Who will be the odd man out in Cincy?

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.

Travis Wood

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.

Homer Bailey

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.

Mike Leake

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

Travis Wood 102.2 7.54 2.28 0.79 3.51 3.42 4.17
Homer Bailey 109 8.26 3.3 0.91 4.46 3.74 3.91
Mike Leake 138.1 5.92 3.19 1.24 4.23 4.68 4.31

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).

Travis Wood 30.50 48.10 21.40 6.30 .259
Homer Bailey 41.60 37.20 21.10 9.30 .315
Mike Leake 50.20 31.90 17.90 13.20 .314

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%
Travis Wood 47.3 83.6 7.6
Homer Bailey 47.9 81.8 8.4
Mike Leake 43.7 81.9 7.6

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:

Fastball% Slider% Cutter% Curve% Change%
Travis Wood 64.1 3.5 16.4 5.9 10.1
Homer Bailey 68.3 11.6 11.2 9
Mike Leake 51.6 17.9 12.1 7.7 10.7

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:

Travis Wood .446 .651
Homer Bailey .677 .781
Mike Leake .832 .779

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.

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  1. Will Hatheway said...

    In my early brainstorms, I started to get comfortable—perhaps too much—with Woods as a $1 fantasy starter, and what you wrote gives me some concern insofar as playing time is concerned. I already factored in the home run threat, but otherwise he seems to have the “stuff” to really compete. But if he doesn’t get the chance, it isn’t really worth a roster spot. Do you think, if he makes it, that he’ll mainly just pitch against lefty lineups / away from home?

  2. Vince Caramela said...

    Hey Will,

    According to my (very) rough estimations, I see Bailey named as the number four with Wood and Leake again battling it out as the number five.  Looking over the other NL Central lineups the only team with a heavy rotation of LHB is the Pirates; however, the Cardinals have Rasmus and Berkman, the Brewers have Fielder and the Cubs have Pena in the middle of the order.  Those are big bats and I’m sure the Reds would love to have a lefty in their rotation.

    I know Wood has the high-ish FB rate and that could cause some trouble but he does have a solid group of secondary pitches which will help him against RHB.  Like I said, it’s going to interesting… it’s just a shame that 15+ spring training innings will decide it.

  3. Vince Caramela said...

    … However, I do like your idea for the home/road splits since Wood and Leake mainly profile as back-end starters… but, like Brad said, don’t expect Dusty and Walt to do anything innovative.

  4. Doug Gray said...

    A few things from a Reds fans perspective….

    I can’t see Leake breaking camp with the Reds. He simply isn’t a better option than Travis Wood is (both in terms of stuff and his ability to go a full season – Wood has a 200 inning season under his belt, while Leake has never topped 140). Wood relies on his cutter quite a bit and as we know, the cutter is one of the best pitches in baseball (not his specifically, but the cut fastball itself).

    Homer Bailey doesn’t have any options left. He isn’t going to the minors because they would lose him. He isn’t going to the bullpen either, because not only does he have #1 upside potential, he doesn’t loosen up quickly at all. Toss in that when he has been healthy the last year and a half he has been a solid #3 pitcher. The article references Bailey not having a true change up, and while that is true, it fails to note that his “change up” is actually a split finger fastball. Pitch F/X doesn’t note the difference and classifies it as a change up, but it isn’t. So the difference in speed isn’t an issue, because he isn’t throwing a change.

  5. Vince Caramela said...

    Regarding Bailey’s “change-up”, you’re absolutely right, Doug. 

    I really struggled with categorizing this secondary pitch since some FX sites listed him as throwing a change and split while others called it just a change and others, like Fangraphs, listed him as never utilizing a change-up but when you look at their heat maps – they have nothing signifying a split-finger FB and is instead listing a change-up. 

    This was a problem because I wanted to show the location of this pitch but I was hesitant on what to finally call it – I eventually settled on labeling it as a change since I didn’t want to cause confusion based on my provided graph. 

    I ran into this problem when I was breaking down Ricky Nolasco.  PitchFX sites that gather info from MLBAM still have problems recognizing certain pitches (esp. cutters and splitters) and tend to mislabel them.  I’m still a newbie when it comes to FX and I do try to keep it minimal but thanks for clarifying this.

  6. Josh Shepardson said...

    As an unbiased observer, I really think it would be in the Reds best interests to allow Leake to season some more in Triple-A.  I’ve always been a fan of Bailey, and would like to see if he’s able to use his splitter more effectively this year (he’s posted negative run values since adding it to his repertoire, but used it effectively in Triple-A from everything I’ve read).

  7. Marc H said...

    Perfect club to make a deal with the Mets for Jose Reyes.  Send 2 of these young arms, Mesoracco (or Grandel) and Billy Hamilton for him

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