2012 Cincinnati Reds: Predicting the May Pitching Rotation

Ryan NolanCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2011

2012 Cincinnati Reds: Predicting the May Pitching Rotation

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    The Cincinnati Reds have been busy this offseason, acquiring the signatures of Mat Latos and Sean Marshall.  Walt Jocketty said he was looking for pitchers, and he certainly found a good pair.  With a handful of starting pitchers, and the Reds' management still looking to convert Aroldis Chapman, there are many questions as to what the starting rotation will look like in May.

1. Johnny Cueto

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    I don't think there are any doubts amongst Reds' fans and management that Johnny Cueto will be the number one starting pitcher in the rotation.  His numbers were very impressive in the 2011 season, undoubtedly earning him the title of ace.

    His 2.31 ERA was one of the lowest in the league, and, if he had pitched just six more innings, he would have won the ERA title over Clayton Kershaw.

    His 9-5 record does not do a justice to just how well Cueto dominated hitters, who averaged just .220 against him.

    He also gave up just 8 HR, an impossible feat at Great American Ballpark, and never gave up more than 3 ER in any game.

    His 53.7% ground ball rate is one of the highest in the league and perfectly suits the ballpark he is in.

    Just 4.6% of hits against him go for extra bases, lower than the likes of Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Clayton Kershaw.  Simply stunning for the 25 year old.

2. Mat Latos

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    Jocketty didn't trade three of his finest prospects and a 2008 All-Star pitcher for no reason.

    Mat Latos will without a doubt be the the Reds' number two in May.  At just 23 years old, Latos posted a cool 3.47 ERA in the 2011 season, with his career average sitting low at 3.37.

    His 43.7% ground ball rate is average, not great and can't begin to compare to Cueto's (an important comparison for those who think Latos might be the number one).

    His career 40.9% flyball rate has been worrisome to those who watched as the trade transpired, but the fact of the matter is, even if he gives up more home runs than he's used to, he'll still be better than the pitching staff already in place.

    Batters averaged just .226 against Latos, and his career 8.7 SO/9 will be the highest of Reds' starters.  He's a welcomed addition to the Reds.

3. Mike Leake

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    Mike Leake has been a very promising pitcher for the Reds.

    At 23 years old, he led the organization in wins in the 2011 season and technically was the team's ERA-leader, posting a 3.86 ERA for his 167.2 innings.  His ERA+ is 101; for comparison, Latos' is 102 and Cueto's is 109.

    His WHIP dropped from 1.50 in the 2010 season to 1.17 in the 2011 season.

    In 2010, batter's averaged .292 against Leake; in 2011 that number fell to .250.  Expect to see all these numbers improve as Leake continues to develop.

    I've put him in the third slot for a couple of reasons.  The first is sheer merit.

    Other than Cueto, Leake was the only bright spot in the pitching rotation last season.  He's a very consistent pitcher who doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but can keep his team in games. 

    With Aroldis Chapman being converted to a starter, many people would expect to see Chapman high in the rotation, but that brings me to the second reason I've put Leake in at number three: he's got experience.  Leake has started 48 games; that's 48 more than Chapman. 

4. Aroldis Chapman

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    The Reds have wasted enough of the 23-year-old Cuban's contract in the bullpen.

    Chapman will be a starter in the 2012 season.  A talent like his would be wasted as a closer.

    While it's hard to use his pen stats as a basis for him being a starter, I'll look a few important ones. 

    The first two are the most obvious: fastball and slider speed.  With the fastest fastball in the books and a wicked 90MPH slider, Chapman is an outright fearsome pitcher.  When he's on the mound, batters look simply helpless, hacking at the air as the ball whizzes past them.

    In 54 games last year, batters averaged just .147 against the Cuban Missile.  He's averaged 12.8 SO/9 for two straight years and his 109 ERA+ is on par with Cueto's. 

    His numbers aren't without concerns, though.  Control has consistently been a problem for Chapman, evident from his 7.4 BB/9 as a reliever in the 2011 season.  In addition, anyone pitching over 100MPH is going to have stamina problems. 

    Currently, the Reds staff is trying help Chapman develop some endurance on the mound, though a shoulder injury has prevented him from playing winter ball.  If he can remain calm in big games and consistently pitch 5 or more innings, Chapman will be one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball and will certainly move up in the rotation.

5. Bronson Arroyo

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    I know he had a awful 2011 season, but expect to see Bronson Arroyo in the rotation in 2012. 

    The most important number the Reds will be looking at is $12 million: his 2012 salary.  Bronson is simply too expensive for the Reds to bench.  But Reds fans need not worry; Bronson will not be the second coming of Aaron Harang. 

    2011 was an anomaly for Arroyo and his poor numbers were mostly the result of the mononucleosis which had affected him since March.  Yes, he led MLB in HRs with 46; yes, he gave up 112 ERs; yes, his ERA was 5.07 and his ERA+ was 77.  It won't happen again.

    His shutout against Houston at the end of the season is evidence that he's still got it. 

    When thinking about Bronson Arroyo, think about his 2010 numbers.  He had 3.88 ERA with a 105 ERA+.  He finished 17-10 after pitching 215.2 innings.  Batters hit .234 against him.  He was, quite simply, a good pitcher.  His 2011 performance was a result of his disease and his refusal to miss a start.  He'll be better in 2012 and will definitely be in the rotation.

Potential Others?

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    Homer Bailey has been a Reds project for a while now, and the fans and organization are getting impatient. 

    Homer has a career 4.89 ERA with a career ERA+ of 85.  Batters have hit .273 against him.  That's not good at all. 

    He's a hard-throwing pitcher who might get another chance should Chapman fail or take too long to develop.  Homer is not as bad of a pitcher as his stats seem to indicate.  In the games I've seen him pitch, he, at times, is a force on mound.  But he has been consistently inconsistent for the last five seasons.  He will not be traded because Chapman is too much of a liability, but he has yet to give a performance worthy of a starter.

    The only other potential starter in the Reds rotation is Sam LeCure.  He's started a handful of games since 2010 and hasn't posted bad numbers.  His 4.50 ERA in 2010 fell to 3.71 in 2011 (granted, he mostly did work from the pen).  He's not a dominant pitcher but he seems very cool on the mound and has been very clutch when called upon.  A lot will have to go wrong for LeCure to break into the rotation.