The Cincinnati Reds have done plenty of things wrong during the current rebuild. Trades that came too late, roster decisions that didn’t happen soon enough (cough Nick Senzel cough) and moves that came with raised eyebrows.
That last one brings us to the topic at hand in Amir Garrett. After blazing through the minor leagues and establishing himself as one of the Reds’ top prospects, Garrett dazzled in his debut against the Cardinals. But an injury, one he would not disclose until the end of the season – derailed his rookie season.
Upon returning this spring, Garrett was handed a bullpen role that left many questioning the Reds’ decision-makers. And while the question remains about whether Garrett’s future is in the bullpen, one we’ll address later, what is unquestionable is that Garrett has been dominant this season.
At his current pace, Garrett, in his second season, is on pace for roughly 125 innings, is striking out 10.35 batters per nine innings and has a FIP of 3.36.
The list of pitchers in their second season eclipsing 100 innings with a strikeout rate of 10 per nine innings and a FIP of 3.40 is lower is an exclusive group across baseball history. Only five pitchers have accomplished that feat – Mariano Rivera (1996), Pedro Martinez (1993), Bruce Sutter (1977), Billy McColl (1965) and Dick Radatz (1963).
Each one of those pitchers made at least one All-Star game and three of them – Rivera, Martinez and Sutter – are Hall of Famers. Garrett is currently striking out more batters per nine than both Martinez and McCool, something that has been his calling card this season.
After just 8.02 strikeouts per nine last season, Garrett is striking out nearly 2.5 more batters per nine innings. A higher rate than at any stop in his career dating back to his time in the minor leagues.
For relievers 26 years or younger this season, Garrett is sixth in the league in xFIP at 3.17. Of the five relievers ahead of him, only three pitchers have a high strikeout rate: Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz and Carl Edwards, Jr.
His biggest bugaboo this season has been the long ball, as he’s allowed just over one homer per nine innings. Under the same parameters of relievers 26 or under, Garrett is 31st out of 39 pitchers in home runs per nine innings.
The counter to that, though, has been his walk rate. Last season, Garrett 5.09 batters per nine innings and, since 2014 where Garrett moved to Single-A ball, Garrett had never walked less than 3.44 batters per nine innings. This season, Garrett’s walk rate is down to 2.78, ninth-lowest among relievers 26 or younger.
Where is Garrett finding success? He’s limiting hard contact this season compared to last year but the ability to come out of the bullpen and not hold anything back has led to a fastball that is three miles per hour faster than last season.
More than anything, though, Garrett’s slider has become lethal at the plate. After throwing it 22.3 percent last season, he’s upped it to 32.2 percent this season at the sacrifice of his changeup, which he’s thrown 11 percent less this season. Like his fastball, his slider is up three miles per hour more.
Only five relievers this season have had a slider worth more runs above average than Garrett. Of those, only Adam Ottavino has a fastball that’s also worth more than Garrett. His one-two combo of fastball-slider has given Garrett a dynamic arsenal to work with.
Not surprisingly, Garrett has forced batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone six percent more this season with a contact rate on out-of-zone pitches down nine percent with a swinging strike percentage of 13.5 percent up from 8.6 percent last season.
What does all this mean for Garrett’s future? Adding him to the bullpen alongside Raisel Iglesias and newly-acquired Jared Hughes has led to the Reds sporting one of the best bullpens in the league.
Since April 27, the Reds’ bullpen ranks 10th in the league in xFIP, ninth in FIP and 10th in ERA despite pitching the second-most innings in that span.
Is it worth sacrificing one of the few strengths the Reds have to allow Garrett to start? On a team destined for 90-plus losses and with a rotation struggling mightily, it might be. Garrett looked dominant in minor league ball, was brilliant in his debut and, by all accounts, is better this season.
To his credit, Garrett has stated he has no preference of starting versus relieving.
The compromise, though, might be taking a page from the Tampa Bay Rays’ playbook. Sergio Romo has started five games for the Rays’ this season who have turned to their bullpen to start games with a young staff that has struggled.
Coming into Tuesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the Reds held an 8.12 ERA in the first inning. With a pair of relievers in Michael Lorenzen and Garrett who have history starting games, giving them the ball to open the game could alleviate the burden on the young and battered pitching staff.
Or maybe the Reds hand the ball to Garrett later in the season. As it stands, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano both are on pace for well over 100 innings and both have struggled at times this season. The Reds could limit innings for either of the two and give Garrett a spot start. Maybe he can bring his newfound success in the bullpen to the starting rotation?
Whatever the move ends up being, though, Garrett has not only proven he belongs in the league but has succeeded at a historical clip.
Could he? Would he? May he? Things looking slightly up for the Reds prospects of getting Dallas Keuchel.
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