The reality is that we probably saw this coming. Raisel Iglesias had a remarkably lucky season in 2018. He had set career bests in ERA and saves, but the underlying numbers had some red flags: Iglesias’s number of surrendered home runs more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, while his strikeout rate dropped by about 10%. The luck came mainly through sequencing, specifically that 10 of his 12 allowed homers in 2018 were solo shots.
In 2019, the piper came home to roost. Iglesias’s strikeout rate popped back up, but he was still very much dinger-prone, allowing 1.6 HR per 9 innings.
It’s an interesting question to me to ask why. I see four data points that jump out, although I’m not 100% convinced they perfectly tie to one another.
1) Iglesias is falling behind the hitter way too often. In 2017, 65% of his matchups began with a first pitch strike. That was down to 56% in 2019.
2) The ability of a batter to put the ball in the air against Iglesias has shifted dramatically. In 2017, Iglesias had a 0.75 groundball to flyball ratio. In 2019, that ratio was down to 0.44.
3) Iglesias is throwing fewer fastballs than he used to. Roughly 60% of all of his pitches were fastballs in 2017. In 2019, it was more like 50%.
4) Iglesias became more consistent in where his pitches went, relative to the strike zone. A view of his pitches from 2017 looks like a nearly random scatter plot. In 2019, a strike zone heat map shows quite a bit of heat in the quadrant that would low and inside to a left-handed batter (or low and outside to a right-handed batter).
Maybe there’s more…that’s what I could find using freely available data. If I were to boil it down to a single sentence, I would say that Iglesias was more effective when he was effectively wild and wildly fast. I’m concerned that the trend has continued through two pitching coaches. A closer whose ERA is trending towards league average is not destined to be a closer for much longer.
Through five seasons with the Reds, Iglesias has appeared in 252 games, with a 14-29 record, 98 saves, a 3.17 ERA (135 ERA+) and 448 strikeouts in 388.7 innings. On the basis of his 2019 season, Iglesias moves from #234 to #198 on the all-time list and also debuts at #12 on the list of greatest relievers in franchise history, supplanting Jeff Brantley.
Top 15 Relief Pitchers in Reds history
1 John Franco
2 Clay Carroll
3 Danny Graves
4 Pedro Borbon
5 Tom Hume
6 Rob Dibble
7 Aroldis Chapman
8 Ted Power
9 Joe Beggs
10 Jeff Shaw
11 Scott Williamson
12 Raisel Iglesias
13 Norm Charlton
14 Scott Sullivan
15 Francisco Cordero