“We have a really good pitching staff,” said Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos. “You don’t really get any breaks.”

The Cincinnati Reds have long been known to have a track record of pitching – but that track record isn’t a good one. Historically they’ve been a team that thrived with offense rather than strong pitching. In the last few years, though, the front office has tried to change that. Acquiring Alex Wood didn’t work out as the left-handed starter simply couldn’t stay on the mound in 2019. Acquiring Sonny Gray worked out better than anyone realistically could have expected after the right-hander made the All-Star team and posted a sub 3.00 ERA in his first season with the organization. And then the team traded for Trevor Bauer at the trade deadline in 2019 before signing Wade Miley as a free agent in the offseason.

Things look a lot different than they did when Scott Feldman was the Opening Day starter just a few years ago. Catcher Curt Casali was defensive after MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince said the Reds had the third best rotation in baseball, saying that was too low. And he could be right. But however you want to slice it, the group of Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley, and Anthony DeSclafani stacks up well with any rotation in the game on a given day.

Friday evening we will get our first look at real Cincinnati Reds baseball since last September. Sonny Gray got the nod from manager David Bell to start on Opening Day against the Detroit Tigers, and after his performance on Sunday in an intrasquad scrimmage, Bell liked what he saw.

“He just continues to pitch with confidence,” said Bell. “Hearing our hitters reaction has been fun – well, not fun for them, but fun for me to hear. Moustakas talked a lot about it coming in, how much better a hitter he’s going to be now not having to face our staff. I’ll tell you, facing our staff has really prepared our hitters – it’s worked out beautifully.”

Sonny Gray

The 2019 Season

We touched on it above a little bit already, but Sonny Gray’s 2019 was outstanding. He made 31 starts and threw 175.1 innings with a 2.87 ERA, made the All-Star team, allowed just 122 hits, walked 68 batters, and he picked up 205 strikeouts along the way. He and Luis Castillo at the top of the rotation were a nightmare for opposing lineups. After his final start of the season he did opt to have surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow.

The 2020 Season Projections

Things are weird this year given all that’s going on that’s led to a 60-game season. And all of that has led to prorated projections, too. Let’s take a look at what some of the projection systems have to say for the Reds Opening Day starter.

Steamer 4.10 65.0 61 8 25 67 1.32
ZiPS 3.81 59.0 49 7 22 63 1.20
PECOTA 3.76 60.0 53 6 25 67 1.30

All of the projection systems see a decline for Sonny Gray in 2020. A big part of that is they all project his BABIP to be closer to league average in 2020, with it falling between .289 and .303 in the three systems. His career rate is .280, and in 2019 it was .255. Only in 2016 and in 2018 was it ever higher than .277 in a season.

Luis Castillo

The 2019 Season

In his second full season in the Major Leagues, Luis Castillo made the National League All-Star team and posted a 3.40 ERA in 190.2 innings. He also picked up 226 strikeouts on the season while allowing just 139 hits and walking 79 batters. His season, though, was a tale of two halves. In the first half he posted a 2.29 ERA, helped in part by a .226 BABIP. In the second half his ERA jumped to 4.78 with a more normalized .309 BABIP, but his home run rate also jumped up as he allowed 13 homers – four more than in the first half despite 21.1 fewer innings pitched.

The 2020 Season Projections

Steamer 3.98 70.0 64 10 26 76 1.29
ZiPS 3.60 65.0 54 8 23 73 1.18
PECOTA 3.59 65.0 53 7 28 77 1.26

Similar to that of Sonny Gray, the projection systems to see some regression for Luis Castillo in 2020. And much like Gray, it comes back to normalizing his BABIP for roughly league average levels. Of course, just like Gray, Castillo in his career has significantly beaten the league average in BABIP – his career rate is .267, with it never being worse than .282 in any of his three big league seasons.

Trevor Bauer

The 2019 Season

When the year began, Trevor Bauer was pitching for Cleveland in the American League Central. In his time with Cleveland, Bauer was good – he posted a 3.79 ERA (good for a 124 ERA+) in 156.2 innings with 185 strikeouts. The Reds were looking to bolster their rotation and traded for the right-handed starter at the trade deadline. After arriving in the National League, things didn’t go well for Bauer, who posted a 6.39 ERA in 10 starts for Cincinnati in 56.1 innings. He struck out more batters and walked fewer batters on a per-rate basis than he did with Cleveland, but his home run rate jumped up nearly 50% with the Reds. Late in the season he noted that he had been pitching on an injured ankle for most of the season, which led to back spasms as he compensated for the pain according to Mandy Bell of MLB.com.

The 2020 Season Projections

Steamer 4.12 74.0 66 11 28 84 1.27
ZiPS 3.73 70.0 61 9 27 82 1.26
PECOTA 3.86 64.0 55 7 26 72 1.27

All of the systems foresee a rebound for Trevor Bauer in 2020. In face, aside from his 2018 campaign, all of the ERA projections would be the best of his career if he were to reach them. The forecasting sees a lower home run rate as the big difference between the projections and the 2019 outcome.

Wade Miley

The 2019 Season

A free agent signing by the Houston Astros, Wade Miley put together a second straight strong season after struggling in both 2016 and 2017. The lefty went 14-6 with a 3.98 ERA (116 ERA+) in 167.1 innings pitched for Houston. He continued to use his cutter often – a big change he made in Milwaukee in 2018 under the tutelage of current Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson, and the successful results continued to follow.

The 2020 Season Projections

Steamer 4.63 54.0 58 8 22 44 1.48
ZiPS 4.96 49.0 52 8 20 40 1.47
PECOTA 4.69 49.0 50 7 19 41 1.42

The projection systems see a regression from Wade Miley – essentially to a fringe #5 starter in terms of ERA and WHIP. The difference comes from a higher BABIP than he’s had the last two seasons, as well as a higher home run rate. There’s evidence that the cutter helps pitchers outperform the league average BABIP, and since Miley picked it up and used it to replace his fastball in many situations, his BABIP has dropped off by nearly 40 points (the last two seasons) compared to the previous few years. The projection systems aren’t accounting for that to continue and thus his numbers see the regression monster showing up.

Anthony DeSclafani

The 2019 Season

Arguably the best season of his career, Anthony DeSclafani put up 166.2 innings of 3.89 ERA baseball last season for the Reds. He walked 49 batters and picked up 167 strikeouts. His strikeout rate was the best of his career, and he did that while maintaining a low walk rate. Home runs continued to be an issue as he allowed 29 of them on the year, but it was an improvement – rate wise – over the 2018 season.

The 2020 Season Projections

Steamer 4.70 53.0 54 10 16 50 1.32
ZiPS 4.50 52.0 52 10 14 51 1.27
PECOTA 4.09 53.0 51 8 17 54 1.28

The projections are better from PECOTA than the other two, and it’s largely from the fewer homers allowed. Both Steamer and ZiPS see his home run rate going up a bit from where it was in 2019, while PECOTA is forecasting a drop back closer to the rates he allowed in his first three seasons.

How will it play out?

For the most part, the projections think the Reds rotation is going to take a step back. There’s reason to doubt that in most of the cases, but even with the systems believing the pitching is going to get worse, they still think the Reds are the favorites within the division. In a 60-game sprint, every single game has more meaning to it than it would in a 162-game season.

If the Reds rotation outperforms the projections above, it’s probably going to be a really good year for Cincinnati. Guys will still need to stay healthy, and the offense will need to show up – but the team certainly went about trying to improve things there, too. Things start on Friday night. Buckle up, because if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s going to be a wild ride.

9 Responses

  1. CFD3000

    For many reasons I really wish we were about to start a 162 game season. And one big reason is that better starting pitching gives a bigger advantage over a longer season. This should be a very very good rotation if everyone stays healthy. I’ll be looking carefully at which version of Castillo we see, at how well Miley and Derek Johnson work together to maximize Miley’s strengths, and most of all how well Trevor Bauer can back up his enthusiasm and confidence with results on the mound. I think if Bauer pitches well this year and decides to sign with the Reds for 2021, that might be the single biggest personnel move for next year. I’m guessing Castellanos will stay for 2021 as well, and that would set up the Reds so well for success beyond just this sprint of a season.

    I am SOOO ready for Friday night. Go Reds!

  2. Stock

    Wade Miley was tipping his pitches in September I when evaluating him I kind of ignore that month.

    ERA From March 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019

    Wade Miley – 2.89
    Gerrit Cole – 2.87

    • Sean D

      I’m optimistic about him, he’s looked very good in his outings so far. Also like how fast he works nice to see.

  3. SultanofSwaff

    Was watching our division rivals a here and there the last few days. The Reds have a decided advantage in starting pitching. You could make an argument for the Cardinals if everything falls their way, but on paper Cincinnati is the only team solid 1-5. I don’t see anyone in the division with a dominant bullpen. What I do see with the Reds are options in case anyone falters. In a 60 game sprint no one’s bullpen job should be safe unless they perform. Sonny Gray even said he’d be willing to pitch in relief on his side session day. We know Bauer would. I think all options like that should be considered if/when the need arises.

    • Mike Adams

      Doug, I thought it was math that was hard?

      • Doug Gray

        For me? Everything is very difficult.

  4. tomn

    Just a comment to say how much I enjoy this blog/site whatever you call it. Good articles. Well-written …
    Thank you.