2014 Reds

Are we relentless?

Based on the off-season moves, it’s fair to say that the Reds front office is counting on the change in managers to provide most of the improvement they seek after last year’s epic September collapse. A healthier Ryan Ludwick, Johnny Cueto and Sean Marshall will help. And OMG! Billy Hamilton. But you can’t wish away new or lingering injuries. And the club is replacing the fifth most productive offensive player in the NL with an unproven rookie.

So will we know in April if the Reds are better (or worse) than last year?

It’s tempting to exaggerate the importance of wins and losses in the first month. In their first 25 games, they play the Cardinals six times and the Pirates seven, and have a half dozen other games against teams (Tampa Bay and Atlanta) projected by most analysts to be in the post-season.

But it’s a fool’s errand to predict the importance of certain games before the season begins. While that schedule makes for an exciting April, I’ll leave the misplaced superlatives to others. There will be plenty of the most crucial months, home stands, weeks, road trips, series, games, innings, pitches etc. over the remaining five months of the season.

I won’t be indifferent to the Reds’ record, but that’s not how I’ll measure their progress in April.

What about judging based on the performance of individual players? There are so many important questions to answer. Will Billy Hamilton be more than a slap hitter? Can Devin Mesoraco improve his production at the plate while taking on greater responsibilities behind it? Can other relievers fill in capably for Aroldis Chapman? Will Jay Bruce take the next step to MVP-caliber player? Can Johnny Cueto twist without shouting? What of Tony Cingrani’s new slider and Ryan Ludwick’s old shoulder?

The first few weeks of the season will provide valuable information. But early-season player statistics won’t give us much of an indication on the direction of the team, small sample sizes being what they are.

If not wins and losses and not individual performances what criteria should we use to evaluate these Reds in April?

For a helpful clue, let’s review Bryan Price’s press conference from the day he was named manager. About 22 minutes into that 25-minute public interview, Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer asked the Reds’ new skipper how he expected to have the biggest impact on the team.

Up to that point, Price had dutifully stressed the A-word along with his vision of a team that brings “preparation, energy and effort to the field every day, on a daily basis.”

But Price’s answer to Daugherty’s question (starting at 22:35) provided the most interesting minute of the event. The Reds manager revealed how to judge if his team will be different – better – than Dusty Baker’s.

“I’d like to cultivate an organizational and a team understanding of how we play, a style of play, what are we known for as an organization. Are we relentless? Are we that team that is down by three late in the game that consistently finds a way to rally? Are we a team that consistently knocks out the starting pitcher before he can complete five innings? Are we the type of team that puts pressure on the opponent by the way we run the bases, our defensive play? Do we attack the strike zone with our pitching … I’d like to cultivate an identity of a team that nobody wants to play, for those reasons.”

What should we make of that?

First reaction: skepticism, of course. Athletes and coaches are trained to not make news when they speak. You often see them searching their mind during interviews for which platitude best fits the question they were asked. As much as we admire and worship sports figures for their talents, it’s difficult to take anything they say seriously. And that’s how they want it, mostly. As consumers of sports, we’re constantly confronted with the challenge of discerning cliché from content.

I’ve come to pretty much tune out coach- and athlete-speak. [Disdain for cliché is one of the reasons I’ve been a loyal listener to Tony Kornheiser’s radio program for nearly 15 years. It’s nominally a sports show, but he’ll go an entire year without interviewing a single player or coach.] But back to Bryan Price and his team that no one wants to play.

That relentless team.

Could we meaningfully judge the Reds in April by their perseverance? Going first to third more often, and second to home. Grinding away at pitch counts. Fewer base running and fielding errors. Running hard on ground ball outs. Hitting the cut-off man. All the ways we commonly think of relentlessness.

Last October, I wrote that Dusty Baker should be fired, largely on the grounds that his team didn’t seem to be prepared to play hard at the end of the season. I blamed Baker’s season-long approach of denying the importance of individual games. It seemed to me that he tried to shield his players from stress all year and then they crumbled in the inevitable face of it. The Reds were missing that edginess.

If Bryan Price fixes that, will we know it and should we care?

It’s worth remembering that correlation isn’t causality. Playing with relentlessness may cause greater success. Or the former may simply be the product of the latter, just like with that other intangible “team chemistry.”

But I still cautiously say yes, it matters. While those qualities may be intangible, I believe this: There were times last year when Mike Matheny and Clint Hurdle were managing more aggressively to the moment than Dusty Baker. And their teams’ play reflected it as the year went on. We might not be able to always detect that kicked-up desire, but we often notice and feel its absence.

So that’s what I’ll be looking for the first few weeks of the season. Relentlessness. The Reds have loads of talent and it will be fun to watch. But if they are going to be better than last year, it will be because of greater desire and focus, as cultivated by their new manager.

Is that a fair way to judge the team?

It is, according to the Reds front office and Bryan Price.

58 thoughts on “Are we relentless?

  1. Indeed. Outside of baserunning (mainly Hamilton, but a few others), it has naturally been hard to observe the differences in camp this spring. It will be interesting to watch once the calendar turns. 10 days!

  2. The injuries to the pitching staff might make the start slow. Choo was great last year and it may take awhile for Hamilton to settle in.

    If Ludwick can produce a RC+ of at least 100, that would certainly help the middle of the order

    The defense should be better this year

  3. Here’s a dose of optimism. Realistically, every starting 8 position (except for Center) should be improved this year. You could make a strong argument for Phillips. But, if the others don’t improve, I’ll eat my hat.

    Let’s just all hope the rotation can get and stay healthy.

  4. RLN can run and try to hide from the Old Cossack, but I have my ways of finding my way home and that trail of stale breadcrumbs did the trick, although a few comments were lost along the way. No matter, the Old Cossack has never been at a loss for words.

    Outside of Hamilton, the Reds are NOT a base-stealing roster and giving away outs on failed steal attempts during the regular season will not be productive. Running at-will during spring training to establish a philosophy of aggression is fine, but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot once the regular season starts.

    A man on 3B with less than 2 outs must routinely score. Taking call 3rd strikes with a man on 3B (ahem…Votto) with less than two outs during the regular season can not happen. Taking pitches to establish plate coverage or zone coverage during spring training is completely understandable and acceptable, but not during the regular season. Taking early in the count to work the pitcher and wait for a good hitter’s pitch is fine, but not a call 3rd strike.

    Baserunners must reestablish aggression on the basepaths by ‘intelligently’ pusing the envelope in going 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home. Make the other team make the tough play, but don’t run haphazardly just to run. Giving away outs on the basepaths is unacceptable.

    A runner on 2B and no outs requires, no mandates, a hitter to hit to the right side and move the runner over rather than trying to be a hero every time up to the plate (ahem…Phillips). I’ve seen Frazier do it and even Ludwick do it this spring, but I’ve seen Phillips lose the opportunity by swinging early and trying to pull the ball, result in a completely unproductive out.

    More than anything, I think Hamilton will establish the tone of offensive aggression (or not) and that’s a lot of responsibility place on the shoulders of a rookie, but with the current Reds’ roster, I just don’t see any way around it.

    • The Old Cossack is about to pounce on the Hamilton bandwagon and grab the reins. Choo is making $14MM in 2014 on a heavily backloaded $130MM, 7 year contract. Hamilton will make ~$500K in 2014. Choo is NOT a traditionally slow starter but his start this season in spring training is beyond slow.

      Choo (spring training 2014):
      .146/.234/.268 with 1-HR, 2-2B & 10-SO in 47 PA

      Hamilton (spring training 2014):
      .325/.413/.450 with 1-HR, 2-2B, 9-SB, 0-CS & 6-SO in 46 PA

      The Old Cossack absolutely loves me some Choo, but (spring training notwithstanding) Hamilton has put up his spring training performance against the other team’s best pitchers along with the rest of the regulars. If the hitters behind him had done their job effectively (and that’s not necessary in spring training, especially early in spring training), he would have several more runs scored and he currently only has 2 less (12) than the leader (14) in spring training.

      Hamilton’s defense in CF has also been challengeed and Hamilton has responded with 30 PO, 3 QA & 0 E, all among the OF leaders in spring training.

      Oh my, the Old Cossack is beginning to love me some Hamilton.

      • I agree with the Cossack about Billy (and usually everything else): It’s fine if he’s a slap hitter and he will be a significant improvement defensively and on the bases. Choo was great, but I won’t surprised if we end up not missing him so much. Or vice-versa.

      • LW, you are absolutely correct, but that’s a $14MM elbow issue on a player in his age 32 season as opposed to $500K for a prospect in his age 24 season who is exceling right now. Remember what happened to Phillips and his production playing in his age 32 season after his arm injury last season.

      • I agree Old Cossack… I personally am happy that the Reds didn’t go that many years on Choo. Honestly, I thought 5 years would be a stretch.

    • Shchi, I have to wonder how much of the aggressive base running has to do with the new coaching staff learning the ability of the players.

      • Virtually 100% of it in my estimation. I can’t believe every players will have the green light to steal unless they are specifically given a red light to not steal as the current situation has been defined in spring training. I like the idea of actually using spring training for training and learning, both for the players and coaches.

  5. Just in from @ctrent…

    Latos, Broxton, Marshall & (obviously) Chapman will begin the year on the DL.

    Yay.

    • Early word from Sheldon:

      “It looking like four pitchers — Aroldis Chapman (fracture above left eye), Jonathan Broxton (right forearm), Sean Marshall (left shoulder) and Mat Latos (left knee) — are likely to begin the season on the disabled list.

      There could be a fifth pitcher as well. Homer Bailey has been bothered by a right groin strain. Bailey has a bullpen session this morning.”

      I think the Latos situation is going as planned with the DL option an opportunity to add another reliever to the 25 man roster while Latos skips his 1st start with Simon filling in for Latos. Latos should continue getting his work in live games in the minor league camp.

      A DL stint for Brox is a surprise but may just buy a few more days before he is activated. Since the DL can be retroed back 10 days before the start of the season, he may only miss 5 days and that includes a scheduled off day. We’ll know if that is the plan if Brox pitches the rest of the spring training in the minor league camp.

      The DL for Marshall can not be a surprise. Bryan is going to treat Marshall VERY carefully until he is convinced that Marshall’s shoulder is healthy. The Reds may only get one chance to activate a productive Marshall during 2014. If he suffers a relapse after being activated, he is probably done.

      Bailey is troublesome because those dang groins are so troublesome. If he needs to go on the DL to get that groin fully healed, so be it.

      I was hoping Chapman would go on the 60 day DL since the Reds may need room on the 40 man roster to add another reliever, but it sounds like the Reds are going to roll the dice for an early return for Chapman. I personally think WJ fails to utilize the 15 day DL and 60 day DL sufficiently by keeping injured players on the active roster.

  6. I never thought of it as that bad. As energized as I was last season? Nope. But, depressed? Nope. No off-season pickups, sure. But, with hopefully healthy seasons of Cueto, Broxton, and Marshall, with Price and his band replacing the others, I felt that could be equivalent to “most” any off-season pickup we could have gotten.

    And, remember, we won the division with a below-average-offensive player in CF, twice, while finishing third with a high-offensive player in CF. Not that I wouldn’t want Choo back, but they still have to play the games. Like the last 4 seasons, good offense in CF doesn’t necessarily mean we win the division.

    Now, with all of that said, updating to current status, with how the pitchers are going down more and more this ST, now I am starting to get worried. For, this offense isn’t good enough to overcome this much sore pitching. But, then, the last time we said something like that, it was when Votto went down, and looked what happened, then. Before that, it was 2011, and the evac ward that became our pitching staff was in shambles. Summarizing, injuries don’t mean “we’re screwed” or “we will recover”. They still have to play the games. But, it isn’t looking good.

    Seriously, 2 of the last 3 seasons, we’ve had key injuries to our pitching staff. The lone good season ended with another key injury to one of our pitchers. And, this season is looking like it will be a 4th. I can understand that, yeah, injuries are part of the game and part of pitching. But, injuries to where we essentially don’t see anything from 4 key pitchers over an entire season? Injuries like in 2011 where we were looking as far down as AA ball to get some pitchers to cover some innings? Injuries like this from one group of players isn’t a commonality.

    • The injuries are worrisome, certainly, but probably less so now than they would be later in the season. Depending, of course, on how long the current ones persist, and also upon how many more the Reds suffer. Given the injuries, I think we’ll get an early chance to see whether they are relentless.

    • I think it once again shows that Walt Jocketty made some pretty good moves in the offseason. The Reds have pitching that could be used early in the season, while the other guys are rehabbing. Are these great pitchers? No, but I recall a lot of complaining about Parra. Beato has pitched well, so has Marshall and Francis had one bad outing, but otherwise has been decent. Bernadina has shown a desire to make up for a bad season last year. It should also be noted that our “slap hitter” has hit a homerun. I will acknowledge that Hamilton is more likely to hit an inside the park homerun, but who cares if he hits a ball into the gap with guys on base and he almost beats the guy ahead of him home?

  7. The Reds better be a relentless team … looks as if the entire roster is starting on the DL. Latos / Chapman / Broxton / Marshall / Mesoraco (that oblique can be a long term problem).

    Cueto / Bailey missing starts during the spring, Leake already missed a start. With all of the talk of WAR, I feel like we’re going to see just what replacement level looks like. Outside of Hamilton tearing it up this spring, what a nightmare March for Cincinnati.

    • I think you are forgetting about Bernadina and Heisey, both could be a plus. In addition, Votto always starts slow and picks it up when the season starts. Pena may not be a great defensive catcher, but he hits. Hamilton is showing he can be a plus, so why so glum?
      As far as the pitching, do you still think it was a bad thing to have signed some of the guys they signed over the winter? Seems like they have some guys who are doing well enough to be useful early in the season.

  8. The answer to the Daugherty question may mean we CAN judge this team early. If they give 110% from the first pitch on opening day, we may quickly know what kind of team we’ve got.

    I didn’t pick up on it… What is the”A-word” Brian was stressing in the interview? I didn’t rewatch the whole thing.

  9. And another thing…has it occurred to anybody but me that, had the pitching staff had this many injuries during Dusty’s tenure, many of us would be blaming Dusty? I’m not blaming Price, by the way, any more than I would have blamed his predecessor.

    • I know Dusty had his very loud critics about his alleged responsibility or contributions to injuries on the pitching staffs he managed, but I’m not sure we would have seen the monstrous outrage with the types of injuries we are seeing to the pitching staff. We certainly didn’t see any discussion regarding Dusty’s responsibility for Cueto’s injuries over the past 2 seasons, jsut Dusty’s handling of those injured players.

      I do believe Dusty mismanaged his starting and relieving pitching staff, often to the point of callousness. His early overuse and abuse of Hoover last season and his handling of a recovering Bill Bray during the 2012 spring training were borderline criminal, but the injuries this spring training fall more under the category of ‘what the heck’ than mismanagement. The handling of those injuries seems very cautious, maybe even over cautious, compared to the handling during Dusty’s regime.

  10. Everything of mine is awaiting moderation. I had to choose a different name too. Not the end of the world and is to be expected with a transition to a new system. That said, I hope it gets resolved soon. As always, I have LOTS of stuff to say :-)

    • Ooooo, no sooner said then done! Awesome!

      The injuries to Latos, Cueto, Bailey, and Chapman are worrisome. The continued problems with Marshall and Broxton are also troublesome. I’m going to have to revise my win-total prediction. I’ve been saying this is an 87-92 win team. We’ll see where we are on opening day and I’ll throw an actual number out there and not a range. I just hope it’s not a very low one.

    • If forced to choose between his money and his looks, I’d think about it for a second and take the cash. :-)

  11. The injuries to Broxton and Marshall are not as important as Latos, Bailey, and Chapman. If the Reds get anything out of Broxton and Marshall this year, that would be an added benefit.

    Is Stephenson ready? Will Francis actually get some starts?

    • If the Reds have to go beyond Simon to a 7th starter, they are in trouble. Stephenson is not ready and I don’t see the Reds adding him to the 40 man roster and bringing him up until he is ready. The choice for a 7th starter probably rolls down to Marshall or Holmberg, but Francis is an equally bad option.

  12. Chapman, Latos, Marshall, Broxton and Hannahan start the year on the DL, Bailey could be next. If all 6 are out. The roster could be looking like this:

    Cueto, Leake, Cingrani, Simon, B Marshall
    Hoover, LeCure, Parra, Ondrusek, Christiani, Beato, Bell

    Hamilton, Phillips, Votto, Bruce, Ludwick, Frazier, Mesoraco, Cozart
    Heisey, Schumaker, Pena, Bernadina, Nelson

    J Francis is also a candidate for either the rotation or the BP. Also if Mesoraco is hurt, we might be looking at Barnhart, he’s on the 40 man. Bernadina, Nelson and Bell need to be added to the 40 man.

    • The Reds can absorb one starting pitcher with one missed start by using the off day on April 1st, but a 5th starter would be needed for the game on April 8th. I think that is the plan for Latos, to hold him out until the 2nd series against the Birds. That would allow Simon to be held in reserve for a spot start if needed. If both Bailey and Latos start on the DL then Simon will need to pick up the game against the Mets on April 4th and that would buy time for the starting rotation until the April 8th game against the Birds for Latos or Bailey to be ready or a 7th starter would be needed.

      Partch was optioned out to the minor league camp, but he may be recalled if needed, since he is also on the 40 man roster, rather than adding Bell to the 40 man roster.

  13. you Cossack you, i so agree with your assessment of dusty and his use of the pen:

    ” His early overuse and abuse of Hoover last season and his handling of a recovering Bill Bray during the 2012 spring training were borderline criminal”

    and before those guys entered the game, they were up and down and up and down to make sure that they were warm when dusty wanted them to face that one batter.

    Price sounds like he is biting his tongue when he talks about the pen use this year and how it won’t happen for just a batter or 2. That in itself will allow the pen to stay fresher instead of being “used” every day regardless of if they got into the game.

    I love the relentless quote. Make teams not want to play you. That sounds like Pete Rose and Big Red Machine talk to me

    • The other teams had numerous reasons for not wanting to play the Big Red Machine, but relentless isn’t a bad trait, particularly when everybody is injured to start the season.

  14. Well Bryan might just get the chance to put his reputation on the line to back up his words. Ludwick has started to hit a bit and is making $8.5MM this season, but Heisey is just KILLING the ball this spring. Heisey has another 3B and HR in 3 AB today. That’s a total of 6 HR’s for Heisey. I think one aspect of relentless for a manager is putting your best players on the field and right now, Heisey is one of the best players in Arizona, not just for the Reds.

    • Yeah, Heisey is absolutely crushing the ball. I can’t think of a scenario where you don’t try to get him some legit playing time early. 5 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR in 45 AB. That sounds exactly what the Reds need batting 5th behind Bruce.

      • Heisey might be the guy to push the Billy Show to AAA but I would not want to be the manager making that call. It would be devastating conversation with as well as he has played.

        Many on this board would prefer Billy to start at AAA. Well, here is your chance.

        Personally, nothing that Billy has done at the major league level tells me that he should be at AAA this year

      • I’d hate to see Billy sent down before he gets a chance to play in the regular season. Besides being fun to watch, he provides an ingredient that the Reds otherwise lack. I’d expect Heisey to get playing time spelling the 3 starters, particularly Ludwick. Maybe quite a lot of playing time if he carries his hitting into the season.

    • Also a lesser test might be Soto taking Hannahan’s roster spot outright. He hit another HR. If he does even something similar to this during the regular season before Hannahan gets healthy, it might not matter IF Hannahan gets healthy, he might not have a spot.

    • And while we are discussing Heisey’s spring training…

      Bernadina hit his 2nd HR of spring training and is hitting .419 after today’s game. Soto hit his 3rd HR of spring training and is hitting .385 after today’s game. Nelson had a double and a walk in 2 PA and is hitting .357 after today’s game. One of those players will not make the 25 man roster, but if two of them fail to make the 25 man roster, then the best 25 players are not headed to GABP on the 31st. Negron may also finally be maturing into a possible major league super utility player capable of playing every position except catcher.

  15. And while I’m at it, one other negative aspect of relentless (as in stubborn)…

    QUIT BATTING COZART IN THE #2 HOLE!!!

      • Yeah, that’s exactly what the Old Cossack means. Why doesn’t CTrent or Fay or maybe Sheldon ask Bryan that exact question? Yes, that was a rhetorical question posed by the Old cossack.

  16. I just caught the end of the game on the radio and they mentioned something about Schumaker getting hurt today diving for a ball. Anybody know anything about it?

    • Dove for a ball, hurt his left arm/shoulder. He’s taking X-Rays to see if there’s a break … sure Trent or Mark will update ASAP.

    • Reported by Sheldon, “Schumaker hurt his left shoulder in today’s 9-3 win over the Royals.” No info on how serious (Ludwick?) or not serious (the Old Cossack?) the injury might be. If it is serious, then Bernadina is a lock as a LH hitting OF.

  17. Would Soto be considered more because of his catching ability with the injury to Mesoroco? Just wondering, thanks. : )

  18. Well if Schumaker is hurt as well, another bench spot has opened. I would think it would be: Heisey, Pena, Bernadina, Nelson, Soto

  19. Heisey has said that he came to AZ thinking he might have a chance to play more this year and that he might finally get that chance. I dont care what guys are being paid, the best eight need to be on the field. Lets say that Hamilton has to go back to AAA because he is not hitting or getting on base. Bernadina and Heisey both have the ability to play CF and if they hit like they have this spring, would that be a bad thing? Nelson has been at least adequate and has shown some versatility. No question Soto has power, but is his defense good enough?

    I do not think that Cozart can be considered a likely frequent #2 hitter-that is where Phillips will hit. I would also think that if Mesoraco cannot play that Corky will get the call rather than Barnhart.

    I suspect that we are going to see some moves on the roster in the next couple of weeks.

  20. There is no way to sugarcoat the pitching situation, 4 or 5 guys who normally would have started the season in the minors (or perhaps in another org in the case of the nonroster guys) will be on the Reds 25 man roster. I don’t think there is a team in MLB that could absorb that sort of hit without a noticeable impact on the pitching performance, Particularly in a situation such as the Reds are in where they are going to be facing so many projected top tier teams in the first month.

    Given the guys they have out of commission in the pen, it might be a wise idea to look at dropping Simon back into the pen and going with Brett Marshall or Francis as the fill in starter, recalling the old axiom about not making the team weaker in two spots by how adversity is reacted to.

  21. I think the Reds record out of the gate is important because of the games they have versus the Cards and Pirates. Each loss to one of those two teams early could translate into two games to make up against each team later on.

    And then, as Reds fans we need look no further afield that 1990 to recall that a pennant can be won in April which of course means inversely it can also be lost.

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