The Reds’ Crowded Rotation

Sometimes, having too many starting pitchers is a good problem to have, and the Cincinnati Reds appear to be stuck in this rut. While the Reds’ rotation won’t get much attention compared to that of other NL teams like the Phillies and the Giants, they should head into 2011 with a serviceable rotation.

Bronson Arroyo leads as the workhorse of the rotation, eclipsing the 200-inning mark every year since 2005. He also posted a 3.88 ERA and a 4.61 FIP with a low BABIP of .239 in 2010, aiding the low-strikeout ground-ball pitcher. A pair of 24-year-old righties in Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey are the first of the youth movement in the Reds’ rotation, both having pitched career seasons each with a sub-4.00 FIP. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Edinson Volquez looks to return to the heart of the rotation and continue posting good strikeout rates.

Come spring training, however, it’s the last spot in this rotation that will receive the most attention amongst Reds fans, as Travis Wood, Mike Leake, and yes, even Aroldis Chapman are competing for the 5th spot. In fact, this was the same group of young talented pitchers who competed for the same spot last spring training, though this year it looks like the competition may be for a long-term role rather than for April.

All three now have 2010 playing experience on their resume as they head into 2011, albeit under different circumstances. Right now, Wood and Leake are much more likely to start than Chapman. Leake beat out Wood for a starter role to begin 2010 (even without a single minor league appearance), but suffered from shoulder fatigue as the season progressed and was eventually put on the disabled list. After posting a 2.97 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 8.91 K/9 in AAA, Wood was called up in July and pitched well for the rest of the season, including a one-hit loss against Roy Halladay in his third career start. It would appear that the Reds will continue to knock on Wood (just had to say it), who closed 2010 as a 24-year-old with a lot of upside. But we may not have seen the last of Leake in the rotation.

You could make a case for both pitchers. Wood ended the season well and has consistently held a low home-runs-allowed rate and a low BABIP. He is also a left-handed pitcher in a rotation that is completely right-handed. But Wood also held an absurd 48.1% fly ball percentage compared to a 30.5% ground ball percentage. Take a look at all of the candidates for the Reds’ starting rotation and their batted ball numbers in 2010:

Pitcher BABIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
Arroyo: .239 1.08 16.3% 43.4% 40.3% 10.5%
Cueto: .290 1.07 19.4% 41.7% 38.9% 8.6%
Bailey: .315 1.12 21.1% 41.6% 37.2% 9.3%
Volquez: .323 1.75 15.2% 53.9% 30.9% 11.8%
Wood: .259 0.63 21.4% 30.5% 48.1% 6.3%
Leake: .302 1.57 17.8% 50.2% 32.0% 12.1%

Of the six potential and most likely starters, Wood is the only one that allowed more fly balls than ground balls. Yet he was able to depress home runs at an HR-friendly ballpark, holding a 6.9% HR/FB at home. The success of the other Reds’ starters relied on ground balls when there weren’t enough strikeouts, but every one of them gave up the long ball at a higher rate than Wood’s 0.79 HR/9 rate. And Wood’s success in the minors was due to consistently low home run rates and low BABIP numbers.

Whether Wood will continue to suppress home runs despite giving up a lot of fly balls or reveal that his consistently low BABIP was a fluke, we’ll have to see in 2011. I’m anxious to know what will happen, because I personally don’t know how he can keep those skewed batted ball splits and low home run rates pitching at the Great American Ball Park.

Amazingly, none of these six aforementioned pitchers will become free agents until 2014 at the earliest. There is, however, one other pitcher who is a dark horse candidate for the 5th starter spot in 2011: the left-handed Chapman. All indications are that he will enter the season in the bullpen instead of developing into a starter in AAA, perhaps eventually challenging Francisco Cordero for the closer’s role. But the 103+ mph fireballer has the stuff that could eventually turn him into an effective starter if he can develop his changeup to add to an off-the-charts fastball and a devastating slider. The Reds organization will use Chapman where the club needs him over his own development, but a starter’s role may eventually come in the long run.

There are a lot of stories to look forward to in the Reds’ rotation in 2011, and it will be particularly interesting if Wood will be able to hold his spot in the rotation for the entire season.




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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

25 Responses to “The Reds’ Crowded Rotation”

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  1. jason461 says:

    Management has stated that Chapman will be a reliever in 2011, but, as far as I know, the long term plan is still for him to start. Things could change, obviously, but that’s the plan.

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  2. mister_rob says:

    All that depth, and yet they have a grand total of one pitcher who has ever pitched 200 innings in a season

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      Good point that I neglected to bring up, though five of those pitchers aren’t even 25 yet by my count.

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    • Doug Gray says:

      While that is true (at the MLB level), Johnny Cueto has thrown 531 innings over the last three seasons. Travis Wood threw over 200 innings in 2010 between AAA and the Majors. Homer Bailey threw over 200 innings between AAA and the Majors in 2009. So it isn’t like they don’t have guys capable of it, they just haven’t really had that full season yet.

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  3. Mike says:

    I like the idea of Chapman setting up Cordero this year, taking over the closer role in 2012. As a huge Rangers fan, I’ve been beaten over the head with the idea of moving Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation but I love having him as our closer. I view Chapman much the same way. To me, having someone who can come in and blaze 100 mph fastballs at the end of a game against opposing team’s hitters who’re potentially tired from playing 9 innings is appealing in every way.

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      What’s crazy about Chapman is that he projects as a 97-99 mph fastball guy as a starter, at the least, as long as he develops well into one. Don’t have it on me right now, but latest Baseball America issue said that the scouting grade of 80 on his fastball seriously doesn’t do it justice.

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  4. Rick says:

    And of course, while neither is really in the mix for the 5th spot in the rotation, both Matt Maloney and Sam Lecure are capable of filling that role.

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  5. will says:

    want to know who else has a crowded rotation? the dbacks…

    http://ducksonthepondkid.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/a/

    …crowded with mediocrity

    -w

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  6. jason461 says:

    I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think serviceable really does it justice. What the Reds have are a bunch of number 3 starters with a few who have the potential to be much better. It’s not a good playoff rotation (until someone makes the leap), but it is a legitimately good regular season rotation.

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  7. camisadelgolf says:

    Although this isn’t exactly a rotation that would rival the Phillies’, you really can’t emphasize enough how young the staff is and how high of an upside they have. This may be the year, they step up from a staff of solid #3s to a staff featuring a couple aces (Chapman? Volquez? Bailey?) with top- to middle-of-the-rotation arms behind them.

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  8. phoenix2042 says:

    does anyone else think that chapman throwing 100+mph as a starter might destroy his arm in a couple years? here is one example of how it could go: joba chamberlain busts onto the scene in 2007 throwing 101-102mph fastballs with a devastating slider. sounds familiar right? he pitches to a sub-1 ERA. then the next year he starts off relieving and has the same success. then he begins starting. in 10 starts he pitches to a sub-3 ERA with a fastball in the 98-99mph range. he has a short trip to the DL with shoulder soreness and fatigue. he returns… and never hits 98 again. he is now a middle reliever with a 95mph out of the bullpen (nothing special for a reliever) with middling control and a 4+ ERA. you do not what someone as special as chapman turning out like joba… or need i remind you of a certain joel zumaya?

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    • NEPP says:

      Joba honestly never was that great. He was an unknown with a big arm and the league adjusted. His velocity is down a bit (he throws 95ish now instead of 98) but its not that brutal of a dropoff.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=2692&position=P&pitch=FA

      Here’s his velocity chart.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        thanks for finding that. it looks like 09 was a brutal drop off, but he is getting some of it back now. this actually confirms what i thought all along: he was more affected by the shoulder injury than anyone thought. it was only a short DL stint, but his FB went down by about 3-4mph afterward and now it’s finally working its way back up 2 years later. hopefully, he can get back to averaging 97-98 and be more effective. still though, that shoulder injury really derailed his development, and i hope the same does not happen to chapman.

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      • NEPP says:

        I agree. The injury definitely effected him long-term.

        Perhaps he changed his delivery to lessen the strain on his shoulder and that’s why his velocity dipped. Or perhaps he’s just damaged goods (relatively at least).

        I have no idea on his delivery as I dont have video to look at.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        i have heard the commentators of yankees games saying that maybe he is “afraid” to throw as hard because he doesn’t want to get hurt again. that could be one way of saying that he has changed his mechanics or simply refuses to push himself that extra 2%. either way, he is a different pitcher than he used to be after that injury because of the loss of “stuff”. all i am saying, is that i hope the strain of starting doesn’t do that to chapman. i can’t know this for certain, but i have to think that joba at least would not have gotten injured as soon, if at all, if he had been strictly a reliever. sometimes the body really can’t support 80+ throws at 100mph at one time. maybe stick to maxing out at 30 of them a day.

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    • camisadelgolf says:

      When Chapman moves to the rotation, he won’t consistently be throwing 102 MPH. He’ll sit in the high 90s.

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  9. jirish says:

    The Reds could benefit from having a real front of the rotation pitcher, and it’s quite possible that one of their younger arms will emerge. They have an awful lot to sort through, it’s not inconceivable that one of them sticks, or that one or more of them can be traded.

    And quit dissing Arroyo-his statistics never make sense. He’s a different kind of pitcher that makes great use of his defense and his ability to deceive the hitter and command the baseball. He’s always pitched that way. He’s always been able to succeed with with marginal stuff. He’s the NL version of Mark Beuhrle.

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  10. Nathaniel Dawson says:

    Bronson Arroyo a groundball pitcher? He seems to be about as average as you can get with his ground balls. He used to be a bit of a flyball pitcher, but the last few years he seems to have settled in as very near the norm. If he is anything, it would be an “infield fly” pitcher, as he has always seemed to excel at that.

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  11. Matty Brown says:

    It sort of makes me sick that Aroldis is under the purview of Dusty Baker. That arm is too precious.

    Let him drop down to 94-97 mph and develop his change-up, so he can start.

    His maximum potential as a dominant closer would be in the 2.5 – 3 WAR range, while as a starter he could be in the 4-6 WAR range with that arm, with 7 WAR well within the realm of possibilty.

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    • camisadelgolf says:

      I swear . . . Not a single piece goes by without a mention of how Dusty Baker ruins arms. Which arms has Baker ruined? And if you mention Mark Prior and Kerry Wood without bringing up their awful pitching mechanics, I will cut you.

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      • bryan says:

        thank you…if you repeat something long enough people believe it to be true.

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      • jtwood426 says:

        Aaron Harang, May 25, 2008

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I think Dusty baker is an idiot for other reasons. But, what evidence is there that bringing along pitchers slowly, ensures longevity?

        By slowly, I would refer to [1] increase IP by X% per year, [2] limiting starts to 100 NPC or less.

        I think one thing that Baker can take some blame for is the games that Wood & Prior pitched that were 120+ pitches at their age, at their experience level.

        But, I think the situations of young pitchers throwing 200 IP are over-stated. That’s their job. 2 decades ago, they did it regularly and for 40 starts a season.

        As a pitching coach (HS and JH), I would LOVE it if it could be proven that gradual IP and strict pitch count limitations, combined with great mechanics, were guarantees for pitching longevity. I’d probably quit my job and coach pitchers full time, ensuring their arm health through college. But, at this point, I’m almost convinced that it’s basically “genetic”. As it’s called in another endeavor “retard strength” (apologies for the term, I could not think of another phrase that would describe what I was trying to say), where one is just so damn durable and tough, despite what they do. In other words, some guys have joints that can take the workload even with lesser mechanics, while others cannot even with good mechanics.

        As for the Reds rotation … being “crowded” isn’t always a bonus. The guys, combined, put up ~12 WAR in 2011, less than Carpenter, Wainwright, and Garcia. I’m not saying the latter is better than the former in 2011, only that 3 pitchers of one team were more valuable than 6 of another team (i.e., crowded isn;t necessarily better).

        The good thing, for the Reds, is that all of those guys could conceivably have3 WAR seasons or greater. There’s not a crappy starter in the bunch, but there’s not an ace either. They’re good enough to win a large amount of regular season games, perhaps even the division this year (again).

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  12. Kerry Wood says:

    Whoah! You think my mechanics ruined my arm? No, it was Chris Denorfia!

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