Just stop it you detractors out there – Tony Cingrani is legit. I may be an ardent Cincinnati Reds fan, but such an opinion isn’t bias; given the amount of time he’s been doing so, it’s time to recognize the big lefty’s dominance. His performance can no longer be considered a small sample size fluke, nor merely passed off as a high-wire act. I prefer to call it effectively simple.
As noted by Mike Holian, “In 2013, Cingrani made 18 starts. Over the course of those outings, the third-round pick in the 2011 draft (did someone say absolute steal?) led the majors with 10.1 K/9 rate while allowing more than three runs in just one of those trips to the hill.” More than simply that though, the Rice product didn’t even allow more than five hits in any of those starts, let alone three runs – a mind-blowing fact considering his limited repertoire.
Three starts into 2014 then, and the streak lives on – making a little bit of history in the process: his current run of 21 starts without more than five hits allowed hasn’t been done, according to Sean Lahman, in 100 years. Not that he’s benefited from being pulled early (and no, that is not some sub-shade being thrown at old manger Dusty Baker‘s tendencies); the 24-year-old has gone at least five innings in 16 of his 21 starts, meaning opposing hitters have had plenty of chances to ‘figure out’ Cingrani. Such opportunity hasn’t benefited them in the least so far – over 127 innings, Cingrani has a 2.83 ERA and 149 strikeouts, and with every start is looking more and more like a potential ace.
So why then, do some people still consider Cincinnati’s sophomore a fluke?
Admittedly, the former college closer is rather a one-trick pony, or in Jerry Crasnick’s words, a “one-man Baskin-Robbins franchise,” but what a hell of a trick it is; last year, according to FanGraphs, he threw his fastball 81.5 percent of the time – a figure surpassed only by Bartolo Colon’s 85.5 percent among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings (for comparison’s sake, his mark would have been the 18th highest fastball percentage amongst all ML pitchers if the qualifier was limited to 10 innings). Mike Podhorzer additionally pointed out “What’s even more incredible is how Cingrani has such a strong history of high strikeout rates, yet the average fastball induces the lowest rate of swings and misses among all pitch types.” While the aforementioned Colon’s strikeout rate has sat around 14% to 15% in three of the last four seasons, Cingrani last year posted a 28.6% rate in the majors, that after putting up a ridiculous mark of 41.9% in Triple-A.
Despite knowing what’s coming then, due in part to his hiding the ball extremely effectively, and also helped by his lanky limbs and deceiving arm slot, opposing hitters have so far been unable to catch up to Cingrani* – his 93mph gas often looking more like 97 or 98. So while Cingrani does possess a 79mph slider and a 86mph changeup (and even threw a couple of cutters and curveballs last year, which are yet to be seen in 2014), he just doesn’t throw them often. No, in his words, it’s all about that four seam offering – “I don’t even think about it. I just throw it… There’s literally no thought process. It just goes. That’s all it is.”
Cingrani does apparently recognize that a quality starting pitcher will typically need a larger repertoire of serviceable pitches at his disposal than what he currently possesses – “To be the best, I say you have to have three really good pitches” – but seems to be getting by just fine anyhow in the meantime**. If those secondary offerings he’s been working on do begin to catch up however – as they looked to have done a little during his Sunday outing against the Tampa Bay Rays – then the Reds’ divisional foes best look out; while Cingrani may currently still be somewhat of a curiosity, albeit a dominant one, he could soon be a worst nightmare to face.
* Not only has he been hell on fellow southpaws, but Cingrani has also limited righties to a .193 average.
** With Mat Latos reportedly out a while longer too, the Reds will need Cingrani to continue on his current path if they’re to compete in the highly-competitive (hello Milwaukee all of a sudden!) NL Central.