David Bell didn’t waste any time giving Reds fans a glimpse at his bullpen management in 2019. On Opening Day, he pulled Luis Castillo early in the sixth, used multiple pitchers based on match-ups, and gave Raisel Iglesias every opportunity to earn a two inning save. Unfortunately, Iglesias walked two of the first three batters he faced in the ninth, and Bell had to bring in Amir Garrett and David Hernandez to secure the win.

However, it’s encouraging to see Bell open to the idea of using Iglesias in multiple innings. Since suffering shoulder fatigue as a starter in 2016, Iglesias has embraced the closer role. But the Reds haven’t done the best job in trying to maximize his value as a relief pitcher. Neither Bryan Price nor Jim Riggleman did it enough. Iglesias pitched only 20.1 innings in the eighth in 2017 and 11.2 innings in the eighth in 2018. Price was more likely to bring him in for the four out save, instead of letting him pitch two full innings. He hasn’t been given much of a chance to prove what he can do in multiple innings. That realistically could change in 2019.

Iglesias’ first chance at showing what he can do in multiple innings didn’t go so well though. On Thursday, he walked two and allowed a solo home run to left-handed hitter Corey Dickerson while striking out one in 1.1 innings. Diving deeper into the stats shows that Iglesias struggles when he gives up hits early in the innings he pitches.

Home Runs

In 2018, Iglesias gave up 12 home runs in 72.0 innings, the most of his career. Ten of the 12 home runs he surrendered came with the bases empty, and seven of those 10 came with no outs. In 2017, Iglesias allowed five home runs in 76.0 innings, three of which came with the bases empty. Dickerson’s home run Thursday led off the eighth, on a sinker that was belt high and inside.

Of his four pitches–four seamer, sinker, slider, and change-up, Iglesias usually throws the four seamer most often, followed closely by the sinker. Early in his career, he threw the sinker more than the four seamer. From late 2016 to 2017, he started throwing the four seamer more, but has since gone back to the sinker as his preferred pitch.  In 2018, most of the home runs he gave up came off his sinker.

Hitters tend to hit home runs against Iglesias when his pitches are in the middle of the zone. Usually it’s because he tries to sneak a fastball by them on the first few pitches. When those pitches are belt high and in the middle of the plate, major league hitters don’t miss, even if his fastball averages 95 mph. It was evident on Thursday and it was evident Monday night when Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun both got base hits off his four-seam fastball.

Also in 2018, Iglesias’ first pitch swing percentage was 31.3%. The MLB average checked in at 28.0, so more hitters were swinging on the first pitch off him than the average pitcher last year. It seems hitters wait for the sinker and crush the first one they see. Once he gets deeper into counts, he starts throwing the slider and changeup more, depending on if it’s a right handed hitter or a left handed hitter. They have a much harder time with those pitches, as he strikes out 48.6% of hitters with his slider.

Walks

Iglesias struggled with walks on Thursday as well. He doesn’t walk too many hitters–his BB% has ranged from 8.0% to 8.8% each of the last three years. And while his home runs come early in innings, he tends to walk hitters later in innings. Thirteen of the 25 walks he gave up in 2018 came with two outs. He tends to walk hitters when throwing his four-seamer. His BB% is 22.2% off the four-seamer compared to 7.2% off the sinker. He rarely walks hitters from his off-speed pitches, likely because he can get hitters to swing and miss at those.

From both charts, it’s clear the fastball hasn’t been working nearly as much as the slider and changeup. Even more surprising is how much his home runs and walks jumped up in one year off his fastball. The result is an increased FIP of 4.23 in 2018, up from 2.70 in 2017.

Iglesias is one of the best pitchers on the roster, and it’s the reason Bell will go to him in the highest leverage situations. Yes, he has struggled to start the season, but Iglesias’ woes can be fixed. His breaking stuff has been really good. If he can avoid throwing fastballs across the middle of the plate, he can get back to the kind of dominance Reds fans are used to seeing.

15 Responses

  1. ToBeDetermined

    Those charts are pretty fuzzy on my screen. So I can’t tell what your trying to tell me.
    I don’t know if it’s just my computer or they can be reloaded
    thank you

    • Steve Mancuso

      Tried a quick fix. They’re a bit better now.

  2. WVRedlegs

    Thank you Ashley. But it doesn’t address his drop in velocity. Many times in spring training his fastball sat at 92. On Opening Day he was pretty consistent at 95-96 and hitting 98 once or twice. Then last night he is back around 92. He isn’t purposefully varying the speed on his fastball. Braun smacked the Commissioner’s name off of the baseball on his double off Iglesias. That won the game. Something isn’t right with Iglesias. There is more to come on this front, I’m afraid.

    • ToBeDetermined

      WV

      “smacked the Commissioner’s name off of the baseball” 🙂

    • Ashley Davis

      I was focusing more on where he’s been locating his pitches, but I agree, the drop in velocity is definitely a concern.

  3. matthew hendley

    Agreed, are we sure he isn’t hurt. Location could be a weather thing, but Speed could be an injury thing.

    • ToBeDetermined

      Matthew
      Back when I was pitching in HS I just couldn’t get real loose and my velocity was down on those really cold days.
      Brantley was saying that Hader’s velocity last night wasn’t as high as last year either.

      But, then again, Iglesias’s velocity wasn’t that much better when he was in Arizona, with better weather.
      Seems like something is going on here.

  4. Daryll

    You don’t have to “dive deep” to find that every pitcher struggles when giving up hits or walks to early hitters….maybe we should put an asterisk beside some of these stats so that people with just a modicum of common sense can make a decision to skip to the next paragraph.

  5. Sliotar

    Nice writing, Ashley.

    An overlay to your data and it is a small sample size, but that is all there for the most part with relievers.

    Iglesias has been the closer for 2 full seasons, 2017 and 2018.

    During that time, other than 1 inning in the 6th, and less than 3 total in extra innings, every other appearance has been in either the 8th or 9th inning.

    Yet the results between the 8th and 9th inning are different….

    https://www.fangraphs.com/splitstool.aspx?playerid=17130&position=P&splitArr=51&strgroup=season&statgroup=2&startDate=all&endDate=all&filter=&statType=player&autoPt=true&players=&sort=-1,1

    https://www.fangraphs.com/splitstool.aspx?playerid=17130&position=P&splitArr=52&strgroup=season&statgroup=2&startDate=all&endDate=all&filter=&statType=player&autoPt=true&players=&sort=-1,1

    8th Inning
    2017 IP 20.1 K/9 10.6 BB/9 5.3 WHIP 1.18 xFIP 4.64
    2018 IP 11.2 K/9 9.3 BB/9 5.4 WHIP 1.63 xFIP 4.89

    9th Inning
    2017 IP 52 K/9 10.9 BB/9 2.6 WHIP 1.06 xFIP 2.73
    2018 IP 54 K/9 10.3 BB/9 2.2 WHIP 0.87 xFIP 2.98

    Not perfectly clean data, because of when he came in, game situation, etc…but it does raise the question…has Iglesias thought of himself as a “9th inning” guy and is this season going to be affected by the transition?

    He would not be the first “9th inning guy” self-identifier, not by far. Kimbrel has been noted as one, perhaps that is why he is struggling to get back into MLB, as teams want to see what they already have early on without compromising to him.

    Just an idea, not something I feel with any conviction. While I understand the plan, it does feel a little weird to me seeing Iglesias coming into games earlier, especially because I have zero faith in the rest of the bullpen.

    • Ashley Davis

      Thanks! There’s definitely a noticeable difference between his eighth and ninth inning stats. I could have gone more in detail about that, but it was already getting rather long.

      There could be something to some pitchers only performing well in the 9th. I too haven’t thought about it a lot. But if that’s been Iglesias’ mindset for two years, it might be hard to adjust to working more than one inning.

      • ToBeDetermined

        Ashley
        Hopefully a deeper dive is not necessary and Iggy will show us that this is just an aberration.

  6. Old-school

    Iglesias did not pitch in ST until Monday March 4th, ten games into the pre-season. I remember MB asking DB the day before in pregame why Iglesias had not pitched. He said Iglesias approached DJ early in ST and wanted to work on some things and they developed a ST plan for him.

    The question would be why was Iglesias so late to pitch in ST and is there a health issue.

    • Jay

      Very concerning. Pitch location does not worry me as much as a possible drop in velocity. Is he masking a possible injury? He looked upset more than usual after giving up that Braun double, like he was worried. I hope Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham are looking into this.