When a team is going as poorly as the Reds have been so far this season, it’s easy to pick out almost any player or group of players and lay some blame at their feet. For the first couple of weeks, especially, the team played a kind of inept baseball that Reds fans had never seen before.
As we’ve gotten a bit deeper into the season, things have started to normalize. This is baseball, after all, and no matter how bad a team is, they’re going to win more than 20 or 30 games over the course of a season. The offense, for instance, has been well above average for the last two weeks and, for the season, qualifies now as merely and mundanely below-average. Nothing historic to it. The bullpen has been very middle-of-the-road overall, and if you take out a couple of disastrous missteps in roster construction (cough, Gallardo, cough cough) it’s actually been very good.
And so that leaves us with the starting pitching. And the numbers aren’t pretty. A 5.24 ERA and -0.8 WAR are bleak, my friends. So bleak, in fact, that the Reds added Matt Harvey to the team this week, and it looks like he might actually get some starts. Now, I don’t want to say Harvey has been bad the last several years … but I will say it. He’s been terrible. Injuries suck for pitchers a lot of the time.
But the Harvey acquisition does tell us some significant things about what the Reds are thinking when it comes to starting pitching. A little bit of analysis can tell us even more about what fans should expect going forward.
The bad news is this: It’s probably time to close the book on Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and Anthony DeSclafani. Disco can’t get on the field. Finnegan and Bailey have also had their share of injuries, but they’ve also just been plain bad.
Bailey hasn’t had an ERA under 5.56 since 2014, and his peripherals don’t give us a lot of reason to be optimistic. He’s striking out only 5.19 batters-per-nine-innings this year, and that’s really bad in this strikeout era. Finnegan simply can’t get the ball over the plate and, over the course of his career, never really has.
Harvey has officially taken Finnegan’s spot, at least for the time being. That Finnegan has been sent to Louisville instead of the bullpen tells us that the Reds still think he has the potential to be a starter, and it would certainly be convenient if he could figure it out.
The Harvey trade also tells us that the organization thinks the ship has sailed on Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, both of whom continue to walk everyone in Louisville. At this point, those two have to show real results before they get another chance.
But wait, there’s hope! Because there are three pitchers we haven’t talked about yet: Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and Sal Romano.
We all saw enough of Castillo last year to become fully invested. Even with his hiccups this year, he still rates out as an above-average pitcher to start his career. What is perhaps most encouraging is that everyone identified the issue as mechanical, the issue was fixed, and in his last two outings he’s allowed just four runs and two walks while striking out 14 in 11.2 innings. That, as they say, will do.
Romano has had the best results, but also the worst peripheral numbers of the trio. That’s how baseball goes sometimes. His most recent start was excellent, though (6.0 IP, 1 run, 7 strikeouts), and everyone clearly believes in him after we saw him make necessary adjustments last year—something other prospects have failed to do.
And then there’s Mahle, least heralded but with the best results. He destroyed the league at every level in the minors. This early in the season, he’s still paying the price for a couple of weirdly bad starts in April, but six of his eight starts have been good ones and he’s flashed no-hit stuff a few times lately. His 3.86 ERA on the season isn’t shabby at all for a veteran, never mind a rookie.
The best part about those three? Mahle is 23, Romano is 24, and Castillo is 25. Which is to say, they figure to be good for a while. What remains to be seen is whether they’ll shake out to be a good top of the rotation or the Reds will need to bring in someone to fill the role of ace. Personally, I think either Mahle or Castillo would be a good bet to become a real ace.
So, yes, the pitching is going to get better, if only because Mahle, Castillo, and Romano are—as a group—better than they’ve shown to start the year. It’s becoming clear, however, that the Reds need another couple of starting pitchers who probably need to be acquired either via trade or the free agent market. The Reds need to recognize this need, and there will be nothing wrong with fans holding them accountable if they don’t address it.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.