deal to rebuild his value. Just a year ago, the southpaw capped off his second straight season with a 3.32 ERA following his breakout with the Padres in 2016. The Red Sox counted on him to be a key piece in 2018, but he couldn’t stay healthy and was ultimately left off the postseason roster (he was later added before the World Series but did not pitch). Still, this is a pitcher who had a strikeout rate bordering on elite in 2016 (26.5%) with a lethal high fastball and curveball combo. The talent is there if he can stay healthy and rediscover his velocity.

Cons: There’s no guarantee he returns to form or stays healthy. Although he made more than 30 starts in both 2016 and ’17, injuries consistently popped up along the way. He pitched through forearm soreness two seasons ago, which ultimately led to a decline in performance down the stretch, and underwent similar problems last year. Forearm problems landed him on the DL this year. When healthy enough to pitch in 2018, his velocity was 2 mph lower and his curveball, usually his best out pitch, got shelled. Even if he does return to good health, the lefty’s control problems are risky to take on. In his best years, Pomeranz still walked hitters at a high clip and has a 10.0 BB% for his career. For a team with aspirations of becoming competitive in 2019, the Reds may not want to rely on such an unknown variable. Ultimately, he’d provide more questions than answers for the Reds’ rotation despite the upside.

Jeremy Hellickson

Pros: There’s nothing flashy about Hellickson’s game, but he’s spent the majority of his career hanging around as a No. 5-caliber starter for five different teams. He’s hittable (career 17.4 K%), but he doesn’t compound those mistakes with walks very often. The right-hander matched a personal best with a 5.4% walk rate in 2018 and has a tidy 7.1 BB% for his career. He also managed a 45.9% ground-ball rate — well above his previous high of 42.4% in 2015 — by reducing his four-seam fastball usage and throwing his sinker and curveball more often. That’s quite the contrast from his 2017 campaign in which he gave up 35 dingers, and it paired well with an average exit velocity (86.0 mph) that ranked 22nd among all pitchers with 200 batted ball events.

Cons: Hellickson has been consistently inconsistent throughout his career, alternating between solid seasons and years of utter ineffectiveness. With a fastball that sits in the upper-80s and once-strong changeup with an ever-falling whiff rate, he doesn’t miss many bats. His overall whiff rate has fallen dramatically since 2016. It also remains to be seen whether he can maintain his career-best ground ball rate and prevent a return to his homer-prone ways. He’s a Plan B if the Reds fail to land one of the more attractive pitching options on this list.

Stay tuned for Series 2 to get a look at the Reds’ starting pitching options via trade.

 

Photo Credit: Hayden Schiff

Growing up just north of Cincinnati, Matt has been a Reds fan for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he was often found leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 and imitating his favorite players (Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns) in the backyard. One of his earliest baseball memories is attending the final night game at Cinergy Field. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in the Dayton area. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

33 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    I would absolutely talk to Pomeranz, Harvey, Bucholz and Lynn. Miley looked like an ace toward the end of the year against the Reds, but the numbers don’t show that he was really as good as that small sample size suggested. I think Pomeranz and Bucholz have a high upside if the price is right, but there’s that big IF they can stay healthy. Reminds me of that DeSclafani guy. Lynn and Harvey would be easy to say yes to so long as they don’t demand more than 3 years, and I’d be happy to see any one of those four as the second best starter the Reds acquire this offseason.

    Reply
  2. roger garrett

    Great info Matt.My thoughts are that Cahill is the best fit because of his sinker as you stated.Very hard to keep the ball in the park at GABP and fly ball pitchers won’t get it done unless they have swing and miss stuff.Its almost like you have to learn how to pitch all over again.I will say that guys coming over from the other league do seem to do better.They face 9 hitters each and every game and most have pop vs the pitcher hitting and another weak hitter or two in our league.Lynn’s performance is 2018 to me is directly related to having to face 9 hitters each game after leaving the Cards.He may cost more then is projected because others are looking and we can’t and shouldn’t get into a bidding war.He is interesting though.

    Reply
  3. AMWills

    i’ve always been a fan of Holland (slightly biased because he comes from my hometown and I’m also a Rangers fan) and I think he could be a pretty decent pick up.

    Reply
  4. WVRedlegs

    Good article and a great series you ran.
    This tier is where I think the Reds strike first for a starter. I think it will be Lance Lynn at 2 years / $18M-$20M, not the $16 that is projected. I think Lynn will look forward to the opportunity to pitch several times a season against the Cards. If his second half resurgence in 2018 was due in some part to pitching aggressively inside to hitters, that is a lesson most of the Reds young starters could learn from. He might be worth a little extra money in just that. The Reds and Lynn make a pretty good match.

    Reply
    • Matt Wilkes

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed. I think Lynn is a perfect guy to target as well. He has some risk, but I’d roll the dice if they can get him relatively cheap.

      Reply
  5. Sliotar

    Cahill was not good away from Oakland in 2018. Whether it was the spacious home park, psychological or something else…it was a real thing.

    This series was really well done by Matt. It also points out, to me, that the Tier 1 guys might move the needle for the Reds, but the rest are really fishing, to various degrees.

    Why pay Matt Harvey $11 million to pitch next year, when I could give that slot instead to Tyler Mahle, on a rookie contract, and get a great baseline on what his ceiling could be?

    I feel that question should be posed as a “push-back” against signing any Tier 2 or 3 guy.

    The most important off-season move has likely already occurred. Castellini declaring a record-high payroll and acquiring pitching may set all sorts of unintended consequences in motion.

    Likely has added pressure on front office, and given leverage to any trading partners.

    Reply
    • Matt Wilkes

      Thank you! I agree, there’s nobody that really excites me after Corbin and Keuchel. I think there’s some good value to be had (Kikuchi, Lynn), but none who are going to make the Reds instant contenders. I think they sign one of the Tier 2 or 3 guys and try to get the other pitcher through a trade.

      Reply
    • greenmtred

      You’d sign Harvey or one of the others because there is probably room in the rotation for them without ditching Mahle. For that matter, if the Reds are going to use a different format than traditional starter/reliever roles, there’s possibly even more room.

      Reply
  6. Bill

    Anyone looking for a one year deal would be off my list. I guess a low cost one year contract for someone looking to rebuild value could turn into a really good trade piece at the deadline, but the chances are it doesn’t do much for the team. I would prefer to take a little more risk and sign a multi year deal with someone

    Reply
  7. jgorrell.tcp

    Are we going to see an article for trade candidates? I’d package Greene and Iglesias for Klueber, Hamilton and Downs for Grey, and Disco for prospects. Starting rotation of Klueber, Castillo, Grey, Bailey, and Mahle. Put BobSteve in the pen and tell him he’s got a shot at the closer role. Reed in AAA with the first spot coming open he Takes. Lorenzen, Garrett, and Bob make the new nasty Boys.

    Reply
  8. jreis

    I really like Harvey. he showed poise and was a big reason for the reds brief turn around last year. the reds seemed to “step up their game” when he arrived.
    I hope he is the free agent we get.
    Disco, Harvey and Castillo is a decent front half of the rotation.

    I still believe that our 4 and 5 guys are in our system already.
    between Romano, Mahle, Garret, Finnegan,Reed, Stephenson and Bailey you would think we could squeeze out 2 serviceable starters. and if we can’t we are in trouble as an organization anyway so I think we have to keep working with these guys. maybe the new pitching coach can develop a couple of them.

    Reply
    • Bill

      I don’t have an issue with Harvey at a reasonable rate, but he is not a difference maker.

      Romano and Garret – Bullpen
      Mahle – starter
      Reed – still has a chance, probably starting in Louisville again
      Finnegan – probably is done
      Stephenson and Bailey – These two have run out of chances, but will probably both have roster spots

      Disco, Castillo, and whoever the major acquisition this winter are will be starting. Out of that group fighting for the last two positions you probably get Mahle, Bailey, and a FA with Reed as an option in AAA in case of injury. Romano, Stephenson and Garrett in the bullpen with Lorenzen, Hughes, Iglesias, and Hernandez

      Reply
  9. Matt Hendley

    Good article. I like lynn, maybe, maybe sanchez…. Harvey on a reasonable deal definitely. I guess we will wait and see….and I will wait and see for the trade article as well.

    Reply
    • Matt Wilkes

      I was surprised that I found myself saying maybe on Sanchez, too. Expected to be a firm no before researching him in-depth. His strong peripherals surprised me. But the injury and age risks are real.

      Reply
  10. Bill

    I think the Reds have two options. Sign a FA early on before one of the top guys sign or wait out the market for a deal. If the Reds sign someone from the 2nd tier that they really want early on they might be able to avoid a bidding war with whoever loses out on their first choice, although it still may require a premium. If they wait it out they might find a bargain, but also lose out on who they really want. If I were in charge I would attempt to make the early signing and possibly back load the contract for when Bailey’s contract frees up more salary. Then wait till the end of free agency and shop from the bargain bin and waiver wire in hopes of finding another Gennett or Simon (first time). Then in 2020 you have a little more money to address whatever deficiencies still remain or the flexibility to make a trade if you feel you are just one guy away from competing

    Reply
  11. docproctor

    A few weeks ago, I pulled up Matt Harvey’s game log for 2018 and cherry-picked these stats:

    –Despite not arriving here until mid-May, Harvey had 8 quality starts for the Reds (6 or more innings; 3 or fewer earned runs).
    –In addition to those 8 quality starts, he had 6 other games in which he pitched 5 or more innings and gave up 2 or fewer earned runs. So he had 14 solid starts for a crappy team.
    –He never walked more than 3 batters in a game, and he did that only twice.
    –He struck out 5 or more batters 15 times.
    –He got knocked out of a start before finishing the 4th inning only once as a Red—and he went 3.2 innings in that game. In other words, no KOs in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd innings.

    Although none of these stats make him an ace, he could be a solid piece for the middle of the rotation. I’d like to see the Reds make a play for him.

    Reply
    • greenmtred

      Agree about Harvey. It also may be true that he is going to improve further as he pitches more. They can’t break the bank for him, obviously, but he’s a bit younger than most of the pitchers thought to be available.

      Reply
  12. msanmoore

    Not a starter, but I just saw where Iggy is a Red through 2021 on a fixed deal (no more arb options/risk). The first thing I see about that contract is that it’s easier to trade if necessary.

    Good article. Interesting to see some of the 3rd tier names, especially those who were nearly out of MLB entirely.

    Reply
  13. John B

    Very good article Matt, from this list I like Lynn, then Harvey and probably Holland or Pomerantz. What I would like to see is grabbing a starter like JA Happ (a lefthander) to be our primary acquisition and one of the afformentioned as our second acquisition. With Castillo and DeSclafani as our third and fourth starters, we have 3 or 4 guys to fill out the rotation. No Max Scherzers there but what should be a respectable staff.

    Reply
  14. Scott C

    Each one has high risks, and I hope we don’t go for any of them. I know not everything in trades is controlled by who you want but rather who is available that you can get. Cincinnati is certainly not an attractive place right now for pitchers, perhaps new pitching coach Derek Johnson makes it a more lucrative landing place for some (see Dave Miley, perhaps even Gio Gonzales) but I would rather go with what we have that is cheap rather than pay higher dollars to injury prone or end of career pitchers to be a back end of the rotation pitchers. You never know but that move doesn’t seem prudent to me. Good analysis though Matt. Enjoyed the breakdowns.

    Reply
  15. Matt Hendley

    The thing about this last set (tier 3) is that they can be had for cheap…or at least performance controled by incentives. I can at least see picking someone up that way.

    Reply
  16. VaRedsFan

    Aren’t these the same type of pitchers that RLN writers, Readers, and fans have been complaining about over the last 4 years? Giving multi-year contracts to guys in their early to mid-30’s is not a recipe for rebuilding teams.

    Throw your some resources at trading for higher quality pitchers in their 20’s. Syndergard is available, according to reports. Snell would have been great, but the price might be too high now that he has a cy young. That’s why I was so bullish on him mid-season, before he became famous.

    I’d have no problem putting Senzel and his vertigo in a package for a true #1

    Reply
    • Steve Mancuso

      I’m not crazy about the free agent pool, and some are clearly better than others. But it’s much different paying less for one year than more for multiple years. A bunch of these pitchers are going to end up with 1 or 2 year deals. Not nearly as much risk. That said, bleh.

      Reply
      • VaRedsFan

        True enough. 1 or 2 years is not a bank breaker. Agree on the meh…seems like Scott Feldman types all over again.
        I just hope they don’t throw money at these old guys just because they said they were going to spend more.

  17. Matt Hendley

    I dont know why i didnt think about this for a full day, what about Bartolo Colon?

    Reply
    • greenmtred

      If you’d thought about it for a full day, would you have refrained from suggesting him? On the other hand…

      Reply
  18. Bob Purkey

    Harvey or Cahill at reasonable rate and then trade for another starter. Sanchez @ 35 for 2 years? No thanks. Lynn-never! His walk and hard hit rates are a catastrophe in waiting in GASP. No interest in Pomeranz or Bucholz. Their careers are roller coasters and have as much reliability Homer

    Reply

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