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Monday, March 16, 2015

Tony Cingrani to the bullpen

Tony Cingrani could be a weapon for the Reds out of
the bullpen this season.  But does it matter if the game
is already out of hand?
Photo credit: Patrick Reddick
There was big news out of Goodyear today when Bryan Price, for the first time since last season, indicated that Tony Cingrani is destined for the pen.  Some quotes from Doug Miller's article:
"It means that we're going to get Iglesias stretched out, and as of right now, we're looking at Tony as more of a relief option than as a starting option," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We have to find a way to get out of the gates strong, and at this point in time, the feeling was that organizationally, Tony's better suited for us at the moment as a relief pitcher."
"We want to keep him strong and healthy, and we've had a hard time doing that the last two years. … So one of the things that we hope is that pitching out of the bullpen will allow him to be strong and remain strong, and then evaluate if we think it's a good idea to look at him as a starter in the future."
As I wrote last season, Cingrani has seen some fairly dramatic fluctuations in his fastball velocity in his short big-league career.  When throwing out of the pen in 2013, he showed about a 2 mph jump in velocity.  And last year, just before he went on the DL, he showed a severe loss in velocity, and struggled with arm problems the rest of the season.

In a lot of ways, moving Cingrani to the bullpen makes a lot of sense.  First, he's left-handed.  With Chapman the closer and Marshall perpetually injured, the only lefty the Reds have in the bullpen available in the late innings is Manny Parra.  Second, he is exactly the kind of guy that you'd expect to do really well in the pen: he has a fairly limited repertoire highlighted by an explosive fastball that he has already demonstrated that he can throw harder in shorter stints.  Third, as Price indicated, perhaps a move to the pen will be easier on his arm, allowing him to stay healthy and have a longer, more productive career.

That said, as Doug pointed out, he's had good success as a MLB starter despite his apparent limitations.  In 157 career MLB innings as a starter, he has a 3.78 xFIP and has struck out more than a batter per inning.  Steamer projects him for a 3.66 ERA, while ZiPS projects him for a 3.98 ERA.  I sort of expected the Reds to let him pitch his way out of the role, but that's not in the cards.

Still, given that the Reds have DeScalfani and Iglesias as viable options for #4 and #5 starters, and can fill in for Homer Bailey with one of the veteran replacement player cogs in camp, I can be on board with them shifting Cingrani to the pen to start the season.

But then Price said this:
"The thing is, when we have veteran guys like Marquis and Maholm, you're not going to use them for one start," Price said. "If they're going to be on our team, the hope is that they're on our team for an entire season, if not longer. And that's how we have to look at that. … You can back-and-forth a young guy. You can start a game or two and then go down to the Minor Leagues or go to the bullpen and help us as a long guy. So Marquis and Maholm are looking more like long-term, start-to-finish options for us."
...honestly, I'm speechless.  What?

Update: I'm still speechless, but fortunately Dave Cameron is not.  And he's right.