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Cincinnati Reds

Are the Reds in a better position than last season?

Jacob Rude

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It feels like it’s been ages since the Cincinnati Reds looked like a real, contending team. A win over St. Louis on July 14 gave the Reds a record of 43-52, the only time this season the team dipped below 10 games under .500. It also meant the Reds had gone 40-34 in the post-Bryan Price era, 18-7 over the previous 25-game stretch and had taken series from the Cardinals, Cubs (a four-game sweep, even!) and Atlanta.

Since then, it’s been nothing but sadness, particularly since the All-Star break. Injuries have decimated the roster with Joey Votto, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker all spending time either on the disabled list or, in Winker’s case, having the season come to an end as a whole.

The once-competent Reds look destined to finish with a worse record than year’s past even despite the promising middle months of the season. Heading into Friday’s contest, the Reds are 59-82. At the same point last year, the Reds were 61-79. Two years ago, the team was 59-82. The team needs to reach the 69 win mark to finish with a better mark than years past. To avoid another 90-loss season, the team must go 14-7.

In short, it doesn’t look great for the franchise, which begs the question, are the Reds really in a better spot than years past?

Coming into the season, the Reds appeared to have a plethora of starting pitching options, more than one rotation could even hold. And that didn’t even include Homer Bailey or Matt Harvey. Fast forward six months and there’s never been more uncertainty about the starting pitching.

Luis Castillo has been disappointing in his sophomore season. At times he looks incredible, like going 6.2 innings while allowing just two hits and striking out 11 against the Cardinals. At other times, like the start that preceded that in which he lasted just 3.2 innings while allowing five runs, he’s frustrated.

Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano suffered struggles of their own. While both had positive signs, the negatives outweighed the good and both were demoted in separate ways, the former sent to AAA and the latter to the bullpen. Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson look like lost causes as starters. Reed has shown enough promise to earn a chance in the bullpen while Stephenson looks like a player that needs a change of scenery.

Harvey and Bailey hardly deserve discussion about the future. Neither belong in the present Reds rotation and certainly don’t warrant a spot in the coming seasons.

While the bullpen has been largely a positive for the team this season, overall, the pitching has tons of question marks. Free agency or trades could address the matter but it means the team can’t address other holes with their limited funds.

The offense has not been a source of questions. When at full strength, the Reds not only have an offense worthy of competing at a high level but one of the best in the league. Heading into next season, the Reds will have some combination of Votto, Schebler, Winkler, Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez and even potentially Scooter Gennett in the lineup. That’s the type of offense that a contending team should have.

The biggest source of concern for the Reds, though, is not on the field but off of it. Recent moves, or lack thereof, have raised many concerns about the structure of the front office. While President Dick Williams and General Manager Nick Krall are saying many of the right things publicly, owner Bob Castellini has handcuffed both of them.

The comments about the team not moving Billy Hamilton and Harvey point to an owner unwilling to let those who he hired have freedom. And when your boss is hovering around in the day-to-day operations, it wears on a front office.

To be honest, does any fan trust Castellini to make the moves necessary to turn the Reds into a winner now? Hamilton’s time as a starter should be done. Harvey and Bailey’s time as Reds should be done. Gennett should have been traded months ago and that’s not even taking into account the necessity of finding a spot for Senzel in next year’s team.

Because of Castellini’s lingering, the Reds appear to be in a worse position than any year prior. The team is on the brink of capping off the rebuild and balking at the trade deadline could prove costly. Even then, the correct sequence of moves in the off-season could still put the Reds back into contention. But the question marks are continuing to arise more quickly than they disappear and without a properly-functioning front office, the Reds may be moving backwards than forward.

Jacob is a journalist and lifelong sports fan across the board. From soccer to basketball to baseball, he enjoys watching his favorite team’s break his heart. After finishing up at Indiana University and majoring in journalism, Jacob is now a sports editor during the day and an online journalist at night.

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Jeff Brantley talks Bell, new pitching coach Derek Johnson and more

James Rapien

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I discuss one free agent pitcher that should be on the Reds’ radar, plus Jeff Brantley joins me to discuss the hiring of manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.

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Cincinnati Reds

Bell hiring finally rings in a new century for Reds

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The innovators are often criticized. It’ll never work, they’re told.

Wind the baseball tighter to allow more home runs? Ty Cobb hated it because it took the science out of the game. But Babe Ruth loved it, so did the fans and the sport grew. Show sports on a cable channel for 24 hours a day? Nobody will watch that. The Internet? It’s just a fad.

The Cincinnati Reds love their tradition, so it’s no surprise that it has taken them this long to embrace the modern game. This is baseball, not math, the Reds have said for the past 20 years while others have proven that math matters. Not the kind of math of counting stats that says he’s a good hitter or pitcher because he has this many of this or that. But the kind of math that looks at percentages and formulas that aren’t easy to understand. They call it analytics and it makes old-timers (mostly people over 30) roll their eyes from man caves to the broadcast booth. A lack of understanding is not a reason to dismiss an idea. It’s a reason to learn before you judge.

The Reds have finally been convinced that their way doesn’t work anymore. They’ve stopped rolling their eyes, let go of the eye-rollers who blocked progress and hired a manager with vision. Those old ways once worked for the Reds — though not as much as we’d like to think— when all teams did it that way. But when smarter ways to build a good team passed them by, so did their ability to win.

To be fair, the Reds have been moving in this direction, the one Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s began following in 1997. The Reds have an analytics director and three people they call data scientists. The problem is that too much of that information was stopping at the field manager’s door. The guys running the dugout weren’t doing enough with it. They were baseball men, after all, and they only trusted their eyes and tradition more than a spreadsheet or report they probably didn’t take the time to understand.

And the front office allowed the dysfunction to fester through Baker, Price and Riggleman. Finally, there is reason to believe that the Cincinnati Reds aren’t stuck in the 20th century.

There’s a new guy in the dugout named David Bell who has caught this vision since he left the Reds organization after managing in the minors. He’s worked for the Cardinals, Cubs and Giants, teams that have obviously done a lot more right in recent seasons than the Reds have. Yes, Bell had to leave the Reds to learn a better way.

When Bell was introduced as the new manager he said things that were an indictment of the front office and on-field dysfunction. He talked about how all of the information had to be considered from upstairs to downstairs. He asked for an offseason office upstairs and will live in Cincinnati in the offseason.

He has this crazy idea that the front office and manager’s office ought to actually work together and have shared leadership instead of a top-down model that didn’t work. Remember Jesse Winker from odd-man out to everyday right fielder in a 24-hour period? Then there was the indecision about what to do with Homer Bailey. Who’s in charge we wondered? Does this team have a strategy?

Bell surely interviewed the Reds as much as they interviewed him. He discovered the lack of communication between the front office and the dugout. He must have told Dick Williams he’s ready to listen to them, and it appears they’re ready to listen to him.

This is good for the Reds. A true strategy that teaches on-field fundamentals and has an appreciation for complex data will have a chance to develop and flourish. Players will come up from the minors and maybe not sit the bench. They won’t hear a different message from the one they’ve heard in the minors.

Now this is going to take some getting used to if you don’t buy all this analytics mumbo-jumbo. The in-game moves and strategies won’t be what your used to:

  • The lineup might not be predictable.
  • You won’t agree with a lot of pitching changes.
  • You’ll wonder why Winker isn’t playing tonight.
  • Why not bunt in this situation, you’ll wonder.

And the offseason moves:

  • Why did they sign that guy?
  • Why didn’t they sign that guy?
  • Who are these all these prospects we just got for a proven player?
  • Those aren’t the pitchers we should have gone after?

Not every move will work, but you have to play the percentages. Not every move (not even close to it) worked the old way. It’s a new world in Cincinnati. If you still have a Big Red Machine hangover, get over it. Rose, Morgan, Bench and Perez would have been free-agent eligible by 1975. In today’s market, there is no way all of them (if any of them) would have been teammates that deep into their careers.

The Reds can’t compete with big payrolls. They must copy what other small-market teams like the A’s are doing. It’s the only way to have more good seasons than bad ones like the A’s have. And maybe they’ll find that year like they did in 1990.

That’s the promise of the Bell hiring. Not because he’s necessarily destined to be a great manager but because his hiring has signaled a fundamental change in the way the Reds intend to do business. Maybe Bell will preside over the next playoff team, maybe he won’t.

But at least we can finally welcome the Reds to the 21st century.

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds Tab Johnson to Lead Pitching Renaissance

Jeffery Carr

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© Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The second big move of the offseason for the Cincinnati Reds came last night with the signing of a new pitching coach, Derek Johnson. The Reds nabbed him from Milwaukee, a team that largely outperformed expectations to finish 6th in pitching.

Johnson has been the Brewers pitching coach for four seasons and is highly regarded by the league and pretty much everyone. Those who are around the Reds organization are 100% on board with this hire.

His departure, while the third Milwaukee assistant to jump ship, drew the ire of those around the Brewers organization.

Sometimes reactions are evidence enough, but let’s look into Derek Johnson. He was a college pitcher, but never toed the rubber in the major leagues. Doesn’t seem to have hindered him in the coaching arena, where he has a ton of experience. He began coaching in college, and even coached at Vanderbilt for a bit, who happen to be pretty good at baseball. He even coached Sonny Gray, there, who is a possible target to bring into the Reds rotation.

His foray into professional coaching began with coordinating the Cubs minor league pitchers 2013 through 2014. That’s when the Brewers hired him onto their pitching coaching staff. Once with the Brew Crew, he immediately got to the developing of guys like Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, Jhoulys Chacin, and other overachievers. Heck, the guy wrote the book on pitching, back in 2012 (see The Complete Guide to Pitching).

Another key factor, which has been the theme pf the Reds offseason, is he’s a coach who embraces analytics. He doesn’t go only analytics, though, and tends to use what will best aid a pitcher, without over-informing him. One thing that has been prevalent in interviews with David Bell is that there is a happy medium with analytics, and Johnson is on board with that.

Johnson also had a quote, in an interview with the Journal Sentinel, that I found interesting, and it just continues to excite me about this hire. On the question of if his personality is that of anonymity, he said this:

“I would say for sure. First off, this game is never about a coach. It’s always about the players. Players play, coaches coach. For me, we’re grinding away in the bullpens and we’re working on stuff in the games and trying to figure out what to do next and, really, that’s my main job and my main focus. The interviews, and all that kind of stuff, that’s for the players.”

I found this to be of interest, too:

Journal Sentinel: “The sentiment outside the organization coming into the season was that Brewers needed to sign or trade for 1-2 established starters in order to contend. Instead, Jhoulys Chacín was signed to a smaller, shorter deal and you’ve relied on your holdovers to fill out the rotation with Jimmy Nelson out and Chase Anderson and Zach Davies not pitching as well as they did in 2017. How satisfying is that?”

Derek Johnson: “I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of how they’ve gone out and competed and stuck with some of the things that we’ve done in the bullpen and where we’re trying to go. I think a big part of my personality and the way I think of things is, ‘These are our guys – they’re Brewers.’ And right now, the other guys who aren’t Brewers, they don’t concern me at all, and they won’t until they become Brewers. That’s above my pay grade. What I have are 13 guys and we’re doing the best we can with them. They’re our guys right now, and I like it that way. I don’t want for anything else. It’s what we are and who we have and these are the guys that are putting the uniform on every day. I think it’s really important and honorable for us to think of it that way. I don’t care about other pitchers; I care about them.”

From what I gather from all the sources and people I’ve read, this is a good hire. Welcome to Cincinnati, Derek Johnson.

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonReds on Twitter for more content.

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