Your New Favorite Red: John Lamb

Sep 21, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher John Lamb (47) pitches to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the sixth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher John Lamb (47) pitches to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the sixth inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

John Lamb isn’t exactly a household name amongst Reds fans. Truthfully, if you stopped paying attention towards the end of last season, you might not even know who he is. For those unaware, Lamb was the least-heralded piece of the three that came back to Cincinnati in the Johnny Cueto trade.

That trade was centered around Brandon Finnegan, who was considered a Top 100 prospect before moving on to the majors, plus he has World Series experience at age 22.

The second piece in the trade, Cody Reed, has been one of the Reds’ most discussed prospects this winter and will likely find himself on most Top 100 lists when the 2016 season rolls around.

John Lamb was considered mostly a throw-in, and much of the talk about the deal revolved around Finnegan and Reed. However, it’s very possible that Lamb is the piece from this deal that helps the Reds most in 2016 and 2017.

First, a little background on Lamb.

He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Royals, and received little attention at the time. He was a bit of a soft-tosser, averaging around 88 mph on the gun with average breaking pitches and finicky control. He spent the 2009 season in rookie ball and finished with decent, albeit unexciting numbers. However, he made a big leap in 2010, decimating his Class A opponents to the tune of a 1.58 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine, and doing even better at the A+ level. At age 19, he was one of the younger pitchers in his league, and responded to his promotion by halving his ERA from the prior year. He went from maxing out at 91 to averaging 92, and even occasionally touching 96. People began to take notice.

He exploded from the Royals’ #7 prospect to the 18th best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America after the 2010 season. He had been named the best pitching prospect in the Carolina League that year, and scouts raved about his improved control and breaking pitches. Things were looking up.

Lamb’s minor league career would come to a screeching halt in 2011, though. He suffered a severe elbow injury that led to him requiring Tommy John surgery that summer. He returned to the mound in 2012, but was limited to 13 innings of a 6.92 ERA back in rookie ball. No longer was he throwing low-to-mid 90s. His fastball was clocked at around 88 in his initial outings, but that velocity fell as the season went on, and eventually averaged out at 84 or 85 miles-per-hour.

In 2013, Lamb was able to throw over 100 innings, but he still had not regained his velocity lost from Tommy John surgery, and ended up with an ERA near 6.00 split between Class A+ and AAA that season. Tommy John surgery had been perfected to the point that it was just considered a one year setback at that point, with most pitchers regaining or even exceeding their former velocity after the surgery. However, this was not the case for Lamb.

He clawed his way back to a decent season at AAA in 2014. While he was no longer thought of the potential ace of the future for the Royals–his name had been long erased from any top prospect lists–many thought that he could contribute at the major league level, either as a starter or a lefty reliever. 2015 was a strong, yet very under the radar return to form for Lamb. His velocity was back, and he had tremendous success at AAA. Despite this, many viewed him as more of a throw-in piece than a core component of the Johnny Cueto trade.

This leads us to his time in Cincinnati. He was called up in mid-August, and was a fixture in the rotation for the rest of the season. Although he went just 1-5, and his ERA was an unsightly 5.80, he still showed a lot in his 49.2 innings with the Reds. He displayed a wicked changeup, and his classic penchant for punching hitters out. His 10.51 K/9, 3.73 xFIP, and 3.56 SIERA all paint a much prettier picture than his 5.80 ERA, surely influenced by very poor luck as a BABIP near .400 would indicate.

John Lamb’s career to this point has been a story of ups and downs, and of highs and lows. So, why will John Lamb be one of your favorite Reds players next season? If given the chance–and the Reds’ don’t hastily move him to the bullpen based on his ERA in 49 innings last season–and he holds to his Steamer/ZIPS projections (an ERA in the mid 3.00s), he will be one of the Reds’ best starting pitchers next season, after Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani. We, as fans, love a good underdog, and it’s hard to imagine a better story on this team than John Lamb going from a guy throwing 85, who wasn’t even considered one of his team’s 30 best prospects, to a solid #3 MLB starter in just a couple of years time.