As a staff, the 2019 Reds had one of the largest year-over-year improvements in recent history. The biggest jumps came from starters, though, where Luis Castillo accrued twice as much fWAR, and Sonny Gray returned to form. In the bullpen, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen emerged as a strong end-of-game combo punch. They and their teammates seemed to benefit from a change in philosophy and the hires of coaches Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham. This offseason, the team also contracted Driveline Baseball founder Kyle Boddy as its director of pitching initiatives/pitching coordinator.
Cincinnati appears to be all-in on pitcher development, making its guys intriguing, cost-effective buys come draft time.
Reds’ Projected Bullpen
|Raisel Iglesias||Michael Lorenzen||Amir Garrett||Robert Stephenson||Lucas Sims||José De León|
Closer – Raisel Iglesias
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Iglesias demonstrated the best stuff in the most high-leverage situations in the Reds bullpen last year, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll go to someone else unless he gives them a reason to.
Iglesias is fun because he offers three pitches at least 20% of the time between his four-seamer (40.3), slider (30.0) and changeup (21.7). The heat comes in around 95-96 mph, which is at least a full tick above league average for relievers. The changeup sits at 89 mph. Despite a less-than-ideal velocity gap, the changeup’s movement works well in conjunction with his fastball because of its fade. The slider has tight action that can work well on the edges of the zone and gets an average rate of whiffs. The repertoire led Iglesias to 34 saves last year. Only six other relievers reached or topped that mark in 2019.
Setup – Michael Lorenzen
Lorenzen made huge improvements in 2019 by working better in the zone. His chase rate stayed steady to his career number, but he coaxed hitters to swing at stuff over the plate at a rate that was seven percentage points higher, while they made less contact (22 points lower).
That seems nearly superhuman. Lorenzen drastically cut his sinker usage and traded it for more four-seamers. His fastball sat at 97 mph. He still throws the sinker enough that hitters have to account for it—in addition to a cutter, a changeup and a slider. The diversity allows him to attack any part of the zone, and the velocity over a couple of innings per appearance allows him to challenge hitters in the most direct way possible. It showed in his K rate, which went up nine points to 24.8%, or a tick above average. He also siphoned seven saves. If you’re looking for ratios or a handcuff to Iglesias at the start of the year, Lorenzen is your guy.
Setup – Amir Garrett
The good news on Amir Garrett is that his K rate went up six points last year, to 31.7%. That’s where his excellent closer teammate, Iglesias, ranks. The bad news is that Garrett’s walk rate also rose six points, to 14.2%. That ranked as seventh worst among qualified relievers last season. He threw a ton of sliders last year—nearly 60% of his pitches—which probably helps explain the jump in whiffs and walks. If guys weren’t chasing, they were spitting on it.
He also did a great job of coaxing grounders, generating nearly a 2:1 ratio to fly balls allowed. In a homer-happy league, he’s going to keep getting opportunities. If the control ever comes around, Garrett could be more valuable than any other option in Cincinnati’s pen.
Middle – Robert Stephenson
Like Garrett, Robert Stephenson also went HAM on throwing sliders last season, a result of getting moved to a full-time relief role and being able to ditch his changeup and curve. His 95 mph heat complements the 84 mph slider and let him eat up 57 innings while whiffing 30% of the hitters he faced. The drawback could be how many fly balls he gives up. A massive 90% of qualified relievers gave up fewer than he did.
Robertson proved to be a quality relief arm for the Reds last year who will likely have more impact in real life than our fantasy teams.
Middle – Lucas Sims
Lucas Sims made gains in his K rate in Triple-A early in the year, taking it all the way up to 30%. For all intents and purposes, that was the best performance he’d put together as a pro. After he was called up, he maintained those gains, striking out 32% of hitters he faced in 43 innings.
The gains come on the back of a refined arsenal. He’s added and optimized spin on his curveball and fastball, working in the zone with more authority. He also trusts his changeup enough to keep it in his back pocket as a show-me offering. He might not be worth much preseason attention outside deep leagues, but his stuff and the team’s recent track record of development make him a compelling name.
Middle – José De León
Cincinnati added José De León just before the non-tender deadline in December, acquiring him from Tampa Bay for a player to be named later or cash. Now 27, De León was once a well-regarded prospect whose path to the majors has been derailed by an assortment of injuries including a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery and, later, elbow tendinitis.
The talent has never been a question, generating huge strikeout numbers (north of 25%) and limiting walks. When he finally pitched for the Rays last year, he registered 4 innings and his velo was where it’s always been. Interestingly, he didn’t throw his curveball, a pitch that graded out as serviceable when he was in the minors. Otherwise, it’s a low 90s fastball with a tight slider and a changeup with great fade. He’s a no risk, high reward acquisition who might quickly show if he’s rosterable for fantasy.
The Other Guys
These three pitchers combined for just 33.1 innings in 2019 and had an almost entirely unnoticeable contribution, netting zero fWAR. Injuries and attrition might pull one into a bigger role than expected, but the six ahead of them provide enough stuff and depth that this group shouldn’t see much more time than last season
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)