Hoover in a Vacuum

Chapman: A Reds' legend who can't be replaced.
Chapman: A Reds’ legend who can’t be replaced.

The Cincinnati Reds troubled themselves with the task of replacing a legend in 2016. With Aroldis Chapman heading towards free agency after this season and the team in rebuilding mode, the front office “cashed-in” by trading the dominant left-hander to the New York Yankees. Due to a pending domestic violence charge, some could argue that they received pennies on the dollar for the talented closer, but dealing Chapman was bound to leave a hole in the club in 2016, regardless of the immediate and future return on the players that the Reds received.

Chapman’s dominance is well documented. Along with Boston’s Craig Kimbrel, who was also acquired in an offseason deal, the closer role has been altered from a player capable of getting two-inning saves, like Mariano Rivera, into a player who has triple-digit, short-burst, maximum effort electricity, who strikes out the side on a nearly nightly basis. When Chapman was called upon in Cincinnati, his career 15.4 K:9 made the stadium light up with delight, while the cameras on everyone’s smartphones would turn to the radar reader to post his pitch-by-pitch brilliance to social media. Then, nine pitches later, after three hitters looked foolish, that one belonged to the Reds.

Hoover has an impossible task Courtesy: Rant Sports
Hoover has an impossible task
Courtesy: Rant Sports

For that reason, J.J. Hoover never had a chance.

Hoover was given the task of replacing a legend. On the heels of the NFL Draft, we saw the Denver Broncos replace the legendary Peyton Manning with Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, which was necessary after the heir apparent, Brock Osweiler, bolted for the Texans and loads of cash – which seems like a brilliant move after watching Matt Flynn and Nick Foles get rich off of a handful of starts, only to flame out as busts, but I digress. Perhaps it is too soon to call Chapman a legend, but his results are certainly worthy of that label. After all, he will certainly earn a spot in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame if the “great” Chris Sabo was able to ride a couple of decent seasons and his rec-specs into the club’s lore.

Hoover won the quasi-competition for the closer’s role for the Reds in spring training, beating out the recently demoted Jumbo Diaz, to earn the role of replacing Chapman. Hoover was very good in 2015 in a setup role, at least on the surface, with a 2.94 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 67 appearances and 64.1 innings; however, he posted a 4.41 FIP and the lowest K:9 of his career (7.3). This came after a disastrous 2014, when Hoover lost 10 games over 54 appearances, posting a 4.88 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 62.2 innings. Of course, he did strike out a career-high 10.8:9 that season, though his FIP was still 4.97. Still, taking out his 2014 season as the outlier, Hoover had been a very good relief pitcher for Cincinnati, including a 2.73 ERA over 164 appearances and 161 innings.

MemeUnfortunately, the 2016 season has been hellacious for Hoover. He has faced 48 batters, allowing 16 hits, walking six of them, and giving up a whopping five homers over 10 appearances and 8.2 innings. His 15.58 ERA and 2.53 WHIP have helped pace the Cincinnati bullpen in ineptitude. The Reds’ bullpen ranks dead last in ERA by nearly a half a run (6.29) and they have given up 19 home runs in 83 innings. Even the Braves could hit home runs off of the Reds bullpen! In those 83 innings, the Reds’ bullpen has given up more home runs than eight teams entire pitching staffs.

The responsibility of replacing Aroldis Chapman fell on J.J. Hoover, but the Reds and their fans should have known that there wasn’t really a chance of that happening. There are very few times that greatness is immediately replaced by something similar or superior, even with recent replacements like Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Andrew Luck for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. The Reds had a similar task. The Reds also had the task of fielding a competitive team, compiling a group of 25 men who could lead them to a World Series. Instead, they took the business side of baseball and focused on bobbleheads, going into rebuild mode and saving money over putting a quality product on the field. That is not J.J. Hoover’s fault. The bullpen was in shambles all offseason and ownership chose to plug in parts instead of addressing the team’s true needs.

J.J. Hoover is struggling in a role that he wasn’t guaranteed to ever have success in. He has never been a closer, despite filling that role when Chapman needed a day off to earn five career saves going into the 2016 season. There have been plenty of excellent relievers who have moved to the closer’s role and failed in the past. Hoover has simply been miscast in a role that he isn’t fit to hold. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, there isn’t anyone better for that position. Hoover doesn’t need time in Triple-A, he doesn’t need to be cut, and he doesn’t need to be traded by Cincinnati. Hoover simply needs to be put back into the role that he had success in.

Hoover doesn’t “suck”, Hoover, in a vacuum, is an excellent middle reliever and setup man, but he isn’t a closer.

 

Cincinnati Reds: An Interesting Winter Ahead

Is Chapman going to be on the move?
Is Chapman going to be on the move?

The Cincinnati Reds have spent some time this offseason shaking things up, promoting Walt Jocketty to President of Baseball Operations, while moving Dick Williams to General Manager and Senior Vice President. After a horrific 64-98, last place finish, it is fair to wonder if Dick Williams was promoted to be the “fall guy” for the firesale that appears to be on its way over the next several months. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday that the Reds appear ready to deal LHP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Brandon Phillips, OF Jay Bruce, and 3B Todd Frazier, or, at least, are ready to listen on offers. When considering Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini’s long-time friendship with Jocketty, perhaps the legacy that this revamping would leave on Jocketty’s name and resume was the motive for the sudden change in guard at the top of the personnel side of the club. Still, it remains a confusing time to be a Cincinnati fan.

At the midpoint of the 2015 season and up through the All-Star break, Cincinnati was very quiet, dealing OF Marlon Byrd and eventual free agents, RHP Johnny Cueto and RHP Mike Leake, for controllable, young talent in deals with Kansas City and San Francisco. When I was reviewing the Cueto deal on July 26th, I stated:

Cincinnati fans need to understand that this is just the beginning of several changes. If Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, and Marlon Byrd are still with the team on August 1st, Walt Jocketty is doing it wrong. This team hasn’t won a World Series since 1990, and those players aren’t going to bring another to Cincinnati. Scrap it and start over.

Well, the good news is that Byrd was dealt. The bad news is, the remaining players are still on the roster. Jocketty did it wrong. He would have been able to “cash-in” on the additional time that club’s would have had with Chapman and Bruce, in particular. The All-Star Game in Cincinnati was over and it was clear that the team was heading in the wrong direction. If there is someone in the organization who thinks that losing Cueto and Leake to free agency, getting Devin Mesoraco back and getting 150 innings out of Homer Bailey, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery, was going to make the Reds contenders in 2016, they need to be put in a rubber room and removed from their roles…immediately.

Dick Williams seems like a great guy. I met him at the Reds Caravan the last two winters, and he has been with the club since 2006. Maybe he has what it takes to pull the club out of the cellar, but it is going to be a very lengthy process. The prospects that they could receive from dealing Chapman, Bruce, and/or Frazier would certainly help the rebuilding process, but the Reds won’t improve overnight.

Votto will carry a putrid supporting cast...again.
Votto will carry a putrid supporting cast…again.

The problem in Cincinnati will remain the same. Joey Votto will be able to get on base and no one will be able to drive him in. The pitching, even after all of those rookies started so many games in 2015, shows glimpses of hope, but the team needs production from eight players in the lineup to outscore the opposition. Only four teams scored fewer runs than the Reds in 2015, but the Cueto, Leake, and Byrd deals brought…pitchers. Pitchers and a first baseman, Adam Duvall, who might be useful if he can play a position that Joey Votto isn’t supposed to be playing, in a league without a designated hitter.

Dick Williams has a huge problem. He, like Wayne Krivsky and Dan O’Brien before him, will be expected to fix a mess that was left for him, and he will, likely, not be given the time necessary to really turn it all around. Cincinnati should be very busy in the coming days at the GM Meetings, but it is fair to question whether the minds at the top have changed enough to really impact the club in a positive way moving forward. Fans can only hope.

 

How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

Pitchers Who Won’t Come Up Short

Maddux1Too small, too fat, too slow, too skinny. These are just a few of the labels that players are given to create an industry-wide opinion as to who will, won’t, can, or can’t achieve success in Major League Baseball. However, when you consider that Chicago Cubs’ scout Duffy Dyer said that Greg Maddux wasn’t “strong enough to be a starter” in his scouting report in 1985, it would become quite easy to question those so-called brilliant minds within baseball’s organizations. We all know now that Maddux would go on to win 355 games in his career, becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame member in the Baseball Writers Association of America’s vote from earlier this month.

After spending some time collecting easily attainable data, it became evident that scouts are still on a warpath when it comes to the ideal body of a major league pitcher, thinking that the strong, 6’4″, 205 to 235 pound frame that came along with Roger Clemens, is the “norm” for all starting pitchers. How soon scouts forget the apparent aid that Clemens was receiving to maintain his large trunk-like legs and tremendous fastball into his 40’s, while assuming that there aren’t pitchers hovering around the 6′, 170 pounds that Maddux took to the mound during his career. Pitchers continue to look more like small forwards and shooting guards in the NBA, possessing enough size to make Spud Webb run in fear, while going eye-to-eye with LeBron James.

But, why does the philosophy of monster starting pitchers continue to be such an industry-wide ideal when you consider the data that is out there and the names who have proven that bigger isn’t always better?

When taking a look at the most valuable starting pitchers in the history of baseball (based on Baseball Reference WAR), you can see, below, that the average height and weight of the top 25 pitchers in baseball history is 72.68 inches (6’0″) and 186.96 pounds.

HOF SP

Comparatively, the top 25 starting pitchers from 2011 through the 2013 season look like this:

11 to 13 SP

Certainly, the philosophies that have big, strong pitchers has driven the average height and weight of starting pitchers from the long-term success, Hall of Fame caliber 6′, 187 pounds to the nearly 6’4″, 218 pound forces who toe the rubber today.

The innings, number of pitches, and dominant strikeout totals are clearly different today, but the dominant, powerful arms weren’t just limited to today, and certainly not to those who stand approximately 76 inches tall. Year round training, supplements (legal and illegal), and the millions made playing baseball allow today’s athlete the opportunity to focus on their bodies and their long-term success and care, but are they truly better off than those who came before them?

fellerBob Feller was 6′, 185 pounds and possessed an impressive fastball, posting a Fifty Foot Equivalent of 107.6 miles per hour, the second fastest fastball ever. Having missed three seasons due to serving in World War II, Feller still accumulated 266 wins and over 2,500 strikeouts while missing his age-23 through age-25 seasons. If you take away the nine starts that Feller had in 1945, upon his return from war, and the three seasons that he missed while fighting, from 1938 through 1951, ten full seasons, Feller posted a 211-118 record, pitched in 403 games, logged 2,896 innings, and tossed 224 complete games for the Cleveland Indians. Feller’s career derailed shortly thereafter, as he never reached 200 innings after his age-32 season (1951), and he retired in 1956 at the age of 37.

One could argue that with today’s monitoring of pitcher workloads, Feller may have held onto his stuff, strikeout rates, and career a bit longer. But another argument is that Feller never would have been in the majors at the age of 17, as he was in 1936, and that he may have been a bullpen arm due to his small stature.

After all, when pitchers have electric stuff, like an Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball, isn’t it presumed that it is quite unlikely that said pitcher’s stuff could hold up over 100 pitches and 200 innings, which is why Aroldis Chapman is pitching in relief still? Chapman, after all, is 6’4″, 205 pounds, nearly the epitome of an ideally built staff ace.

But I digress.

LincecumFor so long, labels have been slapped on pitchers to say that they are bullpen bound, not durable enough to start, or unable to repeat mechanics due to unorthodox deliveries or release points. With Whitey Ford (5’10”, 236 wins, 1974 Hall of Fame) and Pedro Martinez (5’11”, 219 wins, on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot) leading the ranks of “tiny”, dominant arms, there will be others following current shorties like Tim Lincecum (5’11”, two-time Cy Young winner), Craig Kimbrel (5’11”, 138 saves and 341 strikeouts over his last 206.2 innings), Kris Medlen (5’10”, 30-13, 2.96 ERA in 61 starts), and Johnny Cueto (5’11”, 33-16, 2.61 ERA over his last 68 starts and 433.2 innings).

Here are some short future stars to keep an eye on in coming seasons:

 

Royals RHP: Yordano Ventura
Royals RHP: Yordano Ventura

Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 5’11”, 180 pounds

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: 5’9″, 185 pounds

Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 5’11”, 160 pounds (he’s only 17)

Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets: 6’0″, 170 pounds

Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins: 6’0″, 187 pounds

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: 5’10”, 190 pounds

Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners: 6’0″, 255 pounds

C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago Cubs: 6’2″, 155 pounds (already has the too skinny label, but he can blow it by everyone in the minors)

For more information on short starting pitchers and their tall impact on baseball, visit these links:

http://sabr.org/research/does-pitcher-s-height-matter

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20110406&content_id=17470084&c_id=mlb

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/413684-you-must-be-this-tall-to-dominate-mlb-the-12-best-pitchers-ever-u

 

Give Me More Mike Marshall

Rivera1The Major League Baseball bullpen is a place that is littered with flamed out former starting pitchers, pitchers who have a niche for getting a certain type of player out when matched up properly, and guys that get paid millions of dollars to close out games, utilizing the false value of the save statistic to present himself as valuable within the game.

Certainly, the top closers in baseball history have had value to their teams, but how much? Consider the top 10 relief pitchers in the save category in baseball history:

Name Saves Games Innings Pitched IP/G
Mariano Rivera 645 1092 1217.2 1.11
Trevor Hoffman 601 1034 1089.1 1.05
Lee Smith 478 1015 1252.1 1.23
John Franco 424 1119 1245.2 1.11
Billy Wagner 422 853 903 1.06
Dennis Eckersley 390 710 807.1 1.14
Jeff Reardon 367 880 1132.1 1.29
Troy Percival 358 702 707.2 1.01
Randy Myers 347 716 814.1 1.14
Rollie Fingers 339 899 1553.1 1.73
Courtesy: kffl.com
Courtesy: kffl.com

Rollie Fingers pitched in a different era, but you could say the same for Lee Smith and Jeff Reardon. Relief pitchers used to pitch more innings and they were more valuable to their clubs because of their extended  appearances. When Fingers led the league in saves in 1977 with 35, he made 78 appearances and pitched 132.1 innings (1.7 IP/G) while facing 543 batters. Last season, Craig Kimbrel led the NL in saves, 42, while making 63 appearances and pitching 62.2 innings (0.99 IP/G) while facing 231 batters. How much more valuable could he have been for Atlanta last season by pitching 1.11 IP/G?

He would have reached just 70 innings but Kimbrel was striking out 16.7 K/9, so he could have struck out an additional 13-14 batters, which could have killed another rally or won the Braves another couple of games. If Kimbrel was worth 3.3 WAR last year and he had taken innings away from Jonny Venters, who had a 0.4 WAR, his WAR could have increased to 3.6, which may or may not have counted in the wins column, but why wouldn’t you want your best reliever in a game in the most valuable moments?

Marshall1Which leads us to former journeyman relief pitcher Mike Marshall. Marshall won the Cy Young award in 1974 when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made 106 appearances, led the NL with 21 saves, and pitched a whopping 208.1 innings out of the bullpen! Sure, the league leader in innings pitched in 1974 was Nolan Ryan, who made 41 starts and accumulated 332.2 innings with his 26 complete games, but the next closest pitcher in appearances was Burt Hooten, who had 48.

Marshall pitched in exactly 700 games out of the bullpen (he made 24 career starts) and he pitched 1259.1 innings, good for 1.8 IP/G. For all of those failed starting pitchers who sit in bullpens around the league, why aren’t more teams utilizing them differently? What if pitchers who dominate in earlier innings but struggle later in the game were able to pitch two to three times each week out of the bullpen with a four-man rotation?

For example:

Jose Quintana, the Chicago White Sox left-hander, has a 2.73 ERA over his first 75 pitches in a game. After that point, Quintanta has a 6.26 ERA.

A.J. Griffin, the Oakland Athletics right-hander, has a 3.08 ERA over his first 75 pitches in a game with a 5.74 ERA from pitch 76 on.

Tyler Chatwood, the Colorado Rockies right-hander, has a 2.94 ERA over his first 75 pitches, followed up by a 4.11 ERA from pitch 76 on.

Even more prolific starters fall into this type of split:

Madison Bumgarner – first 75 pitches 1.99 ERA, 76+ pitches 5.24 ERA

Mat Latos – first 75 pitches 2.37 ERA, 76+ pitches 4.53 ERA

Obviously, as a starting pitcher goes deeper into the game, they are likely to get tired, but the multiple times that the hitters see the pitchers will impact the success of the opposition, as well. However, why aren’t there more teams utilizing their 25-man roster differently?

The Minnesota Twins utilize Anthony Swarzak in a Marshall-like role, as he has pitched 73 innings over 37 appearances (1.97 IP/G) and the Arizona Diamondbacks do the same with Josh Collmenter, who has pitched 78.1 innings over 37 appearances (2.18 IP/G), but with so many extra inning games and the need to roster flexibility, why aren’t more teams going to a five or six man bullpen featuring rubber arms that can be used for several innings per appearance?

Chapman2Sure, teams need to be careful with their investments and the days of your starters tossing 300 innings and 25 or more complete games in a season are long gone, but why waste a roster spot on a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) when you can utilize your other arms in a different way? With all of these young starters, like Stephen Strasburg last year and Matt Harvey this year, reaching innings limits, wouldn’t the Marshall-like relief pitcher help a team keep that solid, young arm effective into the playoffs by keeping outings short?

The one inning closer may not ever go away again, Lord knows that agents and the Players Union wouldn’t be too keen on the idea of eliminating the role, but maybe paying big-time money to a pitcher that doesn’t impact a significant part of the game wouldn’t be such a bad idea for clubs. Do you think Aroldis Chapman tossing two to three innings per outing would be good or bad for the Reds, especially during a Latos start based on the statistics above?

Looking Ahead: The 2014 Cincinnati Reds

Votto1While I write about as much of baseball as I can, I always come back to my hometown Cincinnati Reds, a team that I grew up watching that I continue to root for. I’m fairly certain that the 2013 season will end in some sort of playoff appearance, likely a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but I am also not too confident in the club reaching the World Series this season, either. You can say that I am a “doubting Thomas” if you want, but with the talent in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles this season, I just don’t see the Reds going very far. For that reason, I wanted to take a look ahead to the 2014 season to see what the club could look like.

The club has a lot of money invested in Joey Votto going forward, but the $20-25 million annual salaries won’t start until 2016. Below is the payroll breakdown for 2014, featuring expected arbitration figures (courtesy Baseball Reference):

Age 2013 2014
Joey Votto 29 $17M $12M
Brandon Phillips 32 $10M $11M
Jay Bruce 26 $7.5M $10M
Bronson Arroyo 36 $16.45M FA
Johnny Cueto 27 $7.4M $10M
Aroldis Chapman 25 $2M $3M
Jonathan Broxton 29 $4M $7M
Sean Marshall 30 $4.5M $5.5M
Ryan Ludwick 34 $2M $8.5M
Mat Latos 25 $4.25M $7.25M
Shin-Soo Choo 30 $7.38M FA
Nick Masset 31 $3.1M FA
Homer Bailey 27 $5.35M Arb-3
Ryan Hanigan 32 $2.05M Arb-3
Jack Hannahan 33 $1M $1M
Mike Leake 25 $3.06M Arb-2
Logan Ondrusek 28 $950k $1.35M
Chris Heisey 28 $1.32M Arb-2
Manny Parra 30 $1M FA
Alfredo Simon 32 $890k Arb-2
Cesar Izturis 33 $800k FA
Zack Cozart 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Todd Frazier 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Sam LeCure 29 $510k Arb-1
Xavier Paul 28 $505k Arb-1
Devin Mesoraco 25 $497.5k Pre-Arb-3
J.J. Hoover 25 $492.5k Pre-Arb-2
Corky Miller 37 Arb
Henry Rodriguez 23
Tony Cingrani 23
Pedro Villarreal 25
Justin Freeman 26
Donald Lutz 24
Curtis Partch 26
Derrick Robinson 25
Neftali Soto 24
Shin-Soo Choo Shin-Soo Choo traded to/from Cleveland Indians -$3.5M
Ryan Madson Ryan Madson buyout $2.5M
2013 2014
Signed Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options) *27 11
Dollars Committed Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts) *$104.1M $76.6M
Contract Options Players with any type of option
Option Values Maximum value of options if all are exercised
Arb Eligible Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, “Arb” players = 3rds) 2-3-2-0
Arb Costs Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..) $19.3M
Other Players Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised) 7
Other Costs Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players) $3.5M
Payroll (no options) Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Payroll (options) Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2013.

With the depth that the club has in starting pitching, barring another lost season from supposed ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds can afford to let Bronson Arroyo walk via free agency, unless, of course, he is willing to take a dramatic pay-cut in his age-37 season. How does the club look as far as depth overall?

Based on the current 40-man roster:

Players reaching free agency – (5) – Arroyo, Manny Parra, Nick Masset, Cesar Izturis, and Shin-Soo Choo

Starting Pitchers – (8) – Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, Daniel Corcino, and Ismael Guillon

Relief Pitchers – (13) – Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Nick Christiani, Justin Freeman, JJ Hoover, Sam LeCure, Kyle Lotzkar, Logan Ondrusek, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Alfredo Simon, and Pedro Villareal (has been pitching in relief recently).

Catchers – (3) – Devin Mesoraco, Ryan Hanigan, and Corky Miller

Infielders – (7) – Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Jack Hannahan, Henry Rodriguez, and Neftali Soto

Outfielders – (7) – Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Donald Lutz, Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, and Yorman Rodriguez

Sizemore1

The loss of Shin-Soo Choo is pretty dramatic considering the skills that he has provided as the leadoff hitter for the Reds, as he is 2nd to Votto in on-base percentage in the National League. His production will have to be replaced, but who can provide the same skills. The Reds were likely hoping for another excellent season from Billy Hamilton, one of the team’s top prospects, in Triple-A Louisville this season, but, while he has stolen 73 bases, he is hitting just .259/.311/.347 after stealing 155 bases and hitting .311/.410/.420 in 2012 over two levels. If the Reds aren’t going to be in on Choo in free agency due to costs, it is also unlikely that they would make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson. However, the club could look to a reclamation project in center to pair with Hamilton, such as: Chris Young (who has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, coming off of an unspectacular season but still possessing plenty of skills), Franklin Gutierrez ($7.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout, coming off of another injury-filled season but still a solid defender with occasional right-handed pop), or, my wife’s favorite, Grady Sizemore (a player well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries stole his ability to stay on the field). Certainly, the club has had decent production, at times, out of Paul, Heisey, and Robinson this season, as they platooned in left field and kept the Reds in contention when Ludwick was out for several months, but they would need to upgrade from that group in center to come close to replacing Choo’s production.

Due to the recent elbow surgery that Jonathan Broxton had to undergo and Sean Marshall‘s inability to pitch for most of the 2013 season, the Reds may need a couple of back-end bullpen arms to pave the way to their shutdown closer, Aroldis Chapman. Bullpens are tough to predict and it wouldn’t be a good idea to invest in another large, multi-year deal (as they did with Broxton) this offseason. Some relievers who will become available may include: Javier Lopez, Rich Hill, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Frasor, and Joe Smith.

Additional items the Reds may want to address this coming offseason:

  • Lock up Mat Latos to an extension. Latos is due $7.25 million in 2014 and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency prior to the 2016 season. Would the Reds be willing to commit to Latos at five-years, $65 million and is that enough to keep Latos in Cincinnati?
  • Due to Tony Cingrani relying so heavily on his fastball, what can the club do to enhance his secondary pitches so that he can have extended success as a starter? Is he a relief pitcher long-term? With Broxton and Marshall coming off of injury, would it be wise to commit to Cingrani in a set-up role?
  • Should the club re-sign Bronson Arroyo to a one-year deal to keep a rotation spot warm for Robert Stephenson or should they gamble on Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, or Daniel Corcino next season as the No.5 starter? If they look elsewhere in free agency, are pitchers like Colby Lewis, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez (if he voids his $8 million option) better options than Arroyo?
  • Who is the catcher? Should the Reds truly commit to the offensive potential within the bat of Devin Mesoraco or continue to share the duties between Mesoraco and Hanigan at nearly 50-50?

Cincinnati has a pretty bright future, having locked up Votto, one of the top 15 players in baseball, to be the cornerstone of the franchise, while having solid pieces within the rotation and plenty more talent on the way. Hamilton, Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen are going to rise quickly through the organization, just in time for the Reds current 2015 championship window.

2013 MLB Mid-Season Top Relievers

RiveraRelief pitchers grow on trees, or that is what some people think. Being a relief pitcher is tough work. Relief pitchers get brought into games in situations that leave them destined to fail, while being held accountable (thanks to the inherited runner statistics) for allowing runners, who weren’t their responsibility, to score. On most nights, relief pitchers need to get between one to three outs, but there are still some multiple inning types out there that have established tremendous value for themselves and their clubs. For the guys who only get one inning or are stuck in the middle, this is your day. This is a list of the top relievers in baseball at mid-season.

Top Five Shutdown Closers (95 percent or higher save percentage):

Chapman2Top 10 Most Capable of Dominance (based on K/9):

GrilliTop 10 Most Valuable (based on WAR):

SmylyTop Five Multiple Inning Relievers (based on IP, ERA, WHIP)

  • Anthony Swarzak, Twins: 23 G, 52.2 IP, 3.08 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
  • Drew Smyly, Tigers: 29 G, 49 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
  • Tommy Hunter, Orioles: 31 G, 44.1 IP, 2.03 ERA, 0.86 WHIP
  • Justin Wilson, Pirates: 29 G, 44.1 IP, 2.23 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
  • Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks: 20 G, 42.2 IP, 2.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP

Top Five vs. RH (based on AVG. against, min. 10 IP):

  • Alex Torres, Rays: 14.1 IP, 20/5 K/BB, .065 AVG, 0.56 WHIP
  • Neal Cotts, Rangers: 11.2 IP, 11/2 K/BB, .105 AVG, 0.51 WHIP
  • Luke Hochevar, Royals: 16.1 IP, 21/5 K/BB, .115 AVG, 0.67 WHIP
  • Tommy Hunter, Orioles: 22.1 IP, 23/5 K/BB, .118 AVG, 0.63 WHIP
  • Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners: 18.1 IP, 15/7 K/BB, .119 AVG, 0.76 WHIP

Odd to see Torres and Cotts up so high here given that they are both left-handed.

Top Five vs. LH (based on AVG. against, min. 10 IP):

  • Ernesto Frieri, Angels: 19 IP, 33/13 K/BB, .109 AVG., 1.05 WHIP
  • Carlos Marmol, FREE AGENT/CUBS (YES, THAT GUY!!!): 13.1 IP, 20/8 K/BB, .119 AVG, 0.98 WHIP
  • Koji Uehara, Red Sox: 18.2 IP, 27/6 K/BB, .125 AVG, 0.75 WHIP
  • Luis Avilan, Braves: 16.1 IP, 12/4 K/BB, .127 AVG, 0.67 WHIP
  • Kevin Gregg, Cubs: 14 IP, 16/5 K/BB, .133 AVG, 0.79 WHIP

All but Avilan are right-handed and Marmol has the reverse split that some teams should look out for when he clears waivers.

TorresAbsurd Random Reliever Statistics:

  • Alex Torres, of the Rays, has a 0.39 ERA, a 0.57 WHIP, and a .080 average against while posting a 31/7 K:BB in 23 innings.
  • Neal Cotts, of the Rangers, has a 0.41 ERA in 19 innings after posting a 5.06 ERA over 155 appearances with the Cubs and White Sox between 2006 and 2009 and not spending a single day in the majors from 2010 through 2012.
  • From April 10th to June 27, Rex Brothers, of the Rockies, appeared in 32 games and tossed 30 straight scoreless innings. He has a 0.52 ERA this season, having allowed two runs all year.

How many of these relief pitchers will keep up this type of dominance? In such an unpredictable role, some of the same names on this list will be cursed by fans for blowing a single game. The joys of being a professional athlete.