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Lamenting the demotion of Tony Cingrani

How can the Reds demote one of their better prospects when he was doing so well? Turns out it wasn't so hard ...

Hunter Martin

There's no way to talk about what the Reds are doing without falling back on two old-timey truisms.

You can never have enough pitching. It's a good problem to have.

The Reds have too much starting pitching. It's a good problem to have! That problem is that they have too much starting pitching, which is a good problem to have! Say, did you hear the one about the Reds having too much …

If you missed it, the Reds welcomed Johnny Cueto back from the disabled list, which meant the Reds had to make room. To do that, they demoted Tony Cingrani, who had done this:

2013 23 2 0 3.27 6 33.0 7 9 41 125 2.5 11.2

That's about what you'd expect from a pitcher with a career 1.62 ERA in the minors. In three Triple-A starts this season, Cingrani allowed three hits and two walks in 14 innings. He struck out 26. The left-hander might be a prospect crush, but I still don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that he would be one of the five best starters on any team. Pick a rotation. Cingrani would be one of the best pitchers in it.

The Reds, though, will start five pitchers not named Tony Cingrani, even though they have the real thing. The reason is simple:

"We talked to him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He did a great job for the limited experience that he had. It was a great learning experience, but he also helped us at the same time. I talked to him and so did (pitching coach Bryan Price). He knows he needs a secondary pitch."

It's not something they made up. Cingrani threw a fastball 83 percent of the time, a slider 10 percent of the time, and a change-up seven percent of the time. If you separate out two-seamers, sinkers, cutters, and four-seamers (as PITCHf/x does), the highest fastball percentage in 2012 belonged to Phil Hughes, at 66 percent. Second place was Clayton Kershaw at 63 percent, so a fastball-heavy approach can be extraordinarily effective.

But throwing four-seamers 83 percent of the time? Pretty unprecedented.

Cingrani's slider might be a work in progress, but it's still a pretty good pitch. It got a higher percentage of swinging strikes than the fastball, for example. Like this:

Of course, that's a representative slider of Cingrani's in a couple different ways. Sure it has a lot of break, but it's also not close to the strike zone. He's thrown a slider 61 times in 2013, and just under a third of those sliders were in the strike zone. Which is kind of the point with sliders, at least with a two-strike count. Still, that's a really, really low percentage. It explains why hitters swung at only 26 percent of them. His slider needs work. His change-up is raw, too.

When the Reds say Cingrani needs to work on his secondary pitches, they're being completely accurate and honest.

Yet Cingrani is still one of the five-best starting pitchers in the Reds' organization. Both things can be true.

What the crazy depth allows the Reds to do is wait for the sixth-best starter to reveal himself. While Cingrani is working on his slider and change (good), the Reds can figure out who should make way without making an impulsive decision (also good). Mike Leake might go back to being boringly effective, but nothing that should keep Cingrani in the minors. We're still just a season-and-a-half away from Bronson Arroyo giving up 46 home runs, and it's not like the 36-year-old's stuff is getting any better. One of the two can falter, and the Reds can be reactive instead of proactive -- a good thing in this case.

Or all five starters could keep on keepin' on, while Cingrani improves and turns into mecha-Cingrani against minor-league hitters who don't deserve to look that bad. As much as I want to rail against the Cingrani demotion and call it a crime against the fastball arts, it's almost certainly the only thing the Reds can do. In the worst-best-case scenario, Cingrani becomes a super-reliever in the playoffs, eating two or three quality innings whenever the Reds need him to. You can never have enough pitching. It's a good problem to have.

I'll miss Cingrani, though. And I'm kind of rooting for Arroyo to give up 46 homers again, to be honest. Not because I dislike Arroyo, but because baseball is duller without Tony Cingrani in the majors.

(And, okay, maybe because I dislike Arroyo just a little.)