Cincinnati Reds: David Bell’s approach with the pitching staff is working

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 10: David Bell #25 of the Cincinnati Reds walks off the field after making a pitching change during the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on May 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 10: David Bell #25 of the Cincinnati Reds walks off the field after making a pitching change during the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on May 10, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /
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David Bell may be a rookie manager, but he’s handled the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff with a touch of a veteran skipper. Will the positive results continue?

Surprise is not a strong enough word to describe the numbers of the 2019 Cincinnati Reds pitching staff. Entering play on Sunday, the Reds’ staff has allowed the fewest home runs in the National League with 79 and the 572 hits allowed are the second fewest in the senior circuit.  In addition, Cincinnati hurlers are second in the NL with 3.55 ERA and strikeouts with 719.

When you compare the numbers to last year, it’s like night and day. The 2018 pitching staff allowed the most homers and hits in the National League by a wide margin. As far as ERA and strikeouts are concerned the Reds placed 14th among the 15 NL clubs. So what’s changed?

Obviously the additions of starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark have had a positive impact. A new manager in David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson have exposed the club to  different leadership , but could anyone have envisioned this type of transformation? The answer is a resounding no.

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Bell has earned the reputation of being Captain Hook for his tendency to remove starters at the first sign of trouble. A quick glance at the numbers supports this theory and both Tanner Roark and Tyler Mahle have been critical of their skipper about being lifted early. Despite ranking 2nd in the NL, Reds’ starters have only tossed 403 innings which ranks 11th among National League rotations.

Reds’ starters in 2019 are averaging less than 6 innings per outing which is basically what the 2018 staff tossed. As a matter of fact, not one starter on the current staff is averaging 6 innings per start and this is good thing.

The first 2 times through the opponents order, Reds’ starters are holding the opposition to an anemic .224/.295/.365 slash line. Once the starters reach the 5th and 6th innings, those numbers increase dramatically.

The third time through the lineup has been a struggle for Reds starters. Opponents are producing a slash line of .280/.371/.466.  The question then becomes, will the lack of the staff going deep into games negatively impact the bullpen?

David Bell’s philosophy has been if you have the best pen in the league, you might as well use it. Remarkably, the Reds bullpen has been ever better than the rotation. The unit leads National League bullpens with a 3.39 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and a 78.1 LOB%. Even with the starters going less than 6 innings per contest, the 263 frames accumulated by the bullpen ranks just 8th in the NL.

Projections for the duration of the 2019 season seem to indicate the bullpen should be just fine. Even though 3 relievers (Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and David Hernandez) rank in the Top 10 in the National League in appearances, the Cincinnati Reds should continue to receive similar results from at least two of David Bell’s favorites.

Left-hander Amir Garrett has been brilliant this season. The 27-year-old leads the relief corps with a 13.2 K/9 rate and a 92.8% LOB mark. Currently, Garrett is on pace to make 82 appearances, however, he would only toss a little more than 71 innings. Considering that he took the mound 66 times in 2018 and threw 63 innings, it’s not a huge ask to slightly increase that workload this year.

Right-hander Michael Lorenzen has also played a huge part in the bullpen’s resurgence. Mikey Biceps has taken the hill 35 times and tossed 39.1 innings. Over the last 4 seasons Lorenzen has thrown 113.1, 50, 83 and 81 innings respectively. His current pace  of 84 innings for 2019 is right in line with the numbers from the 2016-2018 campaigns.

If there’s a best candidate to expect regression from in the second half it’s David Hernandez. The 34-year-old, like Lorenzen, has toed the rubber 35 times in 2019. Hernandez is on pace to toss 74 innings this year, which is a number he hasn’t reached since 2010 and has only accumulated that many innings twice in his 10-year career.

Fortunately, the Reds have multiple options to call upon should David Hernandez falter down the stretch. Veterans Jared Hughes, Matt Bowman, and Zach Duke have all logged at least 75 games in a previous season. Not to mention, the Reds most dangerous bullpen weapon, closer Raisel Iglesias, has only tossed 31.2 innings in 2019.

There is nothing to indicate the pitching staff can’t replicate their success for the remainder of the 2019 season. Bear in mind, left-handed starter Alex Wood is a mere few weeks away from his 2019 debut, which should strengthen the staff even more.

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Though fans will complain about David Bell’s quick hook, what he and pitching coach Derek Johnson have accomplished is nothing short of amazing and they’re just getting started. The original Captain Hook, former Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, would be proud.