When Johnny Cueto went down with an injury earlier in the season, the Reds were forced to call up prospect Tony Cingrani to fill the void. Nobody expected Cingrani to be as effective as he is at the Major League level this early. In fact, Cingrani has been so good that many people are calling for the Reds to send down “veteran” Mike Leake and keep Cingrani in the rotation when Cueto makes his return.
For starters, baseball is sort of like golf in the way that it is very traditional. People want to keep players happy and it is important to build relationships with each other. Mike Leake has been in the starting rotation for the Reds essentially ever since he was drafted 4 years ago. He was briefly sent down once but was called back up just 2 appearances later. Leake has proven himself to be an asset in the rotation over the last four years. Meanwhile, Cingrani has only been up at the MLB level for four starts (seven appearances).
That doesn’t exactly mean that Leake holds the upper hand on Cingrani though. At some point skill and talent have to take over in the decision making. Cingrani is looked at as a man of the future who could one day take that Ace role. Meanwhile, Leake is probably never going to get above being a 4th or 5th starter in the rotation.
Lets compare the stats of the two so far this season…
Mike Leake – 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA in 7 starts
Tony Cingrani – 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 4 starts.
Mike Leake has made 3 more starts this season than Tony Cingrani so the stats are kind of skewed. But if you look deeper in the stats you can see that Cingrani has struck out 5 more hitters in 17 less innings than Mike Leake. Also Cingrani has an opponents batting average of .179 compared to Leake’s .303.
Cingrani’s biggest problem so far is that he hasn’t learned to pitch to contact. He feels like he needs to strikeout everyone that comes to the plate. Which is all fine and dandy but it skyrockets your pitch count and forces you to leave the game in the 5th or 6th inning. On the other hand, Mike Leake is the zen master of pitching to contact. Leake doesn’t strike out many but he keeps his pitch count down and can go deeper into games on a regular basis. By doing so, it saves the bullpen from having to strain itself.
Another aspect of this is the economic side of the situation. As horrible as it sounds, it is very possible that teams put the use of money over the product that they put on the field. Just look at the 2011 version of Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo was absolutely terrible all season long and there was no reason for him to be at the Major League level, but he had a huge contract and he had been there for so long that Dusty just kept running him out there every 5 days. This is the sort of similar to this situation because Leake has a 3 million dollar salary while Tony Cingrani is owed not nearly that much.
A little competition is never a bad thing for athletes, especially when it is going on during the season. Both Leake and Cingrani are being forced to give it everything they have, every start, because they never know what might land them back in the minor leagues. As long as it doesn’t cause a rift in the locker room and bring down other teammates, than this is nothing but a positive for the Cincinnati Reds.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is the patented “issue that you like to have” though. If Leake is sent down, what does it say to the role players on the team? But if you send Cingrani back down, it is sending a horrible message to the fan base.
I personally am a big proponent of sending Mike Leake to the minor leagues when Cueto comes back. This game isn’t about the money you make or the relationships that you build. This game is about winning. Nobody remembers the teams that lose in the World Series or the teams that lose in the Super Bowl. All people remember is the teams and players that have a championship ring. With Cingrani in the rotation, the Reds have a better chance of making it the the World Series and winning. If the Reds want to win, they send down Leake. If the Reds decide that they want to save money and be “nice” they will send down Cingrani. We have seen debatable calls from the Reds front office before (Josh Hamilton / Edinson Volquez) but lets just hope that they don’t screw it up this time around.