Cincinnati Reds: Can Robert Stephenson recover under new coach Derek Johnson?

MIAMI, FL - JULY 27: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during a game against the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 27: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during a game against the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Derek Johnson was one of the first and perhaps most important coaching hires the Cincinnati Reds have made. Can he help the beleaguered Robert Stephenson?

The Cincinnati Reds have tried to be patient with Robert Stephenson, almost to a fault. But it’s time for the talented right-hander to put up or shut up. Will the Reds’ new pitching coach, Derek Johnson, be able to have success and get the most out of Stephenson? Or will Johnson, like others before him, fail to find a way to help Stephenson translate his success in the minors to the Major League level?

Robert Stephenson, more so than perhaps any player on the Reds roster, presents such a mystery to Cincinnati fans and personnel alike. How can someone so talented not put it all together? Stephenson played in 4 games last season with 3 starts and had an ERA of 9.26 and a WHIP of 2.486. Yikes!

It was honestly a miracle for Stephenson that he wasn’t hung out to dry this past week and cut loose from the Reds 40-man roster. If Cincinnati had more players to protect than just Jimmy Herget, it’s my opinion that either he or Brandon Finnegan would’ve been sent packing.

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Stephenson will be 26-years-old before the start of next season. The Reds drafted Stephenson in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Michael Lorenzen, and Alex Brandino have all made the transition from first-round pick to Major League level and were all drafted after 2011.

Tyler Stephenson, Jeter Downs, Hunter Greene, Taylor Trammell, Nick Senzel, and Jonathan India have all been drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds since 2015 and all appear to be on track to making a splash at the Major League level in the very near future.

The only recent first-round selections by the Reds who haven’t made it to the Majors or are not on track to do so are Nick Howard and Nick Travieso. Howard has been riddled with injuries over the past few seasons, but finally returned last season to pitch for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Travieso, also has struggled with injuries the past two seasons and was outrighted off the 40-man roster last season.

Robert Stephenson is out of options. So this is his last chance. The Reds thought that last year Stephenson had made enough strides to finally stick at the Major League level. Stephenson went 11-6 at Triple-A Louisville with a 2.87 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 20 starts with the Bats. Before being called up to the Reds, his final seven starts yielded a 1.23 ERA. This was it. It appeared that Stephenson had finally figured it out. But, it was not to be.

As we mentioned, Robert Stephenson struggled in all three starts. Most notably with his command. Stephenson walked 5 batters in his first start against the New York Mets, 4 walks were issued against the Cleveland Indians, and he gave a free pass to 3 opposing hitters in Milwaukee. That’s 12 walks to only 10 strikeouts. There’s no way for any pitcher to survive at the MLB level if he walks as many batters as Stephenson did.

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Derek Johnson was brought in to improve one of the worst pitching staffs in the National League. Since taking over as the Brewers pitching coach in 2016, Milwaukee saw their ERA improve from 4.28 in 2015 to 3.73 last season.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, players like Jhoulys Chacin improve in nearly every category from 2017 to 2018. Chacin lowered his ERA from 3.89 to 3.50 and his WHIP from 1.270 to 1.163. Wade Miley signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee and produced the best ERA of his career. Jeremy Jeffress returned to the Brewers in a trade during the 2017 season and struck out more batters last season than any time in his career.

Does Johnson deserve all the credit for the turnaround with the Brewers pitching staff? No, but there’s no denying that under his instruction Milwaukee’s pitching improved by leaps and bounds. The Brewers now have an above-average pitching staff and were one win away from the World Series last season.

Will Johnson bring that same success to Cincinnati? The Reds sure as heck hope so. No one, however, needs more help putting it all together than Robert Stephenson. He is loaded with unlimited potential and talent, but he’s never been able to produce at the Major League level.

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Derek Johnson was a fantastic addition to David Bell‘s staff and one that the Cincinnati Reds hope can help turn one of the worst starting rotations in the league into one of the best. If Johnson is able to wield his magic and transform Stephenson into, at the very least, a serviceable starting pitcher, then he will have done something that no one has been able to since he was drafted.