TDG’s Triple Play: Cincinnati Reds!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Pitcher: Raisel Iglesias, Age: 30, Position: CL
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
(If you can’t handle the Enrique Iglesias play on words, I’m not sorry.)
I Can Be Your Closer, Baby
Raisel Iglesias arrived in the United States in August of 2014 after defecting from Cuba, signing a seven-year, 27-million dollar contract with the Cincinnati Reds that would run through the year 2020. Although he was not able to be ready to pitch in 2014, the Reds chose to make the 25-year-old a part of the opening day rotation in 2015, a role that he would only have a year and one month. A 3-7 record with a 4.15 ERA (3.55 FIP) and 1.14 WHIP was a solid effort in his first season but after continued shoulder discomfort that lingered into his first five starts in 2016, the Reds decided he would be better served as a reliever. From June 2016-forward, Iglesias has stayed a reliever, almost exclusively as the closer in Cincinnati.
Of Iglesias’s four seasons as a reliever, on the surface, he seemed to have three dominant seasons in 2016-18, with ERAs of 2.53, 2.49, and 2.38, respectively, before a 4.16 hiccup in 2019. A closer look reveals issues that go back to 2018 as well, and entering his age-30 season it will be interesting to see if Iglesias can right the ship.
Let Regression Take You Over, Bailamos
In his first two seasons as a (nearly) exclusive reliever (’16-’17), Iglesias was outstanding. In 100 appearances, he had a 6-5 record, 34/38 in save opportunities, 2.51 ERA, 175 K’s in 154 1/3 innings (10.21 K/9), and a 0.70 HR/9. With a fastball that averaged 96.1 MPH over those two seasons, touching in the high-90s, it was Iglesias’s 93 MPH sinker that was also rolling in those days.
As seen above, over the past two seasons the velocity increased on the sinker and with it, so did the batting average, extra-base hits, and dongs at an alarming rate. Iglesias, naturally, decreased his usage of the pitch. 2018’s final ERA of 2.38 was the best of his career, but a 4.23 FIP was the worst of his career thanks to the 12 home runs allowed (1.50 per 9), which was canceled out by an unsustainable 91.6% Left On Base percentage. In 2019, the expected regression presented itself in an ugly way. A 3-12 record was the most losses by a reliever since 1978, a 5.79 ERA on the road, a 5.18 ERA in non-save situations led to criticism of his manager’s usage, and another 12 home runs allowed brought the HR-rate all the way up to 1.61 per 9. Moreover, although hard-hit rate is up across the league as a whole in the past two years, Iglesias’s hard-hit rate allowed has skyrocketed year over year.
Iglesias Hard Contact Rate (as reliever)
Combine the last two seasons, and Iglesias had 17 losses and 10 blown saves, four of which occurred in the same game for a total of 23. Despite being unhappy about throwing on the road in tie games, 23 is a lot of games that have fallen on Iglesias’s shoulders in the past two seasons. As he enters his thirties, despite a re-worked contract that runs through 2021 at $9M+ per year, I’m not putting Iglesias into the “safe closers” category. In my mind, he’s simply “less unsafe” than many of the other closers. In 2020 redrafts, Iglesias was the 12th relief pitcher off the board (145 ADP at NFBC), ahead of the likes of Workman, Robles, Leclerc, Bradley, and Nick Anderson (even after the Pagan trade), all of whom I would prefer in redraft and most of them in dynasty.
If Iglesias falters, the Reds have a lot of younger options. Michael Lorenzen (28 years old) throws 97 MPH but it’s hard to envision him as a full-time closer with the Reds using him as a hitter and outfielder as well. Amir Garrett (28), a fan-favorite in Pittsburgh, throws 96 MPH and is valuable as a lefty-arm which may be less relevant with the three-batter minimum being implemented in 2020. The deep-league sleeper could be Robert Stephenson (27) who allowed a .194 expected BA in 2019, with a 3.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, and whose ADP is outside the top 700. Per Baseball Savant, all of these pitchers gave up significantly fewer Barrels per Batted Ball Event in 2019: Lorenzen 3.1%, Garrett 4.7%, Stephenson 5.1%, Iglesias 7.8%.
It is more likely than not, especially at his salary, that Raisel Iglesias has another year or two as the Reds closer. However, the Reds squad is expected to be much improved entering 2020 so the leash will likely be shorter, especially in a short season. It’s tough to trade saves, but I’m selling Iglesias in dynasty formats, and am looking for other closers in redraft leagues that have not yet drafted.
Hitter: Joey Votto, Age: 36, Position: 1B
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Hello? You play to win the game.
One of the hardest things to do as a fantasy owner is to separate your emotions from your players. Now, don’t get me wrong, we all play this game for different reasons. Some like to own their favorite players, some are social and want to hang out with their (online) friends, others play for money. I’m not here to discourage you from owning your favorite players if that is what allows you to enjoy the hobby. I do think it’s much easier to win when you let your feelings about the player go. Some bad guys are very good players, I own them, I don’t like them in real life, but fantasy is make-believe. Joey Votto is the opposite, how could you not like him? The guy had one of the best Player’s Weekend Nickname ever.
Who’s on First?
Yes, Who. That was his nickname, Who. The lifelong Cincinnati Red has spent 13 seasons in the majors and most of them have ranged from very good to great. His 2017 season was the peak, .320 batting average, .456 OBP and he finally hit more than 30 home runs for the first time since 2010. Toss in 100 RBI and 106 runs and you have an elite 1B. At 33 years old, Votto still had plenty of life in him, his low strikeout rate and high walk rate would allow him to have a slow decline, not what we normally see from our first baseman who rely on power.
Grand Theft Votto
So, what happened? 2018 saw a pretty significant decline. OBP was still very good at .417 but the power disappeared, and the counting stats went with them. 12 home runs will not cut it from any position in the current state of baseball, but it is even tougher to overcome from the 1B slot. Even with the steep drop off, there was hope in the industry for a bounce back, the BB rate was still higher than the K rate and Votto had these blips before. It did not get better; it got much worse. There were two reasons to own Votto, you play in a points league, or more importantly, you play in an OBP league. He hit .261 with a .357 OBP and 15 HRs. As the year closed, he was waiver wire material. Career-high K rate at 20.2% and a walk rate that plummeted to 12.5% help explain why, but it may just be age.
At 36 years-old he enters the 7th season of his $225,000,000 contract. Votto has been very candid in the past, noting both his recent decline and the fact that he would not hang around to collect a paycheck. This is also concerning as a dynasty owner because it would not be shocking to see Votto retire in the next two years. He’s a tough sell this year, and it’s hard to see where he’ll provide value. I traded Josh Naylor for Votto in a deep 20 team league where my starting 1B was Niko Goodrum and still didn’t feel great about the trade. If you are a fan, keep him, play him in favorable matchups and hope for the bounce back one more time. He’ll be useful in deep leagues if he is an everyday player, and the Reds are/were looking to be competitive in 2020 so that is expected.
Prospect: Jonathan India, Age: 23, Position: 3B
Analysis by: Joe Drake
For a player who was the 5th overall draft pick just two years ago, there isn’t much hype around Jonathan India… but, I think I know why. There’s simply nothing that stands out about his skill set. He’s got an average frame at 6’2” and 200 or so pounds. He’s got a pretty average hit tool, slightly above-average power, decent speed, a solid glove, and a nice arm. In no way, shape, or form does he stand out from the crowd, especially on a prospect list with superlative tools like Wander Franco’s bat, Xavier Edwards’ speed, or Oneil Cruz’s power. On a scale of hot to cold, India’s traits all come in at lukewarm, at best. On top of that, he wasn’t exactly impressive in his pro debut. So, it’s time to cut bait and dump him from your dynasty team, right? Wrong.
Red-y to Rumble?
Despite what’s been considered a mediocre stat line start to his pro career, I think there’s a glimmer of hope to be found at the end of his 2019 season. The season as a whole, which includes time at both High-A and Double-A, looks fine, if not intriguing for a 22-year old: .259/.365/.402 slash line with 11 HRs and 11 SBs with a wRC+ at 129. Not too shabby! But perhaps not quite what you’re looking for out of a top draft pick in his 2nd year of pro ball. Understandable. When we separate the High-A and Double-A seasons though, I think there’s a little more to like. India’s line in the Florida State League (High-A) was fine, but things seemed to click for him in his short stint at Double-A. India posted a 138 wRC+ in 145 plate appearances with a 17.9% K rate and 15.2% walk rate — both rates were marked improvements over his High-A numbers. He hit for a higher average (.270), stole bases more effectively (4/4), and swung and missed less (9.2%). Now, it’s entirely possible that this was just random variance over the course of a month or so of plate appearances. It’s also possible that India was feeling rejuvenated after graduating out of one of the most difficult leagues for offensive players in all of minor league baseball. I lean towards the latter.
For those concerned about India’s dismal AFL appearance, I’m willing to chalk it up to exhaustion. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part, so take it with a grain of salt, but it should be noted that this was probably the longest season of his life. After playing 112 games with 484 PAs in 2018, a career-high, India then appeared in 139 games in 2019 with 583 plate appearances. That’s a significant jump. Maybe it affected him, maybe it didn’t, but it’s worth acknowledging.
One of the things I like most about Jonathan India isn’t what the stats show us, but what the scouts are saying. It sounds like India will not only be reliable with the glove at third, but he could find his way into the lineup at other positions, too. The gents at FanGraphs believe that he’s athletic enough to fill-in up the middle if necessary and Prospects Live feels he could even be serviceable up the middle for an extended time. Notes like that are important, even for fantasy, because it means that India is versatile enough to crack a lineup sooner than someone locked into one position — especially when you consider how stacked the Reds’ current infield is. Little things like that can be the difference between consistent at-bats and riding the pine.
All said and done, I’m buying. India may never get the hype you may expect of a former 5th overall pick in the draft, but I think you’re making a mistake if you write him off. He has the vibe of a player whose performance will be greater than the sum of his parts. Someone whose combination of good tools across the board create a great product. I like that India has no glaring holes in his game, is a solid defender, and has the tools to build a good offensive game in the major leagues. I’m happy to grab him anywhere that an owner is willing to move him.
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