Cincinnati Reds: Tanner Roark will make surprising contributions

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Starting pitcher Tanner Roark #57 of the Washington Nationals works the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on August 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Starting pitcher Tanner Roark #57 of the Washington Nationals works the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on August 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The additions of Alex Wood and Sonny Gray got most of the publicity this offseason for the Cincinnati Reds. But, Tanner Roark could be a pleasant surprise.

Throughout the Winter Meetings, the Cincinnati Reds were said to be heavily involved in talks with players and teams in an effort to make the 2019 season better. When the meetings adjourned, the Reds came away with only Tanner Roark. Though the move now seems minimal with the additions of Sonny Gray and Alex Wood, the acquisition of Roark is likely to pay big dividends next season.

On the final day of the Winter Meetings, Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams and GM Nick Krall decided to finally make a move to improve the team’s starting pitching. The Reds made a swap with the Washington Nationals and sent Tanner Rainey to D.C. in exchange for Tanner Roark.

At the time, nobody knew that the team’s executives had another deal cooking for Los Angeles Dodgers’ starter Alex Wood. Nor did folks know that the rumors surrounding the Reds’ interest in Sonny Gray would eventually come to fruition along with a 3-year extension.

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At the time of the trade, Roark’s addition was welcome, especially at the expense of a player who looked to have a minimal role on the 2019 season. Heck, Rainey had a 24.43 ERA in the 7 innings he pitched in 2018. It was highly unlikely he was going to be a major part of the 2019 squad.

However, now with Wood and Gray in the fold, along with the up and coming Luis Castillo, Roark’s addition seems to have fallen off radar. Most of the fans focus as pitchers and catchers get set to report to Goodyear, Arizona appears to be focused on who the fifth starter will be. While Roark may end up slotted as the No. 4 pitcher in the Reds rotation, I could very easily see Roark being the second-best pitcher on the club next season.

First off, it’s a contract year for Tanner Roark. In any sport, when an athlete has the opportunity to show every team in the league how good they can play before they enter free agency, they do it. Sometimes it leads certain players to press a little bit too much, but I don’t expect to see that from the 32-year-old.

Roark, by his standards had a bad season in 2019. The right-hander went 9-15 with a 4.34 ERA. While losses are an overinflated stat in today’s era of baseball, the 15 losses by Roark were the most among any pitcher in the National League last season. Even so, the veteran still owned a 3.4 WAR and worked 180.1 innings, his third straight season of 180-plus innings pitched and the fourth time in the last five years he’s done that. Roark is an innings-eater.

Roark is just two years removed from a 2016 season that saw him dominate opposing batters. That season, Roark went 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, and a 48.7% ground ball rate. That coincided with his lowest HR/9 since his rookie season of 2013. If Roark is to have success in Great American Ball Park, he’s going to have to keep the ball down in the zone.

Roark has a devastating slider that he used for his out-pitch. Opposing batters were only able to slash .139/.158/.264 with a 23.4% strikeout rate. Though Roark had his struggles early in 2018, from July 25th through August 25th, he was lights out.

During that seven game stint, Roark went 5-1 with a 1.61 ERA and opposing hitters only hitting .204 off him. For comparison’s sake, Luis Castillo put up similar numbers in his final 7 starts, going 4-2 with a 2.09 ERA and opponent only hitting .197. If Reds’ fans are excited about the way La Piedra closed out 2018, they should be equally excited with the numbers Roark put up during that stretch.

Roark’s career-high 40.7% ground ball percentage in 2018 if he has any hope of surviving hitter-friendly GABP. Roark entered last season as the No. 2 starter for the Nats, but by the time the season was done, he’d fallen behind the likes of Jeremy Hellickson and Stephen Strasburg in Washington’s rotation.

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Tanner Roark has a great opportunity in 2019. Having racked up so many innings throughout his career, the bullpen will get a bit of breather when Roark takes the hill, knowing that he knows how to right the ship if he gets in trouble early. While easily forgotten now with the other additions to the starting rotation, don’t be shocked if Roark becomes the best pitcher for the Reds in 2019.