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2019’s Quietest Breakout

The 2019 Reds were an enigma. They had the firepower, led by the homer-happy Eugenio Suarez. They had the rookie sensation, Aristides Aquino, who dingered like it was nobody’s business. On the pitching side, they had a steady crop of reliable pitchers. Sonny Gray was the unquestionable ace of the staff while the quartet of Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Robert Stephenson anchored the pen. Despite all that, they finished with a lowly 75-87 record, 16 games behind the first-place Cardinals.

Going into 2019, no one would have guessed how pivotal of a role Stephenson, 26, would have played. He came into the year with a career 5.47 ERA, a 5.50 FIP, and a 1.673 WHIP over the past three seasons. His career was clearly at a crossroads; He was a former top prospect who hadn’t shown sustained success at the major-league level. He spent much of 2018 in the minors, regaining his mojo, pitching to a 2.87 ERA in 20 starts with the Louisville Bats, Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate.

The Reds announced at the end of spring training that Stephenson would start 2019 out of the bullpen. Since Stephenson was out of options, this year was most likely the last chance he would get in Cincinnati. It became a make-or-break, sink-or-swim, pitch-well-or-ya-gone type of campaign. Despite all of the stress and lack of previous MLB success, Stephenson engineered one of the most unheard and unlikely breakout seasons in 2019.

His Baseball Savant page is a thing of beauty. His xBA, xSLG, hard-hit percentage, and xwOBA all rank in the top 5% of all pitchers in 2019, while his strikeout percentage, fastball velocity, and exit velocity against placed him in or over the 25th percentile. Read the rest of this entry »