And here we go! In one corner, we have the 6’ 6”, 245 lb hurler from Alexandria, Virginia – former Red Mat Latos. In the other corner we have a poor son of a gun who was rendered two-dimensional from the body slam Latos put on him. Mad Mat has come a long way from the friendly confines of Great American Ballpark.
Since being traded for Anthony DeSclafani, Latos pitched for the Marlins, Dodgers, Angels, White Sox, Nationals, and Blue Jays (all in the span of two seasons) before finding himself out of Major League Baseball and playing for the Independent New Jersey Jackals.
That viral video got me to thinking, how are those former fan favorites that were dealt away? Let’s take a look.
The New York Reds
For whatever reason, a good handful of former Reds are currently playing in the Big Apple. Keeping it limited to the ones who fans bought jerseys for, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco are currently New York Mets while Aroldis Chapman saves games for the Yankees now.
Frazier – The Toddfather really made Reds fans miss him in 2016, smashing 40 homers for the White Sox. Since then, though, he has cooled down a bit. He had a postseason appearance with the return of the Yankees to October baseball, but otherwise hit a cool .222 after being traded midseason away from Chicago. This year he is hitting .239 in 37 games played with seven home runs and 24 ribeye steaks.
He’s currently on pace to have his best season since he left Cincinnati.
Bruce – Despite being mired in, possibly, his slowest start to a season, Bruce has had an interesting ride since leaving Cincinnati. Upon being dealt to the Mets in 2016, he accompanied them to a Wild Card exit at the hands of the San Francisco Giants (he’s got to have a special kind of distaste for that team) while contributing just eight homers and a .219 batting average.
2017 saw a more Brucian-like 29 homers and 75 RBI up until August 9th, when he was dealt to the Indians for a low-A pitching prospect. With the Indians, Bruce was a vital part of the record-setting 22-game winning streak that Cleveland put together. Bruce hit the 3-run homer that put the Indians ahead in their 21st straight win and hit the walk-off RBI double to win the 22nd in a row.
Mesoraco – He hasn’t been gone long, but he’s still worth mentioning. After receiving a bit more regular playing time, Mes has five homers and 10 RBI in 22 games. He is still batting just .209, though, and has 15 strikeouts in 67 at-bats.
Chapman – This former Reds closer is not a Met but a Yankee. After being dealt to the Bombers for what seemed like 20 cents on the dollar, Brian Cashman flipped him for his current starting shortstop and then signed him in free agency a year later. Must be nice to have all that money. As most of you probably remember, Chapman helped the Cubs break their championship drought in 2016, so I’d say he’s ok with having been traded.
Chappy has 76 saves in his three seasons away from Cincinnati. For what it’s worth, the Cuban Missile hasn’t eclipsed 100 strike outs in a season since pitching for the Reds (Man, I miss seeing that guy in a Reds uniform).
The Rest of ‘Em
Just want to look at a few more who play in other places besides New York.
Mike Leake – Currently a Seattle Mariner, Leake has also pitched for the Giants and Cardinals. Mike has not topped his 2013 season in Cincinnati when he went 14-7 and had an ERA of 3.37 in 31 starts. So far into 2018, Leake is averaging 6 innings a start and an ERA just above four. In his last three starts, Leake has pitched 23 innings, given up five runs, and added two wins to his season total.
If you’re like me, you’re looking at those stats and thinking “How on earth did we think Adam Duvall was worth Mike Leake? The Reds could totally use his arm!” Then I looked at his contract…he’s currently on year three of a five year $80 million deal. He’d be the Reds third-highest paid player. Objectively: $16 million a year is overpaying for a 4.00+ ERA.
Johnny Cueto – Johnny has spent three years in San Francisco after winning the World Series with the Royals in 2015. Cueto was the first domino to fall in the Reds rebuild and, at the time, the trade was deemed a good deal for both sides. As of today, the Royals got a ring and the Reds got one pitcher who is no longer with the team, one pitcher who is wallowing in the minors struggling with his control, and one pitcher who has gone from injury-prone to a reclamation project in Louisville.
This season Johnny is 3-0 in five starts with a sub-one ERA. Sabermetrics show that he is getting a little lucky, stranding over 90% of the baserunners he faces (career average is 76%).
Zack Cozart – We’ll wrap this “Where are they now” segment up with a player who wasn’t traded away. Zack left via free agency last season, as you may remember, to the Angels. He hasn’t quite taken to his new digs, though, as he currently batting .226 with five homers and a .299 on-base percentage. Uncharacteristically for him, Cozart is sporting a negative defensive war. Statistics show the Angels plan to move him to third base has not worked out, to this point, as he has a .957 fielding percentage there, the lowest of the three positions he’s played in LA.
Cozart has bat leadoff in 26 games this season for the Angels and gets on-base one out of every three plate appearances. He has been displaced as of late, though, given his low batting average.
The Reds wont face anyone on this list until August 6th when they travel play the Mets. As far as in Cincinnati, Johnny Cueto may pitch in Great American Ballpark again, when the Giants come to town August 17th, 18th, and 19th.
What You Missed Tuesday Night
Improbable is a word that comes to mind as a way to describe what, otherwise, was a lowly June ballgame between two teams who entered the game at least 20 games under .500. Neither the Reds’ nor the Royals’ division rivals put too much stock in the outcome of this one, but it sure was interesting. In case you missed it, check out the highlights from the Reds come-from-behind 5-1 win:
I thought, for sure, Billy Hamilton was out. After botching the bunt, and generally looking terrible at the plate all night, that had to be the icing on the cake. But no, Billy reminded us all why some hesitate when people talk about potentially trading him. Sure, he lowered his batting average last night, but this play changed the complexion of the game.
If Billy is ruled out, you have runners on first and second with two outs. Kevin McCarthy can be more judicious with his pitches to Joey Votto in the next at-bat, being totally ok with walking him. Then you put Scooter in a situation where the pitcher is comfortable and just trying to get him to pop up for out number three.
Instead, Billy is safe, the pitcher becomes tense, and Joey has all the momentum to do what Joey does best. Hamilton, despite being a rally-killer in the lineup of late, won the game with his base running. Maybe the Reds ought to take that into consideration? Seems like I heard someone say something about having Billy come off the bench late in games to pinch-run and field…
Sal Romano also deserves some praise for being the first Reds pitcher in, what feels like, eons to toss more than seven innings. Big Sal had control of all his pitches in this game. His fastball velocity was the best it’s been all season at 94.6 mph and he had his curveball working as a nice one-two punch. The defense really stepped up to make a complete effort in this game, but still give Romano some props. Despite being on the hot seat with Homer Bailey coming back to health, Big Sal stepped up and delivered his best performance of the season.
For his thoughts on the game-winning RBI, I present to you the unflappable Joseph Daniel Votto:
How can you not like that guy?
So, yeah, the Reds are still 19 games under .500, but Tuesday night was fun.
Amir Garrett’s historic start and his role in the future
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.
Hunter Greene making strides for Reds in Class A
Hunter Greene is 18 and wants to be on the Dayton-Florida-Louisville express line to the majors. The Reds want that and fans want that. A 21-year-old Greene pitching in Cincinnati would be exciting.
To move quickly through the minors requires raw talent. He’s got that. How quickly that raw talent is refined into major-league ability is anybody’s guess. But over the past month that express – if it is indeed one – is gaining speed.
Greene, who was the Reds’ first-round draft choice last year, pitched five innings Saturday night in Dayton in the Dragons’ 1-0 loss to Bowling Green. He allowed a run on a groundout, four hits and two walks. He struck out six and hit 101 mph with his fastball at least eight times.
It gets better. Greene has allowed one run or less in five of his last six starts to lower his ERA from double digits to 5.70. In 11 starts and 36 ⅓ innings, Greene has struck out 50 and allowed 17 walks and 43 hits.
The Reds have many examples of how difficult that final step from AAA to the National League can be for a starting pitcher. A few good starts in low A doesn’t guarantee anything. But when you consider the changes a kid out of high school faces in his first year, Greene looks like a pitcher who is on the right track.
“We see the improvement now,” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said after one of Greene’s recent starts. “You’ve got to look at the numbers at the end. The numbers right now don’t matter. You see the improvement and the quality outings and that’s the way you have to look at it. At the end of the year you’re going to see results and you’re going to see the numbers.”
Each time I’ve talked to Bolivar about Greene he smiles and says positive things. Pitching coach Seth Etherton is the same way. He’s been working with Greene since they were at Billings, Montana, last year in the rookie league. Etherton has said more than once that he expects Greene to make it and make it big.
Greene’s learning curve and realization of what he needs to learn has shown progress since the start of May. He is spending more time in pregame meetings about the lineup he is about to face, and he’s learning more from those meetings.
He sits in the dugout with Etherton and his fellow pitchers, particularly roommate Tyler Mondile, and talks about the hitters. The education and the experience are coming together with the talent.
“We’re all talking in the dugout about how we’re going to go over these guys and compete against them, and we were able to do that,” Greene said.
Greene has yet to pitch more than five innings. His pitch limit lately has been 80 and he threw 84 Saturday. The Reds haven’t said how high that limit goes this season, but it’s doubtful it will get to 100. Getting through his first full season healthy might be the most important thing to happen this summer for Greene.
“If he’s able to get to the fifth inning now that’s awesome,” Bolivar said. “I know he will get better at that. Hopefully he can get past the fifth and into the sixth inning using less pitches.”
If you have the opportunity, it’s worth your time to see Greene pitch in person. He throws hard and works fast. If you can’t stay late, you can head home early after he’s reached his pitch limit and some day say you saw him pitch when he was 18.