In the game of starting rotation musical chairs, the Reds only have fiveÃ‚Â seatsÃ‚Â for six pitchers. Last Saturday,Ã‚Â 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.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take a look at his 2013 numbers against the league’s average:
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, andÃ‚Â 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 theÃ‚Â 2014 numbers:
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 isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Ubaldo Jimenez, who is leading this category with a 5.33 BB/9.
Fangraphs breaks down the value of a pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 savedÃ‚Â 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 CingraniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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). CingraniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 CingraniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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%).
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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,Ã‚Â the only chairs left for Cingrani will beÃ‚Â in the bleachers.