The Cincinnati Reds underwhelmed as a team in 2013, finishing third in the NL Central and losing in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. However, their pitching staff emerged as one of the best in the majors. The Reds’ staff finished last season with the best WHIP in all of baseball, ranking third in team ERA and sixth in total strikeouts. Needless to say, there were a few viable fantasy options helping to put up those strong numbers, and with four of their five starting pitchers back from last season, the Reds should provide plenty of pitching help for fantasy owners again in 2014. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the fantasy value of the Reds’ starters and relevant relievers for the upcoming season.
2014 Cincinnati Reds Pitching Staff Preview
Johnny Cueto (SP): Coming off a year when a lat strain limited him to just 11 starts, Cueto is expected to be Cincinnati’s starter on Opening Day. In his limited action in 2013, he went 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while striking out 51 in 60.2 innings. When healthy, Cueto looked every bit the pitcher that won 19 games in 2012 and posted a 2.78 ERA over 217.0 innings. He isn’t a top-tier fantasy starter because he isn’t a 200+ strikeout guy, but he is a solid No. 3 fantasy starter capable of delivering 15+ wins to go along with a great ERA and WHIP. It is worth noting that he does have a little hitch in his delivery that he uses to hide the ball from opposing hitters, and that may be related to the lat issues that nagged him throughout last season. If the injury persists and he has to alter his delivery in the middle of the season, there is no telling how that will impact his numbers. As a result, fantasy owners may want to be a little conservative and try to grab him around the 10th round, rather than in the seventh or eighth round that his numbers in a healthy season would warrant.
Mat Latos (SP): Since becoming a full-time starter in the majors in 2010, Latos has been one of the most reliable and durable pitchers around, and 2013 was no exception. He finished last season with a 14-7 record to go along with a 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 187 strikeouts in 210.2 innings. Latos has won 14 games in three of his four seasons as a starter, posting an ERA of 3.48 or lower in each season while striking out at least 185 batters. He has also made at least 31 starts in each of those four seasons. Like I said, Latos has been rock-solid, and his ability to provide quality value in every pitching category outside of saves makes him a strong No. 2 starter in fantasy formats. Don’t let Latos slip past the fifth round of your drafts.
Homer Bailey (SP): After showing signs of finally living up to his potential in 2012, Bailey had his much-anticipated breakout year in 2013. His 3.49 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were both the best of his career, and he struck out a career-high 199 in 209.0 innings. Granted, he won just 11 games, but some blown saves and only 3.88 runs of support on average played a role in that total. Heading into 2014, Bailey is slotted to be the No. 3 starter in the Cincinnati rotation, but he has by far the most real-life and fantasy upside of any of the team’s starters. Since joining the rotation at the end of 2008, the former first-round pick has improved his ERA, WHIP and strikeout totals in every year of his career. If that trend continues, Bailey is set to be a 200+ strikeout guy with excellent percentages. Obviously, one strong season doesn’t guarantee Bailey’s place as a top-tier fantasy starter, but come the fourth round of drafts, he is worth the gamble because of his upside.
Mike Leake (SP): Leake enjoyed the best season of his four-year professional career in 2013, winning a career-high 14 games while posting a career-best 3.37 ERA. He also managed a career high in strikeouts, albeit just 122 in 192.1 innings pitched. While the solid season solidifies Leake’s spot in Cincinnati’s rotation, his fantasy value remains minimal. Keep in mind that even in his solid 2013 campaign, he still allowed opponents to hit .262 while striking out only 5.71 batters per nine innings. Considering those numbers, his ERA is likely to hover around his career average of 3.99 in 2014 rather than the 3.37 ERA he posted last year. Throw in the lack of strikeouts, and Leake just isn’t worth a permanent roster spot. From time to time, he will make a serviceable streaming option when he has a favorable matchup, but that’s about it.
Tony Cingrani (SP): Injuries forced the 24-year-old lefty into action last year, and Cingrani made the most of the opportunity. He finished with a 7-4 record while posting a 2.92 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He also displayed some legit power stuff, striking out 120 in 104.2 innings. With Bronson Arroyo becoming a free agent in the offseason, Cingrani will open the year as the No. 5 starter for the Reds. The guaranteed rotation spot makes him a viable late-round fantasy option because while his ERA is likely to rise as hitters make adjustments, his win and strikeout totals are going to improve, as well. Cingrani struck out 10.92 batters per nine innings last year, so exceeding 200 strikeouts isn't out of the question. At the very least, he can be a cheap source of Ks, and he has too much potential not to be scooped up in the mid-to-late rounds.
Aroldis Chapman (RP): While it is looking less and less likely that Chapman will ever be a starter in the majors, he has used his record-setting fastball to become one of the top closers in the game. Last year, Chapman logged 38 saves with a 2.54 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He also struck out 112 batters in just 63.2 innings, giving him the most Ks of any closer. In fact, Chapman has led all closers in strikeouts in both of his seasons as Cincinnati’s ninth-inning stopper, ranking in the top 10 in saves both seasons. Normally, fantasy owners can afford to wait on closers and chase saves throughout the season, but Chapman is one of the few relievers worth investing a high pick on. After all, he will approach 40 saves, and he is also a lock for 100+ strikeouts, so he contributes even in non-save situations. Chapman is a top-three fantasy closer, and he is well worth a look come the fourth or fifth round of standard drafts.