[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. Thanks, Joe, for your post. - SPM]
We like to dissect minutiae on this site.
Why is Brandon Phillips batting cleanup? Why would you bring Logan Ondrusek in there (or anywhere)? Why is Ramon Santiago even on the roster? (Though, to Santiago’s credit, he’s done a fine job of answering that question since BP went down last week).
I certainly won’t say that I’ve agreed with every decision Bryan Price has made this year. I don’t love seeing Ondrusek in high-leverage situations. I don’t like seeing Todd Frazier moved off third base (even if he probably is the second-best 1B option on the roster). And I HATE the Jay Bruce-at-first experiment, because it takes the team from Gold Glove-caliber defense at two positions to below-replacement-caliber defense at those same two positions.
But when I step back and look at the job Bryan Price has done in the first half of his first season as manager of our Cincinnati Reds (or as manager of anyone, at all, ever), I think Price has done an admirable job for a rookie. More than that, though, I think Bryan Price is the National League’s Manager of the Year (so far).
Let me take those two statements separately.
Bryan Price has done an admirable job for a rookie manager
The perfect historical comparison for Price’s first-half record is not readily available. So we’ll go with the next best thing:
Of the 30 active managers in Major League Baseball, the average first-season winning percentage is .483. This isn’t shocking; after all, most teams don’t hire new managers because the franchise is thriving. What is kind of surprising is that, almost any way you manipulate the sample size, the number remains remarkably consistent.
|Time Frame||# of Rookie Manager Seasons||Avg. Winning %|
|All Current Managers||30||0.483|
* At All-Star Break
Clearly, the 2014 season has been something of an outlier in terms of rookie managers; of the four (including Price), three took teams that had winning records in 2013. Two of those were the result of managerial legends retiring (Jim Leyland in Detroit and Davey Johnson in Washington); the third was because Dusty Baker put that look on Bob Castellini’s face.
That aside, Bryan Price clearly is, to date, performing well above MLB average for rookie managers. And while I suspect we can all agree that he came in with a stronger team than many, I think we can also agree that most of those managers didn’t have to deal with the barrage of injuries (and the utter lack of depth behind those injured star players) that Price has.
So looking at the total body of work, Price has performed well for a rookie manager to date. Which brings me to my second statement:
Bryan Price is the National League Manager of the Year (to date)
As I said earlier: There have been many things to nitpick Bryan Price about. But here are the facts as they stand at the All-Star Break:
- Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman, and Jonathon Broxton all have spent significant time on the disabled list
- Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, and Brayan Pena have appeared in more games than Joey Votto or Devin Mesoraco
- Of the Reds’95 games:
- Jay Bruce has played in 78 games
- Joey Votto has played in 62 games
- Devin Mesoraco has played in 60 games
- Mat Latos has made six starts. He left one of them after five innings with back spasms
- The Reds’record is 51-44
- The Reds are 1.5 games out of first place
Another fun fact, though it doesn’t quite fit in my “Manager of the Year”argument: Neftali Soto has appeared in more games than Johnny Cueto. With a lower batting average.
If you had told me before the season started that, at the All-Star Break, the first three headlines up there would be true, I’d have chalked this up as a lost season. If you’d told me that names like Santiago, Soto, Lutz, and Negron had been on the lineup card over the course of the season; that Jay Bruce had played multiple games at first base because we had no other options; that Alfredo Simon was still in the rotation because Tony Cingrani was utterly ineffective …well, I’d have told you that those last two bullets were pipe dreams.
But they aren’t pipe dreams – they’re where we stand today. Because Billy Hamilton is hitting .285. Because Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco are playing to the potential that, before this season, we only hoped they had. Because Alfredo Simon has pitched his way into the All-Star Game and guys like Santiago and Brayan Pena have gotten hot when the team most needed it. Even Kristopher Negron came through Sunday, popping his first big-league homer in his first big-league start.
Is there some luck in that? Probably. But there’s also evidence of the right guy sitting at the helm, calmly steering the ship through stormy waters. That’s what Bryan Price has done; he’s set a tone that doesn’t use the team’s bad fortune as an excuse (can you imagine what Dusty Baker would have told reporters about all of these injuries …or about not having anyone viable to plug in at 1B when Votto went down?).
Price’s message – to the media, to the public, and to his team – has been consistent: Yep, we’ve had some bad luck. We’ve had injuries, the front office hasn’t given us what we need to deal with them …and in spite of all of that, I expect to compete.
He’s set the expectation, and somehow, his paper-thin roster is meeting it. Will it last? Who knows. I’m in the camp that thinks Walt Jocketty needs to make something happen outside the organization to truly weather the current injury storm and remain relevant into the stretch run. But somehow, even with the front office’s complacent attitude to date, Bryan Price has kept the ship on course, no matter what the storm throws at him.
That, to me, is the mark of a great manager in the making. The small things will come with experience; looking at the big picture, the Reds not only have the best manager for the job … they have the National League’s Manager of the Year.