Can Reds prospect Nick Lodolo outduel Vladimir Gutierrez for a spot in the rotation?

2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

Last season, the Cincinnati Reds finished seven games back in the Wild Card race - partly credit to the St. Louis Cardinals winning 17 straight games in the month of September. The Reds surely showed glimmers of a championship-caliber team. Productivity from the dazzling resurgence of Joey Votto, and a relentless lineup pushed the team to an elite level, but one thing’s for certain – it wasn’t enough.

The missing element was, to put it simply, effective pitching. The Reds collectively ranked 11th-worst in team ERA, and the starting rotation was deemed to be a contributing issue. Both Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle had fantastic seasons, while Luis Castillo put on a clinic during the second half. Sonny Gray was bombarded with injuries, but Vladimir Gutierrez looked questionable to say the least.

Could Nick Lodolo help this Reds rotation?

Nick Lodolo is a left-hander with a stated 6-foot-6, 205-pound frame. He throws a mid-90s fastball, an exceptional changeup with sharp downward action, and a stellar slider. The southpaw is known for dotting the corners of the strike zone, and moving through lineups quickly.

Commonly, the issue most minor league pitchers face is command. With velocity becoming a massive trend among young pitchers, a common result is an abundance of deep counts/walks - a factor that tormented the majority of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff.

Lodolo produced a modest 7.1% walk percentage to a spiffing 39.3% strikeout percentage, whish is well above-average in major additional categories including opposing batting average (.196), WHIP (0.91), LOB% (83%) and a Fielding Independent Pitching score (FIP) of only 1.63. In the midst of this success, Lodolo suffered a shoulder injury which limited him to just under seven innings of Triple-A ball.

This season looks promising for the southpaw, as he eyes a strong Triple-A performance, and a possible call-up later in the season. Injuries aren't a prominent concern at this point, as gaining experience in Louisville is his key priority. Per Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender via CBS Sports, Lodolo's shoulder is fully healed.

We were cautious last year. I think rightfully so, based on some of the other things that were happening...He looks completely healthy.
Shawn Pender via CBS Sports

Vladimir Gutierrez is similar to Lodolo in some aspects. Both hurlers offer a 4-seam fastball - resting in the low 90s, rely on their off speed to keep the hitters honest, and have the ability to throw deep into games.

Gutierrez will throw a curve into the mix, depending on if he can get a feel for it early in his start. What sets the two apart is Lodolo's ability to command the strike zone with authority, limit walks, and generate swings and misses.

"Damage control" wasn't common for Gutierrez last season, as his ERA spiked dramatically once a runner stepped on base. Let's take a look at his ERA as tough situations occur. Gutierrez's ERA sits at a low 2.29 without runners on, but balloons to a whopping 7.36 when a runner gets on base, and falls off the scale at 12.86 when runners are in scoring position - that's simply not getting the job done.

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If Lodolo can stay healthy, he can surely be a solid addition to this developing rotation, and would be a strong addition to the bullpen at the very least. Let's hope Vladimir Gutierrez figures things out in spring training, and Nick Lodolo continues to improve in Kentucky.