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2014 in Review: Tony Cingrani

Cinnerman went back into the woods some time in June. What's going to happen when he comes back out?

Cheshire grin. Mad Hatter fastball.
Cheshire grin. Mad Hatter fastball.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leake pitches quiet. Working fast and inducing weak contact, he hustles through a game at 9 H/9, 2 BB/9, 6 K/9 and will give up 2-4 runs. Mike Leake has gentle eyes, a toothy smile, and you could probably bring him home for Thanksgiving without worrying that he'll eat the family cat.

Tony Cingrani pitches disquiet. He glares, he snarls, he skips off the mound with a bootheel-click after a strikeout. His stat line's a bit of a wild card, but it will involve a live fastball that surprises hitters and a big slurvey thing that you can almost hear a batter's internal monologue of "whyyyy ammmm I swiiiiingingggg at thissss" as he lunges at it.

There's this feeling that when Tony gets to the mound, nobody's entirely sure what will happen. It's a jumble of weirdness, maybe beautiful, and maybe broken. It will be bad for someone or another, but we don't know who. The difference between Leake and Cingrani is the difference between a forest in daytime and a forest at night.

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In case it's not clear, I love Tony Cingrani. Part of this is rather easy to explain: I saw him in Rookie Ball Billings and he was so obviously ready for the Majors even then. He's a high-strikeout lefty from the Chicago area. I grew up dealing with the grey days of the pitch-to-contact Reds and Tony Cingrani rides a Harley over the milquetoast corpses of Todd Van Poppel, Jose Acevedo, and Joey Hamilton. When Mike Jones raps "back then hoes didn't want me, now I'm hot and they're all on me." He is talking about the Reds pitching staff and Tony is in the rap video popping and twerking.

Part of it is a bit more complex. Cingrani lives in this disquiet, this shady unknowability, that the rest of the Reds staff avoids. Cueto and Bailey have had a relatively natural progression from "live arm" to "great pitcher." Latos and Leake came out of the womb throwing 92-MPH 2-seamers in on the hands. Cingrani is this great gangly mess who, in 2009, was thinking of quitting baseball. Cingrani's interesting and is in an unknowable story arc. He's compelling in a way few baseballers are.

Cingrani went 30 starts before he allowed more than 5 hits in a game. That was good, because he doesn't allow a ton of hits, but bad because he doesn't go deep into games. Cingrani throws an unhittable fastball that he needs to find the location of, a slurve he can either bury or see hit into the 8th row, and a changeup that shouts "THIS IS A CHANGEUP" at the top of its lungs. Tony walked too many, gave up too many homers, and didn't have any particular metrics that would make you think his 2014 was an aberration. His four-year reign of terror may be over.

On the other hand, there's no reason that his 2013 isn't repeatable over a larger sample as he works with professional coaches. If he can repeat his delivery and tame that fastball, nobody knows what to do with it. If he can tighten his slurve into a slider thrown at a righty's feet, it could change the axis of the Earth's rotation. If he can add a changeup worth a damn, he's God's Own Johan Santana. Cingrani pitches with his ass on fire and seems amenable to coaching if his Rice rehab is anything to go by. If his shoulder and back are where they belong (which, ALWAYS AN "IF") and spends the offseason working, he can be the cheap starter to lead the post-Cueto pack.

I've been bitten by the 2013 bug and think his maximum value is too great to waste in the bullpen. But I suppose bullpens are littered with guys whose maximum value is in the rotation. I'd rather have his four years of control working as a starter and Simon doing his thing 2-3 innings at a time shoring up a bullpen in need of shoring then trying to solve the bullpen question with the Cingrani question. We'll see who agrees with me.

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According to Instagram, Cingrani was last seen in Tahiti. I have no idea what's going on since he left the Reds in June, and I would believe anything from "quit baseball, living on a Hawai'ian island with Milton Loo" to "200 IP, 16-8, 4th in the league in strikeouts" in 2015. 2014 was very bad, but Cingrani's come back from very bad before. His return to a snarling, stomping, self is tremendous for the Reds not just in 2015 but through the Jay Bruce Window to boot. But I have no idea if he's going to do it.

Consider this a long toast to the Reds' most disquieting player. For Cinnerman, we oughta be praying. Because I have no idea what he's going to end up doing, or what 2014 indicated.