Logan Ondrusek is not a good pitcher. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate (A Christmas Carol reference…I thought it was funny.) In all seriousness, though, Ondrusek is not a good pitcher, and his above average 3.46 ERA last season was simply a product of one thing- luck. In reality, he was a mediocre to terrible pitcher last year and in this article I’m going to detail why I think he should be pitching for Louisville come 2013.
Last season, Ondrusek posted a less than impressive 5.44 FIP and a 5.39 xFIP. A concise way of explaining both FIP and xFIP is to say that it is an estimation of what the pitcher’s ERA should have been given neutral luck, and they are calculated in subtly different ways. For a detailed explanation, you can look here. I say less than impressive, but what I mean is that those numbers are absolutely terrible. In fact, behind Jeff Gray of the Minnesota Twins (who posted a 5.71 ERA in 2012, so he was significantly less lucky than Ondrusek), Ondrusek had the worst FIP and xFIP for any relief pitcher in the majors. I’m not normally a fan of using WAR for pitchers, but Ondrusek’s -0.9 mark out of the bullpen is such a standout that I absolutely have to mention it. Behind Josh Lindblom, this was, again, the second worst mark in the majors. So, why are Ondrusek’s advanced metrics so bad, and how did he skate away with a decent ERA in 2012?
Well, we have to start with Ondrusek’s “strikeout rate.” I use strikeout rate in quotations, because Ondrusek hardly struck anyone out last year. He had 39 strikeouts in 54.2 IP, giving him a 6.42 K/9, which was in the top 20 lowest for last season. His paltry strikeout rate wouldn’t be such a problem if his walk rate wasn’t so high. He walked 31 hitters in 54.2 innings last season, giving him a walk rate of 5.10 BB/9, one of the 7 worst in baseball. For reference, that’s a 39:31 K:BB, giving him a strikeout to walk rate of 1.26 which is absolutely awful, and was second worst in baseball behind Jeff Gray’s 1.18 mark.
We can see pretty clearly that Ondrusek’s problem isn’t just outlined in advanced metrics and stats, but even in standard stats. His WHIP of 1.50, coming as a result of all of the walks he gave up, was one of the 10 worst in baseball. I think we can now see what the problem will be with Ondrusek in 2013- if he keeps walking hitters at this rate, and his luck on balls in play runs out (his .265 mark in 2012 was well below average), we could see him post an ERA close to his FIP and xFIP marks, with a WHIP nearing 2. Bill James, Steamer, and ZiPS all see him as a pitcher who will post an ERA of around 4.50 next season, and that might be generous. Ondrusek seriously could be the worst relief pitcher in baseball next year, and the Reds would be smart to dodge that bullet before it’s even shot.
All of this information alone should be enough to condemn Ondrusek to Louisville, but there’s more. He also has some solid competition in J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra. Of the two, I believe that Hoover is the better pitcher, but Parra may be more useful for the 2013 season. I’ll explain what I mean later on.
J.J. Hoover absolutely dominated in the minor leagues last year. He is a career 2.98 ERA minor league pitcher, but this number may be skewed. For most of his minor league career, he has been used as a starter. Last year in Louisville was the first full season where he was used exclusively as a reliever, and the results showed. Even though he was pitching at the most competitive level of the minors, Hoover put up his best season in the minors by a long shot in 2012. In 37 innings, he posted a microscopic 1.22 ERA and a very impressive 13.4 K/9. This, understandably, earned him a callup in 2012. He continued in the majors where he left off in the minors, posting a 2.05 ERA with a 9.10 K/9 in 30.2 innings. He was able to limit his walks much better than Ondrusek in 2012 as well, as he only walked 13 hitters in 30.2 innings. There is a bit of a downside to Hoover, however. His 3.19 FIP and 4.40 xFIP were much less impressive than his ERA, and he won’t post a .195 BABIP again. If he were to pitch for the Reds in 2012, I’d peg him with an ERA of around 3 or so, which is still better than Ondrusek’s.
Manny Parra is a very interesting case. He is a career 5.12 ERA and 1.65 WHIP pitcher, both of which are awful. However, these numbers may be skewed a bit by the fact that he was a starter for most of his career before 2012. However, he was almost as bad in 2012, his first season pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, as he posted a 5.06 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. So, why am I even bringing him up? Well, I think he would be an awful choice for a long reliever (besides, Alfredo Simon already has that role) but for a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy), he could be a decent option in 2013. The Reds only have one lefty in their bullpen as of right now, and that’s Sean Marshall. The Reds could use Marshall as their LOOGY, but that would be a waste of his talent, in my opinion. He’s a pitcher who should be facing as many hitters as possible.
There are some signs that Parra could be at least an average LOOGY in 2012. For one, his stuff is just plain nasty. The problem is that he has a hard time controlling his pitches, with a walk rate of 5.37. However, even with his bad WHIP and walk rate, he still managed to strikeout hitters at a 9.36 clip. Working with one of the best pitching coaches in Bryan Price, he, like Simon last season, could really have a turnaround year. Parra has the stuff to succeed, but just needs more control, and I believe that working with Price could be very beneficial. However, even last year, Parra held lefties to a .229 average and .635 OPS. The problem was that he faced more righties than lefties, and righties hit almost .300 off of him, with an OPS of over .800. He also did a fantastic job of limiting home runs in the homer friendly Miller Park (actually, it was the only park more homer friendly than GABP last year) as he posted a HR/9 of 0.46. Parra’s BABIP was .345 in 2012, which is incredibly unlucky. In addition, his FIP and xFIP numbers were actually quite good, as he posted 3.62 and 4.11 marks respectively. If he can gain some control with the help of Price, his luck neutralizes, and he faces exclusively lefties (as a LOOGY), I could see Parra posting an ERA from 2.75-3.0.
It’s a tossup of who I would rather have between Hoover and Parra. Hoover has the better track record, but Parra has huge upside in a role that the Reds really need to fill. The one thing that I do know for sure, however, is that Logan Ondrusek should not have the remaining bullpen spot.