Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why I rated Tony Cingrani higher than Robert Stephenson

Just about every scouting list has Billy Hamilton and Robert Stephenson rated 1 and 2 in the Reds system. I went with Hamilton and Tony Cingrani. Here's why. For me, Stephenson slots in behind Tony Cingrani because Stephenson's advantage in upside over Cingrani is smaller than Cingrani's advantage in probability over Stephenson.

Cingrani's performance level was so high in 2012 that even if everything breaks right in Stephenson's development he'll likely only be able to match what Cingrani did in 2012. And, it'll take Stephenson 1-2 years to even reach triple-A. Stephenson has a slight advantage in stuff, but unlike Cingrani he also has to manage 1-2 years of performance and injury risk. Ultimately, Cingrani's advantage in polish, probability, and pitching mechanics outweighs Stephenson small advantage in stuff.

Cingrani is an interesting one. I like him a lot. More than any of the scouting reports I've read and I've read a number of them. So, either I'm overly optimistic or the pundits are overly pessimistic. Granted, it's probably the former, but I can't help but feel that the scouting reports are all parroting the same talking points. And, somehow, it all feels much more like group-think than independently formed opinions constituting a consensus. Maybe it's just because I disagree with many of the points, but I wonder if the internet, by speeding up the flow of information, is resulting in more overlap in opinion. Or, maybe the pundits are just correct.

It can't really be argued that Cingrani has a higher probability than Stephenson, so pundits are focused on Cingrani's performance level. Citing potential issues that would prevent that performance level from carrying over to the majors.

Over his minor league career, spread across every level, Cingrani has a 1.62 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, and 11.8 K/9 in 211.2 total innings. In the majors, he's tossed 5.0 innings with a 9/2 K/BB ratio. That's a truly elite performance level. However, the pundits focus on a few reasons why they view this performance level as unlikely to hold up, including:

  1. Cingrani leans too heavily on his fastball. 
  2. Cingrani's fastball is effective because of deceptive arm action, which won't "fool" MLB hitters for long. 
  3. Cingrani needs to refine his breaking ball.

As to the first, while the reports point out his heavy fastball usage, most downplay his plus change-up, which is an effective pitch for him. So, he has two plus-pitches, not just one.

As to the second, the arm action is one of the things I really like about him. He has nice kinetic-chain pitching mechanics and the resulting delayed shoulder rotation really gives his arm a strong whip-like action. In addition, while he doesn't look big, he actually stands 6-4. The height, and resulting longer arms, means that he (1) releases the ball closer to the plate and, (2) because of his mechanics, gets more whip out of his longer arm. I'm just not at all convinced that the success of the fastball is based on "deception", nor am I convinced that it's a pitch that will be easily "figured out" by MLB hitters.

And, as to the third, while I certainly agree that Cingrani needs to refine his slider, the whip-like arm action should ultimately work well with a slider. In addition, Cingrani's change-up has a tailing action, which makes it an effective weapon against opposite-side hitters, so it's not like he profiles out as a lefty-specialist who can't be successful against righties.

Ultimately, I'm excited to see what Cingrani can do. Maybe the pundits are right, but I'm really optimistic about his future. His MLB career gets underway in earnest tonight against the Marlins. Time will tell.

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