The top three in the Cincinnati Reds’ starting rotation brings back memories of another notable pitching trio for the franchise.
In 1990, the Cincinnati Reds won the National League pennant and upset the Oakland A’s in the World Series with a surprising sweep. The bullpen was led by a trio affectionately known as “The Nasty Boys” — Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers.
The Reds are not likely to win the World Series this year, or even make the playoffs for that matter. But a trio of arms, this time in the starting rotation, brings back some memories of that back end of the bullpen for Lou Piniella three decades ago.
Top of Cincinnati Reds rotation harkens back to “The Nasty Boys”
Through three starts this season, Nick Lodolo has posted a 2.12 ERA with 27 strikeouts over 17 innings. Six walks and a 1.41 WHIP hints at some regression that may come. But a 36 percent strikeout rate like he has so far this year (or anything close to it), paired with 47-48 percent ground ball rate, will always play. Being a 6-foot-6 left-hander with a unique arm angle also helps.
Before his most recent start last week, Michael Baumann of FanGraphs did a nice write-up on Lodolo.
Through his own first three starts of the season, Graham Ashcraft has a 1.42 ERA, an 8.1 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9 and a massive ground ball rate (60.8 percent) to help offset pitching in the band box that is Great American Ballpark.
Ideally he’d be inducing more swings and misses (27th percentile in whiff rate, per Baseball Savant), but Ashcraft’s fastball velocity and fastball spin rate are both 91st percentile or better so far this year. In particular, his fastball spin rate is 95th percentile after being 72nd percentile last year. If he can trim the walks a little bit, there’s upside here to offset some good fortune thus far (3.48 FIP).
Hunter Greene’s career has not quite gone as foreseen. The second overall pick in the 2017 draft, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed the entire minor league season in 2020 (as all minor leaguers did) due to COVID.
Greene made his major league debut April of 2022. Over 24 starts (125.2 innings) for the Reds last year, he had a 4.44 ERA with an 11.7 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9.
Over his first two starts this season, Greene allowed five runs over a total of eight innings with 13 strikeouts and six walks. But he was better in his third start, April 12 against the Atlanta Braves, allowing three runs and seven hits over six innings while striking out 10 and walking zero.
A deeper look shows he had more swinging strikes in that outing against the Braves (20) than he had in his first two starts combined (19). His next outing with be a challenge too, Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.
A 35.1 fly ball rate compared to a 30.4 percent ground ball rate could get Greene in trouble pitching home games in one of the most hitter-friendly parks there is, and he allows too much hard contact. But the sheer velocity and horizontal movement of is four-seamer (99.5 MPH average velocity so far this season) is a good place to work from as he continues to develop as a pitcher. He’s still just 23 years old.
It’s early to anoint Lodolo, Ashcraft and Greene to the same level as Dibble, Charlton and Myers circa 1990. But three young, electric arms at the top of the starting rotation is a feather in the cap for this year’s Reds’ team, with their best chances to win a ballgame generally coming on the days they pitch.