In St. Louis, the Reds experienced a roller coaster of emotions especially in terms of how the bullpen performed. First, there came the implosion authored by Tony Cingrani and Ross Ohlendorf when they combined to give up five straight runs with a 4-0 lead and two outs in the ninth inning to hand the Cardinals a walk-off victory on Monday night. Then came a come from behind Reds win the next night that pushed forward a controversial issue the following day, before and during the game itself. It has not died down yet, but for the sake of the Reds, they should hope it does soon.
Raisel Iglesias has been magic for the Reds this season, at least when he has been healthy, pitching to the tune of a 2.09 ERA, according to Baseball Reference. The problem is just that, though. After starting on opening day, Iglesias rode a streak of several good starts before being placed on the DL with a shoulder injury. Unfortunately the Reds decided he would not be able to pitch out of the starting rotation the rest of the season and they moved him to the bullpen. Whether it was to control his innings better or to overall reduce the stress on his shoulder, it did not seem to matter much as Iglesias has been as lights out as a reliever can be in such a small sample size. And he had largely been doing it for multiple innings a game until this last Tuesday when he closed out the Cardinals for his first career save. Now, it looks like Iglesias may have cemented his future.
Closers do not need to be the best pitcher out of a team’s bullpen. Sure, it is great to have Aroldis Chapman throw lasers that are impossible to hit in the last inning of a game, but in terms of actually making a difference in a team’s win and loss record, closers apparently hold much less importance than many think.
When Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Cubs, much was made about this piece of information. Of course, the situations differ greatly as Iglesias and, before him, Chapman himself were converted to closers rather than being established as they are now. Instead of adding Iglesias and Chapman as fully-formed assets, the Reds made the decisions to convert them as they were developing. At the time, converting Chapman was, while polarizing, seen by the Reds as a way to kill two birds with one stone (replacing injured closer Ryan Madson and developing his talent). While it was not as terrible a crime as many might think considering the starters the Reds already had taking the mound every week in 2012, it is still enough to make many wonder what might have been. Because, while Chapman as the closer did not make the Reds worse in any way, it arguably did not help them as much as they likely thought (in the short term or the long-term) either.
Raisel Iglesias is a much different case, though, even with given similarities. He has proven he can be an effective starter. He has proven he can dazzle with his talents regardless of the role he is in. He has even proven that long-innings relief can be almost as valuable a job as starting. What he has not proven is that he can hold up over the course of a full season. This is what the Reds are worried about.
But where does pragmatism end and overreaction begin? Raisel Iglesias said following his first appearance as a closer that it was the moment he had been waiting for his entire career. He ranked it as a thrill as great as starting on opening day. This is apparently a big deal to him. It ended up being a big deal to Aroldis Chapman, too. Four years and two trades later, though, the success of Chapman has hardly translated into success even approaching equal value in any way for the Reds (and for the Yankees, the success has only been through one of those trades). Four years later, Chapman has not stopped being a closer, where his true value lies not in getting as many outs as possible, but in making the jobs of other relievers (who might be better than or just as good as him) less stressful or more meaningful.
So, if the Reds are sure that Raisel Iglesias’ shoulder woes may be too much, it would make sense that having him pitch fewer innings would be the healthiest thing for him. But at the rate he is being paid and with the shape the rest of the Reds bullpen (and team for that matter) is in, making (or letting) him close games would not be the healthiest thing for the Reds. In fact, it might be one of the unhealthiest things they could do. Because while it makes plenty of sense for the Cubs (or another winning team) to do this with such talented pitchers, it makes almost no sense for the Reds (or another losing team) to do this for obvious reasons.