Sizing Up Tony Cingrani

The Reds received a scare when Johnny Cueto was placed on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle. As he returned to Cincinnati for further testing yesterday, the minor leagues’ hottest pitcher took the mound in Louisville awaiting to hear whether he would replace Cincinnati’s ace. In three Triple-A starts, Tony Cingrani destroyed the International League: he struck out 26 batters in 14.1 innings. But is he ready?

Cingrani’s success can be partially attributed to his deceptive delivery. He relies on his long limbs to attack hitters from a low three-quarter arm slot and hide the ball until the last possible moment. Listed at 6-foot-4, he is a “tall-and-fall” pitcher with a short stride, which causes his release point to be farther from the plate than if he had a longer stride. His early release doesn’t aid his deceptiveness, but it’s essential to his effectiveness. When Cingrani releases the pitch, he’s upright. That causes his release point to be high despite a low arm slot, which creates a downward plane.

Cingrani’s low-90s fastball is his best offering and he heavily relies on it. His downward plane and deceptiveness make it a swing-and-miss pitch despite its lack of movement. When Cingrani repeats his delivery, he can spot his fastball to either side of the plate, but at times his short stride cuts off his delivery and he loses his release point.

His reliance on the pitch is supported by PITCHf/x data from his major league debut. Last season PITCHf/x recorded over 85% of his pitches as fastballs. After watching each of his 2013 starts with Triple-A Louisville, that trend hasn’t changed significantly. For reference, in 2012, Justin Masterson and Ross Detwiler led their leagues in fastball percentage by using their heaters 80% of the time. After that pair, the pitchers who used their fastball most frequently were Wade Miley (72%), Gio Gonzalez (71%) and Joe Saunders (71%). In all, there were just 15 starters who threw the pitch more than 65% of the time.

The 23-year-old’s excessive use of his four seamer isn’t by design, it’s out of necessity. In 2012, Cingrani threw a slider and a changeup, but neither were average offerings and he used them sparingly. This year, Cingrani has added an intriguing new 11-5 sweeping curveball. It’s a slow breaker with tight rotation and consistent shape that he can throw for strikes.

With the addition of his curveball, Cingrani’s development is now tied to his changeup and his ability to improve his command. Rarely can one survive as a starting pitcher with fastball and curveball alone, and neither of Cingrani’s offerings is so outstanding to make him an exception. He needs a quality third pitch both to prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball when he’s behind in the count and to use against right handed hitters. Against Triple-A opponents, Cingrani is effectively wild and able to blow his fastball by them. That won’t work for long against major league hitters, who will adjust to his deceptiveness.

Should Johnny Cueto miss a few starts, Cingrani is a capable short-term solution. A promotion to the majors might be best for Cingrani’s development because once major-league hitters adjust to him, he’ll need to make changes if he wants to continue to have success. Thus far, Triple-A batters haven’t challenged Cingrani and he hasn’t had to adapt his approach to be successful.  But Cingrani — who currently projects as a fourth starter — isn’t going to replace Cueto’s productivity if he’s run out there for an extended period of time.




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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.


37 Responses to “Sizing Up Tony Cingrani”

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  1. Peter Stout says:

    Great analysis. It does beg the question as to why Cincinnati is bringing him up to the big leagues without making him work on his secondary stuff. In other words, why have they been letting him throw such a high percentage of fastballs at Louisville?

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    • Peter Stout says:

      Also, I see that you called Cingrani “effectively wild.” I’ve read elsewhere that his control is impeccable. Can you expound on your comment?

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      • JD Sussman says:

        I don’t know what else I can, honestly. When I’ve watched Tony Cigrani his command has been poor. He throws the ball within the strike zone (control), but doesn’t locate it well within the strike zone (command). After I wrote the piece, I sent it to Doug Gray to get his thoughts and he agreed with that statement. I wouldn’t call his control “impeccable” though. It’s below average.

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        • Doug Gray says:

          Let me chime in to back up what both of you guys have said. As I pointed out to JD when we talked, I watched Cingrani at times last year, mostly before July, and his fastball command was very good. He would pound the mitt on the corners all game with his fastball. But that started to go away later in 2012 and so far in 2013, as JD noted, he has been able to throw strikes but has been all over the zone with his fastball.

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        • Peter Stout says:

          I appreciate the responses JD and Doug, and you make me ask again: why are they (possibly) recalling Cingrani? From your report, not only is his control of his faceball poor, but he throws it way too much. These sound like two issues to be corrected on the farm.

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        • Doug Gray says:

          He is the most ready of the bunch, and I, unlike JD, think he is mixing in the offspeed stuff enough at this point (and he wasn’t doing it last year nearly enough) to keep guys off balance. The fastball command needs improvement, but as long as he is still throwing strikes with it, I think he will be fine. Not dominate like in the minors, but good enough.

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    • Sean says:

      Yup, been wondering the same thing. Maybe he’s stubborn and needs to get hit a bit.

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  2. Mikey says:

    I think you mean Wade Miley.

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  3. nick says:

    I think this article makes some good points, but it also doesn’t explain how thoroughly dominant he has been at every stop in the minors. Maybe it’s not that easy to adjust to deception? Ask Toledo who just faced him and still struck out 5 of 6 times. The thing is, he hasn’t been just sort of dominant, he’s been ridiculous for a few years now. It can’t be all because of deception either. I strong believe it will translate to the big leagues rather effectively, AAA hitters in the International league quite often provide a great derivative for projecting big league stats.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Good point on the dominance – I get he’s not Matt Harvey in terms of stuff, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be more effective than a #4 at the MLB level. There has to be something more to that kind of success across levels.

      I do think deception can be the whole story, but also think it can be a long-term value. I always related Jered Weaver to Mike Fiers in terms of deceptive delivery despite stuff, and based on this article, maybe they are a comp for Cingrani. That’s to say, he won’t overpower hitters at the MLB level, but could still leverage his deception and command to put up solid numbers.

      Either way, I’m excited to see what he can do. Given that Leake has struggle and CIN doesn’t have another lefty in the rotation, I think he could claim a spot if shows well in the next 2-3 starts.

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    • Wobatus says:

      I tend to agree with this. The issue with AAA hitters is more their inability to hit a a good breaking ball that kills them, not because AAA guys can’t hit a 92 mph heater. Cingrani’s numbers are so ridiculous I think it must just be hard to pick up the ball. Kinda like Sid Fernandez back in the day (for completely different reasons; El Sid the left arm just seemed to flip out after his roly poly body).

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  4. Urban Shocker says:

    Anyone else find that this profile reminds them of Dontrelle?

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  5. Jeff Brown says:

    I am confused. Many scouting reports last year said Cingrani’s change-up was an above average pitch but an effective 3rd pitch was missing. Now I am reading the change-up is below average in 2013?

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    • JD Sussman says:

      Jeff, reasonable minds can have differing opinions. In these pieces, I’m giving you my observations, others’ analysis may be different. I make it a point to be true to my eyes.

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    • PedroBestEver45 says:

      Yeah, everything I’ve read from Dusty and others in the system have said his change-up is already there, he just needs to work on his breaking stuff. Also, he was pitching out of the pen for those few innings last year, so more reliance on his fastball is not surprising.

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  6. Trotter76 says:

    The fact that his first start will be against a potentially Stanton-free Marlins offense means that he may not face Major Leaguers until his 2nd start. I think he’ll dominate on Thursday.

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  7. Coke Can says:

    For a short time D-Train was The Man.

    Rookie of the Year, 2x All Star, Cy Young runner-up, World Series champion…was very dominating, even if only briefly.

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  8. Brandon Beachy says:

    I’m reminded of another non-prospect who was projected as no better than a “back-of-rotation” guy after putting up video game numbers in AA and AAA… oh right, it was me!

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    • Frank Q says:

      And I remember you had great control/command and both a strong changeup and breaking ball.

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    • Simon says:

      It’s always amazing when we have a thread like this that everyone always remembers the one or two guys who turn out really well despite mediocre scouting reports, and ignores the vast number who actually turn out to be pretty mediocre.

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      • General Woundwort says:

        But part of the issue here is that Cingrani is not merely having some minor league success; he is producing ridiculous numbers. The “vast number” aren’t posting sub 2.00 ERAs at every level, with huge strikeout rates. Beachy’s numbers actually do track with Cingrani; Travis Wood’s (for example) do not.

        There are very few pitchers who so consistently hammer minor league hitters and get little love from the scouts.

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        • Simon says:

          They’re really not all that uncommon – they tend to be command and control guys with stuff that won’t strike out nearly as many at the big league level. Sounds a bit like Cingrani (at least on the fastball). I’m not saying he can’t be reasonably effective, but expecting more than a #3-4 seems irrational.

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        • Wobatus says:

          Like Tom Milone, but he did just fine at the major league level, at least last year.

          People usually trot out Yusmeiro Petit, but his K/9 in AAA was sub 8. And he was, as you say the majority of these guys are that K a lot in the minors but scouts say won’t cut it in the bigs, a command and control guy.

          Cingrani throws fairly hard for a lefty, and his AA K rates were good and now his AAA rates ridiculous. It’ll be a bit before we get a real read on him. He may be fairly sui generis, and perhaps just a couple of other get me over pitches will do. I don’t know if anyone expects more than a 3 or a 4, but their’s the intriguing possibility he could be more and fairly unique.

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    • Jesse Kennedy says:

      Brandon, you have proved you can pitch in the show. Tony hasn’t yet. And if all he got’s is a good fastball and a average changeup. Tony will get lit up when he faces a good lineup.

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  9. John says:

    Thanks for the analysis; great article. I’m looking forward to watching Cingrani pitch.

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  10. James says:

    Well, Cingrani’s first two big leagues starts will come against Miami and the Chicago Cubs, both of which are bottom-five offenses. The Marlins have scored all of 20 runs this year, so one would think Cingrani will have to wait a bit on that whole ‘experiencing failure,’ concept.

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  11. Obviously, this guy doesn’t profile for long-term success in the majors unless he diversifies his repertoire; however, his deception and velocity will likely translate to early success, thereby providing a short-term boost and a quintessential sell-high candidate…
    The deceptive delivery has proven to be temporarily effective… Consider the first half dozen starts of Josh Collmenter… Or look further back to Fernando Venezuela… More recently Nomo… and even Lincecum could be included on the list of guys with deceptive deliveries that provided short-term success but eventually got figured out and became ineffective.
    Still, that “short-term” success could potentially last half or even the entire first season and provide HUGE fantasy value for the relevant to cost/risk of aquisition.

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  12. deezy333 says:

    Any major leaguers you would compare him to? Could he have a Madison Bumgarner-like rookie year?

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  13. PedroBestEver45 says:

    Cingrani’s go-to offspeed pitch is his change-up, and it’s not below average. The reason Dusty’s been at all apprehensive about calling him up is because of his breaking ball’s effectiveness to lefties. This is demonstrated in his 3 points higher K rate vs righties than lefties last year. I guess we’ll have to see on Thursday, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in 5 innings of relief, especially in terms of FB%.

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  14. Matt F. says:

    Regarding Cingrani’s changeup, he’s yet to prove he can be consistent with it only because he’s had no reason to throw it in AAA. I watched all his starts in AAA and he only threw his changeup a handful of times, and they were all well-located with a little tail-off movement. I know the Reds wanted him to develop his curveball, and it really looked like he was focusing on that in AAA. It will be interesting to see if he throws his changeup more in the majors; it should be a good pitch for him, especially since it has opposite movement from his 4-seamer.

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  15. Jeff Brown says:

    Well, it’s been 3 starts now and Cingrani has dominated much to the chagrin of his skeptics. will it last? who cares. let’s enjoy the moment….cheers….

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