Earlier this week we looked at what went right with the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff in 2021. But today we’re going to take the opposing view and look at what went wrong for the Reds pitching staff this past season.

The Precursor

So what went wrong? A lot. And when did it start? Before the season even began. The Reds traded closer Raisel Iglesias and chose to non-tender Archie Bradley during the offseason. Iglesias posted a 2.57 ERA and picked up 34 saves with the Angels. Bradley signed with Philadelphia and posted a 3.71 ERA in 51.0 innings.

The Bullpen

Two above-average relievers moved on from by the Reds. Here’s the list of the relievers that were brought in during the offseason to fill in the holes:

Player ERA
Heath Hembree 6.38
Sean Doolittle 4.46
Brad Brach 6.30
Carson Fulmer 6.66
Cionel Pérez 6.38
Josh Osich 5.02
Cam Bedrosian 11.12
Edgar Garcia 16.62
Total 6.29

Sean Doolittle was easily the best pitcher on the list in terms of ERA. But he also allowed 12 of the 19 inherited runners when he was on the mound to score.

Of course it wasn’t just the new relievers that struggled. Amir Garrett posted a 6.04 ERA on the season, and it got to the point that by August he was rarely used and when he was it was in very specific spots. Ryan Hendrix posted a 5.97 ERA in his 31.2 innings. Michael Lorenzen posted a 5.59 ERA in his 29.0 innings after missing the first half with an injury. Even Lucas Sims struggled at times, and while his season was solid overall, given the expectations for him – things didn’t go well as he posted a 4.40 ERA.

To put it bluntly: The bullpen was an absolute disaster – particularly in the first half of the year.

Tejay Antone

None of the above mentions the biggest thing that went wrong in 2021 that effects the future: Tejay Antone underwent a second Tommy John surgery. While he was very good on the mound when he was out there, he unfortunately was injured several times during the season and ultimately tore his UCL in his pitching elbow and will miss the 2022 season and have to overcome the odds of a second UCL replacement that aren’t nearly as high as returning from a first Tommy John surgery.

Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray

Within the rotation, for the most part by the end of the season things looked like they had gone well. But much like with Lucas Sims having a solid season, it’s the expectations that get both Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray on the list here.

Luis Castillo was arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball over the first two months of the season. He was also dominant in the second half of the season. Still, Castillo posted a 3.98 ERA on the year. Many pitchers in baseball would take that and be happy about it. But with Castillo it was a down season that went worse than many would have expected.

For Sonny Gray you can say the same thing. In his first 231.1 innings with the Reds between 2019 and 2020 he posted a 3.07 ERA and allowed 21 home runs. But in 2021 he threw just 135.1 innings, posted a 4.19 ERA, and allowed 19 home runs. For plenty of pitchers that would have been a fine season. But for Sonny Gray that was a down season.

52 Responses

  1. indyDoug

    With Bauer gone, starting rotation lacked a true #1. Solid overall numbers for Miley and Mahle with ok numbers for Castillo & Gray.

    Reply
  2. Mark A Moore

    For our starting pitchers especially, the grind of a full 162-game season showed up in spades. It almost made the 60-game sprint last year look like a year off. That’s a tough thing to shake and I believe it’s part of what we saw with LC’s later blooming and the wearing down of several others.

    Add to that the apparent tendency of Mahle to transform into “The Nibbler” in my book. Just too darned many pitches too often.

    Reply
    • Broseph

      Agreed. Mahle is so close, he could go one of two ways – improving from fine tuning location, or pitching to weak contact. He’s young enough to do both but it in the short term he’d be much more efficient pitching to weak contact before developing into pin point accurate pitcher like Maddox as he ages.

      Reply
      • Mark A Moore

        Greg Maddox as a model would rarely be a bad thing to emulate.

    • Grand Salami

      Which is strange b/c the Brewers big three lacked the same innings history as our starters (Mahle excluded) but the ones out of gas at season’s end were our guys.

      Reply
      • Doc

        Not too many years ago the Reds went the entire season on 5 starters. If they were fatigued, the underlying problem had to be something other than length of season. It was the same season length across MLB, why didn’t everyone else fatigue? Five years ago 200 innings was a target threshold. Now it’s showing up for 2/3 of your scheduled starts and pitching 5 innings.

    • Michael E

      Wasn’t the grind. Castillo stunk with cooler weather and only warmed up when June appeared.

      Those that start slow, tend to do it many years and they need to figure out another plan to avoid that. Maybe they need to pitch in Alaska in February, so that April in Cincy/Mil/Pit/Stl/Chic doesn’t seem so cold?

      Maybe some of these guys need a lot more Spring innings and earlier start to throwing. I don’t know. I think spending the winter in 80 degree weather and coming back to 40 degrees in early April slows down many a pitcher/hitter.

      Winter ball in Alaska, then on to the tropical Cincinnati April’s.

      Reply
  3. David

    I understand why Iglesias was moved; after two years where his performance was declining, and having a big salary, there was some logic there. It turned out to be a big mistake, as Iglesias had a very good year in 2021. With perfect 20:20 hindsight, we can surely see why this was wrong.
    Archie Bradley getting waived was a real head scratcher. I think that was just dumb. Money could not really have been a factor, could it?

    I know it was discussed on this blog at the time, and I think everyone was mystified about why Bradley was released. That has to be the first of several really bonehead moves in personnel this year by the Reds. The Bullpen was the single biggest reason why the Reds were not good enough to make the play-offs.

    I think one of Sonny Gray or Wade Miley will be moved/released (Miley’s option) as a money -saving move. And really, ONE of them might be over the hill in 2022.

    Reply
    • Broseph

      I think so. With the unknown year ahead with CBA, I think Miley’s option is not picked up. His resume is t quite as good as Gray’s, and he’s older with more IP on his arm.

      This team is really light on LH pitching, but he seems like the most likely option to cut costs for ‘22

      Reply
      • Doc

        SanMartin stepping up the last two weeks might make Miley expendable as the soft tossing lefty in the rotation.

        People on this site are very good at hindsight, especially when moves don’t work out. The bullpen looked decent even after Iglesius and Bradley were released; it just didn’t work out. Too many people who had pitched well in prior years collapsed in unison. Unpredictably.

    • Jim Walker

      Cheapness is as cheapness does. Reds are always about “breaking even” (despite the fact they never make the books public enough to indicate what that means) ahead of winning.

      Reply
      • Bob Purkey

        I think that it would be a big mistake to not pick up Miley’s option. He is pretty consistent and at worst, pick it up and trade him(and I don’t mean for a bucket of BP balls like they did with Iglesias. Don’t make another silly move and let go of a pitcher that produces. . . as noted in the comments above about last year. If Greene and Lodolo are ready, someone will always be looking for a veteran LH starter.

        Barnhardt, Lorenzen and Garrett are the areas you can cut, save money and still sign Castellanos

      • Jim Walker

        @Purkey, I agree on Miley, He is worth the money to pitch for them and should also return full value in trade w/o needing to send money or prospects with him if they are in that situation preseason or down the line.

      • Doc

        I think that bucket of BP balls for Iglesius was named Ramirez, who went on to have a decent season after being dumped by the Reds. Where was the hot shot pitching coaches in not getting anything out of Ramirez?

      • Jim Walker

        Recall that Noe Ramirez contracted salary of $1.175M was dialed in by the arbitration process and was not a guaranteed contract. By releasing him when they did, the Reds were on the hook for only 45 days pay ($284+K, about 25%) and “saved” about another $750K of a million dollars.

        Guessing that the Angels wanted him off their books as part of the price of the Iglesias deal, this may have been the plan all along, The Reds probably shopped Ramirez during the spring and failing to get even a bucket of balls for him let him go in time to save the additional cost.

    • Mark

      Iglesias was excellent in 2020. ERA of 2.74 and WHIP was 0.913.

      Reply
  4. Rut

    The maddening part of the pitching failures is that the result was obvious from the start.

    Did not take a baseball genius to realize the pen would be the biggest problem for the Reds. And it when the team made additions that were obviously not up to par (Doolittle, Bedrosian, et al) the regular Reds fan knew it and said it at the time.

    Sometimes it can be as disappointing, if not more so, when you know why a team will fail and then watch it happen over 162 games.

    Reply
    • greenmtred

      It wasn’t obvious going into the season that they would lose Antone, Sims and Lorenzen for big chunks of time, or that Garrett would be largely unable to throw strikes.

      Reply
      • Old-school

        It think its important the Reds understand they need a deep 26 man roster with 4 outfielders, 5 infielders, 2 catchers, 6 SP and 13-14 bullpen arms.

        It’s like the NFL where 25% of the roster is on the IL by mid October. 25% of the bullpen will be injured, an OF will be injured, a SP will miss significant time as will and infielder and a catcher. Don’t put all your eggs in 1 basket and dont overpay for old guys based on what they did last year or 4 years ago and who wont be in the game in 2-3 years. Keep moving toward players approaching their prime or in their prime and stay away from FA contracts that end past age 32/33 unless it’s a 1-2 year modest deal.

  5. Old-school

    I’m excited for Greene and Lodolo and Ashcraft but even if they reach their ceilings of potential, it is some time away before they are throwing 180 innings and anchoring the rotation every 5th day with 30 starts. Greene certainly might help at some point next year pitching reliably every 5th day.
    That said, Castillo has to be the Ace and he has the stuff and he is still young and healthy and in his prime. If hes not, the Reds SP is in big trouble.

    I love the fire and competitiveness of Gray but his 2nd half numbers were poor with an ERA over 5 and he had the 3rd worst ERA of his career- and that includes the NY debacle of 2018. I was at his Sunday start after the ASG against Corbin Byrnes and it was flat ugly. He hit 2 batters in the first inning, (tacky stuff?) including Rowdy Tellez with the bases loaded and had multiple other non-competitive starts. His K rate was way down the 2nd half and for all those who bemoan Mahle nibbling and not being pitch efficient, Gray is the king of the 5 inning 94 pitch outing.

    I would certainly be checking on Gray’s trade value this off-season, as a way to rebalance the budget and rebalance the construction of roster and get younger.

    Reply
    • Alan Horn

      I agree that if we move a pitcher, Gray is the first choice only because of the things you mentioned. He can still be a serviceable starter but the Reds should have cheaper options. We don’t get rid of Miley for the reasons you mentioned and he is the only LH starter we have other than Lodolo later on. Gray, Lorensen, some part of Moose’s contract, Garrett and Akiyama’s contract(move it back to Japan) would save a lot of money. Only Gray’s contract brought anything to the table last season.

      Reply
      • Doc

        Didn’t a lefty named SanMartin give a couple of decent starts at season’s end after a solid minor league season? Why is he already forgotten? He pitched all year and didn’t fatigue.

      • Alan Horn

        I forgot about him, but I would put him in the pen. He is untested over the long haul, but you are right he might help us next season. There is another LH pitcher who seemed to turn things around at AAA. Phillip Diehl. 2.45 ERA, 54.2 IP, 39 H, 71 SO and only 12 BB. Those are pretty good numbers. Also, there is a RH pitcher Diomar Lopez who put up some pretty good numbers in relief.

    • SultanofSwaff

      Fire and competitiveness is the one thing I never saw from Gray…..especially once the 5th inning rolled around. Last year, yeah, but not in 2021.

      Reply
  6. Redgoggles

    The bullpen killed this team. Even though it was largely stablized at the trading deadline, the amount of late losses to that point ended up mattering. Who knows, maybe the Cardinals don’t make their trade deadline moves if the Reds were up 5 more games?

    In previous years, the “smart” folks have been very vocal about not paying money for relievers due to the injury risk and overall volatility year to year, and just plugging in other arms. Not sure this year completely disproved that theory, but I do wonder what keeping Iglasius/Bradley would have done to the team.

    Abject failure by front office compounded by injuries/ineffectiveness to all the arms they were counting on.

    Reply
    • Alan Horn

      The bullpen killed us prior to the deadline along with some poor quality starts early on. Then in the last month( or better), injuries,Bell, roster management and the resulting lack of hitting cost us.

      Reply
  7. SultanofSwaff

    Just out of dumb luck you would think the front office would’ve hit on a decent bullpen arm or two, but alas. I guess Hembree could be considered a positive, as it was Bell who wrecked him from overuse when Sims and Antone went down. I also think they need to look inward at the scouting because these failures cost us the playoffs.

    My entire focus this offseason would be to bring in young controllable pieces to add to the talented young core that needs to play—let them grow together.

    To me, the first most obvious move is to trade Gray as starting pitching is one area of true surplus (assuming you pick up Miley’s option). Teams are always looking for mid-rotation veterans, Gray’s affordable, and you’re only on the hook for one year. Straight up he’d net you a controllable bullpen arm—-they younger and address an area of need…win win.

    Reply
    • Jim Walker

      I think the problem was they were dumpster diving all the way. Except for Doolittle weren’t all the guys brought in on minor league deals, guys looking for a last roundup or to relaunch broken careers? Essentially it was a parade of tryouts with the guy at the top of the heap when need occurred getting the next MLB shot. And that is how it played out before our eyes.

      Reply
    • Redsvol

      we have to get more than a bullpen arm for Sonny Gray, He is controllable for 2 more years (affordable team option for ’23) and he is a starter with a career era of 3.63 and recent year of 4.19. He’s going to give you 150-175 innings and is 31 years old. That has big value for most teams. Scot Boras could sell that for 3 yrs and 45 million on the free agent market and he’d get it.

      If we can’t get more than a bullpen piece then we need to pivot and trade a different pitcher. Reds too often are determined to trade someone for salary dump purpose and get nothing in return. Sonny is one of those guys that could get much better if he would commit to his craft and change speeds more often. Same with Mahle.

      Reply
  8. Reds4ever

    Bullpen was atrocious. I do think garrett bounces back though. Ground all rate was high. Strikeouts were still high. Walks were too high. What was interesting was he gave up 8 homeruns in first half. He only gave up 1 in the second half. I think in order for that bullpen to be what it should. Garrett has to perform. I remember Doolittle said it in spring they feed off garrett. Michael said the same thing a few years ago. Also if Lucas sims can do what he did down the stretch his will be a great piece. Santillan shouldn’t go back to starting. He’s found a niche out of the pen.

    Reply
    • Redsvol

      I agree, bullpen was the undoing this year. I can’t put it all on front office though Its hard to predict injuries to the top 3 relievers in spring training. Antone, Lorenzen, and Sims were all either set back or injured during spring. Not to mention the total underperformance of Garrett when his career trajectory predicted otherwise. If they had those 3 guys and Garrett had just achieved his career stats for most of the season it would have been much different in April and May.

      Trading Iglesias was only a good move if we were going to spend the savings or trade for a decent shortstop (Semien, Willy Adames, Amed Rosario). Turned out they did neither and no-one was capable – either due to health or performance – of filling that 8th and 9th inning role on consistent basis until August. Pitching coaches and development guys have to take some of this accountability.

      Reply
    • Pat Conrad

      Garrett gave up less home runs in the 2nd half because David Bell smartened up and didn’t give him the opportunity to give up more!

      Reply
  9. David

    I know moving Gray or Miley might be interpreted as being “Cheap”. But if the Reds are truly looking at metrics, Gray’s “metrics” in the second half were not good. Is he permanently regressing? Is his career out of gas? I really don’t know.

    There have been some very valid points made (and examples all across the league) of guys who didn’t get a lot of innings last year, and fading badly in August and September.

    I was sort of impressed by Art Warren, who seems to throw pretty hard. The young kid that came up at the end of the season, Dauri Moreta, might be part of the solution next year. I hope we see him in Spring Training and given a shot at making the team.
    I think Mike Lorenzen is probably gone. I don’t see the Reds keeping him.
    I think Garrett still has years on his contract, but not really enthused about the Reds keeping him.
    Hoffman was a starter early and pretty disappointing, but I think he could be effective in the bullpen if prepared for that.
    I hope that Luis Cessa is still here next year.
    Lucas Sims will likely be back in the BP
    Cionel Perez was young and was hot and cold, he might have promise; he will have to prove himself in Spring Training, to say the least. The rest of the list that Doug put up are reclaimed off the waiver wire.
    Some people see Reiver Sanmartin as a future reliever, but I think he is more valuable as a starter, especially if one of Gray/Miley is gone (or both).
    I think that Lodolo and Greene have to start the year in AAA, as I don’t quite think they are really ready, unless they just look amazing in Spring Training (one or both of them). I don’t think you can count on them….yet. Because of their time in the minors, they will be innings limited in 2022.
    I remember when CC Sabathia came up with the Indians and Charlie Manuel was very strict about limiting him to 5 innings per start, to preserve his arm, as he was a young guy (21 or 22). Sabathia hated that, but I think Charlie was smart about saving his career. Something like that would have to be applied to Lodolo or Greene if they made the club out of Spring Training as starters.
    What might have been if Wayne Simpson hadn’t had his arm wrecked in 1970.

    Reply
  10. RedsGettingBetter

    What list is Mychal Givens belonging? The right or the wrong one? I didn´t see him in the right list Yesterday but I think he should be considered being part of the things went right in the 2021 pitching edition…

    Reply
    • Doug Gray

      Some guys don’t fall on either list. They simply were what was expected.

      Reply
  11. donny

    In my eyes pitching was the biggest problem.
    Yes, the bullpen was atrocious and the starting pitching isn’t that good either.
    Castillo on the Dodgers he would be a 4 starter and maybe even a 5th starter.
    Castillo on the White Sox he would be a 4th starter and maybe even 5th starter.
    Castillo on the Brewers he would be a 3rd starter and maybe a 4th starter.
    Castillo on the Padres he would be a 3rd starter . As the Padres crashed and burned with maybe in house problems and injury’s.
    Castillo on the Giants he would be a 3rd starter.

    Point being , how can you win when you’re relying on Castillo to be your number 1 starter against that.
    Castillo needs to start pitching low in the zone more. I think he pitched high in the zone way to much this year. He is more effective when he pitches more so, low in the zone.

    The Second biggest problem and the case can be made that it was the biggest problem and the only real problem and that is Bob Castellini demolishing the bull pen and putting his money into the ball park instead of the team and being a owner who don’t understand on how to put a winner on the field and what that might lead to in the long run.

    Reply
    • donny

      Also when it comes to Castillo . How can you rely on him being your number one starter when it takes him a month or longer to figure out what he’s doing wrong plus he can only pitch in good weather 80 degrees or better . I mean good god man ?

      Reply
      • Michael E

        Bingo!

        For years playing fantasy baseball, I know most of the slow starting pitchers/hitters and avoid them like the plague, because by the time they get going, my team is already buried out of contention. Same can be said of MLB contention. If your best players stink for the first 45 games, you’re already nearly eliminated.

        I’d better hear that Castillo is making changes this offseason. Maybe he needs to avoid going home to DR (Assuming he calls that home) and stay up in the chilly weather? That said spring in Arizona and then back to cold weather…maybe they should only play night games in Arizona with the cooler desert night temps? That or get a place in Flagstaff.

      • Frankie Tomatoes

        You better hear it? Or what?

      • Old-school

        Castillo might get March and April off in 2022.

    • donny

      Also on Bob Catellini . Not only does he not understand how to put a winner on the field and what it can do in the long run, but he lacks the ”courage” to put his money where his mouth it and put a winner on the field like he said he was going to do.

      Venting over
      Have a nice day and good night you poor Reds fans .

      Reply
    • Votto4life

      The Reds don’t have a typical #1 starter. They have more like a #2 starter and three # 3 starters and a #5. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hopefully, Greene or Lodolo will eventually become the Ace of this staff.

      Luis Castillo struggles in cooler weather. He would have probably benefited by staying in Miami.

      Reply
      • greenmtred

        Didn’t somebody here post Castillo’s career numbers for the early part of season? It was awhile ago–when he was struggling–but my recollection was that there was little correlation between poor performance and cool weather.

  12. Michael E

    In the end, pitching started way too slow and BP was rarely good for any significant stretch. add in the awful hitting when Winker went down, scoring 0-3 runs seemingly every night for a month plus, and the season was doomed.

    Just haven’t seen any real positive consistency from the Reds for years. A few hot stretches, surrounded by lots of subpar performances.

    All teams have hot/cold stretches, but the contenders have short cold stretches and lengthy, multiple hot stretches. It’s the reverse for the Reds, year after year. One or two players stink or get injured and everything seems to fall apart for two or three weeks. Hard to catch up when you bury your team in the standings.

    I hope that both Greene and Lodolo are SPs next year and the baby gloves come off. I would prefer they be allowed to pitch over 100 pitches frequently and maybe just skip a start every other month, as opposed to innings limits or pitch counts of 80.

    Ideally, it would be 120+ pitches and no skipped starts, but lifelong babying is making any regular work almost impossible now. Can’t throw 120 pitches effectively if you are never asked to…chicken/egg.

    We need an ace, an SP1 and we need one more hitter along the lines of Castellanos, Winker and Votto, one that is mostly a tough out and has solid power.

    I almost feel like they need to make a big trade or two just to make a big trade or two…lol. Change for change sake. I hope they don’t punt on Greene, Lodolo though, unless they plan to baby them for the next 5 years, if 180+ innings isn’t in their futures….trade them NOW while they have mega-value.

    Reply
    • greenmtred

      When the baby gloves come off, they’d need to make modern pitchers dial back the velocity before they try to make them throw more than 100 pitches. Greene has already had TJ surgery. Antone has just had his second.

      Reply
  13. Chas

    This many arms with poor performances tells me there’s a management/development problem with the organization. Bodey leaving reinforces that thought with me. Seeing all the former Reds pitching in the post season with other teams sets that thought in concrete. Seeing the Rays trot out three rookies into the post season (and be successful) tells me the Reds have a lot of front office work to do.

    Reply
  14. TR

    I think the Reds are on the right track, overall, if they adhere to playing the young guys, where possible, and keeping them at the position where they started out. I don’t expect the tradition-bound Cincinnati Reds to take on the policy of the Tampa Bay Rays who tend not to get enamored with players but usually send them on to big-money teams when they mature and get beyond the Ray’s budget. I do feel the Reds tend to keep their personnel too long in the minors. I think it would be positive for the fanbase to have more ready under age 23 players on the team.

    Reply
  15. Bill J

    The Rays starting lineup featured a 41 year old the rest of the lineup ranged in age from 20 to 30. Arozarena scored from 1st on a double, stole home and hit a home run. The REDS need players like that. Rays estimated $71 million, what did we get for estimated $132 million?

    Reply
    • Old-school

      It’s why the Reds have to stay away from huge contract outlays going forward. You have a staple of young arms in SanMartin/Santillan/Gutierrez/Moreta/Warren who are major league ready and can fill 5 of the 13 pitching slots at MLB minimum. Greene and Lodolo and Ashcraft are not far behind. Sims/Cessa/Wilson/Castillo/Mahle give you 5 more affordable guys. If the Reds choose to stay with Gray and Miley, which I think they will- they have 12 pitchers right there. Spend some money on 2 quality relievers (Givens and a good lefty)and find another credible #5 SP as insurance not named Hoffman. Hopefully Greene will be ready by Memorial Day or whenever the season starts if labor stoppage. Will the Reds tender Garrett if it looks like he gets 2.5-3 mil?

      Reply
      • Frankie Tomatoes

        The Reds have one contract that could even be remotely considered huge and it’s Joey Votto. Everyone else makes middle of the road money or less in todays game.

        As for the young arms Art Warren is going to be 29 before the start of next season. He’s hardly young. Sanmartin pitched well in his two games but counting on him next year is a bit much. The guy is not even a top 25 prospect for the Reds and throws 90 MPH.

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