In the first part of this series we’re going to look at the things that went right with the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff in 2021. There were plenty of things that went wrong, but a few things went right.

Wade Miley

There was a not-so-small portion of the fanbase that wanted Wade Miley cut after the 2020 season. Thankfully the Reds didn’t listen to those members of the fanbase because Wade Miley wound up being the best pitcher on the team.

I can’t speak for everyone out there, and I understand if there is another more memorable moment for you, but from where I’m sitting it was Wade Miley providing the highlight of the year for the Reds when he fired a no-hitter on May 7th against Cleveland.

When the season was over, Miley had made 28 starts and led the Reds with a 3.37 ERA over his 163.0 innings. He led the team in WAR (the Baseball Reference version). A year after missing much of the season with injury, a 34-year-old Miley put up the best season of his professional career.

Tyler Mahle

After having a breakout in the abbreviated 2020 season it was confirmed in 2021 over a full season that was just as good as the one before. A 26-year-old Tyler Mahle made a National League best 33 starts and threw 180 innings to go with a 3.75 ERA. The righty picked up a career high 210 strikeouts, cruising past his previous career high before July came to an end. While there were some concerns with just how weighted his numbers were on the road versus at home, the overall totals were that of a well above-average starting pitcher.

Tony Santillan

The future for Tony Santillan is still undecided. He had always been a starter in his career until the big league club needed some relief help in the middle of the season. Santillan headed to the minors to work out of the bullpen briefly before returning to Cincinnati and from the middle of July through the end of the season, Santillan showed he belonged in the big leagues.

Tony Santillan the reliever pitched in 22 games and allowed 7 runs in 26.2 innings – good for a 2.36 ERA. He walked 11 batters and struck out 36 of the 108 batters that he faced in that span.

Art Warren

The future role for Art Warren isn’t in question like it is with Tony Santillan. Warren is a reliever. And he came out of nowhere for Cincinnati this year. The 28-year-old had all of 5.1 innings in his career at the big league level and those came back in 2019 with Seattle. He was good in those six appearances, not allowing a run and striking out 5 batters. But that wasn’t enough to get him much more than a cup of coffee in 2019 and he didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2020.

Art Warren first came up in the middle of May and pitched in two games, tossing a hitless inning in each appearance. He returned to the big leagues with the Reds on June 10th and he never went back to the minors. He did miss nine weeks with an injury, but the righty posted a 1.29 ERA in his 26 relief appearances while giving up just 11 hits in 21.0 innings and striking out 34 batters.

Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson

After watching the bullpen crap the bed most of the summer, the Reds finally decided to try and do something about it at the trade deadline and acquired Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson from the New York Yankees.

Luis Cessa had been successful with the Yankees before coming to Cincinnati. His ERA was 2.82 in 38.1 innings and he had allowed just three homers on the season. His walk rate and strikeout rate weren’t exactly great in New York, but he had kept runs off of the board. After arriving in Cincinnati his walks almost disappeared and his strikeout rate jumped up from 19% to 23%. As a result he posted a 2.05 ERA with the Reds in 24 games after the trade.

Unlike Cessa, Justin Wilson had struggled while in New York in 2021. In 21 games with the Yankees he had posted a 7.50 ERA – thanks in large part to the 5 home runs he had allowed in 18.0 innings. After he got to Cincinnati he allowed just 1 home runs in 16.0 innings and his ERA dropped to 2.81.

31 Responses

  1. SultanofSwaff

    Yes to all. I’d even throw Castillo in there…..a handful of his early starts were in brutal weather and he’s just not a cold weather pitcher in the first place. The rest of the year he was his usual outstanding self.

    IMO it’s imperative to fortify the run prevention side of the ball by extending Mahle and Castillo. I’d even see if Miley would be open to tacking on an extra year plus an option. Crafty lefties age well.

    While the young pitchers on the horizon are special, the team needs to lock up their proven commodities.

    • Alan Horn

      Agree on all you said. They can make trades later if Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft pan out. The only caveat is injury which destroys their trade value.

  2. CFD3000

    Miley was terrific and especially so when Gray and Castillo struggled. I doubt he can repeat quite the same level of success in 2022 but the Reds have to take that shot, right?

    Mahle = solid, consistent and glad he’s back next year.

    Santillan was IMO better than Gutierrez and if either gets a slot in next year’s rotation I hope it’s Santillan by a mile. He needs to cut down the walks a little but otherwise his future looks solid.

    Warren was the one big “who is that guy?” Surprise and here’s hoping he’s anywhere close to that good for several years in the Reds pen.

    A big offseason challenge will be who stays for the 2022 bullpen, and I really hope that includes Cessa. We don’t yet know who the real Wilson is, but he will be back and there’s obvious potential there too. The trickier choice will be Givens and Lorenzen. And I’m not at all sure how I’m hoping that will play out. Both were terrific and terrible at times. I’m guessing Givens resigns and Lorenzen rolls the FA dice to get out of Cincy. But if Mikey does come back I hope he rededicates himself to relieving. He could be a key back end guy. Could be.

    Finally, I’d add bounce back Castillo to the positives list for pitching. He was terrible, then he was really good. Derek Johnson will need to help him identify the keys to being his best, but if he can he’s still ace level good. There’s a lot of options for a potentially strong rotation next year – Castillo, Gray, Mahle, Miley, Santillan, Greene and Lodolo in house at least. Imagine a 2020 level rotation with 2021 grade offense only with better health, a resurgent Suarez at third, and a maturing Barrero at SS. That could be so much fun. Go Reds!

    • Jim Walker

      Castillo is a bit of a concern for me. Despite his stuff, he has put together results over 3 full seasons (2018,19,21) and 2 partial seasons (2017, 2020) which say he is a slightly above average pitcher but short of outstanding and certainly not (yet) close to being a true ace.

      It is not clear he is growing or progressing in a positive direction. This year his K rate fell below 25%, his BABIP was the highest of his career in in a full season (.318) and had his highest WHIP ever (1.36)

      • CFD3000

        Jim –
        Agree of course, there is reason for concern. The question is whether there’s a before and after happening here a la Votto and the 2020 benching. Castillo’s overall stats aren’t exciting, certainly not “ace potential”. But it wasn’t a season of inconsistency so much as a first half awful, second half really good season. If he and DJ can identify what made that difference, and incorporate the change(s) long term then Castillo elevates back to all star levels. If not, be really grateful for Greene, Lodolo and Santillan! Time will tell.

      • Jim Walker

        But it seems like we are looking for an explanation every year at this time and hoping the next season he avoids the problems

      • Michael E

        Agree Jim, it might be time to really consider any trade offers for Castillo. A few teams might still see ace material and we might be able to get a realy top notch prospect or two that will coincide with Greene and Lodolo taking off (we hope).

        I don’t see any real upside left with Castillo. He has proven he is SP2/3 material, at best and the first 1/4 of the season, he is AAAA level, mop-up pitcher.

    • centerfield

      Someone had Castillo pitching primarily at the top of the strike zone early in the year. That ended up being a mistake. When he pitches down the changeup looks the same as the fastball. Up is fine for strike 3, but not where he needs to start.

  3. Bred

    Good information, Doug. It helps wash the bad taste out of my mouth after the way the FO undermined the pen before the start of the year. Has DJ been extended a contract? I have not seen that, or that he wants to come back. All I recall seeing is Bell new deal. Nothing concrete for other coaches.

    • Doug Gray

      Johnson’s contract is through next season.

  4. Jim Walker

    For me retaining Miley is probably the easiest off season decision the Reds have. He is worth the $10M pitching for them and also has trade value that should more than cover the entire amount and bring value in return if they decide or need to move in that direction.

    • Michael E

      Agree. I would like to see the Reds do what other top smaller/mid market teams do. If not fully in contention (not a wing and prayer and 10 games out), trade those like Miley and get a prospect back. Do it year after year, until you’re really a contender and then maybe trade FOR someone like that. Reds so rarely trade an FA that is panning out or a contract-year vet that has some value.

      If they are below .500 last week of July in 2022, I’d like to see two or three players moved (if they have that many) for another teams top 10 prospect (or two).

      The Rays know when to trade guys performing well, but they have a solid replacement for in the minors. The Reds seem to add to positions they have replacements for in the minors rather than trade away. Sometimes you have to give the position to a young player and let them run for a few months, instead of 20 ABs and pulling the plug. If Barrero doesn’t get 450+PAs next year as a SS, I’ll be beyond miffed.

  5. SultanofSwaff

    I’d also put Vlad Gutierrez in the positives. He really helped solidify the rotation and proved at worst he could be a dependable back of the rotation piece—there’s real value in those kinds of guys.

    I saw him in June and he didn’t possess a changeup, then after he gets recalled mid-summer he had a credible one. Coming up with that pitched saved his season and removed much of the doubt for me that he is a starter long term.

    • MBS

      People fell off of him because of how the season ended for him. I think he was just worn out. I look for him to be a strong starting pitcher in 22, maybe like a 3/4 kinda guy. Better than Mahle, but not Castillo, assuming we have both next year.

  6. doofus

    The Reds should retain Castillo, Gray, Miley and Mahle. Pick up Miley’s option and pay Castillo and Mahle their arb numbers. Gray is locked up I think for another year.

    There is a solid starting rotation. Decent starting pitching is hard to come by, why would the Reds want to jeopardize what they already have?

    Greene and Lodolo have yet to prove they can face ML hitters.

    Work on the bullpen.

    If Castellanos stays it would require an additional investment, otherwise a right fielder will need to be found. Naquin is a 4th outfielder.

    Solve the mess at 3B. Senzel, Lopez or India? Find takers for Suarez and Moose.

    Ensure Barrero is the SS answer.

    Find a backup catcher to Stephenson.

    Find a solid centerfielder. Friedl is most likely a 5th OFer.

    Strengthen the bench with solid contributors, not retreads.

    The arb numbers for the starting staff and a possible Castellanos deal would most likely require they jettison Suarez, Moose and Barnhart. Moving the 3B contracts might be difficult given their lack of productivity and the impending CBA talks.

    Rant over.

    • Jim Walker

      For the most part I like this rant. However I would not fool with India. Leave him at second base. And I would play Suarez at third base at least to begin with.

      I’m more than ready for them to cut the ties with Moose. Hopefully they can get back maybe $.50 on the dollar for what is sunken in him.

    • Droslovinia

      I’m not sure that I buy a lot of the rant, but I love the idea of “ensuring” Barrero is a SS, rather than assuming it, like so many people do.

      • Michael E

        yep, tired of the “here ya go kid” and four days later “meh, you are hitting .500, sorry, to the bench”

        He’d better get 450+ PAs next year, provided his OPS is above 600, which I can’t see it that low if given enough PAs. He is cheap and young and healthy and has upside, play the man and live with the highs and lows. IF he stunk at fielding, I could see the short leash as a hitter, but no reason to have a short leash.

  7. BK

    I would throw Vlad Guttierez into the list of pitchers that went right in 2021.

  8. centerfield

    Guttierez showed more intestinal fortitude than anyone other than Miley. I am so tired of covering my eyes any time Garrett pitches. Mahle may not be an ace, but he is a good rotation guy. He will continue to improve. I love Sonny Grey, but a back problem seems ominous. The Reds need to sign at least one solid veteran relief pitcher. Even Givens would fill the bill. Unless Max pitches 9 tonight I looks for the dirty birds to win.

  9. Boomer

    I’m for letting 2021 die a natural death and stop trying to resuscitate it with optimistic minimalism. Replay Miley, Mahle, Santillan, Warren, Cessa and Wilson in 2022 and what do you have? 2021 all over again. No thanks.

  10. Nick in NKY

    I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I would be in favor of negotiating a bit with Lorenzen to retain him. See if he will sign for an agreeable amount in exchange for the chance to be a starter again. I tend to think his hitting is overrated by some, but he does offer some versatility as a potential defensive replacement/pinch runner. To me this seems like something more useful combined with a starting pitcher who’s unavailable to pitch most days, but it could go either way.

    The rotation as is seems solid, but I might be tempted to explore trades with Sonny Gray based on what happens with Nick C; Gray along with another piece or even two should be plenty to trade for a young outfielder or top prospect.

  11. Old-school

    MIley had an All-Star caliber first half, a pedestrian to below average second half and fell off a cliff in September with an ERA over 8.

    2nd half ERA was 4.19 and xFIP was pushing 5. Opponents slashed .308/.368/.492. He gave up 11 home runs in 12 post All star starts.

    For a a guy who basically didnt pitch in 2020 and finished 2021 on the IL, I’m taking a pass on his $10 mil option in 2022. Reds arent a team that would sign and trade.

    Alex Wood was a 1 year $9.65 mil loss in 2019. Miley was a prorate $6 mil loss in 2020. I’d go with a lower cost FA due for a bounce back season or a younger more accomplished FA. Miley turns 35. Cant afford an injury plagued season or as bad, get “Doolittled” or “Miltoned” and find out once again the tank is empty on a player at age 35 in GABP.

    Alex Wood signed a 1 year $3 million contract with Giants and $2 million in incentives for quality starts and went 10-3 in 138 innings with an ERA of 3.83 and an fWAR of 2.5. I’d go shopping for a bounce back candidate on the cheap and take that $10 mil elsewhere- extensions/ Castellanos/bullpen.

    • Doug Gray

      Wade Miley had two real bad starts to end his season. On September 13th his second half ERA was 3.03.

      • Old-school

        Plus the rest of injured september not pitching- just like all of 2020.

        If its $120 mil- do you want Moose Suarez Miley Gray Votto barnhart and Akiyama taking up $88 million?

        Thats 73% of the budget

        If its $135 million , thats still 65% budget. Not much room for bullpen fixes or castellanos

        If the budget is $160 mil…sure

      • Doug Gray

        I want $10M spent on Wade Miley. Full and complete stop. He’s an absolute BARGAIN at that price, even if his ERA literally goes up an other full run next year.

    • Alan Horn

      I think we have to take some risk with who we sign. Like you mentioned, we did that with several in the recent past and got burned royally on it. Moose, Bailey, Doolittle, Suarez and Wood to name a few. We can’t cease to sign risky players but we have to be much more careful about it and not sign them for too much or too long. With high risk usually comes high gain. We just need to be smarter about it. Sometimes with injuries etc, that can be difficult. Hindsight is always 20/20. If we don’t sign them for too much or too long, we can get over a bad signing much quicker. Bailey and Moose are the only two who violate that rule I can think of recently.

    • Alan Horn

      Wood did, but he is one I would not sign. He missed most of the season when we had him and his mechanics scream arm injury. DeSclarfani, on the other hand, might be one I would consider.

    • Redsvol

      I think it’s easy to point to an inexpensive free agent pitcher that had a good season and say “let’s do that”. In reality, most don’t pan out and that is why all but the studs become inexpensive free agents.
      If we take into account the sunk coat of 1m$ to decline his option, I’d rather pay wade miley 9m$ to play for us or flip him in trade. We have no one like him and its good to have a non-traditional arm in the rotation. Although I do worry about a 35 yo with injury history.
      I think we need to trade one of the starters to open room for a youngster, and I’d let the market dictate who that would be. In other words, if we get a kings ransom for Castillo then you trade him. Otherwise I’d focus on trading sonny gray or Miley.
      One or two of Greene, Lodolo, Gutierrez, and santillan need to be given opportunity to see if they can start in first half of 2022.

      • Michael E

        yep. I am still on the lean-on-the-prospects wagon. I still think the Reds wait too long to get a top prospect in the game FULL time. Too much piddling around AA/AAA/MLB, back n forth.

        Granted we haven’t had a STUD prospect (that didn’t get injured every year like Senzel) in a long time, but next year, no reason, barring chronic blisters or something unforseen, that Greene and Lodolo aren’t SPs full-time by June.

        Well, I suppose if the mediocrity they currently have are overachieving maybe, but between injuries and cold streaks, I don’t see us having an above-average rotation.

        While seeing Greene in the bullpen might be a nice small fix, I don’t want to take any chance of him not being an SP moving forward.

  12. Mark

    I loved what I saw from Sanmartin. Excellent control of that 3-pitch mix (FB, slider, change). Really tough on LHH with delivery. Composed and focussed on mound. He’s my #5 starter, no questions asked.