The Reds resurgent pitching staff has the second-best ERA and SIERA in the National League. They get whiffs at will, striking out the highest percentage of batters in the NL. After the last few years where young pitchers struggled and league castoffs threw plenty of innings, these facts seemed impossible.

The best pitchers typically excel in at least two of three of the following: striking out batters, minimizing walks, and inducing groundballs. Here are the five top starters so far in K-BB% ratio with ERA included:

  • Gerrit Cole – 3.54
  • Chris Sale – 3.49
  • Max Scherzer – 2.62
  • Justin Verlander – 2.59
  • Matthew Boyd – 3.35

And the top 5 relievers:

  • Josh Hader – 2.02
  • Kirby Yates – 1.13
  • Giovanny Gallegos – 2.76
  • Brad Hand – 0.88
  • Matt Barnes – 3.16

That’s quite the list. Strikeouts keep batters off the bases entirely, and groundballs don’t go for extra-base hits nearly as often as line drives or flyballs. They are also more likely to produce double plays than other batted ball types. The Reds K-BB% has gone from 11.6% in 2018 to 17.1% this season, and their GB% has gone up slightly and ranks 7th in all of baseball.

The Cincinnati baseballers did add some productive new arms in the offseason, spending prospect capital to improve a dreadful staff. But, the newcomers do not entirely explain the drastic improvement in outcomes for Reds pitchers. Finally, after waiting three or four years, some of the Reds younger pitchers have taken significant steps forward:

  • Luis Castillo
  • Tyler Mahle
  • Robert Stephenson
  • Michael Lorenzen
  • Amir Garrett

Each of these hurlers has improved in at least two of the three areas previously discussed, leading to better results. Below is an overview of how the K%, BB%, and GB% have changed for each pitcher since last season with some information on how they’ve done it.

Luis Castillo

  • K% +5.7%
  • GB% +11%
  • BB% +5.5%

In 2018, Castillo was actually quite good after an awful April. Still, he had noticeable declines in his K% and GB% from his stellar 15-start debut the year before. Batters also hit him considerably harder, leading to 28 homeruns allowed and one exasperated me.

However in 2019, Castillo has embarrassed hitters, striking out 29% of them and inducing a ton of groundballs (56.9% GB%). The changeup is savage, missing bats and breaking wills. But, Castillo’s third pitch, the slider, has seemingly taken a step forward, producing more groundballs and an .088 batting average against.

Castillo is living on the edges of the zone and often out of it. Matt Wilkes has already written about Castillo’s walk rate, which will eventually get him in trouble unless it improves. Other than that, Castillo looks like the ace the Reds need.

Tyler Mahle

  • K% +3.1%
  • BB% -4.9%
  • GB% +6.0%

Mahle has long been known as a control pitcher, a guy who won’t give out free passes easily. Strangely, in his rookie season, Mahle had a below average BB% (10.5%). The walks, combined with a hard hit% in the bottom 9% of the league, led to significant struggles in the second half of 2018.

This season, Mahle’s elite control has returned. He ranks 19th among all qualified pitchers in BB% (5.6%) and that’s after a four-walk game early in the season. Mahle still lets up some hard contact, but his K% has improved (24.6%), and batters are hitting more grounders (44.7%). Less contact and more groundballs goes a long way.

Mahle has gotten better results with his changeup, and while it remains a work in progress, the curveball has shown flashes. We will see if hitters adjust to him as they seemed to last season, but Mahle looks like he is progressing, having improved in all three key stats as a 24-year-old.

Robert Stephenson

  • K% +16.1%
  • BB% -9.1%
  • GB% +1.9%

No need to rehash Stephenson’s past issues in detail. He has always been a giver instead of a taker, providing free passes to first base to anyone and everyone who came to the plate. These mound indiscretions led to many extended stays in the crown jewel of the commonwealth: Louisville.

Armed with a new fastball grip, Stephenson has found some semblance of control, giving his plus-plus slider elite results. When swinging, batters have missed about 54% of the time, and Stephenson has 27 of his 35 strikeouts on the pitch. Stephenson generates more swings and misses than any other Red and has thrived at keeping the ball out of play.

One concern: Stephenson has walked batters in five of his last six plate appearances, and his BB% remains below average. We need a bigger sample to see how much he’s actually improve, but the early returns are promising for a former 1st round pick who seemed completely lost six months ago.

Michael Lorenzen

  • K% +7.9%
  • BB% -3.7%
  • GB% -2.0%

Lorenzen had an excellent ERA last season (3.11), especially for a guy who made nine appearances of at least three innings. He was a pseudo starter at times. Below the surface, things were less appealing and sustainable. Lorenzen struck out only 15.7% of batters and walked almost 10%, both numbers well below league average. He struggled to miss bats, strange for a pitcher who can touch 99 and bench press a stadium.

To his credit, Lorenzen recognized the issue, saying after hurling a 5 2/3 shutout gem as a starter to end 2018 that he needed a put away pitch. Enter the changeup, a pitch Lorenzen rarely used the last three seasons. Right now, his changeup has almost the same swinging strike% as Castillo’s vaunted changeup. While not an apples to apples comparison because Castillo has to face batters multiple times, it shows just how effective Lorenzen’s changeup has become.

The strikeout rate has risen to almost 24% and his BB% is way down to 6.2%. Since May 1st, those numbers are an otherworldly 29% K% and 4.3% BB%. He’s missing more bats than he ever has, a drastic change from 2018. Armed with six different pitches, it would be interesting to see how Lorenzen would fair in longer outings.

Amir Garrett

  • K% +7.2%
  • BB% +1.4%
  • GB% +10.6%

Garrett struck out plenty of batters last season, but in 2019, he’s striking out all of them. Almost. Over a third of the batters he’s faced have walked back to the dugout bewildered, discouraged, and full of regret. The main reason is Garrett’s slider, which has given him 38 of his 42 Ks so far.

Besides the increase in strikeouts, Garrett is getting a lot more groundballs than in past years, leading to only five extra-base hits allowed. He’s been the most dominant reliever on the staff and deserves serious All-Star consideration. Garrett still walks too many batters, and it bit him against the Astros this week. But the strikeouts and groundballs have limited the potential damage caused by the free passes.


Fairly or not, the Reds have been criticized for not developing pitching during this rebuild. So far this season, these five players have seemingly made important strides. Their growth has likely resulted from Derek Johnson, the increase in analytics provided to them, and more experience in the Major Leagues. While we need a bigger sample to see the extent of that growth, each of these guys looks improved over last season.

Every one of these pitchers is 27 and under. Along with Sonny Gray, They form a strong nucleus for the next few years as the Reds look to contend.

6 Responses

  1. Roger Garrett

    I have always felt the guys mentioned and others were never given a legit chance to start and or pitch in the big leagues.We could discuss back and forth as to what a legit chance is in terms of games or innings but it won’t get us anywhere.The tell tale sign is nobody has been released with Reed and Romano still pitching in the minors along with Jackson Stevens and Sims which we picked up in the Duvall trade.Nine guys that are still here and have been talked about for 3 or 4 years for some of them.One could argue we still don’t know if Reed,Bob Steve,Lorenzen and Garret could start in the big leagues so I tend to feel the Reds have wasted a lot of time and continue down that same path.Just my opinion of course.

    • Nick Carrington

      I generally agree with this, though each case is different. I still wonder about a couple of those guys.

      The Reds starting pitching depth is pretty thin right now. It helps that Alex Wood seems like he is on the mend, but Lucas Sims has really struggled since going back to Louisville after being inconsistent early in the year. Sims has a 4.64 ERA in Louisville and a 4.97(!) xFIP. He’s just walking too many guys.

      If the Reds have an injury or two, they would be in trouble, and the answer doesn’t seem to be in Louisville. I’d be interested in seeing them give Stephenson and Lorenzen 3-4 inning appearances out of the pen to stretch them a little in case they need another starter down the road.

      Stephenson’s command still concerns me in a starting role, but if he could swing a 9%-9.5% BB%, I think he could make it work. Lorenzen’s command has been exceptional, and the changeup has been a game changer. As I wrote, he still has six different pitches and throws at least four in most appearances.

      It doesn’t look like those extended appearances will happen, but if the Reds do have some injuries, they seem unprepared.

  2. Brock

    Both Garrett and Castillo don’t become free agents until 2024, so that’s an additional 4 years of control beyond this year. With the injury potential for pitchers today (although there’s nothing serious in Garrett or Castillo’s past) is it safer/smarter to go to arbitration every year with these two rather than sign them to extensions? Or maybe just extensions that cover the arb years? I’m sure the FO has had internal discussions about this

  3. daytonnati

    Okay, I will probably get torched for this, but I stuck with Homer pretty much all the way up to his trade. I always believed, at some point, he would shake the injuries and settle into a better than average MLB starter. That said, I think the trade was a positive move, so no second-guessing there, but I can’t help but wonder what Johnson would have done with Homer? Granted, Homer would have to be willing to listen but it is an interesting scenario.

  4. Tom Mitsoff

    In Fangraphs WAR 2019 year-to-date statistics, five of the top seven Reds players are pitchers:

    1) Tanner Roark, 2.1
    2) Sonny Gray, 1.9
    3t) Derek Dietrich, 1.8
    3t) Luis Castillo, 1.8
    5) David Hernandez, 1.1
    6t) Tyler Mahle, 1.0
    6t) Eugenio Suarez, 1.0

    Not surprising, but it corroborates what has happened to this pitching staff in a relatively short period of time. Guess the top two indicates those were a couple of pretty good pitching trades by the front office in the off-season.

  5. Indy Red Man

    All I know is if I was the GM for Philly, Oakland, or Texas then I’d be making some calls about Stephenson. The guy has great stuff, but never seems to pitch?

    Atleast Bell does see the light w/Lorenzen. The guy is an amazing athlete and can help you win a game in many different ways! I’ve compared his potential as a starter to Kevin Brown many times, but thats unfair to Lorenzen. Maybe a more accurate comparison might be Lance Lynn. 90-61 career record with a 3.62 era and only allowed 20+ Hrs in a season once. He gets that power sinker going and its hard to get lift on it. Sometimes when guys like that get a little tired then the ball sinks more! Lorenzen may end up closing? Who knows, but I want my best arms to have the most innings, until they prove otherwise. I give zero credence to his first year as proof that he can’t start. He was rushed to the bigs and thrown in there because they had nobody else. Castillo had 460 ip in the minors. ML had 192!