We know Brandon Finnegan wants to be a starter. We know the Reds harbor the same feelings. But can prudence and patience prevail over rushed, unsound logic in the Reds’ latest reliever-to-starter experiment?

To Bryan Price’s credit, everything we’ve heard points to him pining for Aroldis Chapman to start during his days as Dusty Baker’s pitching coach. Recently, Price referenced Chapman when speaking to Finnegan’s future.

“I think the feeling is he could be pitching in the big leagues right now as a relief pitcher, but the ceiling is kind of like where we were with (Aroldis) Chapman years ago,” Price said. “Do we really want to commit to the bullpen when the kid can potentially be a starting pitcher? The value, really, is as the starter. If that’s something down the road if we determine he’s better suited as a reliever, that’s an easy switch. He proved he could do that last year and this year.”

The key word in that quote is “value.” Even as more and more high-brow economic terms have seeped into baseball’s lexicon over the years, the starter vs. reliever argument comes down to basic math: starters pitch more innings than relievers, and thus possess the ability to positively affect a greater numbers of games.

At present, Finnegan, who was recalled from Triple-A Louisville on Sept. 7, is working out of the Reds’ bullpen, though Price hasn’t ruled out the 22-year-old left-hander making a spot start or two before the season ends. (Update: Finnegan will start Friday’s series opener in Milwaukee as part of a revamped Reds’ rotation.) In 2.2 innings for the Reds, Finnegan has allowed a hit while striking out four and walking one. Things weren’t very rosy for Finnegan in eight starts for Louisville: 30.1 innings, 6.23 ERA/4.34 FIP, 5.04 BB/9, 8.90 K/9.

As I wrote back in late July after the Reds acquired Finnegan in the Johnny Cueto trade, the transition back to the rotation for Finnegan — who flourished in a starting role as his college days at TCU wore on — is likely to be slow and arduous. Before he was acquired by the Reds, this season was a lost one in terms of development for the Fort Worth, Texas, native. Finnegan alternated between starting and relieving in the minors through early June to go along with a few relief appearances here and there for the Royals. As a professional, Finnegan’s longest outing as a starter is five innings. He’s never thrown more than 88 pitches in a start.

There’s also a mental transition to consider. Remember: Finnegan has already experienced tremendous success as a baseball player. Not only did Finnegan make baseball history last season by pitching in the College World Series and the World Series during the same calendar year, but he logged time in tough spots in the majors — and thrived. Given that success, deep down in the inner recesses of his baseball soul, Finnegan probably believes that he belongs in the majors — and as a reliever, he absolutely does.

(Watch this video of Finnegan. Now watch this video of Billy Wagner. The similarities are eerie when it comes to body build (Finnegan is listed at 5-11, 185 pounds; Wagner was listed at 5-10, 180 pounds) and pitching profiles (mid-to-high 90s fastball, nasty slider). The potential for Finnegan to be a late-inning terror is there.)

If Finnegan already knows he can pitch in the majors and experience sustained success, will he be able to handle a dose of disappointment if he has to begin 2016 in Louisville to continue to work on becoming a MLB-ready starter? Despite publicly stating his desire to become a starter, will Finnegan be willing to trade short-term success — and possibly the role of Reds’ closer — for what could be a much more meaningful (and lucrative) career as a starter? Only time will tell — that is, if the Reds provide Finnegan with the necessary time to make the conversion. It seems like Brandon Finnegan, Starting Pitcher, has an ally in Price. Should Price lose his job, it will be interesting to watch how Finnegan’s development unfolds or changes.

Finnegan’s potential as a starter already has one in-house skeptic in Delino DeShields, Finnegan’s manager at Louisville, who saw the southpaw make all of eight starts at Triple-A.

“Honestly, I see him as a power arm in the bullpen,” DeShields said. “I see him as a guy who can pitch seventh and eighth inning of ballgames — a lefty who can be a setup type of guy. I think his stuff will play better in that role.

“But we’ll see. He’s a young guy. He hasn’t pitched a whole lot. This is really his first year of pro ball, so it’s probably too soon to label him.”

To be fair to DeShields, he did add that qualifier at the end of the quote. But DeShields is far from the only doubter, as experts at Baseball America and FanGraphs have cast concern on the feasibility of Finnegan as a starting pitcher.

But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that the Reds are very likely to suffer through an average-or-worse year in 2016: the pitching is too young, the hitting is too inconsistent, and the division is too good. The Reds should avoid a repeat of history, and let Finnegan prove he cannot start.

My fear is this: if Walt Jocketty finds his blockbuster trade and successfully deals Chapman, the Reds will obviously need a new closer. (I hear those of you clamoring for the death of the closer role, and I’m on your side. But that ninth-inning institution isn’t going anywhere, so we have to roll with it for now.)

Some believe the closer-in-waiting is J.J. Hoover. I’m not ready to make that leap yet, though Hoover should certainly be in the mix. Aside from Hoover, there are no other viable in-house candidates to close. After dishing out major money to sign Francisco Cordero and Jonathan Broxton on the free agent closer market within the last decade, it’s unlikely the Reds shell out that kind of money for a ninth inning-only reliever once again.

Let’s say the Reds settle on a closer. This is where Tony Cingrani enters the equation. If the young lefty can show in spring training and early next season that he’s ready to settle into what will likely be a hybrid role of lefty specialist and late-inning stopper, the temptation to ask Finnegan to fill that role will lessen.

It’s unlikely that Finnegan makes the Reds’ rotation out of spring training next year. Barring something unforeseen, Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias are locks for next year’s rotation. Once Homer Bailey is ready to return — likely around mid-May — he will be in the rotation. Given their experience starting in the majors, John Lamb, Michael Lorenzen, and Jon Moscot are presumably ahead of Finnegan in the pecking order. Top prospect Robert Stephenson likely has a leg-up too, despite having no major league experience. Keyvius Sampson and David Holmberg have posted woeful numbers with the Reds, but they at least have starting experience in the bigs. There’s also a chance the Reds could add a proven innings-eater over the offseason to ensure that the bullpen avoids overuse early in the season supporting what will again be a very young and inexperienced rotation.

So, will prudence prevail with Brandon Finnegan, Starting Pitcher? Let’s hope so, lest the Reds make the same mistake twice.

23 Responses

  1. gaffer

    The failure with Aroldis appears to have been Aroldis himself. He refused to become a starter! All this discusion was and always has been moot, as Aroldis made the decision. Further, he was not needed as a starter really until this year (we only used 5 starters ALL YEAR in 2012 and had Cingrani as a good fill in in 2013 and we stunk anyway in 2014).

    I almost see Finnegan as the opposite problem, he likely can’t actually be a starter (horrible control) but wants to be.

    • Jeremy Conley

      Pitcher’s can’t refuse to do anything. All Chapman did was answer a reporter’s question, and he said he’d prefer to close. Bully for him. He is not in charge.

      • i71_Exile

        What were the Reds going to do—fire him? Aroldis has a huge say in how he’s used. He has a guaranteed contract and lots of other teams who would love to have him close. His talent is to great to toss aside.

        Case in point: Joey Votto, left fielder. Joey basically refused to entertain the question when asked if he would consider a move to left during the Yonder Alonso days. FWIW, I agree with Joey. He had earned his first base position and shouldn’t have to move for some rookie who can’t play anywhere else. Plus, I suspect that Joey knows that he might not be a particularly outstanding left fielder.

      • Jeremy Conley

        Remember when Aroldis Chapman was making starts in spring training 2 years in a row? He wasn’t refusing to pitch. This whole idea is not based in fact in any way shape or form.

        What we know is that a Reds reporter asked him what he would rather do, and he said close. At the time he was making starts and was the best starter the Reds had in spring training by ERA. So that’s what we actually know. Everything else is wild speculation.

      • redslam

        Agreed – I can’t imagine if he converted to starter and was successful that Aroldis would have gone on strike… it would have been fine. And if he wasn’t successful, put him back at closer. As said above, it is far, far easier to make transition from starter to reliever.

      • Chuck Schick

        While ” refusing ” to start is likely not something Chapman could do without fines and/or suspensions, the Reds would be crazy to alienate one of their best players. The typical employee-employer relationship doesn’t really apply to extremely talented, not easily replaceable players.

        If you’re Chapman, why would you want to start? Your chances for injury are greater and you’re still on your first contract. What if you fail as a starter? Why take the risk when you’re holding all the cards.

        If the Reds suspended him for refusing to start they would lose his services and put themselves in a position to be the team of last resort for any player with choices. There’s no upside.

      • Michael E

        Why would you want to start? Simple, because if you don’t, you don’t close and you lose mega money. That is how I would have done it. No player or agent is going to mope for 5 years of their prime waiting for a trade or free agency. Chapman is a competitor, he’d have been our best starting LH pitcher since Danny Jackson or Don Gullet. Yeah, we ain’t had many with that kind of stuff.

        Chapman wouldn’t have complained about being a starter, he simply preferred to close so he could go all out, but he’d have been in love with starting after throwing a shutout against the Cards or Dodgers.

        A closer is basically a pitcher that couldn’t hack being a starter…so much less respect. The closers that buck that notion are few and far between.

  2. james garrett

    I agree that the Reds let Finnegan prove he isn’t a starter either in the minors or big leagues next year.Let not do the Cingrani thing ever ever again.

    • Michael E

      AND give him a LONG leash, not just 5 or 6 starts and call it quits.

      Imagine if John Smoltz, Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux, all stinky to begin their careers, were quickly yanked from starting to be relegated to half-duties of a middle reliever. The Braves wouldn’t have won a single division title, much less 13 in a row, from 1991 onward.

      This the problem with taking pitchers with the best stuff on the staff and stuffing them in a bullpen and not even using them for 3 or 4 days at a time every other week.

  3. Jeremy Conley

    A couple of thoughts:

    1) when will the JJ Hoover non-sense stop? Look at the guy’s xFIP over the last 4 years. 4.40, 3.97, 3.99, 4.74. That means that the big changes in his ERA are due to three things: BABIP (mostly out of his control), HR/FB (mostly out of his control), and stranding runners (mostly out of his control). The guy has .2 WAR per season. He is replacement level. Why can’t we let go of the idea that he’s going to be an elite pitcher someday?

    2) I agree with both Grant and DeShields on this one. With 2016 likely to be a transition year, there’s no downside to seeing if Finnegan can start for a season. That said, from watching him pitch, I don’t think he’s going to end up as a starter.

    3) The MLB team that decides to make it it’s mission to have it’s best relievers get over 100 innings is going to have a huge advantage until all the other teams catch up. That’s what I’d really like to see them do with Finnegan. If the Reds set a goal that he’d pitch around 70 games and 120 innings, and he’d probably end up being the most valuable relief pitcher in the game.

    • whodeythinkgonnabeatthemredlegs

      I really agree with #3 and while I have essentially no experience in the game I do think the bullpen structures are huge areas for opportunity. I like the analogy of the “monster back” in football, not fast enough for a safety and not big enough for a linebacker, just an all-around good player who needs to be on the field as much as possible.

    • doctor

      yes on #3, I recall days of Danny Graves, Scott Sullivan and Williamson pitching 80 to 110 innings in relief. in some cases because Reds starters were bad but it was successful.

    • Michael E

      The whole problem with #3? This tends to happen only when a team has awful starting pitching. Rarely does a team with a good rotation have a reliever go 100 innings.

      so, if we have to have a rotation with an ERA of 4.00+ so that Finnegan can get 110+ innings, I’d rather have Finnegan throwing 200 innings as a 30 start pitcher.

  4. WVRedlegs

    Its a funny thing. If the Reds had moved Chapman into the rotation and promoted him from Louisville in 2011, there is the huge possibility that the Mat Latos trade never happens. What might have been?
    The Reds might have stuck with Alonso in LF and Ludwick is never signed. What might have played out at C with Mesoraco and Grandal? Boxberger would be leading the bullpen. Would the Reds still need to make the Choo trade for 2013?
    That one little crossroads the Reds came to with Chapman and the course taken by the Reds sure had an astounding affect on the Reds organization and history.
    A similar, but different, situation faces the Reds with Finnegan. Do the Reds install and use Finnegan as possibly their 8th best starting option in 2016 in Louisville, or do they use him as quite possibly, sans Chapman, the best arm in their ML bullpen? Even if Chapman stays, he’d be the 2nd best arm in the pen.
    I kind of see history repeating itself for the Reds next year. It should be a very interesting off-season for the Reds this year. How the 2016 roster shapes out is anyone’s guess. The only sure thing is Votto at 1st base. Everything else is open to discussion.

    • CP

      I think there is a good chance Votto doesn’t get re-signed if you play out your scenario. Basically, the same thing the Cards did with Pujols. That was actually the option I would have chosen at the time. As he is now, Votto was my favorite player then, but I believed that was the optimal path for this organization.

      I don’t think that changes matters much with the catchers. One of them would have been traded, and most likely Grandal because he was slightly younger (and in my opinion, a safer bet to transition to MLB).

      The Reds took the short term winning approach, and I understand why. I think the Votto deal was fine by itself because of AAV, but it was the later dud contracts that have really hurt the organization.

  5. gaffer

    I think about the Latos trade frequently but I still think it worked out because we got 3 prime years of Latos at BELOW market value (we only paid him 11 million total) AND now 6 cheap years of DeSclafani. Latos was key to the reds success (and failures) and I dont think that those teams make the playoffs with Chappy instead of Latos nor Alonso instead of Ludwick. Maybe we would be better off today but NOT in 2012.

    What we gave up:
    Alonso is horrible (and thank god they did not play him in LF)
    Grandal is good but got suspended for ‘roids and I would maybe still have traded him straight up for Disco
    Boxberger is basically JJ Hoover (although I would take that)
    Edinson does not require comment

  6. IndyRedMan

    Only one small discrepancy that I see here…..Billy Wagner threw 99 mph and Finnegan was 92-94 the other night from what I saw? Granted Finnegan has a weird delivery but Cingrani seems to be hard to pick as a hitter as well. Finnegan is wrong just like Chapman was wrong. Chapman would prefer to relieve….so he’s relieves? I’d prefer to be the CEO here at work but for reason they don’t see it that way? What ever happened to doing whatever is best for the organization that pays you?

  7. redslam

    Closing by committee would be ideal, but won’t happen. Cingrani and Hoover and Jumbo and if one or more struggle, settle in on one. We aren’t going to compete next year anyway – trade Chapman for max value and keep rebuilding. Give young players the chance to achieve their maximum upside why we are rebuilding (meaning Finnegan should be stretched out in minors as starter – if good enough, promote).

    • doctor

      absolutely right on with bullpen. got 3 guys right there, plus somebody from kiddie starter corp who pitches well enough to be on MLB club but not as the starter, say Lorenzen for example.

    • Shchi Cossack

      Freking Eh! It’s about time too. Even if this means we see more Holmberg or possibly even Villarreal in the starting rotation, it’s past time to shut some guys down and look toward spring training.

      • jessecuster44

        There’s no one better than Josh Smith? Good grief.

  8. Michael E

    I honestly don’t see why so many think he’ll be a reliever. He could be a good reliever, surely, but that is what all failed starters become, relievers. There is little in his delivery or windup that says reliever, so it must only be based on the fact he is under 6′ tall? Personally, size means nothing. We have drafted a bunch of 6’4″ soft tossers in the 90s that blew out their arms in the minors on low innings counts. I don’t buy that crap about being to small to endure being a starter. Sure, bigger typically means a little easier to throw hard with a little less effort, but no reason to discount anyone based on size until their play actual proves size a liability (so far so good for Finnegan)