The Dodgers have a knack for making impact trades. Yes, that has been in the market of larger and less risky players but lately, particularly over the course of the last three seasons, the Dodgers have tried their hand at the trade market of the lesser knowns.
Last year, it was Dylan Floro.
Floro had a solid start to 2018 with the Reds and, in a way, those stats were indicative of what would come with a significantly more successful team. But to see the risk in Floro, zoom out to the bigger picture.
The Reds were the then 27-year-old’s fourth team in three years and the numbers to go along with the new teams were not good. 2018 was Floro’s first solid campaign since his unstoppable 2013 minor league season as a starting pitcher yet the Dodgers jumped on it right away. They swung and connected.
Since coming to LA, Floro has a 1.00 ERA and ranks categorically as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Less than a year ago he was a nobody, a journeyman and a player with stats far below the average as both a major and minor leaguer.
In 2017, the Dodgers acquired Tony Cingrani for a slider and a left hand. It was not his numbers they were looking for but, like Floro a year later, the Dodgers acquired a player they thought had the stuff to put out desirable and career altering numbers. The Dodgers weren’t trading for players in Cingrani and Floro that could be mirror images of what they were in the past but players that could completely reinvent themselves wearing a Dodger uniform.
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When Cingrani came to Los Angeles at the trade deadline in 2017 he joined a team that was trending towards a World Series and was playing the highest caliber baseball in the majors at the time. If anything, the southpaw was forced to be better than he ever had been and he answered the pressure’s call to perform.
After having pitched in 25 games with a 5.40 ERA in Cincinnati, Cingrani halved his ERA in just three fewer games with the Dodgers that same season. In 22 appearances, Cingrani’s ERA was 2.79, his ERA+ went from 84 in the first half to 150 in the second.
This change was in large part due to a couple of things. First, Cingrani transitioned from a one-pitch pitcher relying heavily on an average four-seam fastball to a slider-heavy juggernaut that used a great slider to get outs and four-seam fastball to simply compliment it.
Factor in his former ballpark and Cingrani moved out of a home run heavy stadium, reinvented his pitching strategy and joined a winning team to create a successful pitcher.
The second big piece to Cingrani’s change was actually that average fastball and its deception created by his much improved and then highly used slider: his fastball had an uptick in perceived velocity.
Similar to the tactic used by Rich Hill, Cingrani used slower pitching to create faster perception. His four-seamer was more effective despite not really changing at all.
This was 2017’s story, an about-face that saw Cingrani spin from the negative to the positive and becoming an effective reliever. The Dodgers had their southpaw and Cingrani had his success. But, 2017’s triumphant turnaround would be where the buck momentarily stopped.
2018 started and Cingrani was immediately his old and rather unusable self. He was getting hit at a hard hit percentage of nearly 40 percent and in the only 30 appearances he made last season, he surrendered 7.5 hits per nine innings and fell 17 percent below the league average pitcher by ERA+.
Cingrani was struggling.
However, his success or lack thereof was defined simply by the yips. The lefty that showed his potential in the second half of 2017 and fully back in 2013 couldn’t piece a good outing together and the only reason offered was “just because”.
For a while, it actually felt that way. Cingrani’s peripherals were all acceptable and his results were far from it.
But, for every struggle, there is an explanation and in 2018, Cingrani’s was two-fold.
First, the simple story: Cingrani was hurt and it was obvious. He had a shoulder injury that would sideline him for the entirety of the season outside of his first and only 30 games.
Second, for a pitcher that threw 79 percent four-seam fastballs before missing the rest of the season, his pitch location map is not inspiring at all. Cingrani was leaving pitches in the zone and hardly went for chased pitches. Hitters were also connecting with balls in the zone at a 78.9 percent rate.
But, in the sake of fairness, blame the struggle on health. Cingrani wasn’t pitching well because he very well might not have been able to. He had an injury serious enough to remove him from the 2018 campaign and now, the beginning of 2019. How could he have been successful?
The moral of the story is this: when healthy, Cingrani has a lot to offer and a lot to look forward to. That was empathically proven in the second half of 2017 and, with him returning shortly to the big leagues, there is no reason to believe that level of success in irreplicable.
Cingrani was acquired to beat expectation. He was brought to Los Angels to improve and to fly under the radar with his rise to success. He’s proven he can do that and, with health on his side, there is nothing to suggest he can’t do it again.