I started this series, “A Bounce Back and a Breakout”, last season. It will be a four part series including outfielders, infielders (with catchers), starters, and bullpen. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I will pick a player to break out and a player who had a down year to bounce back.
Let’s get things started with, well, the starters.
Bounce Back: Wade Miley ( 0-3 5.65 EERA 14.1 innings 86 ERA+ )
For most of his career, Miley was a *fine* pitcher. About league average. Then in 2018, at 31, he had a breakout year with Milwaukee and pitching coach Derek Johnson. This caught the eyes of many and landed him a deal with Houston in 2019 where he pitched pretty well, but nowhere near is 2018 form. Last season (his first with the Reds) was injury plagued but even when he did pitch it wasn’t very pretty. A veteran lefty could really help the rotation. His fastball velocity in 2020 was atrocious, while his fastball spin and curve spin where around average.
The hope is being reunited with Derek Johnson could help him get back to his 2018 numbers. While that didn’t happen in 2020, a healthy 2021 still leaves a glimmer of hope. At 34 years old and more mediocre baseball than good baseball shown in his career, I am not expecting Miley to fill a hole Bauer left or anything close to it. I expect him to battle for the fifth starter spot, or even a bullpen spot. Regardless of his role, he is a better pitcher than 2020 showed.
Honorable Mention: Jose De Leon (0-0 18.00 ERA 6 innings)
Once a top prospect, De Leon has struggled with injuries and consistency leading to a lackluster career so far. He wasn’t given much of an opportunity last season, but his winter ball performances this year are showing promise. 3.18 ERA in 17 innings 31 K’s and 10 BB. Walk numbers are still high, but De Leon is a long shot but someone who qualifies as a bounce back due to his poor numbers in the past.
Break Out: Tyler Mahle (2-2 3.59 ERA 47.2 innings 60 K’s 133 ERA+)
I know Mahle might not be thought of as a candidate for a breakout considering his success. However, I think there is an even higher level for Tyler to reach. Bauer most likely being gone hurts. Anytime you have a Cy Young walk out the door there will be big shoes to fill. Mahle has all of the talent and finally will have a chance to be a top 3 guy.
Some good numbers, and some elite numbers. I think so many people, myself included, wrote Mahle off at times. He was still so young when he was brought up and then his usage was kind of funky. He is 26 now and ready to take over a bigger role and I cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store for him.
Honorable Mention: Tejay Antone
To be honest, I would have had Antone has the breakout player for 2021, but I am not 100% sure what his role would be. I want him to be in the rotion, but we will wait and see. Either way, what we all saw in 2020 left our jaws on the floor. Antone’s spin rates are off the charts. The former 5th round pick from 2014 will have a big role with the Reds team, but what exactly that role will be is unknown.
In conclusion, the Reds are still looking like they will have a good rotation even without Bauer. If they keep Gray and Castillo that leaves Mahle, Miley, Antone, De Leon, Hoffman, Greene, Lodolo, Lorenzen (?) and others to fill out the 5 spots. These things always work their way out, but I like the options this team has.
Why Jesse Winker Should Fill in at First Base During Joey Votto’s Absence
The Cincinnati Reds have a unique opportunity to give a look into the future at first base, while Joey Votto is out, and that should be Jesse Winker.
Just yesterday I posted about how to finagle the lineup and the defensive positioning when Shogo Akiyama returns. Another wrinkle has been added to that idea with the broken thumb of Joey Votto. Is it a wrinkle, or an opportunity, though?
The Reds have been getting Nick Senzel work at second base in recent games so as to remind him of his defensive prowess a that position to keep him in the lineup AND get Shogo in there. It happens to have created further value as Joey goes on the IL for roughly a month because it would seemingly open up the possibility of moving Mike Moustakas to first, Jonathan India to third, and Senzel to second in order to get Shogo in the lineup. I say seemingly, because I think there is a better option, and an opportunity for the future, by giving Jesse Winker a look there.
Moustakas has played exactly 12 more games and 98.2 innings at first base than Jesse Winker. Does he have more experience there? Yes. Would you say its an unassailable gap that trumps any possible creativity by David Bell? No. Winker has been trusted to play centerfield and you have to be far more athletic to play centerfield than first base (see Jim Thome in a Phillies uniform). Necessary athleticism to learn to play first base quickly enough to be effective there while Joey is on the shelf, check.
There also is no plan for the succession of Joey Votto at first base. There are no fast approaching first base prospects, and while you could easily move Rece Hinds or Austin Hendrick there now and get them ready, they’re still years away from playing MLB baseball. The DH is coming next year. It would make the most sense if Joey garners a majority of the time there, meaning first base is open defensively. When it comes to his outfield prowess, Winker would seem to be at his peak. He could be far more valuable, defensively, to the Reds at first base as early as next year, why not begin that transition now?
Theres also an argument that sprouts from the Winker to first base that involves India. This is his first taste of MLB action and he is really settling in to second base, defensively. Winker’s four-plus years of experience would lead me to believe a change of position would not affect him as much as changing the position of a rookie, for a short period of time, and then setting him back to the position he was originally at when Joey returns. India had some nice glove plays in Wednesday’s win over the White Sox. It would seem unappealing to change his point of view, now, when it seems to be growing in comfort. Leave him at second, Moose at third, Suarez at short, and move Winker to first to open a spot in the outfield for Shogo.
Of course, when it comes to the idea of the future of the first base position, there is the possibility Nick Castellanos opts out of his contract this offseason. That would have Winker moving to right field with Moose moving to first, Suarez back to third, and Jose Garcia being given the keys to the shortstop sports car, and this idea becomes moot.
How the Reds Effectively Utilize the Roster as Shogo Akiyama Returns
Shogo Akiyama is rumored to be returning to the Cincinnati Reds as early as the end of this week. Here’s what the Reds should do with the lineup as Shogo gets going.
The return of Shogo Akiyama is foretold to be happening by the end of this week. It will be good to see Shogo back on the field and playing his second season of the MLB brand of baseball, but what does his return portend for a roster that has a glut of outfielders and a budding second baseman?
Shogo showed to have a strong ability to get on base as he got more comfortable with Major League pitching. His on-base percentage in the month of September last year as .456. The biggest question around Shogo was his quality of contact. In 121 bated balls he had exactly one barrel, per Baseball Savant. His hard hit percentage of 26.4% was nearly 9% lower than league average. Given that he finished the shortened season with a .297 slugging percentage, his OPS+ of 72 seems fair. The problem comes with thinking that really tells us much of anything about Shogo.
Meanwhile, the logical solution to too many outfielders that seemed available in the offseason has completely changed. An argument could be made for playing Nick Senzel at second base and allow Shogo to man centerfield. The emergence of Jonathan India has changed things. He has shown some ability with the bat, although his peripheral stats show he’s getting slightly lucky, and he shows promise fielding the second base position. There’s still an argument to be had, though, if he deserves everyday playing time based on a small sample size that is mildly successful.
A platoon could be the answer. I had thought last year that intermittent playing time without regularity threw Shogo off, a bit, as he adjusted to a new version of baseball. I see the value in limiting his exposure, at least early into his 2021 campaign, the lefty pitching, though. He only got 21 at-bats against southpaws in 2020 and mustered three singles and a double. Should he show that he is settled in, he might be a candidate to ignore platoon splits.
As it is, I think the Reds should work Shogo in as a platoon with Senzel and use Senzel at second base in India’s stead when Shogo is in the lineup. I feel like that is why they have given Senzel playing time at second base, recently, so as to ensure his ability to move around the diamond and keep him in the lineup while also opening up the possibilities for other lineup combinations.
A lineup against right-handed pitchers could look like Shogo (CF), Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas, Senzel (2B), Tucker Barnhart, and the pitcher spot.
Against lefty pitchers, it could look like Senzel (CF), Winker, Castellanos, Votto, Suarez, Moustakas, Stephenson, India (2B), pitcher.
Pitchers Getting Pulled: Who’s to Blame?
Who is to blame, when it comes to pulling a pitcher from the game? The answer for the Cincinnati Reds, as opposed to others, may not be the same.
The complete game. A starter going 8 and handing it off to the closer. The 250-inning Ace. Once a measuring stick for starters, not all but gone from the game. Sure, it still happens from time to time, but if seeing a starter in an 8th inning is rare, seeing one in the ninth might as well be big foot. Why is this? Twitter would tell you David Bell is to blame. Does Bell have a quick hook or are pitchers playing a larger role in this decision?
Let’s get some simple facts we all know out on the table. An inning is 3 outs. If a pitcher throws a complete game, that is 27 outs. Everyone still following? Great. Now, how many pitches is an out? It could be as low as zero (pick off a baserunner) or almost as high as Zack Weiss’ ERA (INF). Pitch count is important. In today’s MLB pitchers are not throwing 130+ pitches too often, and that is a good thing. The reason is mostly due to 1) Avoiding the third time through the order 2) Injury prevention (pitch count)
I know a lot of people hear the “third time through the order” reason and immediately scramble to name several old school pitchers who got outs regardless or those “new” stats. Today and moving forward, the MLB is more and more statistically driven. Managers know the statistics of the third time threw and often decide to go to the bullpen.
Baseball Prospectus (Mitchell Lichtman)
This chart is interesting because it shows good and bad pitchers. Let’s help set a scale. Reds starters wOBA against in 2021 (through 4/27)
Mahle – .243
Castillo – .386 (career .296)
Hoffman – .314
Miley – .225
Gray (2020) – .275
Third time through batters begin to see the ball better, pick up the release point, umpire’s zones are established, and pitchers start to fatigue. As you can see, even the best pitchers have a significant drop in efficiency. Bring in a bullpen guy with a new arm slot. Let’s throw in a lefty. Change of speed, change of pitchers, whatever it is to throw something new at a lineup. Playing the percentages. Of course, the bullpen must come in and get the job done. Another major fact is of course pitch count.
“They pulled him in the 5th and he was pitching a gem, the manager is an idiot”. When I see this my next question obviously is “What was his pitch count?” Injury prevention has never had more focus than it does today. Pitchers do not throw 120 pitches in the first start. They need to work their way up and will likely top out in July and August. Tyler Mahle has been fantastic this year but rarely gets past 5 innings. In games where he pitches 5 innings or less, he throws an average of 90 pitches. You add a third time through the order to a 90-pitch count and it makes Bell’s decision clearer.
My point is, we need to start talking about pitch count as much or more than “innings pitched” when we discuss a pitcher getting pulled. If you want to go deep into games, you first must be effective. That includes pitch count. Rolling a pitcher with 90 plus pitches out just because you want them to go deeper is not always the best decision, especially this early in the year. As the year goes on, pitch counts will increase to some degree. But Bell pulling a pitcher in the 5th, even if his box score looks good, is not automatically a bad decision.