It’s a huge understatement to say that the Reds desperately needed bullpen help entering 2018. And as much as has been said about the Reds activity (or lack thereof) this offseason, their biggest moves (see: only moves) actually did come in that particular market, as unexciting as they might’ve been perceived. The only big league contracts they doled out were to Jared Hughes and David Hernandez.
If you want to do an easy one-for-one, it’s pretty easy to say that Hughes and Hernandez pretty much straight up replace the “holes” left by Drew Storen and Blake Wood. Even then, even considering those two as locks, along with the solid enough back end made up by Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and Wandy Peralta, the Reds would still need more arms, especially considering Lorenzen’s flirtation with the starting rotation early and, then, his injury late.
A familiar face has filled a need to start the season with Amir Garrett’s placement in the bullpen after a solid Spring. At least temporarily, as I can’t imagine the Reds have shut the door on Garrett’s starting career after the aforementioned solid Spring. But, in Garrett, they have another talented left-handed arm in the pen (something that’s sorely needed), and also one that can and likely will go multiple innings as they try to keep him somewhat stretched out.
Typically, that would mean only another arm or so needed. But, of course, arm injuries have reared their heads. Lorenzen is certainly headed for the DL to start the year, and Hernandez is questionable with a wonky shoulder.
Enter Kevin Quackenbush.
The right-handed Quackenbush has already been informed he’ll make the team out of Spring Training. The 29-year-old has spent that last four season in San Diego as a somewhat large part of the Parde’s bullpen, at least until 2017.
From 2014 to 2016, Quackenbush pitched 172.1 innings for the Fathers, for an average of 57 IP per year. He had a 3.50 ERA over that time frame, with a 3.63 FIP and 8.1 K/9, none of which is particularly elite but considering the crap the Reds bullpen has been trying to literally throw against a wall, well, it’d be a welcome sight, especially considering the Reds picked him up for basically nothing.
The reason they picked him up for “basically nothing,” though, is because 2017 was a quite the trial for Quackenbush. The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans caught up with Quackenbush to tell the story of his 2017 which is a pretty good read, should you make the (right) decision and pay for that content.
Still, it tells the story of a reliever that yo-yo’d quite a bit from Triple-A and MLB last season. Quackenbush only got 26.1 innings in the Majors in 2017, where he tallied, well, basically career worsts in every pitching category you’ll see on the first table at Baseball-Reference.com. Just a bad, bad season for Quackenbush.
The pitcher himself attributes some of his struggles to the constant back and forth. Pitchers are notoriously creatures of habit, so I’m sure it’s certainly some of that.
A quick glance at the aforementioned BBRef page shows some troubling trends. Quackenbush’s FIP, WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, and K/9 have all gone in the wrong direction over the course of his three full season in the league (and all but the K/9 have gotten worse when considering the short 2017 season, which, stat-wise, can be thrown out).
But Quackenbush is a different kind of pitcher. His bread-and-butter is a fastball that wouldn’t be considered special in this day and age, topping out at around 91 MPH. What makes it good, though, is the level at which it’s pitched (being that Quackenbush is 6-foot-4-inches tall) and the spin that he generates. With that, it’s described as an “invisaball,” that deceives batters and causes whiffs despite its velocity.
Outside of that, he works in a decent curveball that has gotten better over the years, as far as percentage usage and outcomes go.
There’s still quite a gap, but the curveball is trending in the right direction, as, maybe, hitters are finding an answer for the fastball.
To his credit (and as relayed in the Rosecrans article above), Quackenbush spent time this offseason working on his curve with former All Star Steve Ontiveros.
That doesn’t mean a philosophical change is forthcoming, but I think it means Quackenbush has realized the trends.
To his credit, Kevin has had a good Spring (which is the most obvious statement of this piece, or he wouldn’t have made the team). In 10 IP, he’s given up only 3 ER and 3 walks, while striking out 13. And, while it hasn’t come against the stiffest of competition, Baseball Reference rates the batters faced quality at a 8.1, which they consider to be a touch better than AAA hitters.
I think the biggest red flag for Quackenbush, as far as the Reds are concerned, is he’s considered a “fly ball” pitcher, which doesn’t exactly jive with the dimension of Great American Ball Park. In his last full season, Quackenbush only had a 35.3% groundball percentage, and that number for his career is just under 40%.
But relief pitchers remake themselves daily, and Quackenbush does a lot of his damage elevated in the strikezone.
That being said, I think it might be pretty obvious pretty quick if he’ll be an asset this season. Plenty of “fly ball” pitchers have been able to succeed at GABP. It’s all about the quality of batted ball you produce. If Quackenbush is getting hammered early and often up in the zone, his time will be limited.
But if he’s found that curve to go along with his patented deceptive fastball, well, he may surprise some people in Cincinnati this season.