Tony Cingrani Hearts the Fastball

When teams determine whether a pitcher is going to be a future reliever or a starter, one of the primary factors driving the decision is how many Major League quality pitches the hurler throws. Typically, a starting pitcher will have a larger repertoire of pitches at his disposal, primarily to neutralize opposite-handed hitters. We think of relief pitchers possessing two pitches, while starters generally throw at least three. But Tony Cingrani is built from a different mold. It seems that Mr. Cingrani hearts the fastball.

You see, Cingrani posted the 18th highest fastball percentage among all Major League pitchers who threw at least 10 innings. That might not sound so outrageous, but if you only include starters, he sits third with his 81.1% rate. Ross Detwiler, Bartolo Colon and Cingrani were the only three starters to throw their fastballs at least 80% of the time. It’s rare and not typically the blueprint for long-term success.

But not only did Cingrani throw his fastball more than 8 times out of every 10 pitches, but he thrived doing so. He recorded just 104.2 innings, yet still managed to rank 55th in fantasy value among all starting pitchers. The results were quite impressive, especially since he was a rookie, and because he relied on just one pitch so heavily.

Amazingly, it didn’t appear that the league figured him out either. Heck, opposing batters essentially knew what was coming, yet they had major trouble making contact. Cingrani’s monthly strikeout rates after a crazy April that saw him post a 40% mark were extremely consistent, with just a small decline in May.

What’s even more incredible is how Cingrani has such a strong history of high strikeout rates, yet the average fastball induces the lowest rate of swings and misses among all pitch types. Earlier I mentioned Detwiler and Colon as the only two pitchers who threw their fastball more often. Detwiler has typically struck out between 12% and 15% of opposing hitters throughout his career, while Colon’s strikeout rate has sat around 14% to 15% in three of the last four seasons. You find more strikeout guys when you drop into the low-70% range in fastball percentage, but that’s nearly 10% below Cingrani’s rate.

Cingrani’s fastball generated a SwStk% of 10.5%, which is the highest I have seen. What’s interesting is that his full-season SwStk% is actually below that, so his off-speed pitches brought that rate down. That’s not something you see very often! It’s usually the fastball that generates the low SwStk% and the usage of breaking/off-speed pitches that result in strikeouts and swings and misses.

Of course, there is an explanation. Cingrani’s delivery is deceptive and when a hitter has trouble picking up the ball, he’s liable to swing and miss. But deception is something that usually doesn’t last. Look at Hideo Nomo! Eventually, hitters will adjust and Cingrani will have no choice but to develop his other pitches and throw them more frequently.

Cingrani’s skill set is very troublesome for a pitcher at risk of a tumbling strikeout rate. He was an extreme fly ball pitcher this season and his control was sub-par. The upside is clearly there as there is nothing that hints at a severe decline being imminent just yet. Cingrani is a unique case though and has little to fall back on if hitters do catch up and figure him out.

He should open the season as a member of the Reds rotation, but might not necessarily be overvalued in fantasy leagues. After all, he was quite a surprise, plus, he only pitched a smidge over 100 innings and his season ended prematurely due to a back injury. I cannot recommend avoiding him, but it’s important to be aware of the risks here and not pay for a guaranteed future ace.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

11 Responses to “Tony Cingrani Hearts the Fastball”

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  1. jerusalem_artichoke says:

    any idea of where in a snake draft you might take him, or range of $$ values in an auction. as i mentioned in cwik’s article comments, it would be great if rotographers could give a ballpark price on the players you review, as some mock drafts and rankings are all over the place especially on young pitchers

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    • shibboleth says:

      So much depends on the size of the league, categories used, and managerial strategies therein, so that kind of input has limitations. Round, auction dollars are just broad guidelines, anyway. As soon as that first player goes off the board, most such projections go out the window.

      But, if this were a 12-team league, I’d expect Cingrani to return value at Round 15 or later, with upside for slightly more.

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  2. ryan says:

    For me, Toni Cingrani is similar to Mariano Rivera. Rivera threw the cutter constantly – but his control was amazing. He could place it anywhere. Cingrani can throw the fastball anywhere. As a result, to say he only has “one pitch” is a little deceiving. That being said, I don’t think it is sustainable for a pitcher to throw high heat every pitch. For 2014, Cingrani will be great … When he isn’t hurt. Going past 2014, once the injuries start to mount, he will lose speed off his fastball and he will become ineffective.

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    • davisnc says:

      1) If Cingrani can throw the fastball “anywhere,” it seems unlikely that his walk % would be ~38% higher than that of the average NL starter.

      2) Mariano Rivera is a fairly absurd comp for just about anyone; even more so for a starting pitcher who is expected to go through the order two or three or four times, who has 110 MLB innings to his name, and has a .241 BABIP in those innings.

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      • Iron says:

        Not agreeing with ryan, but in partial answer to number one, he may be deliberately throwing just off the corners, which would also explain his unusually his swinging strike rate. A second point is that he also seems to have problems throwing his offspeed pitches over the plate.

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      • davisnc says:

        Yeah, maybe, though the below-average F-Strike % makes me think his control probably just isn’t (yet) elite in general. Not trying to slam Cingrani by any stretch; his fastball numbers are really fascinating and it’d be really cool if he can keep it up. It’s pretty impressive that his K%-BB% is top-15 in baseball, even with the elevated walk totals. Eyeballing the list, the only other guy who fits that pattern is Yu Darvish, though he can throw the kitchen sink at a hitter.

        Related question: anyone know where I can find league-average plate Pitchf/x Plate Discipline stats broken down by pitch type? For instance, I can see that Cingrani’s O-Swing % on the fastball is 29.7% on his player page, but I can’t find the relevant NL-wide data to compare that with in the leaderboards. The overall O-Swing % is 30.1% for the NL, but that obviously includes the offspeed pitches that are more likely to generate chases, so it’s not really useful in determining how successful Cingrani is at getting guys to chase his fastball out of the zone.

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      • ryan says:

        It was not a Mariano Rivera comp. Cingrani and Rivera have completely different pitching repertoires. I was merely pointing out that, similar to Rivera, to suggest Cingrani only has “one pitch” takes away from what Cingrani is actually doing with his pitches. In his first triple a game last season, he had 14 strike outs. In that game, he threw 55 of 84 pitches for strikes. Here is what he said after the game-

        “I just threw a bunch of fastballs, located wherever I wanted, and just kept putting up zeros,”

        Some suggest Cingrani’s control isn’t that good. I would suggest a huge part of his game is just outside of the strike zone.

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  3. James says:

    Cingrani is one of those guys who can draft as a 6th-7th SP and get 4th or 5th SP value from. I doubt he’ll be that hyped up next year like many other prospects/rookies are, which causes their prices to skyrocket. He’s someone I have my eye on.

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  4. Mike says:

    Salazar had SwSt% of 13.3 on his fastball. It was over about 1000 less pitches, though.

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  5. BranchRickey11937 says:

    This is the latest in a series of very persuasive analyses that show why Cingrani shouldn’t be a very effective pitcher. The only problem is that nobody has hit him at any level since he entered professional ball. I grabbed him off the waiver wire last year and intend to ride him until hitters figure out what everybody else apparently already knows.

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  6. GoodasGoldy says:

    You’d think the more teams see him the less deceptive he’d become but the reverse was the case last year (albeit in a limited sample including some fairly woeful offenses). There were 4 teams he had multiple starts against. 3 against the Brewers and Cubs (his 4th against the Cubs was discounted since it ended in the 2nd inning with back spasms), and 2 against the Cards and Giants.

    In his first starts against those 4 teams he put up a 1.41WHIP, 4.24 ERA, 10K/9, 4.6bb/9, 1.9 HR/9. In his 6 follow up starts against the same teams he put up a 0.89 WHIP, 3.05 ERA, 8.9k/9, 2.58 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9.

    It wasn’t like one start skewed everything in this limited sample. One of the beauties of owning this guy last year was he never really made a big mess in a start. An occasional diaper wetting was all you had to deal with (and of course the back spasms).

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