One of the six games started by Cincinnati Reds pitchers this year was a clunker. Wade Miley, the latest addition to the group this past winter, stumbled in his Reds debut, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) while retiring just 5 batters, pulled by manager David Bell before he could get out of the 2nd inning.
Of course, we learned yesterday what was likely influencing that poor outing, a groin issue that will sideline Miley for a bit. But that’s not even the true point of this article, really.
Miley’s bad outing included, Reds starting pitchers enter play on Friday with the single best collective FIP of all 30 MLB clubs. Their 1.67 mark sits well clear of Cleveland (1.86), whose rotation has been phenomenal through their 7 games, and is one of only five group marks below 3.00. Their 1.65 xFIP is head and shoulders better than every other staff in the game, as is their K/9 (14.97).
Some of the factors behind that success are rather obvious without digging into the numbers. Sonny Gray’s breaking ball has been untouchable so far, while the reputation of Luis Castillo’s changeup precedes itself. Add-in a resurgent Trevor Bauer and his spike in spin rates, and that’s a trio that would be the envy of every club in baseball.
That said, there are some peripheral numbers that stand out so far. Their 54.1% groundball rate is the second best in all baseball, something that is vital when you play your home games - and all games so far in 2020 - in the bandbox that is GABP. Considering how aggressive the Reds are with shifting, too, inducing grounders into the shift is perhaps the single most effective non-strikeout way to record consistent outs against opponents, and that’s precisely where the Reds have excelled. Add-in that their 26.2% soft-contact rate is also the second best among all MLB staffs and their opposite field rate of 16.4% is fourth lowest, and it sure sounds as if the Reds are getting a lot of soft rollovers right into the heart of their defense.
On the pitch-mix side, Reds starters have averaged 94.3 mph on their fastballs so far, which has them tied for fifth, with the Rockies leading the way at 95.2 mph. Of course, that includes Miley’s outing where he averaged just 88.6 mph, and while he’s never been a speed demon, that’s down nearly 2 mph from his average last year, likely an indication of the groin injury he’s dealing with. Interestingly enough, they aren’t really leading the league in any of the usage rates, sitting middle of the pack in fastball use, slider use, curveball use, and changeup use, perhaps an indication that their lack of reliance on any single pitch has helped keep opposition batters off balance.
Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of the starting staff so far rests on their Z-contact%, or the percent of balls thrown inside the strikezone on which contact is made by the batter. Their 73.4% rate is the lowest in baseball, meaning more than any other starting staff out there, Reds pitchers are beating batters with pitches in the zone, a sign that they are challenging hitters with pitches that must be swung on, and still beating them more often than other clubs. That helps suppress their overall contact% down to just 61.7%, which is by far the lowest in the game (only 6 clubs can boast rates below even 70%).
Small sample size disclaimer must be made, obviously, and it will take much longer to determine just how quality the competition has been thus far. Still, it’s the kind of start we all dreamed of when looking at the quality of the pitching staff cobbled together on paper this winter, and it’s refreshing to see their performance so far living up to the hype. If they can keep this up at anything close to the same rate going forward, the 2020 Cincinnati Reds are going to be very, very tough to beat.
All stats gleaned from FanGraphs, and if you’re not already a member there, I highly encourage you to join if you’ve got any inkling of desire to dig into advanced metrics. Sortable, user-friendly data that’s updated daily, and it’s impossible to imagine following baseball without it.