Saturday, February 15, 2014

Outsiders underestimating potential of Reds starting rotation in 2014

Despite Friday's news that Mat Latos underwent knee injury, which immediately sent some Reds fans into a panicked frenzy, Cincinnati's starting rotation looks to be in great shape this season.

Bronson Arroyo may be gone after serving eight valiant years in a Reds uniform, but the team is well equipped to absorb his loss.

After an injury-plagued 2013 season, Johnny Cueto enters camp with a new lease on life and a renewed sense of health. Should he return to the form he so terrifically displayed in 2012, which saw him post 19 wins and a fourth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting, it will give the Reds a formidable ace.

Not too far behind Cueto is Latos and Homer Bailey. Barring injury, both look primed to thrust themselves into the top tier of baseball's starting pitchers. In Bailey's case, he should be extra motivated to record huge individual numbers, as he heads toward free agency in the winter. Similar to Shin-Soo Choo last year, Bailey is out to elevate his value to an all-time high, just in time to score a massive contact when the offseason rolls around. This is why I fully expect, save from a trade or injury, Bailey will have a huge season.

Outside of the trio of Cueto, Latos, and Bailey, youngsters Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani are looking to prove their mettle as well. Although not outstanding, Leake has been a solid fixture in the rotation since breaking onto the major league scene in 2010. Meanwhile, Cingrani far exceeded expectations while filling in for the injured Cueto in 2013, going 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA in his rookie campaign.

Aside from the Dodgers, Cardinals, and perhaps the Nationals, there isn't a National League club that can hold a proverbial candle to Cincinnati's rotation in comparison to their own. Sure, the current starters have a combined zero All-Star appearances between them. However, that's not a reflection of their ability, but rather an indication that their best years are still to come. At age 28, Cueto holds the title of being the eldest member of the group. The rest are 27, 26, 26, and 24.

And if something were to happen with one of these five, general manager Walt Jocketty has compiled a group of pitchers ready to step in and take their place. Namely, top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson, veteran Chien-Ming Wang, southpaw Jeff Francis, and David Holmberg, who was acquired in that deal where the Reds sent Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay. Admittedly, there's a drop in quality here, but depth exists nevertheless.

A potential wild card in the chemistry makeup of the rotation, not including the loss of leadership from Arroyo, is Devin Mesoraco taking over the full-time catching duties from Hanigan. Fortunately, Mesoraco has had time two seasons to transition into the role. But it will be interesting to see how Mesoraco handles mentoring the pitching staff without help from Hanigan. Of course, free agent signing Brayan Pena will be expected to help lend Mesoraco a hand during the process.

So, what kind of projections do outside sources have on this year's Reds rotation? And how valid do they seem at first glance? For starters, here's a look at the projections from RotoChamp:

In fairness, all projections tend to be a little conservative. It's hard to predict a pitcher winning 20 games in a given season. Or a batter smacking 60 home runs (unless they're on the juice). With that said, I think these projections fall well short of what we can actually expect from Reds starters this year.

ZiPS appears to be more favorable toward the Reds while ESPN's projections tend to undervalue them, in my opinion. You will notice in ESPN's projections that they have all five Reds pitchers recording 2014 ERAs higher than the ERAs they posted in 2013. That's certainly not likely to happen. 

Will Cincinnati's starting rotation be the absolute best in baseball? Probably not. But it's no stretch of the imagination to expect them to be among the top five. From browsing around the web and reading what outsiders have to say, I don't get the sense that they have as much faith in Cincy's rotation as I do. Maybe I'm blinded by my expectations. But I truly believe the Reds have the potential to be a dominant rotation if these five guys stay healthy for the duration of the year. The team may not score a lot of runs, but these five arms figure to keep the Reds in the game more times than not.

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