The dismissal of Billy Hatcher left me saddened and curious at the same time. So many times in the past, the Reds operated with what felt like a too too solid sense of sentimentality. Hiring legend Tony Perez to manage in 1993; holding on to Jay Bruce too long, hoping Affable Jay would finally fulfill the promise that seemed a given when he broke in to the majors in 2008 with a bang; the inability to part with Johnny Beisbol, when he clearly was intent on testing the free agent waters, but still had considerable trade value. The Reds have always seemed like an organization that valued relationships over the cold, hard baseball bottom line. On Sunday night, the Hatcher news, along with the sudden firing of Turner Ward, left me off-kilter. Animals became scarce here in New Jersey as if they knew something. The shakeup was a P-wave signaling a much larger S-wave that was about to rock baseball.

So, understandably, it moved baseball’s seismic needles when the Reds announced that Driveline Baseball founder Kyle Boddy, along with Derek Johnson, will be taking over development of the Reds’ minor league pitching system.

“The direction the Reds are going blew me away.”

Now, there’s a loaded sentence, one worthy to pause upon. We, as fans, don’t often get a real look behind the veil of Reds’ operations and philosophy. In one tweet, Boddy had pulled back that veil and flung us down the rabbit hole.

As details emerge, it’s pretty clear this is about much more than Trevor Bauer. But we should start there. I’m pretty certain someone at the tippy-top of the Reds’ organizational chart has read Ben Lindbergh & Travis Sawchik’s The MVP Machine, a treatise on the lost art of baseball development, first employed by Branch Rickey, only to be forgotten, as baseball focused on finding prepackaged 5-tool talent, only to stand back and passively watch and wait for them to “grow.” Among the many fun and incisive anecdotes in the book is the fateful meeting of Bauer and Boddy at the Texas Baseball Ranch, where Warren Bauer took his son in search of the techniques that would exploit his work ethic and unlock his future as a baseball player.

The trade for Bauer left me confused as to what direction the Reds are heading. Had they simply given up on Taylor Trammell? Were they aiming flip Bauer, to parlay a few good August and September starts and restock the farm system following the departures of Josiah Gray, Jeter Downs and Shed Long? No matter what they think they can get out of Bauer in 2020, he’s only signed for one year. And it would be foolish to assume he’d be willing to stay. Iconoclastic and uninterested in long-term contracts, the young man from Santa Clarita, California seems on the face to be risky bet for the Reds.

Drafted #3 by Jerry Dipoto when he was Vice President of Scouting and Player Development with the Diamondbacks, things got off to a rocky beginning. As detailed in Lindbergh and Sawchik’s book, a miscommunication with veteran Miguel Montero over how his battery-mate should catch him illustrates just one of the episodes that soured his relationship with his teammates. Following the exit of Dipoto—his biggest believer, his metaphorical rabbi—who left to become the GM of the Angels, who was in Bauers’ corner? Certainly not an old school guy like Kevin Towers.

An interesting thing about the Reds hiring of Boddy is that the Cleveland Indians were looking to do something similar when they traded for Bauer. Looking to bring a fresh approach to their player development, the Indians thought Bauer would be the just the guy to carry the analytical flag, to bring a new outlook to training and cutting-edge ideas to the development of players throughout the Indians’ system. Whereas the Diamondbacks wanted no part of young Bauer’s alternative thinking, the kind that subverts traditional baseball culture, the Indians were eager to give it a shot. If Bauer was an outsider in the Arizona desert, he could be a pied piper on the banks of Lake Erie.

Let the Kids Play???  Let the Kids Be!

Now, the Reds will not only try to do the same thing with Boddy, they’ll look to take it several steps further. Boddy—and Derek Johnson—will have full control over the science experiment they hope will transform the Reds’ minor leagues.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. I recall being shocked at the graphic below this spring. How many fans knew the Reds were already among the leaders in baseball ops analysts?

Dick Williams has been steadily, if quietly, moving in this direction since he took the reins. With this latest stunning hire, it should finally put to bed the notion that Walt Jocketty is behind the curtain playing Edgar Bergen to Williams’ Charlie McCarthy. This is Williams’ baby and in quiet moments around his house he might be paraphrasing iconic WLW radio jock Gary Burbank: “We don’t, we don’t, we don’t mess around.”

To be sure, it seems as if what happened in the minors shook the Reds as much or more than the failing offense and the one-run losses. While all eyes were on Trammell and his lack of development in double-A, I have to believe it was the stalled development of players like Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Tony Santillan, and others that may have accelerated the analytical push to light speed. Add to that the fact that Hunter Greene is about to emerge from his Tommy John cocoon and needs careful handling, and I believe the urgency was finally there to make sure the lower levels began producing results, instead of relying on trades and bargain free agent signings to build a durable pitching staff, one that can compete in the post-season. It will be a challenge.

While it has been common knowledge that the Reds have had little success developing pitching, the fact remains that few organizations do—at least reliably. By the middle of 2108, the Chicago Cubs had gotten a grand total of 30 homegrown pitching innings in the Theo Epstein Era. The Yankees max out their credit card for hurlers, the affirmative answer to “What’s in your wallet?”

Williams is intent on taking the Reds’ minor leagues, which has for too long been an un-weeded garden, and transforming it into a developmental hothouse, a place where Hunter Greene, Tony Santillan and Nick Lodolo, among others, can flower. Instead of restocking the minors, growing the minors may be the answer.

That, and spending more $$$.

32 Responses

  1. AirborneJayJay

    Very nice point of view. I do think the Reds regret trading Josiah Gray now with what they have set up. Nonetheless ad you point out they still have Greene, Lodolo and Santillan to spearhead this project. I also like Tejay Antone at AAA. He also could thrive in this new development plan.
    With the Boddy hiring, it makes me think how this will influence the next draft. At #12 overall next year, it is a good spot to still pick up a good college starting pitching prospect to give Boddy another top pitcher to begin work with. And will he influence the type of pitching prospects they target in the draft? I would have to think yes.
    Nice article.

    • DAVID F. HERRMANN

      The will concentrate on drafting pitching. They usually do. That and a center fielder if they move Senzel back to infield if Iglesias doesn’t resign

  2. Shchi Cossack

    This has been the Old Cossack’s take on the current state of the Reds Baseball Operations, after the failed effort to juice the major league roster and compete in 2019. I still fervently believe that the effort to obtain short-term major league talent and salary relief in the LA trade at the expense of some minor league talent, proved a justified and worthy effort despite the abject failure of the effort.

    Now the Reds organization is going all-in on completely revamping the Baseball Operations Organization from start to finish and I applaud the effort. Anyone listening carefully to the organizational announcements over the past three years was already aware of the intent and the escalating efforts to finally get ahead of the curve. The 2019-2020 off season represents the final major moves in that direction.

    Dick Williams was left with a broken and barren organization when he inherited the reins under the Jocketty’s tutelage in 2015. William’s situation differed dramatically from the well-stocked juggernaut Jocketty inherited when he was hired in 2008. The Castellini/Jocketty management then proceeded to leave a Baseball Operations Organization in smoldering ruins with nothing to show for their efforts when Williams was promoted in 2016 with full autonomy(?) to run the Reds Baseball Operations Organization with Jocketty moved to Executive Advisor to Castellini.

    Williams has now placed his reputation squarely on the line with his personal commitment to winning and competitiveness in 2020. Williams has ‘HIS’ Baseball Operations Organization in place for an extended run beyond 2020, something the Castellini/Jocketty Baseball Operations Organization never intended nor envisioned.

    In order to accomplish both goals, winning in 2020 and creating a long-term competitive organization, Williams and Krall must now spend more $$$, but spend it wisely. To make up for the shambles inherited in 2016, the $$$ committed to winning in 2020 must be significant, but the risk/reward must also be seriously considered. What an important and interesting offseason is unfolding before us! Like many of the few frustrated, diehard fans remaining, the Old Cossack has imbued his support with a staunch Missouri caveat…SHOW ME!!!

  3. Brackiss

    What are the Reds chances of bringing back scooter for depth and a shot at a rebound year?

    • BK

      I think it’s a great idea under the right conditions: minor league contract, understanding his initial role would be as a backup. While I don’t want to see him reacquired with the idea that Scooter would be a major cog in the lineup, I could see him having a bounce-back year in 2020. Another player I like (provided the Brewers nontender) is Travis Shaw. Both would be worth a minor league contract.

  4. Reaganspad

    I really believe that this step is all about Trevor Bauer. I think that Derek is the pitcher whisperer, and that Bauer will have a Sonny Gray 2020 breakout.

    But this investment is about Bauer in 2021, coming off a Cy Young season with the Reds and winning 24 games, he resigns a one year contract for 2021 with the Reds because he is bought in to the direction of this franchise.

    To quote Bauer in November 2020 after taking the Reds deep into the playoffs, “dang, I am going to have to learn how to hit after all, because I just love the direction of the coaches, front office and back office analytics. The Reds have to sign me a private hitting instructor for 2021!”

  5. RedNat

    thank you Richard. I think a lot is riding on this Bauer guy. if we had just held steady and not traded for him we would have had Suarez/Aquino/Puig as our 3/4/5 hitters for August and September. I think things would have been a lot more interesting down the stretch.

    • earmbrister

      Puig needed to be traded in order to get Aquino regular at bats in MLB.

      I’m still of the belief that Bauer will turn the corner this off season and give the Reds a dominant starting rotation.

      • Ed

        Nah, with Winker and Senzel injured Aquino would’ve come up anyway. Puig would’ve meant less O’Grady. Plus fewer throwaway games with Bauer and Wood and Gausman pitching garbage.

        I have very little faith Bauer is going to bounce back anywhere close to his hype- and watching Strasburg, Cole, Verlander pitch fire in the playoffs reminds me that Bauer has self-sabotaged over and over again.

  6. Curt

    “holding on to Jay Bruce too long”,

    “the inability to part with Johnny Beisbol, when he clearly was intent on testing the free agent waters, but still had considerable trade value.”

    The list could go on..

    I wonder if they’ll make the same mistake with Eugenio Suarez, who’s value now is likely the highest it will ever be. You could take a big step forward in balancing the line-up, spreading the production around etc. by moving him now, before another year of that “team friendly” contract evaporates, before the HR’s start to fall off but the strikeouts don’t.
    Or in three years will we be saying “they should’ve traded him then” like so many times before?
    I guess we shall see.

    • TR

      I’m with you regarding Suarez. He’s had a great season and is at his peak. Suarez could bring a real haul including a centerfielder and/or a starting pitcher. As Richard points out, too often, over the years, the Reds modus vivendi has been centered on sentimentality resulting in inaction. Such a move would also return Senzel to the infield at third base.

    • earmbrister

      Curt, I gotta disagree. Suarez will be playing his age 28 season next year. He’s in his prime, and has a team friendly contract. Remove Suarez and you have a hole in the middle of the lineup. A big hole, with no replacement in sight. Yeah, the lineup would be more “balanced”: balanced with mediocrity.

      Find a player or two up the middle. Grandal would be a HUGE addition.

      • Sean D

        I agree, there’s no reason to trade Suarez unless your getting someone like Lindor or maybe even more just because of that team friendly contract. Losing him is losing your main offensive producer and while I think Senzel is going to have a great year next year, it’s hard to rely on him being that especially with his struggles in the august. We all love Eugenio

      • Lockersocks79

        Completely agree with earmbrister.

        -Suarez is signed through age 33 for approximately $9.4 /year. It doesn’t get much better than that for the reds.

        -trading him doesn’t guarantee getting prospects that replace his value for the duration of his contract.

        I just don’t get the mentality that everyone should be flipped. There’s an art to building a team and part of it is knowing what to keep and what to flip. Suarez is a rare case of a perfect contract for the Reds with a player who is near the top of his class for 3rd basemen!

      • BK

        Exactly, the Reds have “high floor” candidates all over the field. The Reds need to add to Suarez, not subtract. While any player should be available under the right scenario, it’s hard to seeing the Reds finding a match in trade for Suarez that makes them better in 2020.

  7. Randy Peterson

    Interesting, that the only team on the leaders list not to make the playoffs was the Reds.

    • Eric

      Ya gotta start somewhere. But…even before that…ya gotta start!

      Looks like they’ve started.

      • Matt WI

        Right. My guess is that the Reds are newly minted in that upper tier, whereas those other teams have been a little more established. But a good sign.

  8. Still a Red

    I wondered about that Boddy statement too. Bringing him in I think goes way beyond just trying to interest Bauer into staying with the Reds. I think it does indicate a strategy of amping up player development (hopefully not just pitching which clearly has been failing, but hitting/offense as well). But if so, turning the ship around will take a few years and continued support by all the owners. 2020 and probably 2021 will have to rely on what we got now.

  9. Still a Red

    This push for improving player development has to include picking the right recruits too. Look at the Cardinals, or the Steelers, or the Patriots who seem to perform well year after year by replenishing their talent (yes with some FAs but also with draft picks). I think they do it with a well defined strategy of the type of offense/defense they are employing and knowing the kind of new player that can fit into that strategy.

  10. Big Ed

    Richard, do we know exactly how the study counted “baseball operations analysts”? I ask because Billy Beane’s Athletics – the first true “analytics” franchise – is listed as 29th, and I doubt that the A’s are really behind the curve on this. Do some teams actually contract out some of the analytics functions, rather than use their own employees?

    Still, the top 4 teams listed there appear to be the Final Four this season, plus the Rays do the most with the least.

    The Reds entire new approach to developing pitching is a great sign. I have long thought that player development in general (but especially the Reds’) was haphazard and mostly luck-based. It was a variation of rolling the basketballs out to whomever you recruited. A lot of data could be generated to do a better job scouting and developing hitters, such as identifying early on which prospects have the best chance at getting better. Everybody else is going to do it, and the Reds can’t afford to be late to the dance on this.

    • Richard Fitch

      Ed, here’s what the authors said:

      “There are caveats here, most of which stem from the fact that teams are becoming increasingly protective of this sort of information.

      “I can’t tell you how many R&D people we have because that number is, itself, proprietary,” one front office official said.

      We did our best, however, and got two or more sources for most of the numbers above. There is still room for error: some teams consider their software developers to be part of the analytics staff, and some don’t. Some teams counted consultants, and some didn’t. Even as we tried to limit it to just R&D employees, decisions had to be made on a team-by-team basis.

      Still, as far as we can tell, the Yankees have the most analysts in baseball. That sentiment was shared by most respondents — often unprompted.”

      I, too, was somewhat surprised the A’s rank so low. They have really small budget for whatever reasons, so maybe that has something to do with it? Then again, Moneyball was about finding undervalued assets, while what is going on today with development is about turning the coal you’ve already mined into diamonds. Maybe the A’s haven’t made that leap yet? I don’t know.

      As Doug has said, the Reds have availed themselves of Driveline people before. I’m not sure if that constitutes outsourcing, tho. Baseball people are pretty secretive about what they do, understandably.

  11. Optimist

    1 – Clearly the FO under DW is willing to spend big on non-playing personnel. Certainly cheaper than player contracts and FAs, but still a new direction for the franchise from the past few decades. Also, a much better investment, and actually the only true long-term or permanent investment they can make affecting on field performance.

    2 – That said, they shouldn’t go “all-in” for 2020 as far as FA signings. They need one, at a minimum, to move forward from this year, but they still need next year to sort out which of the controlled younger players can perform. Adding multiple FAs simply garbles and postpones that. Have we seen the best of Winker/Senzel/JVM/Aquino, or enough to determine their long term value? Don’t know.

  12. lost11found

    Being in the lower end of the upper third/qua of number of analysts feels about right. If you have too many cooks in the kitchen then it just becomes organizational bloat.

  13. Indy Red Man

    Moneyball was a great movie, but Hollywood being Hollywood they focused on some solid obp hitters instead of the glue of the team which was Zito, Mulder, and Hudson.
    Thats what the Reds are trying to do with Castillo, Gray, Bauer, and Disco.

    I know Bauer struggled, but I think he’ll rebound well. Its all about the hitting….and baserunning. I think thats what finished the Cubs this year. They’d hit a double off the wall with 2 outs and Zobrist or Schwarber could barely make 3rd. The Reds low obp and station to station baserunning just killed them this year. I don’t how much they can fix in one offseason, but hopefully they’ll make an effort?

    Side note…..really proud of Adam Duvall! Its a shame the Reds couldn’t have kept him around in a Ervin type of role. He’s had the key hits for Atlanta and also threw the go-ahead run out at the plate in Game 1. Hope Adam & Billy get a ring…or atleast beat the WLBs

  14. Ed

    I’m guessing Reds’ll pick up Josh Tomlin because of the driveline connection. Maybe.

  15. Mary Beth Ellis

    Thanks for this– interesting research, especially “Animals became scarce here in New Jersey as if they knew something. “

  16. scotly50

    The Reds investing in their organization because they are wanting to increase productivity is an age old tactic. Is this a shift in culture or a just an attempt maximize current assets without truly committing to making this team playoff contenders? It is much cheaper to invest in support personnel that players. Players play this game. They make the money.

    Last off-season the Reds looked as if they were major players. Acquiring a handful of players. On the surface it appeared they had finally made a serious commitment to winning. But after all the excitement, the Reds had only “stuck their toe in the water” and not dove in. Most of the money went off the books after a year. Now they are back in the same position with less youth. The Cubs, Cards, and Brewcrew all invested in players. That is why they are competing in the postseason.

    • Big Ed

      I must have missed the Cubs’ post-season appearance this season. Who did they play?

      The Cardinals are old. Molina, Carpenter, Fowler, and Goldschmidt are all on the downside, plus Wainwright is 38, albeit very effective the other day. The Cardinals’ payroll is largely a function of the age of their roster. They are good because of guys like Flaherty and DeJong, not the old guys. Their leading OPS guy, among the semi-regulars, was Tommy Edman.

      The Brewers are old, too. Next year, Moustakas and Grandal (if they resign) will be 31; Cain and Thames will be 33; and Braun will be 36 and still crushing the Reds, I suppose.