The Cincinnati Reds have sent Tony Cingrani back to the minor leagues to make room in the rotation for Johnny Cueto. While in the Major Leagues, Cingrani more than held his own. He dominated at times and he struggled in small spurts. Overall though, he was very, very good. The lefty posted a 3.27 ERA in 6 starts with 9 walks and 41 strikeouts in 33 innings. Where he struggled was pitch efficiency, needing an average of 18 pitches per inning. He also struggled giving up the home run, allowing 7 of them which gave him an average of 1.9 home runs per 9 innings pitched. The other 5 starters this season are between 0.7 and 1.0 home runs per 9 innings. So what does Tony Cingrani need to work on while in Louisville? Well, let’s look at things in a few different sections.
While with the Reds, Tony Cingrani showed three pitches. A fastball, a curveball and a change up. His fastball was strong as he averaged 92 MPH and topped out at 96 MPH. The problem however was that he threw the pitch 83% of the time. He mixed in his curveball 10% of the time, averaging 77 MPH with the pitch. His change up was thrown just 7% of the time and it averaged 84 MPH.
The Pitch Usage
Catchers are often given credit for “calling the game”, but the Reds had three catchers behind the plate for Cingrani over his 6 starts and every one of them was calling for the fastball 80% of the time. That certainly tells you that whoever was responsible for coming up with the gameplan for the game was telling the catcher to call very little offspeed stuff. Whether it was because someone didn’t think it was quality enough to throw or that Cingrani himself simply didn’t trust it enough can be up for debate, but either way you slice it the answer needs to be Cingrani throwing it more in the minor leagues. However, as John Fay posted on Saturday afternoon, the Reds are not going to give Cingrani a set number of certain pitches to work on in the minor leagues because they “don’t want him to learn how to lose”. I would rather him learn how to use his other pitches in a game and maybe pitch a little worse in the minor leagues than come back to the Majors and not be as good as he could have been. Maybe Cingrani takes it on himself to mandate it himself, but it is strange that the Reds are telling him publicly that he needs better/more secondary stuff, but aren’t telling him to actually try and use it more in games at the minor league level.
Control and Command
While in the Majors the left hander threw a ball with his fastball just 33% of the time, which is a good rate. However with his curveball and his change up, he really struggled to throw strikes. With the curveball, Cingrani threw a ball 50% of the time and with the change up it was even worse with a ball thrown 64% of the time. Below I have broken down each pitch in a variety of ways.
The fastball, which we can see here, was hit a lot more often in the middle and up in the zone than it was lower in the zone. Of course, it was also swung at and missed up in the zone more often. Cingrani likes to go up the ladder with his fastball, which already has plenty of rise to it and when he is at his top velocity is tough to catch up to (which you can see by all of the swings and misses above the zone). With that said, some times he simply just missed and the ball was up in the zone.
As we can see here, there are a lot of pitches outside of the zone with the curveball. He only had one swing and miss inside of the zone, but got 7 more outsize of the zone. There are quite a few taken curveballs in the middle of the strikezone here, something that you probably aren’t going to be able to continuously get away with. Do you know what is missing here though? The “In Play (hit)” category. It is missing because there were no hits on his curveball at the Major League level. While we are dealing with a small sample size and with the limited amount of times he threw the pitch, there was of course the real element of surprise with the pitch. Still, the results were pretty good with the pitch.
There are a lot of change ups out of the zone here. There are also plenty of ones that are near the middle of the zone or higher. There were only three balls in play that went as hits of the change ups thrown, but one was a double and the other was a home run. All three of those were near the middle of the strikezone or higher. There were only two swinging strikes and only two called strikes.
What needs to be worked on
After all of that, we get to the simple things. What does Tony Cingrani need to work on when he is in Louisville in order to be better prepared the next time he comes up to the Major Leagues? Well, for starters it is going to be to mix in other pitches. He was entirely too fastball reliant and hitters began to figure it out. When you swing “fastball” every time and you get it 4 out of 5 times, you are going to begin to have some success, even when the guy is throwing a good fastball like Cingrani does.
He needs to work on the control and command of both his curveball and his change up and it wouldn’t hurt if his fastball command were a little better too, but there is more margin for error with that pitch. He struggled to throw strikes with both of his offspeed pitches and by looking at both charts, he also left far too many of them in the hitting zone at the middle or top of the strikezone. Offspeed pitches need to be at the bottom of the zone and Cingrani simply couldn’t put them there enough.
To begin this season with Louisville, Cingrani was mixing in his curveball more than he showed in the Majors. Once he got up with the Reds though, he scrapped the usage quite a bit. Getting back to where he was to begin the year will be key for him as throwing it more often will give him more comfort and hopefully, the repetitions needed to improve his control of the pitch. He would also benefit from throwing his change up more often for the same reasons, substituting in 5-10 change ups instead of fastballs per game.
For Cingrani, like most pitchers, the fastball is always going to be number one on his go to chart. But he is going to need more to offer hitters and when he can offer it he needs to be reliable in throwing it for strikes. With a fastball that is as good as his can be at times, neither of his offspeed pitches need to be real good pitches, but just something to keep the hitters a little more honest so he can use his fastball to its potential.