Baseball season is almost over, and, as has been the case for a few years, the question for Reds fans is: Will next year be any better?
Yes. It will.
In fact, I genuinely believe the Reds will be vastly improved next year. They may even contend for a wildcard spot. I’ll make this case in two columns: Today, I’m focusing on the pitching rotation, and in a couple of weeks, you’ll see one about position players.
Okay, let’s tackle this. The starting pitching has been beyond terrible this year. You know this. As has been said in other corners, if Tim Adleman leads your team in innings pitched, it’s gonna be a rough year (which isn’t meant as a put down of Adleman, but he’s not a top-of-the-rotation pitcher).
But the season is long and things change. In the first half, the Reds starters had an FIP (fielding independent pitching—basically ERA if you cancel out the fielding) of 5.95; in the second half, it’s sitting at 4.79. That’s a big swing. Granted, it took them only from being bad in a biblical way to being bad in a merely below-average way. But it’s something.
Now consider this: Luis Castillo will be in the rotation next year. Castillo had a 3.12 ERA in half a season of work this year and it’s not smoke and mirrors. He strikes a lot of guys out and doesn’t walk nearly as many. Extended to a full season, his numbers this year would translate to something close to 4.0 WAR, which is a strong second starter or weak first starter. And he’s a rookie.
Tyler Mahle will be in the rotation next year. We didn’t get to see too much of him in Cincy this year, but he had absolutely sparkling numbers in the minors and doesn’t turn 23 until October. He’s a second or third starter (maybe better).
Sal Romano should be in the rotation next year. After some early struggles, he’s had five solid starts in a row (not a thing to be taken for granted on this year’s team) and has gotten his ERA down to 4.54. League average for a starter this year is 4.50, so that makes him a typical third starter.
And just like that, the Reds have three average or better starters for next year. On paper.
There are, of course, a lot of names I haven’t mentioned. Let me start with the big three: Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan should all, in theory, be in the rotation. However, to this point, they’ve combined to throw a total of 87.1 innings this year. Almost all of those by Bailey, whose results we can generously describe as “mixed.” They can’t at this point be counted on to stay healthy, as individuals. As a group, I’m willing to pencil them in for one rotation spot’s worth of starts with a below-average performance. That is, these three together, I think, can be counted on to be the fourth starter. If they do better, well, that’s just gravy.
That leaves the other four notable prospects. Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis, and Cody Reed have all had rough years. Reed seems to be consigned to the bullpen, so he’s probably not a real candidate. Stephenson has shown flashes, but has never really managed his control. Garrett has apparently been hurt much of the year, and Davis has, too.
It’s reasonable, I think, to assume the Reds can get a fifth starter from this group, but that leaves the rotation a little shaky. And we haven’t talked about the fact that the Reds have acknowledged that they’ll be shopping for a pitcher this offseason—and not just a Scott Feldman type.
So let’s take them at their word and assume they make a big splash. I’ll throw out the name Yu Darvish simply because he’s the biggest name on the market, but there are several pitchers who could be subbed in via sign or trade, and you’re welcome to pick your favorite.
As it stands now, we can reasonably expect this rotation next year:
You can squint and make that work, but there’s no real anchor there. Now, if the Reds make a splash, you get this:
- Darvish/Big Name Acquisition
That’s a lot better. The other guys then make the bullpen or provide depth at Louisville. But what if something goes right and DeSclafani, for instance, comes back fully healthy and ready to go? Well, then you end up with Romano as extra depth and a top four that is going to scare plenty of teams.
This year was a disaster for the Reds, but now that we’ve gotten to the end of it, we do have a better sense of which pitchers can cut it. That it’s not the guys we all thought it might be isn’t all that surprising. After all, we all remember when Jay Bruce was going to be a Hall of Famer and Joey Votto was going to be a nice, solid first baseman.
The Reds absolutely can field a competitive rotation next year, and if they’re willing to spend money, they might end up with a damn good one.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.