[Edit.: This post was submitted by Joe Atkinson, loyal member of the Nation. Joe is a native of Cincinnati but now resides in Evansville where he spends most of his days fighting off Cardinals fans and is co-founder and owner of Court Street Productions. Every night he convinces his young son and daughter to wear Cincinnati Reds caps with pride, and not just because Super Mario also wears a Reds hat. Thanks, Joe, for your post. – SPM]

With the calendar turning from April to May, and the “it’s still early” excuse starting to ring hollower by the day, now feels as good a time as any to indulge in one of sports’ greatest traditions: Good, old-fashioned knee-jerk analysis. So here we go:

Plain and simple, Bryan Price has not had a good first month as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. And that, fellow Reds fans, is not what we signed up for.

That’s the knee-jerk. We’ve all been feeling it. But here’s the flip side:

How much of what we’re seeing on the field is what Price thought he was signing up for?

Price inherited a team full of talent and promise, with an owner seemingly committed to getting the team over that final post-season hurdle. Look at that great starting pitching and bullpen; sure, he’s losing two key players to free agency, but the owner wants to win. Surely, they’re gonna plug those holes.

Then came the off-season of Skip Schumacher and Brayan Pena, good bench additions both, but hardly Mat Latos or Shin-Soo Choo. Add a spring training complete with slippery mounds and line drives up the middle, and suddenly, Price is also leading a MASH unit.

Probably not what the coach thought he was signing up for.

However, in the past week, the Price-bashing has started in earnest. Let’s take a look at the major complaints.

  • Billy Hamilton shouldn’t hit leadoff: Fair enough. His average is bad; his OBP is worse. You can certainly make a case that Billy Hamilton should be hitting in the eight or nine hole, and you’d get minimal argument from me. Except for one thing: If not Billy Hamilton, then who? Chris Heisey has had a few shots at everyday play over the past four years, and has distinguished himself precisely never. Todd Frazier is doing well in the OBP department at the moment, but his average is two ticks above BHam’s, and given his free-swinging history, I’d like to see that OBP sustained a bit longer before I start shifting the lineup around it. And Brandon Phillips … well, let’s move on, shall we?
  • Brandon Phillips needs dropped in the order: Okay. I’m fully on board with this one. I see no evidence to contradict the idea that Phillips is starting into the predictably precipitous decline of mid-30s second basemen. Don’t take it personally, BP – I’m 35, and all of the sudden, I have to pop an Advil every time I finish mowing the lawn. When Devin Mesoraco returns from the DL, if he shows an ounce of the pop that he had through most of April, move him up, move BP down, and be done with it. But until then, please refer back to my previous comment about Billy Hamilton in the leadoff role: If BP isn’t hitting third, then who is?
  • The bullpen management stinks: More than once this season, I’ve been listening to a game when Price made a pitching change, and I’ve thought, “What in the world is he doing?” And every time, one of two things has happened: Either I have stepped back and thought, “Okay, well, who else would I go to here?” and come up completely empty or I’ve decided that someone else should have been brought in, only to see that player appear two innings later and get absolutely shellacked (case in point: Sean Marshall recent appearance against the Cubs). It’s time to face up: Bryan Price’s bullpen management isn’t the problem; the bullpen Bryan Price is managing is a problem.
  • The Reds are running themselves out of too many innings: For the most part, I’m okay with the extra attempts to steal – the Reds have probably earned as much as they’ve lost here. And I get the number of things that have to go right for a defense to throw someone out at the plate – field it clean, make a good throw, a good catch, a good tag. Plenty of chances for the other guys to screw up in there. Which is why, on close plays – and especially with two outs – I’m all for sending the runner. But when the distance between safe and out can be measured in yards, it’s time to reconsider your base running strategy. Because most of the time, when your guys are getting tossed at the plate, the announcer should be marveling at how the fielder “needed to make an absolutely perfect throw, and there it was – Wow, what a play!” That’s not happening now.

On the flip side, I’ve seen from Price moves that I like. Defensive shifts. Moving Joey Votto to the second spot when the offense sputtered. Leaving the good version of Manny Parra around for a two inning save the night after he pulled Sam LeCure from the same situation. Heck – I’m thrilled to have a manager who goes out and challenges a replay call when he knows he’ll get tossed, just to make sure everyone knows he’s not gonna take it anymore.

And I’ll admit it: I like the aggressiveness on the base paths. At least for the first 270 feet.

I’ve seen flashes of the guy we thought we were getting when the Reds announced his hire back in the fall – the guy who’s willing to toss aside the Old Book and adopt strategies from the New Book. I’ve seen a guy who’s willing to embrace metrics, to make changes in the lineup when things aren’t working, and to play aggressive.

What I’d really like to see now is how that guy would manage the team we thought he was going to get – with the shutdown bullpen, with real answers to the holes at leadoff and #3.

If Chapman, Latos and Mesoraco return on schedule, it definitely gets better. If Billy and Brandon heat up, this could still be a fun summer. But that’s a lot of ifs. And if the ‘if’s’ turns into ‘not’s’ then Bryan Price’s first season as a manager probably won’t go down much better than his first month.

Which isn’t what any of us signed up for.

21 Responses

  1. Earl Nash

    I’d file some of these things under April and having to work with a compromised bullpen. JJ Hoover was awful last April too. I think perhaps some of the odd moves are that the arms they do have are still kind of knicked up (LeCure & Marshall).

    Hamilton has hit better the last part of the month. You would like to see him work some walks in, but 17-51 .333 since 4/15 is a decent stretch. I think it wouldn’t hurt to get Chris Heisey at least a start a week in center especially against division club pitching match ups with people he hits well.

    With that Hamilton’s ability to make a run literally out of not much at all was pretty impressive the couple times he pulled it off this month. That’s a good card to play in a 1 run game late.

    BP is gong to eventually move down, I’d figure a lineup flipping him and Ludwick is the obvious change, maybe based around a starter Phillips has had trouble. Then maybe you get lucky and Ludwick has a big game and you just leave him defusing any media talk about it. Frazier has had a better month, but he has blown hot and cold his entire career.

    Mesoraco doesn’t hurt his leg and kept hitting like a monster, it would make it easier, but I tend to doubt they would slot him in there until he is back and productive.

  2. Earl Nash

    You look at Bruce starting to gather walks like JV, you have to wonder if some clubs are just looking at the rest of the Reds lineup and saying, we can afford 2-3 walks to those guys a day – the others don’t scare me. Samardzija was definitely avoiding Votto a couple days ago, although he got caught anyway.

    • Paul (@jockopablo)

      Bingo. With no other consistent hitters in the lineup, teams are treating Votto (and occasionally Bruce) like #8 hitters. Why not walk them? The guy behind them isn’t going to hurt you.

  3. Edwin GeekBear

    Eh, I’m not comfortable pointing any blame at Bryan Price.

    You’re especially correct saying Price is leading a MASH unit. People are saying that he’s managing the Reds badly: Price has yet to manage the actual reds. What we’ve seen Price manage is 1/2 or 2/3 of the Reds at any given time. Price won’t be the first manager to just not be able to overcome injuries. Those are things he can’t control.

    The Bullpen simply isn’t the one that we’re used to. The same names we’ve grown to love aren’t pitching the way they were last 2 years, Notably Hoover, Ondrusek, Marshall. And Broxton sure doesn’t look like he can summon that confident out the way we’ve seen in the past. Simon isn’t in the bullpen anymore.

    I don’t think the baserunning is an issue. I think it’s helped more than it’s hurt. There are plenty of guys on this team that will get to second safe more than 2/3 of the time. That’s good odds in my book. On-Demand contact hitting is what this team fails at. And sadly, that’s ALWAYS been what this team has failed at. Let’s give credit where it’s due: Price moved Votto to the two hole. Do we think Dusty would have even ENTERTAINED that idea? Absolutely not.

    And BP…Man I am a card-carrying BP Bandwagon rider. I love the guy, he’s worth the money we pay him. But if he wants to keep the BP-style attitude, that means hitting consistently. He’s just not doing that.

    Certainly not saying I have the answers. But I simply refuse to give Price a final yay or nay based on a single month of fielding a injury-stricken team.

    • tourniquette15

      Ondrusek seems to be pitching the same way: Badly. I’ve never understood that guy’s staying power in this bullpen.

      • Vicferrari

        It is time to get off Ondrusek, had one bad outing against the Cubs, Jay Bruce botched the play against the Cards, has not allowed runs in 4 stariaght, 3 which were high level situations including last night. I am not saying he is an answer but he is a serviceable last guy, too bad, he is often number 3 due to the ineffectiveness of Parra and Hoover, which also limits Sam Lecure’s usefulness.

  4. Dale Pearl

    Overall I would say that Price is doing what he was brought in to do. The players are not producing with runners in scoring position. Same issue we had last year. Solve the streak hitting on our team and you solve the whole problem. Why is it that Bruce, Frazier, and Cozart seem to hit at the same time and fall asleep at the same time? This happened last year quite a bit as well. The only solution I can see to this is to break up one or two of these guys and send em packing.

    • ohiojimw

      Maybe they all just happen to have approaches, styles, and mechanics of hitting that work against the same particular type of pitcher and conversely are all vulnerable against another particular type of pitcher

  5. Joe Atkinson

    Sorry, Steve – was with a client all afternoon, and just saw your post (and the lineup). My honest answer? It looks like one of the lineups I had to write up when I coached PONY league and half of my players had a choir concert they were required to sing in on game night. Hope Leake has his A game – on the hill and at the plate.

    • ohiojimw

      Leake had his “A” game and it still wasn’t enough 🙁

  6. ohiojimw

    I think given the ages of Frazier and Cozart and their developmental path through the minors, it is close to time to say they are what they are offensively. Lump in left field; and I think one of the three positions has to be very significantly improved offensively or alternately two of the 3 spots have to have a clear and consistent incremental offensive improvement

  7. ohiojimw

    Assuming Latos makes it back in good form by around the first of June, who goes to the pen if Simon continues in the interim to perform as he has to date? Perhaps it would be Cingrani instead of Simon?

    • Joe Atkinson

      I still think it’s Simon back to the bullpen. First, I’m not sure he’s going to have the stamina to amass starter innings over the rest of the season; second, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to maintain anything close to this pace. Leake continues to pitch well, so there’s no reason to move him. And Cingrani feels like he’d be a Chapman-style waste coming out of the bullpen. He’s having some growing pains this year, which isn’t shocking, considering his overreliance on the fastball, but that doesn’t concern me too much. He’s still got a bit too much “thrower” in him, and note quite enough “pitcher” – but we all remember when we could say the same thing about Johnny Cueto. Not suggesting that Cingrani is another Cueto, but he has the potential to be a very good starting pitcher, and I’d hate to see the Reds stunt his growth there by shipping him to the bullpen because of Simon’s hot start.

  8. Paul (@jockopablo)

    What we’re seeing is proof of what many of us were saying last year: the manager is not the problem with the team. This team is what it is. Other teams in the division made offseason moves to improve. The Reds didn’t. So Price is stuck with the same roster with the same weaknesses as Baker had. I remain baffled that anyone expected anything different.

    It’s fun second-guessing Price and playing virtual Strat-O-Matic with this team, plotting who should bat where, but as one of the RLN writers (Mancuso, IIRC) so astutely wrote early in the season, “You can’t bat everyone 8th.”

    • Vicferrari

      Choo over Hamilton big drop off, can’t get one thing stable in the line-up, not having Chapman big drop off, can’t get anything stable in the bullpen, it is easy to manage a ball game when your 2 or your top 3 hitters get on over 40% of the time, when your SP is lights out (a little harder to manage when you lose Arroyo and Latos), do not kid yourself and say this is the same team. I seriously doubt Baker would have had this team near .500 as Price has.
      Everybody would have been saying fire Dusty, including the rational people saying give Price some time, the manager is not going to be the issue this season so maybe the front office can address real issues that a 160 lb kid who runs like lightning and can steal a base 2/3 of the time is not going to make this team a contender.

    • CaptainHook

      Actually, other than the Brewers the other teams in the division did not really make offseason moves. The Cardinals lost Beltran and their “big offseason acquisition” has been benched. The Pirates lost Burnett and did not acquire any big players.

      • ohiojimw

        Pirates also “let” Morneau and Byrd walk along with doing virtually nothing otherwise. Without those two down the stretch, I doubt that they would have topped the Reds for 2nd in the Central last season.

    • ohiojimw

      Agreed. On Friday night, true managing differently would have been batting Leake 6th (ahead of the 3 “#8” hitters) and just planning to use a double switch if Leake had to come out of the game at a point where him being in the 6 hole would have caused major issues.

  9. Vicferrari

    I feel you are spot on about the bullpen- “Bryan Price’s bullpen management isn’t the problem; the bullpen Bryan Price is managing is a problem.”
    Said it before- I believe he manages differently if he can some get this team in a pennant race. Maybe in the 2nd game of the season you are trying to see what Trevor Bell can do, and you realize, he can’t… you decide Hoover is your closer until your 3 best relievers get back, he fails. Would like to have seen Sam Lecure there, but there have been a lot of managerial moves in the bullpen and not to the bullpen that have resulted in wins. The other 2 games where the bullpen blew leads (if I recall correctly)
    I am not sure what would have made more sense, this team has been in virtually every game (save Saturday’s domination by Hale), they just do score enough runs when they get good pitching and when they score Bailey pitches.

    • ohiojimw

      And in fairness Bailey held the Brewers in check until they scored this last time around.

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