Tony Cingrani struck out 80 of the 191 batters (41.9%) he faced in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last season. The achievement was mitigated considerably by the fact that the left-hander was a 21-year-old, four-year college draftee facing (in most cases) considerably younger talent. Still, it was a promising professional debut.
Cingrani began this season at High-A Bakersfield. A college pitcher, one with designs on a major-league career, should also have no little success here — a statement which requires the qualifcation that, this being the California League, “success” is somewhat relative, given the circuit’s decidedly robust run environment. In point of fact, Cingrani’s success was absolute: he struck out 71 of 220 batters faced (32.3%) while walking only 13 (or, 5.9%), leading to a 1.84 FIP and 1.11 ERA. He also posted the top regressed pitching line of all California League starters.
Cingrani’s dominance earned him a mid-season promotion to Double-A Pensacola, where he continued to succeed, recording the second-highest regressed strikeout mark and overall line among starters — behind only Trevor Bauer (taken 111 picks ahead of Cingrani in 2011) in both cases.
Recognizing that he might of some use to their stretch-run, the Reds promoted Cingrani at the beginning of September. So far, he’s made two relief appearances, and the results, on a per-batter basis, have been quite similar to those from his various minor-league campaigns: of the 17 opponents he’s faced, Cingrani has struck out eight of them (47.1%).
Of note is this maybe trivial, maybe entirely prescient observation: despite his early success, Cingrani has induced swinging strikes on his fastball alone so far — even while sitting at a very average 91 mph with the pitch.
Consider, from Cingrani’s player page:
This, of course, is not usually the case with pitchers who post very high strikeout rates. Craig Kimbrel, who leads the majors with a 51.0% strikeout rate, throws his slider 33.0% of the time and the pitch has a 21.9% swinging-strike rate. Aroldis Chapman (45.4% K) has thrown his slider 12.3% of the time, according to PITCHf/x, and has a 23.4% swinging-strike rate on it. Kenley Jansen, who posted a 44.0% strikeout rate last season, did so while throwing a cut fastball about a three-quarters of the time; and while the pitch has the word fastball right in it, Jansen’s version has movement on it that skews decidedly slider-ward. Furthermore, all three pitchers — Kimbrel and Chapman, in particular — throw the ball much harder than Cingrani.
“Small sample size, you jerk!” the cry goes round the internet. “Quit your dumb job and go away forever!”
“Indeed!” the author replies. “You are probably right.”
This point about Cingrani early fastball success wouldn’t be noteworthy if it weren’t for the fact that, like Mike Newman’s very helpful one from yesterday, basically every scouting report on Cingrani makes roughly the same points — that (a) his fastball is his best pitch, that (b) it benefits as much from deception as velocity (which is ca. 90 mph), and that (c) while his secondary pitches (a slider and change) might profile as average someday, they are not yet average pitches.
All this information makes a person like author — and like a certain type of reader — curious about Cingrani’s fastball and what it looks like. Fortunately, the second of his appearances occurred in front of the very excellent Miami center-field camera, thus providing the most excellent footage of him throwing it yet.
Here is Cingrani, for example, throwing the pitch by Donovan Solano:
And doing the same thing, in slower motion, to Bryan Petersen:
What do we learn? Mostly, that more footage would be helpful. But another thing is this unique sort of “wrapping” motion Cingrani performs with his wrist as he withdraws the ball from his glove and brings his hand back. It is this, and the subsequent whip-like arm action (noted by Newman in his report), that appears to create the deception frequently invoked in reports on Cingrani.
In conclusion, and by way of further illustration, here’s footage from that Petersen whiff again, but slower and with the relevant portion of the pitching motion isolated: