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Cincinnati Reds

What can a healthy Homer Bailey do for the Reds?

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After having a winning percentage of .599 in 2012 and .556 in 2013, the Cincinnati Reds have had an average winning percentage of .426 over the past four seasons.

One factor of the team’s struggles is the lack of games pitcher Homer Bailey toed the rubber. Bailey only has 49 starts over the past four seasons, while he started a combined 65 games during 2012 and 2013.

Since signing his six-year, $105 million contract in February 2014, Bailey has struggled to stay healthy, having Tommy John surgery in 2015 and elbow surgery in 2017. Bailey did return to action in June of 2017 and started 18 games, but the numbers show that he clearly struggled. Bailey posted a 6-9 record and a 6.43 ERA last season.

However, Bailey’s ERA was only 3.89 in his final six games as he steadily improved with more innings under his belt.

So, this begs the question: If Bailey stays healthy, and is as productive as his final six starts of 2017, how good can the Reds be?

When answering this question, one needs to be realistic; the Reds will not be the 2018 World Series Champions. A productive season from Bailey could result in around 80 wins, though, which would put them in the Wild Card picture.

If Bailey can get back to his 3.89 ERA during his last six starts, or even come close to where he was in 2012 and 2013 when his ERA was only 3.68 and 3.49, he automatically becomes the ace. Luis Castillo was the only Reds pitcher to start more than 10 games and have an ERA under 4.00 last season, but he is currently projected to be the fourth pitcher in the starting rotation, so solid pitching from Bailey could give him a clear path to the team’s No. 1 spot.

This would quickly take pressure off young guys like Castillo, 24-year-old Brandon Finnegan and 27-year-old Anthony DeSclafani. Finnegan missed all but four starts last year with injuries to both shoulders and Desclafani missed the whole season with a strained UCL. Less pressure on these guys could help them pitch freely and focus on winning more ball games.

Hoping for Bailey to have a solid year and to stay healthy could be wishful thinking — after all, he will be turning 32-years-old in May — but he is off to a good start in spring training. Bailey pitched two innings on Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, allowing zero earned runs and striking out three.

“It’s definitely a good way to start, that’s how you want to start,” Bailey said. “It’s nice to get on there, be in some competition a little bit. Everything felt great.

It will be interesting to see if Bailey continues this success the remainder of spring training and if he can get back to the level he was at when he threw two no-hitters, but the team’s success is not just dependent on Bailey.

A lot more must go right for the Reds to reach that 80-win mark – 12 more wins than last season. The rest of their starting pitchers must stay healthy, their bullpen will need to improve drastically, shortstop José Peraza will need to fill the shoes of all-star Zack Cozart; the list goes on, but a successful Homer Bailey can breathe life into the starting rotation and make Cincinnati baseball relevant again.

David is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Cincinnati. He has covered UC sports for the student newpaper, The News Record, during all four years. He is currently the editor-in-chief of The News Record. After graduation, David hopes to stay in Cincinnati and cover sports in the city as a career.

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Cincinnati Reds

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.

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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.

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Cincinnati Reds

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.

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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.

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Cincinnati Reds

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.

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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.

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