Over the last two seasons, Cincinnati Reds relievers rank dead last in all of baseball in the following stats:
- fWAR (-3.1)
- HR/9 (1.45)
- HR/FB% (16.8)
- HR (192)
- FIP (4.99)
- Earned Runs (645)
- Cats rescued from trees (0)
- BB (576)
- HBP (70)
- Elderly folks escorted across streets (1*)
- Balks (9)
- SIERA (4.30)
- K/BB (1.94)
- Total pitches thrown (20,343)
*Michael Lorenzen walked Bronson Arroyo across the street on a dare.
If there’s a positive here, it’s in how short this list is, which means I probably shouldn’t mention that I stopped after just four tabs worth of FanGraphs data when there were at least six more I could’ve pulled from. Even though there was some improvement in 2017 relative to the bullpen’s 2016 performance - their collective 0.9 fWAR in 2017 was both a positive number and only 2nd worst in all baseball - the fact remains that Cincinnati’s relievers need a boost in the biggest of ways.
Yes, improved outings by the starting staff will help, and it’s worth emphasizing how many of the stats above are due to quantity as much as (poor) quality. Yes, better health from the likes of Austin Brice, Michael Lorenzen, and Zach Weiss might help the core internally. However, merely churning arms through the pen hasn’t exactly helped, either, as 43 players have thrown relief innings over the past two seasons, only seven have actually posted positive fWAR in those outings, and two of those seven (Asher Wojciechowski and Blake Wood) aren’t even part of the organization anymore.
Dick Williams & Co. have mentioned that they’ll look to add arms to the bullpen from outside the organization this winter, though they’ll surely be looking to do so in prudent fashion given the slim payroll they’ve got available. That likely means that while the likes of Wade Davis and Greg Holland are technically available on the open market, they’ll likely cost more than the Reds can swing (even if they wanted to come to a club that’s been woefully out of contention for years). There are a few intriguing names out there the Reds might land, though, and here are four of them.
Steve Cishek - RHP (2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.34 FIP in 44.2 IP in 2017)
Cishek, 31, might well be the priciest reliever I’ll list here, as he’s fresh off a 2 year, $10 million deal he signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2016 season - and in those two years he fired 108.2 innings of 167 ERA+ ball. Of course, he’s also dealt with nagging hip injuries, a surgery on which cost him almost the first two months of the 2017 season. That probably led to his fastball velocity (90.3 mph) dipping to a career low, but if he’s healthy again the 6’6” righty might be a solid investment. That he’s played for four teams (MIA, STL, SEA, TBR) since 2015 might also work in the Reds’ favor, since it seems other teams aren’t exactly ready and willing to invest in him long-term.
Matt Albers - RHP (1.62 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 9.30 K/9, 3.40 FIP in 61.0 IP in 2017)
I’m usually wary of signing players coming off career years (/waves a Zack Cozart), and in Albers’ case, 2017 was certainly his career year to date. The 34 year old posted a career high fastball velocity (93.3 mph), career best 2.5 bWAR, career best K/bb (3.71), and a stellar 274 ERA+. However, the .203 BABIP against him doesn’t exactly scream “sustainable,” especially when you consider he didn’t throw a completely different pitch repertoire in 2017 than in previous years (the exception being he moved to using a slider as his lone breaking pitch instead of a slider/curve combo). Since 2010 he’s been with BAL, BOS, ARI, CLE, HOU, CHW, and WSN and only made $1.15 million in 2017, so there’s a chance he could come cheap for that kind of production, but banking on that level of production again in 2018 is probably foolhardy. Still, if it’s just a slight regression, he’d be a nice rock in the 7th inning.
Luke Gregerson - RHP (4.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 4.62 FIP in 61.0 IP in 2017)
Gregerson, 33, fanned 10.5 per 9 IP for Houston in 2016, posted a 3.72 K/BB, and had a fastball that averaged just 89.2 mph. The result: a 3.28 ERA and 2.99 FIP in 57.2 IP. In 2017, he fanned 10.3 per 9 IP for the Astros, owned a 3.50 K/BB, and had a fastball that averaged 89.5 mph. The result: an ugly 4.57 ERA and 4.62 FIP.
Well, his BABIP jumped from .239 to .306, and his HR/FB spiked from 13.9% to a crazy 23.6%, year over year. If you note that his career marks in those categories - .268 and 10.4%, respectively - and acknowledge that he’s never been a hard thrower in the first place, it’s easy to see him having a more normalized 2018 season in those particular categories. Factor in that he’s a workhorse, too, having thrown no fewer than 55.2 IP in any of his 9 big league years (all as a reliever), and banking on 60+ IP of 3.50 ERA ball isn’t out of the question. And since he’s fresh off the worst year of his career ERA-wise at the end of the 3 year, $18.5 million deal he signed prior to the 2015 season, he might well be had on a reasonable 1 year commitment.
Brandon Morrow - RHP (2.06 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 1.55 FIP, 10.3 K/9 in 43.2 IP in 2017)
Brandon Morrow is both somehow only 33 years old and also somehow already 33 years old. A former 1st round draftee and consensus Top 100 overall prospect, he’s thrice been a free agent, twice made $8 million bucks in a single season, and has a 17 K one-hit shutout on his career ledger. He’s also dealt with numerous shoulder, forearm, nerve, finger, and oblique injuries in his career that effectively ended his chance at being a dependable starter, as well as having fought Type 1 diabetes for years. It’s the latter list that saw him only able to ink a minor-league contract with the Dodgers prior to this season, but it’s the former list that’s why he’s one of the rocks in their World Series bullpen right now.
As a full-time reliever in 2017, he’s averaged 97.7 mph with his electric fastball and routinely touches 100 mph, and is having the kind of breakout now that most expected to see consistently throughout the last decade. That injury history, though, seems to pop up just around every corner. He’ll be incredibly sought after this winter, but most teams will likely be wary of committing large money and a promised role to him thanks to his inability to stay healthy. A team like the Reds, though, will obviously have ample late innings to offer him (and are no strangers to offering incentive-laden contracts to pitchers, a la Scott Feldman most recently).