What to expect out of Tony Cingrani come 2015


The most important cog in the Cincinnati Reds rotation come 2015 may not be whom you expect. It isn’t one of the two highest paid starters, Johnny Cueto or Homer Bailey; it’s not their most consistent starter who’s in a contract season, Mike Leake; but rather Tony Cingrani, who will be looking to show that he not only belongs up on the major league club, but that he belongs in the rotation.

On a staff that is undoubtedly led by Cueto’s example, the rest of the staff now seeks to pick up the slack left by Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. It’s tough to imagine Cueto being any better than he was in 2014, so to expect him to improve even further seems unrealistic. Mike Leake has shown that he is steadiness personified, but not exactly a top of the rotation stalwart. And in terms of Homer Bailey, despite his $10 million payday in 2015, he will be coming off surgery to his arm that may hinder him for longer than anticipated. This leads us back to young Mr. Cingrani.

Some may have forgotten that Cingrani was initially the second starter in the Reds’ rotation last April. Due to Latos beginning the season on the disabled list, and Bailey needing an extra few days of rest, Cingrani got the ball against the St. Louis Cardinals in the second game of the season—also, Opening Night. He would be handed a no decision for his efforts, but he would toss seven scoreless innings, while striking out nine (a season-high).

Things would only go downhill from there. Shoulder fatigue would develop from a combination of over-throwing the fastball/putting too much focus on off-speed pitches. The entire 2014 season would basically become a wash for Cingrani who shut it down after he had lost eight games in just 63 major league innings and his shoulder could not improve.

Yet, coming into 2015, Cingrani’s individual success is as important to the club as ever before. Crash-landing onto the scene in 2013, it is still hotly debated as to where he belongs in the future (in my opinion, he still projects best in the bullpen). But what is undeniable, is that the Redlegs need him in the rotation come April 2015.

The narrative for Homer Bailey mirrors one of last year. Coming off the torn flexor mass tendon, when exactly he’ll be ready to go has still yet to be determined. Remember, Mat Latos was initially projected to just miss “a start or two” at the beginning of last season, and didn’t make his debut until June, thus the berth of the Alfredo Simon legend.

With Bailey potentially on the shelf to begin the year, that leaves just Cueto and Leake as guarantees, with Cingrani the next closest thing to it. The battle for the fifth starter will wage on far into Spring Training, but for whatever reason, it has been largely accepted that Cingrani will be the fourth starter in the rotation.

A key for Cingrani not only keeping his spot in the rotation, but having success once there, will be getting swings and misses and keeping opposing batters away from making contact. His fastball has been described as having “life,” or, “jumping on” hitters. His motion is deceptive, so despite the fact that he doesn’t throw triple digits, it almost appears as if he does. A slight reason his numbers took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2014 was the fact that batters were putting the ball in play more often that before. In 2013, his Balls put into Play percentage was 22.6%, compared with a significant jump up to 27.5% this past year.

With the ability of the Reds’ defenders behind him, it seems logical to want to pitch to contact. But as supporters in Reds Country can understand, Great American Ball Park isn’t always the most conducive venue to letting hitters make contact. In fact, the defense has bailed out Cingrani over the past two years. In 2013 when his ERA ended up just south of three at 2.92, his FIP, which basically projects what a pitcher’s ERA would be minus the defense he had, put him at 3.78. It was even uglier in 2014, whereas his ERA was 4.55, but FIP had him penned down for 5.37.

For as fancy as some of these statistics may seem in figuring out where Cingrani can improve, it may all eventually lead back to the place right between his ears. In 228.2 innings in his minor league career, Cingrani posted a record of 16-6 with a 1.65 ERA and a WHIP south of one. Were he to ever deliver a season like that at the big league level, he’d be in immediate conversation for the Cy Young Award. Those are what we like to call, “Clayton Kershaw numbers.”

The point being, this professional baseball thing has come easy to Cingrani thus far. He set southern Ohio ablaze in 2013 when he came up to the show and made his impact felt. By being severely setback in 2014, he faced his first adversity as a professional.

There is no question that Cingrani will be presented with every opportunity imaginable to make this rotation out of spring camp. If for some reason he does not, he’ll almost assuredly be a member of the bullpen.

No longer is the narrative about when will Cingrani arrive, but rather it’s now about when will he begin to dominate like he always has?