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.
The Cincinnati Reds and the 20 Pitch Limit
When it comes to quirky early Cactus League season games, there’s a lot to know. One this is the 20-pitch limit a manager can invoke on an inning his guy is getting clobbered in. The Cincinnati Reds have already done this.
This Spring has seen an interesting beginning in that teams have smaller rosters than normal (though still plenty of players to go around) and they can choose to play shorter games. One other added wrinkle of differentness is the ability of a manager to “throw in the towel” whenever his pitcher reaches 20 pitches in an inning.
The Reds have already taken advantage of this twice, both during the beat down at the hands of the Athletics. Sal Romano got the curtain pulled on him in the fourth inning while Shane Carl heard the music in the fifth. These don’t necessarily paint a larger picture, as of yet, but it is interesting to note.
Carle doesn’t factor into the equation that is the Opening Day roster, but Big Sal surely does. He is out of minor league options (meaning he’d have to clear waivers to be assigned a minor league team) and he has shown some flashes of talent in the past. He could be valuable depth for the Reds bullpen, so calling it quits after 20 tosses (which frankly were all a consequence of Nick Senzel misplaying a ball early in the inning) doesn’t mean he’s out, but it is something to watch.
We’ll keep track here on the blog for more 20-pitch tap-outs.
Cincinnati Reds Roster Breakdown: Non Roster Invitees
Let’s take a look at the non-roster invitees trying to make the Cincinnati Reds roster during this Spring Training
WELCOME BAAAAAAACK! The Reds kick off the 2021 season on Sunday with their first spring training game. As I do each spring training, I am going to take a look at the non roster invitees (NRI) and how they could impact the team this season.
R.J. Alaniz, Matt Ball, Cam Bedrosian, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Josh Osich, Branden Shipley, Bo Takahashi
You might recognize a couple of these names. Alaniz has been around the organization the past couple of years and pitched 11.2 innings with the Reds in 2019. Biddle was a guy who was around last year, but the others are new. Carle (76.1 in), Osich (206.1 in), Shipley (100 in) have experience in the show with moderate results. Cam Bedrosian is the name to know here. The fact that he was signed on with a minor league deal is surprising. 277.2 innings with a 3.70 ERA has been a solid MLB pitcher. 2019 batters hit .207/.283/.336 and in 2020 they hit .196/.276/.255. His spin rate is gritty darn good honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a minor league deal that really is a promise on the roster. Think Jose Iglesias who was also a NRI a couple years back. This allows the Reds to delay their decision on making a 40 man roster move.
For a team that lost Rasiel Iglesias, Bradley, maybe Antone and Lorenzen to the rotation, Bedrosian will have a chance to really earn a legit role with this team. You don’t have to squint too hard to see a scenario where Shipley or Carle get innings this year.
Bittle and Osich are lefties that would have battled for the other LHP spot in the pen, but the signing of Doolittle bumps them to depth roles.
A 33 year old catcher with 37 at bats and a career .108 avg. Id say that there is not much to see here. Stephenson and Tucker are the one two punch and the offseason addition of Deivy Grullon will provide a younger depth option with a higher upside than Gale.
Cheslor Cuthbert, Dee Strange-Gordon (not listed on Reds roster yet)
Cuthbert isn’t a household name, but he does have over 1,000 at bats in the MLB. He had a decent season in ’16 with the Royals batting .274/.318/.413 and 12 HR, but he hasn’t shown enough to be a full time MLB player. Corner infield depth.
Here’s where I stand on Dee….If he is here to battle for a utility role, that’s fine with me. If he is here to be some variation of an answer at SS, we are in trouble. A 32 year old poor defender (who on the Reds isn’t at this point) who doesn’t have any power and doesn’t get on base. Yeah, he has stolen some bases. We all know speed is one of the first things to go when you age, and he still has some jump, but I don’t think it’s game changing speed at this point, and it’s useless unless he’s on base. I’m not high on Strange Gordan making an impact.
Nicky Delmonico, Tyler Naquin, Dwight Smith
I was worried about the Reds outfield depth. It’s a sneaky need, especially of Aquino doesn’t bounce back. This group of NRI is a group I am excited about. All have MLB experience and have had their moments. Delmonico had a nice (small sample size) rookie year with the White Sox in 2017, but has been worse each year since then. It’s the other two that catch my eye.
Dwight Smith has shown he has some pop in his bat. He is the type of player that you want to have in AAA ready to fill in if needed. Tyler Naquin is a guy I think could actually contribute to this team. We know 2020 was a small sample size, but look at the hard hit and exit velo. And his outfield jump/Outs above avg. fit in well with the team that doesn’t seem to care about defense.
He had a great rookie year in ’16, and has had moments since. .288/.325/.467 10 HR 19 2B in 2019 would be a good bench bat. The question is…is he better than Aquino/Heineman/Payton? Him and Payton are the two leftieis of the group. At the very least, I think he is great organizational depth, and I think his floor is a higher floor than the group listed above (maybe Aquino can make me eat crow there)
This list is different than most years. Not as many players listed, and no prospects. The number of players at Spring Training will be smaller than years past. Overall, I think theres 2-3 guys who could earn a role on the Reds 2021 roster.
Monday Morning Manager: The Snell Effect
David Bell has many things he needs to go right in order to win games and get a contract extension. One thing he can control is a decision-making process that should not be made entirely analytically.
In case you lived under a rock last year (and that might be Truer than in any other year) then you know how the World Series went down with the Rays falling to the Dodgers. You may even know about Blake Snell’s improbable removal from Game Six when he was absolutely on fire. This is something David Bell cannot mess up in 2021.
Ok, so in the grand scheme of things, I’m talking about the correct managing of the bullpen and rotation in pressure situations. Most people will look at the Game Six managing of Kevin Cash and see two things: a man sticking to his system that got him there and a man over-thinking things. Neither thoughts are incorrect.
In this day and age of baseball, most people understand statistical evaluations on pitchers favoring removing a starter before they pitch to the opposing lineup for the third time in a game. Well, maybe, because the numbers are a bit different in 2020, small sample size, and all. In fact, the Reds pitching staff held opponents to a .599 OPS in 253 plate appearances the third time through the order, last year. That may be a smoke screen, though, as the 2019 Reds pitching staff (largely similar to 2020) allowed an OPS of .892 in 799 PA. That’s a bit of a more reliable sample size, which would leave me to believe a starter pitching a third time through the order isn’t the most favorable idea.
Also something David Bell must consider is the overthinking aspect. In this Player’s Tribune post by the man, Blake Snell, himself, he points out the immense effect that simply seeing someone warming up in the bullpen had on him. Now, you can say “Well, that shouldn’t have been an issue, he should have sucked it up and pitched!” The dude is a human being. If you saw the person management was likely to replace you with if you messed something up at your job, are you going to just keep on keeping on with no thought to look over your shoulder? If you are, you might be a Jedi. Most of us mere mortals have problems with worrying about what might happen if things fall apart. Baseball players are not totally immune to this, either.
In order for Bell to garner a contract extension, he will have to adeptly manage a pitching staff that has talent, but also has human egos. Just because the numbers say that a decision should go one way, the human element must also be factored in. Last I checked, theres no button for that on a calculator, which leaves it up to his own decision-making skill.