Do The Reds Have The Best Pitching Staff In Baseball?

Last night’s 3-0 win was awesome in multiple ways.

  • It was Sonny Gray’s first victory as a Red.
  • It was the first time the Brewers had been shutout all season.
  • It was only the third time this year that the Reds had won without their offense hitting a home run.
  • It was also the Reds’ seventh shutout this season, which is the most in Major League Baseball.

The offense only scored in the top of the first inning, and that was more than enough for Reds pitching. They only allowed six hits and struck out fourteen batters. Sonny Gray, David Hernandez, Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias were all stellar last night and deserved the shutout. (Amir Garrett has also struck out nine of the past eleven batters he has faced, only allowing a walk and a hit in his past three appearances.) So after that performance, I asked the question: do the Reds have the best pitching staff in baseball?

There are multiple stats that tend to agree. First off, the Reds have only used 14 pitchers – the fewest amount of pitchers used in baseball. Those guys have combined for a 3.34 ERA, .227 BAA, 1.21 WHIP and 472 strikeouts, and have only allowed 360 hits and 43 home runs. All of those numbers are top five in the league, and it’s arguably more impressive that the Reds haven’t needed an emergency starter or had to use a position player because they’re down by 9 or 10 runs. In fact, the Reds have only had three losses by four or more runs all season.

I also wanted to split the starters and relievers to see which side of the staff has been better. The rotation has the fourth-best ERA (3.45), fourth-best K/9 (9.88) and fourth best BAA (.227) out of all of MLB’s rotations. The only knock on them, though, is they have the 14th-highest innings pitched. Maybe it’s David Bell’s quick hook and reliance on his relievers, but Reds starters have not been reaching the 7th inning often. Those relievers have the third-best ERA (3.35) and third-best LOB%(78.5) of all MLB bullpens, and rank in the top ten in walks, strikeouts per walks, strikeout rate, walk rate and WHIP. Walks are killers in the late innings, and the Reds have done well to avoid giving them up.

Both groups also have a definite leader. Luis Castillo, the Reds’ ace, has a 5-1 record with a 1.90 ERA and 0.957 WHIP. In 61.2 IP, Castillo has struck out 78 batters and only given up 34 hits. He’s been picked as a betting favorite in the NL Cy Young Race, and it’s no secret why: his changeup and two-seam are nearly unhittable.

In the bullpen, Amir Garrett has been nasty this year. The 27-year-old reliever has been great so far this year, with a 3-1 record, 1.40 ERA and 1.086 WHIP, and has struck out 28 batters in 19.1 IP. His money pitch has been his slider this year, and according to FanGraphs, his slider’s value is a 5.6. For comparison, an average pitch value is 0.0, and Garrett’s fastball is at -0.1 so far this year. His slider has been that effective.

Derek Johnson should receive some of the credit for the pitching staff’s resurgence. (Thanks for letting us have him, Milwaukee.) His influence has seemed to boost the confidence of every pitcher, including Robert Stephenson, whose numbers from last year have completely flipped. Johnson’s embrace of analytics has helped immensely as well. We don’t know the full extent of his presence so far, but I am giving him partial credit for the turnaround of the entire pitching staff. The Reds also only had 6 shutouts as a team in 2018, and have already passed that number on May 21.

If you were to go back to the end of the 2016 season – after the Reds had given up the most home runs by a team in MLB history – and tell past you that the Reds were going to have one of, if not the best, pitching staffs in the league, your past self would have smacked your time-traveling self. The staff has been mostly turned over since then, and the moves that Dick Williams made deserve credit. If Alex Wood can return from his injury and be anywhere close to his performance with the Dodgers last season, this staff might be one of the best in Reds history.

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