Less Than Stellar Starters
It is August 7, and the lowest ERA belonging to a pitcher in the Reds starting rotation is 4.79. Matt Harvey owns that number, and while he has been improving, the fact that no pitcher has pitched better than that is unacceptable. It is no secret the Reds know how to hit the ball, which means it is no secret that the Reds main need is to improve their starting pitching. If you ask anyone who has followed the Reds this year they will tell you the same thing. Yet apparently, the front office has not received the memo yet.
It is rare that a team encourages a six-man rotation, but with the failure to move Harvey and the stubbornness to continue letting Homer Bailey take the mound, this may be the right decision. This does not mean the Reds’ best option is a six-man rotation. However, if the team refuses to move one of them to the bullpen, it then becomes the best option.
The six-man Rotation
Luis Castillo and Sal Romano are young and do not need to tax their arms in their first full years in the majors. Castillo threw 15 games last season, Romano 16, so restricting their usage could be beneficial if they believe in an innings limit. Harvey and Bailey’s starts are not as important because neither are expected to be a part of the next competing club, so not stepping on the rubber every fifth day is not as important. Anthony DeSclafani is expecting to help the Reds compete soon, but with his slower than expected return to form, getting other pitchers more work may be more important.
So with Tyler Mahle’s recent slump followed by a demotion, who should fill the void? The answer to that is obvious. Robert Stephenson deserves another shot.
It’s Bob Steve Time
The former 27th overall pick has two previous Major League stints that were less than ideal. In 121 2/3 Major League innings, Stephenson has an ERA of 5.10 in 19 starts, with additional appearances in the bullpen. Stephenson’s biggest issue has been his walk rate. With the Reds, he has had a BB/9 of 5.3. He still has to continue to improve his rate in the minors, but he has been the best pitcher in the Reds minor league system over his last 10 starts, walks included.
He has accumulated 73 strikeouts with only 26 walks in those 10 starts in 59 1/3 innings. For the season, he has an ERA of 2.87, including a complete game shutout. Stephenson’s SO/9 is at 10.8 while his walk rate is down nearly a whole walk compared to his major league mark. His ERA, WHIP, K/9 and BB/9 have been returning to similar numbers he saw in his first few years when he was a highly touted prospect. His K/9 is currently at the best of his career after his August 3 game where he struck out 13.
The situation with Stephenson is a curious one. When a player is drafted out of high school, it is often expected it will take a few seasons to promote them to the majors. He played the second half of 2017 with the major league club with a spot in the Reds’ rotation. He pitched well enough to seemingly earn a spot in the rotation for 2018, but the Reds had different plans.
Peak AAA Season
While his stats may not technically the best of his minor league career if you just looked at the numbers, he is having his best season in the minors. The level of competition he is facing now compared to 2012 is not comparable, and it appears he may have finally found his stride.
His first two stints in Louisville consisted of ERA’s above four. In 2017, he improved, finishing with a 3.79 ERA and in 2018 he is ready.
Wednesday Must be the Day
Due to the Reds playing in a doubleheader on Saturday, the Reds will need to call up a pitcher to start on Wednesday. Stephenson’s schedule lines up perfectly for him to take the hill Wednesday in New York. It would be a travesty if the Reds called up anyone besides Stephenson to earn his spot with the club. Another option would be having a reliever eat innings in a shortened start, another idea that would be just as terrible.
When a team is not contending, they have to take chances. If that chance means rolling with a 6-man rotation for the season, demoting a man making the second most money on the roster or a project they hoped to trade, it is time to stray away from the status quo. Stephenson deserves a chance. He is just 24-years-old. Many pitchers did not blossom in their younger years, then turning into Cy Young winners in their late 20s.
Another Late Bloomer?
Max Scherzer did not become an elite pitcher until 2013, his sixth season in the bigs. Dallas Kuechel took four seasons to find the ace he was meant to be. Both now have Cy Young Awards. This is not to say Stephenson will be a Cy Young pitcher, but it appears he found something that was not present before. It is time to give the new Stephenson another shot at the Major League level.
This does not just mean bringing him up for Wednesdays’ game against the Mets, this means expanding the rotation to a 6-man rotation, or dropping Bailey or Harvey. It is hard to give up hope on a first round draft pick, but eventually, a team has to if they are not performing at a respectable level. In Bailey, Harvey and Stephenson they have three. The first two have essentially run out of time, Stephenson has not. If the Reds want to continue to rebuild their team, give the new Stephenson another shot now.
“From Our Haus to Yours”