Though there is much clambering about moving Raisel Iglesias back to the starting rotation next season, and it makes sense to have the best arms as a starter, Iglesias has just as much value (if not more) in his current role.
In the traditional line of baseball thinking, teams use their best reliever for save situations or keep them dormant until the ninth inning. However, that situation could be mild compared to a more pressure packed situation earlier in the game when the bullpen is needed.
Whether it is on purpose, or circumstances forced his hand, Bryan Price created a perfect storm with Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen this season. With his use of the two, it is no surprise that the Reds bullpen got significantly better once the duo came back from injury for the second half of the season. Sure, infusing two of your better arms into the ‘pen at the same time will make any unit better, but it was also how they were used.
Since returning from the DL on June 21, Iglesias posted a 1.31 ERA in 30 relief appearances. His WHIP numbers were down and his K/9 totals were up slightly from his five starts prior to the shoulder injury. Working out of the bullpen both lightened Iglesias’ workload, but he was also able to dominate hitters with an arsenal of pitches that most relievers simply don’t generally possess.
Lorenzen also began as a reliever to ease his workload when he returned from the DL on June 24. In 34 appearances in 2016, Lorenzen cut his ERA in half from his role as a starter from the season before. Additionally, his K/9 numbers went up by nearly two. His walks and WHIP numbers also fell significantly. Lorenzen’s stuff showed to play as a dominant reliever as well.
Price was, for the most part, able to alternate multiple innings between the two relievers on different days. This allowed him to use his best two arms out of the bullpen more often and shorten games for the starters. It is no coincidence that the Reds started winning more games after this occurred as well.
If Iglesias’ shoulder does not allow him to hold up to the rigors of starting, the consistent opinion is that he has to fill the ninth inning role left by Aroldis Chapman. However, why save your best pitcher for an end of game situation that may not even happen if there is a more high leverage situation earlier in the game?
In addition, with the versatility of Iglesias and Lorenzen, they can work in the high pressure spot, and even a second inning on top of that in the same game.
The Reds bullpen clearly has holes, but it also has a huge strength with this duo. The starting rotation looks fairly set with Dan Straily, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan heading up the rotation. That leaves several other strong arms to supplement an already strong beginning to a 2017 bullpen. One has to figure that Homer Bailey can be penciled into the rotation for next year as well. Bailey would also be unlikely to be happy about a bullpen assignment. That makes four of the five starters set, barring injuries.
Starting pitching depth is always a necessity, giving Tim Adleman, Josh Smith, and Keyvius Sampson value. John Lamb would also fit that role if his elbow injury is not major. Three young arms in Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, and Amir Garrett could figure into the equation. Though both Reed and Stephenson have electric stuff, questions surround them as well. With those questions, giving one or both of them a run to start in the bullpen may not be that crazy of an idea. A shorter sample size could play up Reed’s stuff enough to allow less solid contact and Stephenson to throw more strikes.
If you start with the stuff that Iglesias, Lorenzen, and either/both of Reed and Stephenson have, there is the makings of a potentially dominant bullpen to go with strong starting pitching. Though inconsistent, Tony Cingrani and Jumbo Diaz could round up that bullpen nicely.
With Adleman, Smith, Lamb, and Sampson for starting pitching depth and potential long relief, the Reds will also have prospects that are likely coming up to Triple-A from Pensacola this season. Those include Nick Travieso, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis, Tyler Mahle, and Jackson Stephens. There will certainly be spot starts to go around and some of these pitchers could be available for those by the second half.
With Iglesias and Lorenzen in the bullpen, the Reds have a more rounded pitching staff, if they are utilized correctly. Over the second half of the 2016 season, they have been. The versatility of relievers give a manager more options, and do not count the Reds’ pitching staff out for significant improvement next season.