Much of the Reds criticism lately has centered around burning out the bullpen in the first two months of the season. However, a quick search on Fangraphs shows the Reds are actually below the MLB average for relief innings in 2019, a vast contrast from one year ago.

In 2018, Reds relievers pitched 108.0 innings through March and April, fourth most in the NL. They appeared, collectively, in 97 games in March/April. This season, relievers have already pitched 119.1 innings. Ok, so Reds relievers have pitched more innings this season. Where’s the contrast? It comes in how relievers are being used.

Bryan Price and Jim Riggleman left starters in the game longer, even if they gave up runs. David Bell, on the other hand, has shown that he will pull starters earlier, usually before the third time through the lineup. He takes the starters out around the sixth inning, unless they’re pitching really well. In 2018, Reds starters appeared in 141 games during the third time through the lineup. This season, Reds starters have appeared in 33 games thus far during the third time through the lineup.

And comparing the Reds to the rest of MLB? The Reds are 11th in the NL in innings pitched for relievers. However, the Reds relievers are second in the NL in appearances with 128. It’s clear what Bell is doing. When Bell takes out his starters earlier, this leads to more appearances by the relievers, especially when Bell plays the matchups against certain hitters.

The Milwaukee Brewers have a similar bullpen strategy to the Reds. Brewers relievers have appeared in 127 games, right behind the Reds. The big difference between the Reds and the Brewers is that Reds starters are pitching better than the Brewers starters (thanks, Derek Johnson?), leading to less innings by the relievers.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell is known for using his relievers frequently, and this year is no different. In fact, he’s likely had to go to his bullpen more. Their starting rotation has not been as good as in 2018. Thus far in 2019, the Brewers lead the NL in innings pitched with 153.2 innings. Now, the Brewers have had 12 different relievers pitch, but their top five relievers–Josh Hader, Junior Guerra, Alex Claudio, Matt Albers, and Jacob Barnes–all have at least 13 appearances this season, with Claudio appearing the most at 19. For comparison, the Reds top five relievers–Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, David Hernandez, and Jared Hughes–have between 15 and 18 appearances.

Counsell uses a lot of his relievers for multiple innings. Hader is used almost exclusively for multiple innings with six of his 13 appearances coming for more than one inning. Guerra and Claudio both have pitched multiple innings six times as well, and Albers has pitched multiple innings five times. The Brewers have also had twelve different relievers pitch in 2019, compared to the Reds’ nine relievers. Relief appearances have been spread across a wider range of pitchers.

Like Counsell, Bell has also employed a strategy of using relievers for multiple innings. Lorenzen currently leads the team with eight multiple inning appearances, followed by Robert Stephenson and Garrett with six each, Iglesias with five, Hughes with four, and Hernandez with two. Unlike Counsell, however, Bell seems to be playing matchups more frequently, which leads to more appearances.

If you’re worried about the bullpen, don’t be yet. Yes, Reds relievers are coming into games more frequently than other teams, but they aren’t pitching a lot more innings. The Reds don’t have astronomically high innings or appearance count. This is the way baseball is in 2019–inserting players into situations based on stats and matchups, and Bell and the Reds are playing the game the same way any other team does.


Statistics courtesy of and Fangraphs.

29 Responses

  1. Sliotar

    Far from your best work, Ashley, IMO.

    Other managers recognize game flow, and let their guys finish off innings/situations, especially their best pitchers, even if it occasionally bites them. Go look at Strasburg and Dave Martinez last night in Milwaukee.

    Bell has not demonstrated a feel for the game as it unfolds in front of him, and also manages as if each contest if going to end after 9 innings.

    Plus, you did not reference Iglesias and how his usage led him to squawk, and get back his late inning closer role.

    Or, how the double-switches lead to key Reds hitters being pulled.
    The Dodgers aren’t pulling Kike Hernandez and Cody Bellinger if they were going for 6 for 10 with 7 RBIs…. but that’s what happened to Dietrich and Winker Friday.

    Bell is doing it his way, right or wrong, but it is not “the same way any other team does it.”

    • CP


      Your responses are almost completely irrelevant to the article. If you want to write your own article, go ahead and ask the editors for the chance to do so, but don’t draft responses to questions that weren’t asked and then blame Ashley for not addressing every facet of Bell’s managerial prowess.

      • James Vincent

        Geez it was just making an observation

      • RojoBenjy

        @CP- i’m with you. For Sliotar to start his post by throwing shade at Ashely and then talk about the double switching is not relevant feedback.

        At redlegnation more respect is expected.

    • greenmtred

      At least as far as starting pitchers go, I’ve thought Bell was pretty astute. No back-up stats, but on several occasions, I’ve felt that starters were starting to labor in the 5thor 6h inning, usually evidenced by loss of command rather than velocity. Our starters have rarely blown up this year, and I bet that’s due in part to their not being left in games longer than they have been.

  2. Nick

    “Hader is used almost exclusively for multiple innings with six of his 13 appearances coming for more than one inning.”

    Am I reading this wrong? It seems that the other seven appearances (ie the majority) would be for an inning or less. Not exactly exclusive.

  3. WVRedlegs

    If you are going to compare the Reds bullpen to the Brewers bullpen it has to be noted that Counsell uses a 7 man bullpen, while Bell uses an 8-man, and sometimes a 9-man bullpen. The Louisville Shuttle has only been used twice for a quick up and down for Bowman and a quicker up and down for Reed.
    One other thing, I don’t think Counsell’s bullpen has blown as many wins as Bell’s bullpen has. Bell’s bullpen over-management, mismanagement, and playing match-up has cost this team several games already.
    Bell is getting killed in 1 run games and those are the games managerial bad moves are much more magnified and more closely scrutinized. Bell’s decisions in most of those 1 run losses are bewildering and have been very costly in the win/loss column.
    Bell’s bullpen mismanagement and costly double-switches (mentioned above) have been a serious detriment to the win/loss column.
    Bell better get his stuff together, and soon. If he comes back from this important road trip 0-6 or 1-5, then heads should roll. Starting with Bell’s.

    • CP

      The Brewers have blown 3 saves, the Reds have blown 4. The Brewers relief crew has lost 8 games, the Reds have lost 9. I suspect the Reds have had more close games than the Brew Crew (both because their pitching is better and their offense is worse) but I don’t have the time to research that right now.

      The Reds relievers have out pitched the Brewers staff by half a run, which apparently Bell gets no credit for with the nuttier posters, despite effectively avoiding blow out innings the way his predecessors consistently ran into.

  4. FreeHouse

    I’m smelling a sweep by Oakland. This team is so inconsistent. They will probably score 3 or less runs and take the L today.

  5. Doc

    When discussing a worn out bullpen, where does warming up figure in? How many pitches does a typical reliever throw to get warmed up? Bring three pitchers in for a batter each and that is three times the number of warmup pitches than for one pitcher who pitches the entire inning, and likely a lot more pitches than the 15 or so that is considered a good inning.

    If Josh Hader pitches multiple innings roughly half the time, that suggests he throws half the number of warm up pitches roughly half the time. Since it is the number of pitches thrown that taxes and tires the arm, an analysis of appearances and innings leaves out the most significant factor, it seems to me.

    • Brian S Jolley

      That is exactly what I was thinking about. I am sure it is more stress on the arm to pitch in a live game, but warming up takes its fatigue toll as well.

  6. Old-school

    What surprises me with Bell is how “matchup” centered is he with the bullpen . Lorenzen and Stephenson are the only pitchers in the bullpen who are comfortably above an IP/appearance. Iglesias is slightly above but everyone else is below.

    Garrett was a futures game participant and top 100 prospect and he’s pitched 14 innings in 18 appearances and a pseudo- loogie. Cody Reed threw 2 and 1/3 innings the other day. More of this useage and less of the 4 pitchers to get through the 2 innings

  7. jreis

    it is hard to compare Bell to Price because the games this year have been far more competitive then in Prices era. often you will use more relievers in a 2-1 nail biter than in a 14-2 blow out.

    I am not too worried about the bullpen though. Once WOOD comes back we can move Mahle to the Pen, plus we have Reed and Romano waiting in the wings.

    • Brian S Jolley

      Mahle will be headed to AAA I would think, and not the bullpen.

    • Old-school

      Wood is still a long way away. The season could be decided before he is back. That’s why next 1-3 weeks are critical. Once/ If the Reds are 10 under , decisions become about 2020 and not 2019. Mahle is going to start. Wood may take Roarck’s spot in July when he’s traded.

      • Tom

        Plus, when (if?) Wood is healthy – will he be a starter or reliever? I thought I’d read somewhere that, with little time to get stretched out, he may return as a reliever. If he ever gets healthy.

      • daytonnati

        I will be surprised if Wood ever pitches for the Reds.

  8. Jim Walker

    Calling up a 9th reliever twice in 3 days and going to a 3 man bench to do so indicates there is an availability issue with the Reds pen.

    We can parse appearances, innings thrown, pitches thrown, up and down cycles (finishing an inning and then starting the next one), warmup overhead and the like to maybe get a view of what’s going on. But something is not normal when 8 relievers cannot handle the relatively light innings load they’ve been asked to cover.

    Maybe the resiliency of the specific arms doesn’t match up with the team’s preferred usage pattern. Or maybe somebody is intermittently sore and they are trying to work through it. Or maybe they have some guys who simply have trouble answering the bell on consecutive days regardless of how much (or little) they work in the game.

    • CP

      Maybe. Or maybe the Reds in an American League ballpark and don’t need to worry about pinch hitting for a pitcher 2+ more times a game?

      Sometimes it is easy to miss the forest for the trees…

      • Jim Walker

        I was referring to bolstering the pen in NYC and again over the weekend. Anytime a team has to go to 9 relievers and especially at the cost of dropping to 3 bench players, it is worth take note of. And the Reds did this twice in 3 days.

        A matching move at an AL park might have been to drop a pitcher and add a bat which could have been played into the game wherever and whenever the situation called for without concern to the pitching. Instead they held steady at 8 relievers.

        Next year, per the rule changes already announced, teams are going to be limited to 13 total pitchers at most and maybe even only 12. Pitchers are going to be required to face a minimum of 3 batters unless they end an inning. The IL minimum time for pitchers is being bumped to 15 days as is the minimum time a pitcher must spend in the minors of optioned.

        So, the Reds are perfecting a lame duck approach. If they were serious contenders, maybe this would make sense. However implementing a system which is in its last year doesn’t.

      • CP

        People are skeptical of whether the 3 person minimum ever actually goes into effect. In any case, there is no reason the 2019 Reds should play like it is 2020. You play under the current rules and then adjust next year.

  9. Seat101

    Great article, Ashley! Statistics were pertinent to the questions asked. Well done! Please keep up the good work

  10. matthew hendley

    The reds cannot suffer the bullpen failures the brewers can. Good article though

  11. Old-school

    Jose Iglesias is the best defensive SS in the NL.

    • greenmtred

      Haven’t seen them all, but he looks great. A much-needed positive note this season.

  12. ToBeDetermined

    Thanks, for the article