The last two decades of Cincinnati Reds baseball has been tough to get through, at times. There have been some highlight years, but they’ve been quite limited. Instead, what many Reds fans have had to be happy with is the performance of individual players. And that brings us to one of the more valuable Cincinnati players in the last two decades: Bronson Arroyo.
March 20th, 2006. That was the day that we all learned that the Reds had made a trade with the Boston Red Sox, sending out power hitting outfielder Wily Mo Pena and acquiring right-handed pitcher Bronson Arroyo. While I had just begun writing about baseball at the time (officially I registered RedsMinorLeagues.com in January of 2006) – the archives from that time are long gone. Chris Wilson broke the news here at Redleg Nation, citing both ESPN and Reds.com. Wilson linked to the pieces and left a one sentence summation: My optimism for the new GM and ownership group just left! (the comments section is certainly interesting to read on this one)
I remember my reaction – and it wasn’t good. My belief at the time was that Wily Mo Pena was a young, toolsy outfielder who had posted an .820 OPS and a 111 OPS+ as a 22 and 23-year-old in the Major Leagues over 209 games the previous two seasons. There were warts in his game – no doubt – but that he was also going to be 24-years-old and would continue to grow and mature and improve. At the same time, Bronson Arroyo was a 29-year-old starting pitcher who only had two full seasons under his belt in the Major Leagues. The most recent one was merely average when it came to run prevention.
Oops. Boy was I wrong. At the time I severely underestimated the value of innings as a whole. I was more focused on the run prevention rather than the run prevention and ability to eat innings. Young and dumb, as they say. But I wasn’t just wrong about what Arroyo was both bringing prior to the trade and likely to bring after the trade – I was also wrong about what the future of Pena would do moving forward, too. His first year with Boston went well – he hit .301/.349/.489 for the Red Sox in 84 games played, but just two years later he was out of the Major Leagues.
Bronson Arroyo immediately made his presence felt for the Cincinnati Reds in 2006. He led the league in both starts and innings pitched. He posted a 3.29 ERA in 240.2 innings that season and made the National League All-Star team. His 142 ERA+, and his 3.29 ERA were both career bests.
While that first season was the best that he had with the Reds, his nine seasons with the Reds were strong – particularly if we try to forget about his age 40 season in 2017 as he tried to return from Tommy John surgery late in his career after missing both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. From 2006-2013, Arroyo averaged 211.0 innings a season – which is simply crazy to think back on at this point – with a 4.05 ERA (105 ERA+. His WAR in that time period was 20.6, with an MVP/Cy Young contending number of 6.8 WAR in 2006 (though he didn’t get a single Cy Young vote that year, and got just one vote in the MVP race that year, finishing 23rd in the voting).
Let’s take a look at his career numbers with the Reds.
Those 2011 and 2017 seasons stick out for the wrong reasons. But look at the other seasons. League average or better almost across the board. Bronson Arroyo was consistent, by-and-large, and healthy. He took the ball every fifth day and he kept you in the game almost every time.
Among pitchers that have pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in the last 30 years, only Jose Rijo, Johnny Cueto, and Tom Browning have higher WAR totals with the Reds (Baseball Reference version). Browning, however, accumulated a majority of that in the 80’s.
Even before we saw pitching explode into an era where everyone throws hard, Bronson Arroyo was considered a soft tosser. He got by with throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, from multiple arm angles and pounding the strikezone. He would routinely post better than average BABIP numbers – indicating that what he was doing to induce softer contact was a result of his ability.
It may not be the best trade that the Cincinnati Reds have ever made (we’re looking at you Bob Howsam for your acquisition of Joe Morgan) – but it’s got to be among the better ones in the history of the franchise.