The Cincinnati Reds starting rotation has the makings of a strong force at the top with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer. I touched on that a little bit this morning. Tonight I want to take a look at the other end of the pitching staff: The bullpen.
There’s a saying about bullpens being a bit of a crap shoot from year to year. There just aren’t very many relievers who are consistently good every season. The ones that are tend to be the closers and they cost a lot of money in free agency, or a lot in trade to acquire them via that route. The Reds have their closer already locked up in Raisel Iglesias. Michael Lorenzen has been a mainstay in the bullpen for years. Amir Garrett should have been an All-Star this year, but somehow was left off of the team.
But there are also several guys who got 30+ appearances this year who are no longer on the team. Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, and Zach Duke are no longer in the organization. Wandy Peralta is still in the organization, but he’s back in Triple-A. Overall the bullpen has an ERA of 4.39 on the season for the Reds. That ranks 13th in baseball. But if you take out the performance of those four pitchers who are no longer in the bullpen, the ERA drops from 4.39 to 3.76. That would put rank 5th in Major League Baseball.
Of course other teams have had some players who haven’t lived up to expectations and been released or demoted, too. The point is more to show that the guys that are still around have performed fairly well as a group. But to also take a look at some guys who haven’t been with the team all year who have come up to help, and see if they can perhaps provide more to the established guys.
Lucas Sims has made two starts this year for the Reds, but has pitched out of the bullpen 12 other times. As a start he’s allowed nine runs in 12 innings. He’s been rather dominant out of the bullpen, though. It’s a small sample size, but he’s given up just four runs in 16.0 innings (2.25 ERA) with 25 strikeouts and 9 walks. That’s a few more walks than you’d like to see. But at least right now he’s countering that with a 38.5% strikeout rate as a reliever. If he had enough innings, that would rate out as the 6th best strikeout rate in baseball. His curveball has been a real weapon. Using Fangraphs values per 100 pitches thrown, his curveball grades out as the 3rd best in baseball, trailing only Carson Fulmer and Matt Moore. Neither of them use the pitch nearly as often as Sims.
Just called up last week, Joel Kuhnel had been dominating in the minor leagues all season. The big right-hander posted an ERA of 2.27 in 35.2 innings with Double-A Chattanooga. In 18.0 innings after a promotion to Triple-A he posted an ERA of 2.00. And he did that with 16 walks (3 intentional) and 50 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. He’s only pitched three innings for the Reds so far, so it’s not really even worth discussing the stats at this point (1ER, 2H, 1BB, 2K just in case you were curious). But what is worth discussing is the stuff. According to BrooksBaseball.net, he’s topped out at 98.9 MPH. He’s also mixed in both a change up (90 MPH) and a slider (87 MPH).
The wild card here could Cody Reed. It seems that plenty out there still equate Cody Reed with the 2016-2017 version of the left-hander who posted a 6.75 ERA in 65.1 innings for the team while struggling to find the strikezone and giving up tons of home runs. But that isn’t who he is today. In 2018 he posted a 3.98 ERA for the Reds in 43.0 innings while cutting down on the walks and home runs. This season he’s only pitched in 6.1 innings for the Reds, but only allowed one run before injuring his knee. In Triple-A he was dominating, posting a 2.61 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. And he did so while being a ground ball machine. His ground ball rate this year between Cincinnati and Louisville is just over 70%.
Lucas Sims and Cody Reed both have some track record of success to point to in the Major Leagues in recent times. Joel Kuhnel doesn’t, at least year. But he also dominated in the minors and seems to have the stuff to back it up. You never know until you know, but there’s some good evidence that these three pitchers could be difference makers for the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.