The formula for winning is straightforward.
First, assemble a group of talented players. That’s the most important variable in the equation. Second, those players need to perform well. To do that, they need to stay healthy. Those are the main factors in success. Roster is reality.
Major league managers have little impact on wins and losses. Managers keep a close eye on the pot to make sure it doesn’t boil over or the food burn and they decide when to stir. But lineups, playing time, bunts, they barely matter. (That doesn’t mean those topics don’t make interesting fodder for places like this.) Major league managers make good decisions and bad decision in every game, many we don’t see, the net effect unclear. A handful of skippers add a pinch of salt or pepper to the recipe.
But with respect to the overall arc of a major league organization’s success, a manager doesn’t change the bend a bit. The owner, front office and players bear that responsibility.
That the Reds brass grasps this is the only plausible explanation for Bryan Price’s ongoing employment. The losing records have not been primarily Price’s fault. He wouldn’t even make a top-five list of reasons for the club’s recent failures.
Yet the brutal bottom line hails at us: Price has been the manager of the Cincinnati Reds for four deeply losing seasons. You can add the dismal two-week start to 2018 to his ledger. And it’s impossible to make the case Price has done the best with what he’s had. When Price was hired, he seemed open to new ideas and promised to take a fresh look at timeworn practices. But he has largely adhered to old-fashioned managing, sacrificing increments of advantage along the way.
Should Bryan Price pay for this horrendous start with losing his job this month?
Those new to the crowded Fire Price bandwagon must face this. Price is operating this April the same as he has for four years. If you’re angry about the dumb batting orders, counterproductive bunts, deference to veteran players at the expense of the future (and you should be angry about all of that) well that’s the way Price has done things since jumpstreet.
Before Price played Cliff Pennington ahead of Alex Blandino, he benched Jose Peraza for Scooter Gennett. Before he used Billy Hamilton to lead off against left-handed pitchers, he used Billy Hamilton to lead off against every pitcher – more than 1500 times. These aren’t new reasons to fire Bryan Price. That exact case existed last November and the November before that.
That said, we all have different breaking points when it comes to managers and coaches. And you can’t fire the team.
Any natural sympathy we have for Price and his family regarding the loss of a job should be tempered by the understanding that Bryan Price has been made a millionaire for managing a baseball team. Most of us would have been fired long ago if we supervised the lack of performance he has for four years.
If Price does get axed – maybe even tomorrow – the Reds would replace him with an interim manager from inside the organization, then conduct a broader search at the end of the season.
But know this. Bryan Price’s tactics don’t explain a fraction of the immense gulf between the Cardinals and the Reds we witnessed this weekend. The dismissal of Price and ascendance of Jim Riggleman or Buddy Bell or Barry Larkin won’t provide shelter from the storm.
What will make the Reds a better team? Anthony DeSclafani healthy and pitching. Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler playing the field and batting. Michael Lorenzen, David Hernandez and Kevin Shackelford coming out of the bullpen. Joey Votto and Adam Duvall hitting anywhere near the back of their baseball cards. The call-up of Nick Senzel.
These weeks – the first two of twenty-six – have been beyond painful. Yet it remains the case that the second half of the season will be better than the first. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it’s the Reds team that takes the field in July and beyond that you need to care most about.
That’s tough because we fans are not a patient group. We’re fanatics, after all. Lordy, our patience has been tested. We once again summoned optimism to start the season only to see its horrifying crash on the rocks of injury and underperformance.
The rebuilding playbook for managerial hires is clear. Bring in the shiny new guy when the team is poised to make that jump into competitive hyperspace. The Cubs and Astros did that. So will the Reds. One final time, Bryan Price owes his job to low expectations for his team.
I’m not saying Bryan Price should be fired or that he should not be fired. I’m agnostic about it mid-season. If we knew for sure the new guy would play more of the young players, then fine. But that elation and salvation many will feel when Price does get sent packing? It’ll prove fleeting and lethal to your hope.
Roster is reality.
The dissatisfaction we’re channeling toward Bryan Price is about losing. The manager is a convenient but misplaced target. When the Reds acquire and develop better players, when those players perform to their potential, when they are healthy enough to be on the field, only then will the conditions be ripe for success.