A key and often necessary component of a rebuilding professional sports team is cutting costs. For example, we can say with relative certainty that at least four National League clubs are in some form of a rebuild — the Reds, Braves, Brewers, and Phillies. Via USA Today, those four teams rank 22nd (Reds), 25th (Phillies), 28th (Brewers), and 29th (Braves) in 2016 payroll.

Rebuilding teams typically rely on reclamation projects or cheap alternatives to fix glaring weaknesses rather than doling out cash to fix said weakness by more reliable means. Why spend the money to repair a problem when your philosophy is geared toward the development of your cheap, younger players and pushes the importance of wins and losses toward the back burner?

This strategy brings us to the Reds and their bullpen, whose present construction inspires the same confidence as pyromaniac overseeing a July 4th fireworks exhibition. An in-depth breakdown is needed because this group will be toeing the line between mediocre and dumpster fire until reinforcements arrive. A rundown of the Reds’ present options in the bullpen:

• Two should-be sixth or seventh-inning relievers (J.J. Hoover, Jumbo Diaz) miscast as high-leverage firemen.

• A young left-hander (Tony Cingrani) with control issues whose development was stunted by injuries and a minor case of the Brandon Finnegan Treatment (moving up and down between majors and minors in both a starting and relief role).

• A 33-year-old with a wicked-awesome windup (Ross Ohlendorf) who has only logged 19.1 major league innings since 2013 before this season.

• A 30-year-old near-career minor leaguer (Blake Wood) who had only recorded 7.2 innings in the bigs since 2011 before this season.

• A right-hander new to the organization (Caleb Cotham) who tallied a 6.55 FIP in 9.2 innings with the Yankees in 2015, his first taste of the majors.

• A talented right-hander with serious walk issues (Keyvius Sampson) who is pitching in a MLB bullpen full-time for the first time after putting up an 4.76 FIP in 12 starts for the Reds in 2015.

• A player with a career FIP of 4.69 in 263.1 MLB innings (Dan Straily) who joined his third team in five days when the Reds claimed him off waivers on April 1.

Now that we know what the Reds are dealing with, let’s take a look at how the Reds’ bullpen has fared through seven games:

April 4: Reds win 6-2 over Phillies

Relievers: Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf, Hoover.

Statistics: 3 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts.

April 6: Reds win 3-2 over Phillies

Relievers: Cotham, Wood.

Statistics: 3 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout.

April 7: Reds win 10-6 over Phillies

Relievers: Diaz, Cingrani, Sampson, Ohlendorf.

Statistics: 4 innings, 2 (earned) runs, 1 home run, 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 5 strikeouts.

Notable: The bullpen’s 8.1-inning scoreless streak ended in the top of the seventh when Sampson surrendered a two-run home run to Carlos Ruiz.

April 8: Reds lose 6-5 to Pirates

Relievers: Cotham, Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf, Hoover, Wood.

Statistics: 4 innings, 4 (earned) runs, 1 home run, 3 hits, 4 walks, 1 HBP, 3 strikeouts.

Notable: Each of the Reds’ first four relievers (Cotham, Diaz, Cingrani, Ohlendorf) issued at least one walk. Ohlendorf retired the first two batters of the eighth inning before plunking John Jaso, hurling a wild pitch, walking Andrew McCutchen, and yielding an infield single to David Freese. Hoover took over for Ohlendorf and grooved a 1-0 breaking ball to Starling Marte, who deposited the ball in the left field seats for a grand slam. Wood was the lone reliever that failed to allow a hit or issue a free pass.

April 9: Reds win 5-1 over Pirates

Relievers: Wood, Cotham, Hoover.

Statistics: 3.1 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts.

Notable: With the Reds clinging to a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Wood walked Matt Joyce and gave up a double to Jaso to put runners at second and third. Wood recovered to get a groundout from McCutchen, and that groundout incredibly turned into a double play thanks to savvy fielding from Joey Votto and questionable baserunning from Jaso. Wood fanned Freese to end the threat.

April 10: Reds win 2-1 over Pirates

Relievers: Straily, Diaz, Ohlendorf.

Statistics: 5 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 3 strikeouts.

Notable: Straily spun three scoreless innings in his first action of the season. Adam Duvall’s spot-on throw from left field to nail Josh Harrison prevented the Pirates from taking a 2-1 lead in the eighth.

April 11: Reds lose 5-3 to Cubs

Relievers: Cotham, Cingrani, Diaz.

Statistics: 2.1 innings, 3 (earned) runs, 2 hits, 1 home run, 2 walks, 1 HBP, 0 strikeouts.

Notable: Entering the game with two outs and runners on first and second in the seventh, Cotham walked Dexter Fowler to load the bases. Cingrani replaced Cotham and left a 0-2 fastball over the plate that was hammered by Jason Heyward into right field for a two-run single. Cingrani induced a groundout to end the threat, but got himself in major trouble in the eighth. The lefty allowed a one-out walk to Ben Zobrist, unfurled a wild pitch to advance the runner, and then hit Jorge Soler with a pitch that (luckily for the Reds) bounced seemingly 10 feet in front of home plate but managed to nick Soler. Diaz relieved Cingrani and grooved a 95 mph fastball over the heart of the plate to Addison Russell, who clubbed the offering into the left field seats for a three-run homer and a 5-3 Cubs advantage.

Seven-game Reds bullpen tale of the tape: 24.2 innings, 9 earned runs, 16 hits, 3 home runs, 13 walks, 4 HBP, 17 strikeouts.

In jumping out to a 5-1 start through the first week of the season, the Reds injected the fan base with some optimism. Clutch hitting was everywhere. Even if the starting pitching couldn’t crack the seventh inning, the Reds’ young hurlers were keeping the team in the game.

The patchwork bullpen was (kind of) getting the job done … until Monday night happened. The bullpen’s performance in Chicago put a dent in the good it had accomplished before that. By taking a look at key statistics, it’s evident that the Reds’ bullpen stunk (duh) in 2015 even with Aroldis Chapman, and the group is trending even further in the wrong direction through seven games in 2016.

Season xFIP IS% LOB% BB% SwStr%
2015 4.17/13th 32.0/12th 72.9/9th 9.7/12th 10.9/10th
2016 5.77 /14th 47.0/9th 83.3/13th 13.1/12th 10.0/11th

Key: xFIP=adjusted version of Fielding Independent pitching; IS%=Inherited Score Percentage, or runners inherited by relievers that score; LOB%=Left on Base percentage, the amount of runners relievers leave stranded on the bases; BB%=walk rate; SwStr%=swings and missed divided by total pitches. Rankings out of 15 National League teams.

Look, as Steve noted yesterday, this is the way things will be for awhile. Even when a few of the starters get bumped into the ‘pen, things will likely only improve marginally. The reality is that in part, the Reds’ bullpen is woeful by design; per Cot’s Contracts, Hoover is the lone arm making seven figures in 2016.

With that in mind, buckle up and keep the Pepto at the ready. It’s going to be a season-long roller coaster ride in the late innings.

12 Responses

  1. lost11found

    We kind of expected this at least until the injured came off the DL, but the biggest problem is that the guys (Diaz, Hoover) thought to be the better parts of the pen have had the poorest results.

    All that said, its one week. After April and May are done, we will have a much better frame of reference.

  2. Tct

    The Reds have a real opportunity in a rebuilding season to try out some things for the bullpen. I hate 7 and 8 man bullpens and I think we reached the point of diminishing returns in bullpen specialization long ago. So here’s what I say;

    6 man bullpen comprised of 3 long guys and 3 short guys. The long guys would throw 2-3 innings per outing and pitch twice a week on average. The 3 short guys would be used more like typical relievers and even some situational matchup, like lefty on lefty.

    The Reds would have some good choices for the long guys. Sampson and Cotham were starters last year and could be stretched out easily. Straily already looks like he could handle it as he pitched 3 innings in a game already. When everybody gets healthy Lorenzen and Moscot could give it a go also. Another advantage is it would help with the innings limits When Iggy and Finnegan are nearing their limits, move them to the long guy role and move Lorenzen and Moscot into the rotation.

    Pitching 2-3 innings instead of 1 shouldn’t limit their effectiveness that much. Analytically, the big difference between starter and reliever is that as a reliever you miss the times through the order penalty. In theory, there really shouldn’t be much difference between facing 3 batters and facing 9 as you never have to face anyone twice either way.

    The big benefit here is that you open up another bench spot. That means another platoon or being able to stash a specialist on your bench. I believe this is more valuable than the value gained from the 7th reliever who is usually replacement level or worse and usually doesn’t pitch much anyway.

  3. David

    This bullpen reminds me of the pens headlined by David Weathers. I can still see Todd Coffey coming in to pitch miserably. I need a mind eraser to get these memories out of my head.

    • lwblogger2

      There were some bad ones over the years.

    • IndyRedMan

      Todd Coffey….lol. The only “professional” athlete that should be allowed to be 50+ pounds overweight is an NFL offensive lineman. I used to think that dude would pull a Chris Farley just running in from the bullpen

    • DHud

      That name is a running joke in my family. As in every time we’re dismayed by the Reds bullpen, we say “I bet Todd Coffey is still available”

  4. WVRedlegs

    The title of this article had to be borrowed from “Home Alone”, yes?
    The calvary is needed soon. The sharks are already circling Jumbo Diaz and Tony Cingrani. Blood in the water.

  5. mtkal

    It will be very important how the Reds handle getting all those guys on IR back, and how and where they pitch them, both in rehabbing, and deciding who goes to the BP and who starts.

    One would think (or hope) that having Brian Price as the manager we’d be in good hands making all those decisions. I think a lot of us have had our confidence in Price’s handling of pitchers shaken a bit the last year or so.

    We do seem to have enough decent young arms that by the end of this season, we should have a fairly decent bullpen figured out. That’s certainly gonna be an important thing to watch this season, though it will be painful at times.

    • bobbyhowsamjr

      “One would think (or hope) that having Brian Price as the manager we’d be in good hands making all those decisions.”

      If you look up Bryan Price in wiki, you’ll see that he is the antonym of good hands. Look, Bryan Price burned this team to the ground, which is why we are in rebuild mode. He was hired supposedly because he was the coach in the business at developing young pitchers. I don’t see it. Tony Cingrani is afraid of his own shadow thanks to Price and J.J. and Jumbo’s best skill is throwing batting practice fastballs to fastball pitchers on the inner half at exactly the wrong time. Other than Finnegan, none of the Reds’ pitchers, none of them, pound the strike zone. Other than Finnegan, none of them have a really great change-up or slider. There’s talent there for sure, but if anyone who thinks Price is going to develop is kidding themselves. And Price is the worst strategic in-game manager in the NL. Billy Hamilton has no business starting, but if you are going to start the guy, the only place you can possibly pencil him is the 9-hole. Price said at some point early in the year Hamilton had to prove he was fit for leadoff, right? So the body of evidence that Price saw leading him to decide Billy should lead off is what? Billy Hamilton would make a really good slot receiver on the Bengals. Who knows maybe we could pull a trade with Starvin’ (for a playoff victory) Marvin, and get cash considerations, who knows, but Hamilton is a waste of an AB. Tonight was a bad night, and maybe tonight’s performance is what we should actually expect this year, who knows. But I’d let Phillips do what he did tonight in the clutch for a couple more weeks, then I’d sit his butt, call up Peraza, and see how long it takes Brandon to accept a trade when his uniform starts itching like a bee itch from pine straw infestation.

  6. ohiojimw

    The one thing I hope doesn’t happen is that the Reds view the development of the pitching staff as a linear process with the rotation coming first then only after they feel like they have the rotation settled turning to try and fix the pen.

    Yes, some guys are eventually likely to fall out of the rotation process and end up in the pen (or traded) but that is no reason not to be simultaneously working on both the rotation and bullpen solutions. Go on and start culling the pen candidates; and, if and when guys fall from the rotation add them to whatever the pen mix is at that point in time. It is not as if anyone currently in the pen is ever going to be a rotation candidate; so, there is nothing to lose by moving forward with the reshaping of the pen before the rotation is set.

    • Shchi Cossack

      The Reds don’t really have any good internal bullpen options available, except the starting rotation overflow or rejects. They may have some good, young bullpen prospects ready by the end of the season, but prospects are prospects. If the Reds begin to cull from the bukllpen, the replacements will likely produce similar performances right now.

      • Gaffer

        Agree, they are 2 years away from a decent pen. I see a couple good minors guys on the way and some of their starters in the minors probably are relievers too. They may need to trade for a couple ones (but they need to stop spending top dollar for 50 inning guys).