The lowly Reds swept the mighty Nationals this weekend without the services of Johnny Cueto. Was it a glimpse into the future in Cincinnati?
The Cincinnati Reds just swept the Washington Nationals on the backs of three rookie starting pitchers. But barring some extended run of their own, Reds brass are likely still making plans for two vital arms in the rotation whose contracts expire at the end of the season. It’s highly unlikely the Reds extend Johnny Cueto. You’d probably have better odds winning the Toyota truck that’s been parked in center since 2008 than seeing Cueto pitch in a Reds uniform next season. The right-handed ace may joke about a $300 million deal, but he aims to be out of the Reds’ price range.
Evidently, after Cueto goes, the Reds won’t be without starting pitching talent. If the weekend was anything more than just a productive series, it could’ve been a glimpse into how competitive the Reds can or will be post Cueto, provided he’s moved or unsigned.
Mike Leake’s situation is a little more difficult to read. At current payroll, it’s possible the Reds may just move Leake for affordable, high-rated prospects as well. But if the Reds move some of their other contracts off the payroll – Cueto’s, Jay Bruce’s and Brandon Phillips’ – they may have enough cash to extend leake for a couple of years.
Let’s assume the Reds extend Leake, because that’s not impossible from their vantage. With Homer Bailey already extended until 2021, he looks to assume the role of ace upon Cueto’s departure and will head the Reds’ new rotation. Leake would be the No. 2.
Is this a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation? Who knows? Both have illustrated flashes of brilliance. Before Leake’s most recent string of struggles, he gave up just one run in 21 innings. Since, he’s surrendered 20 runs in 14 innings. The biggest difference? Against Cleveland, Leake walked five batters in four innings. Against Colorado and San Francisco, he just got hit around, giving up 11 hits in five innings against the Giants and nine hits in five innings against the Rockies.
Still, it’s hard to not like Leake in the Reds’ new rotation. He’s a career 55-46, 3.97 ERA pitcher, and just 27 years old. He may serve as more of a No. 3 or No. 4 type, but that’s on the competing young arms surrounding him to make that happen.
Returning to Homer Bailey and the top of the rotation – is he ready? That’s impossible to say this soon after a season-ending Tommy John surgery. But prior to getting injured, his trajectory suggested he was getting there. From 2011 to 2014, Bailey’s ERA dropped every season. His WHIP dropped every year from 2009 to 2013. The improvement was visual. He’d posted a 3.71 or better ERA every season since 2011 before ending this year’s with a disappointing 5.56 in two starts.
Can he be good enough to match the likes of a Clayton Kershaw, a Cole Hamels, an Adam Wainwright? He’s never been on that level. Was he headed there? Would just be speculation. I don’t think he makes for any team’s optimal ace, but this is a very serviceable No. 2 or No. 3 arm, provided he clears Tommy John.
Could Michael Lorenzen step into a top-3 rotation spot? Making any declarations after just five starts is aggressive, but there’s little reason to not be excited. He finished with a 3.13 ERA in his one complete season of Double-A last year, and if that gets your eyes rolling, check how Reds’ No. 1 prospect Robert Stephenson is doing since getting to Double-A. He doesn’t appear close to helping the Major League roster right now.
Lorenzen, however, has dazzled. He had a puncher’s chance of making the big league roster out of spring but went to Triple-A instead, where he went 2-1 in three starts with a 2.84 ERA. For the Reds, he’s 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA in five starts. Lorenzen’s innings will be capped this year, but if he can carry this kind of performance through August, look for him to be a pivotal part of the Reds’ 2016 campaign, which suddenly becomes a bit more serious if he’s doing then what he’s doing now.
He looked really good in Sunday’s win over the Nationals before finally tiring and walking the bases loaded in the 7th inning. Though he didn’t get a decision out of it, he performed on a high level against a potent offense.
The back-end gets tricky. I’m guessing the talent the Reds ultimately unload brings back at least some MLB-ready pitching prospects, but to name anyone on any other roster accomplishes nothing right now. No. 4 looks to be Anthony DeSclafani’s, if like Lorenzen, he can continue his impressive showing. DeSclafani’s sample size is a little bigger. In 10 starts, he’s 3-4 with a 3.41 ERA and a useful 1.27 WHIP. With six quality starts in that time, DeSclafani is becoming a trusted member of the rotation.
To further illustrate his improving reliability, see his RE24 – no, not some semi-automatic weapon you used during multiplayer in a Golden Eye 007, but his Run Expectancy…24. Don’t worry about the 24. It’s…It’s for people a lot better at math than me. Basically, RE24 is a way to accurately assign runs to pitchers in a way ERA doesn’t.
This will be quick. Basically, there’s always an expected amount of runs tied to any situation in baseball. And, in the spirit of being basic, pitchers are rewarded based on the amount of runs they DON’T allow, or given negative points for allowing runs. DeSclafani’s RE24 is currently -1.47, but that’s down from -5.65 he had in five starts with the Miami Marlins last year. It’s headed in the right direction.
Who gets No. 5? Raisel Iglesias tops the short list. He suffered his first bad MLB start against the Nationals on Saturday but was expectedly bailed out as the Reds overcame their first three-run deficit of the season. Did I mention it’s June?
Iglesias sports a 1-1 record and 5.11 ERA in four starts, but he’s really only had one bad game, and it came against one of the hottest teams in baseball. He’ll likely have his innings limited this season in preparation of joining the rotation next year. The converted shortstop makes for a No. 5 with a lot of upside, something not particularly reserved for that spot in the rotation. But considering the above names, the top of the rotation seems spoken for.
Iglesias will need to lower his WHIP to keep his innings quick and his services available for most of this season. At 1.45, his innings are long and laborious. That’s also because he’s a strikeout pitcher, another formidable attribute. Iglesias is sporting a 9.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings right now.
How many teams have that at the No. 5 spot?
The Projected 2016 Rotation with ERA+
Review time, or, TL;DR – if Mike Leake is extended, the Reds rotation looks like this:
1) Homer Bailey, career ERA+95
2) Mike Leake, career ERA+98
3) Michael Lorenzen, career ERA+ 124
4) Anthony DeSclafani, career ERA+86
5) Raisel Iglesias, career ERA+76.
What’s ERA+? It’s ERA, plus the consideration of the pitching and ballparks you play in. It’s more accurate than ERA, which treats Great American Ball Park and Petco Park as separate but equal.
How does this Reds’ rotation rank? Let’s put it next to St. Louis’, ya know, to stare at something nice for a few seconds:
1) Adam Wainwright, 133
2) Michael Wacha, 133
3) Lance Lynn, 109
4) Jaime Garcia, 109
5) Carlos Martinez, 93
Evidently, based on stats the morning of June 1, 2015, the Reds don’t appear like they’ll be ready to compete with the Cardinals next season. But the Reds’ rotation can obviously still change. That may largely depend on what the Reds can get in return if they throw the For Sale sign up at GABP. But a few more weekends like this one is going to make that any conversation a little more complex.