2017 Reds

Trust but verify

The lull in Reds news will soon end. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. With the young team and sorting season we Reds fans expect, spring training will be loaded with important developments.

Jason Linden’s thought-provoking column this morning (All of a Sudden, I Trust the Front Office) concerns a vital topic for Reds fans: What to make of the early moves taken by Dick Williams’ front office. We don’t have to wait for spring training to come up with a preliminary answer to that question.

Those of you of a certain age will remember Kremlinology. Because analysts in the West weren’t privy to the internal workings of the Soviet Union, a vast industry of academics and other analysts was formed to read Russian tea leaves. Inferences about what to expect from the Soviet Union were formed based on the few public statements by their leaders and the occasional visible actions they took.

That’s not to imply the decision makers at Joe Nuxhall Way are the Politburo or that they shouldn’t be trusted at face value. And let’s not forget that as Reds fans, we’re on the same side as the front office. There’s no war, cold or otherwise.

But by necessity, we aren’t in the know of all the thinking and decisions being made by Dick Williams and his staff. We see the signings and trades that are made, not the ones rejected. So we end up writing January posts like this one, and Jason’s that attempt to connect a few dots on our own.

It’s a tricky project. For one thing, it’s hard to know when the new regime’s decision-making began. We don’t know whether Walt Jocketty or Williams (or neither) was responsible for the successful 2016 amateur draft. We don’t know who possessed the nimbleness to approve signing TJ Friedl.

We don’t know whether Jocketty or Williams was the major driver behind the decision to use the Todd Frazier trade to acquire Jose Peraza, and whether that was the same person who used the Jay Bruce trade to acquire Dilson Herrera. We also don’t know who was the prime mover behind the signing of Alfredo Rodriguez and other international players last year.

Connecting the dots is all the more fraught with error when the lines of responsibility for decisions before November 2016 are blurry.

As Jason outlines, there have been encouraging indications since the transition of power to Dick Williams became official and total: the rationale given for the Drew Storen signing and the Dan Straily trade are two prominent examples.

Also, under Williams’ leadership, the Reds have staffed up with pro-analytics folks; committed resources to biomechanics and injury prevention; and taken steps to increase minor league instruction.

Another positive by inference: We can assume that the attribute of a player having been on one of Walt Jocketty’s Cardinals teams will no longer be a reason for acquiring him.

All that evidence is positive. It’s hard not to feel a sea change has occurred for the better.

But, let’s tap (not slam) the brakes on unbridled optimism. In evaluating the new front office, it’s important to differentiate tactics from strategy. Strategy in this case is the overall vision or philosophy of roster construction and team building. Tactics are the metrics and methods for how that vision is pursued. The recent promising steps in player acquisition fall into the tactics category.

While there’s ample reason to share Jason’s newfound confidence that the front office will take a more modern approach going forward, apprehension about its strategic vision remains warranted.

Specifics?

The decision to commit Michael Lorenzen to a bullpen role because of his success there last year weighs heavily. Coming in a rebuilding year, it displays a crippling fealty to roles instead of maximizing the impact of talent. Is the new front office emphasizing speed and stolen bases at the expense of hitting for power? Are they emphasizing contact instead of on-base skills?

Writ large, are they devoted to copying what they interpret as the Kansas City Royals model of building a team? The Reds front office might be doing an excellent, modern tactical job of putting together the kind of team they want. But that leaves the strategic question of whether the kind of team they want is the right one.

Others do have differing interpretations of the preliminary evidence and don’t share these concerns about the bigger picture. Each of us is doing nothing more than modern-day Kremlinology, drawing inferences from scattered data points, looking for patterns. But even with the hopeful early clues, withholding trust in the Reds front office’s while we verify their strategic vision seems prudent.

37 thoughts on “Trust but verify

  1. I’m with Steve on this one. But I would love to see a team similar to the Kansas City Royals that went to the series for a couple of years. I followed the Royals both years having friends from KC. They were extremely fun to watch, very aggressive, with a great bullpen, and transformed KC into a crazy baseball town.

  2. I think Kremlinology must also be applied to evaluate the Reds usage of Lorenzen in 2017. The team’s discussions from last year regarding keeping him in the pen left the door open for how he would be used in 2017. I think there were valid and explained reasons why he was kept in that role last year. But, unless I missed the announcement, the team hasn’t come out and said that he’ll remain in the pen this year.

    To be clear, absent some medical reasons that haven’t been disclosed, I think it would be a mistake to not try Lorenzen as a starter again this year. There are openings available in the starting rotation and he has earned the right through his performance as much as anyone on this staff other than Disco.

    But, I’m not ready to opine on the Reds use of Lorenzen yet until we see how he’s utilized going forward this year.

    • “But, unless I missed the announcement, the team hasn’t come out and said that he’ll remain in the pen this year.”

      That’s exactly what was said by the Reds AGM during the meet and greet last year. Now additional evaluation and consideration could always occur and Lorenzen may actually be given an opportunity to start again in 2017 as so many of us hope, but last season, the plan was to move Lorenzen to the bullpen as a 2-3 inning, high-leverage reliever, period.

      • Personnel has changed somewhat. The addition of Drew Storen (unknown actual performance at this time), and perhaps another part.
        Lorenzen has a great arm. It was Bryan Price that really saw him as a potential starter based on his physical ability, instead of as a reliever (which was his college role).
        There are questions about his long term durability as a starter, based on his sore elbow last Spring. None of us really knows what the medical staff has briefed the Front Office on his elbow problems and possible other long term consequences.

        I love the guy. He has a big heart, wants to compete and is eager to learn. That’s what Bryan Price saw in him too. But there is the question of his durability.

        Stretch him out in Spring training. See how he does. He can always revert to the Bullpen role afterwards if he has the beginnings of arm issues.

      • This time last year, there was an Asst. GM stating that Jose Peraza was the 2B of the (near) future. Now he is a SS. Tomorrow, he may be a 2B again. Maybe some news comes out of the Caravan this weekend on Lorenzen.

  3. You know who lead the AL in baserunning runs this year? The Indians
    You know who led the AL is defensive runs this year? The Indians.

    You know who led the NL in defensive runs? The Cubs.
    And while the Cubs were not the best base running team in the league, they were top 5.

    Its clear that the best teams are emphasizing base running and defense. These are far from the traditional money ball teams. If the Reds are emphasizing speed and defense, you could just as easily say they are copying the Cubs or Indians instead of the Royals who were a below average base running team this year. And, of course, the Royals did win a title.

    • Your solid comments show why an on-going analytical approach is important.

      A few years ago, based in part on Moneyball, everyone tried to find OBP and eventually just about everyone had an OBP focus. When everyone does something there are limited “inefficiencies,” in that area. Eventutally, teams looked at bullpen construction or defense as a means of exploiting inefficiencies since those areas became cheap and marginalized.

      Defense was cheap so you could load up on quality defenders. Solid Bullpen pitchers are cheaper than solid starters so a team like the Royals could load up and exploit that to their advantage.

      Since the Frazier trade, the Reds seem to care an inordinate amount about speed. Speed has become marginalized and can be obtained and maintained cheaply….at this point. Maybe they’ll be right, maybe wrong, but Williams seems ( in my opinion) to believe he can have a team loaded with really fast guys and that will enable him to overcome things the Reds can’t afford to obtain or maintain

      • “When everyone does something there are limited “inefficiencies,” in that area.” — Gene Fama love you.

    • Well, if it’s (sorta) true for one year and two teams, it must be right.

      Also, correlation isn’t causation.

      Seriously, the teams with the most base running runs were the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks. But here’s what really disproves your point. Cleveland (your example) had 17.1 base running runs. That’s not even two wins. Just not that important. Also, Cleveland didn’t have one of the best four regular season records. In the postseason series they won, they out homered their opponents 11 to 5 but only out-stole them 3 to 1. The stolen bases are trivial compared to the home runs. Run scoring is much more closely related to power than it is to base running. Ex. The Brewers had by far the most stolen bases and were fifth from the bottom in runs scored. Second most SB were the Reds, also in bottom half of runs scored.

      Are the Reds emphasizing defense?

      • Not really a very good argument Steve. The Brewers did indeed have many SBs and did indeed not fair well in runs scored, but they had lots of bad hitters including the Adam Dunn of today in Cris Carter (minus the walks).

        You can easily find high SB teams that kicked butt and high ones that stunk. Same for HRs. The Reds of the past 20 years are a good example. All power, not much else and always .500 or losing records until the got real starting pitching for a few years.

        Basically, we have seen power win, starting pitching win, bullpen win, defense win and speed win World Series over the past 30 years and it will continue to be ALL OVER the skills map for the next 30 years. Pitching still beats hitting, UNLESS you go up against a hitting team that ALSO has good pitching (aka the Cubs that didn’t have any holes). If your top teams in both, your a lock to be a favorite and if your rebuilding, you won’t be very good at either a lock to be a top 5 drafting team.

        Anyway, saying someone else is wrong when your theories are no different (you took ONE season and yet bashed TCT for taking one year?) You took TWO digs at TCT. Was that really necessary?

        • Seemed like a decent argument to me. He took TCT’s same sort of logic, but applied it to the opposite view. That’s exactly how an argument should be structured.

      • I should have added, being a good SB team does NOT mean you suck at hitting and power. You can have a focus on one area and still be solid in the others. Power alone won’t win crap. That has been proven. Power with great pitching or good hitting or running makes you at least a solid team or better, but so does NO power and good pitching and good hitting.

    • If the Reds copy Cleveland on the belief they won based on base running runs (your assertion, not mine) that’s even worse than believing that the Royals won based on contact and base running.

      I did notice Cleveland’s commitment to base running and defense when they signed Edwin Encarnacion, though.

  4. Since the Kremlin has been prominent in our news over the past months, we hope that Kremlinology does not affect future moves of the Reds front office.

    • Kremlin = St. Louis Cardinals. The Evil Empire.
      They do have the computer hacking down pat.

    • Maybe worth noting that the “Kremlin” despite its insularity evolved from Stalin to Gorbachev in just a touch over 30 years and then put itself out of business in another 6 or so years. We also know from the vantage point of hindsight that they were very aware of their domestic issues but hamstrung by ideology, personal rivalries, and corruption in trying to resolve them.

      These facts could be used on either side of Steve’s premise. So, as he said, wait and see, trust but verify.

  5. MLB, like nearly all professional leagues, is a copycat league. It seems pretty conclusive that teams are being assembled with much greater emphasis on ‘athletes’ and/or speedy guys. The Cubbies win the World Series and Joe Maddon is a genius. He too seems to love ‘athletes’, aka guys he can move around the infield, outfield, basically all around the diamond. Sort of like a giant chessboard. Some of this may indeed go back to how Dayton Moore assembled the Royals over the last few years. But certainly things seem to have shifted a bit toward speedy, athletic guys. The 3rd player in the Marlins deal, according to his stats and scouting reports, seems to fit this bill also. How much input did DW have in his inclusion? I sure don’t know. I DO hope our FO has finally begun to climb out of the shadow of Walt and into the 21st century. Regardless, we still have a ways to go with a whole lot of questions as we near spring training. The next nine weeks will go a long way in determining how successful DW’s first year will be. I have some hope due to addition of Drew Storen. Hopefully, one of the 2 new Marlins arms will be able to further bolster our awful pen. Maybe even Coleman from the Dodgers. In the case of Lorenzen…
    it seems likely he will remain in the pen. He threw a total of 50 innings last year. It seems highly improbable he will be allowed to throw much more than 80 this year. That does not leave much room for him to be stretched out during spring. The ‘ol Cossack probably has that one just about right.
    As for our starters? Wow! Again, a lot of questions. Especially with the removal of Straily. Hope they get answered starting soon.

    • I’m pretty sure that it has been a trend–for years–for a lot of young athletes to play multiple sports rather than concentrating on baseball to the exclusion of, say, soccer. I know that this is not universally true, but, anecdotally, it seems to be a trend. So I wonder if this is increasing the number of athletic young players who aren’t extremely well-grounded in baseball fundamentals, including hitting. You can only build a team with what’s available and, in the cases of many teams such as the Reds, what’s affordable.

      • This caught my eye because the my thought has been that young athletes are becoming more specialized earlier and earlier in development. My sense has been that baseball’s issue is that kids increasingly choose other sports to the exclusion of baseball.

        I’m most familiar with college football recruiting. The future “hogs” on both sides of the ball seem seem to lift and do other body/ strength building drills year around to the exclusion of other organized sport. Many of “skill” players do tend to play basketball for winter conditioning and run some track in the spring for the same purpose. In the summer they are back to football activities, with no time for baseball.

        I believe basketball is much the same. After a short break in the spring, the aspiring athletes are involved in organized team play much of the summer. Also there is big soccer complex just down the road from my plat. Starting in early to mid spring and right on thru to mid to late autumn, on many weekends traffic is snarled by “travelling team” tournaments which start on Friday evenings and run thru late Sunday afternoons. My guess would be none of these kids are playing any “real” baseball.

        • Interesting perspective, OHIOJIMW. I’m aware of the travelling teams and guess that their existence might indicate that some kids are specializing early. I might have more accurately said that I don’t see kids in any numbers playing disorganized baseball throughout the warmer months the way we did when I was young. When we couldn’t find enough players for a short-handed game, we played flies and grounders or just threw and caught (I’m starting to sound–even to myself–like an old fart). Maybe what I’m seeing is that they’re still specializing but, as you say, in other sports. My grandson and his friends play everything (SSS), but only in organized situations where, particularly with baseball, the reps are very limited. “Messing around in boats(read baseball)”, to take a good line from Mr. Toad, doesn’t seem to happen much.

        • I very much agree kids don’t seem to play pick up baseball much if at all any more. When I was young we’d play 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 etc with “invisible” or “ghost” runners. You had to call which side of the field you were going to hit to etc. Don’t think this happens much any more.

          I read a piece several years back that parents often push specialization because come college time even a partial scholarship can make a huge difference in the financial burden. And apparently even D3/ NAIA schools and the like also have systems which can channel financial aid at least in part based on sports participation.

  6. Right now, I don’t see them going for “emphasizing speed and stolen bases at the expense of hitting for power” or “emphasizing contact instead of on-base skills”. I simply see them looking to make the best team/organization possible.

    The one thing I am wondering about is the glut of middle infielders and “young stud” pitchers we have. Getting rid of Cozart and BP can assist in that. We can get rid of Cozart, but not BP. So, we are stuck with his salary for one more season. Do we DFA him?

    And, with the pitchers, I would like to see a couple more step up as starters. I liked Finnegan last season, though he still needs some work. I believe we will see Cingrani in the bullpen. I just hope we don’t waste him as a LOOGY. I could see giving Racial or Lorenzen another chance at starting. However, I believe we will see one or both of them again in the pen.

    As for the trades, those should never be judged at the time of the trade. You should always wait to tell if good or bad. We aren’t going to be competitive for the division title again next season. So, I can understand letting Straily go in that respect. However, how will we know if these pieces we got back will produce at the big club? They may falter by the wayside, and Straily may go on to win 20 games 5 straight seasons.

    Nope, the best you can say is, “It looks good/bad”. But, no one can say that until after a certain time.

    • I agree with you about the guesswork involved in evaluating trades. I’m not as sure about Cingrani being wasted as a LOOGY, though bullpen catcher might be more appropriate.

      • Have you ever tried to find a catcher’s mitt for a lefty? Might near impossible 😉

        • He could stuff grass in the palm of a first-baseman’s mitt, couldn’t he?

          • That’s old-school right there. Toilet tissue or cotton out of the trainer’s box has been used too.

      • That’s what I was seeing once they moved him out there. It was only after some more time did they actually give him more time and opportunity out there.

  7. The Dodgers got their 2B last night from TB, Logan Forsythe. Another, albeit very remote, possible BP landing spot gets filled.
    Reds and BP are leaving themselves with only 3 distasteful options. Play him, bench him, or release him. None of these options will play out well.

    • They gotta pay him, anyway. The issue is whether his presence/performance is thought to be a net positive. If not, then DFA him.

      I think that they DFA him. These young players need to move forward together; I can’t see BP buying into what the team needs to do this year.

      • I can’t help thinking DFA him, also.

        BP was simply stupid for turning down that Nats trade. He should have taken it. He would have been with a manager he likes who would have played him as much as he wants. BP would have been able to keep his numbers up and, thus, someone would be out there more willing to take a chance on him for a couple more years.

        But, now, if you DFA him, there’s no way BP’s going to keep up his numbers, unless someone else picks him up (question on that in a second). Where, if he sits the entire season, will someone be around after the season to look at him then? Less likely.

        Where, if you inform BP of the DFA, then BP may be a bit more willing to listen to a trade anywhere.

        The question, if we do DFA BP, and someone picks him up, who’s responsible for the salary then? Would the Reds still be responsible for it, even though BP is playing for the other team? Would the Reds be responsible for it up to the point he gets picked up? Just how does that work?

  8. The Reds were bad last year because they had catastrophic pitching in the first half, and most notably in the first two months. We don’t really need stats to tell us this, but the stats do tell it well. Pre-All Star break, the Reds’ pitching was dead last in all baseball in ERA, BB, OBP, SLG, OPS (naturally), Blown Saves, Save %, HRs, WHIP, K/BB and even HBP. They gave up 35 more HRs the first half than any other staff. The pitching staff even stunk as hitters, too. They had a collective OPS of .227 for the full season, a full 46 points worse than the next NL team (Miami), and about half of the Cardinals’ .422.

    Once the team stabilized, the offense wasn’t that bad. It went from 28th in OPS pre-All Star to 6th post-All Star–third in the NL and ahead of the Cubs. Post AS, they were 4th in OBP, but at the same .338 as the 2nd and 3rd place Rockies and Cubs.

    With some improvement offensively at catcher and maybe second base, this team is close to being excellent offensively. If Saurez, Peraza, Hamilton and Schebler continue what they did in the second half, and they are all young and improving, then the Reds will be fun to watch.

    They need some major stepping up on the mound, though.

    • We could make up those 46 points and more with the Straily trade and starting Lorenzen

      You basically are adding a bat where there was a forfeit plate appearance

      • Straily was 1-52 with 2 BBs last year.

        One strategy would be to have a good hitter hit first or second in the top of the first in every road game, then have the starting pitcher sub for him and pitch the bottom of the first. Another variation would be to use an old, slow, but high OBP guy to lead off, then have a more fleet-footed starting pitcher pinch-run for him if he gets on base.

        The best strategy for Straily may be for him roll up in the fetal position in the batters box, hoping it would distract the pitcher into a walk. If it worked once every 17 times, it would be better than what Straily did as a hitter.

      • That is one of the most persuasive reasons I’ve heard to start Lorenzen. I think we have several arms of equivalent talent trying to establish themselves as MLB starters. His bat is very good. On off days his bat and speed could be used to.

        • Lorenzen as the # starter an Travis Wood a #5 starter. Reed and Garrett at AAA and Stephenson in the bullpen.

      • Remember how good Leake was with the bat early in his career? It didn’t last. Do pitchers have to spend so much time refining their craft that they can’t keep up their hitting practice?

        • I think I heard Jeff Brantley or Chris Welsh say that fairly early in Leake’s career, essentially that over time his hitting will fall off. They didn’t say why, or I don’t remember what the reason was but my guess is less time in the batter’s box.

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