Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 Review: Starting Pitchers

On to the starting staff:

Bronson Arroyo -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: B-

Arroyo continues to grind out the 200+ inning seasons, topping the mark for an incredible 6th straight year in 2010. Arroyo is definitely not afraid of hard work and his tremendous durability continues to be his most valuable attribute. During his time in Cincy, almost without exception, Arroyo has taken the ball on his turn through the rotation.

However, the question remains whether he can continue to do so.

In 2010, Arroyo was almost exactly the same pitcher he was in 2009.

2009:__ 2.7___5.2____1.22____3.84
2010: __2.5___5.1____1.08____3.88

I suppose that type of consistency should be comforting, but the decline in his strikeout rate during his time in Cincy is a concern (at least to me), but so far it hasn't slowed him down. Starting in 2006, his first season with the Reds, Arroyo has posted K/9 marks of 6.9, 6.7, 7.3, 5.2, and 5.1. I have concerns about whether Arroyo can continue to post a sub-4 ERA with these peripherals.

However, over the last two seasons, Bronson has significantly outperformed his FIP. His 3.84 ERA in 2009 went along with a FIP of 4.78 and a BABIP of .270, while his 3.88 ERA in 2010 when along with a FIP of 4.61 and a BABIP of .246. At first blush, it looks like he was hit lucky, but he also managed to decrease his Line Drive rate to 18.5% in 2009 and 16.3% in 2010.

Another interesting aspect of his performance is the percentage of his strikeouts that were called and his contact rate.

Year: Called K%_Contact%





Arroyo is allowing more and more pitches to be put in play and getting fewer called strikeouts, both of which would seem to indicate a decline in stuff. He's fooling fewer hitters and relying on his defense to a greater extent. Can he continue to succeed by, in essence, controlling the contact and relying on the defense?

A moment I found to be somewhat reassuring about Arroyo's 2010 season was his performance in the playoffs. You won't find many offenses better than the Phillies or many situations that are more high leverage than a postseason start. Regardless, Arroyo rose to the occasion and managed to keep the Phillies off-balance for most of the night. Ultimately, his outing was cut short when the defense let him down with back-to-back errors by Phillips and Rolen.

As with the regular season, the performance was more smoke-and-mirrors than dominating, as he allowed too many baserunners and walked more than he struck out. It was the same high-contact pitching style that he utilized during the season, but this time the defense let him down. Even so, he battled and came away with a solid performance, but I'm still not confident that Arroyo is the pitcher I want on the hill in a must win Game 7 situation.

Arroyo continues to be something of a contradiction. His peripherals are arguably getting worse, but his overall performance has gotten better. From where I sit, something has to give. I'm just not convinced that Arroyo can maintain his 2009 & 2010 performance level while allowing so much contact. The general thinking is that pitchers cannot control the outcome of balls in play. Additionally, high contact pitchers with neutral GB/FB tendencies in a bandbox like GABP seem like an inherently poor fit. Arroyo also benefited from the league wide decline in power, which made contact less harmful than in years past but may not continue in the 2011 season. Maybe Arroyo can continue to thrive with varied offspeed offerings, but I wouldn't be willing to extend him out past 2011. In fact, given our pitching surplus, I wouldn't hesitate to see what Arroyo would fetch on the trade market.

However, the Reds will have to hope that Arroyo can maintain his performance level by throwing the kitchen sink at opposing teams. Regardless of the performance level, the Reds can confidently pencil Arroyo in for 200+ innings in 2011.

Mike Leake -- Expectations: None, Grade: B

What Mike Leake managed to do in 2010 was nothing short of remarkable. His performance in spring training was so strong that he broke camp with the team and skipped the minors entirely, which you simply don't see all that often. And, probably for good reason.

It was an interesting decision due in no small part to the fact that Leake had never started every 5th day. In college, he started once a week, so it seemed likely and logical that Leake would start the year in the minors to acclimate to the heavier workload. But, the Reds deemed him MLB ready and it didn't take him long to prove that he was.

Leake tossed a rather stunning 138.1 innings with a 4.23 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 91/49 K/BB ratio. He managed to induce ground balls at a good clip (1.58 GB/FB ratio) and produced solid ratios (3.2 BB/9 and 5.9 K/9) for a rookie who bypassed the minors entirely. Not surprisingly, his early season performance was much stronger than his second half. He simply hit a wall and wasn't effective late in the season. It was likely a combination of fatigue and hitters learning the book on Leake.

His monthly splits reveal his hot start and subsequent fade:

April: 3.25 ERA in 27.2 IP
May: 1.88 ERA in 38.1 IP
June: 5.22 ERA in 29.1 IP

July: 4.56 ERA in 25.2 IP

August: 8.83 ERA in 17.1 IP

Looking at his mid/late season fade, it is easy to call the decision to start him off in the majors a questionable one. The Reds did effectively manage his pitch counts, as his highest game total was 106 pitches, but Leake simply hadn't been stretched out to handle the grind of a major league starting pitcher. His performance level was sufficient, but his endurance was not. However, he showed in his first few months that he was polished enough to succeed at the highest level right away, which made him essentially a no-risk draft pick.

Both Mike Leake and Mike Minor were polished college pitchers who have so far outperformed their projected draft positions. Minor has better stuff than was commonly believed and Leake moved much faster than thought possible. Not sure why the scouting was off the mark on these college pitchers, but polish may be somewhat underrated these days.

Overall, it was a surprising and strong rookie debut for Leake. Not surprisingly, he faded as his innings total mounted, but he gave the Reds some real big innings and some stability in the rotation at a time when it was definitely needed. The future is bright and having a pitcher in the rotation who understands how to pitch will provide some real stability for years to come.

Johnny Cueto -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: B+

Johnny has been in the majors for three seasons and has made incremental improvement each year. Despite his annual improvement, it's hard not to be somehow disappointed. Obviously, that isn't fair to Cueto, but he is a victim of his own success. In 2007, Cueto blazed through three minor league levels with a 3.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and 9.5 K/9. That level of performance brought about notions of immediate MLB dominance. Instead, he has followed the more traditional path of incremental improvement.

In 2010, Cueto tossed 185.2 innings with a 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and a 138/56 K/BB ratio. It was a nice combination of workload and performance level.

2008: 4.81 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9 in 174.0 innings
2009: 4.41 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and 6.9 K/9 in 171.1 innings
2010: 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, and 6.7 K/9 in 185.2 innings

He set a career high in innings pitched and improved across the board, with the exception of strikeouts which are in modest decline. Cueto is likely reining in his stuff in favor of improved command and control. As he has continued to evolve as a pitcher, Cueto has altered his pitch selection:

Year:__FB%__ SL%__CH%


Perhaps it's the influence of roving instructor Mario Soto, who deserves a decent amount of credit for his work with our young pitchers, but whatever the reason Cueto has de-emphasized his slider in favor of his change-up. The change in pitch selection has likely brought about improved control and slightly fewer strikeouts. In short, Cueto is learning how to effectively utilize his arsenal for maximum benefit.

All in all, it was a nice season for Cueto, but one that didn't get a great deal of hype. To a certain extent, Cueto was overshadowed by Mike Leake, Travis Wood, and Aroldis Chapman. Those three each made a bigger splash, but Cueto's quiet improvement was just as impressive and certainly shouldn't be overshadowed. If Cueto makes yet another incremental improvement in 2011, then he'll be approaching some rather rarefied air.

Travis Wood -- Expectations: Low, Grade: A-

Yet another pitching surprise for the Reds and a good one at that. Wood has long been a favorite of mine due to his plus change-up and clean mechanics, but he arrived on the scene in 2010 with slightly better top-end velocity than was advertised.

Wood made quick work of the competition, flashing good stuff, great command, and a very good feel for pitching.

He stepped up to throw 102.2 innings with a 3.51 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9. Wood featured a four pitch mix, including a fastball (64.1% of the time), changeup (10.1%), cutter (19.9%), and curveball (5.9%). He's got a very nice repertoire, which he used to keep the righthanders off balance and completely dominate the lefties.

On the season, Wood gave up absolutely nothing to lefties. He gave up a slash line of .136/.219/.227/.446. He also did a very nice job against righties to the tune of .240/.289/.363/.651. Overall, the addition of the cutter has really given Wood the ability to handle righthanded hitters. It allows him to keep them honest on the inner half of the plate, which improves the effectiveness of his fading changeup on the outer half.

Of course, Wood also provided one of the singular moments of the season for the Reds when he nearly tossed a perfect game against the defending NL champion Phillies in their home park. Wood threw 9 innings and gave up only 1 hit, no walks, and 8 strikeouts. His perfect game was foiled by a Carlos Ruiz double in the ninth inning and the Reds inability to score a run. The game ultimately went to extra innings where the Reds came out on the short end, but it was a national coming out party for Travis Wood.

The only potential red flag on Wood is his GB/FB ratio. He exhibited a heavy fly ball tendency, which isn't ideally suited for Great American Ballpark and may come back to bite him if hitters catch up to him as he gets around the league for a second and third time. At that point, it'll be up to Wood to adjust, which shouldn't be a problem given his feel for pitching.

Overall, it was an exciting and impressive debut for Wood and one that is very encouraging for 2011 and beyond. Wood and Leake are two pure pitchers. They may not have the best stuff on the staff, but they understand how to utilize it and how to attack the hitters. They should be consistent and reliable members of the rotation for years to come, which will provide a nice counterpart to the more volatile high ceiling/low floor starters on the staff (see below).

Homer Bailey -- Expectations: Low, Grade: C+

Homer continues to be the ultimate enigma, which may be what he is right down to his core (A pitcher who prefers to be called Homer?). I won't spend too much time parsing his numbers and analyzing his performance, as it won't really throw any additional light on the true Homer Bailey. We've seen him at his best and at his worst, but it's still impossible to tell which version will show up on any given day. He still seems to have all the potential in the world, but his performance simply never reflects it.

Here's a quick overview of Bailey in 2010. He pitched 109.0 innings at the beginning and ending of the movie with a long injury stint in between. When all was said and done, Homer had a 4.46 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 100/40 K/BB ratio. The biggest positives are his career best walk (3.3 BB/9) and strikeout (8.3 K/9) rates. His April and May were forgettable, at best, while his August and September were fairly impressive. He also acquitted himself well in a 2 inning postseason relief appearance against the Phillies. It does bear mentioning that Homer's numbers are somewhat skewed by his dominance against the lowly Pirates (16.0 innings, 0.56 ERA, 15/0 K/BB). Additionally, even in his good starts, I was struck by the number of times he badly missed the target. The catcher would set up on the corner only to have to reach all the way back across the plate to catch the pitch on the other corner. So, I'm not convinced that he truly turned the corner in the final two months. Once again, Homer was maddening, showing enough upside to be optimistic about his chances in 2011, but not enough to allow any certainty in that regard.

For me, the most telling thing about his season actually occurred off the field. In late May, Homer was shut down and DL'd due to shoulder stiffness. Homer was upset about the decision because he didn't feel the arm was that bad, going so far as to refuse a cortisone injection.

Two things are really striking about this situation. First, Homer seemed to have no understanding of the severity of the problem. He protested going on the DL because he didn't believe that he needed to miss even two weeks worth of games. In the end, he didn't return to the majors until August 15th. It seems a somewhat shocking lack of self-awareness about the health of his arm. Either he simply has no clue about the condition of his arm or he did and simply refused to acknowledge it due to his innate stubbornness. I'm not sure which would be the preferable explanation, but I'd certainly hope that a pitcher has a better feeling for the condition of his arm.

The second thing that jumped out at me was his refusal of the cortisone shot, which manages to seem impressive, stubborn, and disconcerting all at the same time. It's impressive in that a 20-something kid actually steps back to consider a team doctor's advice and ultimately goes against the organization's advice. If an organization had invested millions of dollars in me and had a doctor telling me what I needed to get healthy, I'd probably take the doctors advice on all but the most major procedures. However, Homer was stubborn because a cortisone shot is a minor medical matter, not a major surgery. This is an instance in which refusing the team's treatment seems rather odd and unnecessarily stubborn. The team doctor and organization simply want Bailey to get healthy and back on the mound, which (in theory at least) is what Homer wants as well. There was no divergence of interests between the player and the organization, as both want performance and health over the short and long haul.

Homer either lacks trust of any kind in the organization or he simply suffers from an over abundance of youthful arrogance that leads him to believe he always knows best. Whatever the reason, this seems to be par for the course in his development as a player, as he has butted heads with the Reds coaches throughout his time with the organization. I can't easily recall any young player having so many issues and conflicts with an organization on his way up the ladder. Developing Homer Bailey is no small task and these problems are likely the root cause of his struggles. He has all the tools, but seems to lack the mentality to put them to use.

Once again, the Reds head into 2011 with reasonably high hopes for Homer Bailey. It remains to be seen whether those hopes will again be derailed by Homer's frequently misguided actions and stubborn attitude.

Edinson Volquez -- Expectations: None, Grade: B+

Edinson's grade is based largely on the complete lack of expectations. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in early August of 2009, it was pretty remarkable for Edinson simply to get back to the majors in 2010. Not only did he return to the show, but he had flashes of brilliance.

On July 17, Volquez made his first start of the season. Facing the Rockies, he tossed 6.0 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 run, and posting a 9/2 K/BB ratio. The other highlight of his season occurred on September 11th when he faced the Pirates. In that game, Edinson threw 7.0 innings allowing 1 hit, 0 runs, and posting a 10/1 K/BB ratio.

Unfortunately, there were also significant bumps in the road, the most notable of which occurred during Game 1 of the NLDS. Facing the Phillies, Edinson lasted a mere 1.2 innings in which he allowed 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, and striking out no one. In arguably the biggest start of the season, Edinson couldn't have performed worse. That start set the tone for the entire series. It was a curious choice by the Reds brain-trust to start Edinson in Game 1, but there was some justification for it, as Volquez posted a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 September innings. So, the regrets about starting him in Game 1 are based largely on hindsight, as the decision made sense in foresight.

When all was said and done, Edinson pitched 62.2 regular season innings in which he posted a 4.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 67/35 K/BB ratio. Overall, the strikeout rate was as impressive (9.6 K/9) as the walk rate was unimpressive (5.0 BB/9). While Edinson's command has never been his strong suit, it was worse than usual in 2010. Clearly, he had yet to regain his feel for pitching, but the power was back. In 2010, his fastball averaged 93.6 mph, which was almost exactly what it has been every year since 2006. So, the velocity is all the way back and hopefully the command improves in 2011. Pitchers are usually better in their second year back from Tommy John surgery, so the Reds have to hope that's the case with Volquez, especially since the player for whom he was traded led his team to the World Series.


  1. I say it alot but it's because you earn it, you do a great job Lark. We might bump heads a bit every now & again when it comes to projections and what not but your writing is top notch and on point virtually always.

    Just some thoughts here.

    On Arroyo: Is there anyway to judge how his K/9 is when he finds himself in a position where he needs one? Certainly it would be somewhat subjective to come up with those occasions but I ask for this reason. Ever since he learned the grip Volquez uses for his change he has been throwing alot of the sinker and getting pretty good results at getting the ball on the ground more. I think his diminishing K/9 is in part due to the fact his preference is to pitch to contact most of the time. When he was a heavy flyball pitcher he had to K more batters.

    On Cueto: Definitely agree with your assessment here. He seems to have decided more on control and that is a good thing. Noticed he is doing a better job of policing his mechanics in game. One negative though his weight could eventually become a problem.

    On Leake and Wood: Love 'em both. One thing to remember on Leake is he also pitched in the AFL last fall which had to have some impact on his endurance down the stretch. That and by the end he wasn't getting regular starts so between the 2 I can see why he wouldn't be sharp. I think they are both #3 pitchers at worst. They aren't just pitchers they are ballplayers.

    On Edinson: Love his stuff but his makeup isn't my cup of tea. Seems a bit immature, undisciplined and somewhat passive. Guy walks alot of people because he doesn't trust his stuff at times so he starts nipping at the corners. Plus his money is starting to come now. Might be time to deal him after next season. Here's to hoping he can have a good season to up his value.

    On Homer: Deal him now. Just check out his H/9 sans the Pirates. That fastball is too straight for him to ever be an ace with that control/command.

  2. i agree will, your one of the best writers around. Its amazes me there arn't more bloggers consistently on here.

    well cant wait for the prospect list!

  3. Will,

    Well thanks, I appreciate it! We disagree from time to time, but it keeps me honest. Besides, it's always fun to discuss different points of view.

    Arroyo - It's a good point that he's using his change-up more frequently (last year seasons: 12.1% to 15.8% to 25.0%). So, pitch selection may well be responsible for the increased contact rate. At the same time, I'm not willing to buy into the notion that Arroyo can become a strikeout pitcher when he feels like he needs one. I don't have the types of numbers you wanted, but here's the best situational numbers I could produce:

    Bronson Arroyo 2010
    None On: 1 strikeout every 6.6 ABs
    Runners On: 1 strikeout every 6.8 ABs
    Scoring Position: 1 strikeout every 7.3 ABs
    Bases Loaded: 1 strikeout every 13.0 ABs
    Scoring Position w/ 2 Outs: 1 strikeout every 5.7 ABs

    Of course, those aren't huge sample sizes, but I don't see any indication that he can get the K when he needs it. I'm just not convinced that Arroyo has the type of stuff necessary to pitch for the strikeout in big situations. It's not like he has a nasty breaking ball or 3-4 mph in velocity in reserve. He's a crafty guy, but I don't think he has more strikeout ability when he needs it. I'd love to be wrong, though.

    Cueto - He's been impressive thus far. I do wonder how much projection he has left. He seems to be figuring things out and I'd be ecstatic if he could settle in as a good #2 starter.

    Leake & Wood - I couldn't agree more. I love the idea of having two young guys who know how to pitch on the staff. They may not be able to dominate the way the top of the rotation guys can, but they should always be able to keep us in games. That adds a lot of stability to the rotation and prevents the bullpen from getting overworked. I wouldn't trade either of these guys right now.

    ...continued --

  4. ...continued --

    Edinson - I really don't know quite what to make of him. I didn't like the deal when it went down because of the cost, but also because Edinson never struck me as a guy with a good feel for pitching. As an unpolished thrower, he's pretty much the polar opposite of Wood/Leake - The Reds need to decide what to do with him. If he stinks in 2011, then a substantial portion of whatever trade value he currently has will evaporate. I'm hopeful for a big bounce back year, but not convinced that we'll see it. His poor command is disconcerting, to say the least.

    Homer - At this point, I really have come around to the notion that his attitude and stubbornness are to blame. He's not injured and he doesn't lack for stuff, but it just never comes together for him. He just seems to be a complete nonconformist, which is fine if your way is working, but if it isn't then it becomes almost to justify the refusal to follow the organization's edicts.

    Carlos Pena had a similar problem early in his career with Detroit and Oakland, as he wanted to hit how he wanted to hit. So, he did, but the production was terrible and he was labeled a problem. Once he landed in Tampa, he hit with a monster year and redeemed himself. If you produce, then you can be as obstinate as you want. If you don't, well...

    I guess I give him a couple months to prove that his final two months of 2010 were something more than dominating the Pirates. His peripherals moved in the right direction, but watching him work continues to leave me unconvinced. His command is just not there with the fastball, which is why catchers are constantly reaching. He can get away with it against bad teams, but good teams simply won't help him out.

    Here's a fun stat establishing Homer's performance level based on the winning percentage of the opposition over the course of his career:

    .500 - .599 teams: 5.45 ERA in 142.3 innings
    .400 - .499 teams: 5.69 ERA in 110.2 innings
    sub .400 teams: 2.72 ERA in 49.2 innings

    The Pirates of 2010 sported a winning percentage of .352. Just about every pitcher will throw better against weaker competition, but maybe the extreme differences in Homer's performance are indicative of something. Or, maybe not. He is, after all, a true enigma. ;)

    Thanks for the comment!


  5. Smitty,

    Thanks for the kind words! I was starting to build some readership momentum, but my writer's block and infrequent posting last year stalled that. It takes quite a bit of time and work to build up a blog, which I've found out the hard way. :)

    Anyway, I always appreciate you guys' comments, which are always fun and insightful. So, keeping 'em coming!


  6. love the new layout of the site lark! looks good

  7. Smitty,

    Thanks! I was curious to know how it would go over.

    I thought it was time for something different. I think this layout looks a bit cleaner. Also, the columns are a bit wider and the colors are bit softer, which probably makes for easier reading.

    I may make another tweak or two, but I'm liking the results so far.


  8. One of the very best sites around. Thanks for what you do, man.

  9. Parker,

    Thanks for the kind words, I do appreciate it! I shoot these blog posts into cyberspace without knowing how they are received, so it's nice to get a bit of feedback now and then.


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