Congratulations, Reds, You’ve Done It Again!

In 2015, the Reds finally commenced their transition from contender to rebuilder. During that season, the club began handing playing time to a number of young players, with rookie pitchers accounting for more than two-thirds of the team’s starts. Last season, they followed up that effort with another round of rookie pitchers — a group which, in this case, accounted for one-third of Cincinnati’s starts. As I noted at the beginning of the season, the Reds became just one of a handful of clubs in history to allocate at least half of their starts to rookies in one year and then to follow up that effort by starting rookies in another 50 games the next season.

It’s my duty to inform you that the Reds are at it again — and this time, they’ve left all the other franchises in the dust.

For a little league-wide perspective, here’s the number of rookie starters each team has used over the past three seasons. If a pitcher was a rookie in 2016 but didn’t exhaust his eligibility and pitched again in 2017, that’s counted just once in the numbers below.

With 29 starters, the rest of the NL Central has outpaced the Reds, but not by much. Cincinnati’s 22 rookie starters is a lot. Consider: half of MLB teams haven’t used 22 different starters total — regardless of rookie classification — over the past three years. Nor is it just that the club has allowed quite a few rookies to start; they’ve also used them a lot. Here are the leaders, by games started, through Thursday.

Even if no rookie were to record a start for the Reds the rest of this season, half of the club’s starts over the last three years will still have been made by rookies. Of course, the only pitcher in the Reds rotation at the moment who isn’t playing in his first season is Homer Bailey, meaning the Reds’ three-year rookie-starts total might top 250 by the end of the month. Unfortunately, the Reds haven’t gotten a lot of bang for their buck, either this year or in previous seasons, though the present campaign has provided some hope in the form of Luis Castillo. Here’s how this year’s crop has done.

Reds Rookie Starting Pitchers
Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Luis Castillo 15 89.1 9.9 3.2 1.1 .247 3.12 3.74 1.7
Sal Romano 14 77.1 7.3 3.6 0.9 .305 4.07 4.19 1.2
Robert Stephenson 9 47.0 10.0 6.1 0.8 .294 3.64 4.15 0.7
Tyler Mahle 4 20.0 6.3 5.0 0.0 .302 2.70 4.00 0.3
Asher Wojciechowski 8 35.1 9.4 1.8 2.8 .377 8.41 6.04 0.0
Jackson Stephens 2 8.2 10.4 2.1 4.2 .318 8.31 7.54 -0.2
Cody Reed 1 2.0 13.5 22.5 9.0 .400 31.50 20.65 -0.3
Rookie Davis 6 22.0 7.4 5.3 2.5 .378 8.59 6.97 -0.3
Lisalverto Bonilla 4 20.2 4.4 5.7 2.2 .269 7.84 7.36 -0.3
Amir Garrett 14 67.1 8.2 4.8 3.1 .255 7.49 7.48 -1.2

Castillo’s performance has definitely represented the most positive outcome this season. He’s been shut down due to an innings limit, but Eno wrote about him back in August, adding some hype to his numbers. Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson have pitched pretty well in limited time, as well. Amir Garrett had the best prospect status entering the season, but just hasn’t delivered in his first go-round in the majors. When you look at all the rookie pitchers the Reds have used over the last three years, here’s what you find:

Reds Rookie Starting Pitchers Since 2015
Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP WAR
Anthony DeSclafani 31 184.2 7.4 2.7 0.8 .318 4.05 3.67 3.0
Luis Castillo 15 89.1 9.9 3.2 1.1 .247 3.12 3.74 1.7
Raisel Iglesias 16 92.1 9.9 2.6 1.1 .273 4.00 3.58 1.5
Sal Romano 14 77.1 7.3 3.6 0.9 .305 4.07 4.19 1.2
John Lamb 24 119.2 8.7 3.8 1.7 .346 6.17 4.92 0.6
Robert Stephenson 17 84.0 8.9 5.5 1.4 .296 4.71 5.19 0.4
Tyler Mahle 4 20.0 6.3 5.0 0.0 .302 2.70 4.00 0.3
Keyvius Sampson 12 51.1 7.0 4.6 1.2 .343 6.66 4.87 0.3
Daniel Wright 2 8.1 4.3 2.2 0.0 .406 6.48 2.91 0.2
Tim Adleman 13 69.2 6.1 2.6 1.7 .252 4.00 5.30 0.0
Asher Wojciechowski 8 35.1 9.4 1.8 2.8 .377 8.41 6.04 0.0
Brandon Finnegan 4 21.0 8.6 3.0 2.1 .281 4.71 5.32 -0.1
Jackson Stephens 2 8.2 10.4 2.1 4.2 .318 8.31 7.54 -0.2
Josh Smith 9 38.1 7.3 5.6 1.2 .331 6.10 5.48 -0.2
Rookie Davis 6 22.0 7.4 5.3 2.5 .378 8.59 6.97 -0.3
Tim Melville 2 7.0 9.0 9.0 3.9 .348 9.00 10.15 -0.3
Lisalverto Bonilla 4 20.2 4.4 5.7 2.2 .269 7.84 7.36 -0.3
Michael Lorenzen 21 105.2 6.6 4.7 1.5 .323 5.45 5.48 -0.5
Cody Reed 11 49.2 8.3 4.4 2.5 .363 8.34 6.65 -0.6
Jon Moscot 8 33.0 4.4 4.1 3.3 .225 6.82 8.35 -0.9
David Holmberg 6 28.1 4.8 5.1 3.2 .280 7.62 8.57 -0.9
Amir Garrett 14 67.1 8.2 4.8 3.1 .255 7.49 7.48 -1.2

That’s mostly not very good. Out of 1233.2 innings, the Reds have received a total of just four wins — or 0.6 WAR per 180 innings — which is pretty close to replacement level. Cincinnati has a solid offensive team behind Joey Votto. Yes, they’ll need to contend with the departure of Zack Cozart this offseason. That said, the rise of Eugenio Suarez, the defensive gifts of Billy Hamilton, and the power of Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler give Cincinnati a decent group of position players with which to work.

As for the pitching, however, it’s been the worst in the majors. Now, the Reds probably weren’t going to win much over the past three years without spending increasing their payroll considerably, so throwing some young arms at the wall to see what sticks made sense.

Castillo appears to be one of the young arms that stuck. Iglesias has established himself as one of the better relievers in baseball. Desclafani is in the middle of a lost season due to elbow issues, which is never a good sign, but if he can come back and pitch like he did last year, that could be the start of a solid rotation. Maybe Robert Stephenson or Sal Romano can be adequate, too. Perhaps Rookie Davis can be an innings-eater, and Amir Garrett can take the experiences of this season and move forward with his talent. You have to use rose-colored glasses, but these seasons haven’t been a complete waste. What they have been, however, is unprecedented.

I looked at three-year periods, first going back to 1974, to see if any team had ever done what the Reds are doing right now. In the context of recent history, the answer is no. Here are all the teams with at least 162 rookie starts over any three-year period since 1974.

Most Rookie Starting Pitchers Since 1974
Club Years Starts IP WAR WAR/180 IP
Reds 2015-2017 243 1233.2 4.0 0.6
Nationals 2007-2009 220 1191.2 8.0 1.2
Orioles 2007-2009 215 1150.1 8.3 1.3
Orioles 2008-2010 209 1124.2 9.2 1.5
Marlins 1998-2000 199 1108.0 9.5 1.5
Athletics 2007-2009 191 1021.0 7.9 1.4
Marlins 1996-1998 190 1016.2 5.7 1.0
Athletics 1977-1979 188 1128.2 11.5 1.8
Marlins 1997-1999 187 1010.1 6.5 1.2
Nationals 2008-2010 183 999.1 9.6 1.7
Orioles 1987-1989 182 1059.2 4.7 0.8
Athletics 2008-2010 181 983.0 7.0 1.3
Orioles 2009-2011 177 965.1 9.8 1.8
Expos 1997-1999 177 934.1 6.5 1.3
Mets 1982-1984 176 1090.2 14.1 2.3
Indians 2001-2003 175 958.0 8.4 1.6
Reds 2014-2016 174 883.0 1.7 0.3
Expos 1996-1998 172 886.1 5.8 1.2
Rockies 2015-2017 172 944.0 12.7 2.4
Athletics 2011-2013 169 980.2 13.6 2.5
White Sox 1978-1980 163 1053.2 13.9 2.4
Over a three-year period.

These are all the clubs who’ve received at least one-third of their starts from rookies over an extended period. The Reds are over 50%. The 2014-2016 Reds teams make it almost purely based on 2015 and 2016, as the 2014 team only had eight rookie starts. The Nationals and Orioles followed up their really poor seasons with some competitive ones, although the Orioles still haven’t got the whole starting pitching thing worked out. The Marlins won a World Series a few years after their rookie-heavy seasons, and the A’s were mostly competitive in the earlier part of this decade.

The largest WAR figure on this table comes from the Mets, due mostly to Dwight Gooden but also Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez, as well. This year’s Rockies team might make the playoffs after a series of rookie pitchers have made starts over the years. Fortunately for them, those rookies have been competitive, with one of the higher WAR/180 IP in this group.

I only went back to 1974 initially, because that’s the first year for which we have split numbers for innings and WAR for rookies and starters. We we can go back 100 years, though, and not see as many rookie starters over a three-year period as the Reds have given us this year.

Most Rookie Starting Pitchers Since 1917
Club Years Starts IP WAR WAR/180 IP
Reds 2015-2017 243 1233.2 4.0 0.6
Athletics 1934-1936 238 1904.1 14.4 1.4
Nationals 2007-2009 220 1191.2 8.0 1.2
Orioles 2007-2009 215 1150.1 8.3 1.3
Athletics 1941-1943 212 1778.2 13.3 1.3
Orioles 2008-2010 209 1124.2 9.2 1.5
Athletics 1918-1920 207 1838.2 18.4 1.8
Marlins 1998-2000 199 1108 9.5 1.5
Athletics 1933-1935 197 1538.1 9.3 1.1
Athletics 1935-1937 194 1523 10.4 1.2
Athletics 2007-2009 191 1021 7.9 1.4
Marlins 1996-1998 190 1016.2 5.7 1.0
Athletics 1977-1989 188 1128.2 11.5 1.8
Marlins 1997-1999 187 1010.1 6.5 1.2
Nationals 2008-2010 183 999.1 9.6 1.7
Athletics 1916-1918 183 1572.1 8.3 1.0
Orioles 1987-1989 182 1059.2 4.7 0.8
Athletics 2008-2010 181 983 7.0 1.3
Athletics 1917-1919 181 1549.1 12.4 1.4
Orioles 2009-2011 177 965.1 9.8 1.8
Expos 1997-1999 177 934.1 6.5 1.3
Mets 1982-1984 176 1090.2 14.1 2.3
Indians 2001-2003 175 958 8.4 1.6
White Sox 1921-1923 175 1581 11.8 1.3
Reds 2014-2016 174 883 1.7 0.3
Athletics 1954-1956 174 1243 3.0 0.4
Athletics 1932-1934 174 1379.2 11.1 1.4
Rockies 2015-2017 172 944 12.7 2.4
Expos 1996-1998 172 886.1 5.8 1.2
Athletics 2011-2013 169 980.2 13.6 2.5
Athletics 1915-1917 166 1405.1 0.8 0.1
Athletics 1953-1955 164 1246 4.4 0.6
White Sox 1922-1924 164 1521 13.7 1.6
White Sox 1978-1980 163 1053.2 13.9 2.4
Mets 1967-1969 162 1161.2 10.4 1.6
Over a three-year period. Innings, WAR, and WAR/180 IP prior to 1974 includes all rookie innings pitched and not just starts.

As I noted in my post at the beginning of the year, the Athletics have spent a lot of years in their franchise, regardless of city, not trying to win a lot of baseball games, which is why they show up so much in this chart. On a percentage-of-games basis, that mid-1930s era of the Athletics fielded more rookie starters than these Reds, though the Reds could surpass them by the end of the year. If you go way, way back, you find the 1901-1903 Cardinals, with 269 of their starts made by rookies. The Reds aren’t winning now, but if they can turn things around in the next few years, they might look at this historic risk of ineptitude and be glad they found a few long-term pieces out of these struggles.

We hoped you liked reading Congratulations, Reds, You’ve Done It Again! by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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hecarriedhisbat
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hecarriedhisbat

Craig,

Great stuff.

Dick Williams stated recently that the Reds would be looking to add a veteran starter (“better than Scott Feldman”, apparently) in the off-season.

Which seems a little strange, because a lot of the rookies on your list haven’t really seen that many MLB starts. Plus, Bailey, DeSclafani and Finnegan all have to show they can make it through a full season in 2018 with injury. Lots of sorting still to be done.

Perhaps the conclusion for future MLB “full tanking” clubs is that it’s easier, if affordable, to follow the Cubs model of developing hitters and acquire the pitching when contending.

hecarriedhisbat
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Member
hecarriedhisbat

“without injury.” That trio has already earned a Blue Cross and a Blue Shield for time on the disabled list.

pedeysRSox
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pedeysRSox

Does this guy https://mykbostats.com/players/1135 satisfy better than Feldman for you? Considering his performance this year, I think he could be a sneaky good buy-low.