Raisel Iglesias had a rough 2019. He was unhappy with his usage early in the year, raised his career ERA by 0.20 and recorded the highest WHIP (walks plus hits allowed per inning) of his career. But at the same time, Iglesias had the lowest walk rate (7.5%) since he became a reliever while having the highest strikeout rate (31.9%).
Iglesias relied more on his four-seam fastball last year and less on his sinker. His slider and changeup usage were pretty much in line with what he’d thrown the last few seasons, 30.7% and 21.4% respectively, but his fastball usage jumped from 18.1% in 2018 to a career high 37.3% in 2019. On the other hand, his sinker use went from 31.8% to 10.6%.
Iglesias started the season with a pitch mix that gelled with his overall slider and changeup uses but a high fastball and low sinker usage. After a successful month of May, where he posted a .285 wOBA (.320 is around league average) and a 3.12 xFIP, he ditched the sinker in lieu of a heavy diet of fastballs of sliders.
The vertical and horizontal break on his sinker were below league average but not out of line with his career norms. Iglesias tossed it 95.4 mph on average while topping out at 99.3 mph, which is in line with the rest of his career as a reliever and his spin rate was slightly elevated versus 2018.
Iglesias’ spin rates were in line with his career average. He had the highest BABIP (batting average on balls put into play, which a pitcher has little control over) of his career at .318. Compare that to his career of .281. Iglesias’ barrel rate, exit velocity, xWOBA, and hard-hit rate were all below his career norms, which says to me that while he had his struggles, he was also unlucky.
His season hit a bump in the beginning of May, when Iglesias vented his frustrations to The Cincinnati Enquirer after a loss to San Francisco he said, “The way they are using me is horribly wrong,” and “The closer comes in to finish the ballgames, I’ve been coming into tie games on the road. I get it. There are situations where the team needs me…it’s really frustrating for me to come into a tie game and lose the game.”
While I didn’t think this was the correct way for Iglesias to air his frustrations, there may be merit in what he said.
After his comments on May 5, Iglesias went on a 12-appearance scoreless streak, racking up seven saves and a 14/3 K/BB rate in 12.1 IP. He entered only 1 tie game over that stretch, but it was at home against the Cubs where he allowed 2 baserunners in the 10th before he was pulled for Amir Garrett, who escaped the jam. The scoreless streak came to an end on June 11 when he entered a tie game on the road in Cleveland. Iglesias entered in the bottom of the 10th to face the bottom of the order. He got the lead-off man to pop out to short and then issued a walk, surrendered a single, issued an intentional walk to Francisco Lindor, and then allowed a walk-off single to rookie Oscar Mercado.
His next appearance came on June 17 at home against Houston. With one out in the 8th he issued a free pass to Astros Tyler White, but emerged unscathed. He reappeared for the 9th inning where he walked pinch hitter Myles Straw to open the inning before he got Alex Bregman to pop out. He had thrown 21 pitches only 10 for strikes and with Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez due up next, David Bell pulled his right-handed closer in favor of right-hander Michael Lorenzen. Lorenzen slammed the door to earn the save while Igleasis was awarded a hold for his efforts.
Iglesias said that he was not surprised by Bell’s move because his command hadn’t been good after going 6 days without pitching. He would appear the next night against the same Houston Astros, entering with one on and one out tasked with protecting a one-run lead after Amir Garrett had surrendered a 2-run home run at the hands of Alex Bregman. Iglesias struck out both batters, looking much sharper while throwing 6 of 9 pitches for strikes, although he did have a wild pitch. But with the one-run lead still intact and the Astros 6, 7, and 8 hitters due up, David Bell opted again to let Michael Lorenzen close the door instead and Lorenzen notched his second save and Iglesias his second hold in as many days. Bell insisted there had not been a role change at the back end of his pen. Iglesias next entered a game on June 21 in Milwaukee and recorded the final 2 outs on 5 pitches with a 4-run lead.
Trouble struck Iglesias again, however, in his next appearance. On June 26 in Anaheim, he entered a tie game in the 8th to face the Angels 2, 3, and 4 hitters. He walked Mike Trout and allowed him to advance on an errant pick-off attempt and gave up a single to Shohei Ohtani before coaxing a ground ball and a strikeout. But with 2 outs, Iglesias allowed a single followed by a 3-run homer to Justin Bour to break the game wide open. The game raised his season ERA by over a run. His next appearance four days later didn’t soften the blow when he gave up another 3-run HR to Jason Heyward in the 9 of a win at home. All told for the month of June, Iglesias totaled a 7.17 FIP, a 6.92 xFIP, and a .373 wOBA. On July 16, he entered a tie game in Chicago and surrendered a one out walk-off HR to Kyle Schwarber (who I have on good authority is actually from Middletown). He entered a tie game in the 12th inning in Miami on August 29 and surrendered a home run to Harold Ramirez on an 0-2 count.
There has always been talk about if a pitcher has the “mental fortitude” to be a closer. Can he handle the pressure of the 9th inning? I’ve never believed in that myself, but if Iglesias was unhappy with his assignment at work, he may well have reacted like many of us would at our jobs and his heart may not have been in it. He pitched pretty evenly home and road, 34.1 IP at home and 32.2 IP on the road but allowed over double the amount of runs on the road, 10 at home versus 21 when he was sleeping in a hotel. His wOBA on the road was .336 compared to .279 at GABP.
So, what can be expected of Raisel Iglesias in 2020?
The Steamer projection at FanGraphs puts Iglesias on a similar year, a 3.98 xFIP in 65 IP resulting in a 3.90 ERA with 31 saves and a WAR of 0.8. But if you ask me, he seemed to be on the upward trend at the end of the season, and it is not out of the question for him to beat these projections. As stated, Iglesias’ 2019 K rate was slightly up, his walk rate was down for the year even with a 20.5% in June. He threw 65% of his pitches for strikes, right at his career norm and slightly above league average. He was better than league average for hard hit rate and xwOBA.
He won’t be 2017 Raisel Iglesias, but he should be a very capable late inning asset. And if he returns close to his form, the back end of the Reds bullpen, which also includes Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and now Pedro Strop, could be a huge piece of what many hope will be a playoff-caliber team.
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