AnalysisNL Central

Breaking down Nick Lodolo’s strong start

Last season, the Cincinnati Reds finished fourth in the NL Central with a 62-100 record. During the offseason, they didn’t spend much in free agency or make any big trades to upgrade their roster. So it is safe to say 2023 will be yet another year of rebuilding in the Queen City.

If you’re someone who only watches a team based on their competitiveness, the Reds aren’t for you this year. However, if you enjoy watching young players develop over the course of a 162-game season, Cincinnati should be watchable.

The Reds have several young position players — including 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India — that are set to get regular playing time in 2023. David Bell’s squad also has a trio of young pitchers atop its starting staff that the front office hopes will turn into the top three of a competing club’s rotation sometime in the future.

Two of those pitchers are Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft. The other is Nick Lodolo, who is off to a solid start this year.

Quick Glance at 2022

Lodolo made his big league debut last season on April 13. He went four innings while surrendering five earned runs and receiving a loss against the Guardians. The young left-hander made two more starts in April before going on the injured list with a lower back strain. He didn’t return to major league action until early July.

Overall, Lodolo made 19 big league starts a year ago. He tossed 103 1/3 innings with a 3.66 ERA, 29.7 percent strikeout rate, and 8.8 percent walk rate. While his strikeout percentage was well above the league average (87th percentile), Lodolo walked more batters than the league-average pitcher (36th percentile). The southpaw also led all big league pitchers in hit batters with 19.

In the midst of looking like a good young starter in 2022, Lodolo also proved to have a durable arm. In 12 of his 19 starts, he threw 95 or more pitches — something we don’t usually see from young pitchers in today’s game.

The now 25-year-old utilized a four-pitch mix last season. He offered opposing lineups a look at a four-seam fastball, curveball, sinker, and changeup.

While Lodolo’s big league career got off to a bumpy start, he finished the 2022 season rather strong. In his six starts between September and October, the former first-round pick pitched 36 1/3 innings with a 2.48 ERA. Opponents slashed a measly .176/.270/.352 during that stretch.

The left-handed Lodolo’s performance was good enough for him to finish sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

2023 So Far

In his three starts this year, Lodolo has faced the Pirates once and the Phillies twice. He’s gone at least five innings in each start, while also not allowing more than two earned runs in any of those outings. His best start of the three came on April 8 in Philadelphia. The lefty pitched seven shutout innings that afternoon and struck out 12 Phillies hitters.

In total, Lodolo has tossed 17 innings with a 2.12 ERA, 27 punch outs, six walks, and no hit batters. He’s also thrown 97-plus pitches in each of his appearances.

It is obviously a small sample size, but there are two major differences between this year and last when it comes to Lodolo’s repertoire. First is his pitch usage. Like last season, he is still using a four-pitch mix, but he has favored two of his pitches over the others:

PitchUsage in 2022Usage in 2023
Four-seam fastball32.1%46.2%

Not only has Lodolo primarily used his four-seamer and curve in his three starts, but he has pretty much ditched his sinker — which is a good thing.

Last season, hitters had a .290 average against the lefty’s sinker, slugged .510 against it, and hit it hard — 95 miles per hour or more in terms of exit velocity — 41% of the time. And so far this year, hitters are still having success against Lodolo’s sinker. He’s only thrown 16 sinkers, but batters are hitting .333 against it, with a 1.333 slugging percentage and a 50 percent hard-hit rate.

One of the other major changes we’ve seen from Lodolo in 2023 when compared to 2022 is the movement on his curveball. In 2022, Lodolo’s curve averaged 40 inches of drop (vertical movement) and 13.8 inches of break (horizontal movement). This year, that same pitch is averaging 45.3 inches of drop with 15.8 inches of break. Batters have an expected batting average of .074 against the southpaw’s curveball so far this year, with a .111 expected slugging percentage and a 7.7 percent hard-hit rate.

There’s only one way to describe Lodolo’s curveball — nasty:

One final difference for Lodolo this year is the number of hard hits he has given up. Last year, the Hard-Hit percentage against the young lefty was 40.6 percent. This season, it has dropped 12 percentage points to 28.6 percent.

Also, his strikeout rate is still strong and well above league average (91st percentile), while his walk percentage is similar to last year’s (8 percent). The current average exit velocity (88.2 miles per hour) and barrel percentage (9.5 percent) against Lodolo are also comparable to 2022 (88.7 miles per hour and 9.1 percent).

To reiterate, everything from this year has to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s still a very small sample size and things can change. But so far, so good for the Reds’ young left-handed starter.

Lodolo is scheduled to make his next start on Tuesday at home against the red-hot Rays.

Featured Photo: Twitter / @Reds

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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