The Pitching Problem

The Cincinnati Reds have problems.  These problems are myriad and have been discussed on BRM as well as countless other Reds blogs and fan tweets.  Earlier today Alex gave an excellent evaluation of how the Reds should retool for 2012 and aside from a few minor tweaks I tend to agree with his ideas for the future.

The problem that I intend to illuminate is one that has been suggested often but hasn’t been given the focus it deserves.  Reds pitching is good until it isn’t.  On its face this sounds a bit absurd; of course, you say, all pitching is good or is not good but that is not what I mean.  Reds pitching this season, aside from the terrible lack of preparation to start games in the first inning, suffers from the starters ability to pitch through 6, and preferably 7 innings.

In order to shine light on this subject, take a look at this table comparing NL pitching staffs accumulated innings pitched divided into starters and relievers.  The numbers may not be as you would expect.

Team Games Starter IP IP/G ERA Reliever IP IP/G ERA Run Support/Game
Average 1840 11079/2 6.02 3.99 5426/2 2.95 3.60 4.2
Arizona 115 707/1 6.15 4.15 320/0 2.78 3.83 4.5
Atlanta 116 693/1 5.98 3.66 369/2 3.19 2.92 4.1
Chicago 115 645/1 5.61 5.12 367/1 3.19 3.87 4.1
Cincinnati 115 684/2 5.95 4.50 355/2 3.09 3.47 4.7
Colorado 116 680/1 5.86 4.38 355/0 3.06 4.23 4.6
Florida 115 668/1 5.81 4.28 367/2 3.2 3.33 4
Houston 115 685/0 5.96 4.72 326/0 2.84 4.28 3.8
Los Angeles 114 704/1 6.18 3.73 302/2 2.66 4.04 3.7
Milwaukee 115 693/1 6.03 3.91 327/1 2.85 3.82 4.5
New York 114 693/1 6.08 4.04 323/1 2.84 4.20 4.5
Philadelphia 115 760/2 6.61 2.95 285/1 2.48 3.37 4.4
Pittsburgh 114 677/1 5.94 3.89 354/1 3.11 3.38 3.8
San Diego 116 693/1 5.98 3.56 351/2 3.03 2.92 3.7
San Francisco 116 713/2 6.15 3.33 341/0 2.94 2.93 3.4
St. Louis 115 709/1 6.17 3.91 327/1 2.85 3.77 4.8
Washington 114 670/0 5.88 3.94 351/1 3.08 3.46 3.9

Everyone knows Roy Halliday and Co. can pitch.  The Phillies are the only starting staff with an ERA under 3.00 in addition the average Philadelphia starter pitches 6.61 innings per start.  They pitch over an out deeper into each and every game than any other team in the National League.  The Giants, with a 3.33 ERA join the Phillies as the only two teams under a 3.50 ERA.  Quite a competitive advantage.  While Milwaukee is not close to the Giants or Phillies starting success; in the starter challenged National League Central, the Brew Crew only needs to be better than the competition.

Let’s order the Central ERA’s, innings pitched and run support.

NL Central Starting Pitching
Team ERA Team IP/G Team Run Support
Pirates 3.89 Cardinals 6.17 Cardinals 4.8
Brewers 3.91 Brewers 6.03 Reds 4.7
Cardinals 3.91 Astros 5.96 Brewers 4.5
Reds 4.50 Reds 5.95 Cubs 4.1
Astros 4.72 Pirates 5.94 Pirates 3.8
Cubs 5.12 Cubs 5.61 Astros 3.8

When looking at this table the orders are important but not nearly as critical as the gaps.  The gap with the most significance is in ERA between the Cardinals and Reds.  This fact alone explains why the Reds can’t compete.  The Pirates problem is with run support.  They have the pitching but not the bats.

The relief numbers are also instructive.

NLC Relief Pitching
Team ERA Team IP/G
Pirates 3.38 Astros 2.84
Reds 3.47 Brewers 2.85
Cardinals 3.77 Cardinals 2.85
Brewers 3.82 Reds 3.09
Cubs 3.87 Pirates 3.11
Astros 4.28 Cubs 3.19

It is popular to say that one of the Reds problems is the relief corps but as the QRO has also proven, this is not true.  Both the Reds and the Pirates have strong bullpen ERAs and are only weakened by overuse.  The Brewers and the Cardinals bullpens are not worked nearly as hard as those in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh providing yet another advantage against bullpens that perform well.

The Reds pitching equation this year revolved around expectations of the work provided by Edinson Volquez and Bronson Arroyo.  Neither have met the expectations of Reds fans.  Arroyo is in a similar situation as Aaron Harang last season.  The Reds might be able to trade him, but only to a team with fast outfielders in a monstrous outfield such as San Diego or San Francisco.  Otherwise the home runs he allows simply overwhelm the innings he can provide.

The Reds are not far from the mark.  All they seem to need is to lower the starter ERAs by half a run.  Sounds tougher than it probably is.  When you consider the Reds starter ERA is 4.50, only Johnny Cueto (2.06), Mike Leake (3.92) and  Dontrelle Willis (3.41) pitch better.  Package a deal for Travis Wood, Volquez, and/or Arroyo and find a groundball pitcher and results should immediately improve.

This suggestion is predicated on maintaining a solid defensive front with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Scott Rolen (in spite of his reduced hitting effectiveness).  Yonder Alonso‘s offensive ability may lure some into his spell but in my mind he should be added into the trade bait for a quality replacement.  In his case he should be quite alluring for an American League team looking for an improvement at designated hitter.  I see no chance for him to be a viable option in the field.  He bears a striking resemblance to former Red Hal McRae who went on to great success as one of the most prolific DHs to play the game.  Considering Adam Dunn‘s difficulties on the White Sox, they might be an interested trading partner.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

Tags: Atlanta Braves Chicago Cubs Chicago White Sox Houston Astros Milwaukee Brewers National League Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates Relief Pitching St Louis Cardinals Starting Pitching

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