Addison Reed: Shutdown Numbers, Meltdown Stuff

In 2011, White Sox reliever Addison Reed faced 293 minor league hitters and struck out 111 while walking only 14 of them. It was a good year for Reed. He went from A-Ball, to High-A, to Double-A, to Triple-A in 3 months and 15 days.

In 2012, Reed has faced 229 major league hitters and struck out 52 while walking 18. He has also allowed two more home runs than in his time in the minors while facing 64 fewer hitters.

Despite all this, the AL Central-leading, supposedly rebuilding Chicago White Sox have called on the rookie Reed to perform as the team’s closer. And even with his his 4.82 ERA, the White Sox have stuck with him and have been rewarded with the 9th most net shutdowns in the American League (28 shutdowns, 9 meltdowns, 19 net SD) and a total of 28 saves.

So have the White Sox done it? Have they finally found the heir to the ghost of Bobby Jenks? Or have his recent struggles been a portent of pending trouble?

Well, Reed has a few oddities on his stats sheet, and depending on which items we consider aberration and which we consider omens, it can alter the way we see the 23-year-old relief ace.

The Medium Walks, Medium Ks Group
Reed’s strikeout rate this season has been a slightly-above-average 22.7%, while his walk rate has been an almost-perfectly-average 7.9%. From 2000 through 2011, relievers with a strikeout rate at or under 23% and a walk rate at or above 8% have averaged a 99 FIP-minus and a 94 ERA-minus — not inspiring numbers for a reliever.

If we further limit the group and look at just relievers with K-rates between 20% and 23% and walk-rates of 8% to 9%, we get a 93 FIP-minus and an 84 ERA-minus — neither really qualifying as a high-leverage material.

That being said, we must remember that Reed had a strikeout rate in the 38% range in the minors — as well as a walk rate about half his current rate — and with time he could move towards those more elite numbers.

The High-Zone Group
One reason to think Reed’s strikeout numbers will improve is that his Zone% (according to PITCHf/x) is one of the best in the league. The man does not fiddle around with pitches outside the zone.

At a 56.6% Zone-rate, Reed ranks No. 10 in the MLB among all pitchers with at least 50 innings. That’s impressive for a rookie, much less a reliever with feh strikeout/walk numbers. Over the last four seasons (2009 through 2012), only 16 relievers have had Zone-rates greater than 54% — and that group averaged an 81 FIP-minus with a 77-ERA minus. Now we’re talking high leverage reliever!

That same group of 16 relievers (which somewhat ironically includes Bobby Jenks) had a 24.2% K-rate and 7.4% walk-rate — which is almost identical to Reed’s current numbers.

If Reed can find ERA success with his current peripherals — as this group of 16 relievers did — then White Sox fans will not have to worry about his low HR/FB rate (7.5%) and underwhelming xFIP (100 xFIP-minus). For a reliever, those metrics hold much less water — especially a fly ball pitcher who pounds the zone like a jackhammer.

But increasing his strikeout rate is still something we should expect, right? Given his minor league dominance, one would hope a 22.7% K-rate is just the beginning. But at current, his swinging strike rates suggest otherwise.

The Low Swinging Strike Group
In general, swinging strikes make for an good predictor of future strikeouts. At 9.5%, Reed is getting swinging strikes at just a tick about league average. But for a reliever, that’s actually 0.7% below average.

And when we look at relievers from 2009 through 2012 with a swinging strike rate between 9.2% and 9.8%, we get a collective 91 FIP-minus and 87 ERA-minus — another underwhelming showing. This group sported a 23.3% K-rate and 9.5% walk-rate, numbers again too close to Reed’s for comfort.

All Told
All told, it’s impressive that Reed has managed to time his bad showings — 16 games with a 4.10 FIP or higher — in such a way as to amass only 9 meltdowns, 4 blown saves and 2 losses.

Will Reed develop into an elite reliever? Well, here’s the deal. Reed has three pitches — a fastball (94 mph), slider (84 mph) and changeup (85 mph) — and his second pitch, the slider, has generated only a 14.1% swinging strike rate. I think a good proxy for Reed in terms of pitch selection is the likewise fastball-favoring Joel Hanrahan. The Pirates reliever does not throw as hard or as zone-heavy as Reed, but he does throw a fastball over 70% of the time and goes to his slider about once every ten pitches. But Hanrahan gets swinging strikes on almost a third of his sliders.

I think one of the reason for this discrepency is that Hanrahan is burying his slider down and away, while Reed tends to put the slider away from righties:

If Reed starts burying his slider, it might develop into a proper put-away pitch that could help him add a few more strikeouts, but his fastball still needs to generate more whiffs to see overall improvement. Altogether, though, I think there is more than enough evidence to say Reed — again, just 23 years old — will develop into a good, if not elite, reliever.



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


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SP Ver2.0
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SP Ver2.0
4 years 10 days ago

Great reed (HA). Makes me a little more confident about the development of Addison. I don’t think he’s going to ever develop into ‘elite’, but I think the Sox will have a solid closer for the next few years.

e
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e
4 years 10 days ago

Actually, Hanrahan throws HARDER than Reed. A quick look at their avg fastball velocity on their fangraphs player page makes that pretty clear. Even if you remove Reed’s slightly slower two-seamer, which Hanrahan doesn’t throw, in order to compare only four seam velocity, Hanrahan still throws slightly harder.

Even more absurbly, on their fangraphs player page, it says that their percentage fastball usage is nearly identical, over 70% for both players.

Unless I’m missing something, these seem like things that should have been looked at before writing this article.

MikeS
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MikeS
4 years 10 days ago

I would not have guessed he throws that many strikes.

The stat that is aging this White Sox fan very quickly:
He had a full, perfect inning 9/10/12. His last one prior to that? 7/17/12. He went 20 consecutive outings and nearly 2 months without pitching a spotless ninth.

He’s giving me an ulcer.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 years 10 days ago

So the argument at the end there is basically “X reliever who is superficially comparable to Reed has success throwing his slider down and away therefore Reed should throw his slider down and away.” I don’t really see how that is valid. I would think at the very least you’d have to compare Reed and Hanrahan in terms of arm action and slider movement in order to make such a statement. Both of those things strike me as more relevant than pitch frequency.

RMR
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RMR
4 years 10 days ago

It’s probably not as easy to see if you’re just looking at the stats, but the problem is pretty obvious when you actually watch him pitch. He lost all confidence in his slider about midway through the season. It’s basically made him a one-pitch pitcher against righties, making him very predictable (and presumably lowering his whiff % on his FB, especially against righties). His changeup has actually looked better than his slider for the last couple months. If he polishes up his slider this offseason, I think he’s back to being a lot close to the #’s he posted in the minors last year. He could probably also use a little work on his FB command, but the slider is the big thing in my view.

steex
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steex
4 years 10 days ago

I enjoy that the story is titled “Shutdown Numbers, Meltdown Stuff” while the url is “shutdown-stuff-meltdown-numbers.”

Matthias
Member
Member
4 years 10 days ago

“From 2000 through 2011, relievers with a strikeout rate at or under 23% and a walk rate at or above 8% have averaged a 99 FIP-minus and a 94 ERA-minus — not inspiring numbers for a reliever.”

In terms only of K and BB rates, I think it’s important to note that Reed would be in the 99th percentile of this group. So while that group has averaged a 94 ERA-, I think it portends that–all else equal–Reed should expect something better.

Good read!

Matthias
Member
Member
4 years 10 days ago

Secondary pondering: You showed pictorially that Hanrahan buries his sliders outside the strike zone more so than Reed. The stats agree, as Hanrahan has thrown 30.5% of his sliders in the zone, while Reed has thrown 37.5% of his sliders in the zone. The 7% difference would mean only about 8 less “zone sliders” overall for Reed. Would this make a difference? I feel like it could, especially if it means that some of the sliders that are still strikes are at least a little farther from the hitters’ fiery red nonants.

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