Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15)

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The Cincinnati Reds announced that left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani would be returning from the DL with a shoulder injury on Wednesday against the Cubs and he will be inserted into the starting rotation after working in relief for the whole 2015 season so far.

For a refresher, or if you are unfamiliar with Cingrani, he is a former top pitching prospect in the Reds organization and he zoomed his way through the Minor Leagues, showing complete dominance with 1.45 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 11.85 K/9 vs. 2.70 BB/9 in the course of his Minor League career in 223.1 IP.  He became a fixture on the Reds Major League roster in the 2013 season when he posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 120 K/43 BB in 104.2 IP in 23 appearances (18 starts). With that strong rookie season, Cingrani was a popular pick to breakout even further in the 2014 season.  However, Cingrani was a big bust in 2014 with injuries playing a role, and he finished the season making just 13 appearances (11 starts) to compile an ugly 4.55 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and 61 K/35 BB in 63.1 IP.

It wasn’t necessarily just injuries though that prevented Cingrani from repeating his rookie season success.  Also potentially playing a factor was his pitch usage.  Cingrani has always been a pitcher to rely very heavily on his fastball as it is a pitch that he has now thrown a whopping 79.7% of the time in his short Major League career up to this point.  There are just not any starting pitchers in the league who throw fastballs at that type of rate because it’s just not a good formula for success — for a point of reference, the highest fastball percentage of any starting pitcher this season is Gerrit Cole at 69.5%.  With fastballs being thrown at the rate Cingrani has thrown them at, opposing hitters only have to worry about looking for a fastball most of the time and if that’s what they are guessing, then 4 out of 5 times they would be right.  What Cingrani does have going for him with his fastball though is that he gets a lot of vertical movement on the pitch, or in other words, his fastball has rising action that can make it difficult for hitters to catch up to when it is up in the zone.

To go with the fastball, he will mix in an occasional slider and changeup, but his changeup just isn’t that great of a pitch as it has induced swinging strikes just a mere 4.2% of the time.  So the lack of a quality third pitch offering also adds to the poor formula for success for a starting pitcher.  Starting pitchers generally want to have at least three quality pitches and be able to use them all with confidence.  Having at least three pitch options helps to keep opposing hitters guessing more to get them off balance.

So with such a heavy reliance on the fastball and a lack of a quality third pitch (and significant use of it), Cingrani would appear to profile more as a relief pitcher, despite what his Minor League success would suggest.  In the Minor Leagues, he was likely able to get away with these things better because the talent level obviously is much lower than the Majors and his deceptive delivery probably aided him as well.  So in his 2013 rookie season, it should have come as no surprise that he was able to carry over that same type of Minor League success over to the Majors initially.  With Major League teams being so unfamiliar with him since they never had seen him before, that deception likely created a lot of confusion for hitters.  But after more and more game film on him was made available with each additional start he made in the Majors, better scouting reports were probably generated and given to the hitters, which caused some regression for Cingrani as the 2013 season went on, and it must have also given hitters in 2014 better preparation when facing him.

So for the 2015 season, the Reds shifted Cingrani to the relief role where many scouts believed his mostly fastballs approach could be better utilized.  It was believed that he could possibly be the heir apparent to Aroldis Chapman at closer since Chapman will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  As a reliever this season, Cingrani has shown occasional dominance, but poor control has gotten the best of him at times and he had a 3.47 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 26 K/17 BB in 23.1 IP before landing on the DL with a shoulder injury.

With the flawed pitch usage, poor control, and returning from a shoulder injury, it is hard to envision Cingrani’s return to the rotation going over very well.  But with the Reds being sellers nearing the trade deadline, they could be shipping off Johnny Cueto and/or Mike Leake, which is going to leave them pretty starved for starting pitching.  So it probably wouldn’t hurt to give Cingrani another shot at starting, but his best chance at a quality career may be in the bullpen ala Zach Britton.

For deeper season long fantasy leagues, he should be scooped up just knowing what his upside is as seen from his 2013 rookie season.  In dynasty leagues, it would be a more fine addition if by some chance he is able to turn some type of corner.  But overall, I wouldn’t be expecting anything extraordinary for him — but taking a chance on him isn’t the worst of ideas either.  If you pick him up, then you just kind of have to cross your fingers that he makes adjustments because he’s not likely to succeed if he sticks with the same approach.

Let’s check out the rest of Monday’s action.

Ian Desmond – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R.  It’s been a season long struggle for Desmond, but he did manage to hit his first home run of the month on Monday.  But he’s very difficult to suggest as a buy low candidate because I’ve always felt that he’s been a bit overrated.  There was always something peculiar in the fact that he didn’t hit very many line drives (career 17.9%), yet his BABIP numbers always run well above average (career .320 BABIP).  So this season, things are finally catching up to him as his .272 BABIP is much reflective of his paltry 15.6% line drive rate.

Gio Gonzalez – 6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K with the W.  It wasn’t the best of outings, but Nat-Gio was decent and came away with the victory in a quality start.  His BABIP is still curiously high at .340, so that should come down more as we get further into the second half of the season.  But keep in mind that he is inducing ground balls at an extreme rate this season and his infield defense isn’t exactly Gold Glove material, so his BABIP may not regress too much toward his career mark of .292, which also means there may not necessarily be too much improvement on his current 3.93 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.  Next, he’ll face off against a Pirates team that he shutout for 7 innings a few weeks ago.

Matt Harvey – 7 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K with the L.  This certainly was not an outing that matched Harvey’s first two starts of the season against this same Nationals team, but he recovered nicely after a rough first 3 innings.  However, once again the strikeouts were missing as for the 6th time in the last 7 starts, Harvey failed to record a strikeout per inning.  I thought maybe with a spike in his velocity in his last start that led to 9 strikeouts in 7 innings that Harvey would be good to get back down to business after the All-Star break, but it appears not.  We’ll have to check the PITCHf/x velocity charts for this game once they are available to see if his velocity dipped again.

Matt Moore – 4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K with the L.  After each Moore start this season, I’ve said not to trust him and let somebody else take the risk on him in season long leagues.  He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, so it was reasonable to expect his command and control to be out of whack, especially since control has always been an issue for him in the Major Leagues.  He’s done exactly nothing to squash that notion as he couldn’t even handle a poor Phillies offense on Monday. Moore has shown explosive stuff in the past, but he currently sits with a 7.23 ERA and 1.88 WHIP.

Cesar Hernandez – 2 for 4, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Hernandez had fallen into a bit of a slump after a great 2+ week stretch, but he hit a double and a triple on Monday to bust out of the mini slump.  He should be owned in deep leagues and should be given definite consideration as a speed threat hitting at the top of the order at the shallow fantasy positions of second base and shortstop.

Aaron Nola – Nola is the Phillies top pitching prospect and he is going to be called up to start Tuesday’s game against the Rays.  He has been doing pretty well down in the Minors this season with a 2.39 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 92 K/18 BB in 109.1 IP between AA and AAA, but expectations need to be held in check here.  While he is currently posting a bit better than a strikeout per inning at AAA, he hasn’t shown great strikeout material previously.  But what he does have going for him is he’s always had strong control, and that is the type of stuff that I like to see from a young top pitching prospect when they come up to the Majors.  He comes highly regarded, so he should be scooped up in many leagues, but I think that he’ll be more of an Eduardo Rodriguez type than a Noah Syndergaard type.

Robinson Cano – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Cano now has 5 HR in the month of July to go with a .328 AVG.  Perhaps we can finally say that Cano has finally busted out of his season long slump.  I still wouldn’t recommend him, but his outlook is sure looking much better than when I wrote a feature on him in late May.

Ian Kinsler – 2 for 4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R.  Kinsler is on a mini hot streak going 12 for 28 (.429 AVG) in his last 8 games.  His home runs on Monday were just his 4th and 5th of the season and he also is just 6 for 10 in stolen base attempts.  So it’s been a bit of a disappointing season for the Tigers second baseman, and his skill set is just on the decline at 33 years old.  But maybe this hot run could be a sign of things to come, and he’s still a solid source of runs batting 1st or 2nd for a productive Tigers lineup.

Alfredo Simon – 5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 3 K with the L.  The Alfredo Simon smackdown continues.  I think I’ve gone over Simon enough to get the point across that he just is not that good of a pitcher.  He now has a 4.63 ERA and 1.48 WHIP and has been getting his world rocked ever since the start of June.  Avoid him at all costs.

Todd Frazier – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB.  The Home Run Derby champion belted his 26th HR of the season on Monday and is just very locked in at the plate, always hitting the ball hard somewhere.  I do regret foolishly dissing him in the pre-season.

Jay Bruce – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Bruce is the subject of trade rumors and would be a solid left-handed power bat for most lineups around the league.  He’s been swinging a hot stick of late with a .353 AVG and 3 HR in July.  If he gets traded, he may lose some value because he has always been a hitter who has taken advantage of his friendly home park in Cincinnati.  In his career at home, he has hit .260 with 119 HR in 529 games, but has hit just .243 with 78 HR in 519 games on the road.

Marlon Byrd – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Byrd hit a home run off the not good, soft-tossing lefty Clayton Richard. Byrd should be used anytime he is facing a pitcher of that same profile in DFS.

Adrian Gonzalez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  A-Gon keeps on rolling.  He’s now at a .297 AVG with 21 HR, 60 RBI, and 55 R.  He’s an under appreciated player.

Justin Turner – 4 for 4.  Turner had a perfect day at the plate on Monday and is now hitting .323 with 11 HR, 40 RBI, 33 R, and 1 SB.  I’ve been hyping him up for a while now, and at this point he should be universally owned.  If he is owned in your league, I think that he is a great trade target to because his great hitting display that he is showing is for real and he has multi-position eligibility in many fantasy leagues.  He’s also a great guy to use in DFS on DraftKings because he usually isn’t priced too high and he has multi-position eligibility there as well.  I do have to say that I have a man crush on Turner this season.

Brandon Beachy – 4 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.  Beachy made his second start of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery and it came against his former team, the Braves.  However, like Matt Moore, Beachy should be expected to struggle with his command and control and that’s exactly what has happened to the Dodgers righty in his first two starts. Beachy now has a 7.88 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in 8 innings pitched, and not much should be expected from him this season.

Nick Markakis – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Markakis hit a home run on Monday and incredibly it was his first one of the season.  Markakis was once a player who flashed 20 HR power, but his power severely declined after his first few seasons in the league.  One could not have possibly imagined though that it would take him 92 games to hit his first HR of the 2015 season.  Without any power whatsoever, Markakis has to be considered one of the least productive regular starters in the league because he also provides little to no speed with just 2 SB this season.  Good for him for finally getting that first HR, but he can’t be used for fantasy purposes.

A.J. Burnett – 6 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 2 K with the W.  As noted in the DFS strategy post, Burnett was not in a great situation on Monday and he did get knocked around for one of his worst starts of the season.  He did escape with the victory though thanks to some great run support. He’ll look to turn things around when he comes back home to face the Nationals in his next start.

Yordano Ventura – 4 IP, 10 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 7 K with the L.  Ventura returned from the DL before the All-Star break to make a start, and in that start his velocity was more reflective of his levels from last season.  So perhaps the time off on the DL did him some good to get right for the second half.  We’ll have to wait and see the PITCHf/x velocity charts for his game on Monday, but I would bet that his velocity resembled his last season levels again, which led to all the strikeouts.  However, he still got knocked around for a lot of hits and runs, but he’s going to be much more intriguing from now till the end of the season if he can maintain this velocity bump.  He’s someone I didn’t like coming into the season, so I’m not going to recommend him just yet.  But he’s definitely someone to monitor as he should come fairly cheap in a fantasy trade.  He has a 5.19 ERA and 1.35 WHIP and will face the Astros next, which could be another opportunity for him to pile up the strikeouts.

Nick Martinez – 4 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K with the L.  Watching pitchers regress can be very ugly, but it can also be very beautiful at the same time if it’s something that you’ve been calling for a while.  Though, it didn’t really take an expert to know that Martinez would hit some serious regression.  Martinez now has a 3.92 ERA and 1.41 WHIP and should be over 4.00 in ERA in short order.  He’s another guy to avoid at all costs.

Troy Tulowitzki – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 2 K.  Tulo had a long hitting streak snapped just before the All-Star break, but he’s started a new streak and is now up to 4 games and has also hit home runs in 3 of those 4 games.  His elite status as a shortstop is secure as long as he stays off the DL.

Rubby De La Rosa – 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 1 K with the W.  It wasn’t the prettiest of outings with all the walks and the few strikeouts, but it got the job done against a punchless Marlins team.  This just was a nice spot for De La Rosa to try and get back on track.  He has been inconsistent this season and could find himself in more trouble against the Brewers in his next start.

Derek Dietrich – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Dietrich hit a homer on Monday for his 4th of the season, and he also has a solid .314 AVG in 30 total games played this season now.  Dietrich has really been drilling the ball when he makes contact with a 29.4% line drive rate and a 37.3% hard hit rate, and the result of it has been a .375 BABIP.  So the high BABIP actually is substantiated, but whether he can keep it up is another thing.  But one thing is apparent — he has some sneaky pop of the 15-20 HR variety over the course of a full season.  He’s been getting the chance to play against some right-handed pitching, but he hasn’t been starting against lefties at all.  And with the addition of Casey McGehee to the Marlins roster, playing time is going to be even harder to come by for the 26-year old.  But for now, consider him a cheap DFS option against right-handed pitching when he’s in the lineup.

Albert Pujols – 4 for 7, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 1 BB.  Pujols clubbed 3 HR in Monday’s doubleheader to take over the Major League lead from his teammate Mike Trout who homered just once on Monday.  He’s not hitting for much of an AVG at .260, but when 1/3 of his hits are going over the fence, fantasy owners can’t be complaining.

Hector Santiago – 5 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K with the W.  It was a very impressive strikeout performance for Santiago, and somehow he managed to once again strand a very high percentage of the base runners that he allowed to reach base. At some point in the season, he’s going to begin to start allowing more of these runners to score.  Check out “What is Hector’s Achilles Heel?” for more information.

Andrew Heaney – 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K with the W.  Heaney just keeps working his magic in first first tour of the American League.  This is something that he could possibly keep up, but I can also envision him hitting some bumps as opposing teams get more game film on him.  However, he does get a decent matchup in his next start against a Rangers team that has had some issues against left-handed pitching.  I’ve compared him to Eduardo Rodriguez who debuted for the Red Sox about a month before Heaney made his 2015 debut, so see below about Rodriguez, which could also eventually happen to Heaney.  For now though, I would be pretty comfortable with Heaney.

Eduardo Rodriguez – 1.2 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 0 K with the L.  Ouch, the Angels hitters just jumped all over the rookie southpaw on Monday in a rare game 1 of a doubleheader at Angel Stadium.  This marks the third time this season where Rodriguez has given up 6 or more runs in a game and it would appear that teams are beginning to figure him out the more exposure that he is getting to the league.  I wouldn’t completely abandon him, but there definitely should be consideration given to not using him in any start where he is up against a good offense, as that’s where the majority of the damage has come against him.  He’ll take a 4.64 ERA and 1.27 WHIP into his next start against the Tigers where he should probably be avoided.

Matt Kemp – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Kemp is surely doing his best to put a rough first half behind him as he now has 4 HR in the last 7 games.  He finally might be comfortable in his new digs.

Ian Kennedy – 6 IP, 6, H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K with the W.  For the season, Kennedy’s average fastball velocity has been down nearly a whole tick on the radar gun, which has resulted in his strikeout rate reverting back to right around his career rate. He’s been having better overall results over the last month, but what has been killing him the most this season is that he has allowed 21 HR in 90.1 IP for the worst HR/9 rate in all of baseball.  With Petco Park being less pitcher friendly this season, he has allowed 13 HR at home.  He was able to squeak by with a win and a solid start on Monday against the Giants, but it’s going to be hard to expect Kennedy to finish this season with a sub-4.00 ERA.

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One thought on “Cingrani’s Return to the Rotation (and other notes from 7/20/15)

  1. Pingback: Presto for Preston (and other notes from 7/22/15) | The Backwards K

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