Many were confused by the placing of Robert Stephenson into the bullpen when the year began. There were many reasons for it – he had never relieved before, he hadn’t had a ton of success in Triple-A, how would he continue to get enough innings to be a starter later in the year (which the team said they were still planning on using him as)? Earlier this season Cincinnati Reds Manager Dick Williams stated that at some point if Stephenson weren’t getting enough innings, or pitching often enough, that he would need to make the move to send him to Triple-A in order to get him those needed innings.

On Monday, Robert Stephenson entered a game for the first time in over a week. He entered the game with a 6.35 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched. He had been pitching well over his last five games, posting a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched with just three walks and eight strikeouts. After the long layoff, things did not go well for the right hander. He allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in 2.0 innings to go along with a walk and two home runs. That pushed his ERA on the season up to 8.03.

Is it time for a change with Robert Stephenson?

We are dealing with a small sample size of just 13 appearances this season, but yesterday was the 4th time of the year that Robert Stephenson has gone at least six days between making an appearance. He’s made eight appearances on less than five days of rest between outings. Let’s take a look at the difference at the splits between more than five days of rests and less than five days of rest for Robert Stephenson with the Reds this season:

Rest IP H BB K HR ERA Strike%
Sub 5 days 15.0 14 6 19 4 4.20 64%
5+ days 9.2 19 10 8 3 13.96 56%

Now, we are certainly working with a very small sample size here, but the information at hand suggests something very different is happening when he goes out there with normal reliever usage versus when he doesn’t pitch for nearly a week between outings. It could be entirely coincidental, but maybe it’s time that Dick Williams steps in and makes the move to get Robert Stephenson more consistent work. Whether that’s sending the right hander back to Triple-A to work in the rotation, or to talk Bryan Price and get him more consistent work to see if that will help his numbers.

51 Responses

  1. simon cowell

    I think it is time for Robert Stephenson to get more work at AAA. He is clearly not major league ready. As far as long layoff between pitching I simply don’t buy it. He has all the opportunity in the world to work out between starts to keep himself sharp. If he can’t step up then it is simple… he needs to step down.
    The games that I have watched him play in even when you say he was good… he was very lucky. Again as you say a very small sample size but major league bats are hitting his stuff with authority.

    • Doug Gray

      You don’t buy it? That’s fine, but go look at how relievers of all kinds perform with 5 days between appearances – it’s not nearly as good as when they get less rest. Their strikeout rates are significantly down, the ERA is way up. Guys need in game action. You sit there and say they have all the time to pitch between games, but they really don’t. They aren’t out there throwing side sessions like starters are because they might need to be used that day in the actual game.

    • Muddy Cleats

      Dittos. Reds really need him 2 b successful & I am pulling 4 him, but 4 whatever reason he has trouble getting hitters out rested or not! I look back @ EE & say Reds didn’t give him enough time. Then again u can look back @ several Reds pitchers & see they don’t develop until leaving the Reds…Travis Wood, Boxburger & Hoover & Rameriz this season 2 name a few

  2. The Duke

    However they are working with him, it’s pretty clearly doing nothing for his fastball command. It’s got a lot of movement, but he’s either having it drift back towards the middle of the plate to get crushed, or drifting outside for a ball. This is the same thing I’ve noticed in several of his appearances this year.

  3. Hingle McCringleberry

    For the life of me, All the talk about stephenson by local media mentioned nothing about his severe lack of control. How could all of these pitchers come up through the system and be horribly unprepared. Bad control, 3 years in the system and 2 pitches, No movement. Replace these coaches! Im listening about how great ted power is and what he’s done. Yet the only pitchers who are doing well are those who didn’t come through our farm system besides wandy. What does that tell you?

    I agree with simon, Send him back to AAA and don’t bother him until next spring. Same with reed. Price is so incompetent, hell he forgets he has arismendy on the bench. He’s just wasting away. Fire price now!

    • Wes

      And if we are about to draft Greene- we need competent coaching for our pitching staff.

      Also my jaw dropped watching game last night when Marty justified Stephenson performance. Reds don’t have 5 starters and Stephenson can’t crack the line up. Time to send him down.

  4. Michael B. Green

    Stephenson needs to work on a two-seam fastball and all but ditch the four-seamer. He throws plenty hard for that transition. I would also set a month-long goal of 60%+ of first pitch strikes at AAA before he warrants any hint of a call-up.

    His curveball and changeup are good but you cannot give up that many homers or carry an ERA that high in MLB.

    Many a HOF pitcher struggled early in their careers but not to this extent.

    Go back to AAA, work on keeping the ball down, throwing first pitch strikes, and build back confidence.

    The walk rate is elevated for 3 years now and that needs fixed. That is the major problem for 2 years at CIN now for many SP’s – walks and homers.

  5. Tom

    Maybe Hunter Greene’s handlers are correct. Maybe the Reds really don’t have a good track record of developing pitching. If that’s true, then Stephenson would be Exhibit A.

    • I-71_Exile

      Hunter Greene’s handlers have their own agenda which may include a desire to stay on the west coast to pitch in those spacious ballparks. Recent Reds pitching successes include: Bailey, Cueto, Leake, Chapman, Iglesias, DeSclafani, and maybe Lorenzen. These are all pitchers who developed/improved with the Reds. I don’t care so much where they came from.

      Stevenson shows the inherent risk in drafting high school pitchers. It’s hard to project 18 year olds.

  6. sultanofswaff

    Sorry for the crosspost, but this situation has me really ticked off.

    At some point you have to ask if the Reds are actively harming the development of one of their best arms.

    –Stephenson doesn’t pitch for over a week and then you throw him into a bases loaded jam in a close game with little to no time to warm up.
    –After dotting the outside corner with a fastball, instead of staying there Mez calls for an inside fastball against a former MVP because THE BOOK says you have to establish your fastball. Stephenson put it right where the glove was—grand slam.
    –Same thing with Morales later. Mez called for a high fastball. Stephenson put it right where he wanted it—home run. Not saying his control was impeccable, but you can’t help but question the pitch calling.
    –Stephenson’s fastball was up and he was overthrowing his curve, OBVIOUS signs of rust.
    –This whole ‘establish the fastball’ mantra Price has been obsessing over is only applicable to a guy who gets regular work. You simply cannot expect a guy to locate when the rust is practically flaking off him. Pitch backwards if you have to, but get outs with whatever works that day.

    This has all the makings of a situation where the Reds give up on him, trade him in a ‘change of scenery’ move, and he flourishes elsewhere.

    • The Duke

      No argument from me, I think Stephenson should be in AAA starting every 5th day until he is out of options.

    • MK

      Looking at top arms just who is being successful? Stephenson, NO seems like he is pretty screwed up at this point. Reed, NO, seems like he is pretty screwed up at this point. Garrett, injured after its seems they screwed him up sending him down. Romano, injured after its seems they screwed him up sending him down.Seems with a Manager who is a pitching expert, and two pitching coaches on the big league staff it seems like they are screwing up some great talent or these guys are highly overrated. Dusty used to get a lot of grief for his reputation of ruining young pitchers, maybe Price should have a similar reputation.

      • Doug Gray

        Dusty was running guys into the ground. Very different than what’s going on with Price.

      • Muddy Cleats

        Good questions that Reds organization need 2 honestly answer. Reds r not good @ developing pitching & they know it! It’s exactly why they keep trading 4 it. Leake & Chapman were ML ready. Disco developed by Marlins; very little reds minor league time; dittos 4 Volquez. Cuervo to & Browning were the last good ones – Bailey avg @ best

      • Doug Gray

        Bailey was one of the 20 best starting pitcher in baseball in his two best seasons…. calling him average at best is nonsense.

  7. Kindell

    I understand that Brian Price and company tried to get creative with the pitching staff at the start of the season. They made an effort to fix the bullpen issues by using the young arms they had in the rotation and it just didn’t workout. I admit, I was angry with the idea at first, but then it was like maybe this could work. It is now painfully obvious that something has to change.

    I am not so sure that we can strictly put this on development. I think they have got themselves in more trouble moving people and mixing up their schedules more than anything. Right now, the two biggest reasons people are questions development is because of Stephenson and Reed. There is a good arguement there, but I think there is a lot more to it than development.

    I feel like there are some good examples of development in the system. Garrett and Romano have come a really long way. That final jump to the big leagues is very tough. I am just against going back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. They have spent enough time with Robert Stephenson to know where his best chance to succeed is at. Figure that out, put him in the role and keep him there.

    • Muddy Cleats

      IMO, they should have packaged him n trade when he still had some upside. He’s had a chance 2 break into REDS rotation for 3-4 yrs now & cant seem 2 get over the hump. What that worth n trade now?

      • Doug Gray

        That upside didn’t disappear. He didn’t get injured and no longer has that upside. His trade value isn’t what it used to be, but don’t confuse the two things.

  8. sultanofswaff

    At the very least, it’s well past the time where the GM communicates to the public about what the plan is with Reed/Stephenson and all the other young arms moving forward.

  9. Jasonp

    The numbers follow what I have been thinking was happening. He still needs work and AAA is where he should be getting it as a starter.

    Price has had this problem before where he will use most pitchers a ton and there will be 1 that just never seems to get consistent play time. 5 relievers have been in over 20 games Stephenson has been in 13. He needs more work then that to have a chance at getting better.

    • RFM

      He’s pitched less often but for longer outings. That’s how long relieving works. He’s thrown the 3rd most innings out of the bullpen (24.2), after Iglesias (26.1), Lorenzen (25.1). He’s pitched more innings than Wood, Storen, and Peralta, despite them pitching in 8 or 9 more games.

      I would’ve liked Stephenson to be starting somewhere, but don’t pretend he’s working fewer innings just because he pitches less often.

      • Jasonp

        He can’t work on pitching in between the games he pitches in. That’s why the less games is more important to look at then the innings pitched. He has had 13 days to work on his flaws in almost 2 months.

  10. Bill

    Although the sample size is small, the contrast is stark. Any task the requires the use of fine motor skills requires frequent repetition to keep sharp. With pitchers in the bullpen, they have to come ready to pitch every day. They can’t throw 50 pitches at game speed in the bullpen without consent of the manager/pitching coach on their own initiative as it would impact their availability.

    Ideally the Reds send him to AAA as a starter and allow him to continue to hone his craft where he could also bring some stability to the Louisville rotation which seems to forced into a bullpen day every other day. Hope to see some of our starters return to health soon to give the front office a few more options for starters in Cincinnati and Louisville.

    • The Duke

      Assuming he’s healthy, Rookie Davis should be starting in AAA, along with Robert Stephenson, and Cody Reed. I think the Reds should thing about promoting Deck McGuire to AAA as well. I’d like to see how the Bats could do with a consistent rotation of Stephenson, Reed, Davis, Stephens, McGuire going every fifth day.

      And the Reds really need a couple arms to get healthy. It’d make a world of difference if we could put Disco and Finnegan back in the rotation.

  11. Chris

    I’ve heard Rumblings of him being not very perceptive to coaching almost uncoachable. Like I said it’s just rumblings and I’m not sure how true it is but I though I’d just put it out there but yes I agree to all points he needs to pitch more regardless of which level he’s pitching at.

  12. Arnold Ziffle

    Time for a change for Robert Stephenson?
    Absolutely!!! Time for a change of scenery. Time for a June trade from Reds GM Dick Williams. Package Stephenson up with a few quality prospects and go get a real starting pitcher. One with a 3 ERA and not a > 8 ERA.
    The return for Stephenson alone wouldn’t even fill up a Coke machine. It’ll have to be a package with some legit prospects.

    • I-71_Exile

      Why trade now when his value is so low?

      • Jonathan

        Agree. why trade him when hes at the all time low? Price isn’t doing him any favors by pitching him every 2 weeks. he should be starting…

    • RFM

      Redo the Jake Arrieta trade, playing the part of Baltimore. What could go wrong???

  13. Krozley

    He needs to get work as a starter as this bullpen thing is not working. It also can’t help your mental game when a starter is needed and you are constantly passed over for other pitchers who were released by other teams and are not part of the Reds’ future.

  14. Brad

    How nice would it have been to have Stephenson and/or Reed start season in Louisville rotation then fill in as typical attrition of SP occurred early in season?

    I understand Reds thought process of handling Stephenson and Reed. I just believe they have had poor execution. Cannot go back and rewrite the past. Do the right thing and send Stephenson down today. May need to send Buchanan or Bonilla too.

    • Brad

      Surprised that the Reds did not make a roster move today. Thought it could be anything from Stephenson, Bonilla and Buchanan sent down to 2 or 1 of the 3.

      Bullpen still in good shape due to Stephenson and Buchanan eating innings. At least one will end up going to Louisville when Cingrani and Garrett are activated.

  15. Simon Cowell

    In the end it comes down to delivery. Bob and his fans can make a million excuses for failure. Coming up with a reason is simple to do. Every pitcher on the Reds roster has an excuse. But the excuse he can never use is that he actually delivered on pitching like a #1 prospect

  16. Patrick

    It looks like he has fallen far in the Reds eyes. Garrett/Reed/Davis/Romano seem to have passed him by. With Bailey/Disco and Finnegan he is way down on the starting food chain.

    I am not sure this far into the season that sending him to AAA and using his last option is the best plan. Might have to use him in mop up/DL like a Rule V guy that way he has a full year next year at AAA.

    He could also be a part of a trade to the Rays for Archer or Ordozzi (they will need to cut payroll this off season) The Rays could use a LF and 2B

    • davidmac84

      Robert is just not that good. He had one year with a FIP under 3 at A ball in 2013. He was significantly below aver starter in both AA and AAA. His fastball as a starter he cannot locate and 95 MPH fastball with no ability to locate his basically worthless. His best pitch is by far his curve. I would give him regular appearances out of the pen- tell him he is only pitching one or two innings and see if can start hitting around 98-100 on the fastball which may make up for his lack of control.
      The starting pitching talent in the Reds system is Mahle, Romano, Garrett and Guitterez. Stephenson has been broken for about 4 years – its silly to lay this on Price’s feet.

      • TC

        Spot on. At some point, you put up enough numbers that they become who you are, regardless of whether you’re a starter or reliever. Pitchers with 9 K/9 who throw 95 but have 4-5 BB/9 are a dime a dozen these days. At 24, he has a couple years to figure it out, but I’m not holding my breath based on everything I have seen.

    • RobL

      I think Patrick makes a really interesting point. The Duke says to keep him in AAA until the options run out. Well, if he does have one option left and we use it this year, then he has to stick next year or we lose him.

      The Reds aren’t competing, truly for the playoffs. That boat sailed with Homer and Disco going out before the season. And it sunk when Finnegan went down. But as of right now, on Fangraphs, the Reds have the most WAR for position players. They have the best defense and the seventh best offense. Everyone but Cozart will be back next year. And maybe Cozart will be as well. They are good enough to compete. If the pitching staff can start next year healthy, this team will be able to compete. Do we really want Stephenson eating up a bullpen spot if he hasn’t worked out his fastball command? This year doesn’t matter, it is lost. Next year, we can have Stephenson in the minors if need be.

      Stephenson is talented. If he can fix his fastball, he can be really good. I think it would be great if the Reds hold onto him as long as possible, because if it clicks, he can be special.

      For those who think the front office owes the fans an explanation of their plans for a player, get over it. If the above scenerio were true, would it be wise to come out on June 1 and say we have given up, and we are just trying to keep him on an extra year. That doesn’t do much for the team out there fighting every game.

      • Doug Gray

        Robert Stephenson has two options remaining. He used the first one last year. He has not used one this year. If you use one this year you still get one for 2018 before he’d have to stick in 2019.

      • Muddy Cleats

        Don’t exactly buy that; Reds r 3-4 games out? Stop drinking the Cool Aid. Reds need 2 spend some $$$

  17. Cguy

    Just for comparison’s sake, I eliminated the position player prospects from the Top 100 Prospect List of 2015. I went down to # 70 Amir Garrett. That left a list of 31 pitching prospects including BobSteve@ #10 & Garrett @ #31. Only 4 of those pitchers have 10 wins or more, about 8 or 9 could be considered starting pitchers, with 10 of those prospects yet to pitch at the ML level. Yeah it’s arbitrary I know, but still a lot of higher- rated pitching prospects than Stephenson or Garrett have yet to find success at the ML level. Even the best organizations can’t turn prospects into polished ML sps overnight. Stephenson & Garrett will come around.

    • RFM

      Amen. Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell (kinda), Jose DeLeon (1 outing), Robert Gsellman, Garrett, Reed, Julio Urias, and Vince Velasquez so far stand out this year as promising young guys who’ve really hurt their reputation by… you know… pitching.

      Early struggles happen to lots of pitchers for lots of teams.

  18. Michael B. Green

    Cguy’s post is a nice reminder to exercise patience with young pitchers. However, my two (2) concerns steer away from that: 1) emphasize two-seam fastballs versus chest high four-seamers; and 2) figure out why CIN has WAY too many arm injuries in the organization.

    Since Opening Day of 2016, CIN SP’s have allowed 1.71 HR/9 and 3.69 BB/9. That is dead last in both categories. With last year’s awful bullpen, the total team pitching stats are worst than that (but still dead last).

    This is not a formal finding, but it seems that over the years, young pitchers that are highly rated, typically have high K and BB rates but lower hit and HR rates. CIN pitchers have high K and HR rates. The solution? Strike one and two-seam fastballs.

  19. The Rage

    I would ignore Roberts time pitching last night. He was unable to get warmed up fast enough in the duration of time needed. Price got shell shacked by Williams afterwards as well fwiw.

    Stephenson is not a bullpen pitcher. He takes to long to warm up and even has his struggles when he is putting up 0’s. The idea of using him as a long reliever only works if he gets to pitch like a starter every 4-5 days and the teams needs don’t always match that.

    He needs to move into the rotation somewhere. That includes the Reds.

    • Wes

      I agree w that. So what if he carries a 7 era. Bronson already is. Let him get as many starts as possible and work through growing pains or cut him if u can’t. Nothing to loose.

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