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The Bizarro Worlds of Pedro Baez & Tony Cingrani

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(Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

In case you missed yesterday’s column, the theme of the story surrounded the sputtering offense of the Dodgers, although we did reflect on how it seemed that other areas of the club sometimes have tendencies to under-perform on any given day.

Friday evening was a good example. Lefty starter Hyun-Jin Ryu threw well enough to earn the victory and the offense seemingly put enough runs on the board to seal the win. However, on this particular night, the bullpen had another implosion which resulted in the Dodgers walking away with yet another loss.

For those of you too young to know the meaning of the word “bizarro,” in the sense of a “logical inverse,” derived via the comic book character Bizarro, it’s an inverted version of Superman from a planet where “good” means “bad” and so on.

And the worlds of both Pedro Baez and Tony Cingrani over the past few seasons could probably fit into the context of being inversely logical.

Anybody who follows the Dodgers certainly knows that Baez has the tools to succeed. He’s had moments where he looks brilliant on the bump, but his frequent breakdowns—whether they are mental or slightly mechanical—seem to be occurring more frequently.

Near the halfway point of the 2017 campaign, his numbers were impressive, yet when the Dodgers‘ roster was selected for the NLCS against the Cubs, his name was omitted. In early September, he was frequently booed by fans at Dodger Stadium, as skipper Dave Roberts took to the press a number of times to defend him.

When considering that the bad is starting to outweigh the good, his future with the club could quite possibly be approaching a crossroads if he continues to trend downwards.

Last season, Baez threw a total of 64 innings with a 2.95 ERA and a 4.44 FIP with 64 strikeouts and 29 walks over 64 appearances. Through August 31, the righty tallied an impressive 1.79 ERA through 55-1/3 innings of work; however, from September 2 until the end of the regular season, he logged only 8-2/3 innings over 10 games, posting a whopping 10.38 ERA and a.341 batting average against in the process—bizarro, indeed.

Many pundits believed that he suffered from dead-arm syndrome or arm fatigue towards the end of the year, as he was first on the club with 66 regular season appearances. Yet, seemingly, his velocity never went away—even during his roughest outings, his heater was still topping out at 97-98 MPH. The movement on his pitches was missing late in the year, but most of all, it wasn’t difficult to see that he was completely lacking confidence.

Personally, ERA does not mean much for a reliever, but there’s still plenty of people who rely on it for reasons unbeknownst to me. In the case of Baez though, the fact he had a 1.79 ERA in the first half and a 10.38 ERA down the stretch does deserve some credence. But here’s a stat that’s hard to ignore—in his first nine appearances of the year, Baez issued just two walks, while allowing a whopping five walks over his last three full innings. And one of those walks came in the eighth inning with the bases loaded in a close contest against the Nationals on April 20.

Apparently, his breaking pitch arsenal is still developing, but his fastball certainly has the potential to carry him to the next level. Whether or not he can turn things around for the remainder of the season remains to be seen.

When the Dodgers picked up Cingrani at last year’s trade deadline, he had allowed 25 hits—including nine long balls— and six walks in just 23-1/3 innings in the first half of the year for the Reds. Opposing batters hit for a .272 average against him and his OPSA was a lopsided .965. But the Dodgers truly believed they found a diamond in the rough, as analytics showed the spin rate on his slider was his best weapon, prompting the 28-year-old lefty to use his breaking pitch arsenal more frequently.

While with the Dodgers last year, he threw extremely well, surrendering just 15 hits—with just one home run—over 22 appearances, and the club certainly thought they had a valuable weapon moving forward, so much so that he was among several pitchers considered for the eighth-inning vacancy which was vacated by Brandon Morrow during the offseason.

And despite his meltdown against the Giants on Friday night, Cingrani still has a ridiculous 15.9 K/9, while also leading the entire relief corps with a 1.31 FIP. Still, when looking at his career 4.35 FIP and 1.327 WHIP over 321-2/3 lifetime innings, one can’t help wonder if he truly has the stuff to be a shutdown reliever, even with the advanced pitching analytics of the Los Angeles staff.

During the post-game press conference on Friday, Roberts attributed Cingrani’s problems and lack of velocity to him having a “dead arm,” but the exact nature of his dilemma, and whether it has any additional fallout, remains to be seen.

Until we find out for sure, be sure to stop back on Sunday, as I’ll be taking a look at the Top 5 relief arms on the farm and whether or not they could conceivably impact the big league squad this season.

 

 

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