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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.