David Bell is in a tough spot. He’s trying to bridge the gap between a franchise and a fan base stuck in an old school way of thinking and a new modern analytical approach to baseball. Whether he likes it or not, David Bell is playing the role of Cincinnati Renaissance Man. He’s the face of new age baseball in Cincinnati. Some fans get it, others don’t.

The Reds were down 4-3 in the 9th inning against the Brewers last week. Curt Casali led off the bottom of the inning with a double. The next three batters followed without attempting to bunt. Scott Schebler struck out swinging, Joey Votto lined out, and Yasiel Puig popped out. David Bell defended the call by basically saying that he wanted three chances to hit the run in from second and to not give away an out by bunting. He also explained how hard it is to actually get a good bunt down off of Brewers stud closer Josh Hader.

Anthony DeSclafani was cruising. He had given up 1 run and 3 hits through 5 innings in a different game against the Brewers last week. He was pulled in the top of the 6th inning after 89 pitches. Many assume he was pulled because “new age” thinking believes that a pitcher is far more susceptible when the opposing lineup turns over for the third time in a game. He’s not wrong. There’s a substantial amount of data that shows pitchers do indeed struggle after their second time through the lineup, Anthony DeSclafani included.

Depending on whether or not you agree with the calls by the manager in the above scenarios, one thing is certain: it’s different. Fans of the Reds have been conditioned to a certain managerial and organizational style for some time now. Many of the principals on which the team has been run by over the years have been based on outdated ways of thinking: bunting runners over into scoring position, having speed be the main factor when deciding on a leadoff hitter, and not using data to set defensive shifts or to provide insight into pitching matchups. David Bell’s approach, and many of his decisions, is a deviation from what many Reds fans consider the norm.

There have been times this season where even I have questioned some of David Bell’s decisions. The decision to not bunt Curt Casali over in the above scenario was just one of them (this coming from a guy who hates bunting). It’s been challenging, confusing, and even hard to justify this organizations new approach to managing the game when compared to their abysmal start. Many of us thought that playing the analytics game and a different style of baseball would yield an immediate result, that’s rarely the case.

David Bell’s approach (and all analytical approaches for that matter) is not flawless. There will be instances when a hitter who hits the ball 90% of the time to right field ends up hitting it to left field away from a shift. This doesn’t mean that David Bell is wrong for doing what he does. It means that baseball is baseball and at the end of the day analytics and playing the trends can only take you so far.

It’s OK to question David Bell and his decisions, but it’s also important for us fans to gain an understanding of why this club operates the way that it does now. Instead of blindly criticizing David Bell for pulling Anthony DeSclafani in the 5th inning, maybe it’s worth acknowledging his reasoning (and the factual data) behind it. If you then still don’t agree with the call, it’s completely fair.

The start of this season has been different in many regards, but how David Bell operates his team has been the most apparent of them all. It’s a change and change can be challenging to accept and to understand at times. It’s important to not judge David Bell’s system and how he runs a team based on the first 10 games of the season. A negative, knee jerk reaction by fans to a manager and an organization committed to a modern approach to baseball would be devastating.

28 Responses

  1. Ga_Reds_Fan

    Understand completely the reasoning for pulling Disco when he did, don’t understand if Lorenzon was available to pitch the 6th, which he came in to relieve Duke, why waste Kemp in the 5th versus having Lorenzon PH and start a clean inning.

  2. PhoenixPhil

    I’ve been fine with Bell’s calls so far. Statistics are just that, sometimes it doesn’t work.

    Has anyone from the infield played in the outfield (4 man outfield) other than Peraza? Would you do the same with Iglasias and Dietrich (or even Gennet)?

    • ToBeDetermined

      Phoenix
      “I’ve been fine with Bell’s calls so far. Statistics are just that, sometimes it doesn’t work.”
      Thumbs up. If you consistently play the odds and your odds are in your favor for the decision you are making. Over enough permutations you will end up ahead.

      What’s important is 3 things:
      1) truly identifying what is the best odds in a particular situation
      2) consistently making that choice for the best odds
      3) those that are affected by your choices continue to buy into the methodology

  3. matthew hendley

    The Problem is that as the manager, he is responsible for everything that does and does not happen under his management. a 1-8 start (last night he wasn’t managing) does not give him good ground to stand on.

    • Seat101

      Really? The team he put together with the lineup he made?

      You’re just looking for reasons… And not finding good ones

    • Jeff Gangloff

      And that’s really not a fair way to look at things.

      • matthew hendley

        well looks like both of you failed leadership 101. Lets be clear, if David Bell was not making the lineups that information would have leaked out by now. Injuries aside and contract issues aside, David Bell also had a significant say in which players were kept up and which were not. As a rookie manager he has no past management results to fall back on. So therefore, his current 1-8 record is what he is being judged on. please explain again how it isn’t fair?

      • Matt WI

        I think maybe you are talking about the difference between “can” and “should”…. we “can” blame Bell for the slow start because “he’s the boss and results are the only thing that matter.” That doesn’t mean we “should.” I think most people looking at this with a fair and reasonable eye see the slow start as a blip if lack of execution by the players. Just as easy to blame the GM. Made a lot of changes, swung and missed. Fire them all, get new ownership while we’re at it.

        If you stay in management 101 thinking, sure, just take the low hanging fruit of the record and blame away. But that’s a very, very simplistic view. Talk about a toxic culture that will limit growth and creativity to thrive. I want advanced leadership thinking. I think real leadership is a willingness to nurture the best results and be especially avoidant of knee jerk reaction to change. Give people the time to demonstrate their skills. What person in their right mind would want to work for an organization if they are judged incompetent after 9 games into a three year contract (9 games of 486!)? Don’t mistake that with lack of accountability. There’s room for both.

        Wanting to win is fine. I wish the Reds weren’t struggling. But the belief that it’s just “wanting it” and “demanding it” is so simplistic as to defy belief. You are entitled to judge him on 9 games. I disagree that making any pronouncement about that, good or bad, is fair or reasonable.

      • matthew hendley

        again as I commented below, I don’t Judge him on 9 games because of kneejerk reactions, or someother short term reason. I judge him on 9 games cause that is all there is. Ask the question again in 2 months and I will probably have a different answer. Or we will be 3 and 60, and that will be that.

      • Matt WI

        Why stop at a game by game basis of judging someone? Let’s judge Mike Trout at-bat by at-bat. Even if he hits .300 we’d have 70% of the data saying he sucks. But hey, I liked him for those 30 times he hit a homerun. Jeesh.

      • greenmtred

        I understand your point, Matthew, but the futility seems driven by very unexpectedly poor performances by most of the key players. Few of us would have predicted this, and lineup juggling and pitching changes could do little to hide the lack of hitting. When- if- the hitters start doing what the backs of their baseball cards say they will, Bell’s decisions will look much better.

    • Jeff Gangloff

      I’m just going to go ahead and not judge a guy based on a 9 game sample size.

      • Daytonnati

        Yeah, I mean it is like saying, based on current facts, Derek Dietrich should be batting clean-up?

      • matthew hendley

        Immaterial, I cannot judge him on the quality of games that have yet to take place. If he goes on a winning streak, my opinion will change. I am working with what I have.

      • matthew hendley

        as far as deitrich batting cleanup, well………..there are worse ideas…….. better ones too

    • Phil

      On Wednesday April 3rd with the game in Cincinnati, David Bells lineup had Jesse Winker leading off and playing right-field against a right-handed starting pitcher. Winker went 0-4 with a strike out.

      On Tuesday April 9th with the game in Cincinnati, Freddy Benavede’s lineup has Jesse Winker leading off and playing right-field against a right-handed starting pitcher. Winker went 2-5 with a home run and 3 RBI.

      Same lineup decision made in very similar game situations, with very different results.

      In previous seasons the decision was made many times to have Billy Hamilton hit lead off. I bet you could look back and find a stretch of 10 games where Hamilton played well and that decision worked out. That doesn’t mean it was the right decision.

      If Bell has made mostly intelligent decisions, putting the team in the best possible position to win, but the results just haven’t been there you can’t really blame it on him.

  4. Ghettotrout1

    I was actually most confused when Jesse Winker was set to come up in the ninth and he put in Kyle Farmer to pinch hit I believe it was the second game the Reds played against the Brewers. I realize that he was going to face Hader but I don’t really care give me lefty vs lefty with Winker there over Kyle Farmer. I also was confused about not bunting over Casali. You can score from third with a passed ball or sac fly. Which if I’m not mistaken Votto ended up hitting a deep fly ball that would have scored Casali. Oh well you could argue over this stuff all day. I just wish there was a hybrid approach to the game not just totally analytical.

  5. TR

    It’s way too early to judge the performance of David Bell after the first ten days of the season, but the start of the season followed what seemed to me to be an uninspired spring training. And the finishes of the last five years add to the anxiety caused by the 1-8 record. Concern is understandable, but I think Bell will get the Reds on track to at least a .500 season.

  6. jreis

    Good article and Topic Jeff. I am confident Bell will become a great line up constructor, pitcher changer and defensive shifter. the question I have is, is he the one to change the culture of malaise and laziness that has plagued this reds team for 6 years running? so far there have been signs that he may have the guts to do it. When he lead the pirates brawl, I nearly shed a tear. This team may actually have a pulse!

    There are many bad habits that he has to break for this team to be competitive again. Last night, great example. 1-26 Jessie Winker hits a fly ball to left. Then proceeds to star gaze and jog down the first base line. Yes the ball cleared the wall but barely. Then Scott Schebler takes a 3 step lead off third when the third baseman is standing 50 feet off third base with the shift. I hope he can really change the culture and make our reds a fundamentally sound team before our young future stars like Trammel and Senzel get up to the big leagues.

  7. WVRedlegs

    Any coincidence that the Reds break out of their horrible offensive slump the same night David Bell is not in the dugout serving his 1 game suspension?

    • Matt WI

      C’mon. You think the players are like, “Yes! The new guy is gone, let’s go kick some #$#% now!” ???? They all sink and swim together. You think if they can win a WS title with their talents they would hold back because they don’t like their manager?

    • Omrider

      It had a lot more to do with Marlins pitching than anything else.

    • WVRedlegs

      I don’t know. David Bell returns to the dugout and the Reds bats go back into silent mode. One hit.
      Coincidence?

  8. Mary Beth Ellis

    Hey guys, did anything happen while I was at dinner?

  9. Scott C

    Good article Jeff, I think you are right on the money in your analysis. I shake my head at some of the comments by those who seemingly hate Bell because.. well actually I don’t think they can really find a reason. He may end up being a real dud as amanager or may be the best manager since Sparky but it is way too early to tell. I wish that every decision I made in my job worked out but they don’t. I certainly like the idea of less bunting.

  10. greenmtred

    Have the commenting guidelines changed? I’ve made three innocuous comments today. All were held for evaluation and, ultimately, taken down. No profanity. No ad hominem attacks. Cheerful, really. Is that the problem?