This week’s contribution to the Looking Back at the 2019 Reds series we will be taking a look at reliever Raisel Iglesias.
The Preseason Projection
Raise Iglesias was coming off of a 2018 season in which he posted the lowest ERA of his career, a 2.38 mark across 72.0 innings for the Reds while picking up 30 saves.
Here’s what Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the 2019 season had to say for the Cincinnati Reds right-handed pitcher:
The 2019 Season
13 months ago the Cincinnati Reds and Raisel Iglesias agreed to a new contract, essentially buying out his arbitration years – but not adding any additional years to his deal. The deal was worth $24.1M over the 2019-2021 seasons. The talk at the time of the deal was that it would allow Iglesias to still be paid like a closer throughout his remaining years (arbitration pays guys with saves, and it doesn’t pay guys without them no matter how dominant they actually are out of the bullpen), but to use him in a non-traditional closers role.
The season for Raisel Iglesias got out to a tough start, much like the season for the Reds had. In his first three appearances he allowed a run, taking the loss in two of those games. He’d rebound well the rest of the month of April, giving up just three more runs over 10.0 innings (2.70 ERA) with 19 strikeouts. But May began just like the beginning of the year had – he blew a save and then took a loss in his first two outings. Like before, he rebounded in a big way. From May 8th through June 25th he allowed just one run (0.60 ERA).
June 26th and June 30th were not great for the statline of Raisel Iglesias. He allowed four runs in an inning on the 26th, taking the loss. On the 30th he allowed three runs in 2.0 innings, but picked up the save. When the calendar flipped to July, the first half of the month went well as he tossed 5.2 shutout innings. But the reliever then allowed five runs over the next three outings as his ERA jumped up nearly a full point on the season.
Over the next three-and-a-half weeks he gave up just one run in 10.2 innings while picking up 14 strikeouts with just one walk – getting his season ERA back to where it was before the middle of July happened. But the final week of August was not friendly to the Reds closer, who gave up six earned runs over 2.2 innings in five games. Two of those games he failed to record an out, and in another one he only recorded one out. And just like that his ERA had jumped back up to 4.63 on the season. September was a strong month, though, as Iglesias allowed runs in just one game – a blown save loss on the 27th.
The season was wildly inconsistent for Raisel Iglesias. At times he was the dominant reliever he had shown in the past. But then he would go through a week stretch where he simply couldn’t get anything done. In the end, he would be charged with a loss in 12 games during the year. While he did pick up 34 saves on the season, 12 losses for a closer is a ton. It’s tied for the most losses in a season by a reliever with at least 50 innings pitched in a season since 2000 with Luis Ayala (2004).
The baseball, in part, happened. Everyone knows at this point that the baseball was different. It flew further than it used to, and that meant that home run rates were up across the league. That, coupled with the fact that Iglesias went from being a fly ball pitcher to an extreme fly ball pitcher didn’t help him at all. The last two seasons saw him give up 12 home runs in each after giving up just 12 home runs in the previous two seasons combined.
It was the home run that caused the most problems for Iglesias during the season. But it wasn’t just the home runs. He struggled in games where he entered before the 9th inning. In the 16 games that Iglesias entered prior to the 9th inning he threw 21.0 innings and allowed 14 earned runs. That’s an ERA of 6.00. In games that he entered in the 9th or later on the season his ERA was 3.33 over 46.0 innings.
By the time that the first week in May had rolled around Raisel Iglesias wasn’t happy with how he was being used, and he vented those frustrations publicly. How he was surprised by the way he was used is a mystery given that it was talked about at the press conference about his new contract, but that’s a different story for a different day. Whether it was the mental preparation for non-9th inning or later appearances, just simply bad luck and random variance showing it’s ugly face at the wrong time giving the impression of a trend – whatever it was, it happened. And it was a big part of the reason his ERA, and loss total was much higher than it’s ever been before.
What’s to come?
This is the question on a lot of minds. If Raisel Iglesias can get back to the dominant reliever that he was from 2016-2018 it would be a huge benefit for the Reds bullpen. But in order to do that he’ll probably need to go back to finding more ground balls than he had last year, and possibly figure out whatever it was that seemed to be holding him back when he came into the game before the 9th inning.
Not everything was bad in 2019 for Raisel Iglesias. There were some good signs during the season. His strikeout rate of 32% was the best it’s ever been. His walk rate of 7.5% was at it’s lowest point as a reliever, and only trailed his 2015 season as a starter in terms of the lowest rate he’s shown in his career. And his BABIP against was also easily the highest it’s ever been in his career. There’s a lot of reason to think he should perform better from an ERA standpoint in 2020 than he did in 2019. But there do remain a few question marks, too.