The Cincinnati Reds (57-77) fell 20-games under .500 after their loss to the Milwaukee Brewers (75-60) on Thursday, but, honestly, I am not writing about that game. I want to talk about what happened Wednesday night.
The Reds and Brewers played a game that may fly under the radar, when national writers look back on this season, but it deserves a lot of attention. The Brewers being a team right in the middle of the hunt for playoff October and the Reds simply existing for another 30 games. Close to four and a half hours later, they both collapsed as if runners who just finished the Flying Pig.
There is much on the stats for the game, but I am going to focus on the narrative and feel. My seat was right next to the ball boy, down the third base line. Being near the Brewers bullpen, the visiting fans encircled me. They were happy from the get-go as Milwaukee got two quick runs in the first inning. Nestled in there was Christian Yelich’s first hit of the night, a single.
Right as I was about to down my beer and go get another to deal with, what looked to be another debacle of a game, Billy Hamilton clocked a Freddy Peralta pitch into the moon deck. I mean, it was a shot you’d expect to see Joey Votto or Eugenio Suarez uncork, but this was Billy, it revived the crowd a bit. An actual half-inning of scoreless baseball happened for the Reds in the top of two, something Harvey would put together until the fifth.
Then, in the bottom of the second, Tucker Barnhart laced a two-out double. Honestly, and there are no numbers to back this up, but I feel like Tucker hits .700 when I attend games, but I digress. Curt Casali then shot a laser into left and scored Tucker from second to tie the game at two.
Needing a refill in the fourth, I ran up to the bar that stretches down the third base line. The place includes many fine local, as well as national brews. I got a MadTree Rounding Third to kick the game off so I figured I’d change it up with a Rivertown Lager. Just as the guy was getting the pour going, Tucker launched the Reds second homer for the lead. Feeling pretty good about things, my buddy Pat and I took a walk to check out the team store in the top of the fifth…little did we know the score would turn sour as Milwaukee put a four-spot on the board. Also, the team store did not have the Phil Ervin shirt I am in search of…so double whammy.
Now back in our seats, the Brewers fan next to me was happy. They had a three-run lead on the home team, and, although the Reds had runners on first and third with one out, Josh Hader was coming in to pitch. “They can’t hit Josh,” the Brewers fan said, “Not a chance!” Scooter Gennett then doubled in the two runners (Dilson Herrera and Billy) knotting the game up at five. “Lucky break, Josh won’t give get hit, again!” Suarez blasts a moon shot to the moon deck to give the Reds a two-run lead. Brewers fan, now dumbfounded, “Josh never gets hit…I don’t understand…”
After Yelich doubled for his fourth hit (he singled in the third and homered in the fifth) and moved Orlando Arcia to third, Travis Shaw brought Arcia in on a sac-fly, which perked Brewers guy up, ever so slightly. Hader, subsequently, gave up a walk to Tucker and a single to Casali to start the sixth, prompting Brewers guy to leave the stadium when Hader was then pulled for Taylor Williams. Little did he know, what happened next sparked controversy.
Michael Lorenzen, who came in to pitch the top of the sixth, came to bat. He squared around to bunt, foul ball, strike one. Squared around again, missed, strike two. He settled in one more time, trying to move the runners from first and second to second and third. As the pitch approached, it was bound for his chest. Lorenzen is then hit with the ball, but the sound of a bat resonated through the stadium. Had he stayed squared and, technically, fouled off the third bunt attempt, for strike three? Those of us in the stands thought so…but the home plate umpire said “Not so!” He ruled Lorenzen had pulled the bat back, as he fell, and the ball incidentally contacted the bat, making it a normal foul, dead ball, still two strikes on him. Mirroring Craig Counsel, the Brewers fans around me were incensed. “He’s out! He was offering at the pitch! This is ridiculous!” and other, less-than-savory things were said. Didn’t matter, the umpires all conferred and agreed that Lorenzen was not yet out. Given a 4th strike, or not, Lorenzen then crushed the very next pitch into the terrace outfield seats, giving the Reds their largest lead of the night at 10-6. Pat and I were jumping up and down, high fiving, and overall elation was had.
The celebration led to a trip to Taft’s concessions stand, right next to Gapper’s Alley, where I got my favorite Great American Ballpark beer of 2018, Taft’s Nellies. Light, refreshing, nothing better to drink while watching a game. Anyways…
Despite the advantage, the first two Brewers got hits: one a single and the next a two-run homer. Immediately, the mood in the ballpark changed from Reds fans cheering, back to Brewers fans. I think there were 11,000 fans at the ballpark, probably 2,000 of them were for Milwaukee.
David Hernandez then came in…and had a bad night. He started by watching Billy making a diving catch on a liner hit to shallow center. Things then collapsed as he hit Manny Pina in the face with a pitch, allowed Lorenzo Cain to double (scoring pinch-runner Erik Kratz), bringing up Yelich. Already 4-for-4, many fans in the stands, and I’m sure plenty at home, were yelling to walk him. No such strategy was in place. Yelich flared his fifth hit, a triple into right field, giving him the cycle. First of those I’ve witnessed. Oh, and that officially erased all that the Reds had built to that point, and we were all tied up at 10. The Reds got nothing in the bottom of the seventh and then the Brewers took the lead on a Mike Moustakas homer in the top of the eighth.
Feeling the normal angst a Cincinnati sports fan knows, spirits were low in the stands. With two outs and Billy on third, there was a smidgen of hope. Joakim Soria then threw a shoe-shiner into Erik Kratz that bounced straight back toward the mound. Ready to go on anything but a straight catch, Billy broke from third and streamed toward home. He went into a head-first slide, on the right side of home plate, and snuck by the tag, as he is so apt at doing. But no, the umpire ripped it out from underneath of the fans. No tie, he’s out….but not so fast, my friend (shout out Lee Corso). Jimmy Riggs darts out of the dugout and challenges the call. Review overturns it as the replay shows Billy’s hand finds the two inches of home plate not blocked by Kratz, officially tying the game at 11.
A sterile inning ensued in the ninth, something that hadn’t happened since the third inning, although Yelich beat out an infield single, getting his sixth hit of the night. That hasn’t happened in Cincinnati since something like 1949…just wish it was a Red who did it. Raisel Iglesias did nail down free pizza for everyone, so that’s cool, too. Just one more thing that happened in this insane turn of events.
Walking up to the concourse to finish the game by the Reds Live show set, the Brewers scored a pair in the top of the tenth. One of the cameramen for Reds Live was beside himself, “We have a noon game, tomorrow, which means my day starts at eight. I’d like to get more than an hour of sleep tonight, is this ever going to end?” Brandon Dixon then made us think it would last longer, as he nailed a Jeremy Jeffress pitch into the batter’s eye, but that was it for the Reds and the game ended, 13-12, in 10 innings.
And if you read this all the way to the end, you know some semblance of how much this game just refused to quit. I had to be up for work in the morning, but that didn’t stop me from watching every minute of the game and getting home after 1 a.m.
The Reds have the Cardinals, in St. Louis, up next. Keep it tuned to @lockedonreds and @jefffcarr for your daily Reds content.
Fixing the MLB: A Blueprint for a Modern Commissioner
Supposing Major League Baseball were looking to make a change at commissioner, Mike Mardis has five ideas how to better the game.
Welcome to my hypothetical campaign to be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball. What follows are 5 proposed rule changes that will provide a bright future for the sport we all love so much.
- The Strike Zone
- The DH
- Home Run Celebrations
- Playoff Format
- Rookie Contracts
It’s time to bring baseball into the modern era. Technology will help us along the way, but fairness and fun will anchor our vision for the future.
1. Implement a Digital Strike Zone
I follow a frustratingly amazing Twitter account called @UmpireAuditor. The account highlights particularly egregious calls by measuring how far out of the strike zone a called strike was based on the digital overlay of the zone we see during games now. The pinned tweet on the feed of that account makes the argument for a digital strike zone very well.
Fairness is one of our foundational anchors. This is a move to make the game more fair. Here’s how:
The strike zone is very clearly defined in the MLB rule book as:
“that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”
The vanguards of the unwritten rules of baseball will argue that the human element provided by each umpire’s unique interpretation of the strike zone on any given day is invaluable to the sport. It’s the way it’s always been and it makes the game better somehow.
My response is that there is no mention in the rule book of “umpire discretion” when it comes to the boundaries of the strike zone. It is unambiguous.
The new digital strike zone would be the same width for every batter (the width of home plate) while being adjustable for the height of the batter. The technology exists now for AI to map a skeleton, mathematically determine the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the belt of each batter to set the top of the strike zone, and identify the knees for the bottom.
How this would work practically is as follows. Every stadium would be required to have a strike zone screen visible from home plate. This could simply be a live feed from the center field camera with a digital strike zone overlay. This way the umpire could simply glance up at the screen after each pitch to see if it touched the strike zone. We could even make it so if the outline of the ball intersects the strike zone, the box on the screen fills with a color or the word “STRIKE” for all to see.
Home plate umpires will still be needed for all other duties (fair/foul balls, plays at the plate, appeals, etc.) and for the inevitable weird outcomes baseball produces. For example, a pitcher might throw a 58 ft. curve ball that ends up bouncing through the strike zone. A human umpire would know to call that a ball while a digital strike zone might not be able to determine if the ball bounced prior to crossing the plate.
Imagine never having to watch a whiney player, manager, or fan argue and pout over getting “jobbed” by the umpire. And never seeing this stuff again:
2. Expand the DH to the NL
You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The American League introduced the Designated Hitter in 1973 in an effort to increase fan interest by increasing the amount of runs scored. While the National League doesn’t suffer a dearth of run production today sans the DH, the AL is not getting rid of it.
While it can’t be completely contributed to the DH, the AL has a statistically significant advantage in interleague play. Since being introduced in 1997, the AL holds the overall record advantage (3,032-2,732) and has won the season matchup in 15 of the 20 seasons of interleague play to date.
Because overall record dictates playoff positioning, it’s only fair that the playing field between the leagues is even. So, in addition to expanding the DH, I’m also proposing an additional roster spot so NL teams can transition to the DH with minimal impact on how they’ve built the current roster.
Spoiler: I’m proposing a change to rookie contracts that will encourage managers to fill this extra roster spot with their best young hitters. Check it out below.
This adds a new level of managerial decisions for the club – something the opponents of the DH say is missing in the AL where managers never have to pull a pitcher who is dealing in fifth or sixth inning for a DH because the offense is struggling that day. Those decisions won’t exist with a league-wide DH. The trade-off being that managers now have to decide if they want to fill their extra roster spot with a high priced free agent DH, pitching help, or a young slugger in their farm system. Teams that can’t afford to throw huge contracts at free agents now have options and fans a new debate topic.
3. Install a Celebration Clock
There are currently two kinds of MLB fans when it comest to players celebrating home runs: people who think it ads excitement and flare to an otherwise relatively boring game to watch for most people and people who are wrong. The people who are wrong are not attempting to improve the appeal of or interest in the sport. They are simply asking everyone else to adhere to their set of morally ambiguous unwritten rules that were cultivated over a long (and far too often racist) history of professional baseball. This has no place in the MLB under Commissioner Mardis.
However, celebrations need restraints like everything else in sports. So, I’m proposing a 30-second clock for celebrating your home run. Once the baseball hits the outfield seats for a home run, the batter has 30 seconds to round the bases and celebrate any way he likes. There would be caveats around props and the like. But if you want to flip your bat, go pick it up and flip it again, then do a cartwheel – as long as you cross home plate and are clear of the field of play within 30 second – go for it.
Pitchers who retaliate for this will be ejected upon the judgement of the umpire. The retaliation does not need to hit the batter. Throwing a 100 mph fastball at someone’s head from 60 feet away would be attempted murder anywhere outside of a baseball stadium. So it’s enough to get you kicked out of a game.
Give me more of this….
This. Will. Make. The. Game. So. Much. More. Fun.
4. Fixing the MLB Playoffs
The playoffs seedings and home field will be completely based on regular season records. This is why it’s important to level the playing field in regards to the DH – one league shouldn’t have an advantage in interleague play.
Here’s how the playoffs will work:
The 5 teams from each League to make the playoffs will be re-seeded for the playoff bracket. The 2 worst records from each league play in the one-game wildcard. If a Division Champion plays in the Wild Card game, they get home field advantage regardless of record. If two Division Champions play in the Wild Card game, home field advantage goes to the team holding the better record. Regular season records determine home field advantage through the rest of the playoffs.
This format makes it imperative for all teams to compete to win every game of the season. Even if you’ve clinched your division, you may have to play in the Wild Card game if your record isn’t better than three of the other playoff teams in your league.
The rule also means that a team that doesn’t win their division, but has the second or third best record in their league, will not have to play in the Wild Card game simply because they didn’t win their division. Why punish a team that won 100 games in the regular season by making them play an elimination game against a team that won 85 games that season? I won’t.
Case in point, here’s the 2018 playoff bracket:
In the new format, based on their regular season records, the Yankees would have been the 3-seed and Cleveland would have played in the Wild Card game instead. Same thing with the Cubs – moving the Braves into the Wild Card game.
This makes the playoff structure more fair. It still rewards Division Champions while encouraging every team in the playoff race to win as many regular season games as possible right up to the last day of the season.
5. Rookie Contracts Based on Player Age, Not Service Time
The way rookie contracts are structured now, players who sign them are giving exclusive rights to the team until he accrues six years of MLB service time. Until then, he can only seek contracts from the team that signed him originally. MLB rules define a full season of play as spending at least 172 days of the 187-day season on the MLB roster. The issue here becomes teams that monitor those days spent on the MLB roster and send players to Triple-A just before the 172-day mark so it doesn’t count as a full season played at that level. Thus extending the time they have control over the player.
This dynamic leads to fanbases being deprived of potential superstar young players helping teams reach their full potential (e.g. Nick Senzel, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Kris Bryant, etc.)
My solution is to use player age to structure rookie deals and remove the service time rules that dictate free agency eligibility. The rule is simple: A rookie contract can be no longer than six years and must end by the season the player turns 26.
Under this rule, an 18-year-old player could sign a six-year deal that would end when he’s 24 years old, at which time he could seek free agent contracts. This would give the team who signed him incentive to develop him and get him to the MLB as soon as possible to take advantage of the cheap contract. Fans would get to see the best young players at the big league level and the young players would be more willing to sign long-term deals prior to hitting free agency knowing the team is building around them.
On the flip side, a college Senior who signs a rookie contract at 22 years old can only be signed for four years on a rookie deal. This makes sense as players who developed for four years in college should be ready to play at the MLB level much sooner than younger players who have not.
Also, let’s be honest, if a team doesn’t know if a player is worth a long-term deal by the time he’s 26, it’s time to let him explore other teams/options.
This set-up ensures players are not handcuffed by their rookie deals or late development. It also incentivizes front offices to call these players up when they’re big-league ready instead of manipulating service time to ensure an extra year of control. Major League Baseball teams are massive companies with contract experts and attorneys at their disposal. Placing strict protections for young players trying to negotiate their professional career is in everyone’s best interest.
Let me know what you think about my platform to become the next MLB Commissioner in the comments below.
Creating A Winning Culture
The future is bright, for the Redlegs, and here’s why
I had relatively reasonable expectations for the 2019 Reds season. I predicted and still expect them to finish 81-81. I felt like the ceiling for this team was getting a Wild Card spot with near 87 wins. The floor being at least fourth place in the NL Central. Since 2015 I have not expected much from this Reds team in the way of wins but more so in player development. That narrative no longer fits this organization, or even die hard Reds fans expectations, even though the team hasn’t posted a competitive season since 2013.
The front office appears to be taking this team in the right direction with it’s aggressive offseason. I believe the coming month, as well as the upcoming offseason, will see how serious they are about creating a winning culture. I use this term loosely as the definition of a winning season is posting a record .500 or better. For die hards, band wagon, and new fans this has been a difficult team to follow for the most part for the last generation.
What would I define as a winning culture organization? The St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us, including myself, have despised them ever since the big brawl in 2010. I think that resentment has passed now especially with the Pirates and Cubs antics of recent memory. The Cardinals are THE definition of “Winning Culture”. Since 2000 they have had 18 winning seasons, four pennants, nine division titles, three wild card appearances, and most importantly two World Series titles. The Reds since 2000 have had only four winning seasons, two division titles, one wild card appearance, and ZERO playoff series wins. By no means am I expecting the Reds to live up to the Cardinals resume of winning. However, I do expect this organization to no longer accept losing, like it has in the past 20 years. The Reds can do this by investing in player development, knowing when to trade, opening up the payroll, and being aggressive in the trade and free agent markets.
For the past decade the Reds player development has been some of the worst in the league. According to Driveline Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds were 28th in player development from 2012-2019 for value generated from prospects signed and acquired in that time. Generating a whopping -$182 million.
Again that’s NEGATIVE 182 million dollars.
The Reds picks have either been total busts, slow to develop, or are still struggling in the minors. Outside of Winker and Senzel, not really a whole lot has been proven in the majors from this group. Until this offseason the Reds minor league organizations did not seemed to be synchronized with the front office into developing there best prospects. The Reds organization, as a whole, now appears to be striving towards the same goals of development. That couldnt’ have been made more apparent with all the new hires within the front office as well as new jobs created specifically for player development. The Reds farm system is still rated as one of the better systems in baseball with Trammell, Greene, India, and Lodolo on the horizon. The future looks promising. Hopefully now with the Reds investing more in player development we can see more success with the draft picks in coming years.
When it comes to trading, I’m gonna start with some of the good news. They did acquire Gray, Roark, Puig, and Farmer while giving away nothing (by nothing I mean Homer Bailey and some lesser known prospects). They were able to trade for Castillo, Disco, and Suarez all for players who’s best days were behind them. However, when the rebuild started this team held out way too long to have a fire sale. One that should have begun during the 2014 trade deadline but instead start until after the 2015 All-Star game, hosted by Cincinnati. The Reds would ultimately trade Cueto, Chapman, Leake, Fraizer, Bruce and Phillips. The only players that are even still some what relevant from these trades are Peraza, Schebler, and Reed. Most of those acquired have flunked out of the majors by now. None of which are making a substantial production for this team right now. They were also kind enough to hold onto Cozart long enough to make the All-Star team but failed to trade at the deadline. Hamilton and Harvey were also, at one point last year, announced traded through waivers until that deal fell through. However, that apathy towards the trade market changed this offseason. The front office proved to be one of, if not the most aggressive this offseason. I hope to see that near the trade deadline. That goes for both if they are buyers or sellers. I really hope any one of the players in contract years that they decide to hold past the break is at least offered a contract for next season or beyond. They can no longer afford to sit on there hands while the rest of the NL Central continues to build competitive teams. I hope this past offseason of aggressiveness is a sign of things to come before the deadline.
This year was the Reds highest payroll in the teams history. Dick Williams has even said they are entering a period where they expect to win and that the payroll will at least be as much as it was this year. What makes this offseason an incredible opportunity for the Reds going into the free agent market is they’ll have lots of dough to spend. As of now the Reds are only committed to $60 million for the 2020 season. Puig, Roark, Wood, Scooter, Iglesias, and Hernandez are all free agents who walk at the end of this year.
Some of the current players on the roster are eligible for arbitration. I doubt the Reds are interested in keeping all of those eligible. If Dick Williams and Nick Krall have proven anything over these past few seasons it’s that they are some of the best at getting the biggest bang for your buck through free agency. I fully expect them to blow us away with some of there acquisitions this offseason.
Finally something that is probably the most common complaint among many Reds fans is that they are small market team with a small market budget. I don’t really buy into that. For example, the Astros had a payroll of just $54 million in 2012. Their payroll now is $162 million with the 8th highest payroll in baseball. Even more important, they still have one of the most loaded minor league systems in baseball. How’d they do it? Check out the book The MVP Machine. It’s the new Moneyball.
I won’t delve into a whole lot of detail about it. Essentially they did by pouring money into there enhancing player development. Using the analytics to not just build better teams but develop better players. They used slow motion cameras to allow batters to adjust there swing better and pitchers to develop pitches or fix mechanics. Developing their youth while acquiring big name talent as well like Verlander and Cole. They have given themselves a 10 year window to be competitive while reinventing the game. The Reds have already shown they know how to work the free agency and trade markets. Now if they can open up there pocket books for a big free agency or contract extention they could finally make a serious leap forward next year. As well as all of the new front office people they have added to developing young talent they could be setting themselves up for a good window for the future to develop a winning culture in Cincinnati. Fans will welcome it with open arms.
Should the Reds Sign or Trade Puig?
With the way he has struggled, and the Reds’ current pace, we may see Puig on the move before the trade deadline.
Yasiel Puig gave this team energy in December. The Cincinnati Reds haven’t had excitement in December in years. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, Puig came to town with a lot of buzz. You may remember him parading around town posting on social media about how much he loved Cincinnati and how excited he was to be a Red. I was thrilled. The talks of 30+ home runs and reaping the benefits of GABP had many fans following the Reds once again. Fast forward to mid- June and no one is too excited about the .213 hitter. The Reds’ chances at making the playoffs seems slim and it might be time to move some rentals. With an expiring contract the question is this: should the Reds look to trade Puig at the deadline?
One thing we all know about Puig is that he’s an emotional player and a big personality. This season, hitting and getting on base has been a struggle for the Wild Horse. A .213 average and a *squints* .256 on-base percentage are awful. 62 K’s to 13 walks is not pretty, either. Sitting at a -0.3 WAR you wonder what’s going on. 11 home runs and 9 stolen bases are positives. He has a strong arm in the outfield as well. While a walk off hit and “I am going to fight an entire Pirates’ team” were memorable moments of the season and, fun as hell, I am not sure if he’ll have a chance to make many more moments like these. So what teams are looking for a corner outfielder who is struggling and is maybe “a bit too much of a personality” for some? That might be the problem. The first corner outfielder off the market was Jay Bruce (name sounds familiar) to the Phillies. The amount of contending teams needing a corner outfield bat is not high and honestly there are simply better options available.
On paper, you would not see a larger return for a player with his stats. Look at his track record, a career .273 hitter that is no doubt a talented player. It might take an injury on a contending team to get his value up. A trade of “we lost a player and need to replace him” not a “let’s see if we can upgrade from our current player” type of trade. When the Reds traded Bruce to the Mets they took a flyer on an injured former high prospect Dilson Herrera. Sometimes taking a flyer on a prospect who might need a change of scenery can pay off big time. Someone did mention they could trade him and try to sign him back in the offseason. While true, I think the Reds would not trade him if they plan to sign him to an extension.
Signing Puig to an extension would pretty much set the outfield for a few years. Winker, Senzel (assuming he stays there), Puig. But with Taylor Trammell approaching quickly where would that put him? Ervin, Schebler, Sirri, Siani, and others could play a role in the future. Puig is not going to be cheap, either. What he does from here on out will give us a better idea but at only 28 years old he has many years left in him. Plenty of expiring contracts will need to be resigned and, well, the Reds don’t have Yankees-type money.
The trade deadline is coming soon and the Reds making the playoffs is very unlikely. Look for the front office to move some players for prospects and for Puig to be a prominently rumored player on the move.