The Cincinnati Reds knew they needed a bullpen overhaul, as did anyone else who’d watched the unit’s performance over the last few seasons. Between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the team’s relief corps hadn’t just underperformed at an alarming level, it had also been overworked and underfunded, often with Raisel Iglesias the only one in the group making a seven figure salary.
I know it was often so bad (and so predictable) that you almost want to shy away from the dirty numbers. So, sorry if that’s still a sore spot. Over the last two years, Reds relievers have been worth a collective -3.1 fWAR, which isn’t just the worst in baseball, it’s the only group with a negative number over that time. They’ve ranked last in BB/9, last in HR/9, last in HR/FB %, last in FIP, last in xFIP, and first in IP - which, ideally, is the one stat in which you’d like to see them rank last.
The additions of both Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were calculated efforts to help stem that tide. The health of Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan should help take a bite out of the bullpen woes, too, since they’ll be tasked with eating more innings than the previous group of starters could eat (and that, in theory, will keep the worst of the bullpen arms off the mound altogether). Still, there will absolutely need to be improvement from the existing relievers still on the roster, but there will also need to be an infusion from other arms in camp to add both competition and depth.
One such arm is the right one Zack Weiss now has healthy, as The Enquirer’s Adam Baum looked at earlier today. Weiss was likely one of the bullpen options the Reds hoped to have as an option to turn to during those last two awful seasons, but an elbow injury and subsequent surgery meant the guy who posted a 1.98 ERA, 12.7 K/9, and 30 saves between Daytona and Pensacola in 2015 has largely been out of that mix the entire time. He finally returned healthy for the latter half of the 2017 season, and back between those A+ and AA stops again he posted similar, dominant numbers - 2.63 ERA, 12.3 K/9, and his usually low 2.9 BB/9. So far in Goodyear, he’s been equally as excellent, having yet to allow a run in his 3.0 IP, flashing the kind of velocity and break on his pitches that have the now 25 year old poised to claim one of the open spots in the bullpen.
Speaking of those openings, it’s worth a quick breakdown of how many there might actually be. Iglesias is a lock at the back, of course, as is Wandy Peralta after his solid rookie campaign in 2017. Hughes and Hernandez are obvious locks, as well, as would be Michael Lorenzen, in all likelihood, if he doesn’t come out of nowhere to win the 5th starter role. That makes five for the presumptive seven man bullpen, meaning Weiss has quite the competition to win considering the likes of Austin Brice, Ariel Hernandez, Kevin Shackelford, Jackson Stephens, Cody Reed, and Keury Mella are among the other relief options who also occupy 40-man roster spots.
Beyond those rostered arms sit another group of potentially capable relievers, too, and Jimmy Herget is firmly one of them. The #15 prospect in the system, according to MLB Pipeline, Herget also has ample experience in the back of bullpens, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon noted yesterday, with 64 saves in his MiLB career. And while saves are hardly the statistic you should have as your go-to in terms of how to place value on a reliever’s performance, I cite that more because it means the managers in charge of him at various lower levels obviously thought he had the chops for the closer’s role, and those kind of opinions generally tend to carry weight in camps like in Goodyear. Herget’s performance this spring certainly has him in the mix to earn a roster spot and one of those open bullpen roles, too, though he’s certainly got some competition from other non-rostered arms in camp such as Kyle Crockett, Barrett Astin, Oliver Perez, and Tanner Rainey, among others.
RedsMinorLeagues.com’s Doug Gray had some input on Herget and Rainey, as well as a pertinent note on where Robert Stephenson might fit into all of this. Stephenson, of course, has been hit hard this spring and is scheduled to pitch in Thursday’s game against the Colorado Rockies.
In other news, FanGraphs’ Travis Sawchik had an interesting suggestion for leadoff man Billy Hamilton, and actually sought out Billy in the locker room to talk about it. The idea itself is thought provoking enough to click, but the way in which the situation unfolded (and was relayed by Sawchik) makes it even more of a worthwhile read.
FanGraphs’ fantasy-centric wing RotoGraphs took a look at fireballer Luis Castillo, as Paul Sporer wondered whether last year’s breakout rookie is worthy of a Top 100 pick in drafts this year. It’s a very analytical look at recent comps for Castillo’s debut, and the company kept is rather impressive - Stephen Strasburg, Sonny Gray, James Paxton, and Luis Severino, among others. Sporer’s conclusion is one I think you’ll nod along with.
Finally, once upon a time, noted Red Reporter jch24 had a thing for pitcher Jair Jurrjens. As MLB Trade Rumors shed light on today, Jurrjens has signed with the Long Island Ducks to do some independent league pitching. Hi, Jer!