The View from Afghanistan

Are you comfortable with #61?

[This post was written by John Ring, who is the Nation's correspondent from Afghanistan, where he is serving the entire nation.]

When the Cincinnati Reds hired Bryan Price to become the 61st manager in the history of one of baseball’s greatest franchises, I was just returning from a three-day site visit to a remote place in northeastern Afghanistan. I have to admit Kabul looked pretty good in comparison. Both me and the uniform I was wearing were trashed after continuous high winds and dust storms for over 48 hours. It was good to see the sun again.

Ten hours after I got back, the Reds held their press conference announcing the hiring of Price to a three-year contract. From a personal standpoint, he will be the 21st manager for the Reds in my lifetime. We’ve had some good ones and some, uh, not so good ones. Don Heffner (1966) and Bob Boone (2001-3003) specifically come to my mind as the worst managers the Reds have had.

My first reaction upon hearing Price’s hiring was that this is the safe choice. Like many of you, I’ve heard the pitchers praise his accountability, intelligence and communication skills. Whether he can translate that to the entire roster is another matter, but certainly doable.

On the plus side
–Price now has both the legitimacy and the power to convert Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher.
–Price’s positive relationship with Double No-Hit Homer could lead to a long-term deal, should the Reds wish to explore that possibility.
–The 51-year old Price seems to possess both an open mind and a healthy respect for baseball tradition in the on-going battle over the “new” and “old” baseball statistics.

On the minus side
–He has no hands-on managerial experience, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down Mike Matheny and the St. Louis Cardinals.

It also sounds like the Reds are giving Price the authority and clout to choose his own coaching staff, which he absolutely needs. It would seem the days of Brook Jacoby as a hitting instructor are over, and while I like Chris Speier, he seems too closely associated with the Baker Era to continue on as a coach in 2014 with the Reds.

To compare Price with a new Reds managerial hire from the past is like shooting in the dark. It’s a different era, a different team and Price is unique in his qualifications.

However, this is the most comfortable I’ve been with a Reds hiring for a manager since they chose Jack McKeon in 1997. It’s safe, it’s somewhat bold and there’s no shock value, which is good. Today’s baseball players like consistency and a “role” which seemed problematic, especially to Dusty Baker. Consider this: would Manager Price have selected Johnny Cueto to pitch the wild card game against the Pirates? My hunch is Price would have gone with Bailey. But for Dusty, Cueto was the de facto “ace” of the staff, so a relatively untested just off-the-disabled list Cueto took the mound. And we all saw what happened.

Hiring Bryan Price was a good call. 2014 should be interesting.

It would have been disastrous for the Reds not to let Dusty Baker go after the 2013 season. Ticket sales would have plummeted and Hot Stove talk over the winter would have been debates over Baker’s status. I’m glad he thinks it will “be an honor” to manage the Tigers because his days in Cincinnati were clearly over with.

I can’t wait for 2014.

13 thoughts on “Are you comfortable with #61?

  1. I tend to think not having any managerial experience could be a plus. It mean he didn’t become reliant on “the book” when there wasn’t anything else. (Though I could be wrong. We’ll see.)

    The organization has said a few things that makes me think “the book” has been tossed out in the street with Dusty Baker. They are willing to entertain moving Joey in the order. WJ says Bryan is familiar with advanced metrics. They’ve said they will be examining Chapman’s role and likely expanding his innings. Bryan says he didn’t like how they “matched pitchers up” out of the bullpen, but rather thought they should trust the pitchers.

    So let’s take stock. DB’s faults that we are certain of (I know there are others, but let’s stick to what we know): Lineups, bullpen management, strict roles. I think those things drove the organization mad as well. Now they’re free of it.

  2. Good stuff, John.

    To me, and based on very little data, Bryan Price seems to have a great handle on what “the sabermetric revolution” (or “Moneyball”) was all about. It’s not VORP, WAR, and Win Expectancy charts. It’s about having an open mind, questioning conventional wisdom, considering all information, and looking for advantages.

    Baseball is a complicated game, and contrary to what some might think, I don’t think it should be reduced to numbers on a page. Real professional athletes can’t be managed like Strat-O-Matic cards, even if certain Strat-O lessons do translate over.

    Price seems to have mastered the personal, and is open to the analytical. That seems like the right balance.

    • @Chris Garber: This. I continue to be befuddled by folks who think that sabermetrics translates to a kind of “automated managing” that could somehow be done by a computer. It is simply the recognition that the length of baseball’s history and season lends itself best, among all professional sports, to statistical analysis and the leverage of said statistical analysis in the decision making process. Like you, I believe Price is the perfect balance of the personal and the careful consideration of the analytical.

      • @Drew Mac: Sabermetrics in more or a GM tool than a manager tool. It is useful efficient team construction and player drafting & development. The manager will not utilize sabermetrics so much as simply understanding sabermetrics to best utilize the roster provided by the GM. Much of the concerns and complaints regarding the roster and game management during the past few years had nothing to do with sabermetrics and more to do with simple, idiotic decisions

  3. I’d argue that this is anything but the safe pick. In my mind, Riggleman would have been the safest pick. In a lot of ways even something a little more unlikely such as Joe Morgan or even Paul O’Neil could have been considered safe picks – especially with Matheny’s success. Picking a guy who’s never managed at any level and never played major league ball who has already stated his desire to try a risky closer-to-starter conversion with one of the most mystifying pitchers in the game and who seems open to a more metric-based style of managing seems about as far from a safe of a pick as I can think of. And I love it. Dusty was a safe pick 6 years ago. It made sense at the time. Now this team has to take a step and I can’t think of anyone else who we possibly COULD have brought in that I like a tenth as much as Price. Maybe if we could have coaxed LaRussa out of retirement, but that wasn’t going to happen and honestly when it’s all said and done I think Price has the potential to make the same kind of impact on this team going forward.

  4. I agree with you whole heartedly that I doubt if Price would have started Cueto in that wildcard game over Bailey, and that is something that us Reds fans will see as a welcome change… a manager that not locked into roles but has a feel for the game.

  5. Safe (sensible) pick is probably accurate. I’d assume Walt has an idea whether Price is respected in the Reds clubhouse. The GM *had better* know that sort of thing. So, going in, Walt knew the players had Price’s back. The comments from the people who tend to be the team’s “voices” would support that, if I read PR correctly.

    So it’s about the players having confidence in the manager — that leadership has to be consistent and understandable.

    Dusty had apparently lost that and the results were clear.

    I think it also works that the players are willing to improve their game rather than be afraid that they’ll face criticism if they don’t.

    In that regard, going into 2014, one would assume that there’s at least a sense of calm in the clubhouse. That may not translate to “chemistry.”

  6. I was really, really, trying to forget that Baker chose Cueto over Bailey to start the Wildcard game. Ugh, no wonder Bailey didn’t want to sign an extension before last year. Hopefully the Price hire helps with an extension with Bailey this off season. It should have been a no-brainer that Bailey should have started!

  7. Nice interview with Price:

    http://ramsey.mlblogs.com/2013/10/24/better-off-reds-exclusive-interview-with-bryan-price-part-one/

    Not a whole lot of groundbreaking stuff here, but he does go into some more detail about his reluctance to rely on situational relief pitching. It’s good to hear – says he doesn’t like doing it because it ends up taxing the bullpen more due to all of the up and down warming up the guys have to do and also that he thinks it helps guys’ confidence when you leave them in to face more batters, regardless of the matchup.

    • @eric nyc:

      …it ends up taxing the bullpen more due to all of the up and down warming up the guys have to do…

      This is something that Dusty never recogonized or acknowledged as a problem. So many of the relief pitchers would throw so many unnecessary pitches and never enter the game or would enter the game and throw fewer pitches in the game than they did warming up. I’m glad to hear by inference that Price really had little input into how Dusty used the pitching staff. My only real concern regarding Price’s promotion to manager was if Price had a major input into some of Dusty’s irrational and irresponsible decisions regarding the use of the pitching staff.

  8. Good comments, and it is a safe hire. Riggleman hurt himself with what happened in D.C. This situation reminds me of the time we hired somebody named George Anderson. Don’t get me wrong I’m not comparing anyone to Sparky all I am saying is the situation is similiar a playoff caliber ballclub that needs a little tweeking and a manager that lets you know when you screwed up. John hope your doing well overseas thankyou for your service Big Mac

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