With the month of September here, and the regular season coming to an end, here are some things to look forward to with the Reds.
Billy Hamilton: He’s got his batting average to it’s annual point of “could he make the leap next year?” He sits at .244 on the season and has hit .264 since May 1st. His .312 on-base during that timeframe is nice to see. Those clamoring for a starting outfield devoid of Billy may be overruled by hope for future improvement, yet again, in 2019.
Jose Peraza: Some say he has not shown that he can be the every day shortstop for the Reds moving forward, but I disagree. While I will concede he has not shown the caliber of defense Reds fans were accustomed to with Zack Cozart, Peraza has been a revelation at the plate. He has curbed his strikeout rate to just above 10% and has the best isolated power of his career at .115 (which says he gets an extra base hit better than one out of every 10 hits. Comparatively, Joey Votto has a .133 ISO this year).
Scooter Gennett: The man just keeps on trucking. While there was a moment we thought he might hit a slump and sink below a .300 batting average, he bounced back in a big way. He claimed that average up to .320, which leads the National League and is fifth in the majors. The Reds will have a serious decision to make during the offseason, and I am not sure which way they are leaning. Gennett has proven to be a fan favorite and a good ball player. I’d bet on him receiving an extension if owner Bob Castellini makes the final decision.
Eugenio Suarez: Remember when the Reds signed him to an extension before the season and every Reds fan was just a little leery of it? How do you feel now? It is so nice to have this guy locked up long-term. I could run up the numbers, but if you’re reading this, there is a good chance you already know them. His jersey will be a target of mine this holiday season.
Joey Votto: Joseph Daniel is slightly worrisome. As I mentioned under Peraza, his ISO is at .133 which is just about half as much as it normally is. He still has the typical Vottoian OBP above .400 (currently .420) as he has finished below that threshold just once since 2008 (2014). Offseason-wise, he is under contract until 2023, so I’m pretty much penciling him in as retiring a Red.
Tucker Barnhart: His average is lower than last year’s .270 (.254, currently), but so is his batting average on balls in play (.291 this year as opposed to .312 last). That decrease in luck has not affected the rest of his numbers, though, as he sits on the precipice of 10 home runs and has a career-high walk rate of 11.4%. His defensive wins above replacement of 1.0 (a composite stat of the defensive prowess of a player) ranks second in the Major Leagues for catchers. The Reds have one of the better signal callers, in the game today.
Scott Schebler: Can he stay healthy? He has shown that he can hit well, just about anywhere in the lineup, and he has shown he is a defensively-serviceable outfielder. The problem is availability. He’s missed time on two separate occasions this year. He will be the 2019 Opening Day right fielder for the Reds, but it feels like they will need a good fourth outfielder…
Phil Ervin: …which is where my guy comes in! Despite a bit of a mini-slump, Mr. Magic has played well in his cup of coffee in the Majors. He has laid a base from which to improve on with a solid .348 OBP and, according to FanGraphs, he has produced 3.9 runs above the average MLB hitter. He’ll need to work on brining down the strikeout rate (currently at 20%) and improving his throwing accuracy, but he will be the Spring Training favorite to land the fourth outfielder spot, and may push Billy for everyday work.
Luis Castillo: Consistency, consistency, consistency. He’s still green, but looks like he will finish strong for the second-straight year. He has more quality starts (eight) than he does implosions (two) in his last 10 and has 57 Ks. He looks like the number two for next year, and may be the middle of rotation piece for the Reds (hopefully) forthcoming run of winning beginning next season.
Anthony DeSclafani: He’s been this year’s staff ace. Though not always dominant, he is mostly good, as his 3.99 xFIP will attest. He has gotten slightly unlucky with a career-high home run-to-fly ball ratio of 18.8% which is six percent higher than his last full season of pitching, in 2016. Also, a concern for him is durability. He is a solid number two, or three (depending on how active the Reds’ front office is in the pitching market, this offseason).
Sal Romano: Big Sal has looked, at times, like the back of the rotation innings eater that the Reds wanted out of him. He was unceremoniously moved to the bullpen after just a pair of rough starts, and may not get another chance, this year, to start. He has allowed just a run and a hit in 3.1 innings of relief while striking out a batter in each appearance.
Tyler Mahle: His exile to Louisville seems to have lasted longer than most fans thought whenever he was initially sent down. I’d expect to see him before the end of the season and hope that he gets one more start. He showed enough talent to lead me to believe that once he figures out this adjustment, he will be a fine rotation pitcher, moving forward.
Michael Lorenzen: Honestly, I think he is where he needs to be, the bullpen. Lorenzen works great as the chameleon reliever. If you need him in a tight, eighth-inning spot, he’s there. If you need him to eat up some innings after the starter falters, he can do that. Heck, if you need a home run, he can do that too. I like “Swiss army Lorenzen” and that should totally be his nickname.
Raisel Iglesias: Trade talks are sure to arise this offseason, and if they blow the Reds away, then sure, do it. But don’t just give him away. This front office needs to keep that Aroldis Chapman trade plastered to the wall as the quintessential failure of this rebuild. Thankfully, in the grand scheme of things, it was just a team trading away a closer, so it didn’t derail the rebuild, but it surely didn’t help it, either. Good closers are wasted on bad teams, but the Reds don’t figure to be bad in 2019. That needs to be take into account when it comes to deal or not to deal Iggy.
Lucas Sims: Give me more Lucas Sims!
Brandon Finnegan: Why happened to this guy? The Reds have been baffled by his sudden collapse this year and I’m not sure the light at the end of the tunnel is there. In 67.2 innings at Triple-A Louisville, he has a 7.05 ERA and has walked over five batters per nine innings. With non of his pitches eclipsing 92 MPH, I find it hard to believe he will turn things around any time soon.
I may continue this sort of post into the offseason, especially as transactions kick into gear after the playoffs. Let me know what you think! Tell me where you agree, and, definitely, tell me where I’m wrong. I’m wrong a lot.
Jeff Brantley talks Bell, new pitching coach Derek Johnson and more
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.
Bell hiring finally rings in a new century for Reds
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.
Reds Tab Johnson to Lead Pitching Renaissance
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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