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Cincinnati Reds

Reds’ hot play makes needs more specific

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The Reds' comeback win over the Indians on Tuesday is the biggest highlight of the 19-8 run they have been on since June 10.

Who are these Reds?

They are surely not the 3-18 Reds of April 22 or the 19-37 Reds of May 29 or the 22-43 Reds of June 9.

By June 9 and 21 games under .500 we were seeing more things we liked out of this team than we saw in April. But we didn’t see a 19-8 stretch coming. That was as unlikely as Tuesday night’s seven-run, two-out, ninth-inning rally to beat the Cleveland Indians 7-4.

Today the Reds are 41-51, 14 games out of first place in the NL Central, still in last place by 1.5 games and 10 games out of the second wild-card spot occupied by the 50-40 Atlanta Braves. Yes, even getting into real contention at this point is a long shot, but at least this stretch has made us curious enough to check the standings.

For almost a month, the Reds are playing like a 90-plus win team. They now have a 1 percent chance to make the postseason according to the projections on fivethirtyeight.com. Who thought that could happen.

The past four weeks — and the four previous to that to a lesser extent — have confirmed what I thought at the beginning of the season. This teams is not half of a rebuild away from contending. This team is only a couple key pieces and more experience away from playing meaningful games in September of 2019. In April, we wondered if a rebuild reboot was needed. It is not. Add a starter or two — not three or four — and tweak the lineup.

Offense

The Reds are second in the league in on-base percentage. You can live with two or three players being below average in OBP in a lineup like that. Losing magnifies the weaker links in the lineup, and no lineup is ideal. This team can win with Peraza’s bat and Barnhart’s bat.

A better hitting center fielder would be nice. And I’m all for a move that would be a hitting upgrade that doesn’t sacrifice defense. Billy Hamilton has been a big part of this 19-8 stretch. He scores at a higher rate when he gets on base and right now he’s getting on base.

I don’t expect the Reds to move on from Hamilton yet. They are going to see how the rest of this month goes at the least. If he becomes old Billy again this month, they will trade him if anybody wants him. If not, don’t be surprised if he is the starting center fielder next year. Not saying that’s the best move, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Last week I wrote about lineups I like based on the current roster and a future one based on the assumption that Scooter Gennett and Adam Duvall will be traded to put Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel in the lineup every day.

This team can win with Hamilton being average or close to it at getting on base. Imagine a postseason series with Billy getting on base a lot.

Pitching

Dick Williams is on record that the payroll will increase next year. He wasn’t specific, but if his words didn’t mean that he will go find one or two good starting pitchers then trust will be lost.

The youngsters are growing, and Anthony DeSclafani’s comeback is encouraging. But a No. 1 starter is a must. Williams should not wait to see if DeSclafani, Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle is going to become a shutdown ace. Go get one and maybe you end up with three or four above-average starters and one or two average starters.

The potential for a rotation that reminds us of Cueto, Bailey, Latos, Leake and Arroyo is possible. But to be there next year requires a big addition like the Latos move accomplished.

To get the great No. 1 requires a trade. There are too many factors in trades to speculate with any reasonable certainty. The free agent market is different. Most of the available starters are getting too old for for more than a one- or two-year contract.

But there are three pitchers who will be available at a favorable age:

Patrick Corbin: He’s making $7.5 million for Arizona this season. He was a second-round pick in 2009, is a second-time all-star and turns 29 on July 19. He has a career-low 3.09 ERA this year and is hitting the peak age range for a pitcher. Corbin could be affordable with a good upside as his 2.70 xFIP suggests.

Dallas Keuchel: He will be 31 and pushing the age level I am comfortable with for more than a two-year contract. He’s making $13.2 million with the Astros and unlikely to command much more than that unless he is World Series MVP. His only rough year since he became a full-time starter in 2012 was 2016. He’s been average this season with a  3.95 ERA and a 3.66 xFIP. He’s also been to the top personally (2015 Cy Young winner) and with his team. He would be a good mentor to younger pitchers.

Matt Harvey: Trade him and then try to sign him if he finishes the season well could be a good strategy. Harvey will be 30 at the start of next season and is making $5.6 million this year. He should be affordable. His 3.79 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 11 starts with the Reds and the way he is trending make it tempting for the Reds to keep him and sign him. That decision would be difficult to disagree with, but the trade-then-sign strategy is sound.

The 2018 roster is doing all it can to win. Now it’s up to Dick Williams, Nick Krall and the check writers to give the 2019 roster a chance to be even better.

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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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