That lineup. Wow.

As I was leaving the ball park last night, reflecting on the lopsided loss, a losing record and who was in the starting lineup, I asked myself this:

How could the Cincinnati Reds organization, a surging playoff team last year, reach these depths?  What has happened to the strategic plan for the future, let alone the present?

Consider these details about last night’s starting lineup, not by what they meant for our chances of winning last night’s game (although, sigh…), but rather what they say about the organization:

• The Reds started a 35-year-old shortstop, (.236/.295) with the worst fielding percentage of any SS in the major leagues.  In the past 14 games his OBP is .158 — and, of course, he batted second, ahead of Joey Votto.

• On the same side of the infield, the Reds started a journeyman 37-year-old third baseman who is actually having a respectable year.  That said, he is still a 37-year-old journeyman.  This player batted fifth.

• The Reds started a 31-year-old LF who hits with so little power that his slugging percentage is actually lower than his on base percentage.  Speed?  He has 2 SB and 5 CS.

• The Reds assigned a 31-year-old catcher to play his 41st inning over four days, including fourteen innings on Sunday.  Their other catcher, who is 35 years old, is hurt.  Yet the Reds felt this situation didn’t present an excellent opportunity to call up their top AAA player.

Over the past 14 games, the healthy catcher had an OBP of .562 (you read that right) and last night he batted eighth, ahead of the pitcher.

• The organization’s top hitting prospect mostly rides the bench because the Manager decided after three games that he can’t play the position the organization had him play in 60+ games at AAA.

He did start a major league game at third base, where he had not played since high school.  The Manager chose that particular game as a trial based on the theory that the other team wasn’t likely to hit the ball to him.  The “plan” worked to perfection.  He had no chances to make a play, thus the Reds gained exactly zero insight into whether or not he could play there in the future.

You can rightly blame the players for their performance this year.  But not for last night’s lineup and what it says about the organization.  I return to my question, how did this happen?  As with most disasters, there is plenty of blame to go around.

The Manager has misplaced faith in old, obsolete theories and in old, past-their-prime players.  The General Manager either shares or is a prisoner to the out-of-date theories, and has allowed these personnel deficiencies to accumulate on his watch.

The owner repeatedly declares how much he wants a winner but is unable to or refuses to spend the money it takes to produce a realistic chance at that.

(Don’t get me wrong.  I realize and appreciate the world of difference between Bob Castellini and Mike Brown.  The Castellini organization is doing a LOT of things right.)

A month remains in the lost 2011 season.  Those thirty days could be spent accumulating valuable information about, and experience for, our young players — Alonso in left, Frazier at third and short, and Mesoraco behind the plate.  It’s wishful thinking that Dusty Baker will sense the priority of doing that.  He’s fixated on the short term.  And it doesn’t appear the GM or owner will insist on a longer-term view.

All the evidence you need for that skepticism is the lineup the organization subjected their fans to last night.

34 Responses

  1. MMartin

    I have to agree 100% with this. Last year was so good, and so unexpected, that I think a lot of Reds fans have kind of given management a pass this year. Unfortunately, they don’t deserve a pass.

    Something has to change or 2012 will resemble 2011 moreso than 2010.

  2. Jason1972

    For all the surge of excitement over the last few years with the Reds, I now find myself sunk back into the disinterested doldrums of 4 or 5 years ago. I do not believe this organization can win with its current management and ultimately don’t think ownersh has the will to make a change. There is no reason to believe that 2012 will be any better at this point and I feel completely fatalistic about Votto and all of the other talent slipping away without ever making a serious playoff run simply because of a few bad GM moves and really, really bad field management.

  3. PeterNincompoop

    How dare you speak with such clarity! The Reds are Equal Opportunity Employers; age is but a number on the diamond…

  4. per14

    Looking at this a somewhat different way:

    I predict the Reds win 83 games this year. If so, they would have won 174 wins in 2010 and 2011. Had you told me that in January 2010, I would have not believed you and I would have gladly taken it.

    Why do I say this? Because in 2009, the Reds won 78 games. The jump in 2010 was a huge jump and probably an outlier. It is almost as if the 2010 and 2011 seasons were switched in how teams normally progress. So while this year has been discouraging, I haven’t been too depressed by it actually. The Brewers are going to win 95+ games, perhaps even 100. Sometimes you just don’t have the horses.

    That being said, everything you said above is true. This team’s flaws were obviously in the off season and the GM and the manager did not work together to correct those flaws; collectively, they essentially ignored them. Some of the decisions are just inane. Last year’s team played at such a high level that it could compensate for the inane decision- making. This year’s team wasn’t able to do that.

    This off season is absolutely critical. I am not optimistic to be honest. I just don’t have much reason to be optimistic. Would love to be surprised.

  5. Cincinnati Dave

    I really disagree with the criticism here, at least as it reflects on the Reds. You make it sound like they did not have a “plan” for this year. They did, it just didn’t work out.

    Renteria, while bad, was signed as a backup for Janish. Janish had had two years in the majors, really, one terrible at the bat, one ok at the bat. If he is an OK offensive player (.260/.300/.320), then he is a valuable player, because his glove is very good, and Renteria is not a problem, but a solid bench player. Turns out, Janish really really can’t hit.

    Criticizing playing Cairo is dubious; as you said, he has been pretty good. The problem is that Rolen has been terrible since mid season last year. He has been hurt. We put a lot of eggs in the Rolen basket. Didn’t work.

    Gomes, Fred Lewis, even a health Heisey were all below expectation performers, again not necessarily predictably so. Even worse, only Cueto and arguably Leake have been as good as or better than expected in the rotation, with Wood, Volquez, Arroyo being horrible.

    Oh, and they aren’t rock bottom. Hardly — they will finish with the second best Reds record in teh last 10 years.

    I do agree with some of the criticism of Baker, but I don’t blame him; he himself needs to win to keep his job.

    • Matt WI

      I do agree with some of the criticism of Baker, but I don’t blame him; he himself needs to win to keep his job.

      This is an interesting point. What a crime that the players may well be caught up in an office politics situation so that Dusty is playing for Dusty instead of the organization. That’s a frank conversation that needs to be had between Walt and Dusty. Bob too.

    • rightsaidred

      be the second coming of Tony Perez at 3rd, maybe he’ll end up traded… there is no time table on having to deal him this year.
      As for the *aggressively* caveat you had stated “the Reds surely won’t use this stuff under Dusty.”
      Which pretty much says nothing about being aggressive and indicates that its passive.
      Which evidently it isn’t, it’s just not used as much and as much as you’d

      Renteria was signed as help to the left side of the infield. Instead he became the 1 b. SS option with no 3rd base experience. That made less room for Cozart and an immediate need for an overmatched Jaun Francisco early in the season.

      Cairo has been good this season but the theme is simple. Dusty prefers playing veterans over younger guys (Gomes over Heisey then, now Lewis over everyone else). It worked very well last year with OCabrera and SRolen and a resurgent JGomes. That is not a recipe for success but it is the only dish Dusty is comfortable serving up. Last night was a microcasm of the season.

      I am willing to bet that Cairo and ER played together on the left side more than a combination of two younger guys. That is a swiss cheese defense but it hasn’t stopped Dusty from running it out there on multiple ocassions.

  6. jrob45601

    This thing has been going on all year, and I have now come to believe that something similar to one or a combination of these must be true:

    1)Walt doesn’t really care what Dusty does with the players he gives him.
    2)Bob doesn’t really care what Dusty does with the players he pays.
    3)Walt and Bob both believe that Dusty has made the proper decisions this year.

    I am beyond the point of believing that Walt and/or Bob think Dusty has been wrong about playing time and/or batting orders, or that they care to do anything about it. At some point the people in charge have to step in and make corrections when the people they pay are not doing their job properly.

  7. mike

    excellent post and I feel your frustration

    simply, the Reds are (and have been for a long time) a poorly run organization

    what is sad to me is that in recent years, after MANY years of TERRIBLE drafts the Reds have been drafting MUCH better. They seemed to turn around their drafts starting with Dunn/Kearns and keep going.

    but with these players coming up through the organization they don’t seem to be able to find a GM, manager, hitting coach, pitching coach or really anyone that can properly put together a team, lineup or even play the right players

    I’ve always had a guess that Dusty isn’t good at math.
    and the fact that he thinks the Reds are still in it is proof of that

  8. BJ Ruble

    This season is what I expected to happen last season. It amazes me how many of Dusty’s teams win in spite of him, but they can’t get it done in the big moments.

    I agree 100% about how the young players have been handled. There has to be some roster changes and/or a mandate from the front office saying we need to evaluate these players. If Dusty still refuses, then they have to get rid of him. If the whole organization is behind what Dusty is doing, then they will not be any better than what they currently are. The window for opportunity for this team is about 3 years, so they need to do some big things this off-season.

  9. CP

    @Cincinnati Dave: I actually agree with most of this post. The blame should really be on the Reds’ inability to adjust once it was clear the plan wasn’t going to work. Gomes’ failures in LF were easily avoidable. Rolen’s decline plus the rotation’s struggles were fatal to this season’s results imo that probably couldn’t be avoided.

  10. Big Ed

    It pretty much became college football season last night.

    We’ll have to agree do disagree on Yonder’s fielding in left. Defensively, I’d rather have Hillary Clinton in leftfield than Yonder. We see him play in games only, but Dusty and Hatcher and WJ got detailed reports from Rick Sweet in Louisville, and then get to see him in the afternoons. Dusty would love it if Yonder could play left, but he just can’t, and they’ve seen enough to know it. I used to think maybe Yonder wasn’t working hard enough, but now it looks like he is just can’t field, period. I don’t know which is worse.

    The Reds’ shortstop (Cozart), third baseman (Rolen), and their leftfielder (Heisey) are all on the DL, and Hernandez is limited, so their options last night were limited, although I agree that Frazier should play instead of Cairo. We’ll see Heisey, Mesoraco and Valaika next week.

  11. CP

    And just to be clear, the handling of the young guys/veterans has been terrible. I understand why Dusty feels compelled to start Lewis/Cairo (both of whom has performed admirably in their roles)…that doesn’t mean he SHOULD do so. Yes Dusty, you want to keep your job and don’t feel comfortable with rookies playing. But you’re job isn’t just to win games in the current season, but rather to win championships, which requires sacrificing a few games to do so. And this isn’t even looking at Rolen and Arroyo’s situations. The Reds could spin both of those situations into “get rested and be ready for next season” type scenarios. Who wants to see old vets play meaningless September baseball?

  12. Matt WI

    @Cincinnati Dave: I think the overall criticism of this post is how the Reds are handling things now, not so much a critique of what plan didn’t work going into the season. This is a time for youth. An organization like Cincy will almost always have to rely on it’s youth first and foremost. Why would they blunder an opportunity to examine what they have right now?

  13. nvilleredsfan

    I agree with so much of this post … and Joey Votto is having a heck of a year considering he doesn’t get any pitches to hit, like Albert or Prince do.

  14. Greg Dafler

    I commented on this yesterday, and I’ll say it again today. LF & 3B should be manned by Alonso, Frazier, and Sappelt the rest of the season. Lewis and Cairo should no longer be getting starts. Of course w/ September callups, I imagine Heisey, Francisco, etc. are getting some playing time too.

    Those at-bats should NOT be going to Lewis, Hermida, Cairo. In fact, if the Reds have no plans to bring Lewis or Hermida back next year, there is your 40-man roster spot for Mesoraco.

  15. CP

    For those without twitter feeds…Hermida has been DFA’d and claimed by the Padres. Hello, Devin Mesoraco.

  16. CP

    John Fay reports that the Hermida move was done to free up a spot for Miguel Tejada.

    Okay, just kidding.

    • Travis G.

      John Fay reports that the Hermida move was done to free up a spot for Miguel Tejada.

      Okay, just kidding.

      Well done, sir.

  17. Aaron Lehr

    Thanks Steve for doing a great job articulating the problems with this year’s team. I don’t remember the exact timeing, but some time ago when it seemed the Reds were starting to move in the right direction, and Rob Neyer was still at ESPN, I submitted a question during one of his chats (and in actuality I think I asked the same general question more than once). Essentially, I expressed concern that the Reds didn’t have the right people in place to handle the Reds promising young future (we may have just extended Dusty, I don’t remember).

    Well Neyer responded and basically seemed to brush my concerns aside, both times I asked (I think one focused on Dusty, the other on Jocketty). Basically he said that Jocketty had a proven track record, and that as manager, the damage caused by Dusty would be minimal (and that’s assuming he’s a negative influence to begin with). I was a little frustrated by the response(s) because it made me feel like I was a whiny fan who just like complaining, and I thought Neyer of all people would sympathize with the plight of non-stats minded front office and a manager who doesn’t like to play youngsters.

    Well, here we are 2 years later…

  18. Furniture City Red

    Nothing to add…Just wanted to say Great post Steve…A grand slam.

  19. Brian Erts

    @Dave Lowenthal:

    Yet in that article it states this:

    But it’s available now, all right — eminently available — to every team in the game. And more of them are using it extensively than at any point in baseball time.

    The teams using it best understand there are still human beings involved here. “You can’t be a slave to the data,” says Reds pitching coach Bryan Price. “You can’t overdo it.” And above all, he knows, you’re still at the mercy of how players use what they’ve learned. A bad pitch is still a bad pitch — and the iPad didn’t throw it.

    “But you can live with a good plan that’s not executed,” Price says. “It’s a lot harder to have a bad plan, or no plan. And one thing about all the information that’s out there now: There’s no way anyone is going out there with no plan.”

    And that, friends, is disastrous news for the hitters.

    And in Fays blog it has this:

    http://cincinnati.com/blogs/reds/2011/08/30/wheres-alonso/

    “It’s both. I’ve got spray charts where guys are most likely to hit the ball,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Last night with Homer, we knew he wouldn’t get much action.”

    So in essence they are using that sort of information.

    Now you might not like the result, but they are using it.

    As for Yonder, my take is he’s just a bat and after a decade of Bowden types who were just a bat, I sense this organization is leaning against shoe horning bats into spots that show their warts.

    As for Janish not playing “who cares” is all I can muster.

  20. Travis G.

    My biggest issue with this season has been that the problems we’ve encountered (from Janish and Gomes hitting like crap to Arroyo losing velocity because of mononucleosis to Rolen being largely unavailable, etc., etc.) were so easily predicted, yet viable backup plans were implemented too late, if at all.

    And once it became clear that the season was sunk (as it was about a month ago), Dusty compounded those errors by wasting time on old guys who won’t be here next year instead of developing players who might help in 2012. I can accept a .500-ish season if it feels like a step back before the team takes two steps forward. Instead it just feels like the entire organization just wasted 12 months and an entire year of Votto’s and Chapman’s service time.

  21. Dave Lowenthal

    @Brian Erts: The article talks about using it *aggressively*. Do you think a Dusty Baker team will do that? Ever? Will he, like Joe Maddon, position his defense aggressively? Will he take his 3rd baseman off the line in the late innings when the spray charts indicate that there is almost no chance of a ball going down that line? I sincerely doubt it.

    I also read his comment on spray charts previously. And I could not disagree with your Yonder comment more. It might be true that he is “just a bat”, and maybe not a good one either. But what is the organization doing with him? Please let me know. He hasn’t been traded, he hasn’t been played when they are out of it. What’s the plan?

  22. Brian Erts

    What’s the plan?

    Beats me, maybe he’ll be the second coming of Tony Perez at 3rd, maybe he’ll end up traded… there is no time table on having to deal him this year.

    As for the *aggressively* caveat you had stated “the Reds surely won’t use this stuff under Dusty.”

    Which pretty much says nothing about being aggressive and indicates that its passive.

    Which evidently it isn’t, it’s just not used as much and as much as you’d like.

  23. brm7675

    At this point as long as this franchise is Led by Walt and Dusty I really don’t think there is any reason to worry, because it’s pointless. Neither seem to understand what the other wants, or refuse to accept it. Neither seem to have a firm grasp on how a franchise with the budget limitations the Reds have must be built and neither seem willing to change how the view and approach thier positions. Until we get some new YOUNG leadership in place with an understanding of today’s economics and today’s game, we are stuck with what we have. If I am a young player I would list Cincy as one of the last places I would want to go and play at.

    • Big Ed

      If I am a young player I would list Cincy as one of the last places I would want to go and play at.

      Well, if you are a young player, you don’t have the option to go where you want.

      The Reds over the last 4 years have brought up and developed Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, with Chris Heisey, Travis Wood, Zach Cozart, Devin Mesoraco and some others waiting in the wings, depending on how you want to define it. Rolen is old, but none of the other guys who figure to play major roles next year will be; Phillips, Hannigan and Arroyo are middle-aged, I suppose. Even Dontrelle Willis is only 29 now.

      The Reds will be one of the youngest teams in baseball next year. The Reds have pretty much completely turned over their roster over the past 4 years. The notion that the team isn’t youth-friendly just isn’t supported by the facts. In fact, if anything, the disappointing year in large part is because some of the new faces haven’t developed to expectation: Janish, Stubbs, Heisey, Wood and to a lesser extent Bailey and Bruce, who I still figure to be a perennial All-Star.

  24. Greg Dafler

    Todd Frazier was called up on July 22nd and there have been 37 team games since he was called up.

    37 team games
    26 appearances
    20 starts
    5 times removed from start for PH or double switch

    Alonso’s stats are even more striking. He was called up 4 days later.
    33 team games
    23 appearances
    6 starts
    5 times removed from start for PH or double switch

  25. Dave Lowenthal

    @Brian Erts: Brian, there is a timetable though. The Votto era, unless the Reds are going to cough up 25M a year for probably 6-8 years for him (*), is going to end no later than 2013. So letting Alonso hang out mowing Dusty’s lawn isn’t a very good idea. Are you ok if they let Alonso hang around another year?

    I should have been more specific on Dusty and technology. They’ll get the data, they just won’t use it the way I want them to use it, like the Rays use it. I would like Maddon as my manager, yes.

    (*) I’m guessing this based on Gonzalez’ 21M per year contract, and that Votto is about 10% better than him, plus his contract will be a couple years later.

  26. RedLeg75

    I concur with the article and have nothing new to add. Just the same old assessment that Baker is a terrible manager of baseball teams (mismanagement of bullpen, batting a speedy, veterany, and/or SS second instead of whoever has a high OBP, leaving starters in too long, love of veteranness at the wrong times, going with a lesser skilled reliever in the 10th inning instead of the best skilled reliever, sacrificing in the early innings when a non-pitcher is batting, use of Alonso…).

    Whoever might replace Baker must be on the same page as the GM, and would preferably be a former player that is not married to old school managing. And who can properly manage a pitching staff or a least bring along a pitching coach who can, that he will listen to.

  27. brm7675

    Just a wonder, given that there are only 2 years left on Votto’s deal and everyone knows he is going to want to test the FA market, is there no real way anyone would offer anything near fair compensation for him via trade this offseason? Thus you must move Yonder in a package deal and in that deal get a good prospect who could take over at first maybe in 2013?

  28. Jason Linden

    @brm7675: I don’t think you can move Votto for any reason. he isn’t replaceable. Over the last two years, he is second to Bautista in WAR and there’s a pretty big drop to third. I do think moving Alonso for a decent SS or LF or Alonso and a pitcher or two for a good SP would be a fabulous idea.

  29. pinson343

    Not much to say here, the post is obviously right on. Hopefully September is different with the call ups and even Dusty having to say “Uncle” as far as 2011 goes.

    I like it that Valaika has been called up, hope he gets some time at SS.
    The call up of Mesoraco can add some excitement, if he plays.

    The Ramon situation irks me the most. No way he should still be with the Reds. Even if Dusty lobbied for him to stay, WJ should have pulled the trigger in July. And having waited until August, he should have pulled the trigger then, even if whatever his plan was went awry.