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.
— Jeff Brantley (@RedsCowboy) October 31, 2018
I thought pitching coach would be the biggest hire of the off-season and the #Reds crushed it with Derek Johnson
— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) October 31, 2018
Derek Johnson??…I’m pleasantly surprised. Solid move! #Reds
— Jim Day (@JimDayTV) October 31, 2018
Based on text I’m getting back from people around MLB, the Derek Johnson hire is a big one for the #Reds. He’s very highly thought of and respected.
— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 31, 2018
His departure, while the third Milwaukee assistant to jump ship, drew the ire of those around the Brewers organization.
DEREK JOHNSON HAS LEFT THE #BREWERS!!! I’M NEVER GOING TO STOP BEING UPSET
— Reviewing the Brew (@ReviewngTheBrew) October 31, 2018
— The Brewer Nation (@BrewerNation) October 31, 2018
It’s profoundly strange to see a team that just won 96 games and came within a game of the World Series lose both their hitting and their pitching coach without either guy getting a promotion. I can’t figure that.
— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) November 1, 2018
Man, losing Derek Johnson really feels like it’s going to hurt the Brewers.
— Kyle L. (@brewerfan28) October 31, 2018
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.
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How To Rebuild The Cincinnati Reds Fan Base
They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership.
Over the past few weeks it’s been a great moment to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. As a die hard fan who grew up during the lost decade of the 90’s when the Bengals became the Bungals it brings me joy to see Bengals fans coming out of the woodwork to join the bandwagon. I remember being one of only a few kids that was brave enough to wear a Bengals Starter jacket to school. I remember being one of a few kids that didn’t have to be begged in order to go to a Bengals game. The 90’s were dark times us Bengals fans for a franchise that seemed to have no direction or possibility of being a serious contender.
How the tables have turned. The Reds haven’t been to a playoff (excluding the 2020 COVID season) since 2013. They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership. #SellTheTeamBob is rallying call for our current die hard fan base. This is what happens when you lose a generation of fans. All you have to rely on is die hards and nostalgia to keep people coming to the ballpark.
How do you rebuild the fan base? For starters, a plan. Dick Williams had a very transparent plan of adding the puzzle pieces to turn this team back into a contender. Then in 2020 right as the playoff contention window opened, COVID smashed the window on our hand and caused ownership to hide behind the bottom line. Dick Williams saw the writing on the wall and left. The plan now for the future of this franchise now seems to be stay the course and run the franchise based on the bottom line. That’s not a plan, that’s a joke. The Reds were maybe one or two parts away from being a contender at the end of 2020. Either through free agancy or trades the Reds could have been a serious contender last season as well as good chunk of this decade. Instead now it seems we are destined for third place with our mediocre roster this year. The ownership needs to make up it’s mind on winning a World Series and fast. Are we going to do it the traditional way of piecing together players we’ve developed, trades, and free agency? Or are we going to go full Tampa Bay Rays and put all of our eggs into player development building and trade away everyone else? Either way I don’t care because it gives a sense of direction to the fan base. Right now they seem to have us fans in a sense of being lost at sea with nothing on the horizon. At some point even the most faithful will give up hope. The simplest answer to rebuilding your fan base is winning. Winning cures all. The Bengals have made that crystal clear.
Next the Reds have to give easier access to watching the games on television. Probably the most common complaint among Reds fans is how difficult it has become to watch the games. Most of us from the younger generation have cut the cord. Using services such as Hulu Live, YouTube TV, or Sling to name the more popular streaming services for live sports. Every single one of them lost Bally Sports this past season. Even the actual Bally Sports app for streaming was not the greatest because of a poor interface and constant issues. MLB TV, MLB’s counter to the NFL Sunday Ticket, has the most outrageous blackout maps for local teams. Just another way they’ve blocked fans from enjoying and spreading their sport. There is talk of the MLB making it a la carte so you could purchase your franchises games to watch. The Reds and Major League Baseball need to figure out how to make this possible ASAP. There are not many people going the extra steps in order to watch an average baseball team right now.
Ownership must get back to their old ways of fan engagement. Some of which was out of their control because of COVID. These past two years of Redsfest being cancelled has been difficult. It doesn’t matter what the team looks like because Redsfest always gets you pumped about being a Reds fan. Reds Caravan was also a great way to engage the community where they lived by visiting the entire Reds nation with bus stops, interviews, and autograph signings. I am a season ticket holder and in it’s absence they provided us with goody bag of stuff in the absence of Redsfest. This years goody bad looked like the clearance rack the day after Christmas. Kind of a slap in the face for us loyal fans. If they’re smart they go above and beyond to bring as much interaction as possible to those who attend Redsfest and the Reds Caravan this year. Another huge even I think many people forgot about was Reds Rockin’ 150. In 2019 to celebrate it’s 150 birthday ownership hosted the event at no cost to the fans. Anyone was welcome. They had 3 bands in concert. Huey helicopters were flown onto the field. Nearly all the players and coaches were present for fan activities throughout the ballpark that evening. This needs to become an annual event mid season. It shows commitment to the fans that no matter how well our record is that were dedicated to making you apart of the experience as much as possible.
There are the changes needed on a macro level from the MLB in order help get fans excited about baseball. One of the biggest has to be fixing the inequality among franchises payrolls. Part of the solution is giving baseball something it has desperately needed in a salary cap not just a luxary tax. The second part of that solution would be a salary minimum. If this could slowly be implemented over the next 10-15 years to mirror that of other major professional sports it would take away ownership’s excuse for the bottom line being the key reason for owning the team. It does seem as though the MLB Players Association wants this to be addressed in the current labor dispute. The disparity payroll has destroyed baseball. There are players earning a higher yearly salary then some teams entire payroll. The incentive for these small market teams to own the team is strictly financial. Winning is an after thought. Tanking is transparently encouraged. There is no reason that small market teams should have a small 3-4 year window if they’re lucky once a decade in order to put a competitive team on the field. Otherwise at least a third of the league is guaranteed to be tanking before the seasons stated.
Something else I would love to see the Reds celebrate is their actual fan base. The Bengals have done a tremendous job this season highlighting their die hard fan base. Characters like Bengal Jim, Tony Da Tiger, and Bengals Captain to name just a few. They give out a fan of the year award. There fans are celebrated on social media as well news media. You see just a fraction of that with the Reds fan base. Probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to losing that their isn’t much to celebrate. It would be nice to see ownership commit to celebrating their fans who’ve continued to show up and root for the Redlegs during these dark ages.
Finally they have to get creative with getting fans to come to the stadium. 2020 there were no fans allowed. 2021 was an odd year for fans. We started the first two months of the season with a 30% cap on attendance. However things will probably continue to trend down for attendance if Opening Day doesn’t start on time because of the labor strike. Regardless of which side your on, players or owners, the fans are always the ones who lose. The fans had no problem showing their disdain during the shortened 1995 season when play resumed after they stopped playing mid season in 1994. The result was a 25% drop in attendance league wide. Fans find it hard to sympathize when it’s millionaires versus billionaires. Combine that with ownership that has shown no signs of taking winning seriously, things don’t look good for drawing fans down to the ballpark. They need to be aggressive by offering discount days and free tickets to fans. Maybe a five games of a steep discount on concessions and merchandise. Perhaps even a $10-20 credit with the purchase of a ticket. The Atlanta Falcons ownership did this with their concessions and found they made even more off concessions since people were willing to buy more with the money saved. Another five games in which for every adult ticket purchased two kids 18 and younger get in free to certain sections in the ballpark. The Baltimore Orioles started doing this a few years ago. Probably because they knew people weren’t gonna show up anyway but those free tickets fill seats and the savings given to the fans are probably put towards concessions and merchandise.
I always used to tell people we were more likely to see multiple Reds World Series victories than I would ever see a Bengals Super Bowl win in my lifetime. I sadly believe we’ll be lucky to see a World Series from this franchise for the foreseeable future unless ownership decides to making winning their number one priority.
The Positives for the Cincinnati Reds of Keeping Nick Senzel in AAA
The Cincinnati Reds are telling us it is time to change our expectations of Nick Senzel, writes Clay Snowden
Things have not gone as planned. Nick Senzel was selected with the second overall pick in 2016 and was praised for his plus hit tool. Fast forward to now and Senzel is an often injured player who currently sits in AAA Louisville. I am not sure if I remember a player with as much frustration attached to his name, maybe Billy Hamilton? I am not writing Senzel off as a bust just yet, but things are trending that way. With him in AAA what should we make of this?
I think it is time to change expectations. Once thought of as a potential building block of the Reds rebuild and future, Senzel has proven he cannot be that. Injury after injury has limited his time on the field, but even when he has played he has not been very good. Definitely not second overall good. Hell he’s a negative WAR player. He’s still young(ish) and has not had enough at bats to really determine what he will become. If I was a betting man, I would bet he wouldn’t reach the potential we once though he had. A lot of the blame falls on….well….bad luck. Injuries stunting development is not something I like to blame on players. The organization has not exact made it easy on him. Changing his positions several times including a drastic change to center to fit team needs was not easy on Senzel. Changing his swing/stance during his rookie season was crazy. And here we sit on August 16th, 2021 with Senzel playing for the Louisville Bats. You can debate if it’s the right move or not, but its where we are. What positives can come from this move?
Let’s go back to expectations. It’s time to shift from all star build block to useful utility player. We can be mad about it all we want, but it won’t change anything. My hope is Senzel is used all over the field in Louisville. He’s played some SS down there which makes things interesting. We know he can play second, third, and center. Adding short to that resume makes him a very useful piece. If the plan is to transition him to a utility role, he could get plenty of starts at multiple positions, cover pinch running, defensive subs late in the game, and be a back up shortstop (especially in 2022).
Bottom line, Senzel needs a role and they need to stick to that role. I think the utility role with more playing time than an average bench player is the best role for him. No, it’s not the role we all expected when the Reds selected him in 2016, but it could be the best role for him and the Reds going forward.
Cincinnati Reds July Reds Mailbag
The Cincinnati Reds are battling to retake first place in the NL Central, here in July, and questions abound. Clay has some answers for you!
Here we are, a few days before the deadline and more than a couple spots outside of first place. The Reds are looking less and less like a playoff team, and have yet to make a move (7/27/21 2:24 pm). Let’s get to some questions.
Miguel Rojas and Yimi Garcia for Allen Cerda and Alejo Lopez?
These are the caliber of players the Reds seem likely to get. I think World Series contenders are more likely to overpay for some all star caliber players than the scratching and hoping for playoff Reds are. I do think the Reds will get someone, but not a splash move. I would love to add Rojas and Garcia. However, I think the Marlins say no to this. Lopez projects to a bench bat and Cerda has been good, but not a high profile prospect. I think the Marlins could get someone in the 8-11 range plus another top 30 from a team. OF course, each team ranking is different, but you get what I am saying.
What do you see in the future for Castllanos? Do you think the Reds will sign him to another deal?
I hate to say this, but I do not think Castellanos will be a Red next season. His agent, Scott Boras, is tough. An he loves to have his clients test the market. Castellanos will opt out, as he is worth more than the $16 million option. Once he hits free agency, another team will outbid the Reds. This isn’t me being some grouch, this is me being realistic. One of the best bats hits free agency at age 29, he will be looking to get locked up to a big money/term deal into his mid-late 30s.
Will Alejo Lopez get a chance? Does Jose Barrero get called up? What about Phil Diehl?
Lopez has been mostly up and down from Louisville and Cincinnati, and has received a spot start here and there but mostly has been a bench bat. I’d like to see him play some third and give Suarez time on the bench. However, that doesn’t seem likely. To me Diehl is a classic example of a AAAA player. I don’t expect him to come up and make an impact but with the way he’s pitched in Louisville and the current state of the bullpen, he’s earned a shot.
Jose Barrero has been outstanding this season. He was recently moved to the number 20 overall prospect for Baseball America. The deadline will determine the rest of his season. If a SS is acquired, he will stay down. If not I think he would be their “deadline addition”. For the record, I would keep him in AAA the rest of the year and go acquire a SS. Bringing him up as the answer is a lot of pressure. Also, he has less than 250 at bats above single A. If his lack of experience was the issue less than 12 months ago, 245 at bats isn’t a huge amount to prove otherwise. But the way he’s hitting…I would understand if he’s brought up.
What should the Reds do with Shogo? Does he stay or go?
He stays. Too much money with another year left for an older outfielder with zero (proven at MLB level) hit tool. I doubt there’s much of a market for that. Maybe he “needs more playing time” to get comfortable, but he has done nothing to earn that. I love Shogo, but it’s getting harder to justify playing him. Keep him on the roster for a defensive replacement/pinch runner.
Will the Reds do anything to strengthen the bullpen? Will the starters be stretched out to go 7 innings?
I think the Reds will add a bullpen arm. I don’t think it will be some all star closer, but an above average guy. Givens/Bard from Colorado come to mind.
The issue with a lot of these starters isn’t David Bell *not* letting them go deep, but instead, they are throwing too many pitches. It’s on them more than Bell most of the time. We need to advance past thinking every starter should go 7 or 7 plus innings.