Cincinnati Reds in Review: The Bullpen


It was once Dusty Baker who said, “The two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen—not necessarily in that order.” The Cincinnati Reds found out in 2014 that while they may all be good friends, as a collective unit, they were certainly not a good bullpen.

The statistics will be skewed in either direction due to phenomenal seasons from Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman, but also dragged down by poor seasons from J.J. Hoover, Manny Parra and Logan Ondrusek.

During certain parts of the year, manager Bryan Price looked helpless, knowing that he couldn’t go to the bullpen for fear of catastrophic implosion at any moment.

The Bullpen:


June 20 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Up 8-0 after two innings, the Reds lose 14-9 to Toronto. The combination of Jumbo Diaz, Jonathan Broxton, Aroldis Chapman and Sam LeCure (the best four relievers in the ‘pen this past season) allow nine earned runs over the course of three innings.

August 17 against the Colorado Rockies.   Leading 9-5 entering the bottom of the ninth, Chapman loses any and all wherewithal about where home plate is located. He walks four consecutive batters (all would score), before turning the game over to Hoover, who allows a walk-off three-run home run to former Red Drew Stubbs. They lose 10-9.

It doesn’t take long for another collapse–later that day in fact. Leading 5-2 as they stretched in Colorado, the Rockies go for eight runs and nine hits off Carlos Contreras and Manny Parra over the final two innings to win 10-5.

There were countless occasions this past season where the Reds bullpen made fans want to dig a ditch and hide in it. This has been a luxury the past few seasons. Prior to the transformation of the pitching staff as a whole at the turn of the decade, the Reds bullpen was a desolate place of misery and solitude.

Back in Spring Training when Aroldis Chapman took a line drive to the face from the destiny-fated Kansas City Royals, time seemed to slow down. The most pertinent issue was no longer who was the eighth inning man, but would one of their own return to the mound in 2014, if ever.

Chapman made a remarkable road back. He would pitch in only 54 games this season (exactly one-third of the team’s game) throwing exactly 54 innings. Yet, his numbers were better than ever. He allowed just a single home run all season long (to Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres to lose on May 13), his FIP was an absurdly low 0.89, he saved 35+ games for the third consecutive season, he made the All-Star team and struck out a Major League record 17.7 batters per nine innings.

In Chapman’s early season absence, the bullpen became an island of misfit toys. There was big Jonathan Broxton, who looked as if he belonged blocking a quarterback’s blindside opposed to coming out of relief. There was Sam LeCure, he of the quirky mustache and goatee, which albeit are impressive, but has a fastball that tops out in the low-90s, quite the opposite from what Chapman displays. Lastly, there was hope for J.J. Hoover. Described accurately as “country strong,” Hoover was coming off a magnificent 2013 season where he displayed a sub-three ERA in 66 innings of work. In 2014, in nearly the same amount of action, he was lucky to keep his ERA under five.

There was a who’s who cast down in the Cincinnati bullpen this past season, with many names that may never be heard from again, and many that will continue to be called upon.

Final Grade: C+


As dominant as Chapman and Broxton were for an extended period of time, they only pitched when the game was tight late. The rest of the time, it was open season on the fingernails, as no one knew what they would get on a nightly basis.

There seems to be three guarantees about the Reds bullpen heading into 2015: Aroldis Chapman, Jumbo Diaz and Sam LeCure. The rest will be on the front office to reconstruct one of the team’s glaring weaknesses from last year.