A red-hot debate: A comparison of Indians and Reds pitchers
By Jeff Ellis
September 27, 2012
A few weeks ago I compared the Indians to the Reds hitter to hitter and using the highest ranking that player had achieved on Baseball America's top 100 list I tried to see if there was a rhyme or reason to prospect failure.
In the end while both teams had players fail and overachieve; it was more interesting to see that the Reds had a top 100 player at every position on the field. So while prospects do fail, it seems that your best chance for success is still to field a team of players who managed to be well thought of minor leaguers. This should really not be a revelatory view, but what should be, as it seems that it is more important to make the list than where you are on the list. Success rarely seemed tied to the highest peaked player.
This time we will go with the pitchers. I am going to go with the five pitchers who have the most starts in declining order then go with the major set up man and then the closer for each team. This is actually a bit unfair to the Reds because of the pen injuries they had this year, but it is still the best method I could think for comparison rather than looking at the last men in the pen all the way to the closer.
Justin Masterson (64) vs. Johnny Cueto (34)
Justin Masterson was always a starter in the Red Sox system, but when he hit the majors was turned into a pen arm because of his troubles dealing with lefties. This problem has continued to haunt Masterson even when he was able to have success last year. This year Masterson has been a borderline disaster, and I am sure some people still think that long term he is destined to return to the pen. Cueto on the other hand has slowly turned himself into a Cy Young caliber pitcher who will end up finishing in the top five this year. Cueto has established himself as an ace, and Masterson is still trying to establish himself as a starter, so this is an easy win for the Reds in both ways as they go up 1-0 in BA ranks and 1-0 in actual production.
Ubaldo Jimenez (82) vs. Mat Latos (UR)
I for one never realized that Latos had never been ranked. He was only in the minors for 2.75 seasons before making his Major League debut, which is incredible for a high school pitcher. I am not sure I have seen any modern high school pitcher outside of Dylan Bundy move this fast, and Bundy is likely to return to the minors next year. The major reason Latos was never ranked was because of how quickly he moved through the minors. As an 11th rounder, he would have had to prove himself at a higher level to get ranked, and he only pitched nine games in AA or higher before he reached the majors. The other reason this is a very interesting matchup is that both of these players were acquired for a lot of major prospects within a few months of each other. There was some concern since Latos was coming from San Diego to Cincinnati which is a huge park factor change, yet he has pitched well this year and been a solid number two for the Reds and might yet reach 200 strikeouts. Jimenez has been the most talked about Indians' player this year, and calling him a disappointment would be an understatement. He has had some good games, but his control just seems to have regressed to the point where he has pitched this year at almost a full negative win according to WAR. Really at this point there is no way to defend him anymore, and the only hope is that he might rebound and gain some trade value for next year. This means the Reds are up 2-0 in actual and tied 1-1 in rankings.
Derek Lowe (63) Vs Bronson Arroyo (UR)
This one is a bit unfair as that 63 rank for Lowe was way back in 1994. That's right, the year of the lockout. He was still in the Mariners system and the Indians were still dreaming of breaking their playoff draught. Arroyo was a third round pick of the Pirates who got about 50 games with the Pirates before they waived him and the Red Sox claimed him. Now the Pirates have had to face him over the years with the Reds. This might be why the Pirates are looking at another year below 500. He is a solid mid-to-back end arm who has managed to stay successful into his mid thirties, and he actually has numbers very close to that of the more heralded Latos this year. Lowe in spite of being waived more than a month ago is still third on the team in starts. The mere fact that he could not last the year alone, means that the Indians lose this match up as well. This means the Reds are 3-0 in actual production and the Indians are 2-1 in BA ranks.
Zach McAllister (UR) vs. Homer Bailey (5)
Bailey and Cueto came up around the same time, and it was Bailey who was supposed to be the star. Bailey took three easons to be a solid starting pitcher, and five to produce his first good year. Here is a lesson in why you need to be patient with pitchers: it took time but Bailey has posted good numbers this year. McAllister started out great for the Tribe but has come back to Earth, but if we take a lesson from Bailey it is that McAllister should be given time to prove himself. Far too often teams give up on pitchers way too early - we saw this in the previous example with Bronson Arroyo. I hope that the Tribe will be patient and that in the future it will pay off for the Tribe like it did for the Reds this year. The Reds go up 4-0 in actual production and we are tied at 2-2 in BA ranks.
Josh Tomlin (UR) vs. Mike Leake (72)
Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez were tied in starts at the time of the writing of this article, but Tomlin had close to 20 more innings thanks to his extra pen work. Tomlin actually managed to lead the Indians in negative WAR this year as he was worth negative 1.3 wins this year, and after last year his expected regression was more severe than I think anyone had expected. He had a near three win change in value from 2011 to 2012. Mike Leake is an interesting player and his rank was entirely based on his college career as he played no games professionally before the rank was given. He has actually played in a grand total of two minor league games, and was a player who went straight to the majors. Leake has been a back end arm for the majority of his career, but he is a slightly above replacement player which is more value than any starting pitcher the Tribe has had this year. So this makes it a clean sweep for the Reds in starters going 5-0 in actual production and 3-2 in BA rank.
Vinnie Pestano (UR) vs. Sean Marshall (UR)
This might seem a little unfair as relievers are hard pressed to get ranked, yet they do when they look to be closers, and both of these players are seen as having closer potential. Pestano has been the Tribe's best pitcher this year, and has been overlooked because of the ridiculous year other pen arms like Kimbrel and Chapman are having. Still, he might be the best closer in waiting in baseball. Marshall has been almost as good and was a great pick up for the Reds. He is that rare lefty who can get anyone out and has really become the Reds version of Rafael Perez. Both teams have great guys for the set up role, but this is the first win for the Tribe and a push in terms of BA rank. 5-1, 3-2 for the Reds.
Chris Perez (91) vs. Aroldis Chapman (7)
In fairness, when Chapman got his high rank he was viewed long term as a starter, while now he seems likely to spend his career in the pen. This is not a knock on Chapman as he is tied with Fernando Rodney for the best WAR of any pen arms in baseball (fun fact: the 4th best reliever in WAR is old Indian Rafael Betancourt). Perez has had a really solid year, but has been the third best arm in the Indians pen this year. As was stated before, Chapman has been the best bullpen arm in baseball, so this is another win for the Reds and gives them a 6-1 win in actual production and 4-2 lead in BA rank.
When I wrote the hitters article a few weeks back, it was crazy to see that a first place team and a last place team could spilt position player ranks, but here we see what the biggest difference in these teams is, and that is the pitching.
I know WAR is far from a perfect stat, especially with pitchers, but the Indians have seven starters with ten or more starts and none are managing to post a positive WAR. Those seven pitchers combine to have a total of negative 5.3 wins. This means that the whole staff has been below a replacement level and every single pitcher is worse than what is considered the mean value of a AAA starter. This is why I stand by my belief that the pitching has been an even bigger issue than the hitting this year. At least there are a few solid bats, but the Indians currently have no solid starters.
Look at the division leaders around baseball and the common thread is pitching. Of the top 10 teams in terms of ERA, eight of them are still in the hunt for the playoffs or lead their division. The Indians are ranked 29th out of 30 teams. I think this shows that really more than anything the Indians have to do something about their starting pitching, which is an even greater need than a right handed bat.
The old adage in baseball is that there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. The reason is that arms get injured so readily and that some players just manage to come out of nowhere, that it is near impossible to really judge who is going to be an ace and who is going to disappoint.
I remember when Adam Miller, Philip Hughes, Clay Bucholz, and Homer Bailey were can't miss pitching prospects and at this point one can argue that not a single one came even close to being a great pitcher. The top player on this list was Cueto who was never thought to be an ace, while the one player who was projected to be an ace instead struggled for years to even became a league average pitcher.
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