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Updating the Top 100: Raisel Iglesias

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Syndication: Cincinnati Kareem Elgazzar, Cincinnati Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

I know this is simplistic and perhaps a bit overstated, but I think it applies here: relief pitchers just don’t pitch very much. I remind myself of this when looking at Raisel Iglesias and his wonderful comeback dominance of 2020.

Iglesias rate stats by year

Year IP ERA+ Hits/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Year IP ERA+ Hits/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
2016 78.3 169 7.2 0.8 3 9.5
2017 76 181 6.8 0.6 3.2 10.9
2018 72 176 6.5 1.5 3.1 10
2019 67 112 8.2 1.6 2.8 12
2020 23 176 6.3 0.4 2 12.1

After the 2018 season, we looked at Iglesias’s home run rates and said that he was lucky to keep his ERA down so low. And then we looked at 2019 and said see we were right. And we thought he was done.

And now, 2020 looks like a return to his breakout numbers from 2017 and everything is fine again.

From the available data, I don’t see any significant changes in Iglesias’s pitch usage or velocity. The number one factor I could see relates to how frequently the first pitch of an at-bat was a strike:

1st pitch strike percentage: Iglesias

Year 1st Pitch Strike %
Year 1st Pitch Strike %
2016 53.5%
2017 65.0%
2018 59.5%
2019 55.9%
2020 67.0%

That makes sense, I think. Fewer at-bats where the batter is ahead of the count means fewer at-bats where the batter can look for a specific pitch in a specific location. I think he was a little more accurate with first pitch sliders in 2020 than he was in 2019, but then we’re probably talking about the difference in just a handful of pitches.

Which is kind of the point I’m trying to make here. If I pretend I was in management consulting for a minute, I can preface this statement in some mediocre buzzword-laden logorrhea: “Can we take a step back and zoom out for a 30,000 foot view?”

Raisel Iglesias is a very talented pitcher. In 2020 he threw 23 innings, which is the equivalent of 3 and a half starts from Trevor Bauer. Iglesias throws hard and he mixes his pitches pretty well. Fastball, slider, changeup. He strikes a lot of guys out, he doesn’t walk many batters. When he gets behind in the count, he becomes pretty damn hittable. If he’s giving up home runs, he’s not a very good closer. Otherwise, he is.

That might be the extent of what we know about Iglesias. At any rate, there’s not much more than this to go on when thinking of what 2021 looks like.

And speaking of, Iglesias had one of those typical contracts for an international player, in which he made more guaranteed money in his pre-arbitration years than a US-born player would have. That contract expired at the end of 2020 but Iglesias is not yet a free agent, having one season of arbitration eligibility ahead of him. He made $5.7M in 2020; it seems likely that the arbitration process would kick that number up significantly for 2021. What the Reds do on this front will be interesting to watch. He’s still quite good and the Reds’ bullpen is not so deep that it can be a positive unit without Iglesias. The career trends say he’ll have an excellent 2021…unless he doesn’t.

Iglesias has been with the Reds for six seasons, mostly as a relief pitcher. He has an 18-32 record and a 3.15 ERA (137 ERA+) across 411.7 innings, with 330 hits allowed and 479 strikeouts. His 106 career saves ranks 6th in franchise history. A generally excellent 2020 season has pushed Iglesias up from #198 to #167 on the all-time player list and he moves from #12 to #8 on the list of best relief pitchers in franchise history.

Top 15 Relief Pitchers in Reds history

1 John Franco
1 John Franco
2 Clay Carroll
3 Danny Graves
4 Pedro Borbon
5 Tom Hume
6 Rob Dibble
7 Aroldis Chapman
8 Raisel Iglesias
9 Ted Power
10 Joe Beggs
11 Jeff Shaw
12 Scott Williamson
13 Norm Charlton
14 Scott Sullivan
15 Francisco Cordero