The 2016 Cincinnati Reds bullpen wasn’t just bad in the first half of the season – they were historically bad. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated chronicled just how bad:

From April 11 through May 5, the unit allowed at least one run in 23 straight games; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that broke the previous record of 20 games owned by the 2013 Rockies. During that span, Cincinnati relievers combined for a Boeing-esque 7.68 ERA in 79 2/3 innings.

The Reds bullpen finished the first half of 2016 with a 5.73 ERA, over a half-run worse than the next worst Rangers (5.10). The peripherals were even worse. The Reds had a 5.86 FIP, 7.89 K/9, 4.93 BB/9, and 1.83 HR/9. The walks and homers were by far the worst in baseball.

There was some signs of progress in the second half. The Reds went from dead last to 26th in ERA, but it was down nearly a run-and-a-half to 4.29. The walks were still bad a 4.34 BB/9, but the K/9 was up to 8.48 and the HR/9 down to 1.29.

The biggest difference for the Reds was of course moving two starters coming back from injuries to the pen: Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen. Both pitchers made their relief debuts just days apart at the end of June. Iglesias posted a 1.98 ERA/3.21 FIP as a reliever, and Lorenzen posted a 2.88 ERA/3.67 FIP. The moves to the pen for these two arms didn’t come without controversy, as many, myself included, didn’t like moving two arms with great potential to the bullpen. That said, they did turn a historically bad bullpen into one with promise.

The biggest draw with Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen in the bullpen is their ability to pitch multiple innings. It was witnessed first hand in the 2016 MLB postseason just how valuable relievers can be with role flexibility and multiple inning capability. It is comfortable to say that if both guys are rested, your starter could only go 5.0 innings, and Lorenzen and Iglesias could finish the game by themselves.

When the first projections for 2017 came out from Steamer, there was something that caught my eye: the Reds bullpen. The Reds have six relievers projected to pitch 40+ games, all with an ERA below 3.80. That gets even more exciting when you factor in that the league average ERA for relievers in 2016 was 4.17. Let’s take a closer look at each of those six guys and their Steamer projections:

Raisel Iglesias – 65 G, 3.34 ERA, 9.92 K/9, 2.69 BB/9

iglesias

Iglesias is a stud. To many of us, a 3.34 ERA for him as a reliever feels conservative. Keep in mind, Iglesias had a 1.98 ERA as a reliever last year, and he gave up 4 ER in his last appearance of the season. The only question with Iglesias is the health.

Drew Storen – 65 G, 3.71 ERA, 8.54 K/9, 2.79 BB/9

storen

Storen was a really nice low-risk, potential high reward signing this off-season for GM Dick Williams. Storen is coming off a rough season where he put up a 5.23 ERA in 51.2 IP split between the Blue Jays and Mariners. Storen’s 8.36 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9 look good, but it was a career high 1.22 HR/9 that killed him (his career HR/9 is just 0.72). Storen might not be able to get back to his ridiculous 1.12 ERA/2.71 FIP numbers of 2014, but if he cuts down on the home runs, he could be a steal for the Reds at $3 million ($4.5 million max with incentives).

Michael Lorenzen – 55 G, 3.77 ERA, 8.34 K/9, 3.08 BB/9

It is hard to believe that Lorenzen was drafted in 2013. His audition as a starter in 2015 didn’t go so well (5.40 ERA/5.40 FIP in 113.1 IP), and probably led to his quick move to the bullpen. Lorenzen’s fastball was nearly 2 MPH faster is 2016 as a reliever, and his slider over 4 MPH faster.

Tony Cingrani – 55 G, 3.75 ERA, 9.81 K/9, 4.38 BB/9

cingrani

Cingrani was the biggest surprise to see on the sub-4 ERA projection list from Steamer. Cingrani has great stuff, but his walks have just been brutal throughout his career. Cingrani’s career 9.29 K/9 was way down to 7.00 in 2016. Steamer is saying that was an anomaly. His saving grace the last two years has been keeping the ball in the yard, posting a 0.81 and 0.71 HR/9. It should also be noted that ZiPS projections did not agree with Steamer, and has Cingrani at a 4.53 ERA in 2017.

Jumbo Diaz – 45 G, 3.76 ERA, 9.14 K/9, 3.40 BB/9

jumbo

You might not believe this, but Jumbo Diaz has pitched in 142 big league games with the Reds and has a 3.65 ERA. It must be the moon shot home runs in key spots that has tarnished Jumbo, but he has actually been a solid reliever for the Redlegs. There is no reason to believe he can’t keep it up in 2017.

Blake Wood – 40 G, 3.56 ERA, 9.81 K/9, 4.24 BB/9

wood

There was a point in 2016 where it was plausible to say that Blake Wood deserved the Reds lone All-Star spot more than anyone else. He finished the year with a 3.99 ERA/4.12 FIP after struggling down the stretch, but Wood was very good early in the season. Wood can reach the high 90’s with his fastball, and has no problem striking hitters out. It’s just like Cingrani, where his biggest struggle is walks.

Conclusion

The Reds bullpen certainly is not going to compete with the Cubs, but this group looks like it could be pretty good. There is a lot of potential here, and that is really all you can ask for while you are rebuilding. Don’t forget, the Reds could add some quality arms here soon after the dust settles on the starting rotation.

17 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    This is encouraging Nick. Funny how quickly things turn. From historically bad bullpen to promising in about six months. And from promising rotation to very uncertain in about the same time. With Straily gone, Bailey out, and Iglesias and worse Lorenzen already assigned to the bullpen success this year will in my mind depend entirely on the emergence and growth (or not) of Finnegan, Stephenson, Reed and Garrett (and perhaps Romano). Yes there are issues with BP and Cozart, with Mesoraco and Winker, with Duvall and Schebler and Peraza. But it all comes down to those five arms. Can’t wait to see it play out.

    • Brian Sallan

      With the exception of Cingrani there are no lefthanded relievers that can eat innings. Although I agree that this group is better than 2016 that is not saying a great deal. Tis going to be another long year especiallly out of the bully

  2. Yippee

    By jettisoning Ross Ohlendorf and his old timey, deadball era windup and not re-signing Hoover this offseason, the pen got better by subtraction, even with hanging on to Cingrani and Jumbo. Valid concerns are raised with Lorenzen being slated for bullpen duty, but just because he’s starting out there this season doesn’t mean he can’t be moved to the rotation later this season or next season. Granted, there isn’t a lot of precedent for that in the history of Reds, but under new management if they see Lorenzen staying healthy and performing really well, maybe he gets that shot later in the season when Reds are 20+ games out of NL Central contention.

    • Carl Sayre

      I didn’t care enough to look up Cingrani’s overall numbers but my eye test and memory (both are suspect)! I can see maybe one pitch Tony may be a perfect fit for a bullpen! I just don’t see a major league pitcher with if we are honest only has a fast ball being anything but a bullpen piece. His lack of control makes me nervous in any spot but his heat while not overpowering will get people out if he throws it close enough to sing at! The pitchers in this article should make for quite a bit better than average bullpen! I just hate that Iggy and Lorenzen have been pigeonholed if you will! Iggy has had enough arm issues maybe that is the best way to get production from him but as the article stated and other writers agree Lorenzen needs at least 2 more seasons to see if he can take the ball every 5th day and 200 innings and give you Lorenzen like numbers!

  3. Yippee

    Agreed, for some reason we keep holding out hope for him. My hope is the Reds give him 2017 to figure things out since 2017 is a “season of sorting” and if he can’t, he shouldn’t be on the 25-man come 2018. Wasn’t there a sort of tongue in cheek article on RLN recently about him not being able to pitch at night or at home? Hopefully he doesn’t duplicate last season’s disappointing performance…

  4. Yippee

    Hopefully he learned another pitch besides the fastball.

    • Carl Sayre

      I am like you and hope he develops at least one more pitch but someone questioned his stuff. Cingrani has “great stuff” I am serious he gets a lot of movement on what has become mediocre 93 or 94 on the gun. Pitching out of the BP if he can pitch and quit throwing he will make a nice BP piece. I know that the lack of any type of a secondary pitch has hurt him and the Reds but IMO his inability to throw strikes is what gets him crushed. I know that when you are teaching kids to pitch the pitch you try to teach them is command of the fastball and then a change-up that is 7 or 8 MPH slower. I mean think if Cingrani could throw the heat for a strike not in the middle of the plate and then come back with a good change at 85 or 86!

  5. sezwhom

    Storen is coming off a rough season…if he cuts down on the home runs…ummm, that’s a big IF plus he’s pitching at GABP now.

    Hoping for the best but I’m not exuding confidence at this point.

    • Nick Kirby

      Storen’s career HR/9 is 0.72. It was 0.65 in 2015 and 0.32 in 2014. So here is to hoping the 1.22 last year was an anomaly.

  6. Steve

    Would like to see the Reds think out of the box this season and begin the season with 13 pitchers. Starters would be Disco, Finnegan, Feldman, Reed and Stephenson. Relievers are Adleman, Brice, Cingrani, Jumbo, Wood, Iglesias, Lorenzen and Storen. Bailey starts on DL and moves to the bullpen or rotation after coming off the DL. Brice goes back down to Louisville. If Bailey goes to the bullpen, he’s paired with Reed or Stephenson with Adleman paired with the other. If Bailey can start, Feldman goes to the bullpen and is paired with either Reed or Stephenson. The veterans will finish games for Reed and Stephenson. Ideally, only 2 pitchers are used in games that Reed and Stephenson start.

    • Chuck Schick

      What if Stephenson gets shelled in the first and Bailey has to pitch 7 innings? Would he be able to fulfill his relief duties 2 days later? Highly unlikely.

      It’s an interesting concept that would work for perhaps a week.

      • Steve

        They are paired together, so Bailey would pitch the next time Stephenson starts in that situation. If Stephenson goes 7 and Bailey goes 2, then he may pitch an inning or 2 a couple of days later and be ready for Stephenson’s next start, so it would last more than a week

      • Ron Mexico

        So it sounds like basically having 2 long guys that maintain the same pitching schedule as the Bob Stephenson and Cody Reed..

  7. Earl Nash

    They are going to need a good bullpen considering they don’t have but maybe 1-2 starter they can count on getting six innings most starts.

    • David

      I vote this comment as being true. And that was the problem last year. The sub – mediocre bullpen last year looked really terrible because they were over exposed and over worked. Wood looked like crap the second half because he was worn out from over use (too many times asked to get up and warm up, besides the games he was actually in).
      Part of the reason the bullpen looked marginally better in the second half was that the starting pitching was marginally better, with the bullpen less exposed. And Iglesias and Lorenzen, too, of course.

  8. Nick Kirby

    What I was trying to say about Cingrani is that he has never had a problem striking guys out. Walks have been a disaster with him, but strikeouts are there.