Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani wasn’t considered the best prospect in Cincinnati prior to 2013, but he turned in a very solid rookie year that has earned him the right to a rotation spot this coming season. The left-hander will likely be the team’s fifth starter this season and is looking to build off of a great 2013. But is a “sophomore slump” in his future? Let’s take a look.
When you take a look back to the minors, Cingrani was nothing short of amazing in terms of his rates. In his 228.2 total innings in minor league ball, he recorded a stellar 1.65 ERA and 0.945 WHIP. Before being called up to the majors last year, he held a 1.15 ERA in 6 starts with Triple-A Louisville and was allowing just 4.0 hits per 9 innings pitched.
Though he wasn’t quite as “lights out”, he carried a lot of this success over to the majors when he got his opportunity in Mid-April. Cingrani recorded a 2.77 ERA and 1.038 WHIP in his 18 starts, allowing just 6.0 hits per 9 innings.
With good velocity and an incredibly deceptive delivery, Cingrani was downright tough to hit last year. Though his sub-3.00 ERA was extremely low, his biggest issues arose from his pedestrian 3.3 walks per 9 innings (as a starter) and his 14 home runs (30 extra-base hits) allowed. His 44.8% fly ball percentage was well above the league average of 34.3%, so when batter’s were getting hits, they were often big ones.
Cingrani relied more heavily on his fastball last year than just about anyone else in the majors. He threw fastballs an absurd 81.5% of the time, which ranked him second in the MLB among pitchers that pitched at least 100 innings. Since the pitch was tough to hit in general, he could get away with throwing it up in the zone very often. Yet, this left him susceptible to home runs and extra-base hits.
Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati ranked second in the MLB last year in home runs allowed, behind only Coors Field in Colorado. Allowing so many fly balls may result in a lot of homers. If he allows too many home runs, he’s going to have trouble keeping such a great ERA. He’s already given up 2 homers in 8.1 innings so far in spring training, and I don’t see this slowing down much anytime soon.
With that being said, Cingrani can still keep a respectable ERA despite his fly ball tendencies. As long as he continues to keep that fastball velocity from last year (he averaged at 91.9 MPH), he will continue to make batters swing and miss. I think the WHIP may only travel up a little bit, and the ERA will go up more dramatically. If we can put any stock in sabermetrics, his 3.78 FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) and 3.33 SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA) are signs of regression to come. Still, he should have good enough rates to keep him relevant in fantasy baseball.
Cingrani has been an elite producer of strikeouts throughout his entire professional career. In his time in the minors, he struck out an incredible 11.8 batters per 9 innings. He kept this dominance upon his call up to the majors, as he struck out 109 batters in his 97.1 innings as a starter for a rate of 10.1 K/9.
Once again, Cingrani was dominant based on his heavy use of his fastball. While he also employs a high-70’s slider, mid-70’s curveball, and mid-80’s change-up, he simply didn’t utilize these pitches much, because didn’t need to at the time. His slider was easily his second-best offering last season, and he’s been focusing on it this offseason. It should be his go-to secondary pitch, and he should increase his usage of it beyond the 7.4% rate he used it in 2013.
Going away from his fastball a bit and using his slider probably won’t hurt him much. Deception is the name of his game, and he should continue to strike out batters at a high-rate as a result of this. There may be a slight decrease in strikeout rate as batters figure him out a bit, but probably nothing too extreme. I still picture him recording a strikeout rate higher than 9.0 K/9.
What’s more of a concern in terms of his strikeout potential is volume. The 24-year-old pitched 136 innings last season, slightly less than his 151 innings in 2012. If he remains a starter for the entire season, he may end up somewhere in the range of 170 innings. In that case, I think around 175 strikeouts is a good estimate for his total at the end of the season. Regardless, he’ll be a great option for the amount of K’s he can rack up per start.
Cingrani ended up with 7 wins last year throughout his 18 starts, behind one of the best offenses in the National League. The team ranked 3rd place in the NL in runs scored, and 8th with a .249 batting average. The only noticeable difference in the offense is the departure of Shin-Soo Choo, but with a healthy Ryan Ludwick and speedster Billy Hamilton leading off, I think they can be just as effective in scoring runs.
Cingrani averaged around 5.1 innings per start last season. The Reds coaching staff will probably let him go a bit deeper into games, so perhaps around 6 innings per start is possible. This should increase his win potential a bit.
I expect Cingrani to make around 28 starts in the 2014 regular season. If that turns out to be true, I believe he’ll end up in the range of 10 to 13 wins. A win total like this probably won’t help or hinder his value too much.
Cingrani is still young and has plenty of time to refine his game and become a more dominant pitcher. When his overall workload increases, I do believe he could someday be a top-20 starter in fantasy.
In his sophomore season, I think we’re going to see some regression. However, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be fantasy relevant. In fact, I’m predicting him to finish a bit better than where he’s currently being drafted, as the 43rd starting pitcher off the board in ESPN leagues.
2014 Projection: 28 GS, 170 IP, 11 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, 175 K.
Check out my piece on Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez here.