The Cincinnati Reds bullpen has had its share of ups and downs this season. While there has been a revolving door of relievers, the main core has stayed the same. And within that main core of relievers, it’s been a tale of two halves.
Prior to August 13th, the Cincinnati Reds bullpen had a collective 6.23 team ERA. They were 14th out of 15 teams in the National League. However, since August 13th, it’s been a different story. The Reds have a 3.30 team ERA since then, good for first in the NL. Their 3.92 FIP and 4.29 xFIP are a little higher, both at fifth in the NL. Reds relievers are striking out batters though, with a 10.23 SO/9, good for third in the NL behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs.
However, one of the problems with the bullpen is that many of the relievers are struggling with walks, as they have a 4.07 BB/9 and are all the way down at ninth in the league. Reds relievers walk a lot of batters, which contributes to the problems they have had. It hasn’t been easy at times for them, but from the 77.8 LOB% (first in the NL), they’ve escaped innings too. Much like the offense, the bullpen’s been inconsistent at times. Unlike the offense, it’s developed into a strength.
It’s not a secret that a couple of Reds relievers had terrible starts to the season. Michael Lorenzen was one of those pitchers. In eight games from July 24 – August 13, Lorenzen had a 10.38 ERA and a 7.53 FIP in 8.2 innings for a -0.3 WAR. His BB/9 sat at 5.19, high for a relief pitcher. He also gave up a home run in each of his first three appearances.
Now-former Red Cody Reed also didn’t pitch well during that beginning stretch. In 7.2 innings, he had a 7.04 ERA and a 6.80 FIP. His struggles were similar to Lorenzen’s in that his BB/9 was at 5.87, and in three of his first four appearances, he allowed a home run.
Combine the terrible performances with a few bad single performances by Robert Stephenson and Jose DeLeon–Stephenson gave up two runs late in a 6-4 loss to Detroit the first series of the season, and DeLeon gave up eight runs in 1.2 innings at a time when the Reds were down 3-0 in the sixth–and you get a very high team ERA for this first half of the season.
There were some good pitchers during this stretch, however. Remember when everyone thought Raisel Iglesias was done being a closer because he was so “terrible”? Yeah, that narrative isn’t exactly true this year. He was one of the Reds best relievers through August 13. In 6.2 innings, he struck out 12 and walked zero. His 0.3 WAR was the highest out of the entire bullpen. He may have been the victim of a few unfortunate circumstances, however. His ERA stood at 4.05, but he had a FIP of 1.50 and an xFIP of 1.33. That’s a crazy split. His HR/9 rate was 1.23 in that span, meaning he was surrendering the home run ball more often.
Lucas Sims has actually been one of the pleasant surprises this season. He had a 0.96 ERA in 9.1 innings with 13 strikeouts and only four walks during this time frame. The ERA is a bit misleading, however, because in one of his two blown saves, he gave up three unearned runs. As a result, his FIP was at 3.36, which is still above league average.
On August 9th against the Brewers, Lorenzen faced four batters, walking three and allowing a hit while giving up three runs. Since that day, he hasn’t allowed another run. While his BB/9 is still high at 5.91, he does has a 3.43 FIP and a 93.3 LOB%, both above league average.
Iglesias is one of the pitchers struggling to limit walks. Since Aug. 13, his BB/9 is at 5.68. It went down to 4.70 after Sunday’s loss, but 4.70 is still fairly high. (Anything above 3.2 is considered below average, according to Fangraphs). Aside from the walks, which have all come after the 13th, and his 57.1 LOB%, Iglesias really hasn’t been terrible.
Sims is still maintaining his early success. In 7.1 innings since the 13th, he has a 3.68 ERA and a 3.42 FIP. His BB/9 is at 3.68, meaning he hasn’t struggled with walks like some of his teammates. At 1.23, his HR/9 is higher than the Reds would want; but for the most part, he has been a guy that David Bell has relied on.
Then we get to Amir Garrett. Garrett has been the Reds best reliever this year, and that’s not a joke. In the second half particularly, he’s been lights out, striking out batters at a 14.85 K/9 rate, walking zero, and allowing zero runs in 6.2 innings. Over the course of the entire season, Garrett is sporting a 1.93 ERA and a 2.65 FIP in 14 innings with 21 strikeouts and only three walks. His WHIP sits at a sparkling 0.57. He’s been so good that if there was an All-Star game, it’d be hard to leave him out even as a middle reliever.
To sum all of this up, major league bullpens can be fickle. Relievers can go through a roller coaster of ups and downs more than position players. Aside from a few bad outings and a pitcher that now appears to have turned his season around, the Reds bullpen was already average in the first half. So, it’s not shocking that the Reds now currently have one of the best bullpens in the league. If certain relievers find a way to issue less walks, it could be even better. New relief pitcher Archie Bradley, known for throwing strikes, should be able to help with that. Despite the angst over the bullpen early on and despite the blown save this past Sunday, it’s not the part of this team fans should be worrying about right now.