Baseball managers and baseball players constantly chant that they are looking for consistency, “Just be consistent.”
If that’s true, then the Cincinnati Reds qualify as a success over the last two years — they have been consistently awful. They finished last in the National League Central the past two years and they lost more than 90 games the past two years. Now that’s consistency.
The bullpen, known in some quarters as the pigpen, has been consistently awful, one of baseball’ all-time worst.
AND THEY WERE consistent to the bitter end on Sunday in their final game of 2016. They led the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, but Raisel Iglesias, one of the good ones, gave up four runs, including a two-run pinch-hit home run to Miguel Montero and the Reds lost their 94th game, 7-4.
Just as happened so many times this season, a victory was turned into quick defeat. So the last game was poetic justice.
Montero’s home run was the 258th given up by the 32 pitchers the Reds used this season, an all-time record for most home runs given up in a season.
JUST TO GIVE AN INCISIVE indication of how bad the pitching was, this was quoted by Fangraphs: “J.J. Hoover gave up more runs in 18 2/3s innings than Baltimore relief pitcher Zach Britton gave up in two years. Alfredo Simon gave up more runs in 58 2/3s innings than Cubs starter Jon Lester gave up in more than 200 innings.”
General manager Dick Williams, speaking to the media during Sunday’s game, says the team is satisfied with the regular eight — Devin Mesoraco/Tucker Barnhart, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart/Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Scott Schebler.
And he is most likely correct in that assessment. It is a decent lineup.
Williams said the top priority is the bullpen. Actually, it should be the only priority. But fixing a bullpen might be the most difficult project a team faces, especially when you need four or five replacement parts.
ON THE PLUS SIDE, relief pitchers are not expensive, as baseball salaries go. Williams said the team could pursue some free agents, but only on the low end. No big ticket free agents are on the agenda.
When spring training began this season, the projected rotation was Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnega, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen.
How’d that work out?
Bailey, coming off Tommy John surgery, was never healthy and made six starts for 23 innings. DeSclafani suffered the dreaded oblique injury that lingered for half the season. Lorenzen went down with, of all things, mononucleosis.
IGLESIAS STARTED ON Opening Day but soon landed on the disabled list for a lengthy period with a weak shoulder.
All that sent the Reds scrambling for pitching band-aids. They coaxed Alfredo Simon out of forced retirement and that was a disaster. On April Fool’s Day they signed Dan Straily, who was dumped onto the waivers wire by San Diego. That turned out to be fortuitous as Straily led the staff with 14 wins.
During all the mayhem, the Reds ran 14 different starters out to the mound — Bailey, DeSclafani, Finnegan, Iglesias, Simon, Straily, Tim Adleman, Keyvius Sampson, John Lamb, Josh Smith, Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Daniel Wright and Tim Melville.
WHEN IGLESIAS AND Lorenzen came back at mid-season they were put in the bullpen to reduce their workloads and it helped stabilize the ‘pen, on days they could work.
Meanwhile, after DeSclafani returned the rotation was better, too — DeSclafani, Finnegan, Straily, Adleman and Stephenson. Only Stephenson failed to show that he is Major League ready.
So what happens in 2017 with Iglesias and Lorenzen?
“When Iglesias and Lorenzen settled into the bullpen it gave us some credible help at the back end and that was great,” said manager Bryan Price. “They both had been in bullpens, Lorenzen in college (closer at Cal State-Fullerton) and Iggy in Cuba.
“They came in and really handled some high-leverage workload that we needed to give us the boost to shut games down with greater efficiency.”
DOES THAT PUT IGLESIAS and Lorenzen in the 2017 bullpen?
“I’ll talk with Dick Williams and Walt Jocketty before we announce role definitions,” he said. “I don’t want to go into spring training by going down the Aroldis Chapman road (when the team was indecisive over Chapman’s role before manager Dusty Baker turned him into the team’s closer because projected closer Ryan Madson came to camp with a bad arm). I’d like to avoid that.
“And a lot of it will have to do with what we do in the off-season,” Price added.
When it was suggested that a couple pitchers have expressed preferences — Iglesias prefers bullpen over rotation and Finnegan prefers rotation over bullpen, Price said, “If everything was equal, we’d given them their preferences. But we have to go with the organization’s needs. Our decision has to be based on where they are best suited to perform. You don’t want to put a square peg in a round hole. And with Iggy it is a question of whether he can sustain a starter’s workload.”
ON THE FINAL DAY OF the season, Price was asked about the 2017rotation, if he had a sense of its makeup. And he never hesitated.
“Yes, because we fully expect Homer Bailey at 100 per cent next year,” he began. “And DeSclafani. And Straily. And Finnegan. Those guys we just know are performers and have done great jobs. Adleman has done nothing to hurt his chances. He is a Major League pitcher.
“My requirements for a major league starter are guys who pitch beyond the sixth inning with consistency,” he said. “Not everybody is going to be Johnny Cueto. I understand that. But we aspire to be Johnny Cueto. We are looking for guys who aspire to be in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and be there comfortably. We don’t want guys looking to turn the ball over after six innings.”
In today’s environment of pitchers believing they’ve done their job after six innings, well, good luck with that.”