Cody Reed pitches in relief on April 18. Enquirer photo (Kareem Elgazaar)

By any measure, the Reds bullpen has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the early 2017 season. General Manager Dick Williams has restocked the pen with a deep assortment of talented, hard-throwing, and (generally) young arms. Bryan Price has used these weapons creatively, calling on his best pitchers in the highest leverage situations and using them for multiple innings at a time. Going into the weekend series with the Cubs, the Reds bullpen ranked fifth in baseball with a 2.43 ERA. They have, by far, the most strikeouts of any bullpen.  Reds relievers are letting only 7% of inherited runners score — again best in baseball.

But this success has come with worries about workload. Reds starters are only going 4 2/3 innings a night; forcing relievers to throw 66 2/3 innings in the team’s first 16 games. Price has had to get an average of 3.9 outs per game from his relievers, which is just behind Minnesota for the most in baseball. Broadcasters, writers, and fans are all fretting about the situation, with most convinced that the current workloads will inevitably lead to a drop in bullpen performance later in the season.

While that all seems intuitive, is it really true? Can the Reds bullpen sustain its current workload and excellence, or does something have to give? The first question, which we aren’t going to look at today, is whether this is actually the bullpen’s true level? Can they sustain this performance, regardless of their workload?

Relief pitchers – especially young ones – are probably the least predictable creatures on the baseball diamond, but we can confidently say that all the Reds relievers are significantly outperforming their ZIPs projections. It takes a smarter writer than me to say this with confidence, but we should all at least consider the possibility that these guys are going to regress no matter what — so let’s be careful not to blame it on workload, just because it fits our assumptions and makes an easy narrative.


Enquirer photo (Sam Greene)

The real issue I want to explore is whether Reds relief pitchers are, in fact, overworked. We know the Reds relievers, collectively, have pitched a lot, but what about the individuals? Remember, Williams and Price left spring training with a nine man bullpen.

Bronson Arroyo quickly replaced one relief slot, but there’s no denying that the Reds have been carrying a boatload of relievers. That may make a difference. Increasing the bullpen by 15-20% would seemingly decrease the workload any one pitcher throws by some amount. The question is how much.

We know that entering the Cubs series, the Reds had made 51 separate relief outings – but that ranks only 9th in baseball. Here are the Reds relievers’ workloads, through April 20 (16 games):

Name G IP IP/G
Raisel Iglesias 6 9.7 1.6
Michael Lorenzen 7 9.0 1.3
Blake Wood 9 8.7 1.0
Cody Reed* 4 8.0 2.0
Drew Storen 7 7.3 1.0
Robert Stephenson 3 6.7 2.2
Wandy Peralta* 7 6.3 0.9
Tony Cingrani* 5 4.7 0.9
Tim Adleman 1 4.0 4.0
Barrett Astin 2 2.3 1.2

That feels like a lot, but is it? Raisel Iglesias is tied for 6th in relief IP. Michael Lorenzen is tied for 15th. Blake Wood is in the 20s, but nobody else is in the top 60.

The Games Pitched list gets pretty jammed up this time of year, but Wood is tied for 15th (along with 10 other guys), with Lorenzen, Drew Storen, and Wandy Peralta among the 48-man logjam at 41st.

How does this look when projected over a full season?

Name Proj. G Proj. IP
Raisel Iglesias 61 98
Michael Lorenzen 71 91
Blake Wood 91 88
Cody Reed* 41 81
Drew Storen 71 74
Robert Stephenson 30 67
Wandy Peralta* 71 64
Tony Cingrani* 51 47
Tim Adleman 10 41
Barrett Astin 20 24

Okay, now it starts to look heavy. Only six relievers in MLB threw over 80 IP last year. Nobody threw 90. But it’s not insane. Twenty-seven guys did throw between 70-80 IP. Lorenzen and Iglesias, in particular, are on pace for a bullpen workload that nobody has seen in almost 20 years.  But don’t forget: These guys are former starters, and on the most recent Redleg Nation Radio podcast, Dick Williams told Chad that he hopes to get 100 IP from Lorenzen to make his presence in the bullpen worthwhile.

Which leads me to one last data point I’d like to check: Rest. If your usage patterns are non-traditional, what do your rest patterns look like?

Here’s how many days’ rest each pitcher has had, by outings:

Name Total 0 days 1 day 2 days 3 days 4+ days
Raisel Iglesias 6 2 2 1
Michael Lorenzen 7 1 2 1 2
Blake Wood 9 1 5 2
Cody Reed* 4 3
Drew Storen 7 3 3
Robert Stephenson 3 1 1
Wandy Peralta* 7 1 3 2
Tony Cingrani* 5 1 2 1
Tim Adleman 1
Barrett Astin 2 1

This is pretty reasonable. Price has asked relievers to go back-to-back only three times all seasons. Reed is getting a starter’s rest. Iglesias is getting a good deal of recuperation time. Wood’s usage matches his 2016 pattern almost exactly. Storen hasn’t pitched back-to-back days – his pattern is very close to how he was used in 2015.

My tentative conclusion: Bryan Price is asking a lot from his bullpen as a whole, but since he has so many different guys to choose from, the workload isn’t outrageous from any of them — particularly when several of them have experience (or even 2017 plans) as starting pitchers. (Caveat: Drew Storen has always been a 50-55 IP guy. His current pace may be pushing it.) The relievers themselves also deserve credit, for being very efficient (and effective) in their outings.

I gave the Reds some grief when they broke camp with a (feeble) four-man bench and nine relievers, but it’s proven to be a very useful toolkit to cope with their inconsistent and injury-prone rotation. We can hope the Reds starters pick up their share of the workload, but mostly because they’re (supposed to be) the more talented pitchers. The current bullpen workload is heavy, but not unsustainable.

What do you think?

18 Responses

  1. Simon Cowell

    Almost every pitcher in the Reds bullpen is somewhere between a starter and a reliever. I think just about all of them can endure 100 plus innings
    So for me over use is a non issue. Maybe it is ground breaking and we will see other teams follow suit. So far I am only seeing positives with this approach.

  2. VaRedsFan

    Good point….with most of the pen not being used in back to back games, it seems like at the very least, the non B2B guys aren’t having to warm up on their skip day. This lessens the fatigue factor IMO.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I think frequently relievers run into problems when they get up and sit down multiple times in a game and this happens over time, not just on rare occasions. If the Reds are able to give relievers days off as seen in the chart and not get them up to warm up then sit them back down too often, I think several of them may be good for 80+ innings.

  3. VaRedsFan

    It’s almost as if Price is using an “A” group one day and a “B” group the other.
    Iggy and Peralta one day, Storen and Lorenzen the next. With Wood, Cingrani (before injury), and Reed (before starting) as swing guys every other day as needed.

    I really like this plan. It allows Price to use his best (Iggy and Lorenzen) for multiple innings if the situation warrants, instead of B2B days of only 1 inning. They will need the call ups to perform swing roles as replacements for Cingrani and Reed.

  4. cfd3000

    The only issue that concerns me, and it can be seen as a usage issue or an effectiveness issue, is the number of pitches thrown. I don’t have data handy but I can recall at least a few outings lately with more than 40 pitches thrown by a single reliever. If it’s a three or four inning outing that’s fine, but if it’s 45 pitches to get five outs, that’s not sustainable. I suppose it all comes back to the old mantra “walks will haunt”. More pitches, under more stress = less durability and less effectiveness. I think the bullpen will be fine if walks are manageable, and in big trouble if walks are too common, for the obvious reasons, and the subtler but compounding factors as well.

    On a related question, how old is this data? Where, for example, is Bonilla’s recent outing?

  5. james garrett

    I don’t see it being a problem.In fact could see 3 or 4 guys between 80-100 innings and for the most part being extremely effective in doing it.Of course they will have a stinker every now and then just like Lorenzen and Iggy had this weekend.Keep in mind in both cases they went back out for inning number two and it just didn’t work out.Even with all the injuries we still have a bunch of young power arms so just let them pitch.Young guys trying to become a part of the future is a great thing to have going for you.I would expect them to take the ball and pitch until Price says that’s enough for today.

  6. Classic Liberal (@Conservative58)

    Some of the earlier comments note this, but is pitches thrown more relevant that # of appearances? Seems the Reds are 40-50% of the way to an experiment I’ve wondered about – no starters, just relievers every day throwing 20+ pitches per. A knuckleball SP would help, but they seem extinct.

    • Simon Cowell

      I am convinced a knuckeballer would dominate in todays game. All the batters are now teeing up for that 98 mph fastball that they all throw…. sans Bronson Arroyo. Heck Bronson might show the way for old timers who are running on vapor. Maybe it really isn’t about how hard you throw and it is all about location?

      • jazzmanbbfan

        Brantley said something to that effect yesterday, that young guys try to throw harder when things get out of whack when actually they need to throw less hard and locate the pitch. Yesterday for Arroyo it seemed like it was all about location and aggressive hitters over swinging.

      • I-71_Exile

        It’s about deception and disrupting timing. I’ve seen many a slowballer succeed at every level. Bronson’s “speed” introduces extra thought into the batter’s mind which takes him away from his typical approach. Major Leaguers can hit most anything, but they can especially square a fastball. You can see it now where a 95 mph heater doesn’t even move the needle success-wise unless it has good movement or pin point location. Also, don’t discount a hitter allowing himself to get over-eager thinking he can hit an Arroyo offering into the Ohio. Bronson is playing with their minds. It really isn’t that different from Wiffle Ball where you just have to wait forever, read the break, and react. It’s a different swing than baseball, though.

        That said, the margin for error is thin because the hitter has so much time and major leaguers have awesome hand-eye coordination.

  7. jazzmanbbfan

    I think it is too small a sample size to say Lorenzen is struggling badly. If his next two outings are a struggle I might change my tune on that though.

  8. IndyRedMan

    I noticed one thing this weekend. Price can push a late inning guy for more than an inning and it will work vs most teams but the Cubs are a different sort! They pushed Lorenzen to 40 pitches before Rizzo’s hr. They almost broke thru vs Iggy as well. As an organization they can take/foul off pitches and you don’t want that nights closer throwing 40 pitches in his 2nd inning.

    On another note….little surprised that there hasn’t been much made of Tyler Mahle’s perfect game? Wonder if he’ll get sent up to Lville pretty soon?

    • IndyRedMan

      Well Lorenzen wasn’t sharp but my point is that he got thru 30 pitches ok and that could get you 5-6 outs vs most teams but not the Cubs!

  9. Tom R

    The other thing that will help is the 10 day disabled list. This will allow the Reds to move a tired arm far more easily and get a fresh arm. Now, other teams have the same option. But other teams don’t have a war-chest of near-ready MLB arms at AAA/AA.

    I like the way Williams is building and Price is managing this team.

  10. james garrett

    Dick Williams made some excellent choices to fill the bullpen.While I would rather see Reed/Stephensen start over Feldman/Arroyo it is what it is for now.He put a bunch of young power arms in the pen.You could say along with the two I mentioned plus Iggy and Lorenzen he has 4 guys that have started and may start again coming out of the pen and letting it rip for a couple of innings every other day or every third day.You throw in the veteran in Storen and even the one pitch Cingrani that can give you an inning and add Peralta who is just nasty right now and you have a very very good pen.I didn’t mean to leave out Wood who at times is great and at other times average.Add in what is injured that may come back and start or go to the pen + what’s in the minors and you have a bunch of young arms.The Reds can play around all year with their staff and give everybody a shot and not over use or over work anybody.Matter of fact that’s exactly what they should do to find out who is part of the next great Reds team maybe as early as next year or 2019.Pitching will not be an issue to get us to the next level.In fact I expect we package a couple of them in a deal to get a really good bat.

    • sultanofswaff

      Agreed. Gotta keep the shuttle bus between Cincy and Louisville running on a regular schedule.

      We’re one difference making reliever away from rivaling the Cubs for late inning supremacy. I think Tanner Rainey is that guy like Carl Edwards Jr. was for them last season.

      Get the rotation healthy and sorted, call up Winker, drop one/both of Hamilton/Peraza in the order……………..then watch this team really take off.

    • IndyRedMan

      You have to have a decent rotation though? KC rode a C+ starting staff to a WS win but they prob had the best pen & defense in baseball. Plus that model didn’t last long because teams started stacking power arms in the pen just like they did and their run is over already! The Reds have to find 5 arms to give them innings with a 3.50ish era. Feldman & Arroyo aren’t part of the answer longterm and of the young guys…only Garrett looks like he knows what hes doing! They have youth on their side though for now plus we have some arms coming up pretty fast in the minors!

  11. Jason Linden

    It’s worth noting that relievers throwing 100 innings wasn’t uncommon all that long ago. In the 80s and 90s, it was common enough. And it’s not like pitchers are injured less often today. It’s the managerial approach that changed.

    Also, as far as I can tell, the 1999 Reds were the last team with 2 reliever to throw 100 innings. Sullivan and Graves.