In his first taste of major league action, Reds’ pitcher Cody Reed saw a lot of this...
Poor Cody Reed.
Called up in June, he would be sent back down in August with an accrued 7.36 ERA, 6.06 FIP, and 12 home runs allowed as a parting gift. No matter how good your stuff is, to come up to the majors and get shelled that badly out of the gate has to be at least a little demoralizing. To his credit, it seems like Reed has done what he can to put the bumpy big league initiation behind him; as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reported last week:
"I'm the type of person that I could joke about it and dog myself and be like, 'You know what? I can handle this,'" Reed said on Sunday. "It's not something that will make me never have a good attitude again. That was my way of dealing with it, as a joke."
The good news is that all of the reasons he was once a top prospect didn’t magically disappear after an awful 47 2⁄3 debut innings. There is plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Reed going forward. Let’s dive in.
While both Reed’s ERA and FIP were disheartening, his DRA of 4.41 put a more positive spin on how he pitched in 2016. The aim of Baseball Prospectus’ DRA is to provide more context for the pitcher’s environment and how much responsibility he actually bears for the runs scored against him. DRA is based on each plate appearance and the circumstances surrounding it rather than just how many outs he recorded. By this measure Reed’s mark of 4.41 checks in at 219th out of the 385 major league pitchers who threw at least 40 innings, whereas he was among the worst in baseball by ERA and FIP — 382 and 374 respectively out of the same 385 qualifiers. DRA, on the other hand, paints a picture of a rookie who belonged solidly among the middle class of major league pitchers in his first taste of action.
GB% and BABIP
For a guy who gave up a ton of home runs, the good news is that Reed had an above average ground-ball percentage in 2016, with his 51.9 percent besting the league average of 44.7 percent. His average launch angle allowed of seven degrees was also lower then the league mark of 11.8 degrees. Reed also saw 34.4 percent of batters reach base either by hit or error on his ground-balls in play as opposed to the league average of 27.2 percent. On a related note he ended the year with a BABIP of .362, well above the league average of .298. His average exit velocity against (90.5 mph) is a tad higher then the league average (89.0 mph), but with the above-average ground-ball percentage and average launch angle, it’s fair to expect the BABIP to come down a significant amount.
Like Reed’s BABIP, his HR/FB rate is almost certainly unsustainable. Fly-balls hit against him were hit out of the park an eye-popping 27.9 percent of the time. Comparatively, the league’s other pitchers see just 12.8 percent of their fly-balls leave the yard. In 2016 that number was good for last in baseball (min. 40 IP), by a two percentage point margin over the next highest mark. Reed may turn out to be a pitcher who is susceptible to the home run ball, but even if that’s the case, he’s almost sure to see that rate decline. How much it will decline depends on a few factors, so let’s take a look at all 12 home runs he allowed last season.
Cody Reed Home Runs Allowed
*For the record, Anthony Rizzo’s was an inside-the-park home run that would probably have been caught by Billy Hamilton if not for a miscommunication with Adam Duvall.
All but three of the blasts against Reed had an expected home run percentage greater than 70 percent based on exit velocity and launch angle. With all but two of these home runs allowed he found himself ahead or tied in the count. The one home run he allowed while behind in the count was actually located well, a slider on the inside corner to Giancarlo Stanton seen below in purple (and the third gif above). Sometimes you just get beat.
It seems that despite being ahead or tied in the count all but twice, Reed was much too generous with the heart of the plate. This speaks to the issue of command versus control: he threw strikes but couldn’t command within the zone despite favorable counts. Like with many prospects, command has always been the concern with Reed, so while the HR/FB rate will almost assuredly come down, how much will depend on his fastball command in the zone.
Reed has two plus pitches in his fastball and slider. The fastball is unique in that it has very little rise but a ton of horizontal movement. Here it is compared to other lefties who threw at least 400 pitches. Reed and his polar opposite in terms of movement are highlighted:
The only left-handed pitcher with more horizontal movement is fellow sophomore-to-be Sean Manaea of the Oakland A’s. The fastball averaged 92.8 mph in 2016, topping out at 96.4 mph. It was not nearly as effective as it could be because Reed felt forced to use it when he needed to get a strike. Again from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon at spring training this year, Reed explains:
"I just have to learn to throw all pitches for a strike in any count," Reed said. "That's what really hurt me last year. I'd get into a 2-0 count and have to throw a fastball. Guys like Dan Straily could flip a changeup in there and get back in the count right away, and do it again. I was the type of guy who was not comfortable enough to do that, so when I'd get into those counts where I had to throw a fastball, I got hurt."
A lack of confidence in the changeup meant Reed was over-relying on his fastball; as evidenced by the home run pitch type graphic above. The good news is that in 2016, Reed’s changeup, while a work in progress, had shown positive signs. It had around league average horizontal movement with more vertical drop than most other left-handers, while also possessing above average ground-ball and swinging strike rates.
The changeup has been the main question mark about Reed’s arsenal, but the numbers suggest that it in fact can be at least an average offering. He threw it only 15.2 percent of the time in 2016. An average change that he’s unafraid to throw in important situations is perhaps the most important step he must take in unlocking his potential as at least a mid-rotation starter.
Here’s what the projection systems expect from Reed in 2016:
Cody Reed’s 2017 Projections
As expected there is BABIP regression across the board. All three systems expect Reed’s BB/9 to improve on 2016’s 3.59. ZIPS and Steamer have massive jumps in his ERA and FIP while PECOTA agrees that the ERA will come down, it thinks the 4.41 DRA he posted last year is about right. ZIPS is by far the most optimistic in regards to Reed’s workload, projecting him for by far the most innings pitched of the three systems. Certainly this part of the projection was impacted by his return to the minor leagues in August of 2016.
Naturally there are small differences in each system, but across the board it’s projected that Reed’s luck and performance will improve in 2017.
Cody Reed’s initial foray into Major League Baseball was brutal. Some of it was bad luck, and some of it was his own doing. It might not seem like it, but 2016 did provide Reed with some positive indicators. He needs to find some confidence in the changeup, better luck on balls in play, and adjust how he attacks hitters when ahead in the count (i.e. stop with the fastballs over the heart of the plate). These goals are all achievable, and if he can do it Reed will make his disaster debut season feel like a distant memory.
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Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrchrisanders.