Modern Baseball

A glimmer of hope from the Reds front office

Last week, the Reds reached a one-year agreement with reliever Drew Storen. The club will pay the 29-year-old pitcher $3 million, an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses and $500,000 if he’s traded. The deal’s impact won’t be felt in wins and losses. And since it’s only for a year and a tiny amount of cash by MLB standards it doesn’t alter the trajectory of the Rebuild one way or the other.

But what caught my eye was the reasoning Dick Williams offered and the profound break it made from the recent past.

Let’s start with Williams’ comments on the WLW Hot Stove show:

“Yeah, I think fans should be really excited about this addition to the club, Drew. Not only a local kid, but a guy that’s had a lot of success pitching at the end of ballgames for successful teams. A high-leverage situation type guy.”

“He’s going to fit in real well with us. He’s got a great personality, good make-up and a good track record. We think last season was a little bit of an aberration for him and created an opportunity. We swooped in and took advantage of it. I think it’s a win-win signing that gives him a good opportunity. Gives us a real good pitcher at the back end of the game.

Jim Kelch encouraged Williams to support the Storen deal by citing the reliever’s ERA from the whopping 18 innings he pitched at the end of 2016 for Seattle. Not only didn’t Williams bite, he pushed back on that thinking:

“Relievers, it’s hard to look at small sample sizes for guys like this. Drew had a six-year track record over in Washington and showed the ability to get things done. Sometimes when you switch leagues you’re facing new hitters, you’re pitching in a new park, a lot of things change about your environment. He struggled. He did make adjustments later in the year and finished strong.”

Williams then elaborated an important line of reasoning.

“(Storen’s down year in 2016) created an opportunity for us. It’s not typical you can find a guy with a track record like that available to a team like us. So, there’s going to be something there that scared teams off a little bit. … There are no risk-free signings at this end of the spectrum.”

“But the underlying fundamentals were strong. His walk-rate stayed low. His strikeouts stayed up. We emphasized adding pitchers in the bullpen that had command and control; that get ground balls. And he fits that category.”

Williams threw a little shade at evaluating pitchers based on ERA.

“Last year, even though he had the higher ERAs, the things he could control, the walks and strikeouts were still good. We hope that means he’s primed for a bounce back year.”

Williams had used many of these themes in a conference call with local writers earlier in the day: (transcript courtesy of C. Trent Rosecrans)

“Like I said before, keeping the strikeout rates consistent with his career averages, keeping the walk rates consistent with his career averages. He really had kind of a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) than he had in most all of his seasons historically. The fact that he was still able to control the ball with a good three-pitch mix, we saw a guy with a very consistent track record before last year.”

“He pitched with two new teams, facing new divisions, a lot of moving around. He was used a little bit differently, pitched in lower leverage situations. We hope to get him back to some of these higher leverage situations. We think the command will still be there. We think he will fit in nicely with the guys we’ve got.”

Williams addressed the decline in Storen’s fastball velocity:

“We saw the numbers. We know [the velocity] was down a little bit last year. At the end of the season, the fastball was up around 93 his last [game] of the year. We still think he can be very effective in that range. He’s got a good three-pitch mix. I think he can be effective where he is.” (Mark Sheldon)

* * *

That the Reds spent $3-5 million on a reliever for the 2017 season doesn’t merit a banner headline. Maybe Drew Storen will pitch well enough the Reds can move him to a contender and get back a decent prospect. About a dozen relievers were traded to contenders at the 2016 deadline. Otherwise, we’re talking about 65 innings.

Storen does check several conventional boxes: (1) only 29 years old, (2) experience with high-leverage pitching, and (3) success with high-leverage pitching.

Given the pittance and short duration the Reds were rightly offering, their options were going to be limited. Read this carefully as you fret over a few numbers on Drew Storen’s FanGraphs player page: Any pitcher who had a good 2016 season would not be in the Reds market. None of the relievers available in their niche would be unblemished. The tricky task for the Reds front office was to select from among those flawed pitchers one they figured likely to bounce back.

That’s where the Reds front office took a modern and encouraging turn.

The front office liked Drew Storen based on outcomes a pitcher can most control like BB% and K% instead of fielding- or sequencing-dependent stats like ERA. They were attracted to Storen because they believed a chunk of his high BABIP was the product of bad luck. They valued the large sample size of Storen’s 6-year record over the small sample sizes of Storen’s 2016.

Sweet music indeed to the ears of saber-inclined Reds fans.

Yes, Drew Storen will arrive to GABP packing red flags that aren’t just the ones flashing his new wishbone-C. Anyone who signs for $3 million and one year isn’t peddling a sure thing.

And before we hail the glorious arrival of a new, unbound Reds front office, a bit of perspective. The Drew Storen deal is one, small acquisition and the rationale offered speaks merely to tactics, not strategy. The organization may well remain prisoner to any number of crippling big-picture biases. We’ll find out in the coming year as more important moves are made.

But it’s heartening that the new voice and leader of the Reds front office explained its collective thinking – at least in this instance – in ways that make sense in the analytics-based century. It’s a sea change from chasing RBI-guys, worrying about hitting with runners in scoring position, creamy veteran grit-mania and dugouts full of last decade’s Cardinals.

40 thoughts on “A glimmer of hope from the Reds front office

  1. Such a small sample size, but definitely encouraging. There are some hidden “grit” factors in those quotes – home town guy, good,clubhouse guy – but those shouldn’t disqualify Storen so long as the real baseball info is valid. I’m a little concerned about the drop in velocity but on the whole I do think this was a good pickup based on sound thinking. And I really like that the Reds are bolstering the bullpen and not crowding out prospects who will need a shot at showing what they can do in the rotation. This information is by no means conclusive but it is encouraging.

  2. A glimmer of hope on a dreary, overcast winter day here in Cincinnati is always welcome.

    DW’s comments would never have been uttered during Jocketty’s tenure. I’d like to take this as a sign of the FO’s slant on evaluating and acquiring talent. Sure, this particular signing doesn’t move the needle much on the team’s overall outlook. But, I hope this rationale is used consistently going forward when it comes time to acquire and keep other talent on the roster.

    Having said all of that, if last week’s news concerning the fiasco with the handling of the BP trade is also an indication of how things are being run, I would say that the FO still has a lot of room to grow and improve.

    The thinking is good but I still have strong concerns about their ability to execute on whatever plans they set. DW will have to grow quickly into his role if they Reds are legitimately going to turn things around.

    • I agree with this. But I will say that the handling of the BP stuff is not DW’s fault. It seems that the (real or perceived) slights/broken promise that that BP is harboring have made him thwart any trade. I don’t really blame BP for that, but I don’t blame DW, either, assuming he was not the one who inflicted the slight/broke the promise.

  3. This is one step forward. But with the Reds front office, the two steps backwards is just around the corner I’m afraid. The 25 man roster still needs a little enhancement that may only come with dumpster-diving minor league deals with invites to spring training.

  4. Honestly, I am not all that worried about the front office. I am more worried about the manager.

    When you look at the talent the Reds have in the organization right now, it seems clear to me that if the Reds are gonna win in the next few years, they are gonna have to win with depth. They just dont have many guys who project to be well above average players. But they do have a lot of guys who could be very productive if used in a certain way. The manager should use platoon splits, optimized lineups, optimal bullpen usage, etc.to get the most out of his roster.

    And Bryan Price just doesn’t do that. I will freely admit that I have no numbers to back this up but I really believe that Price is at least 3-4 wins worse than an average manager. And I feel like a really good manager could be 3-4 wins better than average. So you are talking about a 6-8 win swing by changing to a manager who uses his talent correctly. That is the difference between being a .500 team and a wild card team.

    I hope the front office finds the right manager. And left to their own devices, I think they would. I just dont know how much leeway the owner will give them on that decision.

    • I tend to agree. By some analysis I did earlier in 2016, batting Votto (or any high walk guy) 3rd versus 2nd (or even 1st) costs about 3-4 runs a season (1/3-ish of a win) by itself entirely on the differential run expectancy of a walk when gotten with 2 outs versus with 1 or 0 outs. Since the 1st inning will usually end up with Votto hitting with 2 outs and the bases empty, the relative effect of walk is much lower than if he were to work that walk from the 2 hole or 1 hole.

      Maybe I’ll write the numbers up this year! It’s weird stuff.

      But, I wrote that as an example of what you’re talking about. Little tiny things that seem like they don’t matter can add up. Moving guys around in the lineup, platooning them correct, etc, can definitely add up to a few wins, IMO.

      • I think the Votto batting 2nd is not really the important issue. The issue is having someone in the 2nd and 3rd hole who BOTH have high OBP. Reds still love fast low OBP guys, and they love to bat them at the top. Moving Votto to 2nd is not the answer when he is the only guy with high OBP period. Batting Bham or Peraza 1 and 2 is going to be a major problem.

        • It has nothing to do with the guys around him. It has to do with the fact that a walk with 0 or 1 out has, historically, led to more run scoring than a walk with 2 outs.

          The magnitude of that difference, of course, will be less if you have bad hitters behind you, but the hitters in front of you make no difference to this analysis.

      • I think it depends on the team around him…On most Reds teams…He should hit second. If he played for the Cubs or Red Sox or blue Jays ….Third.

    • Are the Reds managing wins, or are they managing development? How many wins/losses can we pin on the front office then?????
      Either way the front office formulates the 25-man roster, not the manager. Who the manager has to play is important. Who you go to battle with is who you live and die with. How many times over the last several years has the front-office not put a player on the DL, only to penalize the manager with a short roster? How many times is the bench short, or just lousy to begin with? The bullpen, the easiest squad to formulate, and the Reds front office gives us historically bad bullpens. The front office in recent trades, sought after ML ready or near ML ready players instead of going for more talented players. Less quantity and better quality on these trades might have netted the Reds better returns on those trades.
      Bryan Price is back on only a 1 year deal. He will be managing for his job as most of the pitching will have to show improvement and progress in 2017.
      The pitching will be on Bryan Price. The offense, well, the front office hasn’t given Price much ammunition to work with. Some improvements were needed this winter, yet the front office, in its infinite wisdom, has done absolutely nothing to address the bench or improve the offense. Nothing!

      • Hoping the 10-day DL will encourage the Reds (and other teams) to use the DL a little more this year. It wasn’t just a Reds thing to not put guys on the DL who should probably go on the DL. What made it harder with the Reds though is that for much of the year they were carrying 13 pitchers. So a short bench to begin with and then a guy who couldn’t play because he was hurt.

    • +1 TCT. Price is a ‘by the book’ guy. He like to put guys into roles and leave them there. I mean, batting Dejesus second on Cozart’s day off…….stuff like that…….infuriating. I agree, the cumulative effect of so many little decisions like that makes a difference. Joe Maddon has twice the talent on his roster and he shuffles the MVP of the league to LF like it’s nothing. Price should stop worrying about egos and veteran privilege. Team first.

    • I agree. The manager of the saber metric age needs to be able to manage the mindset of the players as well as the analytical side. I’m afraid Brian Price is too woeful in managing the mindset of the players to make up for it with any analytical approach to managing. He seems to be putting to use some of the analytics side of things which is a positive. Shifts, using bullpen relievers for more innings, batting order management. He certainly has an open mind to try new strategy’s.

      Although it isn’t about wins in 2017; it will be starting in 2018. I think we need to be searching hard for a well rounded manager who can manage players well and that strongly believes in use of analytics.

  5. Huzzah! Now if only the announcing crew could dip their toes in the Saber pool…

    • The idea that there are 2 schools of thought “traditional” and “sabermetrics” is insane. Can you imagine if JP Morgan hired a broker who said, I do it the old school way of using my gut instead of using these computer things. We are in the 21st century and EVERYTHING is based on data.

      By the way, did you know that medical insurance approves providers based on cost scales of historical billing. In other words, insurance companies don’t agree to cover your medical care by just anyone, they pick the value (aka the cheapest) and even the cheapest combination of providers like cardiologist A and thoracic surgeon B. If they did not do this they would go bankrupt.

  6. A breath of fresh air, really. And just a bit more encouraging that maybe… just maybe we could be moving to a more “data influenced” approach to assessing talent.

    Quick question: Is there a specific way to know which stats are considered sabermetric and which stats are not?

    There are obvious ones: BABIP, WAR etc.
    There are obvious NOTs: ERA, RBI, HR, etc.

    But are K% and BB% considered sabermetric? They are counting stats (albeit percentages of those stats) but it seems that these are counting stats that most sabermetric people agree are important for pitchers.

    (BTW, not saying you said that the above stats are or are not, just genuinely curious)

    • Don’t have time to give your good question the answer it deserves right now. In general, saber-minded stats are ones that try to isolate the role of individual players instead of the team. But there’s no clear-cut dividing line for most. For example, strikeouts and walks are stats that go way back. But the *idea* that pitchers should be evaluated on what is in their control is newish. Walks and strikeouts are considered at the most-control end of the spectrum. K% and BB% are rate stats. They are a bit better than K/9 and BB/9 in evaluating the pitcher.

  7. A glimmer of hope, yes. … What would be interesting is if Storen has the bounce-back season the Reds hope for, would the Reds trade him at the deadline for a decent prospect and continue the rebuild, or do they become so smitten with him that they overpay him on a contract extension? … The Reds should have room to add payroll, but I’d hate to see too much of it go to the bullpen.

  8. What if Storen struggles again this year? I understand that IF he does struggle then it won’t be that big of a deal bcuz it’s only for one year and $3mill. So I’m not talking about that. What will concern me if he struggles is the reasoning Williams used for the signing. In the article you quoted Williams as basically saying that they’re choosing to look at his career before last year and bcuz of that they still believe that he’s a good pitcher and is gonna bounce back this year. But my question is this What if last year was the start of a decline for Storen? I’m always hearing about this age related decline that players experience that starts right around the age of 30 (apparently). What if Storen’s ARD is starting a little early? Again, I understand that it’s only for one year, but my concern lies not with the player potentially struggling but more so with the way that Williams sees things. In other words, what will it say about how Williams sees things IF Storen struggles?

    • Based on his comments, Williams seems pretty clear-eyed about the risks involved in signing Storen, including the age related stuff.

    • Williams took a calculated risk. Storen may be good…he may suck. What’s the alternative? Should they not take affordable risk? You seem to want them to spend on sure things…which is not possible.

      Chapman is a sure thing….he also cost 5x’s what Storen cost. Should the Reds spend 20% of their payroll on someone who pitches 4% of the innings? The Reds can spend “X”…..in order to win with
      “X” they need solid performances by young( cheap)
      players and they need to get lucky with a reclamation project or two. That is their reality. It may not be fair…it may not be what we would want…but that is their reality.

      • Chuck, I don’t know how you got that I wanted the Reds to sign better more expensive players (if you were indeed talking to me). I didn’t say anything of the sort in my comment. All I was saying is what it would say about Williams if Storen fails. If Williams used that logic on all the players he signs (looking at the good and dismissing the bad) then he’s gonna get burned. I do wanna say that I don’t think that DW will use this logic on ALL his signings but you never know, he’s still early in his career as a full GM.

        • Although Chuck’s response to your musings was a bit harsh, I think the point to be remembered here is that each move by the front office needs to be viewed with a little nuance.

          Can we agree that Williams can use the approach he did with signing Storen because it was a low risk financially, but could prove to be a high reward if Storen rebounds?

          Can we also agree that if Williams were making a large free agent acquisition (I know, you have to suspend disbelief for a moment) or making a long term extension to a young, valuable player, there would be a greater factor placed on that player’s recent performance trend and concerns about decline?

          If we can agree on the above propositions, then perhaps we can agree that we shouldn’t at this point conclude that DW’s logic in signing Storen will necessarily apply to any other transaction he will make?

    • Storen came incredibly cheap for his background. It was rumoured that Greg Holland might be looking for 10m.

  9. BUT WE WANT LAST DECADES’ CARDINAL STARS!!

    Why can’t we have them? 😉

    The Walt Jockety Era could not have ended sooner.

    And agreed that I want Bryan Price and Dick Williams on the same page regarding the roster, players and how much the young players are used (long term strategery). If they keep Dilson Herrera on the 25 man and play Brandon Phillips every day, that is just dumb.

  10. I know nothing of Coleman, a testament I suppose to not watching as much baseball the last two or three seasons, but I am glad to see this type of minor league signing. Especially after reading this quote on Cincinnati.com announcing the deal:

    “…a bullpen that allowed more home runs (103), walks (297), hit by a pitch (34), runs (356) and earned runs (330) than any team in the big leagues. The 103 home runs allowed was the most by any bullpen in Major League history”

    Even if none of these guys are the future, this team HAS to do something now to address this pocket of suck before the season begins. I can’t do it again guys, I just can’t.

    • If it gives you any solace, the Storen and Coleman acquisitions would be a signal that the Reds can’t do it again either. Of course, their commitment to keeping Lorenzen in the BP will help bolster this obvious weakness but then you have to question whether the FO sees the forest for the trees?

  11. The Old Cossack has the same sense that many who posted above have expressed. The comments by DW are an abrupt and welcome reversal from the old regime. If those comments do in fact represent a new way to conduct business in Cincinnati, then the next step is to take a page out of the Pittsburgh book and drag the manager into the modern era of baseball.

  12. I don’t even care if Storen ultimately pans out or not. It’s a good signing regardless of the outcome. I think from reading DW’s comments on the signing it appears to be much more than just a glimmer of hope. Looks like the front office has finally found its way to the 21st century.

  13. That kind of hope is similar to having to use the bathroom at a truck stop. You found a bathroom thank God but now you have to use it.
    I simply don’t think that there is any other sports organization is run as carelessly and without regard for success as the Reds

  14. Is it possible the Storen signing means they’re reconsidering the decision to keep Lorenzen in the pen? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

  15. Hey, do these two signings mean that maybe, just mayyyybe, Jumbo will finally be jettisoned? If so, rejoice! Subtracting him from the pen is a really big step in the right direction.

  16. I like the roster churn.

    How many guys have we cut because we have found someone better?

    That is the GM’s job

    Improve the roster at every opportunity.

    These moves have done that

  17. This is the kind of stuff that they now seem willing to say they are looking at, publicly. I’m hoping there are a lot of proprietary measures they are looking at as well that we don’t know about and that they don’t want other teams knowing about. Everybody with any sort of analytical bent knows about these sorts of things so Mr. Williams isn’t releasing any important info. Even back in the WJ days, I don’t think WJ was stupid. I think WJ didn’t want to announce to the world how the Reds were evaluating players. Of course this still doesn’t change my thinking that he was way behind the times from an analytics standpoint.

  18. As I said before about Storen, as long as the Reds are willing to trade him at the deadline to an RP starved contender for a good prospect, then this signing is the type they should be making. The Braves (and others) have signed one year vets several times EACH year the past couple of years, and moved several of them for prospects that moved into their top 10 list. I wanted the Reds to do this last off season, but they didn’t.

    FYI, the Braves are at it again this year. If they manage to trade either of those ancient SPs they just signed to another team for a solid prospect, I will cringe that yet again the Braves brass appears smarter than the Reds brass.

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