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Looking ahead to a future Reds lineup

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Even with his shortcomings and his team's shortcomings, Billy Hamilton and the Reds are playing and managing hard to win. That's a good sign.

Summer can get a little boring. So what do Reds junkies do with their spare time?

We think too much. We rant to ourselves when no one else in our household cares. We obsess on Twitter. Some of us write. One thing we all do is watch the Reds play and think about future lineups.

Here’s where my brain has been rambling recently about the future lineup:

Number numbness

We’ve all read and heard lots of ideas and seen faulty and questionable reasoning. Our individual criteria are almost as numerous as the columns of numbers on Fangraphs. Some people live in that black hole. Some don’t even know what Fangraphs is.

I’m willing to bet that whether you determine your version of next year’s opening day lineup using the eye test and traditional stats or by using the voluminous metrics of Fangraphs, you will come up with the same answer. Your prejudices will surface.

The advanced metrics are useful, should not be ignored and the Reds should use them in their decision-making. But baseball is too complex to make it that simple. I know, there’s nothing simple about all of those metrics, but to focus solely on them is as simple-minded as ignoring them.

Numbers were used to explain away the idea that Scooter Gennett couldn’t possibly repeat his 2017 season. I wondered the same thing, but he’s exceeding it.

Numbers by the end of April said Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton couldn’t possibly contribute anything positive this season. If this recent surge by the Reds has proven anything, it’s proven that those two players have something to offer to the Reds and perhaps a trade partner.

I’ve heard it’s all about sample size. Define what that number should be. It will be as arbitrary as 100 pitches.

The goal is still to win

The Reds are transitioning from rebuild to build, which means it’s time to get serious about winning. Major-leaguers have worked too hard to not play in an atmosphere that does not value winning no matter what the standings say.

Learning how to win is an abstract concept, but when it exists you know it. Knowing how to win involves confidence in yourself, your teammates, your manager, your coaches and your front office. The Reds will have some down periods during the second half of the season, but the winning mentality exists again.

Jim Riggleman deserves some of that credit. Whether you agree with all of his lineups, pitching changes, double switches, etc., it is clear he is managing to win. He’s not in minor-league development mode anymore. The players have noticed and responded. They feel like they’re playing for today, not just the future.

Fact is, Duvall and Hamilton are playing well right now. They have been just as likely during this stretch to get the big hit or save a run as anyone else on this team. If you don’t like the double switches, then root for an American League team. This is what you get without a DH.

I don’t know if this is Riggleman’s intention or not, but his liberal use of the double switch has resulted on fewer complete off days for the outfielders and the backup infielders. The four-man outfield rotation made it difficult for them to find a groove. Now that they are getting more regular at-bats, they are producing more. I’m a DH guy, but for now long live the double switch. It’s helping this team win.

The Reds’ minor-league system has long been criticized for being so focused on development that it does nothing to develop winning attitudes and habits. This stuff matters. Players are not just numbers-generating robots. The Reds have a good managerial prospect in Dayton right now. Luis Bolivar, who never got to the majors, manages to win as best he can with the players he has within in the parameters the Reds set. Winning is part of development.

So Duvall and Hamilton will continue to play as long as they are on the roster because they are helping this team win.

Lineup ideas

For as long as the Reds roster is what it is:

  1. Schebler (Peraza on Schebler off-days)
  2. Votto
  3. Gennett
  4. Suarez
  5. Winker or Duvall
  6. Barnhart
  7. Peraza (or an OF)
  8. Hamilton

Opening Day 2019:

  1. Schebler (CF)
  2. Peraza (SS)
  3. Votto (1B)
  4. Gennett (LF)
  5. Suarez (3B)
  6. Senzel (2B)
  7. Winker (RF)
  8. Barnhart (C)

Pick it all apart. Give me your ideas.

In short, I like what Schebler has done leading off. Peraza is getting better and the OBP will too.

I expect a more settled lineup next year and a commitment to Nick Senzel. Duvall will be traded. Hamilton might go too, but keeping him as the No. 4 outfielder isn’t a bad idea.

This 2019 lineup is appealing on offense. The infield is appealing on defense. The outfield defense will be the weakness, which isn’t great for a young pitching staff. Barring new and experienced faces, this is the best the Reds can do.

As far as the starting rotation goes, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano and Luis Castillo should stay in the rotation the rest of this season no matter what. With that experience and Anthony DeSclafani finding his old form, that will be the most experienced first four the Reds will have started the season with in what feels like more years than it actually is.

Now is not the time to worry who No. 5 will be. If that’s the only unknown next spring, that will be a good thing.

And just in case the Reds trade Gennett and Duvall:

  1. Schebler (RF)
  2. Peraza (SS)
  3. Votto (1B)
  4. Suarez (3B)
  5. Senzel (2B)
  6. Winker (LF)
  7. Barhart (C)
  8. Hamilton (CF)

This makes good sense. Senzel’s bat replaces Gennett’s bat and the outfield defense is much stronger. It also assumes Winker, Peraza and Schebler will continue to improve. This is my favorite lineup.

At least for now.

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Podcast

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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