Four pitchers and an outfielder walk into a bar. The outfielder orders drinks for all of them, setting the table so to speak. The first pitcher knocks his drink over while the second spills his all over his front. The third, seeing his friends’ mishaps, takes his nice and slow, making sure to hit his spots (his mouth) and keep his seat at the table. And the fourth, before he can even try to take his drink, finds his seat has been yanked out from under him and that he must go to the bar and mop-up any unfinished drinks from the other patrons.

Sound familiar? The kids have finally found their way into the bar, and — just like when the kids find the bar in the non-metaphorical sense — it’s been a bit sloppy.

But with time and practice, these kids — Jesse Winker, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, and Amir Garrett — will learn how to hold their own. They’ll be alright, but still worth checking in on them, right?

Jesse Winker (.273 /.467/.273; 125 wRC+)

Remember that brief moment at the end of spring training when we were all deked into believing that Jesse Winker had been eliminated from the outfield competition? Well guess who’s now tied for eleventh in the MLB and seventh in the NL for OBP — yup, Jesse Winker.

After putting career-OBP-of-.298 Billy Hamilton at the top of the lineup for the majority of games since 2014, the Reds finally have a table setter at the helm. His job may not be glamorous; his defense may not be superlative; and his speed may not ever be described as “blazing,” but Jesse Winker is the leadoff hitter this team has been waiting for.

I mean, just compare his production to that of the other leadoff hitters around the league (minimum 5 games leading off):

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 9.36.04 PM.png

Two caveats here: 1) Small sample size quirks abound here with Cesar Hernandez posting an elite .444 OBP and 157 wRC+ while George Springer scuffles to a .289 OBP and 88 wRC+, and 2) Winker will never post the power numbers that prop up the wRC+ of other leadoff hitters like Mookie Betts (191) and Brian Dozier (198). But with Joey Votto behind him, that doesn’t matter near as much.

Acknowledging those two analysis shortcomings, Jesse Winker finds himself just behind Mookie Betts, Brian Dozier, Dee Gordon, and Adam Eaton in terms of production and just ahead of Lorenzo Cain and Brett Gardner. For reference, the former group will cost a total of $36 million in 2018 and the latter will cost $25 million. Winker is taking home $545,000.

When Scott Schebler finally returns to health, he’s going to have to knock down a different door for playing time. Assuming Winker can keep up his current rate of production (or at least keep pace with his current contemporaries), the Reds are getting an above average, nearing elite leadoff hitter for pennies on the dollar. Billy Hamilton’s contribution, however, is firmly in the red.

Luis Castillo (10.0 IP, 5.07 FIP, 9 K, 4 BB)

The Reds ace in the wings hasn’t had the most auspicious start to the 2018 season, giving up six runs in his first appearance and four in his second. As bad as that may sound, any sort of panic regarding his 9.00 ERA is still premature.  

For one, three of those runs came on a Matt Adams’ dinger in Castillo’s first start — the only time Adams swung at a Castillo offering and actually made contact. In other words, Castillo missed with his fastball and got burned.

Following that opening start, skipper Bryan Price told C. Trent Rosecrans, “When those pitches that needed to be made, if he was trying to make it with a fastball, it was balls that were left out over the plate and good pitches to hit and good teams don’t miss those pitches.” Or as catcher Tucker Barnhart put it, Castillo got rattled and started to fly open, leaving pitches over the heart of the plate. These aren’t end of the world type problems; they’re just the nerves of a young pitcher that will work out with experience and repetition.

If you need another reassurance (or maybe a cause for concern depending on your disposition), I don’t think Castillo is even near his peak playing form yet.


Courtesy of FanGraphs

Compare his average 2017 velocity to that in his two starts this year. Even just by the eye test, you can tell that Castillo is sitting a good 2-3 mph slower than he did last year.

In normal circumstances, that might be worrisome, but it’s been an abnormally cold start to the year, Castillo missed a bit of time in spring training, and he’s never pitched a meaningful game this early in the calendar year….well, ever. As Castillo’s velocity ticks up and his nerves calm down, I’d expect to start seeing his exceptional stuff start working its magic a bit more effectively.

Sal Romano (11.0 IP, 6.25 FIP, 3 K, 5 BB)

Maybe I’m not the best person to be evaluating Sal Romano because I would much rather see Amir Garrett in his rotation slot. That said, even if he has had the worst start to the season of the Reds youngsters, Romano’s numbers are going to improve based on his normal production across leagues. 

Causes for optimism regarding Romano moving forward:

— His walk rate is a touch high while his strikeout rate is far, far too low compared to his normal. At every level, Romano has proven to walk batters around an 8 percent clip and punch them out 18 percent of the time. The current 10.2 BB% / 6.1 K% split won’t last is what I’m saying.

— Romano gave up nine home runs in 87.0 innings last year. He’s already given up two in 11.0 this time around, a rate that nearly doubles his 2017 mark. Only once in his minor league career did he even approach his current 1.64 HR/9 rate and that was in 23.0 innings when he was first called up to AA at the end of 2015.

— His 6.25 FIP clocks in two full points higher than the 4.24 mark he put up last year. The only other time Romano broke 4.75 by season’s end before these two starts was, you guessed it, a 6.35 mark in those same 23.0 innings at AA. Generally, Romano is a 3.50 to 4.50 FIP pitcher.

And some causes for pessimism given Romano’s current performance:

— His .231 BABIP means he’s already getting lucky on balls in play, and he’s still getting drilled. If Romano’s strikeouts don’t regress to the mean soon, he’ll find himself in even more sticky situations.

— Much like Castillo, Romano’s fastball hasn’t quite hit the same sitting velocity that it did in 2017. Unlike Castillo, there’s not nearly as much room to grow. While an additional MPH won’t hurt, Romano can’t count on midseason form to add significant life to his heater.

At best, Romano is a No. 3 starter with innings eating potential. Not necessarily a prospect to write home about but when you’ve already got ceilings like Castillo’s and Hunter Greene’s, a No. 3 is all you need.

Tyler Mahle (10.2 IP, 4.95 FIP, 9 K, 3 BB)

Yesterday, Tyler Mahle did not have a good day at the ballpark. He had 4.0 innings of a good day, but 4.0 innings does not a quality start nor even a registered start make. But look at these numbers for a second: 10.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 9 K, 3 BB.

If Tyler Mahle does not walk out to the mound for the fifth inning, he basically takes Luis Castillo’s stat line and subtracts all the undesirables. If Tyler Mahle does not walk out for the fifth inning, then the Reds would still lose because Mahle is apparently the only who can hit.

But Mahle did walk out to the mound as any good starter should reasonably make it through five innings, and the youngster served up two homers, yielding four runs in a flash. It’s a disappointment for Reds’ fans in the moment, but one bad inning across ten brilliant ones does not ruin a rookie pitcher’s career.

While I’ve said it before, it bears repeating: Tyler Mahle is the least concerning young Red. In his first start, he proved his exceptional control. In his second, he proved he can battle through adversity, weathering a 29-pitch opening frame. Mahle lacks Castillo’s upside but right now, one of them is a Major League pitcher and the other just a thrower with room for improvement.

Amir Garrett (5.0 IP, 1.67 FIP, 5 K, 1 BB)

Ah, Amir Garrett — the suitor scorned. The long, lanky lefty has only faced 17 batters this season but boy has he made them count. A 1.67 FIP in his only two appearances has left a lot of egg on the face of whoever left this man out of the rotation. Garrett is gunning for that fifth starter’s nod, and if Cody Reed doesn’t turn into Shohei Ohtani tonight, it should be Amir’s.

Consider this: Where Castillo and Romano are still warming up for the season, trying to get their fastball up to snuff, Garrett has already recorded two of the top three average fastball velocity games of his career. Is he coming out of the pen firing harder than he would if he started? Maybe — I won’t speculate on a positive. But he sure does seem like he has something to prove.

Sadly, Garrett hasn’t pitched enough this season for there to be much else to say. He’s looked good and deserves a shot at more. That’s the long and short of it. The kids are all alright; it’s just the adults that keep making a mockery of the season.

Speaking of, where’s that other hot-shot new guy….?

Belly up to the bar Nick because April 13 is right around the corner.

11 Responses

  1. Kap

    I’m confused. You said in your last post how Mahle is the next ace of the staff but now he doesn’t have the upside of Castillo?

    • Wesley Jenkins

      He’s never had the upside of Castillo, but I believe him to be a far better pitcher. Upside is more a word to describe the potential of just natural-born talent whether its eventually realized or not.

      If Castillo combines his live arm with any modicum of control, he’ll be filthy, but at the moment he doesn’t have it. Mahle meanwhile doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff, but he knows how to locate his pitches and he knows how to battle through tough at-bats to get the next guy.

      In sum, Castillo is promising but Mahle has the moxie to be an ace.

  2. Valli R Frausto

    I have a question about Louis Castillo. Is there a greater than normal risk for a pitcher pitching 107 pitches in the freezing rain on his second outing of the season? Even, if not, does a medical person sit down with him the morning after to access everything from a physical standpoint? This may be no-brainer stuff to you guys but I sure would appreciate knowing these things. Thanks!

  3. David

    Castillo has great stuff, ie, great velocity, when he is “right”. Mahle is already something of a pitcher with his control.

    He was at 93-94 mph in the start against the Cubs on Monday, but was only around 90 mph fastball against the Pirates yesterday. Somebody wrote that in his no hitter in AA ball, he was hitting 97-98. That then appears to be his top range, and makes him nigh unhittable. 90 mph fastball seems not quite strong enough and hittable.

    The home run Polanco hit yesterday was not a bad pitch; some kind of back up breaking pitch that caught a little too much of the outside strike zone. Give Polanco credit for being a tall and long armed hitter. Some of the other hard hit balls were not good pitches though. Marte hit a hanging curve inside, that should have been a home run. But the homer that Dickerson hit was actually out of the strike zone (inside) but not that hard a fastball. Dickerson was looking for that pitch and smacked it. The difference between accomplished ML hitters and the less common top end minor leaguers that Mahle has faced before. If you put a pitch where a ML hitter is looking for it, he can hit it hard.

    • Wesley Jenkins

      ^completely agree with that last sentence (and the ones before it, but the last one most of all). And I think that’s just a mindset adjustment for Mahle. He has to learn to be a bit more crafty with Major League hitters because they’ll always be harder outs.

  4. Optimist

    As easy as it is, and as much as I want, to blame field and in game management, it is the FO that has left 2 holes in the lineup and a Yovani in the pen. BP has no control of HBP-to-DL, Duvall and Vottos’ starts, veteran backup IFs, etc., and I’m wondering if there are specific orders about Garrett’s use.

    Even if they were .500 or better, it would be the same issues, which we may see in sharp relief as the DL begins to clear. It would be nice to see some platooning soon, and Garrett in longer and longer relief.

    • David

      There are only five slots in the starting rotation. People want this guy and that guy to start.

      People want to give Cody Reed more chances. I think Cody Reed is honestly a long ways from being a good ML pitcher, and the problem is from the neck up. Having said that, he may throw great tonight, and pitch a great game. But I want to see him repeat it then.

      I think Garrett is ready to be a better “pitcher” than Reed, and has great stuff. I don’t know what management of the Reds is actually thinking. Finnegan may be back next week, with his rehab start in AAA tonight. Or maybe another rehab start in AAA after this. Maybe in 10 days when the weather is warmer. Who knows?

      I still think that they want to give Gallardo some starts (facepalm). And Castillo just isn’t there yet. He gets a few more starts, and then what, if he doesn’t deliver?

      Homer is Homer, and is probably going to be a very mediocre ML starter for the rest of his career. He has lost velocity off his fastball, and I don’t think it is coming back.

      Getting off to a bad start is giving everybody the blues. 2018 is going to be another crappy year for the Reds. Quite frankly, the talent just isn’t there.

  5. Jim Walker

    Garrett seems to be receiving same “treatment” as Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed did last year. Not only is he buried in the pen, they don’t seem inclined to give him leverage opportunities.

    Speaking of Stephenson, I wonder what role he might have filled in the opening parable? He made 10 starts to closeout the 2017 season and wasn’t all that bad. His xFIP was high but his other numbers looked roughly league average. Then we have the interesting stat from Matt’s game preview a couple of days ago that RS was the Reds single game whiff leader in 2017. Go take a look at the other annual leaders in this category going back a decade.
    That’s pretty good company for a pitcher to see his name in. Yet RS gets the bum rush off to AAA and isn’t even next man up when go looking for an emergency starter. Makes a person wonder.

    • james garrett

      He is getting the same treatment as Bob and Reed got last year and then we wonder why they may be head cases.I find this alarming because they did it the right way in 2016 by giving Disco and Finny 31 starts a piece and then follow it up by basically doing the opposite to these 3 guys in that they really didn’t get an opportunity.I would have to go back and check but to date over the last 2+ years they probably have not started 31 games altogether.

    • Jim Walker

      No it wasn’t but are Luis Castillo’s numbers much or even any better right now? And the “next” opportunity was handed to Cody Reed before Stephenson made that start. Let’s see what Reed does tonight.

  6. Dave Roemerman

    2020 – Castillo, Mahle, Garrett, Romano, and Stephenson/Greene. Hard not to love the future of this rotation. Reed can set up with Lorenzen and Iglesias is still there. We need to get all of these guys max innings this year!