I don’t know anything about Derek Johnson (47) other than what I’ve read the past few hours and from the Brewers pitchers I’ve watched the past three seasons. Milwaukee fought to keep Johnson. He is highly regarded. The move has been described as “stunning” and “shocking” by baseball writers. It’s nice when the Reds are associated with that in a good way. 

Robert Murray has a terrific article outlining Johnson’s accomplishments with the Brewers:

“When the Brewers hired him, he came with a resume as one of the game’s best teachers from his time at Vanderbilt and the Chicago Cubs. He helped heighten the talents of David Price and Sonny Gray, among others. In Milwaukee, he provided exactly that in three years with the team.

In 2018, it was refining Chacin’s slider, allowing him to use it effectively in numerous arm slots. It was teaching Wade Miley how to properly impart a cutter against right-handed hitters. Both players experienced slow free agent markets in the offseason, with Miley having to sign a minor-league deal.

His work with the bullpen was equally impressive, too.” [Murphy, The Athletic]

Tom Diesman posted this link about Johnson in the comment section. It’s an instructive 2016 post that details Johnson’s teaching philosophy. Brewers’ team blogs weighed in here and here.  

“How big of a loss is this? Huge. Derek Johnson was known as one of the best pitching coaches in baseball and he reformed several Brewers pitchers such as Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, and Wade Miley. It was because of him that the pitching staff was so successful.” [David Gasper, Reviewing the Brew]

And:

“DJ helped to develop an effective, if unrenowned, pitching staff at the start of the season that ended up at the 4th best ERA in the National League … Reports were that Johnson helped pitchers such as Chase Anderson and Zach Davies reach their full potential, and his tutelage aided Gio Gonzalez when he came to Milwaukee late last season. Certainly many pitchers, like Jhoulys Chacin, out-performed their expectations once they joined the Brewers.” [Ben Reagan, Brew Crew Ball]

You can find testimonials praising Johnson from just about any major league pitcher who has worked with him. If Johnson is this good, he’ll improve the Reds pitching across the board.

A few other thoughts about the hiring: 

1. It’s audacious. Here’s the relevant portion of the meeting transcript: “If we could get the one person we most want, regardless of how plausible it is, who would it be?” Then the Reds — the Cincinnati Reds — went out and did everything they could to bring that person in. Kudos for the front office for aiming high and bagging the target. Massive effectiveness. You wonder what role David Bell played in landing Johnson.

2. It’s an important precursor to acquiring starting pitching. Johnson’s presence could make the Reds a more desirable destination for free agent pitchers. It also brings in another outside big brain to help the Reds front office choose which pitchers to pursue. 

3. Johnson’s experience in the Brewers’ dugout will give the Reds vast insight into how an ultra-modern organization operates. This includes new deployment strategies for covering innings. Milwaukee was certainly at the forefront of that. It doesn’t get more cutting edge in thinking about how to win baseball games.

“No one in baseball who had watched the Brewers were surprised, given the Brewers’ willingness to explore innovative ideas. In large part, that confidence was afforded to them by 1) analytics and 2) their confidence in Johnson to handle the pitching.

When Johnson came to Milwaukee, he was seen as an outstanding developer and open-minded in game theory. People within the Brewers organization considered Johnson the glue that made the “opener” and a variety of outside-the-box moves stick together.” [Murphy, The Athletic]

Johnson can also provide ideas to the Reds analytics department for what metrics to study, what data to provide to pitchers, and what an extensive scouting report looks like. 

4. The Reds might be giving Johnson a broader portfolio to coordinate (dictate) minor league pitching instruction. That could have been a big selling point to Johnson. Before joining the Brewers, Johnson had been the minor league pitching coordinator for the Cubs for three years. Milwaukee’s GM David Stearns described the Reds offer to Johnson as a “unique opportunity” and too good to turn down. That might be just money, but given Dick Williams’ recent talk of aligning instruction in the organization top-to-bottom, giving Johnson control over that on the pitching side makes sense. I suspect we’ll hear about this in Johnson’s press conference, if there is one. 

5. It’s a pennies-on-the-dollar investment. Pitching coaches are cheap relative to starting pitchers. Even if the Reds are paying Johnson twice what he was being offered by Milwaukee, it’s a pittance compared to the budget for starting pitchers. If spending a million dollars extra gets the organization a better pitching coach, it’s a wise investment, several times over. 

6. Signing Johnson, who is 47, is another powerful move toward new voices in the Reds dugout, which the club signaled when they cut Jim Riggleman loose. 

7. Even better if Johnson comes as a package deal with Josh Hader … or Walker Buehler … yes?

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

Join the conversation! 61 Comments

  1. This is an excellent hire. I just ordered his 2013 book.

    He’s got some good, young raw material to work with: Mahle, Stephenson, Reed, Lorenzen, Castillo, etc. And we’ll see what he does with Homer Bailey.

    Guys have to want to be coached, but I suspect that they pretty much all will be pumped for spring training.

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  2. Johnson was outstanding when he was here as pitching coach at Vanderbilt. Coach Corbin heaped praises on him continually. It was actually a huge loss for Vanderbilt when he left.

    I’m really excited about this move. I think we will see marked improvement of the young pitchers because of this.

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  3. So far two pretty solid moves to start the off season. Keep on Keeping On.

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    • Agreed. Both hires have appeared to be really great fits that will address some crucial issues in the organization. It seems like Williams is finally taking the reigns full time. These aren’t Walt or Big Bob moves.

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  4. It’s truly shocking. While David Bell himself may not be a “rockstar” hire, Derek Johnson is about as close as you can get to a “rockstar” hire for a pitching coach.

    And the Reds…. The CINCINNATI REDS…. Got him to come ply his trade at GABP.

    I feel like I woke up in some bizarro world where the Reds are suddenly a “destination” team instead of a stepping-stone.

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  5. Is it too much to hope that even Homer Bailey might listen to him?

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    • Bailey lost his fight in my opinion. He doesn’t have the “Starter Stuff” anymore, especially in Great American Small Park. Put him in the bullpen and let him stew or release him and eat the contract.

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  6. Caveat – Do you think that Bob C will pinch pennies and not sign good pitching in the hopes that Johnson can work magic with the pitchers the Reds have already? Ugh.

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    • This thought occurred to me, too, but I’ll supress it until I see what they do this winter. Maybe this hiring is a harbinger (good chance to use that nice word) of good things on the horizon.

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    • Frankly I don’t really like too much of the free agent starting pitcher class

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  7. The Reds have really struggled to develop pitching. I commented on the other thread I do believe his role in the organization could be broader and deeper than most franchises assign to MLB pitching coaches. His college experience and pitching development background are unique . Perfect timing with Hunter Greene now apparently back on track.

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  8. De l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace!

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  9. ummmm????, I Seem to remember even our lowly redlegs scoring a ton of runs against the brewers over the past couple of years. but RLN seems to be happy about this, so I am happy! lol

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    • The Reds swept the Dodgers in LA, the Dodgers must not have been a good team

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      • Well, just saying if the reds hired Turner Ward as our new hitting coach would people be this excited? not sure? I Hope this Johnson guy is the bomb diggidee. Its just the Brewers are not the first team I think of when I think of great pitching. Just like the dodgers aren’t the first team I think of when it comes to good hitting.

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        • As others note, the Brewers were better than we’re used to. In any case, a coach can only do so much in the absence of good talent.

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        • Brewers’ NL Pitching ranks:

          ERA – 3.73 (4th behind DBacks, ahead of Braves)
          FIP – 4.01 (8th)
          xFIP – 4.04 (9th)

          Starters:

          ERA – 3.92 (7th)
          FIP – 4.32 (4th)
          xFIP – 4.44 (2nd)

          Not sure I’d call it pitching wizardry but looking at the starting pitching he had to work with, I think these are really nice numbers.

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  10. The Brewers were 4th in the league in ERA.Look at who he had and tell me our guys don’t have at least as good as or better stuff and we know they have better velocity.Brewer park is a hitters park as well.I love this hire and if we can improve to middle of the pack in pitching under this guy well what a great hire.

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  11. This also helps the Reds getting FA pitchers they might not have otherwise gotten but also allows the Reds to get pitchers DJ knows who respect him. Example. I was fortunate enough to attend a Vandy/Georgia Friday night SEC game in 2012. In D1, the series go ace Friday, #2 sat and #3 Sunday. That night, Vandy beat Georgia 1-0. I sat on the Georgia side by the bullpen during warm-ups and could not believe how good their pitcher was. Turns out it was Alex Wood. Maybe the Reds get Sonny Gray or Alex Wood or who knows.

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  12. Perhaps the Reds are going to trade for Sonny Gray, one of the better bounce-back options on the market. Sounds like Gray and DJ have a strong history.

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  13. I’m fascinated to see how much leeway he is given in designing the pitching protocols across all levels. Can’t wait to see how much the pitch selection/sequencing changes because that has been a major peeve of mine. He mentioned in an interview how he nor the catcher ‘calls’ the game, but rather that the pitcher is the ultimate decisionmaker because he has the authority to shake off signs. I never got the sense the Reds young pitchers had that independence. Lastly, if he can salvage Homer Bailey to the point where he’s even marginally useful as a swingman, they should erect a statue outside GABP.

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  14. A couple comments from a Brewer blog. ‘First Scooter, and now this.’ And ‘Cincinnati is not some terrible baseball town and has way more tradition than the Brewers; so let’s not trash the Reds just because we have had a couple better seasons.’

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  15. I am certainly a casual fan – I don’t know the coaches around MLB, college game, etc. But from what I’ve been reading on RLN, these are two very solid hires. If we look back through the past 4 years, the pitching has been the leading cause of the Reds’ horrible-ness.

    I’ve wondered many times why the pitching floundered under Coach Price – a former pitching coach. The only motivation seemed to be “send you back to the minors” if you didn’t perform at the ML level. It was almost it’s up to each pitcher to “figure it out” especially during the “spring training try-out!” Some did (Castillo) and some didn’t (Stephenson) and some were in the middle (Mahle).

    As the Williams/Krall era continues, I’m not entirely pleased with the pace of change, but it seems they are now getting some traction. Pitching appears to be the number one priority and it’s long overdue!

    Slowly the Reds are changing – and really for the first time since the rebuild started, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. When you combine some decent talent with a plan good things can happen.

    In addition, the release of the old coaching staff really sends a signal – it’s time for a change!

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  16. Nice to see more fresh blood in the Reds organization, but point #2 seems tenuous.

    If a pitcher worked with Johnson before…OK, maybe they consider his new location.
    Even then, the money and term are still major drivers in a decision.

    If the big off-season land is either 2019 Wade Miley (age 33, 1.5 WAR) or 2019 Gio Gonzalez (age 34, 2.0 WAR)…meh. Both had low HR/9 in 2018, but are hardly “ace” or front of rotation guys.

    Castellini would be selling (another) bill of goods to the fan base.

    Any of the perceived better FA SPs, with multiple suitors, almost certainly are going for the best deal.

    (IMO, the Reds have their Hader/Buehler, young power arm ready to emerge, in Mahle.)

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    • Get a load of the potential free agent list for starters this time next year. I think this is when they will go get that top of rotation starter. I think they will try for one this year but a mid-level type. Gio or Eovaldi will be as high as they aim this year, which isn’t bad. Trading low on Sonny Gray may be an option too. The Yankees have already said they are moving him and they won’t get a whole lot for him. But Gray is also on that FA list for next year too. I don’t know if they’ll trade for a SP with just one year left unless it is trading low on a rebound candidate like Gray.
      Next winter if I had my druthers, I would sign Zack Wheeler and Miles Mikolas, off of that list below.

      https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2018/08/2019-20-mlb-free-agents.html

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  17. This is a good start to what hopefully will be a very exciting offseason. It will be very interesting to see what pitchers the Reds will go after.
    I think the Reds will go after Sonny Gray. Beyond that, I see them going after 1 or 2 lefty starters from the group of Happ, Ryu, Gonzalez or Alex Wood.

    There are also two relief pitchers that I would like to see the Reds go after.
    Taylor Rogers (Twins) and Lou Trivino (A’s).
    Taylor Rogers (LH) IP-68 K-75 ERA – 2.63 WHIP- 0.95 Lou Trivino (RH) IP-74 K-82 ERA- 2.92 WHIP- 1.14

    If the Reds do go after Sonny Gray, maybe they can expand the trade to include Didi Gregorius. That would put Peraza or Senzel at 2B assuming Scooter is traded or moved to the outfield.

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  18. I’m willing to give the Reds a chance with the hires made thus far but I’m more interested in personal changes with the team itself. They need pitching plain and simple.

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  19. I really wanted the Reds to land Chacin last year, and the wonders Johnson worked with him gives me serious hope.

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  20. Kudos to the Reds front office on this one. Great hire. I agree with this being a broader hiring with broader responsibilities.
    This quote from Murphy at The Athletic in point #3 made me take notice, “People within the Brewers organization considered Johnson the glue that made the “opener” and a variety of outside-the-box moves stick together.”
    Ah, the “Opener”. Could this be a new strategy to deploy all through the minors system? This looks like it is going to shape up to be a philosophy of the major league team. With guys like Bailey and Stephenson, and maybe even Rookie Davis and Brandon Finnegan, this could be the way recoup some value from those pitchers. New roles for these guys. Romano and Lorenzen probably stay near the back of the pen. Both could be starters, openers, or at the back end of the pen though.
    I think the Reds will look to have 3 traditional starters and might try to deploy this opener at the #4 and #5 slots in the rotation. You can drop the #5 openers from time to time when the schedule dictates it (off days) and can absorb them back into the regular bullpen role until their #5 slot comes up again. This can keep everyone on a regular 5 day rotation. With more off days scheduled now and with a 5 man rotation, sometimes those off days create an extra day in between starts that might mess with the big guns at the front of the rotation.
    I believe we will see some Opener usage this coming season, especially in April. This is going to be very interesting to watch unfold.
    Good job by the Reds front office. Very positive move.

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  21. ? can he get the young Reds pitchers to pitch strikes, w/o putting it over the middle of the plate. Also, maybe we’ll start drafting pitchers and not throwers.

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  22. The hiring of Johnson was tremendous. Very encouraged by this. Hope the Reds have a press conference for this guy and yes, Homer better listen to him.

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  23. Reds announced some roster moves. “Claim RHP Matt Bowman from Cardinals. Dilson Herrera, Mason Williams clear waivers, outrighted to AAA. They lost Austin Brice (Angels), Brandon Dixon (Tigers) on waivers claims.”

    If the Reds do not keep hitting coach Don Long, it will be interesting to see if they aim this high for a new hitting coach. There have been several hitting coaches hired recently with several moving to other teams or not being re-hired. Chili Davis and Edgar Martinez lost their HC jobs recently. And Mark McGwire didn’t sign back up with SD to “be home with his family more”. He lives on the west coast, he has 4 kids and may have really not re-signed to spend more time at home. But what if the Reds presented an opportunity to him that is kind of similar to Johnson? Could they entice him away too? Who better to teach Reds hitters hitting big boppers than Big Red himself, aka Big Mac. He was Big Red when he was a rookie and had that red hair, before he was Big Mac. I am fairly partial to keep Long, but if he is not retained, maybe they can order up a Big Mac.
    Holy cow, and if Mike Matheny is going to become the bench coach, Jocketty’s heart might skip a few beats with these ex-Cards in the house. He’ll need a pacemaker.

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    • I’m surprised no one claimed Herrera

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      • For me, I’m surprised that nobody claimed Herrera but that Dixon was claimed. I’d much rather have Herrera. Perhaps Dixon’s versatility and the fact that Herrera has really only played 2B/3B explains why it worked out as it did.

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  24. I think they should spend the $20 million or so to move the fences back 20 feet, and raise the outfield wall.

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    • Not a bad idea. Why is GABP designed this way anyway…is it constrained by location or done on purpose? This season, the Reds gave up 135 HRs in GABP but only hit 98. In 2016 they gave up 140 while only hitting 88. Others years have been more balanced, but still…

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      • Junior Griffey came to the Reds in 2000 and GABP opened in 2003, so I doubt it was designed for him. The Bengals were given the better location because Brown threatened to move them to Baltimore at the time. The football location would have given the ballpark a real good view of the skyline. I favored Broadway Commons where the Casino is now. That location would have allowed a spacious outfield with a view of Mt. Adams. Such is history.

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        • What is it with Ohio football teams moving to Charm City? What’s next? The Baltimore Buckeyes? I always suspect that GABP was designed to be homer-friendly because the thinking was that fans like homers. The Reds have usually been perceived as a team that could hit them, so the strategy back-firing wasn’t considered.

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    • Home runs are like beer. One is fun. Two are better. Twelve just make a mess and ruins the game. Back in my youth my least favorite player was Dave Kingman. Big guy. Bigger swing. Lots of strike outs and homers. A one tool player. Sounds like he would fit perfectly in todays game. Dave Kingman ball was boring ball. Lets move the wall back.

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      • Twelve beers ruins the game? What? I agree with you about Kingman and the kind of game he represents, and I also think that we are currently nearing the top of this particular pendulum swing. Somebody is going to figure out a way(s) to counteract uppercut-all-or-nothing hitting and that will become the new trend until somebody figures out a way to counteract that. We’ve seen eras of tremendous power hitting before. Baseball might not raise the mound this time, but some smart pitching coach is going to get his charges to pitch differently.

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  25. The Dodgers made a qualifying offer to Yasmani Grandal, meaning they’re willing to pay him $18 million next season. It’s going to take a lot of creative work in other areas–like identifying and investing in a smarter organizational approach to pitching development–to overcome the crazy economic imbalances in today’s game and enjoy any kind of sustained success.

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    • @EricTheRed

      Spot on.

      I heard during a playoff broadcast that the Dodgers bench in one game had 130 regular season HRs in total. The Reds, as a team, hit 173 HRs for the entire season.

      The Johnson hire as pitching coach would seem to fit your theory…identify which arms in the Reds organization can be salvaged and utilized as cost-controlled “out getters.”

      Big Bob will sign some 2 WAR over-30 year old FA SP and proclaim “we can contend.”
      Sure.(/s)

      Hopefully…Williams/Krall/Bell etc. are looking 3-5 years out, when the recent draftees in the pipeline have matured and given them a plethora of talent to compete and trade surplus.

      That (sadly) is how small market teams have to do it in MLB.

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      • DJ was interviewed last night and didn’t run away from GAPB. He said it’s a hitters park. The 2 ways to address are miss more bats and get more ground balls .

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  26. I’ve been in favor of moving the fences back for a couple of years. 1 person made the argument that they,(Reds), would never do it because of all the electrical lines that would have to be rerouted, & of course the cost. But, IMO, it’s a no brainer. Cincy’s Pitching staff has given up a boatload of HR over the past 4 seasons. I think if they’d push’em back, then the younger guys would pitch with a lot more confidence. Move the fences back, get new uniforms; it’s a new day in Cincinnati! The losing stops now!!! Go Reds!!!!!

    Reply
    • Its more than electrical lines that need moved. It would be a significant undertaking and extremely costly. All the electrical, plumbing, and structural support would need relocated along with anything else between the outfield wall and the tunnels, potentially causing the tunnel to be moved leading to even more significant changes. I don’t have expertise in the engineering of structures, but I am confident it would be extremely expensive. The other team also has to pitch there so it is not like he Reds can’t also take advantage of of the dimensions on offense.

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      • It’s true, certainly, that both teams have to deal with GABP, but the Reds are dealing with it 81 games a year. It seems possible that this has an adverse impact on the development of young pitchers and encourages lack of balance in team construction. I know the trend across baseball is toward K’s, walks and homers, and won’t bring up again that 3 outs per half inning must still be recorded (well, I guess I did it anyway), but a team that goes on the road with shell-shocked pitchers and hitters who are accustomed to warning-track flies going into the first or second row of seats could be at a disadvantage half the season. But, as you say, it would be hugely expensive. People have mentioned making the fences higher, and that might help, but it also might skew the game in a different way. You don’t have to watch too many games in Fenway to see doubles, triples and line-drive homers bounce off of the green monster for singles, followed by a towering but short fly ball that sails over the fence. Reading back over this, I seem to be saying that it’s hopeless, so I’ll stop here.

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        • It is possible, but it is also possible it doesn’t. The 2012 pitching staff had to pitch in GABP for 81 games and did just fine. That rotation minus Latos was developed by the Reds

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          • Good point. This seems to point to the unsurprising conclusion that good pitchers are better than bad pitchers, regardless of circumstance.

  27. The other teams have a significant advantage, at this time, because our pitching has been historically bad. Seems to me like the Reds are exposing their weaknesses to the other team. I’d like to see them try to minimize their weaknesses, & potentially create a home field advantage. Just my opinion.

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  28. Some interesting information below. GABP is the fifth smallest park in terms of fair territory acerage, but not that much smaller than average (less than .1 acre smaller). In fact most parks are within .1 acre + or -. There are 3 parks greater and 3 parks less than .1 acre of average. In terms of wall height, GABP seems about normal too, if not relatively boring. Of course there are some interesting outliers. I would think smaller fields would reduce base hits, higher wall would reduce home runs. The below data does not show power ally dimensions, nor weather/microclimate impacts.

    https://www.businessinsider.com/chart-major-league-baseball-ballpark-sizes-2014-3

    http://thumbnails.visually.netdna-cdn.com/baseballs-many-physical-dimensions_53344ca673751.png

    Reply
    • So five ML parks have less outfield acreage than GABP (Boston, ChiC, Philly, Cleveland and Houston). In the thirties when Redland Field’s seating capacity was expanded and one of the largest outfields in MLB became one of the smallest, a terrace at the outfield wall was added to renamed Crosley Field. That was a problem for the opposing outfielders dealing with the terrace. Maybe a terrace would cut down opposing homeruns at GABP.

      Reply
  29. The Reds should seek pitchers in trade, but Senzel, Greene and Trammell should not be included. The Reds have other prospects and young major leaguers that can be included in deals. Why can the Astros cut deals for pitching without including their Top prospects and still get effective arms?

    Reply

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About Steve Mancuso

Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.

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