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]
“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]
“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.