The sophomore slump is a nerve-racking thing, whether you’re the fan witnessing it or the player enduring it. Sophomore slumps are even more pronounced in this age of social media.
Luis Castillo is in the midst of such a dilemma. After allowing four runs in four innings in Atlanta, his ERA has climbed to 5.85. Some folks, though few, are suggesting a demotion may be in order. Others say that he may not pan out. The majority, like me, are confused. He has shown so many signs of brilliance, and has also had his fair share of struggles.
Take the start against the Braves, for example. He was perfect two outs into the fourth inning. Then Freddie Freeman fouls off a thousand pitches and works a 274 pitch walk. That at-bat is followed by five-straight hits. What seemed like a blink of an eye erased the perfect game, the no-hit bid, the shutout bid, and the quality start bid. Quick explosions have been a theme of Castillo’s second season in the bigs.
Some worry he will not develop, but his struggles brought up an interesting thought – what was Johnny Cueto’s second year like? Castillo is frequently lumped in with Cueto, so let’s compare. I’ll leave out ERA so this blind comparison isn’t a dead giveaway.
Thoughts? I’ll come back to it…no peaking.
Johnny, in his first 17 starts of 2009 had a better ERA, a better win loss record (actually it is the mirror image of Castillo’s 5-8 record), but he also had a better defense behind him. In fact, according to fangraphs.com, the batting average on balls in play against Cueto was .254. Castillo currently endures a .291 BABIP against him.
Castillo manages to induce a good percentage of ground balls at 44%, but his left on base percentage (percent of runners left stranded) sits at 67.9%. There are, currently, 77 pitchers with a better rate than that. Part of that can be explained by the 18 homers he has allowed, thus far, but Cueto, comparatively, had left 75.9% of his runners stranded. As far as pitching statistics go, that one is heavy on what the defense does.
Though it is difficult to quantify, confidence is a big factor in Castillo’s struggles. I’m not saying he doesn’t have confidence, but that he hasn’t figured out a way to punch through the adversity. With runners on base, opposing batters are hitting .299 against Castillo with a .923 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Compare that to just a .242 average against with the bases empty.
Now allow me to reveal the blind comparison:
Just to note, xFIP is an ERA-like statistic that, through its formula, takes into account only the things a pitcher can control. Things like fly balls allowed, walks, and strikeouts are included in this to represent the ERA a pitcher would have if all things were considered equal behind him. Welcome to the next minute where I tell you why Castillo is fine.
Look at the strikeout rate. That currently puts him in the top 40 of starting pitchers. Not a stat you would normally see on someone with a 5.85 ERA.
This was perfectly illustrated June 9th when Castillo got saddled with the loss at home against the Cardinals. He pitched six innings, struck out 10, but gave up five runs. He also gave up two dingers, both of them back-to-back off the bats of Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna, after striking out the first two St. Louis batters on six pitches. Talk about night and day…
Digging a little deeper into his strikeouts, Fangraphs.com also has advanced pitch statistics, like the fact that he is inducing 13.7% swinging strikes, which is up from last year.
The only thing in the advanced pitch statistics that has regressed from last year is the percentage of pitches in the zone has dropped 3.6% to 42.5%. Needless to say, just as your little league coach told you, throw strikes and you’ll be successful.
Like Cueto, Castillo is a small mechanical tweak away from reaching the level that we all know he is capable of getting to. Take it easy on the “Castillo is a bust” train, because he is much closer to greatness than his current ERA suggests.
Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates set to Play Three
Break’s over. That’s right, you heard me, back to work. Well, for the Reds, that is. There’s been four whole days since the last baseball game for Cincinnati, and now they’re back, starting Friday, at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Reds and Pirates are separated by four-and-a-half games in the NL Central. If Cincinnati is to stop the wire-to-wire last place finish they currently have going, this series will go a long way to solving that. The Pirates hold the edge in the season series, having won four of the 10 games, so far.
Th Reds will need to improve their pitching against the Pirates if they hope to make up ground. In the 10 games they’ve played against one another, Pittsburgh is getting on base at a slightly better rate than one per every three batters (.346). Chief among Cincinnati pitchers who need to improve against Pittsburgh is Tyler Mahle, Friday night’s starter.
Mahle’s first start against e Buccos didn’t go so well. In 4.2 innings pitched he was tagged for all five of Pittsburgh’s runs, allowed 10 baserunners (nine hits, one walk), and allowed a pair of home runs. In fact, his counterpart on Friday, Jameson Taillon, was his counterpart on that day. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Redlegs.
Saturday is a big day as it is the 2018 Reds Hall of Fame Induction game. Adam Dunn, Fred Norman, and Dave Bristol will all be enshrined in the best Hall of Fame outside of Cooperstown. Pitching that day is Anthony DeSclafani. His last start against the Pirates just missed being a quality one. He tossed 5.2 innings of two-run baseball and got the win. Both runs were scored on solo homers by Colin Moran and Gregory Polanco.
Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter, Nick Kingham, has never faced Cincinnati.
Sunday’s series finale will feature the Dark Knight making his first trip to the bump on the back side of the break. He’s pitched twice against Pittsburgh this year with varying success. Hist first outing he earned a win, pitching six innings of one-run baseball. His second time out turned into a Pirates win despite five solid innings of three runs allowed. Harvey has struck out seven Buccos in his eleven innings while allowing 11 baserunners.
The Pirates actually have Nick Kingham listed as their Sunday starter, too…so I’m guessing it’s actually TBD. But lets take a quick look at the Pirates young hurler.
Kingham has been around the Pirates minor leagues since 2010 and didn’t make his Major League debut until April 29th. On that day, he pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine. Since then he has not pitched that deep into a game, though he’s grazed it. July hasn’t been as kind to him as he sports a 5.28 ERA for the month and has allowed six homers in three starts.
Fun fact, the Reds are 5-5 in the last 10 years in the first game back from the All Star Break. So yeah, that’s a completely pointless stat, but now you have something to regale your friends with as you watch the game, Friday night.
Both Friday and Saturday games begin at 7:10 pm while Sunday’s game is scheduled for 1:10 pm.
WATCH: Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto homer in the All-Star game
The National League trailed the American League 5-3 on Tuesday night, partially because a Joey Votto error led to three runs for the American League in the eighth inning. Scooter Gennett bailed out his teammate with a pinch hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth that forced extra innings. Gennett was the first Reds player to hit a home run in an All-Star game since Davey Concepcion in 1982. Watch the home run below:
SCOOTER GENNETT TIE GAME!
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 18, 2018
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) July 18, 2018
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) July 18, 2018
The American League hit two home runs in extra innings and ultimately won the game 8-6. Votto hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. It was Votto’s first hit in an All-Star game (Votto was 1-3 on the night and is now 1-13 in All-Star games). Watch it below:
— Todd (@bitterRedsfan) July 18, 2018
JOEY HAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SWING ON THE PLANET pic.twitter.com/U5RFd8L8MH
— paco 🇺🇸 (@AllaireMatt) July 18, 2018
For more on the Reds, go here.
From the Beginning to the Break
We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and there are still 66 more games to go for the Cincinnati Reds. Buckle up, though, this ride still has a few ups, downs, loops, and corkscrews.
Although, this ride isn’t as bumpy as, say, the Vortex over at Kings Island. This year feels more like the Diamondback. It took awhile to get up that first chain hill (April through the first week of May) but that’s only because it’s a really big hill. The ride has been quite entertaining since that first month.
Sure, the state of things aren’t great. Cincinnati is last in the Central at 43-53 – 13.5 games behind Chicago. They’re 10 games out of the second National League Wildcard spot. The question is, though, were playoffs the goal of 2018? If you’ve paid attention to Locked on Reds, the answer is no.
This was supposed to be a year that the Reds set the table for a contending team at Great American Ballpark, and there is some semblance of success in this arena.
The current team MVP is Joe…nope…Eugenio Suarez. That’s right boys and girls. You remember that contract extension that the front office handed out to a talented, young Venezuelan this past offseason? Yeah, looking like a great idea. According to baseball-reference.com, Suarez has compiled a 3.6 WAR up to this point.
Of course, if WAR is your thing, Fangraphs has both Suarez and Scooter Gennett at 3.3 WAR. The Reds have found their nucleus. In fact, Jose Peraza is currently sitting at a 1.8 WAR, making the entire Reds infield (Votto with a 2.8 WAR) the most valuable part of the team.
Much has been said about Suarez and Scooter, so let’s take a look at an under-appreciated part of this team: Peraza.
For starters, he’s been a revelation from the leadoff spot. Peraza is hitting .333 as the leadoff hitter and has a .389 on-base percentage. Right, blink, rub your eyes, and look again at that .389 OBP. He’s scored 22 of his 53 runs from the leadoff spot, scoring just under 50% of the time he’s reached base.
Part of the explanation for his success can be explained by Peraza having a 30 point-better batting average on balls in play than last year (.293 compared to .259). Another part of the explanation comes from Peraza’s improved plate disciple. His walk percentage is up for the third-straight year to 5.5% and his strikeout rate is down to 10.9%. Diving slightly deeper, he has decreased his swing % by three points on pitches outside the zone and has a 95% contact rate on pitches in the zone. He’s made leaps and bounds in the improvement area this season.
The hitting has been what’s pushed this team through the first 96 games. The Reds have scored the third most runs in the NL, at 461. Their team on-base percentage trails the Cubs by 4 points (.341) for best in the Majors. Much has been written, of late, regarding Cincinnati’s plate discipline and their willingness to take more walks translating into success at the plate, and who could argue? It has been a huge factor in their turnaround.
While not egregiously worse, Cincinnati’s OBP was 15 points lower for the month of April. Combine that with the second worst slugging percentage in all of major league baseball, for that month (.357), and you get an offense that was unable to bail out horrific pitching.
The pitching has come a long way, since that harrowing month, in which the Reds compiled the worst ERA in the NL (5.15) and beat everyone to 20 losses. They’ve shaved over a run off that number, since April, as their team ERA in months not named April is 4.06. The bullpen has gotten a lot of work, as Reds starters average just over five innings a game, but they’ve been up to the task, thus far.
As a unit, considering some individuals that are no longer with the major league team, they re statistically at the middle of the pack in the National League. Individually, there are some pitchers that no opposing lineup looks forward to facing, late in-game. Foremost is Jared Hughes.
Hughes has a 2.3 WAR, per Baseball Reference, good for 4th best on the team. His 1.44 ERA is third best among NL relievers with at least 40 IP. When you are the key guy out of the bullpen, you’ve got to be tough when you get a bad hand dealt to you, and Hughes stands tall in those situations. He’s inherited 23 runners and stranded 15 of them. Despite tossing right handed, Hughes is toughest on lefties, allowing 16 hits in 81 lefties faced. He’s also kept the ball in the park, allowing just two round-trippers.
Amir Garrett stands tall next to Hughes. The starter turned reliever has one-upped Jared Hughes in the inherited run department. Just six of the 32 runners Garrett has inherited have crossed home plate. He is tied for eighth in the Majors with 18 holds, but his ERA has climbed each month (it currently sits at 10.13 for the month of July). Safe to say, he’s relishing this All Star break.
The winning of late has distracted us Reds fans from the big picture of this season. It isn’t necessarily the goal to make the playoffs this year, but to get the team situated for multiple years of playoff contention, beginning next year. The biggest storylines coming out of the All Star Break will not be a pursuit of a playoff appearance, but a couple of other things:
What will they do at the trade deadline?
– Will they sell off? (I hope not)
– Will they go after a staff ace? (I hope so)
– Who will be a Red after the dust settles?
Will they succumb to peer pressure and remove the interim tag from Jim Riggleman?
– Don’t get me wrong, Riggsy has done a fantastic job, but that’s just premature and needless in so many ways. They haven’t conducted an actual managerial search since they hired Bob Boone. It needs to happen at the end of this season. If Riggsy is determined to be the guy after it’s all said and done, cool, but do a search.
Will they stop bunting?
– Okay, admittedly this isn’t really a storyline, per say, but it’s worth noting. The team that has scored the most runs in the Majors, the Boston Red Sox, have compiled a grand total of three sacrifices. Three. That’s it. That’s 30 less than the Reds, who lead all of Major League Baseball in sacrifices. Their seventh in runs scored, but think of where they could be if they stop giving up outs. You know what…I’m feeling a more detailed blog about this subject, so let’s wrap this up.
The Reds need to win 38 games in their final 66 to finish the year at .500. I predicted they would, before the season, on another website. I still think they complete the 81-81 season. This is a decent team, an entertaining team, and they can play with anyone. Add in a couple of trades that are, hopefully, coming in the next few weeks, and you got yourself a contender for the next few years.
Like I said in the opening graph, buckle up, Reds fans, there’s plenty of baseball left!
(Also, shout out Locked on Reds, this is post 100!)
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