Could Lefties Solve the Reds Rotational Issues?

Nick Lodolo is the lone left-handed pitcher in the starting rotation for the Cincinnati Reds. While he’s been a solid day-two starter in his first two seasons with the team, could his efforts on the mound — and those of his fellow starting pitching counterparts, righties Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft — be helped by a few more LHPs on staff?

Could Left-Handed Pitching Save the Reds Rotation?

One of the modern era’s most decorated lefties, Clayton Kershaw, recently notched his 200th win. While many of the batters he’s faced over the course of his hall-of-fame-worthy career probably think he’s got an otherworldly edge, is there any substance to the argument that his left-handedness has provided him with a predisposition for greatness? Could some of Lodolo’s early brilliance be attributed to this too?

In the articles, ”What Really Gives Left-Handed Pitchers Their Edge,” and ”The Southpaw Advantage,” some intriguing findings about LHPs were uncovered. In these articles, a conclusion was posited that LHPs enjoy an “unfamiliarity bonus”, or “southpaw advantage”, that affords them an average 0.60 in runs allowed per nine innings (RA/9). To put it simply, by giving batters an unfamiliar look — at a rate of 28% of innings thrown per nine innings over the sample years of 2010 and 2019 – LHPs can reap the benefits of this aforementioned “southpaw advantage”.

This statistically significant disparity exists for LHPs despite what the authors found to be reduced LHP velocity and spin rate (among other pitching metrics designed to gauge a pitcher’s overall command) compared to an “average” RHP. LHPs were able to compensate for their stuff’s shortcomings thanks to the fact that their pitches were coming from an unfamiliar side.

While LHPs may not be a silver bullet — the 2022 World Series champion Houston Astros didn’t even have one lefty on staff during their most recent campaign through October — if there is any truth to this southpaw advantage, then shouldn’t a mid-market team like the Reds try to capitalize on that?

Reds Lefty Prospects

On the Reds entire 40-man roster, there are only four LHPs. The aforementioned number two starter Lodolo, relief pitchers Alex Young and Reiver Sanmartin, and the most recent addition as of this spring, Brandon Williamson. But are there any other potential LHPs down on the farm with the ability to help bolster the Queen City’s finest?

1. Brandon Williamson

As was mentioned before, Williamson made his way onto the 40-man roster this year. For the time being, however, his day-to-day play happens on a minor league diamond, so we will include him on this list.

Williamson’s spring training came to a disappointing close as he was pulled after 2 2/3 innings in an exhibition game against the Seattle Mariners. In that game, he surrendered eight hits, nine earned runs, walked four, and only managed to tally three strikeouts. While there’s an argument to be made that it was “just” spring training, it was plain to see that with his earlier move onto the 40-man, this was a dress rehearsal of sorts to see if he could cement a place on the Reds opening day roster.

Spoiler: with crooked numbers like those, he obviously didn’t.

After moving on from his nightmare spring outing and getting recalled to triple-A affiliate Louisville, Williamson has gotten back on track. In his four starts over the month of April for the Bats, he’s pitched 18.1 innings and amassed 12 Ks with a WHIP of 1.75. In his most recent of those starts, he pitched six shutout innings before ending his night with a total of three hits, three walks, two strikeouts, and zero earned runs. Not world-beater type of stuff but competent pitching in a competitive setting where he was able to demonstrate his ability to produce outs.

If Williamson continues to show that he has the ability to consistently put together more quality starts, he stands a good chance of getting a call-up to the bigs at some point this year (especially if RHP Luis Cessa continues to struggle).

2. Andrew Abbott

Abbot has recently been setting the world on fire in double-A Chattanooga. His 36 Ks in what was, until last night’s game against the Smokies, 15 2/3 innings of shutout pitching, was nothing short of spectacular. For April, he’s posted truly impressive numbers in his three games for the Lookouts. Aside from his previously mentioned 36 Ks in 15 2/3s, he’s surrendered only six hits, two runs, and three walks for an incredible WHIP of 0.57 and an equally supreme ERA of 1.15.

If Abbott keeps up this pace, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for the locked-in twenty-three-year-old to get promoted to the show as early as this year. With Abbott on staff slinging the way he has been, it’s easy to imagine him being able to contribute for the Reds by adding meaningful innings and length that they sorely need in their rotation.

3. Bryce Hubbart

Signed in August of 2022, Hubbart (a Florida State product) was quickly promoted from the Reds complex league to single-A affiliate Daytona. While he has yet to appear in a game this 2023 season, his career MiLB stats during his five games in Cincy’s farm system have yielded a stat line of 12 Ks over 7.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.23.

The writers at MLB Pipeline have him slated to be a breakout star this year and to follow in the fast upward trajectory of fellow minor leaguer phenom Abbott. Time will tell, but, given the competence and command he’s shown at only twenty-one, Hubbart appears to have the tools that can translate to big-league success if he learns how to leverage his potential.

What’s Left

If there is a quantifiable Southpaw advantage, then maybe one of these three LHP prospects will have something to offer the Reds that can help alleviate their pitching depth woes. Given an improved Cincy farm system — and a somewhat surprising push from the Reds front office to retain top-tier pitching talent — there’s no reason to doubt that any of the three prospects mentioned in this article can’t achieve their true potential and capture some of that lefty magic that Lodolo exudes.

Main Image: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

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