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It really does matter who the next Reds manager is

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Jim Riggleman has had a positive effect on the Reds, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily the man for next season.

A narrative has begun to make Jim Riggleman the Reds’ permanent manager.

In response, another narrative has begun to continue the exhaustive national search for the next Sparky Anderson or Lou Piniella.

These two narratives have something in common. Most voices on both sides have a history of saying that it doesn’t matter who the manager is. That a baseball manager has the least effect on a team’s performance among team sports, is a long-held belief. Is that simply a narrative that has gained so much steam that it is become akin to a natural law? Is it an over-simplification of a complex equation?

You can’t have it both ways. Either a manager has an effect or he doesn’t. The answer, as with most topics that are not black and white, is somewhere in the middle. So did the Cubs win the World Series because of their great young lineup, a strong pitching staff or Joe Maddon? It’s still a team game even if it is dominated by one-on-one battles. Credit should go to all three.

Managers with an interesting personality like Maddon get more credit. Quick: Who’s the manager of the Houston Astros?

Riggleman is a good choice for what the Reds need today. The best any baseball team can do is to choose a manager who has a feel for the game and its changing nature, can relate positively to players and is not afraid to take chances.

The narrative in recent Reds’ history was that no manager could win with the players Bryan Price had to work with, which actually puts the bottom line on the front office. But he was heavily criticized anyway. I didn’t care for his handling of the bullpen and his misguided loyalty to players who weren’t performing. But before this season, the team played hard for him. Not sure that was the case in April.

Now the Reds are hot and playing like the .500 or a-little-better-than-that team I expected this season. Those who don’t want Riggleman give all the credit to the players. Those who want Riggleman give him too much credit.

Hot streak or not, Riggleman has had a positive effect. To argue against that is to say that managers don’t matter. And if you argue that Riggleman has had no positive effect – that it’s only the players – then you defeat your own argument that Riggleman is not the right man for the job. If the manager doesn’t matter, why do you care? Why even have a manager?

What has Jim Riggleman done to help this team?

  • Brought a measure of accountability: The play is sharper on the field. If you actually watch the Reds night after night, you see this. Money makes players comfortable. It’s the manager’s job to keep them uncomfortable and playing for their job. Riggleman has sent this message better than Price did at the end.
  • Manages the bullpen well: Yes, the starters are putting the relievers in better situations and the relievers are doing their job. But when you know your role and you know the manager isn’t afraid to make a change, you perform better. It’s part of the accountability.
  • Stack the lineup with your best offensive contributors in the top six: With what he has to work with, Riggleman’s lineup choices have evolved into this even if we don’t always like the order of those six. Early on I wouldn’t have said this about Riggleman’s choices.

Schebler, for now, is the Reds’ best leadoff hitter since Shin soo-Choo had an .885 OPS in his only season with the Reds in 2013. That number was second only to Joey Votto. Schebler’s OPS today is at a career high .843. I began asking for Schebler to lead off last year as we watched Billy Hamilton continue to founder. And for your consideration, Colorado leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon has a career .854 OPS. Not sure Schebler is the permanent answer depending on who gets added to the roster, but for now he’s the Reds’ Charlie Blackmon in a hitter- and home-friendly GABP.

Tucker Barnhart at No. 2 doesn’t do a lot for me, but neither does anybody else. An on-base guy with enough speed to score from second on most singles does not exist on this team without depleting the middle of the lineup. So Riggleman is right now doing the most with what he has. (He could also move Votto to No. 2 and rotate Barnhart down to No. 6.)

Where does Riggleman fall short?

  • He can be indecisive: Remember the bench Winker drama? Managers make mistakes, but that could’ve been a big one had it lasted.
  • He likes to sacrifice bunt: Asking Scooter Gennett to bunt the other night made no sense. Giving up an out for anyone but a pitcher (except maybe the always dangerous Anthony DeSclafani) goes against the percentages of scoring runs.
  • Batting Hamilton ninth: He should be batting eighth. Too many times the pitcher has come to the plate with runners on base and killed rallies. DeSclafani’s feat won’t be repeated until after the next comet fly-by.

There are unanswered questions as well.

  • Can he keep a coaching staff happy and working well together? Does he delegate well?
  • Will he become set in his ways just because a lineup choice works for a short time, etc.?
  • Can he make his opinion count in personnel decisions? Riggleman and his staff know the players better than anyone else. I’m for this as long as loyalty doesn’t blind them.

The decision on a permanent manager should not be made on a whim. Winning streaks and losing streaks come and go and should not be a deciding factor, only a part of the equation. No one should get the job because “they deserve it.” The Reds must look at the long haul and create a list of what they want in a manager. And that list should be much longer than my short list.

Analytics have taught us not to rely on single stats to determine worth and contribution. Analytics has taught us to look at lots of factors, devise formulas that account for many things and make the best decisions possible with the information we have. No manager will fit all of the criteria any of us have.

If due diligence results in Jim Riggleman, then so be it. Even though Riggleman is the right kind of manager for today, I don’t think he will be the manager next season. But for now he’s doing the job this team needs of building consistency, accountability and confidence even if he gives the bunt signal when we don’t like it.

That’s a narrative the Reds can live with the rest of the summer.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates set to Play Three

Jeffery Carr

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© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Break’s over. That’s right, you heard me, back to work. Well, for the Reds, that is. There’s been four whole days since the last baseball game for Cincinnati, and now they’re back, starting Friday, at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds and Pirates are separated by four-and-a-half games in the NL Central. If Cincinnati is to stop the wire-to-wire last place finish they currently have going, this series will go a long way to solving that. The Pirates hold the edge in the season series, having won four of the 10 games, so far.

Th Reds will need to improve their pitching against the Pirates if they hope to make up ground. In the 10 games they’ve played against one another, Pittsburgh is getting on base at a slightly better rate than one per every three batters (.346). Chief among Cincinnati pitchers who need to improve against Pittsburgh is Tyler Mahle, Friday night’s starter.

Mahle’s first start against e Buccos didn’t go so well. In 4.2 innings pitched he was tagged for all five of Pittsburgh’s runs, allowed 10 baserunners (nine hits, one walk), and allowed a pair of home runs. In fact, his counterpart on Friday, Jameson Taillon, was his counterpart on that day. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Redlegs.

Saturday is a big day as it is the 2018 Reds Hall of Fame Induction game. Adam Dunn, Fred Norman, and Dave Bristol will all be enshrined in the best Hall of Fame outside of Cooperstown. Pitching that day is Anthony DeSclafani. His last start against the Pirates just missed being a quality one. He tossed 5.2 innings of two-run baseball and got the win. Both runs were scored on solo homers by Colin Moran and Gregory Polanco. 

Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter, Nick Kingham, has never faced Cincinnati.

Sunday’s series finale will feature the Dark Knight making his first trip to the bump on the back side of the break. He’s pitched twice against Pittsburgh this year with varying success. Hist first outing he earned a win, pitching six innings of one-run baseball. His second time out turned into a Pirates win despite five solid innings of three runs allowed. Harvey has struck out seven Buccos in his eleven innings while allowing 11 baserunners.

The Pirates actually have Nick Kingham listed as their Sunday starter, too…so I’m guessing it’s actually TBD. But lets take a quick look at the Pirates young hurler.

Kingham has been around the Pirates minor leagues since 2010 and didn’t make his Major League debut until April 29th. On that day, he pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine. Since then he has not pitched that deep into a game, though he’s grazed it. July hasn’t been as kind to him as he sports a 5.28 ERA for the month and has allowed six homers in three starts.

Fun fact, the Reds are 5-5 in the last 10 years in the first game back from the All Star Break. So yeah, that’s a completely pointless stat, but now you have something to regale your friends with as you watch the game, Friday night.

Both Friday and Saturday games begin at 7:10 pm while Sunday’s game is scheduled for 1:10 pm.

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Cincinnati Reds

WATCH: Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto homer in the All-Star game

James Rapien

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The National League trailed the American League 5-3 on Tuesday night, partially because a Joey Votto error led to three runs for the American League in the eighth inning. Scooter Gennett bailed out his teammate with a pinch hit two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth that forced extra innings. Gennett was the first Reds player to hit a home run in an All-Star game since Davey Concepcion in 1982. Watch the home run below:

The American League hit two home runs in extra innings and ultimately won the game 8-6. Votto hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th inning. It was Votto’s first hit in an All-Star game (Votto was 1-3 on the night and is now 1-13 in All-Star games). Watch it below:

For more on the Reds, go here.

 

 

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Cincinnati Reds

From the Beginning to the Break

Jeffery Carr

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© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and there are still 66 more games to go for the Cincinnati Reds. Buckle up, though, this ride still has a few ups, downs, loops, and corkscrews.

Although, this ride isn’t as bumpy as, say, the Vortex over at Kings Island. This year feels more like the Diamondback. It took awhile to get up that first chain hill (April through the first week of May) but that’s only because it’s a really big hill. The ride has been quite entertaining since that first month.

Sure, the state of things aren’t great. Cincinnati is last in the Central at 43-53 – 13.5 games behind Chicago. They’re 10 games out of the second National League Wildcard spot. The question is, though, were playoffs the goal of 2018? If you’ve paid attention to Locked on Reds, the answer is no.

This was supposed to be a year that the Reds set the table for a contending team at Great American Ballpark, and there is some semblance of success in this arena.

The current team MVP is Joe…nope…Eugenio Suarez. That’s right boys and girls. You remember that contract extension that the front office handed out to a talented, young Venezuelan this past offseason? Yeah, looking like a great idea. According to baseball-reference.com, Suarez has compiled a 3.6 WAR up to this point.

Of course, if WAR is your thing, Fangraphs has both Suarez and Scooter Gennett at 3.3 WAR. The Reds have found their nucleus. In fact, Jose Peraza is currently sitting at a 1.8 WAR, making the entire Reds infield (Votto with a 2.8 WAR) the most valuable part of the team.

Much has been said about Suarez and Scooter, so let’s take a look at an under-appreciated part of this team: Peraza.

For starters, he’s been a revelation from the leadoff spot. Peraza is hitting .333 as the leadoff hitter and has a .389 on-base percentage. Right, blink, rub your eyes, and look again at that .389 OBP. He’s scored 22 of his 53 runs from the leadoff spot, scoring just under 50% of the time he’s reached base.

Part of the explanation for his success can be explained by Peraza having a 30 point-better batting average on balls in play than last year (.293 compared to .259). Another part of the explanation comes from Peraza’s improved plate disciple. His walk percentage is up for the third-straight year to 5.5% and his strikeout rate is down to 10.9%. Diving slightly deeper, he has decreased his swing % by three points on pitches outside the zone and has a 95% contact rate on pitches in the zone. He’s made leaps and bounds in the improvement area this season.

The hitting has been what’s pushed this team through the first 96 games. The Reds have scored the third most runs in the NL, at 461. Their team on-base percentage trails the Cubs by 4 points (.341) for best in the Majors. Much has been written, of late, regarding Cincinnati’s plate discipline and their willingness to take more walks translating into success at the plate, and who could argue? It has been a huge factor in their turnaround.

While not egregiously worse, Cincinnati’s OBP was 15 points lower for the month of April. Combine that with the second worst slugging percentage in all of major league baseball, for that month (.357), and you get an offense that was unable to bail out horrific pitching.

The pitching has come a long way, since that harrowing month, in which the Reds compiled the worst ERA in the NL (5.15) and beat everyone to 20 losses. They’ve shaved over a run off that number, since April, as their team ERA in months not named April is 4.06. The bullpen has gotten a lot of work, as Reds starters average just over five innings a game, but they’ve been up to the task, thus far.

As a unit, considering some individuals that are no longer with the major league team, they re statistically at the middle of the pack in the National League. Individually, there are some pitchers that no opposing lineup looks forward to facing, late in-game. Foremost is Jared Hughes.

Hughes has a 2.3 WAR, per Baseball Reference, good for 4th best on the team. His 1.44 ERA is third best among NL relievers with at least 40 IP. When you are the key guy out of the bullpen, you’ve got to be tough when you get a bad hand dealt to you, and Hughes stands tall in those situations. He’s inherited 23 runners and stranded 15 of them. Despite tossing right handed, Hughes is toughest on lefties, allowing 16 hits in 81 lefties faced. He’s also kept the ball in the park, allowing just two round-trippers.

Amir Garrett stands tall next to Hughes. The starter turned reliever has one-upped Jared Hughes in the inherited run department. Just six of the 32 runners Garrett has inherited have crossed home plate. He is tied for eighth in the Majors with 18 holds, but his ERA has climbed each month (it currently sits at 10.13 for the month of July). Safe to say, he’s relishing this All Star break.

The winning of late has distracted us Reds fans from the big picture of this season. It isn’t necessarily the goal to make the playoffs this year, but to get the team situated for multiple years of playoff contention, beginning next year. The biggest storylines coming out of the All Star Break will not be a pursuit of a playoff appearance, but a couple of other things:

What will they do at the trade deadline?

– Will they sell off? (I hope not)

– Will they go after a staff ace? (I hope so)

– Who will be a Red after the dust settles?

Will they succumb to peer pressure and remove the interim tag from Jim Riggleman?

– Don’t get me wrong, Riggsy has done a fantastic job, but that’s just premature and needless in so many ways. They haven’t conducted an actual managerial search since they hired Bob Boone. It needs to happen at the end of this season. If Riggsy is determined to be the guy after it’s all said and done, cool, but do a search.

Will they stop bunting?

– Okay, admittedly this isn’t really a storyline, per say, but it’s worth noting. The team that has scored the most runs in the Majors, the Boston Red Sox, have compiled a grand total of three sacrifices. Three. That’s it. That’s 30 less than the Reds, who lead all of Major League Baseball in sacrifices. Their seventh in runs scored, but think of where they could be if they stop giving up outs. You know what…I’m feeling a more detailed blog about this subject, so let’s wrap this up.

The Reds need to win 38 games in their final 66 to finish the year at .500. I predicted they would, before the season, on another website. I still think they complete the 81-81 season. This is a decent team, an entertaining team, and they can play with anyone. Add in a couple of trades that are, hopefully, coming in the next few weeks, and you got yourself a contender for the next few years.

Like I said in the opening graph, buckle up, Reds fans, there’s plenty of baseball left!

(Also, shout out Locked on Reds, this is post 100!)

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