Believe it or not, the Cincinnati Reds’ Starters contributed more total innings than any other National League rotation in 2013. In fact, there aren’t too many other teams with fewer question marks going into 2014 than the Reds, and that’s despite letting their #3 starter walk in free agency (or so it seems). The Reds, by my count, have a very solid four contributors in any fantasy format, and even though they play in one of the friendliest places to hit, you’d be pretty fortunate to have a pair of them on your squad headed into 2014.
It’s kind of irrelevant who gets the opening day start for the Reds, because they easily have three candidates to occupy that “number one”. When healthy, Johnny Cueto probably tops that list — but he’s really only been healthy for a full season once over the last three. It remains to be seen if they’re going to modify his mechanics — specifically that “twist” — in order to limit his abdominal issues, but when Cueto has been on the hill, he’s been an excellent starter in standard formats. He has consistently outperformed his predictors in the ERA realm, and he misses enough bats to keep his WHIP respectable and his strikeout rate solid. Cueto has a broad repertoire, using a four seam, two seam, cutter, slider, and change — and all pitches have historically been above average. Despite his aches and pains, it’s also worth noting that Cueto hasn’t seen a drop in his velocity over the past several years either. Because of his injury history, he might not cost you much on draft day — and even if he winds up getting hurt at some point, the innings he’ll give you will likely be pretty valuable.
The Reds have two horses that more than fill in whenever Cueto might be on the shelf in Mat Latos and Homer Bailey. Latos was outstanding in 2013, posting a 3.16 ERA (3.10 FIP), 1.21 WHIP, 21.1% strikeout rate and a career low 6.6% walk rate. Mainly a fastball/slider pitcher, Latos barked a bit about his elbow but has mentioned in more than one outlet that his arm feels as good as it ever has in his career going into 2014. Although Steamer isn’t particularly bullish on Latos from an ERA standpoint, I’d still target him as a solid #2 in a good rotation.
Bailey of course had that memorable no-hitter versus the San Francisco Giants last season, and that no doubt buoyed his overall line, but even so — it was a fantastic season for Bailey. Always the uber-prospect we waited patiently for, Bailey finally put up a respectable season in 2012 and there were many who expected a degree of regression, but all Bailey did was improve across the board. His 3.40 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP were all career lows and his 23.4% strikeout rate was a career high. Also worth noting is his velocity on his four seam and two seam fastballs:
If you like to lean on the projections, then Bailey is the guy you want in the Reds rotation as he edges Cueto and Latos just barely in most counting stats, but it’s extremely close. Interestingly, Latos and Bailey are going side-by-side in the early mock drafts right around 120 overall in standard mixed leagues. Bet on that coming up into the 90’s when it counts, but the point is, either of these guys should be nice values.
And then there’s Tony Cingrani and his Matt Thornton repertoire. Okay, maybe that’s a bit unfair — but Cingrani rather famously blew the doors off the National League over his 100+ innings using his fastball over 80% of the time. Hitters pretty much knew what was coming and he still posted a 28.6% strikeout rate. He does have a slider, curve, and change, but it doesn’t appear that he’s comfortable with any of them. In fact, no other starter in the NL even came close to using the same fastball this much. Shelby Miller was close, but he at least went to a curve about 20% of the time. Whether or not he can sustain success as a starter with this kind of approach remains to be seen but his minor league track record suggests he’s had little trouble getting people out. So why not. And the projections love him — Steamer says he should be good for a 3.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and a 27% strikeout rate. One big question might be an innings limit, so keep watchful eye on that — and also don’t forget that their new skipper is a former pitching coach (and pitcher) so he’s probably got strong feelings on the subject.
Rounding out the rotation is Mike Leake, who frankly would probably be a #3 starter on many major league teams. His 3.37 ERA was a career best last season, but a 4.04 FIP seems to suggest his home run rate might start to head towards his career rate of 14%. Leake isn’t flashy like the four arms in front of him. He doesn’t strike many people out, he doesn’t throw particularly hard. But he does possess a pretty deep repertoire of pitches and generates a goodly number of ground balls from his plus sinker, and Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, and Brandon Phillips did an admirable job of gobbling those up in 2013. Leake might not be a sexy target on draft day, but for a buck or two, it might be nice to have him around on your bench if disaster strikes and/or if there’s a favorable away matchup.
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