The Road Ahead

“In Dusty’s five seasons here he’s taken us to the postseason twice and has proven he can lead our teams to championship-caliber play on the field. He’s the right manager to continue the building process that will take us deeper and deeper into the playoffs in the future.”            —Bob Castellini, Reds President and CEO

On October 15, 2012, a scant four days removed from the most devastating loss of the 2012 season, the big man of the Reds, he of the big wallet, reaffirmed his commitment to the Baker Era in Cincinnati.  Now, following the most devastating loss of the 2013 season so far, I find those words ringing back in my ears. Would that I could find hope in Mr. Castellini’s proclamation. But, I cannot.

I have seen too much.

I have the baseball fan version of post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m bone weary from having a one way argument with my flat panel television each time it shows me images of cognitive dissonance—human beings trying their best to win baseball games while doing the dopey and the dogmatic. I’m exhausted from insisting to my fellow Reds fans that simply taking a LEAD to the mound in the ninth inning is infinitely more important than it ever will be debating WHO takes the mound in the ninth.  I’m worn to the nub watching outs being given away so a man in scoring position can be moved further into scoring position. If Run Expectancy isn’t your cup of tea, how about the simple expectancy of smart baseball for a change? As was memorably implored in my favorite cult movie, The Warriors:

Can you dig it?

I’m sure Mr. Castellini believes that players win games. That is undeniably true.  It is also an irrefutable truth that managers can position those players to a winning advantage—or misalign them to crippling disadvantage. Mr. Castellini surely believes this, too. After all, he gave Baker an estimated $3.5M per year to do that voodoo that he does so well.

Blame the players if you must. Point to all the balls not centered on the barrel of the bat or the pitches thrown too far up in the zone. But understand that this is the easiest dodge in the world. As always, we play the intellectual equivalent of running after the fat kid in a schoolyard game of tag because he’s the easiest to catch. Baseball is a game of overwhelming failure for even the best of hitters. Every game provides a parade of examples where a hit here or a pitch there could have changed the outcome. If you insist on blaming the players on any given night, you have plenty of ammunition.

Is that all there is?

When a team is in sync, when players are hitting on all cylinders, managers become largely superfluous. Baseball is seldom played on that level. Most managers earn their money dealing with flawed teams, whether the culprit is a lack of payroll or a lack of health. In Dusty’s case, his employers have by most accounts done well by him. Walt Jocketty solved the most pressing problem on the team—the lack of a leadoff hitter—to spectacular result in the off-season. When Cueto went down, the draft & development people had Tony Cingrani—plucked in the third round of the 2011 draft—waiting in the wings. No Sean Marshall? No problem. Here’s Manny Parra and his Incredible Sinking Slider.

The injury to Ludwick on Opening Day put undue stress on bench players who were never expected to contribute as starters. Izturis is an insurance policy middle infielder, and the front office deems that more valuable than a good pinch hitter with no glove. Heisey’s injury was just bad enough to hamstring the Reds, but not bad enough to seek an outright replacement.

At a certain point, you have to believe that money has become an issue—and that takes us back to the owner. Ludwick is on the credit card for the next two years. The Reds were not about to strip mine their future further by trading the organization’s remaining prospects to fill a three-month hole in left field while raising payroll further. Players like Marlin Byrd, who would have been the perfect rental, were not available in April and by the time the Mets dropped their outrageous demands and were ready to deal in August, the Reds had no intention of acquiring Byrd at the expense of Ryan Ludwick’s playing time. As frustrating as it has been seeing the Reds stand pat, you have to think there was no one on the market who could significantly impact the team. And moving to block the Pirates was not worth making changes that might adversely affect the roster down the road. At least, that would seem to be the thinking of the front office.

Bob Castellini has stopped putting items in the shopping cart. Jocketty has a rep as a guy who trades to make his teams better. From the few accounts I’ve read, the breakup with the Cardinals had to do with a difference in methods, between DeWitt, who wanted to build from within, and Jocketty, the old school wheeler and dealer. Ironically, Jocketty has had to measure his trades in Cincinnati carefully, while relying more on the farm system.

Given the way Aroldis Chapman has been used, he was the one player who could have been traded early in the season for an impact bat at third base without a big loss in everyday production. But, the Reds’ front office believes in the Myth of the Closer.

And therein lies the real problem. Philosophy.

I used to think the evaluation of Baker, the manager, was an easy equation. Do you believe Baker’s personal relationship with the players—his clubhouse bona fides as it were—outweigh his less than stellar game management? By now, it’s become clear that the owner, if not the GM, believes that that both reside on the same positive side of the scale. How can we have an argument on the merits when we cannot even agree on the parameters of the debate? If old school is good school, if new school is viewed with a jaundiced eye, then what is in store for the Reds in the future?

Which brings me back to cognitive dissonance. Bob Castellini’s cognitive dissonance to be precise. He’s paid Dusty Baker a goodly chunk of change because he believes in Baker’s Hank Aaron-old school-bunt happy-aggressive baseball philosophy. He’s also gone all in with Joey Votto—an intellectually curious, process-driven, analytical thinking ballplayer—a method that is anathema to everything Dusty Baker stands for and advocates to all within his sphere of influence.

On one side of the scale Bob has placed Joey Votto and $225M. On the other, he’s placed Dusty Baker and $7M. I’m not a businessman, but I can do the math. The dichotomy is stunning.

Do you still believe? I have a better question. What does Bob Castellini believe?

Join the conversation! 54 Comments

  1. I choose to believe that whenever the “Dusty Baker Experience” draws to a close, later this year or after 2014, that Walt will have a say in who the next manager is. That will be better than Castellini picking a manager, then bringing in a GM, and assuming that everything would be hunky dory between them.

  2. Reprised from Game thread as its relevant here too.

    Bad, Bad series against both the Cubs and Brewers. This team has had several opportunities to make a splash in the division but have sqandered them all. Its alittle like 2011, a series of small things and bad play that add up to a underachieving regular season. I agree with the sentiment that they could ride a wave to a title (ala the last three WS victors), but I don’t feel its likely.

    In 2011, they played the status quo game and it bit them. You can’t really say that this year or last. The trades for Latos and Choo were bold moves. I didn’t like the lack of activity to improve the bench and bullpen this year by Walt, but this teams issues are bigger than that.

    This team seems to be on the standard Dusty Baker glidepath of managing. Both of his previous stops have followed the same pattern. Significant early success, a peak followed by a decline puctuated by poor play and no outward accountability. The fear of the next manager being worse shouldn’t be the only reason they don’t make a change. I heard this reasoning plenty in the philly area I live in now wrt Andy Reid, which led to stadnation over their last 2-3 seasons. I think too of the Terry Francona example. He was booted from the phillies, was hired by Red Sox and was a part of two WS titles. Managerial performance is as volitile as middle relievers. But this organization needs something, its like a bland soup. You know something is missing, but you can’t put your finger on what it is.

  3. I agree with many of the points Richard makes here, especially in relation to the importance of the organization’s (not just the manager’s) philosophy about baseball. I’m not sure that the old-school wing of the Reds doesn’t extend equally to the front office, which concerns me about any future manager hire.

    That said, to me, placing primary responsibility on the manager is truly the “easiest to catch” (to borrow Richard’s well turned phrase) explanation for the Reds’ failures.

    Instead of squarely blaming the popular Joey Votto for his multiple defensive lapses this year (which Jeff Brantley referred to yesterday as the “unorthodox issues at first base that we’ve had this year, to say the least”), we blame his manager.

    Instead of pointing a finger at the organization for failing to restock a depleted bullpen (are we seriously going to convince ourselves that there wasn’t a deal to be made to find better pitchers than Logan Ondrusek and Zack Duke? Come on.), we blame the manager who uses them.

    In specific games, instead of blaming our favorite players like Bronson Arroyo, Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips, we second guess their manager.

    The easy criticism is to single out Dusty Baker, who has few supporters in the Cincinnati fanbase. When the harsh reality is there is plenty blame to go around.

    Richard’s math at the end is the tail wagging the dog. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to focus our disappointment on the manager than it is the players.

    I’m not exonerating Dusty Baker from an important role in the Reds’ shortcomings. I’ve been arguing against his being the manager of the Reds since 2009.

    But as we approach the end of the season, whatever it may bring, let’s not take the easy way out and pretend the problems begin and end at his doorstep.

    Remember in The Warriors — a film about misplaced blame — that Cyrus didn’t see the shot from Luther coming.

    • @Steve Mancuso:

      Steve, I know this is picking a nit, but I am shocked by the continual knocking of Zach Duke (and this isn’t just you, some of the other editors have done the same). I would make the argument that he should have been up on the big club long ago, based on the job he was doing in Louisville and, other than one pitch yesterday, he’s done a fine job since coming up to the big club.

      • @Bill Lack: That’s my point, Bill. Zach Duke has pitched 5.2 innings for the Reds this year but because he’s done OK in that limited sample size, we’re convincing ourselves that he’s a suitable relief pitcher. His consistent record since 2007 certainly belies that.

        • @Steve Mancuso: My point is, with the job he’s done at AAA, he possibly should have been up long ago, rather than Ondrusek say? He’s been very successful at AAA since coming to the Reds (and according to him has made some adjustments)…I think when pointing fingers, he’s not one I’d be pointing at.

      • @Bill Lack: Bill, i agree with you. Duke has done a great job since coming up. It has been a disappointing week, to say the least, but what this team is lacking is a leader in clubhouse. Whether it was Rolen from last year and someone else, this team does not have a proven veteran who is a leader in the clubhouse, which is one of the most important factors inputting a team together. If your team doesn’t then it has to come from the manager, and this isn’t Dusty’s personality. I don’t love Dusty but, least we forget, that he will have led the Reds to three playoff appearances in the last 4 years, more than in the previous 19 years. Think about that for a minute!! Can he get us over the top, who knows, as the playoffs are as much luck and the right team being hot at the time as much as anything. This year may not be the year, but I agree with Mancuso, you can’t put the blame squarely on Baker. It is sickening to see Morneau win a game yesterday for the Pirates. It does make you wonder if Jocketty could have done something, or has he already done too much by depleting the minors. One thing I don’t understand is with the team struggling, why doesn’t Dusty give Hamilton a start in Center and move Choo to Left to see if it can ignite the club, like he did last week. He needs to do something, but then again, if Gomez doesn’t make an unbelievable catch, we aren’t talking about all this today.

    • @Steve Mancuso: Bee. Eye. In gee oh.

      I think we can all agree that Dusty makes some head-scratching moves at times, but he isn’t the one striking out or hitting into a DP when the Reds desperately need a run.

      • @RedZeppelin: If managers don’t have an appreciable affect on the outcome of games why does every team lock up millions of dollars in their managers? Wouldn’t it be better to hire a no-name for $500k than Dusty for $3.5M?

        Even people who blame Dusty understand (I hope) it is ultimately the players who decide the games. However, blaming a player who is EXPECTED, statistically, to go 0-4 quite a few times during the year (even if he’s the best hitter in the league) is faulty logic in my opinion. A player CANNOT physically deliver 100% of the time. A manager CAN make an educated decision 100% of the time if he chooses to.

        As an example, we get back to Chapman, then. The people who argue againt folks like me (who want to use Chapman more and in more high leverage situations) will give the argument “Oh, so you want to use Chapman all the time, eh? He’ll get hurt! He can’t pitch 95 innings!” and things like that.

        I do not want to pitch Chapman all the time. I DO want him in every game that is tied in the 9th inning. Or some close facsimile thereof.

        No one can defend the use of Zack Duke at the current point in the game when Aroldis Chapman was available. I understand the arguments to the opposite. He can’t be used ever day, if he pitches the 9th he can’t pitch the 11th, etc. I get all that. However, leaving your most talented pitcher rotting in the pen while the home team comes back from a 5-1 deficit is incorrect baseball management. I don’t care what other managers and teams do. It’s wrong. You will win more games with Chapman pitching 3-4 innings a week in high leverage situtiaons than you will with him pitching 3-4 innings a week in a save situation.

        SO to recap, I can’t blame players who are destined to fail. Success in hitting is defined as failure (getting out 2 of 3 times makes you a hall-of-famer for a career), success in managerial decisions is far more cut-and-dry. There is always a “correct” decision and an “incorrect” decision. Since we cannot analyze the opposite of the actual decision, there is no way to tell which was correct and which was incorrect. However, having a set methodology for making your decision (i.e.-use my best pitches when they are available as to maximize their contribution) is what separates, in my opinion, a good manager from an erratic one. Dusty isn’t horrible. He’s not the destroyer of works. What he IS, however, can be described at erratic.

        I think I got quite rambly here. I apologize if my logic is tough to follow.

  4. Another great article Richard. You, Steve and Chad keep churning out 5-star quality stuff.
    I wonder what quote we can get from Big Bob Castellini on October 15, 2013??
    It certainly CANNOT be the same, or even the same message.
    I would like to take this from Castellini about Baker, “has proven he can lead our teams to championship-caliber play on the field.”
    Championship-caliber of play?? I don’t recall Dusty Baker ever, ever winning a championship as a manager.
    Hey Big Bob, what kind of kool-aid do you serve up there in your ivory tower owner’s box? What are you smoking??
    Are you going to hold yourself, WJ and Baker accountable for 2013?
    Baker cannot continue as manager of the Reds in 2014. Not if a championship is on your mind, Big Bob.
    I thought “All in” meant all in.

  5. When Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi had to be retrained last week during a game, I heard a clip of Showalter after the game that made a huge impression on me. Showalter said he wan’t going to let Girardi talk like that to anyone wearing black and orange.
    How many times this year has there ben a blown call by an umpire and Dusty just stays put in the dugout in silence? How many times this year had an umpire squeezed Reds hitters or pitchers and Dusty just sits there and sucks on his toothpick? I know arguing calls and getting thrown out of games has nothing to do with winning. But I wish Dusty would take a more proactive roll in standing up for players and demonstrating more urgency than he’s shown. It’s crunch time for the Redslegs but it feels like Dusty is planning for down the road instead of the here and now. And if something isn’t accomplished now, this season will be over in the blink of an eye.

  6. Great read, and not just because I agree with many of the points being made. The more I think about it, the more I think we’ve reached a “growing pains” turning point in the evolution of the game, where old-school, world-is-flat, intellectually disinterested parties (Marty, Dusty, Harold Reynolds) are clinging to outdated ways of thinking just because it keeps them employed. I work in the music business, and that’s the equivalent to ignoring technological advances of the past decade and the changing ways people listen to music nowadays and stubbornly soapboxing that people should still buy CDs (or LPs, or cassettes, or 8-tracks, or whatever) because it was good enough before and that’s how it was always done, etc. Of course, in reality there’s been a paradigm shift — and although the game itself hasn’t changed, the same is true for baseball, at least in terms of its philosophies and how people think about and analyze the game. Information is a blessing. Knowledge is power. The team needs to be led by someone who embraces new ways of thinking that might help to gain an inch.

    • @Davis Stuns Goliath: You may want to rethink your analogy since the purchase of music electronically has ruined the album format and all but destroyed the industry altogether. And while cassettes and 8-tracks never sounded anything approaching good quality, LP’s are once becoming the format of choice for music fans who truly care about sound quality. As for baseball, surely there is room for both the trendy new way of thinking and the tried-and-true strategies that have been put to the test since the Reds became baseball’s first professional in 1869.

    • @Davis Stuns Goliath: I love that you tossed HR in there. He bothers me more and more as time goes on.

  7. Look, the Reds’ right-handed hitters aren’t very good. This team should kill right-handed pitching, with Choo, Votto and Bruce. But it doesn’t kill right-handed pitching, because none of the right-handed hitters are very good against right-handers.

    Add in a thin bullpen, and a painfully slow team, and there you have it.

    If they get to the Wild Card game and win it, then they are in the 8-team tournament the same as anybody else. With good starting pitching, and Latos and Bailey are as good a combo as anybody else has, they may win some games.

    I love the game as much as anybody, but I’m too old to agonize too seriously over 25 guys whom I’ve never met and never will meet. It’s entertainment. I will agree that it is better entertainment when they win, but . . .

  8. Everyone seems to have good solid points here. I think, though, that Castellini is off the hook. He’s letting baseball people run the team and that’s always good.

    The question about philosophy is a curious one. I think Baker’s overall strategy is stale. It’s not going to make the team better.

    Playing better baseball would make the team better.

    Injuries this year to Marshall and Broxton didn’t seem to be of major concern going into the middle of August, though both pitchers were part of the March mix. As August ended, it was clear that these two talented arms had forced too many changes in the bullpen. The stress on what was left has become obvious. Broxton was a BIG loss, Marshall, not so much until lately.

    Dusty couldn’t do much about that. Zach Duke is a lucky find, seriously.

    Dusty has misused Chapman, but the offense that is supposed to get the team TO Chapman has failed.

    We’ve allowed ourselves to believe the “trends” numbers and assume that a .450 OBP is somehow going to generate runs.

    Brook Jacoby needs to go. If Baker wants to keep him, then Baker needs to go. I don’t care who the manager is, but this team can’t hit.

    That’s the dugout staff’s problem.

    • @Johnu1: How are hitting coaches objectively evaluated? I believe that Honus Wagner (or “Homer Wagnus,” as my friend’s wife once recalled), Ted Kluzewski and Tony Gwynn would have trouble improving some of these guys, particularly the right-handers.

      Todd Frazier took a long road to the majors because, frankly, he has an odd hitting style that most guys thought would not translate against elite pitching. His trouble with sliders seems to bear that out. Cozart finally came around, but he in essence is a mid-pack offensive shortstop. Phillips was named by Stats in a Wall Street Journal recently article as the most average hitter in baseball, which anybody paying attention would have said 2 years ago. Ludwick is old, and his only good years came when he had Albert Pujols hitting in front of him. In other words, the RH hitters were pretty much what we thought they were.

      Now, Brook Jacoby may in fact be a lousy hitting coach, but I just don’t see how outsiders can evaluate it. I think these guys get to the majors as fairly complete packages, and the hitting coach just smooths out some things here and there.

      • @Big Ed: I agree with everything you said here. I also think it’s worth pointing out that I’ve heard many coaches and players say that a hitting coach can only really be helpful if a hitter wants help. A lot of these players got to the big leagues by ignoring coaches at different levels and doing what they thought worked for them. A lot of them continue to do that at the big league level.

        There are guys on this team having good years at the plate. Maybe those are the guys working with Jacoby, and maybe not. Until we know that, seems hard to judge him as a bad hitting coach.

    • @Johnu1:

      You say “We’ve allowed ourselves to believe the “trends” numbers and assume that a .450 OBP is somehow going to generate runs.”

      This isn’t an assumption. This is fact. More baserunners means more runs.

      Incorrectly, some may assume we (the OBP apologists, if you want to give us a name) mean .310/.450 is better than, say, .330/.449 or something like that. Yes, a single is better than a walk in most situations. However, .280/.310 is no where near as good as .270/.380 at producing runs.

      Look at Boston and Detroit. Top two OBPs in baseball, top two in runs scored. That’s all.

      • @prjeter: I’m glad you brought up those hypothetical slash lines, because I honestly have wondered about how the “OBP apologists” (as you termed them) view that – where exactly they see the point where they would trade a little OBP for a higher batting avg. For me, I got tired of people telling me that Adam Dunn and his .230 BA was perfectly OK because he had a .400 OBP. I’m not sure where my dividing line is, and I have no idea where yours would be, but I do think there are plenty who would take .230/.400 over .300/.350, and I think that’s just plain nuts.

        I’ve posted some stuff here about RBIs that I’m sure has painted me as a dinosaur, but this is really all I’ve been talking about – dividing lines. I’m perfectly fine discussing how advanced metrics tell us that a number three hitter doesn’t have to reach 100 RBIs to have had a productive season. I’m not sure I’m ready to have the same discussion about 75.

  9. Steve, talent has also won a few games where the Manager failed; I think it’s only fair we remember those games when we knock the players for their failures. For example, at least twice Billy Hamilton scored after Dusty tried to give away outs with bunts. (And failure to improve the bunting, or to recognize that “I have to adjust my strategies because these guys are lousy at it” is on the Manager, too.)

    Very Good and Great managers find a way to make their teams better than the sum of their parts; on that measure, I think it’s absolutely fair to say Dusty has not been successful, and that the team’s underperformance can be fairly laid at his feet.

  10. Just what is needed — more Dusty bashing. I keep hoping some of you will run out of ways to tell us how much you dislike Baker, or at least be a little more creative about it, but that apparently is not going to happen. We get it. You don’t like Baker; every single loss by the Reds is the fault of Baker, and you’ve given up on this season and any future season in which Baker is included in the Reds’ plans. Does that pretty much sum it up?

    • Does that pretty much sum it up?

      Not really. I agree with much of what Steve said above in response. I am most certainly grabbing the tail of the dog. But, if I do, it’s because it’s all I have to grab onto.

      I’m not trying to suggest that players aren’t responsible. I’m merely saying there’s little that can be done about whether Todd Frazier hits at this point in the season. He is who he is. Likewise, it may be Ludwick’s fault if he doesn’t contribute they way the team hopes in Sept/Oct, but his season has only begun in August. That’s the hand he was dealt with the injury. Phillips may have made a weak throw that cost the Reds a double play and the game, but these things are going to happen.

      Baker, on the other hand is the low hanging fruit. It requires money and/or prospects to solve some of the player production problems. Better decision-making by the manager costs the team virtually nothing.

      For example, In a game in Chicago that the Reds led by a run, bringing in Chapman with two outs in the 8th to face a .230 hitting Darwin Barney would have likely won the game. Instead, the Cubs tied the game in the 8th, the game went 14 innings, the bullpen was abused–and Chapman never pitched. That was a missed opportunity that was right there for the taking. It doesn’t require a trade. It doesn’t require money.

      Again, the team is flawed. You want to blame Castellini for not spending more? I can’t do that. You want to blame Walt for not making a trade. I can’t do that. I don’t know the particulars. The Reds bought out some arbitration years with Ondrusek. Did the owner want to flush that money and spend more to find someone to take his place? Who knows. Difficult decisions. All with a certifiable cost.

      No, Dusty isn’t the one striking out. He is the one who is expressing his frustration to the media when his players don’t swing a pitches they can’t hit. This can’t be helping Frazier, who is already struggling. I doubt it was helping Cozart in the 2 spot, who was clearly frustrated and pressing. It’s Dusty who is telling the media he left Homer in after 120 pitches so he could get the Win. It’s Dusty who starts Rolen in the playoffs not because he thinks he gives the Reds the best chance to win, but because in Dusty’s words, “this is his last rodeo.”

      Low hanging fruit. Easy fixes.

      • @Richard Fitch: “For example, In a game in Chicago that the Reds led by a run, bringing in Chapman with two outs in the 8th to face a .230 hitting Darwin Barney would have likely won the game. Instead, the Cubs tied the game in the 8th, the game went 14 innings, the bullpen was abused–and Chapman never pitched. That was a missed opportunity that was right there for the taking.”

        EXACTLY. That Cubs game, and at least five other similarly managed games, may be games the Reds needed to win to take the division, or even get into the playoffs.

        I agree that players make errors, commit egregious baserunning gaffes, swing at bad pitches, and pitch poorly in late innings. The 2013 Reds have done these things in spades, and the manager cannot control that. However, the manager has a small number of things that he can control, like putting Chappy in for a four-out save, or not using an injured Broxton, and this is where Dusty has failed miserably.

    • @kywhi: I don’t believe that anyone is placing the blame of this team’s failures completely at the feet of Dusty Baker. To argue otherwise

      every single loss by the Reds is the fault of Baker

      I don’t think anyone here thinks that the underperformance of the team is 100% Dusty’s fault. You do yourself a disservice by insinuating that folks here think that way – it’s demeaning to those who have a different opinion than you do.

      With the way this season has turned out (along with post-season failures in the last couple years), I think it’s fair to ask whether Baker’s contributions to this team outweigh his shortcomings. Because of Dusty’s in-game managerial decisions, this team has given away more than a few games this year. Where would this team be with 3-4 wins instead of losses? Well, they’d be seriously competing for the division title rather than sweating a bit about whether they’ll even make the second wild card (a position many of us thought absurd a couple weeks ago). And what about player development – is there no instruction at the major league level? And why does the manager consistently expect his team to do things (bunting) that they’ve consistently shown an inability to do?

      On the other hand, I’m sure that Dusty has made contributions. It’s clear that there’s some sort of “player’s manager” approach that perhaps enhances on-field performance at times. He’s allowed Bryan Price to do wonders with the pitching staff and (unlike his time in Chicago), Dusty hasn’t ruined anyone’s arm (except for Broxton). Beyond that, I’m struggling to think of enough contributions on the “plus” side of the ledger to meaningfully outweigh those on the right side. At least enough to absolve him of criticism.

  11. There is a lot of blame to go around for yesterday’s loss, baseball is like that. It’s hard to say what THE problem is, since there are always a lot of problems on any baseball team. If I had to look for a common thread though, I would say this:

    To win this game at the highest level, you have to be a little bit ruthless. You have to set up a culture where everyone knows that performance is the only thing that matters, and if benching a player, or trading a player, or firing a guy, will make the team better, then that’s what you do.

    The best example of this that I know is the culture of the Oakland A’s. They put winning before feelings. Fan favorites are shipped out all the time to make the team better. Fans here (I live in Oakland) are used to it, and have learned to like it, or at least accept it. Team first, personalities second.

    That’s clearly just not how this Reds team works. Bob isn’t going to fire Dusty after he got us to the playoffs twice, no matter the result, or the obvious bad decisions.

    Jockety brinks is guys like Ludwick, not because he thinks they’re the best value, but because he’s loyal to “his guys.” He doesn’t trade for guys like Byrd because of what it would do to change the atmosphere in the clubhouse if other guys got benched.

    Dusty doesn’t let a bad streak take away from a vet’s playing time. He doesn’t take out a starter who’s in trouble if it means costing him a chance for the win. He values stability over accountability in basically every phase of the game.

    And so what you end up with is a clubhouse where everyone really likes each other, and has a good time. And that leads to playing well, and they’re a pretty good team. But I don’t know if you can be a really good team and make everyone happy. You have to put accountability first at some point.

    • @al: I agree with a lot of what you said. Not living in Oakland, my view from the outside is trading the players away is more of a “We can’t afford them,” than it is “They aren’t producing anymore.” Maybe they are inter-related, as in if we can pay 2 guys less than you to equal the amount of wins you are worth we’ll go ahead and do that.
      The lack of accountability from the dugout is what frustrates me. September of a pennant race isn’t the time to pull starters/bench stars. But if those things had happened in April/May, some of the boneheaded plays we’ve seen might have been nipped early. Dusty talks about some of the mistakes this team has made as if it’s so far out of his control he’s merely a spectator like we fans are. In some respects that’s true. he isn’t running the bases or forgetting how many outs there are. But he is the one who is tolerating it. He is the one who keeps Choo in a game after he inexplicably doesn’t slide into home plate with the play right in front of him. He is the one who at least tolerates the mistakes by not addressing them. The players may LIKE a guy like that, but that doesn’t mean they RESPECT him.

      • @Eric: Yeah, I think we’re on the same page.

        The point I was making about the A’s is they don’t let sentiment get in the way of baseball decisions. Like you said, if they can pay one player less for the same production ass another player, and use that money elsewhere, they do it, even if the other player is Kurt Suzuki, a big fan favorite.

        A perfect example to me is Broxton and Ludwick. For $15mil the Reds could have had any number of impact guys. But those were “our guys.” Loyalty vs. production.

        And as far as Dusty goes, sure, I’m not saying he should be playing all the scrubs or anything. I’m saying Heisey should get some ABs if Ludwick is struggling. I’m saying If Choo makes a bonehead play, take him out. Ditto anyone else. Play the hot hand, use the talent you have etc.

    • To win this game at the highest level, you have to be a little bit ruthless.

      What’s interesting is that there are Dusty’s quotes about learning how to “close things out” and essentially being better about not letting the other team back up… but his definition and most of ours is dramatically different. I get the feeling with Dusty being ruthless is hitting a 3 run homerun instead of say, making a switch in the field based on what’s happening in front of him. He doesn’t hold himself to that same accountability people are looking for in players.

  12. I’ve reached the point with the Reds and Dusty Baker where I’m not even hoping for a Brian Kenny to be the next manager. I don’t need someone who can break down every aspect of FIP, xFIP, RE/24, or Dewan +/-. I want a manager who understands that bunting isn’t ideal in the 1st inning with 0 outs and a runner on 2nd. I want a manager who understands that it’s more important to take a struggling starting pitcher out in the 6th inning of a tie game rather than leave him in in some vein attempt to get him a “Win.” I’d love a manager who values talent in the 2nd spot in the order rather than the ability to bunt. I want a manager who would be willing to use Aroldis Chapman in the most important situation in a game, regardless of the inning. It would be nice to have a manager that is able to use Chapman in these situations because he does not feel the need to use him to protect 3 run leads in the 9th.
    It would be wonderful to have a manager who values the walk, one who understands that the very best PA’s are the ones that do not result in an out. I’d like to hear a manager preach patience to his hitters, a manager that doesn’t inadvertently turn 2/3 of his lineup into easy outs. I would like a manger that does not accept mental mistakes, that seeks to proactively eliminate them, either by taking players out of games or cutting back playing time of those that continually make stupid decisions.
    This rant has lasted longer than I intended. The point was, I don’t think it’s necessarily a “new school vs old school argument.” At this point, I would just settle for a little common sense from the man calling the shots on the field.

    • @Eric: This reminds me of Susan Sarandon’s classic rant in Bull Durham 🙂

      Good points.

    • @Eric: The best comment posted on this thread by far. Well done Sir.

    • @Eric: Wow, noe of the best comments of the year.
      I don’t consider myself a Dusty basher, and don’t like it when he’s faulted for a decision when he would also be faulted for the opposite. You haven’t done that, you’ve put your finger on the critical points where Dusty falls short.

  13. What exactly, is the Reds hitting or offensive philosophy?? We get Baker’s pre-game and post-game quips about “being aggressive”. But really, what is the organization’s hitting philosophy?
    We can surmise from the evidence that has been presented through player actions and performance that it is a hack attack philosophy of swing at anything remotely close to the strike zone. But that is an overly simplistic observation. But that great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
    I have never seen Brook Jacoby interviewed or ever heard a Reds official explain in depth what they teach at the organizational level. I guess philosophy is important. Like Yogi once said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”

    I will leave you with two things, one again from that baseball philosopher, Yogi, that “it ain’t over ’til its over.”
    And one from the philosopher Homer (not Bailey!?) “A small rock holds back a great wave.”
    Now is a good time to get that small rock out of the way.

    • @WVRedlegs: I think the problem is the combination of players they have with the approach preached, at least publicly, by Dusty. The 2 hitters that have the best approach by far are Votto and Choo. With Votto, it’s almost as if his approach is entirely self taught, at least from the mental side of things. Choo came from a different organization and was not “home grown.” It’s troublesome in my mind that the organization had close to nothing to do with developing the two best hitters the team has. Based on all other home grown talent, no where else in the organization does there seem to be an emphasis on quality ABs and laying off the pticher’s pitches. This gets magnified when these guys get to the big leagues and all they hear from a manager is “be agressive, swing early, it’s called hitting not walking, OBP is good but RBIs are better.” For a guy like Mesoraco trying to earn playing time, I’m sure there is a little bit of pressure to accommodate your game to your manager’s expectations. So he starts out April with a 16% walk rate which quickly devolves into 5% ever since. Mesoraco has so much power if he just had someone working with him to be MORE patient instead of LESS patient he would wind up either walking more or getting better pitches to hit. Then you have Cozart forced to bat 2nd by virtue of playing SS and he becomes torn between patiently working AB’s and swinging away like his manager wants.

      • @Eric:

        I get what you’re saying. A little devil’s advocate here. Who gets the credit, if any, for Jay Bruce’s new-found ability to hit to the opposite field this year?? Jacoby? Baker? Bruce? Many on here have given Bruce kudos for going the other way alot this season.
        But when you look at his stats for this year overall, they are very similar to his last 2-3 years. So, does hitting to the opposite field some really improve him as a hitter? I’d like to think yes. But his production stats say there is very little difference.

        • @WVRedlegs: Jay Bruce is such a fascinating case study bc he has essentially traded BBs for 1Bs. At least earlier in the season when he was hitting around .280, but his OBP wasn’t getting much higher than .330. Recently, the BA has dipped a little but his BBs are back up. He was substituting 1Bs for BBs which is good if you can mak it work. But the next step he needs is to turn more outs into BBs. He still gets anxious and chases in hitters’ counts. As far as the credit with opposite field hitting, I feel like I’ve heard a lot about him watching/listening to Votto. That’s not to say Jacoby/Baker have had zero impact. I also find it interesting that a month or so ago there was an article about how much improved Choo has been in 3-2 counts this year and he created Votto with the improvement. It just feels like the recent home grown players haven’t really developed as hitters. Their weaknesses stay weak and sometimes that even hampers thir strengths.

        • @WVRedlegs: Votto.

  14. Think about how much different the atmosphere would be here if not for two Carlos Gomez catches.

  15. Basically, what I would like to see is that no matter which 3 lead off an inning, there’s a chance the Reds will score a run. As it stands, the 7-8-9 hitters are most likely to produce, at best, Choo making the 3rd out.

    That was the extent of my rant earlier on this board about Jacoby and how you evaluate a coach. Choo on down through Ludwick, I don’t expect Jacoby to make a .003 difference in OBP or RISP. But what is NOT happening is that there’s no churn in this batting order.

    What does a team do when there’s no churn? There needs to be someone in the dugout who says, “here’s what he’s throwing, here’s how they are defending it, and here’s what we have as a history on this guy.”

    After that, I would assume the players have enough brains to say, “yeah, this is what I ought to expect.”

    I don’t honestly KNOW what a hitting coach does, mid-season or in September, or even in March. What I do know is that the Reds hitters do not churn the lineup like the Cardinals do, or like the Brewers did. Or even the Cubs some of the time.

    I want my top OBP guys getting 5 plate appearances, wearing out the pitcher, making the defense think … going first to third.

    Easier said than done?

    Winning teams do it.

  16. Well, I see that Mes will once again be sitting the pine & picking splinters out of his rear end tonight. Seems like September deja vu all over again for the kid. Baker won’t let him catch Arroyo, Bailey, and tonight, Cueto.

    By Dust-man’s logic, Mes doesn’t have any September experience, so he “ain’t never done it before”, therefore it’s up to the veteran to catch Cueto tonight (yet the reason he “ain’t never done it before” is b/c Baker benched him all of last September.)

    Yes, he’s slumping, but it’s hard to get into a groove & stay there when your manager won’t play you, and shows absolutely no confidence in you. Baker is on the verge of ruining a #1 draft pick, if he hasn’t done so already.

    I want a NEW MANAGER. Please.

    • @concepcion13: Was typing basically the same message, hit post, and yours is here too. It’s not just Cueto either, he took Mesoraco away from Cingrani too.

      Mesoraco has started 2 games since the 7th. Today will make 9 days with only 2 starts.

  17. On the topic of philosophy. What’s up with tonight’s lineup? For the third time through the rotation in a row, Hanigan has slid back into catching 3/5 with Mesoraco catching 2/5. Mesoraco is hitting better than Hanigan, his glove has been pretty good, with some great plays, his arm is getting better at throwing guys out at second.

    Yet Dusty has managed to get his “guy” back into the majority catcher role despite being 8 years older, not nearly as much of a ceiling, a .075 higher OPS, and a 17 higher OPS+.

    Did we not all see how much better Mesoraco was getting when he was getting regular playing time?

  18. I like Mes in the lineup, but with this bold risk going on with Cueto tonite, I’m more than OK with Hanigan catching tonite.

  19. I’ve researched the Houston offense, and I don’t understand how they sometimes score runs in bushels. We know Altuve, the little guy who’s got game. The rookie SS Villar has done a good job leading off for 150+ ABs. Dominguez has sometimes given the Reds problems in the past.

    But the only player on the active roster who has pop and also gets on base a decent amount is Jason Castro, their injured catcher.

  20. It’s the right game for a short (but hopefully effective) start from a Reds starter in that Erik Bedard is starting for the ‘stros. He has not started since mid-August and has not pitched as long as 5 innings since early August.

    Also the Astros have the worst bullpen in the major leagues.

  21. The Reds will be led by Dusty until one of two things happen. He chooses to retire, or the Reds finish in last place or next to last in BTB seasons.

  22. Is there any dispute that Baker’s best series this season was against the Dodgers and when they left town the team dialed the intensity back a notch? Baker refrained from putting on any more hit and runs or anything else too aggressive.

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2013 Reds, Editorials


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