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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ and should Ã¢â‚¬â€ the team target?
Tier 3 (Back-End starters)
Pros:Ã‚Â 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%).Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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 isÃ‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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 cutterÃ‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
(Check out a full rundown on the pros and cons of re-signing HarveyÃ‚Â here).
Pros:Ã‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
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:Ã‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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 rubberÃ‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.
Pros:Ã‚Â 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:Ã‚Â 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.