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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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.