Who will be the odd man out in Cincy?by Vince Caramela
February 04, 2011
In case you haven’t noticed, the Reds certainly have a lot of interesting starting pitchers.
Of course, the true “ace” of this staff is still up for debate with 34-year-old Bronson Arroyo projected to clock another 200 plus innings while Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez are expected to become big pieces of the Reds front end.
The final two rotation spots will come from a three-man stand-off among Travis Wood, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake with, everyone’s favorite Cuban import, Aroldis Chapman watching as a possible 2012 candidate.
Finding capable arms in the back end of their rotation is nothing new for the Reds. After Aaron Harang fell further down the drain hole of ineffectiveness and Volquez was on the mend for most of the 2010 season, the team depended on a variety of youngsters to fill out the rotation. The Reds seem a lot more optimistic heading into the new season, since many of their new arms performed better than expected. But since we are dealing with young pitchers, nothing is ever certain.
Since Arroyo, Cueto and Volquez are guaranteed rotation spots, I thought we would look at the three names expected to slug it out this spring.
Entering the 2010 season, Wood was seen as a mid-range prospect with a ceiling somewhere around a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. After adding a cutter and gaining a feel for a change-up, Wood found his stock on the rise last spring. Sent down to Triple-A at the start of last season, he was called up in July and seemed to get better as the season wore on. Wood’s high flyball rate could still leave fans feeling uneasy, since his home park can be cruel to pitchers of his type. A majority of his 2010 starts came on the road.
Once debated as being the top pitching prospect in 2007, inconsistency and command issues have plagued much of his career. During the second half of ’09, Bailey did look promising and parlayed that into a starting role early last season. Hounded by a case of gopheritis in April and felled by shoulder tightness in May, Bailey made his way back to the team by mid-August, pitched effectively and was rewarded with a spot on the postseason roster.
A first round draft pick in 2009, Leake has yet to clock in any time in the minor leagues. His being named the No. 5 starter last season came as a surpris,e especially in an age where player development and extending one’s service time is crucial. Leake looked solid early on, but fatigue got the best of him and the Reds wisely shut him down by August. Early scouting reports about him settling as a solid No. 3 starter seem accurate.
Standard 2010 Stats
The basic peripheral stats seen above do not paint Leake in the most favorable light. Looking at these numbers month by month, we do see a slight drop in average velocity during his final four appearances which could have contributed to his steady rise in home runs allowed.
Mike Leake's 2010 home run per nine inning trend
Among the 19 home runs Leake allowed last season, six ualified as “just enough” according to Greg Rybarczyk’s HitTracker, including two that were given up on Aug. 14 against the Florida Marlins. That's useful to know considering his higher than average home run to flyball ratio (HR/FB).
Looking at the above chart, it's safe to assume that Wood was a bit lucky in his HR/FB ratio when you take into account his frequency of fly balls. Those numbers should regress this season.
|Swing %||Contact %||SwStr%|
All three pitchers seem similar in terms of contact and percentage of swinging strikes, although Bailey does have a slight edge in the latter due to his higher velocity fastball. It is interesting that Leake comes in below the major league average in opponent swing percentage (last season the average was 45.6 percent). Based on these smallish samples, a lot of this could be noise but it could also point to opponents being able to lay off his secondary pitches.
Speaking of repertoire, below is a breakdown of their 2010 offerings:
Leake’s fastball is mostly a sinker that averages at 88 mph and is used mostly against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. His sinker is designed as a contact pitch since it caused hitters to swing and miss only 7.8 percent of the time. When he needs someone to swing and miss, he tends to use his slider against righties.
Against lefties, Bailey tends to be a bit conservative since he lacks a true change-up in terms of fastball to change velocity differential (his fastball averages out to 92.7 while his change-up averages at 86.8); however, looking at Fangraphs new customizable heat maps we do see that Bailey has been careful in its location.
Speaking of lefties, Wood does have an advantage since he is the only southpaw to be seriously mentioned in the 2011 rotational mix and looking at the following splits, it will be awfully tough to argue against him:
|OPS vs. LHH||OPS vs. RHH|
Wood comes at batters with a standard four-seam fastball and has a very capable change and cut fastball that he likes to use against righties. Against fellow southpaws, the four-seamer is in heavy rotation with the occasional slider.
In conclusion, if they're all healthy, choosing among these three will be tough. All come with their unique strengths: Leake has his sinker, Bailey has his ability to miss bats and Wood will be important especially against teams that lean toward the left side of the plate.
Regardless, it's a good position to be in and it should be fun to watch this play out over the spring.
Vince has his own blog, The League of Transparency, and has also written for SBNation.