Why Graham Ashcraft’s ultimate destination may be the Reds bullpen

Graham Ashcraft's stuff would play up in the bullpen.
May 1, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft (51)
May 1, 2024; San Diego, California, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft (51) / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Graham Ashcraft had another mediocre start on Monday evening. He gave up three runs on seven hits, including two home runs in just four innings pitched. It's the second time the righty has given up multiple homers in a start this year and his ERA now sits at 4.12 on the season.

We've seen flashes of excellence from Ashcraft in the past. He had a strong start to 2023, and posted a 1.69 ERA in 29.1 innings last July. However, he hasn't been able to stretch that success out over an extended period.

Part of the reason why is that while Ashcraft is typically quite good the first time through the order, he's getting crushed when seeing batters the second and third time in an outing.

The third time through the order penalty has not been kind to Reds RHP Graham Ashcraft

Throughout his career, Ashcraft has a 3.06 ERA and a 3.69 FIP when facing batters for the first time in a game. Those numbers have mostly held true in 2024, as he has a 3.18 ERA the first time through, albeit with a slightly discouraging 4.31 FIP.

But those figures are in stark contrast with his results when facing batters multiple times. Over his career, Ashcraft has posted a 5.25 ERA the second time through the order, and a 5.72 ERA the third time through.

The 2024 season has actually been worse, as Ashcraft has posted a 6.10 ERA the third time through the order, and batters are hitting .356 with a .408 on-base percentage against him during those at-bats. Unfortunately, pitchers don't get better when facing batters a second or third time in an outing so there's probably not a ton of hope that this is a skill Ashcraft can learn.

Graham Ashcraft's future is likely in the Reds' bullpen

With a number of top pitching prospects set to make their debuts in the near future, it may be in the Reds best interest to move Ashcraft to the bullpen and see if he can maximize his skillset in shorter outings. His success the first time through the order is real, and he does have the stuff to be an effective pitcher.

One of the things he does really well is induce a ton of ground balls. His 51.4% ground ball rate is eighth highest among qualified pitchers this year. That's mainly due to his slider, which he's done an outstanding job of burying just off the plate. Batters are hitting just .106 with a .191 slugging percentage against the slider right now, and he's running an impressive 36.5% whiff rate on the pitch in 2024.

Ashcraft's cutter and sinker have been less effective than in years past, but when you strip away the second and third time through the order penalties, those pitches have been good enough to work.

Reds fans should expect to see Rhett Lowder, Chase Petty, and Connor Phillips making contributions in the major leagues within the next year or so. While Nick Lodolo's injury hinders the Reds ability to make this move immediately, they may need to shift Ashcraft to the bullpen soon in order to maximize his chances of success, and to help clear a path for that group of younger pitchers who stand as the prospective future in Cincinnati.

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