In the game of starting rotation musical chairs, the Reds only have five seats for six pitchers. Last Saturday, the music stopped and Tony Cingrani was left without a chair. His success in professional baseball is indisputable: he started 2011 in rookie ball and finished 2012 in major league baseball. Yet as quickly as thing came together in 2013, they fell apart in 2014.

I’m sure he is sitting out in the bullpen wondering the same question you and I have been asking for awhile: how did it all go wrong so quickly?

First, let’s take a look at his 2013 numbers against the league’s average:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
Tony Cingrani 104.2 10.32 3.7 1.2 0.241
2013 7.57 3.02 0.96 0.294

 

Name LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Tony Cingrani 82.10% 34.30% 12.60% 2.92 3.78 3.49
2013 73.50% 44.50% 10.50% 3.87 3.87 3.87

From this profile we see Cingrani as a pitcher who gives away too many walks but gets out of trouble by striking out hitters at a nice 10.32 clip. He gets burned with the home run, and his BABIP is way below league average. Even with his high strikeout numbers, that .241 BABIP could be a big problem in 2014.

Here are the 2014 numbers:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
Tony Cingrani 59.2 8.75 4.68 1.81 0.298
2014 7.78 3.07 0.9 0.294

 

Name LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Tony Cingrani 79.50% 36.30% 16.20% 4.68 5.31 4.3
2014 73.10% 45.60% 10.00% 3.79 3.79 3.79

I know that not everyone is on the WAR-train, but I think we can all agree that a negative Wins Above Replacement stat is a cause for concern.

Cingrani is still striking out batters at an above league average rate, but he is giving out free passes to first base at an astonishing clip. For all pitchers who have thrown at least fifty innings, Cingrani has the fourth highest BB/9. Yikes. At least he isn’t Ubaldo Jimenez, who is leading this category with a 5.33 BB/9.

Fangraphs breaks down the value of a pitcher’s pitches by using a linear weight system. This system essentially asks: which pitch saves the most runs for a pitcher over the course of a season. The system calculates runs saved by taking the total win expectancy for each pitch in a game and then summing the total for each pitch type. So, even though going from 0-0 to 0-1 is a very small increase in win expectancy for the pitcher, summed over the course of a season it can give you an idea of how useful each pitch is.

wFB is the weighted value of Cingrani’s fastball. In 2013 it was 11.1 runs saved, which was good for 34th best in the league (another amazing Clayton Kershaw stat, his wFB was 37.7 in 2013). Cingrani’s slider in 2013 was a modest 2.3 runs saved.

In 2014, Cigrani has posted a -2.1 wFB while his slider is at -2.1 runs saved.

Since this is a linear weight system (read: counting system) it could be biased due to random variation in a small sample size. The biggest culprits for this would either be batting average on balls in play (BABIP) or an unlucky home runs per fly ball rate.

On BABIP, his numbers are right at league average (.298) but his HR/FB is elevated to 16.2% from 12.6% last year. Yet it is doubtful that his collapse in 2013 can be pinned on a 4% increase in HR/FB. Its still a large increase in the number of fly balls that cross the fence, but probably not the whole story.

So if his weighted runs saved is not biased by random events, it leads us to this question: why has Cingrani’s fastball fallen off the map?

It is not a drop in velocity (91.2 this year, 91.8 last year).

He is not relying on his fastball more this year than in past years (81.0% of pitches last year, 74.7% this year).

This may seem obvious, but Tony Cingrani just cannot get hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone this year. His O-Swing% (24.2%) is dramatically lower than last year (30.2%) while hitters are making contact with pitches outside the zone at right about the same rate as last year.

And when hitters do swing, they are less likely to miss the ball this year (7.9%) than they did last year (9.9%).

When Cingrani does come over the plate, however, hitters are making contact over the plate more often (86.5%) than they did last year (83.9%).

On all pitches, both inside the zone and outside the zone, hitters are making contact more often this year (81.2%) than they did last year (77.6%).

I’m still optimistic about our 24-year-old southpaw, but if he cannot get hitters to offer at pitches outside the zone, Cingrani is not going to be able to get his strikeout rate back into the double digits.

And if that music stops, the only chairs left for Cingrani will be in the bleachers.

16 Responses

  1. Kurt Frost

    He’s walking guys to clog up the bases which makes it harder for them to score.

  2. Michael J Hampton

    He needs to develop a good secondary pitch. His fast ball is good but its not Chapman good, and even Chapman is developing a couple of good secondary pitches. The league has adjusted to Cingrani and now he needs to adjust by developing that secondary pitch (AAA would be the best place to do that). I believe Tony can still have a great future, but he needs to make that adjustment.

  3. Alex Beurket

    If I remember correctly, a lot of Cingrani’s success outside of the zone came with getting hitters to chase the high fastball or locate it just above the strike-zone. Just based on watching games this year it seems that is either not part of his gameplan or he’s simply not able to do it as well- although I don’t have any stats to back that up.

  4. Shchi Cossack

    One of the problems with such a meteoric rise through the minor leagues is lack of a track record and lack of development. That wasn’t Cingrani’s fault or the Reds fault, but it probably left unrealistic expectations regarding his future upside. Cingrani must go down to AAA and develope an effective repertoire of pitches to use as a starting pitcher or develop as a relief pitcher and he’s got 2 years to do it and prove he is capable of long-term success.

    Right now Cingrani is not needed in the satarting rotation and is simply not effective as he ios being used in relief at the major league level. With the questions surrounding Cingrani’s long-term prospects as a starting pitcher, the Chapman debate may need to be revisited by the Reds decision makers.

    The other issue that concerns me about the Cingrani situation is the model for drafting and developing potential starting pitchers based on Cingrani’s early success. The Reds have been very aggressive in drafting hard-throwing relievers or even hard-throwing two-way players and projecting them as starters without a solid track record as a starting pitcher…the Tony Cingrani model. With Cingrani’s struggles as a starting pitcher, that model scares the daylights out of the Old Cossack.

  5. Redgamer

    This is also very worrisome for Ben Lively. If you look at the scouting reports, they often compare the two based on mediocre stuff but great deception.

  6. Richard Fitch

    Thanks, Michael for unraveling the puzzle that is Tony Cingrani in 2014. Tony’s command was always suspect, but now, I’d guess batters have adjusted and are laying off the high fastball Alex talks about above.

    TC has never thrown a 2-seam fastball and has almost completely abandoned his curve, which he threw 7-8% of the time during the middle of last season. He’s almost doubled his slider usage, but if he isn’t getting that over and hitters are laying off the high fastball–that would explain the inflated walk rate.

    And if his command of his fastball is suffering, it’s entirely possible that more than a few of those high fastballs have dropped down into the “hit me now” zone and wreaked havoc on his ERA.

    We often fuss about velocity to the exclusion of all else, Kinda makes one appreciate Mike Leake even more, doesn’t it?

    • Shchi Cossack

      We all become enamored with hard-throwing, top-of-the-rotation starters, but the Leakes and Arroyos and Hudsons are invaluable starting rotation pitchers. I personally think Leake must be a priority extention target for the Reds.

      • preacherj

        Unless hard throwers develop some Arroyo-ness at some point, their career arc is usually fairly short and often spend much time with an arm in a sling. Their is tremendous value in guys who can eat innings season after season. I have to agree about extending Leake. He still has not hit his best years yet, and he can do so much even off the mound which makes it worth the money. Imagine a series in which a team has to face lefty Chapman one night and a top of his game Leake the next.

        It is absolutely correct that hitters are not being tempted by TC’s high heat. That adjustment has been made. It’s being taken as a ball while waiting for one to drift down the zone a little. Add a control issue on the slider, and the results are not good. AAA is where he needs to be. I believe that those in the organization who feel otherwise are looking at Chapman’s recent development of secondary pitches and are trying to use that as a comp. Chapman is an athletic freak who logged many professional innings prior to coming to MLB. It’s not doing Tony nor the Reds any good to let him ride the bullpen bench.

  7. the next janish

    Before 4/30 start – After DL Stint

    IP 28.1 – 29.6
    ER 9 – 20
    HR 2 – 9
    H 20 – 36
    BB 15 – 18
    SO 30 – 29
    ERA 2.88 – 6.08
    HR/9 0.64 – 2.74
    H/9 6.41 – 10.95
    BB/9 4.80 – 5.47
    SO/9 9.61 – 8.82

    I think breaking the season into two parts might be beneficial for further discussion. Nice that the IPs were pretty similar, and I have a new appreciation for ones effort to try to format data in a post. Is there an easier way to embed excel data?

    • al

      Because the walks and strikeouts are about the same, I think the difference in ERA is mostly a sample size issue. Generally, pitchers don’t have that much control over how many flyballs turn into HRs (see Chapman in Pittsburgh a few nights ago, in most parks, or on a different night, it’s a HR not a final out).

      The biggest difference on that list of stats is the HRs, and we just don’t know how many warning track flyballs he gave up in the first 28.1 innings. It could just be random variation (i.e. small sample size issue) that had him giving up so few and then so many HRs.

  8. al

    The Reds need to make a call on Tony soon. If they see him as a starter going forward, this is what I would do:

    Send him to AAA to start, and retool his repertoire. Fundamentally, he’s a fastball pitcher, and so his other pitches should work more off of that. I think (As Richard said above) his work on his slider this year has actually hurt his fastball’s effectiveness.

    I would work on him with a 2-seem fastball, a cut fastball, and a change up or splitter. Those are all basically different types of fastballs, that do different things based on how they are gripped. If Tony can develop an average sinker and change, or cutter and split, then he can throw those two with his 4-seem up in the zone up to 90% and still keep hitters off balance.

    Then his slider, which doesn’t really have to be good, becomes a show-me, set-up type pitch, rather than his primary secondary pitch.

  9. al

    On the other hand, plenty of lefty relievers have gotten by on a good fastball and average slider. If the Reds see him as a reliever going forward, just getting him more consistent with the slider is probably enough.

  10. ohiojimw

    I thought the comments of Russell Martin about the situation yesterday also provide a wider insight to part of what is going on with Cingrani. Essentially Russell said that Cingrani had become so consistently inconsistent in his wildness that he had lost the umpires’ eyes on borderline/ close pitches. I suspect this correlates with the data that batters are swinging out of the less frequently against him which in turn correlates with the increased BABIP and walk rate.

  11. Greg Dafler

    In 2 weeks, the Reds will have a stretch of 11 games in 10 days (doubleheader with the Cubs). They’ll need a 6th starter. Maybe it won’t be Cingrani, but they need to keep him stretched out and working on his stuff in AAA to either let him fill that role in 2 weeks or at least make him a viable option again if someone else gets injured.

  12. Dale Pearl

    Dont see it posted here but Tony was just sent down, and jumbo diaz added to the 25 and called up. Mike marshall was added to the 60 day dl to make room. Pretty sure Marshall is going to be done at least for this year. Sounds like everyone gets what they want in this series of tranactions

  13. WVRedlegs

    The interview with the Pirates Russell Martin after the game on ROOT Sports spoke volumes about Cingrani. He said they knew Cingrani was struggling He said that once Cingrani got down 2-0, he knew he had to make him throw strikes. That he wasn’t going to swing at anything that wasn’t a solid strike. That has been Cingrani’s problem this year is getting behind in the count on too many hitters. And when he has, he has grooved too many pitches. They sit and wait on his fastball. And then Ka-boom.
    They will get him straightened out with Ted Power.