When you think about the Reds, you probably don’t associate them with great pitching. After all, they do play in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball and in what has been a pretty competitive division in recent years. Just last year, Reds’ pitchers combined for a 5.12 RA9, which ranked in the bottom five in baseball, and park adjusting that number does not make them look much better. The 2017 season was even worse, with Reds’ pitchers turning in a 5.47 RA9.
The Red’s decision to make moves this past offseason to compete was questionable at best, as they won only 67 games last year in a division that was expected to continue to be competitive. Still, with so many teams actively trying not to win, it was nice to see a non-elite team actually try to be better, and to be fair they did as good of a job that they possibly could have done short of signing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. FanGraphs had them projected at 78.5 wins for the season, so while that left them with a low chance of making the playoffs, one could imagine them squeaking in if enough things broke right.
Well, that has not happened. They are sitting at 38-44 and are in last place, though they are only 6.5 games out of first. They are five games out of the last Wild Card slot, but there are currently six teams in front of them.
For all the lack of success that this Reds team has had half way through the season, for once, the pitching has nothing to do with it. In fact, the Reds’ pitching has excelled this season, combining for a 3.95 RA9. That is over a run better than last season and it ranks as the third-best in baseball!
With the starting rotation, two of the Reds’ best pitchers were offseason acquisitions: Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray. As I wrote about at the time, they got Roark for little cost, and despite extending Gray, he came at a low cost too as a result of coming off a poor season with the Yankees.
Roark is pitching like he did during his best seasons in Washington. His 3.68 RA9 is down almost a full run from last year, and his strikeout rate has improved to better than league average levels. My concern with him is that he is accomplishing this despite a career worst 38.3 percent hard-hit rate, per Statcast. He will be a free agent after this season, so he could be useful trade bait.
I suggest checking out the sidebar by Kenny Kelly for more details, but Gray’s 4.15 RA9 is also almost a full run better than last year, and he is on track for a 3 WAR season. His 26.5 percent strikeout rate is the highest of his career.
Luis Castillo has been with the Reds for his entire career, but he has broken out in his third season. As discussed by my coworker Patrick Brennan, his changeup might be one of the reasons why. His 2.84 RA9 is the fifth-best in the majors and he is on pace to crack 7 WAR for the season. Max Scherzer is the clear front runner for the Cy Young award right now, but Castillo has a case for runner-up. His poor control is pretty concerning though, as he has walked 13 percent of batters faced. Despite that, his 2.54 DRA is even better than his RA9.
Moving on to the bullpen, Amir Garrett has been a top-15 reliever in baseball. He was a middling reliever last year, but this year he has a 1.75 RA9 and has struck out over a third of batters faced. Unfortunately, his control, which showed improvement last year, has risen to 13.3 percent, but he has also benefited from a ridiculously high strand rate. His groundball rate is over 50 percent, so he likely is a better pitcher than he was before, but he is probably going to see some regression soon.
David Hernandez has had a strange season so far. He has a 5.40 RA9 despite excellent peripherals. Unsurprisingly, he has had terrible luck with a .362 BABIP and 59 percent strand rate. That combined with his 2.81 RA9 last year means that he likely will start seeing better results soon.
Jared Hughes was excellent last year with a 1.94 RA9 and 3.3 WAR, but he has predictably regressed this year, though a 3.38 RA9 is still pretty good. The most interesting thing about Hughes is that he might be a DIPS-beater. He has a career groundball rate over 60 percent, and his career 4.27 FIPRA9 (FIP on the RA9 scale) is over a run higher than his career 3.15 RA9.
As good as this pitching staff has been, it’s going to be difficult to keep it going in future seasons, and the offense needs a ton of work. They are not the Orioles or the Marlins, but the Reds still have their work cut out for them if they want to return to contention in the next few years.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.