Cincinnati Reds: A Case Against Calling Up Tony Cingrani

Ryan NolanCorrespondent IApril 16, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 3:  Reliever Tony Cingrani #52 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on October 3, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Cincinnati Reds fans are reacting differently to Johnny Cueto's injury.  His absence makes most fans anxious, as they should be, while others are excited at the prospect of another starter getting a chance.  

Cueto, the club's ace, is expected to miss between two to four starts (Hamilton JournalNews).  For me, the biggest concern isn't his absence, but what the injury means.  The Dominican starter has seemed injury-prone over the years, the pinnacle being his injury in the first game of the playoffs against the San Francisco Giants.  Is it possible that the story of this injury will resemble Nick Masset's, which—originally diagnosed as shoulder soreness—evolved into season-ending surgery from which we have yet to see him return?  But I digress.

The story tantalizing fans is that of Tony Cingrani, a third-round pick out of Rice.  Converted from closer to starter, Cingrani has been nothing short of brilliant in his performances in the minor leagues.  Last season, the southpaw posted a 1.73 ERA in Double-A Pensacola with over 10 SO/9.  This season in Triple-A Louisville, he's picked up right where he left off with a 1.80 ERA and over 16 SO/9 in his three starts.  He's dominating the minor league batters who are hitting a paltry .067 against him. 

Based on those numbers, Cingrani looks a lot like Aroldis Chapman—a high-strikeouts, hard-to-hit lefty.  The comparisons don't stop there though.  Just like the Cuban Missile, Cingrani's best pitch is his fastball, which averages around 92 mph.  Cingrani, based solely on his minors numbers, looks entirely ready to step up and start—whether it be as a stand-in for Johnny Cueto or as a replacement for the lackluster Mike Leake.

But wait, there is in fact more.  For those clambering for Cingrani to eventually replace Mike Leake, one detail is always forgotten: the reason Cingrani is still in the minors.  You see, despite his impressive numbers, the closer-turned-starter—much like Aroldis Chapman—is highly limited by his lack of pitches.  He throws his fastball and an average changeup along with a below-average slider and a new 11-5 curveball.  He lacks a second pitch, and it shows in the metrics.  Last season, over 85 percent of the lefty's pitches were fastballs, and this season, that number is over 90 percent.  His 85 percent statistic is higher than any pitcher in the majors—the leaders threw their fastballs 80 percent of the time.  

And the rest of the league?  Fangraphs reports that only 15 starters threw fastballs over 65 percent of the time.  It seems he'll remain in Louisville until he can effectively throw another pitch.  That hasn't happened yet.

Throwing that many fastballs is just asking to be lit up in the major leagues, which is definitely not the place to develop a breaking ball.  The reality is that, despite his truly awe-inspiring numbers, this kid is just not ready to pitch in a starting rotation.  Might he get called up to replace Cueto?  I would be stunned if he wasn't with all the hype surrounding him.  Should he stay up after Cueto's return?  That will largely depend on his numbers, but if the organization is really intent on him finding a third pitch, they'll make the smart move and send him down, or make the even smarter move of letting Sam LeCure replace Cueto for a few starts.