Back in May, I tried to get to the bottom of why Raisel Iglesias was off to a rough start. The gist: his sinker was terrible, he lost some velocity, and he wasn’t locating his slider.
Since then, his sinker hasn’t improved, but his velocity returned to normal and he’s cleaned up his slider command. The numbers haven’t gotten better. His ERA stands at 4.55. The 11 losses stand out, even if they’re not the best way to evaluate a pitcher, especially a reliever. Thanks to a career-best strikeout rate (31.3%) and his lowest walk rate since 2016 (8.1%), Iglesias has stronger peripherals (4.18 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 3.35 SIERA). While his SIERA is solid, the other numbers aren’t what most expected.
Of course, most relievers are volatile. But a reliever with Iglesias’ talent shouldn’t be merely average, right? And certainly not when he’s striking out nearly a third of the hitters he’s faced, right? So, what’s going on with the Reds’ $24-million arm?
Trouble With Lefties
Iglesias has always dominated right-handed hitters. In his 829 times facing righties, they’re batting .187/.256/.332 with a .254 wOBA and 34.0% strikeout rate. Lefties have found him more hittable; they come in at .259/.331/.419 with a .322 wOBA and 21.0% strikeout rate. Iglesias has struck out more lefties than ever this season (27.6%). That hasn’t resulted in across-the-board improvements, though.
Left-handed batters are slashing .267/.327/.556 against Iglesias this season. The last number — slugging percentage — really stands out, as he’s getting hit harder than ever.
Iglesias still has a decent .312 xwOBA against left-handers because he’s increased the strikeouts. But he’s making too many mistakes in the middle of the zone. Seven of the 11 home runs he’s allowed this season have come against lefties. That’s nearly three per nine innings and good for a 30.4% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.
Last year, the sinker was his issue. He threw his sinker 28.8% of the time, and it was demolished for a .333 average (.421 xBA), .744 slugging percentage (.796 xSLG), and .457 wOBA (.540 xwOBA) — mindbogglingly bad. He’s cut the sinker usage down to 13.4% in 2019. The results haven’t improved for the pitch: .467 BA (.400 xBA), 1.000 SLG, (.815 xSLG), and .611 wOBA (.522 xwOBA). He has thrown only 50 sinkers against lefties, and two have gone for homers.
He has swapped his sinker usage with his four-seam fastball, which has performed much better (.185 BA, .154 xBA, .284 xSLG, .250 xwOBA. The SLG and wOBA were intentionally left out; they’re at .556 and .350, respectively. Iglesias has allowed only five hits to lefties in 31 plate appearances ending in four-seamers, but three have gone for homers. Two were well-located pitches on the inside part of the plate — credit the hitters there — and the other was a cookie down the middle of the plate to Kyle Schwarber. Switching to the four-seam fastball is ultimately the right call, as he’ll get more whiffs and pop-ups by throwing it up in the zone.
The issues go beyond the fastball, though.
The changeup is Iglesias’ pitch of choice to get left-handers out. The pitch has late-breaking movement similar to Luis Castillo’s, darting down and/or away from hitters at the last second. Check out this strikeout against Shohei Ohtani or this one versus Freddie Freeman. Last year, Iglesias turned it into an elite offering. Lefties hit .140 (.176 xBA) and slugged .158 (.240 xSLG) with a .214 xwOBA. They whiffed 43.3% of the time they swung at it. The changeup kept Iglesias from getting completely crushed against lefties.
But it has regressed this year, somewhat negating the improvements he’s seen by switching to a four-seam fastball. Iglesias is throwing the changeup over 1 mph faster while his fastball velocity has remained steady, resulting in less separation in between the pitches. The whiff rate has gone down to 35.4%; hard contact has increased as the season progresses.
The ground-ball rate, which was 59.5% against lefties last year, has fallen to 45.8% this year. Those factors account for a huge portion of the 100–200 point increases in BA (.263), xBA (.270), SLG (.395), xSLG (.444), wOBA (.279), and xwOBA (.306) with the changeup. He’s not giving up bombs and the overall numbers aren’t bad, but lefty hitters aren’t having as tough a time handling it.
Regression Against Righties
Iglesias has regressed against righties as well (.250/.320/.402). Much of that can be traced to a ridiculous .362 batting average on balls in play and his trouble commanding the slider early in the year. His career BABIP versus right-handed hitters is .260. His slider has a .228 xwOBA against righties, up from unhittable levels in 2018 (.172), but the pitch has performed much better since the middle of May.
With the four-seam fastball, Iglesias has focused on throwing up in the zone just like many other Reds pitchers. It’s getting significantly more whiffs (31.0%) compared to last year (19.6%) along with softer contact. Still, though, the pitch isn’t anything special. In righty vs. righty matchups, the league averages a .355 xwOBA; Iglesias is at .348. When he’s not getting the fastball up, it’s very hittable.
The death of the sinker has really hurt him against right-handers. It used to be a go-to pitch for Iglesias, generating grounders more than half the time. He also got swings and misses with the pitch at an above-average clip, although it was far from a strikeout pitch.
Then, last year happened.
The whiffs remained, but the ground balls disappeared (34.2%). Iglesias struggled to keep the pitch down, although he wasn’t shy about throwing his two-seamer in the middle of the zone before. Mostly, he fell victim to the uppercut swing trend across baseball. The sinker now falls on the same plane as many hitters’ bat paths. Batters aren’t topping the ball and hitting it into the ground. They’re barreling it and hitting it into the stands. What was a strength for Iglesias turned into a weakness.
Assuming the sinker doesn’t regain its former dominance, focusing on the high fastball should remain a priority for Iglesias.
Some Bad Luck Mixed In
Aside from some bad BABIP luck against right-handers, misfortune has found Iglesias with the home run ball, too. His 18.0% HR/FB rate is well above league average (15.3%). Pitchers don’t have much control over what happens when the ball gets in the air, especially in this hitting environment with a juiced ball. Cheap home runs are coming left and right this season.
Among all pitchers to allow double-digit home runs — a group of 211 pitches — nobody has allowed a lower average distance on those balls than Iglesias (379 feet). He has given up an unusual amount of cheap dingers, even in this era of baseballs flying out of parks on ridiculous swings like this. Part of that is pitching in Great American Ball Park, too.
Still, it’s not an entirely unsurprising development considering he’s given up more fly balls and generated fewer grounders than ever before.
However, there is at least some room for his luck to improve.
Where Does That Leave Us?
Iglesias will be back next year, much to the chagrin of some reading this piece. Despite his struggles, he’s third on the team in fWAR (0.7), second in xFIP (min. 25 innings), and second in SIERA. He didn’t suddenly turn into a pumpkin like David Hernandez.
Iglesias is still well above average against right-handers, although he has regressed since his dominant 2016 and 2017 seasons. The slider is still a strong weapon for Iglesias against same-handed opponents. A dip in fastball effectiveness as a whole has kept him from being his former dominant self against them. The high four-seamer has shown promise, but he has to keep it up; it gets crushed when he leaves it in the middle of the plate. Against lefties, he’s better off ditching the sinker altogether and refining his four-seam and changeup combination.
If he’s going to be an extreme fly-ball pitcher moving forward, though, the home run problem will likely continue. Among all pitchers with 50 innings thrown this season, only seven have a lower ground-ball rate than Iglesias (29.2%). That includes starters, providing a 294-player sample. Unless he starts striking out hitters like Josh Hader — who has the lowest ground-ball rate in baseball but still maintains a 2.70 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 2.42 xFIP — it’s going to inflate his numbers unless he gets lucky with his HR/FB ratio.
Then, there are his struggles in non-save situations. Ideally, David Bell would be able to use Iglesias in any important situation. He has wilted during those times, however, whether it’s an issue of being mentally unprepared or something else. He’s undeniably the most gifted arm in the bullpen, but this makes his future role murkier. At the least, there’s still plenty of talent for Derek Johnson to work with in the offseason. More than anything, Iglesias will have to continue adjust his approach with his fastballs to rediscover his former self.
Sorry Matt, but loses do matter and are the only measure. The rest of your numbers are ways to help reduce or eliminate the loses. What if those 11 loses became saves or wins?
Reds would be at .500. Look how they buried themselves in the beginning with 8 straight loses. Never recovered. Loses matter no matter when or how they are recorded. The rest of the analysis is gymnastics.
At no point did I say losses don’t matter. The point of baseball is to win games. I said losses are a bad way to evaluate a pitcher. They tell you a very incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, story of how a pitcher actually performed. I’m not sure why you latched onto that minor point. That said, most of Iglesias’ losses have been deserved. The point of the article is to analyze why they happened.
“Losses are a bad way to evaluate a pitcher.” You can parse this however you like but this belongs with the other excuses we hear year after year…he’s a slow starter…he’s hitting .300 after the all star break…etc.
We have a team full of excuses. I am an optics person not a metric person, although I do enjoy the mathematical attempts to offer more excuses. There is no measure for a persons heart or his will to win. There is also no measure for a manager to repeat the same mistake over and over. Iglesias wants his own rules. He is not a team player. But he is not the only one on this roster who plays only for himself.
Remember the movie with Clint Eastwood as an over the hill scout who shunned the metrics of the new generation? That’s me! Remember Occam’s razor? That’s my strategy.
Here is a question for you. How do you think RI would do on the Big Red Machine without changing any of his current metrics? Bench described this group as team oriented. Do in accordance with Occam, it is clear to me that RI has no dependable team around him. If he gives up a run, it is likely that this current group would not be able to cover for him.And in accordance with Occam and Jeff Brantley and Clint Eastwood he has a hitch in his delivery. Fix those two things and you fix RI.
is it losses or loses. lol!
Rich… it’s fantastically easy to find problems and complain about them based on results. Furthermore, there’s not a darn thing that can be done about them now. It’s a whole different animal to acknowledge the problem and work on correcting it. If we only ever focus on results, how can one refine the process that directly contributes to those bad results? You can’t just cut everybody the minute their optics go bad. That’s not the same thing as lacking accountability either.
Given the investment and likelihood that Iglesias is going to be around, what Matt has done here is given some food for thought about how things have changed and what the Reds/Iglesias might consider doing differently. The whole point is that everyone knows Iglesias has been bad and we want to know what turned a lethal machine into something so hittable.
In addition to my Occam’s razor metaphor, ask yourself how you feel when anyone other than AA is at bat. Do you have confidence in the offense? I am rarely comfortable with anyone on offense anymore. So how do you think the pitchers feel.
I don’t know if the solution for Iglesias is to go back to basics with Derek Johnson and refine the sinker and changeup, or if it’s to adapt with the fastballs, especially the four seamer. But I do know that his attitude, his disdain for non-save situations, and the 11 losses are something the Reds need to change. Options are a commitment to Iglesias – with real accountability, or a trade. The raw materials and past track record give him value and I’m confident there are teams who would love a crack at rejuvenating Raisel. But one way or the other 2019 Raisel Iglesias has to go – he has been a huge reason this team is still stuck in neutral. As has been pointed out countless times, flip just half his losses to wins and it’s a .500 season. This Reds team is getting better, but that’s too big a handicap to overcome. I want 2020 Raisel to be new and improved, or to be playing somewhere else.
Great post, CFD. Thanks.
Flip half of Mahle’s losses to wins and you’d have the same result.
I don’t dump RI immediately but there needs to be a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting about team versus individual. I think that if Bell is still here and RI is not, it’ll be more a signal that RI is not a team player.
I’m generally loathe to play armchair psychologist when it comes to professional athletes, but in this instance it’s difficult to ignore. More times than not Raisel is visibly not in the right frame of mind when he comes into a ballgame. We saw a lot of that with Reed and Stephenson last year. The pitch selection is important, but more important is throwing each pitch with conviction. I think much of what we see is attributable to that. As Jeff Brantley alluded to back in April, Iglesias wasn’t ready for the opening bell. Seems his season has snowballed because of it. You have to wonder if hubris got the best of him.
Just like 2015 Reds failed to trade players based on what? “Fans Liking them”? Bob not wanting too? Some false belief they would maintain above career average numbers?
You could argue your 3 best pitchers period last year were Hernandez, Hughes, and Iglasies. Your best hitter was Scooter. Did we sell high? No. Where are these players now?….
In three of those four cases there was almost nothing to sell. And the Reds did try to move Scooter, but there were no offers of value, so the Reds decided to keep him to see if he could have another 4 WAR season. The only one that might have had value was Iglesias.
The Reds tried to trade scooter for the last year.NOBODY wanted him and now SF cut him.What was trading high with him? Why would they trade their best BP pieces?
good article Matt. the fact that Iglesias has had to pitch in so many non save situations is what is so disturbing to me.. it is really a reflection of the teams poor offense and inability to score runs late in games. having said that the timing of his blown saves have been just brutal this year. the blown save recently against the pirates for all inteded puroposes ended our year. i think he has definitely lost some of that “clutch factor” this year. As a fan i “trust” and breath easier when Lorenzen is out there this year.
Very interesting point. Thanks.
Matt, thanks for an informative and interesting post.
Just Look at the Aroldis Chapman situation. You have our answer!
Where has the idea of competition gone in baseball? Where are the guys that look the other guy in the eye and says “I’m going to beat you?” I want to see guys figure out how not to swing at bad pitches because they want to win. I want to see pitchers who are mentally tough and figure out a way to beat the other guy. I want to see managers who not only manage, but inspire. While I admit that the game is often about the best talent in the best roles, I also admit that I miss the days when teams elevated their play beyond their talents. I miss the days of Pete Rose! The game seems to be little more than a guy sitting behind a computer playing a strategy game. Time to get up in R I’s grill and see if he responds or needs to go. Right now, he doesn’t look like a competitor.
The idea that these guys aren’t trying to win with all they’ve got each night is an absurd thing. The idea that you should try to start a fight with someone so they’ll play better is also an absurd idea.
Gocats, I go farther back to Johnny Temple. I remember 1 game where an umpire called a runner safe and Temple went to the other 3 umpires and the last one called the runner out. That is the kind of players we need.
Great post, Matt, but I’d debate one of your statements: “The 11 losses stand out, even if they’re not the best way to evaluate a pitcher, especially a reliever.” I think that’s true for SPs and maybe 7th or 8th inning guys, but for a closer? Iglesias usually comes in the game at the end when the Reds have the lead. That fact that he is 2-11 is significant. He’s lost lots of games the Reds should have won when they had the lead in the 9th. Pitching-wise this year, he’s been the biggest disappointment. I hope he finds his slider.
TBD: I wonder what Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, even Verlander today would say to your thought the W/L don’t matter to SP? How about Sonny Gray where it was pointed out that the bullpen lost eight games where he left in position to post a WIN?
How the heck did Aaron hit so many homeruns without the launch angle metric to help him? Would you think Pete Rose or George Brett would have had better careers if they had a “better” batting stance or understood their launch angle robbed them of power?
I am not making fun of the current metric craze, I just believe in the ability of the player to adjust if he is any good. The majority of metric references I see have more value in contract negotiation than improving the day to day performance of the player.