[Edit.: This post was submitted by Joe Atkinson, loyal member of the Nation. Joe is a native of Cincinnati but now resides in Evansville where he spends most of his days fighting off Cardinals fans and is co-founder and owner of Court Street Productions. Every night he convinces his young son and daughter to wear Cincinnati Reds caps with pride, and not just because Super Mario also wears a Reds hat. Thanks, Joe, for your post. - SPM]
With the calendar turning from April to May, and the “it’s still early” excuse starting to ring hollower by the day, now feels as good a time as any to indulge in one of sports’ greatest traditions: Good, old-fashioned knee-jerk analysis. So here we go:
Plain and simple, Bryan Price has not had a good first month as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. And that, fellow Reds fans, is not what we signed up for.
That’s the knee-jerk. We’ve all been feeling it. But here’s the flip side:
How much of what we’re seeing on the field is what Price thought he was signing up for?
Price inherited a team full of talent and promise, with an owner seemingly committed to getting the team over that final post-season hurdle. Look at that great starting pitching and bullpen; sure, he’s losing two key players to free agency, but the owner wants to win. Surely, they’re gonna plug those holes.
Then came the off-season of Skip Schumacher and Brayan Pena, good bench additions both, but hardly Mat Latos or Shin-Soo Choo. Add a spring training complete with slippery mounds and line drives up the middle, and suddenly, Price is also leading a MASH unit.
Probably not what the coach thought he was signing up for.
However, in the past week, the Price-bashing has started in earnest. Let’s take a look at the major complaints.
- Billy Hamilton shouldn’t hit leadoff: Fair enough. His average is bad; his OBP is worse. You can certainly make a case that Billy Hamilton should be hitting in the eight or nine hole, and you’d get minimal argument from me. Except for one thing: If not Billy Hamilton, then who? Chris Heisey has had a few shots at everyday play over the past four years, and has distinguished himself precisely never. Todd Frazier is doing well in the OBP department at the moment, but his average is two ticks above BHam’s, and given his free-swinging history, I’d like to see that OBP sustained a bit longer before I start shifting the lineup around it. And Brandon Phillips … well, let’s move on, shall we?
- Brandon Phillips needs dropped in the order: Okay. I’m fully on board with this one. I see no evidence to contradict the idea that Phillips is starting into the predictably precipitous decline of mid-30s second basemen. Don’t take it personally, BP – I’m 35, and all of the sudden, I have to pop an Advil every time I finish mowing the lawn. When Devin Mesoraco returns from the DL, if he shows an ounce of the pop that he had through most of April, move him up, move BP down, and be done with it. But until then, please refer back to my previous comment about Billy Hamilton in the leadoff role: If BP isn’t hitting third, then who is?
- The bullpen management stinks: More than once this season, I’ve been listening to a game when Price made a pitching change, and I’ve thought, “What in the world is he doing?” And every time, one of two things has happened: Either I have stepped back and thought, “Okay, well, who else would I go to here?” and come up completely empty or I’ve decided that someone else should have been brought in, only to see that player appear two innings later and get absolutely shellacked (case in point: Sean Marshall recent appearance against the Cubs). It’s time to face up: Bryan Price’s bullpen management isn’t the problem; the bullpen Bryan Price is managing is a problem.
- The Reds are running themselves out of too many innings: For the most part, I’m okay with the extra attempts to steal – the Reds have probably earned as much as they’ve lost here. And I get the number of things that have to go right for a defense to throw someone out at the plate – field it clean, make a good throw, a good catch, a good tag. Plenty of chances for the other guys to screw up in there. Which is why, on close plays – and especially with two outs – I’m all for sending the runner. But when the distance between safe and out can be measured in yards, it’s time to reconsider your base running strategy. Because most of the time, when your guys are getting tossed at the plate, the announcer should be marveling at how the fielder “needed to make an absolutely perfect throw, and there it was – Wow, what a play!” That’s not happening now.
On the flip side, I’ve seen from Price moves that I like. Defensive shifts. Moving Joey Votto to the second spot when the offense sputtered. Leaving the good version of Manny Parra around for a two inning save the night after he pulled Sam LeCure from the same situation. Heck – I’m thrilled to have a manager who goes out and challenges a replay call when he knows he’ll get tossed, just to make sure everyone knows he’s not gonna take it anymore.
And I’ll admit it: I like the aggressiveness on the base paths. At least for the first 270 feet.
I’ve seen flashes of the guy we thought we were getting when the Reds announced his hire back in the fall – the guy who’s willing to toss aside the Old Book and adopt strategies from the New Book. I’ve seen a guy who’s willing to embrace metrics, to make changes in the lineup when things aren’t working, and to play aggressive.
What I’d really like to see now is how that guy would manage the team we thought he was going to get – with the shutdown bullpen, with real answers to the holes at leadoff and #3.
If Chapman, Latos and Mesoraco return on schedule, it definitely gets better. If Billy and Brandon heat up, this could still be a fun summer. But that’s a lot of ifs. And if the ‘if’s’ turns into ‘not’s’ then Bryan Price’s first season as a manager probably won’t go down much better than his first month.
Which isn’t what any of us signed up for.