“To get in there in the end, where the heat is and the adrenaline is pumping, I love it. The adrenaline in the later innings is incredible.” — Tony Cingrani to the Houston Chronicle, May 2011.

Back in spring training, the Reds announced Tony Cingrani’s matriculation to the bullpen. Understandably, Cingrani was frustrated with the club’s decision. After all, Cingrani spent the entire offseason preparing to be a major-league starter, something he has had (limited) success doing already in the bigs. When Cingrani found out he wasn’t even going to get a shot to prove himself as a starter in real games come April, he was predictably upset.

It’s hard to blame Cingrani–who will turn 26 on July 5–for desiring a consistent role on a baseball team, a status that has evaded the southpaw dating back to his days at Rice University. Consider:

*Cingrani was a starter when he arrived at Rice prior to the 2010 season, but he was moved to the bullpen early in the Owls’ 2011 campaign after producing disastrous results in Rice’s rotation: Cingrani recorded an 8.59 ERA with more walks than strikeouts while starting in 2010 and posted a 8.43 ERA through two starts in 2011. The switch proved to be a sage move: Cingrani finished the 2011 season with a 1.74 ERA in 32 relief appearances, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine innings–a K rate Cingrani has been able to maintain or improve upon as a professional.

*At three different stops (Rookie ball, High-A, Double-A) from 2011-12, Cingrani appeared in 39 games, making 38 starts. Cingrani was dominating (252 strikeouts in 197.1 innings) over this stretch. He pitched five innings of relief for the Reds near the end of the 2012 season.

*In 2013 with the Reds, Cingrani made seven starts from April 18 to June 11, logging 40 innings. From June 17 through June 28, Cingrani made zero starts and tossed eight innings of relief. From July 3 through September 10, Cingrani moved back to the rotation and threw 57.2 innings.

*Cingrani started 11 straight games to begin the 2014 season in Cincinnati, then made two relief appearances before being sent to Louisville and landing on the disabled list.

So, Cingrani’s role with the Reds hasn’t exactly been clearly defined for long periods of time. But, let’s get to 2015. To this point, Cingrani’s return to the bullpen has produced mixed results:

The Good

*Twelfth among qualified National League relievers in opponents’ batting average.

*One of 15 NL bullpeners–including fellows Reds Aroldis Chapman and J.J. Hoover–to not give up a home run in 2015.

*Ranked in the top 20 among NL relievers in strikeout rate (26.1 %, up from 21.8% in 2014) and park-adjusted ERA (22 percentage points better than league average).

The Bad

*Walk rate of 18.2% is tops among NL relievers and is highest of pro career. (Walks have been a problem for the entire bullpen, as Reds relievers own the NL’s third-highest walk rate.)

*K-BB% of 8.2% ranks 63rd among 77 qualified NL relievers.

Deconstructing Cingrani’s 2015 season by traditional numbers adds further clarity: Through 20.2 innings, Cingrani is striking a lot of people out (23), but is dishing out far too many walks (16) to be a dominant reliever. The following table should illustrate the pattern Cingrani needs to shake:

Year MLB innings Strikeouts/9 innings Walks/9 innings
2012 5.0 16.20 3.60
2013 104.2 10.32 3.70
2014 63.1 8.67 4.97
2015 20.2 10.02 6.97

Cingrani’s two appearances vs. the Nationals over the weekend illustrate the contrast that has defined his 2015 campaign:

Friday: hit by pitch, lineout, flyout, walk, strikeout, walk, walk. 33 pitches.

Sunday: strikeout, strikeout, strikeout. 15 pitches.

As far as Cingrani’s arsenal goes, it should surprise no one that has followed the 6-4, 215-pound lefty’s career that other than Orioles’ closer Zach Britton, no reliever has used their fastball more often than Cingrani. After flashing increased usage of a slider and changeup in 2014, Cingrani has effectively dumped the changeup in 2015, relying almost exclusively on his fastball (84.1%) and slider (13.2%) since his probably-permanent move to the bullpen.

Where does Cingrani go from here?

Unfortunately, I’ve got a bland answer: to continue his development as lethal weapon out of the bullpen, mostly by harnessing his tendency to morph into Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn on occasion. Reds manager Bryan Price miscast Cingrani as a long reliever through the first month of the season–at one juncture, Cingrani went 12 days between appearances–eventually causing Price to lament that he had not “really given (Cingrani) a great opportunity to contribute.”

However, it would be reckless to suggest the Reds should–for lack of a better term–turn Cingrani loose. Cingrani saw his 2014 season end prematurely because of a shoulder injury last June shortly after his demotion to Louisville. In 2013, Cingrani dealt with a sore shoulder in May before back issues began to crop up as the season wore on. Those back problems eventually required a stint on the disabled list and took Cingrani out of the postseason picture, as he failed to pitch after September 10.

All in all, Cingrani’s 2015 results have been about what we could expect. And given his pitching repertoire, injury history, and occasionally-flammable temperament, I believe the Reds made the correct decision in moving Cingrani to the bullpen. It’ll be fun to see how Cingrani–who is not arbitration-eligible until 2017–improves as the season goes along and how his role evolves in the coming years.