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Cincinnati Reds

What Should We Expect Out of the Rotation? Part four – Luis Castillo

What’s making Castillo pitch so well thus far?

Taj Simmons

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Image result for luis castillo changeup

Oh I’m sorry, am I supposed to write some fancy introduction here? You really didn’t want to just watch this over and over and over again?

After a rough start to the first half of the 2018 season, Castillo hasn’t looked back. Spanning back to the second half of 2018, he’s been rock solid, posting some phenomenal numbers. In 128 innings of work, he’s put up a 2.52 ERA, punching out 132 batters while only walking 32 of them.

All of this coming off the heels of that previously mentioned rough start in 2018 where an ERA of 5.70 in the first half had fans worried about his future. They thought wrong and here’s why. The xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching – basically a measure of variables a picture can control, while also replacing a pitcher’s home run total with how many homers they probably should be given credit for) states that he may have been just a bit unlucky with some home runs. Can I get a welcome to GABP anyone!? In the first half of 2018, his HR/FB% was touching an ungodly and almost unsustainable 18.4%, among qualified pitchers. That ranked 2nd worst only behind Cole Hamels. I mean it’s pretty insane to think that every fifth time Castillo turns his head around on a deep fly ball, it’s hitting the bleachers. On a side note, Sal Ramano and Tyler Mahle also pop up on the top 12. On three everybody! one, two, three, welcome to GABP!!!

This year however, the ball has bounced in Castillo’s favor. His HR/FB% is now sitting at 4.5% . Furthermore, last year his HR/9 topped out at 1.49, while this year it stands pat at 0.42, meaning he’s either found a way to neutralize the home run ball from the opposing hitter’s arsenal, or he’s getting extremely lucky after being extremely unlucky just a year before. The BABIP supports that as it stands at .245 . After all, with an ERA of 1.45, you have to be having a little bit of luck go your way.

Just about every major stat is an improvement from last year, including his strikeout rates which are also up from 8.8 to 10.4. Really, the only worry so far is his walks are slightly up from 2.6 to 3.5 . Part of this could be due to his pitching style. He really wants to bury that change-up or slider while he’s ahead and force the hitter to expand the zone. Hitters can pick up on that over time, and as a result they become more patient. Of course that isn’t always the case or else we wouldn’t be beaming over his numbers this year.

Lets talk fastballs and change-ups, because Castillo has a good combo going right now. In the perfect world, Castillo is going to use his heater, which tops out at just under 100 mph, to try and get ahead of the count.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs – blue squares indicate an average of .000

From the graph above, you can see it’s rare for a hitter to ambush Castillo on a first pitch fastball. So why not blow one past them and get ahead of the count early? After he does that, and statistics say he most likely is going to do that, he’s going to use his overpowering change-up to put the hitter away.

What makes me think that? Take a look.

Graphs courtesy of FanGraphs – blue squares indicate an average of .000

Yep. According to this graph, in the 53 times Castillo has thrown a changeup while ahead of the count, no hitter has been able to turn it into a base hit. Basically at this point if you want to live, you have to keep fouling that pitch away and try and make him throw something else.

They call it the equalizer for a reason folks.

Although, he’s been gifted a little bit of luck this season, there’s no reason why Castillo can’t keep this hot streak going and make this season truly special. bWAR already has him down for 2.1 wins, which is already more than any Reds pitcher had last year (Which was also Castillo at 1.4 wins). In fact, if Castillo is able to keep up this pace, which would be extremely unlikely, but hey a man can dream right? He would tie Pedro Martinez’s 2000 season for most bWAR accrued by a pitcher in a single season (not counting dead-ball era pitchers for obvious reasons). Again, that’s most certainly not going to happen, but it does show how good Castillo has been out of the gate thus far, and how little attention it’s receiving. He’s not only been the ace of the Reds, he’s been the ace of the entire MLB. among qualified pitchers, he trails only Zach Davies and Marcus Stroman in ERA. It’s worth noting however that Castillo has more innings pitched than either of those two.

Enjoy it while it lasts Reds fans, we’ve been long overdue for a, dare I say it, ace? It seems we’ve finally found him. Thanks Miami, sorry not sorry.

Having been born and raised in Cincinnati, eating Skyline Chili and rooting on the Reds have gone hand in hand. Free times are usually spent scouring the web on Reds information, playing OOTP or the The Show, and pretty much filling up a baseball addiction through any means possible. Personal favorite memories include Jay Bruce's walk-off clinching Central title, watching Joey Votto do his thing, and Jonny Gomes' at bat shenanigans

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Cincinnati Reds

How a Shortened Season can Help and Hurt the Reds

step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Clay Snowden

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The world is in an obscure and unsure place. Today we were supposed to be watching a parade and cheering on the Redlegs. Instead, we are confused about the future of the 2020 season as we watch the 7th straight episode of a Netflix series, perfecting social distancing. How the 2020 season will be played has yet to be determined. I want to take a step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Each day that passes without baseball is a day closer to a season without 162 games. For the sake of argument, let’s say the season is somewhere between 75-100 games. What ways can that benefit the Reds?

1. They can get healthy. Suarez, Senzel, and Galvis (amongst others) have battled some spring injuries. Extra time off only helps their recovery and could lead to a 100% healthy “Opening Day” lineup. Although Galvis is not a top ten talent at short, he is much better than the current back up options. Luckily, he should be ready to go and 100%.

2. The rotation can be a great strength. We all know how strong the current rotation is. The Reds could adjust the strategy because you won’t be worried about getting starters 32 starts and 200ish innings. With a compact season, you could let starters go deeper in games, or even go to a shorter rotation because you won’t be trying to strength out the innings over several months. Bauer and Disco are both on contract years and will be laser-focused on making the most of their fewer starts to prove their value come next offseason. If the league goes heavy on doubleheaders, Mahle and a few others could step up into the expanded rotation and stronger than many team’s depth starters.

3. How a shorten season benefits Votto? As Joey ages, he will need more days off, especially if the decline is steady. If Joey does not have to prepare himself for 162 games, it could lead to better results as he would be fresher. We all know he can get off to slow starts and avoiding that would be crucial in a shortened season.

How can the shortened season hurt the Reds?

1. David Bell is still a new manager. Fresh, unproven, inexperienced. At times in 2019, he cost the Reds some games. There is little to no margin for error in a short season. Each game means more and the lineup experimenting with playing players out of position won’t fly. Managerial experience will be extremely important in 2020 and hopefully Bell has improved after year one.

2. Lack of important experience for prospects. Tyler Stephenson, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, and many other prospects are missing out on developmental time. This one really stings. A couple of the Reds top prospects are projected to be on the 2021 roster but needed some time in higher levels of the minors to learn and iron out a few things. You can train and work with coaches during this time, but the actual game experience cannot be overlooked.

3. Pressure. Obviously, every game counts each season. But a shortened season stresses the importance of each game. The Reds cannot afford to go on a losing streak as they did at the beginning of 2019. The expectations for 2020 remain high, and the pressure to perform is building. The adjustment to the MLB for Shogo must happen fast. Senzel has to stay healthy. The margin of error shrinks and pressure goes up. Iglesias cannot struggle to close out games or he’ll be replaced.

The 2020 season won’t be ideal. No one wants it to be this way. Watching 162 games a year is a joy and I will miss the routine of watching the Reds every night. Let’s hope this shortened season feels and plays like a playoff series where every aspect of the game is emphasized and more important. Here’s to everyone staying safe and healthy, and the Reds winning the pennant.

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Cincinnati Reds

March Mailbag

Take a look at a few thoughts before we get this 2020 season underway!

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What is this team’s greatest weakness and how do they go about addressing it? (@GeraldSHuber)

To me, it has to be defense. (Here’s an article I wrote about it: https://bit.ly/2wft1Bs ). Tucker and Casali are fine but not spectacular, Votto is mediocre, Moose is an unknown, and the outfield defense leaves you wanting more. Galvis is great at short, but many others could be troublesome. If defense is your greatest weakness, you probably have a pretty good team.

How many years until we see Jose Garcia? (@smoffe87)

Everyone’s new favorite prospect, and he should be. The future is bright. Garcia has yet to reach AA, where he’ll likely start this season. In high A Daytona he hit .280/.343/.436 with 8 HR and 37 (!) doubles. No need to rush the 21-year-old, but he likely is the SS in 2021 if all goes according to plan. The lack of depth at SS could rush him if injuries happen or he hits the cover off the ball.

Who will lead off? What do they do with Schebler, Reed, Mahle, and other players without options? (@StachlerJames)

Shogo Akiyama should see time as the leadoff. A career .376 OBP who has been closer to .400 in recent years (NPB league) has a chance to be a real difference maker.

Schebler, I think, will end up being traded or DFA. Reed has a tough first start, but its early and he looked great in limited time last season. Another lefty in the pen not named Peralta or Duke is welcomed. Mahle has an option and likely is headed to Louisville to get regular starts. The Reds will likely need him to start at some point during the season. Sims likely earns a pen spot, Travis Jankowski could be the final spot if injuries occur. His speed and defense are useful.

Is Senzel going to be a utility player or end up getting traded? (@GerryYnciarte65)

Being a super utility is not a bad thing. Ben Zobrist was a hell of a player in that role. However, I think Senzel will be seeing plenty of time in CF splitting with Akiyama. His bat is too good to be a true bench player. I don’t think he will be traded. It feels like he would have already been moved if that was the plan.

 

If Tucker or Casali get hurt do they let Farmer catch or Stephenson? (@OdeToRedsWS)

Catcher organizational depth is lacking. Stephenson could be the option if he is hitting well in AAA Louisville. I think we see him at some point this season. Only other catcher in the organization with MLB experience besides Casali and Tucker is Francisco Pena (190 AB .216/.249/.311). His stats are underwhelming at the plate but he’s a veteran and that carries value. Sadly, I doubt we see former Red great Ryan Lavarnway in 2020. Add Garcia and Stephenson to this lineup in 2021 and that team is very strong.

 

Over/Under….When do the Reds give up on the mix-n-match platoon ideas and have a regular lineup? Line is May 31st. (MTGPackFoils)  

The days of the “same lineup everyday” are gone. And they should be. Putting out the same lineup doesn’t always mean the results will follow. Some players hit lefties but not righties and some hit righties and not lefties. Play the best players for each situation. Platooning can lead to the best results at times. So OVER. (More on that here: https://bit.ly/38cbCXD)

 

What are your thoughts on Shogo playing mostly center or left, if Senzel is healthy? (@Win1SuperBowl)

As it stands today, the outfield is crowded. It will play itself out. Akiyama can play all three OF positions and I could see him getting at-bats in the corner OF when Senzel is in CF. There’s true competition for at-bats this season and that’s absolutely a good thing. Players will have to earn their playing time.

Who is the backup SS? (@GebzillaG)

Kyle Famer. He ‘s such a unique player who can play all over the field. He was a college SS and has worked their early this spring. Across all levels he’s seen 76 innings at SS and hasn’t recorded and error. Blandino could also be the back up SS. Blandino has 60.2 innings at short in the MLB and is a .941 fielder there. 1692 innings at short in the minors with a .951 fielding %.

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Cincinnati Reds

Life after Votto: The Future at First

Who will man first base in a few years?

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is a time for roster debate. Constructing Opening Day rosters and batting orders is always a fun topic on #RedsTwitter. Since 2008, one name you can write in with Sharpie has been Votto, 1B. The MVP and 6-time all-star has earned that right due to his elite hitting and plate discipline. Entering his 14th season at age 36 many start to wonder….who’s next at first? Signed through 2023 with a 2024 team option with plenty of money attached, it appears Joey will retire as a Red. Finding his eventual replacement might be harder than it looks.

Since 2015, 3 names that are still in the organization have appeared on MLB.com top 30 list.

Ibandel Isabel #30 (2019) – Acquired from the Dodgers, Isabel brought legit power to the organization. In 2018 he hit a combined 36 home runs tied for the most of any minor leaguer. Like many power hitters, he struck out a ton, 161 times to be exact. 2019 he smashed 26 home runs with 153 strikeouts and an underwhelming .307 OBP. Each of the past two seasons he has hit more than twice as many home runs than doubles. Raw power is great, but he does not stand out in other aspects and likely is a one trick pony.

Bren Spillane #25 (2018) – 3rd rounder in 2018, Spillane spent 2019 in Dayton. .207/.302/.324 with 10 2B and 5 home runs to go along with 104 strikeouts. He did see some time at 3B and corner OF but will need to cut down on strikeouts and show his power potential to have any shot at seeing time at the MLB level.

Gavin LaValley #20 (2017) – LaValley spent 2019 in AA Chattanooga where he slashed .254/.339/.396 with 22 2B 10 home runs and struck out 111 times and walked 47 times. He saw more time at third but made 13 errors there. The 25-year-old former 4th round pick is not exactly an exciting option moving forward.

Other names that saw some time at first in the system: Samir Duenez (.211/.270/.314 in AA) Bruce Yari (.255/.330/.347 A Daytona) Cameron Warren (.257/.333/.353 A Dayton) are 20 plus round picks and minor league free agents who have a long way to go. The Reds signed Cuban 1B/3B Michael Triana last February and he is somewhat of an unknown and is still very young.

So…. where do the Reds go from here? Well if the DH comes to the NL, Votto could play DH and Moustakas could move over to first as he ages out of 2B. VanMeter can play first but I doubt he is the future there. Two prospects that haven’t played first but could make the change are Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson.

Players moving from their primary position to first base is nothing new. Many poor fielders or older players take this route. Currently, India is blocked at third and second. He’s logged 65 innings at SS, but moving to first is much easier than short. If not traded, a position change is needed. Corner outfield is possible but moving to first shouldn’t be ruled out.

Tyler Stephenson is a hell of a prospect. Now, let’s be clear…I think he will have years behind the plate in a Reds uniform. However, moving to first in the future could be possible. Stephenson stands at 6-4 and there simply aren’t a lot of 6-4 catchers. Of the 114 MLB players to log innings at catcher, 7 (6%) were 6-4 or taller with only 1 (Grayson Greiner 6-6) being taller than 6-4. While Stephenson has improved behind the plate, his bat is how he’s earned his name on prospect list. The most important thing is to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. Catching is a defense first focus for most MLB teams (example: Jeff Mathis) so making the transition to first is not out of question.

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