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 Many of the principals on which the team has been run by over the years have been based on outdated ways of thinking: bunting runners over into scoring position, having speed be the main factor when deciding on a leadoff hitter, and not using data to set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.