Cincinnati Reds: Robert Stephenson was saved by the skin of his teeth

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 18: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds sits in the dugout after giving up a grand slam. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 18: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds sits in the dugout after giving up a grand slam. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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How many lives does Reds pitcher Robert Stephenson have left?

On Tuesday, the Cincinnati Reds designated Nate Jones for assignment. The move shouldn’t’ come as a shock, as the 34-year-old Jones wasn’t having a great season. However, it appeared the Reds had the opportunity to rid themselves of former first-round pick Robert Stephenson, but opted to send Jones packing instead.

Reds Country thought Stephenson’s time was up last spring. Following a 2018 season that saw the No. 27 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft go 0-2 with a 9.26 ERA, we thought for sure that Stephenson’s time in the Queen City had come to an end.

However, Stephenson parlayed that into his best season to date. In 2019, Robert Stephenson became one of David Bell’s most trusted relievers. Moving Bob Steve to the bullpen resulted in a career-best 125 ERA+, 1.3 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 11.3 SO/9. Stephenson’s 30.9% K-rate, according to FanGraphs, was his best as well.

This season, though he’s played in just nine games, Stephenson has improved his walk-rate (7.5%) from 2019. He’s also remained about the same in terms of his strikeout-rate. It’s the long ball that haunts Stephenson in his sleep, and has for years.

Last season, it appeared that Stephenson had put that aspect of his game behind him, but alas it’s reared its ugly head once more. Throughout the first three seasons of his major league career, Stephenson had a horrendous 1.6 HR/9. Last season, that number dropped to 1.3. This year, Stephenson’s HR/9 is sitting is at 8.0. Yikes!

Now, while that number is gaudy, it’s not entirely representative of what’s happened this season. After all, Bob Steve has only pitching in nine games, and the three consecutive homers he allowed on Saturday to the Chicago White Sox definitely inflated that stat. Still, Stephenson had allowed five home runs prior to that game in just eight innings of work. That’s 5.6 HR/9.

Before we lament the decision of the Cincinnati Reds to keep Robert Stephenson over Nate Jones, let’s not act as though Jones is a world-beater. The right-hander owned a -0.2 WAR, 6.25 ERA and 5.48 FIP. Your confidence level was about the same with Jones as it was with Stephenson. Jones, himself, had a 2.41 HR/9 according to FanGraphs.

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With Michael Lorenzen temporarily installed as part of the Reds starting rotation, the backend of the Cincinnati bullpen likely consists of Archie Bradley, Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias and Lucas Sims. Robert Stephenson’s future in Cincinnati might not become clear until Wade Miley returns to from the injured list.