Raisel Iglesias Could Be Primed to Break Out in 2016

Iglesias was a dominant strikeout pitcher in his rookie season. What's in store for year two?

Using traditional stats to evaluate Raisel Iglesias' performance as a rookie in 2015 for the Cincinnati Reds will leave you underwhelmed.

A right-hander with a 3-7 record across 95 1/3 innings and a 4.15 ERA? Nothing to see here, move along.

Well, we at numberFire like to dive a little deeper, so let’s see if there’s more to the story.

Unique Territory

There’s an obvious place to start with Iglesias, and that’s strikeouts.

As a starter last season (Iglesias made two appearances out of the bullpen), Iglesias posted a 27.0 strikeout percentage (K%). Not only is this well above the league average of 20.4 percent, but it also would have ranked ninth best among qualified starters in 2015 -- better than the likes of Madison Bumgarner, David Price, and Matt Harvey.

Perhaps even more impressive, this total is the 13th highest that any rookie starting pitcher has recorded since 2000, putting Iglesias in rare company.

Getting into even rarer territory, of these 12 rookie pitchers with a higher K%, only two of them had a better walk percentage (BB%) than Iglesias’ 7.1 percent. This BB% isn’t anything spectacular -- the league average is 7.0 percent -- but an average BB% coupled with a dominant K% makes for a solid foundation.

Iglesias posted a high K% in part because of his ability to generate swings and misses. His percentage of strikes that were swung at and missed was 11.7, which would have ranked 17th best among qualified starters. He’s not doing it by blowing hitters away either.

Who Needs Speed?

The average velocity of Iglesias’ fastball last season was 92.93 miles per hour, and the pitch he threw more frequently, his sinker, had an average velocity of 92.36 miles per hour. While this low velocity is somewhat concerning, he hasn’t needed to rely on speed to strike hitters out.

The pitch that Iglesias used to generate the most whiffs was his slider, which hitters swung and missed at 20.70 percent of the time. This was also the pitch that Iglesias threw second most often, and he used it to neutralize right-handed batters.

Lefties had much more success against Iglesias last season, per the table below.

Situation wOBA xFIP Sliders Changeups
Versus Left-Handers .332 4.21 16% 27%
Versus Right-Handers .271 2.59 40% 2%

As you can see, Iglesias shut down right-handed hitters and used his slider against them significantly more than against lefties. The point of the breakdown isn’t to suggest that he throw his slider more against lefties but that there is an area for improvement as he learns to throw his changeup more effectively.

As a right-handed pitcher, the changeup can become Iglesias’ best weapon for getting lefties out because this pitch tails away from them -- instead of into right-handed hitters. If Iglesias is able to improve his changeup, lefties will likely have the same fate as righties, which is not good for the opposition.

However, despite being a dominant strikeout pitcher in 2015, Iglesias’ ERA was still a point of concern.

Unlucky on the Bump

Although Iglesias posted a 4.15 ERA, his advanced stats suggest that this total was higher than it should have been.

His Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) was significantly lower at 3.28. For those unfamiliar with the stat, it basically is a way of showing what a pitcher’s ERA should be when elements out of their control are removed and using league averages for balls in play and home run per fly ball ratio. Iglesias’ 3.28 xFIP would have been in the top-20 among qualified pitchers this season, implying that he was unlucky on the mound.

Further supporting this claim is his Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA). This stat is similar to xFIP but is slightly more predictive of future performance. Iglesias posted a 3.26 SIERA last season, which would have been 14th best among qualified pitchers. So, we know what Iglesias’ ERA should have been, but why wasn’t it as good?

There are a few indications of where things went wrong for Iglesias. First is his home run to fly ball ratio of 13.9 percent, which would have been the ninth highest total among qualified starters last season. This stat has been shown to be fluky year-to-year and that one year’s total has largely nothing to do with the future year’s total. Considering Iglesias’ total was incredibly high, it’s safe to assume that it will regress in 2016, helping lower his ERA.

Under Pressure

The next area is one that Iglesias can control himself, and it should improve with experience. He did not pitch well in tough situations, which led to multiple runs to scoring in the same inning. Iglesias made 16 starts last season, and in 7 of those starts, he allowed three runs or more.

Of those seven starts, six of them included a single inning in which he allowed at least three runs to score.

The table below shows the success hitters had when batting in high leverage situations and those in which there were runners in scoring position. 

Situation wOBA FIP
Low Leverage .281 3.50
High Leverage .429 6.61
Bases Empty .289 3.41
Men in Scoring Position .350 4.93

These difficult scenarios for pitchers tend to be areas where rookies struggle, and with experience and some natural regression, Iglesias should improve.

While it’s not uncommon for most pitchers to struggle in these same scenarios, certain pitchers are able to elevate their game, like Clayton Kershaw. His FIP in high leverage situations was actually better than in low leverage situations last season.

I’m not saying Iglesias will become Kershaw-esque next season or even need to be, but the point is that there’s considerable room for improvement, and it’s possible for him to pitch much better if the blowup innings are minimized.

2016 Outlook

Iglesias has a solid foundation to be successful in 2016.

If he’s able to use his changeup effectively against lefties while also learning to pitch out of trouble, he could reach 200 strikeouts with an ERA of around 3.50. Steamer projects Iglesias to rack up 170 strikeouts in 175 innings and to post an ERA of 3.58 with a FIP of 3.71.

I’m guessing the Reds, and your fantasy team, would be thrilled to see both.