What’s up with the Reds’ rotation?

This year, the Reds are supposed to be a good team with a solid, deep rotation. So far, no dice. The Reds are only a game over .500 as I write this and they came out of the spring with two starters on the DL.

Fortunately, Homer Bailey is back and Johnny Cueto is about to be, but everyone who’s started (except maybe Bronson Arroyo) has been looking pretty shaky. But look beyond ERA and it appears that the Reds rotation is highly unlikely to keep this up.

Ignore for a moment the coming of Bailey and Cueto. First, I want to look at some team numbers. Right now, the Reds sport a team ERA of 4.59. However, their FIP is 4.19 and their xFIP is an even better 3.72. A quick look at the peripherals tells you why. The team has issued a few too many walks, but their pitchers also have struck out more than their share, so the K/BB ratio is good. The home run rate is a tad high at 12.5 percent, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t come down. Basically, the Reds as a team have simply been unlucky, but now let’s take the time to look at individuals in the starting rotation and see if we can tease out who has had the worst luck. Here’s a nice table for that:

Pitcher         IP     ERA       FIP     xFIP
Arroyo         36.2    4.17     4.44     3.73
LeCure         21.2    4.57     4.44     3.33
Volquez        33.1    5.67     5.82     4.12
Leake          34.1    5.77     4.08     3.32
Wood           37.2    6.21     3.21     3.64

There are a few things that jump out about this table. First, Bronson Arroyo is Bronson Arroyo. He is more or less average and he’s going to be until he falls apart one of these years. He’s the definition of a No. 3 starter. The second is that Sam LeCure has done all right for someone who is, at best, seventh on the current depth chart .

After LeCure, it starts to get interesting. Look at the difference between Edinson Volquez’s FIP and xFIP. Where does that come from, you ask? How about his 24.1 percent homer/fly ball rate? His first-inning issues have been well documented, but his real problem is that absurd and unsustainable percentage. He is, frankly, a much better pitcher than he seems.

Mike Leake and Travis Wood provide a similar conundrum. Both are still very young and relatively inexperienced, so we don’t know who they really are, but every number beyond ERA says they are pretty good. The problem is that Wood and Leake both have strand rates around 60 percent and that number is about as sustainable as Volquez’s HR numbers.

Three-fifths of this rotation has been ridiculously unlucky and, as a result, the Reds have scuffled. Given that the hitting has been in line with what we’d expect (a few hitters over-performing, a few under), and that two of their better pitchers are just now getting the chance to make an impact, the Cardinals should keep an eye on the rearview mirror. I don’t think the Reds are likely to be in second for long.

Jason teaches high school English, writes fiction, runs a small writing program and writes about education and literature. He also writes for Redleg Nation and both writes and edits for The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @JasonLinden, visit his website or email him here.
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Chris Cropper
11 years ago

Good stuff as always Dr. Linden.

I’d like to see a similar comparison with the Cardinals rotation – how sustainable is what Kyle Lohse is doing for example.