The Cincinnati Reds starting rotation has the makings of a strong force at the top with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer. I touched on that a little bit this morning. Tonight I want to take a look at the other end of the pitching staff: The bullpen.

There’s a saying about bullpens being a bit of a crap shoot from year to year. There just aren’t very many relievers who are consistently good every season. The ones that are tend to be the closers and they cost a lot of money in free agency, or a lot in trade to acquire them via that route. The Reds have their closer already locked up in Raisel Iglesias. Michael Lorenzen has been a mainstay in the bullpen for years. Amir Garrett should have been an All-Star this year, but somehow was left off of the team.

But there are also several guys who got 30+ appearances this year who are no longer on the team. Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, and Zach Duke are no longer in the organization. Wandy Peralta is still in the organization, but he’s back in Triple-A. Overall the bullpen has an ERA of 4.39 on the season for the Reds. That ranks 13th in baseball. But if you take out the performance of those four pitchers who are no longer in the bullpen, the ERA drops from 4.39 to 3.76. That would put rank 5th in Major League Baseball.

Of course other teams have had some players who haven’t lived up to expectations and been released or demoted, too. The point is more to show that the guys that are still around have performed fairly well as a group. But to also take a look at some guys who haven’t been with the team all year who have come up to help, and see if they can perhaps provide more to the established guys.

Lucas Sims has made two starts this year for the Reds, but has pitched out of the bullpen 12 other times. As a start he’s allowed nine runs in 12 innings. He’s been rather dominant out of the bullpen, though. It’s a small sample size, but he’s given up just four runs in 16.0 innings (2.25 ERA) with 25 strikeouts and 9 walks. That’s a few more walks than you’d like to see. But at least right now he’s countering that with a 38.5% strikeout rate as a reliever. If he had enough innings, that would rate out as the 6th best strikeout rate in baseball. His curveball has been a real weapon. Using Fangraphs values per 100 pitches thrown, his curveball grades out as the 3rd best in baseball, trailing only Carson Fulmer and Matt Moore. Neither of them use the pitch nearly as often as Sims.

Just called up last week, Joel Kuhnel had been dominating in the minor leagues all season. The big right-hander posted an ERA of 2.27 in 35.2 innings with Double-A Chattanooga. In 18.0 innings after a promotion to Triple-A he posted an ERA of 2.00. And he did that with 16 walks (3 intentional) and 50 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. He’s only pitched three innings for the Reds so far, so it’s not really even worth discussing the stats at this point (1ER, 2H, 1BB, 2K just in case you were curious). But what is worth discussing is the stuff. According to, he’s topped out at 98.9 MPH. He’s also mixed in both a change up (90 MPH) and a slider (87 MPH).

The wild card here could Cody Reed. It seems that plenty out there still equate Cody Reed with the 2016-2017 version of the left-hander who posted a 6.75 ERA in 65.1 innings for the team while struggling to find the strikezone and giving up tons of home runs. But that isn’t who he is today. In 2018 he posted a 3.98 ERA for the Reds in 43.0 innings while cutting down on the walks and home runs. This season he’s only pitched in 6.1 innings for the Reds, but only allowed one run before injuring his knee. In Triple-A he was dominating, posting a 2.61 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. And he did so while being a ground ball machine. His ground ball rate this year between Cincinnati and Louisville is just over 70%.

Lucas Sims and Cody Reed both have some track record of success to point to in the Major Leagues in recent times. Joel Kuhnel doesn’t, at least year. But he also dominated in the minors and seems to have the stuff to back it up. You never know until you know, but there’s some good evidence that these three pitchers could be difference makers for the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.

14 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Can newcomers help the bullpen? Sure. Can “these” newcomers? Possibly. Will they? We can only see. If so, awesome. If not, that’s something the Reds are going to need to be taking care of. I would think they would definitely be interested in going out and getting at least one lefty. Maybe Reed?

  2. Linkster

    Two stud relievers have to be the priority for 2020. The list here is solid…with the top three being great most of the time. But, two more studs will get them to the playoffs.

  3. Jim Walker

    Looking ahead, the Reds need more consistency and stability in their bullpen because Lorenzen and Garrett both tend to run hot and cold.

    Sims and Reed as a righty and lefty combo might be able to help them in this regard. Also Sims is going to be a lot cheaper in 2020 than Lorenzen who will is making $1+M this year and will be in the 3nd of 4 arb years (Super 2) next season,

  4. AirborneJayJay

    I like Garrett and Lorenzen for the Reds 2020 bullpen. Kuhnel will be a nice addition, I think he is in. Cody Reed will be immensely important for 2020, so he is in. That is 4 locked in to spots.
    Sims I am not so sure about, yet. Still have hopes for him as a starter. Plus, he might serve as a rotation trade piece this winter as the Reds probably start to deal from their pitching depth. Sims just needs to pitch well and give the front office a tough decision to make. Romano fits in here too, as potential rotation depth, a possible bullpen piece, and a possible trade candidate.
    I would love for Reed to get back this season and pitch some down the stretch. Both he and the Reds need that.
    The wild card will be Raisel Iglesias and his new $9MM salary for 2020 (and 2021). His lack of effectiveness early in the season is still fresh in the minds of the front office. Not sure he will be in a Reds uniform in 2020.
    Bullpen arms have to be acquired this winter. That number will be dependent on what transpires between now and when the hot stove league begins. Two, and maybe three will be required. Good ones and not signing relievers to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Will it be a priority with the Reds front office?

  5. Pete

    It’s game 127 and the 126th different line up. Here’s hoping Aquino and Barnhart get off the snide both had been red-hot going into the SD series. Moved Nick down to the 8th spot, possibly to take some pressure off him. Ervin out to make room for Dietrich:

    VanMeter – 7
    Galvis – 4
    Suarez – 5
    Aquino – rf
    Barnhart – 2
    Iglesias – 6
    Dietrich – 3
    Senzel – 8
    DeSclafani – 1

    • Jim Walker

      Ervin did not have a particularly good week to 10 days playing every day.

      I do think that all around PE looks more like a solid MLB player than Winker at this point. That said Winker is not going to sit with his OBP versus RH pitching since there is so much more RH pitching unless the guy he is matched with has an OPS about 125 points higher versus RH pitching than PE currently has. Winker’s long term destination needs to be 1B or DH.

      • Pete

        Agree. I believe it would greatly enhance Jesse’s value. I’m not 100% sold on Ervin as an every day player: however, it would be wonderful if he could. The Reds look pretty good for 2020 but they still need several things to break right for them.

      • Jim Walker

        Ervin needs to be in a high level winter league facing RH pitching till he sees it in his sleep. Or if they can program a pitching machine to mimic RH pitching, he should spend several hours day hitting off of one of them and studying the video.

        Same can also be said of Winker and LH pitching.

  6. RedNat

    what about Mahle? he has not proven that he can make it an entire year as a starter? I just have a gut feeling that he could be a very effective guy out of the pen long term for this team.

  7. Roger Garrett

    Haven’t commented for a couple of days and what I have to say isn’t new.DD I know about and so do the Reds.So it serves no purpose at all for him to start in place of anybody we aren’t sure about such as Ervin.As far as the pitchers its always a hit and miss but for me I am all in on power arms.Kuhnel and Reed play in the pen for sure but Sims may be better suited to starter depth at Louisville.For the balance of this year I use them and Bob Steve in more high leverage situations cause you just can’t have enough of those type of guys.I would also send them back out for inning two if indeed the first inning was good.

    • Indy Red Man

      Don’t trust Reed. Everything he throws is hard and what gets ML lefties out traditionally is slow breaking stuff. I guess you could say Garrett breaks that trend, but he’s much much better then Reed. We’ll see? I agree with you on Stephenson. He can make guys look bad….atleast once thru the lineup. He needs more work in meaningful situations.

  8. Redgoggles

    I think the Reds will move Rasiel this winter, not because of his contract, but because of his (IMO) reluctance, and certainly ineffectiveness in nontraditional closing situations. Clearly Bell, and probably the front office value positional flexibility and I think bullpen flexibility as well. If the return is good, I’m ok with it, especially if RA is fighting them at all on it. Otherwise, I’d say let him excel in the traditional role rather than weaken the bullpen further…..unless you can strengthen other parts of the team with the trade long term, and then buy relievers.

  9. redsfan4life

    Hopefully the newcomers will be given a shot at a few high leverage situations. Not just mop up duty.