Depending on whom you ask, we’re either in the last few days of the Bryan Price era of Reds baseball, or just in the first few bumpy years of a long-term relationship. Price is at the helm of a losing team that’s riddled with injuries right now, as he has been for most of his managerial career. That has to be frustrating, and if you saw or heard his rant earlier this year, he hasn’t always dealt with that frustration in a particularly inspiring manner.

I was pretty high on Price when the Reds hired him. He was an outside the box choice, and after the long years of old-schoolism under Dusty Baker, it seemed like that was just what the Reds needed. So it has been a big disappointment that in a lot of ways it’s been hard to tell the difference between Price and Dusty on the field.

One possible difference  between Price and Dusty is that the former seems to be more willing to change. It always bugged me that when one of Dusty’s decisions wasn’t working out, it seemed to make him want to stick with it all the more, to prove everyone wrong. My initial take has been that Price doesn’t have that same stubborn streak, so I decided to check it out, to see what kind of changes he’s really made, or whether my wanting him to be good has been coloring my view .

So, is Bryan Price getting better? To answer that, first we have to define what better is for a baseball manager. Obviously a large component of the job is keeping guys motivated and managing the clubhouse, and as outsiders we really have no way of evaluating whether one manager is better at that than another, or how that skill affects the outcome of the game. What we can do is look at some of the things that managers control on the field, decide what we would want to see, and then compare our manager to those standards. Chris Jaffe recently wrote a book on the subject of how to evaluate baseball managers, and others around the blogosphere have chimed in. I’m boiling down some of those ideas into very simple metrics, just to give a quick sense of how Price is doing on the field and to see if he’s getting better.

Here is a brief list of what I would like my manager to do: (1) make sure that the best pitchers get the most innings in the bullpen, (2) make sure that the guys that make the fewest outs get the most plate appearances, (3) don’t give up too many outs on the basepaths or with bunts, and (4) try to get the platoon advantage for your hitters as much as possible. Clearly all of these aspects of the game are influenced by the roster that a manager has to work with, but they are areas where a manager can at least exert their influence on the team. So let’s take a look at the Reds in 2013 (Dusty), 2014 (Price), and this year.

Bullpen innings

Modern bullpens are going to pitch about 500 innings per year, and managers should come into the year with the goal of getting at least 80 innings from their best guys, thus minimizing the impact their worst relievers will have on the team’s record.

In 2013, Dusty Baker got only 63.2 innings from Aroldis Chapman, operating under the self-imposed closer rules, while giving 55 innings to Logan Ondrusek. Fortunately for Dusty, he had a great bullpen to work with, and good years from Simon, LeCure, Hoover, and Parra covered this up pretty well.

In 2014, Chapman was hit in the head in spring training, and Price could only get him Chapman 54 innings, while Hoover (4.88 ERA) and LeCure (3.81 ERA) had 62.2 and 56.2 innings respectively. It was sad.

This year, Chapman and Hoover have been the best relievers in the Reds’ pen, and they are both on track to pitch just under 70 innings. Only Burke Badenhop is really close to the two of them, and for the most part the Reds’ pen has been so bad this year that Price doesn’t have many good options to go to. I’m putting this one marginally in Price’s column as an improvement. The bullpen issues this year have less to do with Price and more to do with the roster. I would like Price to use Chapman more, and in different situations, but the difference between 70 and 80 innings isn’t that bad.

Lineup construction

Always one of the most hotly debated points for armchair managers, the order of the lineup probably doesn’t impact the game that much, but as a fan, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch your worst hitters get the most at-bats all year long. There are so many ways to slice and dice a lineup, but I’m just going with the simplest: what is the OBP of the guy that you are giving the most plate appearances to. I have long said that managers should get away from the idea of “roles” for hitters, and just make sure that the guys that hit the most are the guys that make the fewest outs, and then make small tweaks to the order from there. Looking at leadoff OBP is a simple measure of that principle.

In 2013, the Reds led all of baseball with a .415 OBP from the leadoff spot, but that was entirely do to Shin Soo Choo, who the GM went and got specifically for that role. Why did Jocketty do that? Because in 2012 under Dusty, the Reds leadoff hitters had a .254 OBP, good for last in all of baseball.

In 2014, the Reds leadoff men had an OBP of .298 good for 28th in baseball, and this year it’s down to .275, which is good for 29th. As unbelievably depressing as that is, it doesn’t tell the whole tale. While Price hit Hamilton first for far too long, not only did he eventually move him, he started to bat him 9th, which is what the numbers show is the smartest move for a guy like him. Price has also batted Votto second before injuries changed the roster dramatically, which was also a step in the right direction. So, as weird as it feels to do given how long he stuck with Hamilton, I’m giving Price credit for improving here too.

Giving up outs for the extra base

A clear way that a manager impacts the game is in controlling the running game and calling for sacrifices. For a century or so everyone thought that stolen bases, hit-and-runs, and bunts were a good manager’s calling card. But then people asked the question “is giving up an out for a base worth it?” and it turns out, it is not. Everyone likes an extra base, but it isn’t worth an out, so a good manager bunts infrequently and manages the running game so that his players have a high rate of success.

Dusty was terrible at both of these things. In 2013, the Reds had 37 sac bunts from non-pitchers, which was 3rd most in baseball, and they had a stolen base success rate of 66%, good for 26th in baseball.

Last year, under Price, the Reds had 38 sac bunts (ugh), but were successful when stealing 70% of the time. This year, the Reds project to have only 28 sac bunts, which has them in 10th place for most bunts, and are stealing at a 77% clip, which is second best all of baseball. Hard to argue that that’s not an improvement.

Platoon advantage

The final one is a little trickier. In general it’s good for your hitters to have the platoon advantage when hitting (that is, righties face lefty pitchers and vice versa), but a manager only has the players that he has. If a lot of those guys are switch hitters, then they’ll have the platoon advantage a lot. If all of a team’s hitters are righties, then they won’t, because most pitchers are righties too.

But a manager can pinch hit and make substitutions that might get them a more consistent advantage, though the change would probably be slim. In 2013, Dusty’s Reds had the platoon advantage 48% of the time, and that figure jumped to 52% last year, and to 54% this year. Again, hard to say that that’s all Price’s doing, but it’s at least going in the right direction.

Should he stay or should he go?

I think that my impression of Price was accurate, he does seem to be a guy that makes changes when things aren’t working and he’s definitely getting better at the things we as outsiders can measure. I like that in a guy and I think that, if for nothing else, Price should be proud of taking on a tough job and at least getting better at it. Heck, he’s doing better than 2013 Dusty in almost every measure I looked at, and Dusty had managed for more than a decade by that point. No one ever accused Dusty of changing too fast.

But all of that doesn’t answer the question of whether Price should continue managing the Reds. While Price has shown improvement in the few metrics I chose, he’s not really blowing most of them out of the water. He could use Chapman way better, he stuck with Hamilton way too long, he rarely double switches, etc.

For me it comes down to this though: roster construction and field management should go hand-in-hand. As I worked on this post, it just kept jumping out at me that a GM and a manager really have to be in lock-step together. If a manager wants to get more platoon advantages out of his roster, he’s got to have depth, etc. My feeling is that Jocketty and his front office should be fired, and unless the new leadership team has a previous relationship with Price, I think it would probably be in the Reds’ best interest to let them hire a manager who will execute their vision.

If the Reds stick with Price though, I won’t be too upset, because chances are he’ll be better next year.

46 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    Bryan Price had ZERO managerial experience at any level prior to becoming Reds manager in 2014 season.

    And it showed in 2014 and 2015 seasons.

    Dusty Baker had considerable managerial experience prior to becoming Reds manager. He has led 3 different teams into NL playoffs. He has MLB experience as a player.

    And it showed in 2010, 2012, and 2013 seasons with the Reds.

    Baker >>>>>>>>>> Price as an MLB manager.

    • Jeremy Conley

      That’s an opinion, but it’s not supported with any facts. The only measure you use to compare them is team wins, so with that idea, every winning team has a good manager and every losing team has a bad one.

      Let me ask you this, what happens when a manager wins the World Series one year, and then has a losing season the next? Does that mean that he had season long temporary insanity?

      • Jeremy Conley

        Again, the only thing you cite is team wins. If you can’t see why that doesn’t make sense, I don’t know if I can show you. Why did Dusty Baker teams finish 4th, 5th, 6th, and 4th in the NL central between 2005 and 2009? Was he in a managerial slump, or was it that he was managing bad teams?

      • vegastypo

        So, is Joe Torre a lousy manager for the three teams he managed that had only spotty success? Or is Joe Torre the king of all managers because he piled up wins and titles with the Yankees?

      • lwblogger2

        Some guy with no managerial experience at any level when hired seems to be doing a decent job over at St. Louis. I mean, his team is winning ballgames. There have been a handful of recent managerial hirings where the manager has had ZERO experience actually coaching or managing at any level. Some have worked and some haven’t so far. To keep citing Price’s inexperience as the reason he was a bad hiring doesn’t seem to jive with the facts that some managers with zero experience are having success.

      • wkuchad

        Jeremy, Price is an absolutely terrible manager. If you want reasons why, re-read all the game recaps from this site this year. The criticism has been spot on. And absolutely W-L record is part of the equation.

        Obviously Price sucking at his job is an opinion. Same as Baker. And Baker frustrated the crap out of me. But at the end of the day, he won. I was a Reds fan during a lot of lean years before the Reds’ (admittedly brief) playoff runs. I don’t think Price’s teams (especially last years) were any worst (or that much worse) than Dusty’s. You can blame injuries I guess, but Dusty’s teams certainly had them.

        Look, I don’t like Dusty as a manager, but I really hate Price as a manager, and any comparison of the two seems silly, partially because Dusty won; Price hasn’t (ever, and at level). Also, Price makes ridiculously dumb decisions. When Dusty did that, he still had winning season. 🙂

      • Tom Gray

        Bingo. Price must go. I cannot believe anybody thinks he can be MLB manager.

      • docmike

        Tom, that is ridiculous reasoning. You cannot look at the team’s win/loss record as a referendum on the manager’s ability. That just completely takes the degree of talent on the field out of the equation.

        Think about the 75/76 Big Red Machine. I believe my 10-year-old could have managed them to a division title.

        Now look at this year’s Phillies. You honestly think any Hall of Fame manager would make a difference there?

        The bottom line is that Price was given a flawed roster to begin with, then had the misfortune of losing major contributors such as Votto, Bruce, Mesoraco, Cozart, Chapman, Cueto, and Bailey for long stretches at a time. The win/loss record for the past two seasons can hardly be placed on Price’s feet.

        Could you imagine Dusty with either of the past year’s teams? Scary. His overreliance on “roles” and old-school thinking makes Price look like Joe Maddon by comparison. The Reds’ record would probably be the worst in baseball with Dusty still at the helm.

    • Big56dog

      Please compare 2015 to 2011 rosters and explain how Dusty Baker is better than Price. To me there are only 2 position that are remotely an advantage in favor of 2015 and it is mainly is that the same personnel just are not as good

  2. Adam

    I think Price’s teams give up an obscene number of base runners with the stupid “contact play” at third base.

    • lwblogger2

      I hate it too but a lot of managers use it. An analyst was talking about it the other night during a game because it actually worked. He was like “Yeah, you put the runner in motion and make them throw you out!” I felt like saying “These are MLB defenders and most the time, if you make them throw you out, they will!”

    • VaRedsFan

      That was last year….not so much this year

  3. Mark

    Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. With that said I don’t think the Reds can afford to let Walt make any more. Is there a rift between Price and Walt? Was that why Price kept sending Gregg in to lose games earlier in the year?

    • lwblogger2

      If that’s why Price did it, then he should be fired immediately. You don’t put your team in a position to lose to send a message. That’s passive aggressive garbage. Price doesn’t seem passive aggressive to me. If he thought Gregg stunk, I’m sure he would have told the GM and hid him deep in the pen as far as he could. I think Price actually thought Gregg was good. That’s a scary thought.

      • Mark

        Opening day you could see it coming by how hard they hit him. I hoped it was just a bad appearance. I think most people realized it a month before Price did.

    • Matt WI

      I think Gregg was a case where being patient with a veteran simply didn’t work out. Same thing was going on for Marlon Byrd in April, but he rewarded that patience and got better. Not saying Byrd is my ideal LF, but in a case of all things being relative, he has played a lot better than he started. Bruce too. That’s a tough spot to be in as a manager. I blame Walt for Gregg much more. And whoever’s idea it was to name Marquis a set starter in the middle of March.

  4. vegastypo

    There was a part of me that wondered whether Bryan Price got hired as much because he wouldn’t openly oppose Walt the way Dusty did, such as with Chapman moving to a starter. … Going way back, was it true that Walt had acquired Fred Lewis as a sort of a platoon with Jonny Gomes, but that Dusty stuck with Gomes all the way?

    I’m not giving Price much lineup credit. Hamilton had to hit terribly for a long time last season and into this season to get moved out of the leadoff spot. And when Phillips is out of the lineup, and Billy gets moved back to the leadoff spot by default, what’s with having to put DeJesus second and pushing Votto back to third occasionally? Let Votto and Frazier and Bruce stay as high in the order as possible.

    And sure, as Billy improves on the bases, the team’s success rate in steals is going to go up. I’m not sure how much credit Prices deserves for that. …

    I’d prefer a manager who walks in the door with some appreciation that long-held “roles” should be abandoned from the get-go, not be forced to consider the notion only because the “roles” are holding up.

    And all the talk about accountability is rather comical, looking back. The person who most needs to be held accountable, Walt, never will be.

    • Jeremy Conley

      I agree about the accountability, it hasn’t been there at all. I also agree that it’s hard to say how much credit a manager should get for any of these things, but I tried to explain my reasoning for looking at them. As for the running game, it clearly has a lot to do with the success of the personnel, but I would expect that if a team is stealing at a very low success rate (like in 2013), that the manager would shut the running game down.

    • earmbrister

      I don’t think “that it was true that … Dusty stuck with Gomes all the way”.

      Gomes: 77 Games, 265 PA
      Lewis: 81 Games, 210 PA
      Heisey: 120 Games, 308 PA

      Lewis didn’t play more, cause he was washed up. He had 25 PA the following year and then was out of MLB.

      We can only guess at the relationships of Dusty, Price, and WJ. However, managers typically report to the GM as their boss, which needs to be considered.

      • tct

        Gomes got traded in the middle of the 2011 season. He was playing quite a bit up until that time.

        In 2010, the Reds had a perfect platoon partner for Gomes in Laynce Nix. But Nix got injured in May and Gomes got hot. And from then on, Dusty pretty much played him everyday even though Gomes really had no business playing everyday vs righties.

        But, man, I loved that 2010 team. Maybe even more than the 1990 team. That 2010 team was so deep. It was basically one superstar surrounded with a bunch of average to above average players. And everybody performed well, except maybe Harang.

  5. lwblogger2

    Gutsy article Jeremy. A good read and well thought out too.

  6. kmartin

    Thanks for this excellent post Jeremy. Not only could Price use Chapman more effectively, I actually think Price is marginally worse this year with regard to managing Chapman. Here is why. Consider opening day, 2015. Despite giving up three consecutive hard hit balls with two outs in the eighth inning Price allowed Gregg to face McCutchen and we know the result. Either Chapman was not warmed up or he was warmed up and Price chose not to use him. Either way, a terrible error. Contrast this game with June 19, 2014 and an almost identical situation. With two outs in the eighth McCutchen was due to face Broxton. At this point Broxton was a known quantity having a good year as a setup man. However, Price replaced Broxton with Chapman who promptly struck out McCutchen looking on an 89 MPH changeup. (Chapman went on to strike out the side in the ninth. If memory serves correct the third strike on each batter was an off speed pitch.) In 2014 Chapman pitched more than 1.0 innings in five games. In 2015 so far the number is zero. Not only has the ship sailed on Chapman being a starter, but it appears that Price is no longer considering using Chapman for more than one inning. I think Price’s Chapman management is getting worse.

    • lwblogger2

      Good observation and even more poignant because Price said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Chapman for more than an inning.

  7. Joe Atkinson

    I go back and forth on Price. On the one hand, I thought his rant at C.Trent earlier this year showed a guy way out of his league. On the other – and probably more importantly – there is no scenario in which I think firing Bryan Price makes the Reds contenders. Because let’s face it: this roster isn’t winning the division with Bryan Price, Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon, or Sparky Anderson in the dugout.

    And I agree with Jeremy – Price seems to learn from mistakes, and he’s willing to try new things. I think he has it in him to be a good manager; I’m not sure that he’s a good manager now (nor am I sure that he isn’t … he’s been playing with half a deck for two years now), but I think he has it in him.

    But I think Jeremy’s last point is the best: The front office is a problem. It needs to go. And whoever is hired needs to be in lockstep with the manager (or vice-versa). So what determines Price’s fate should be the will and philosophy of a new GM.

    • VaRedsFan

      FWIW…after the F-bomb tirade, and after laying into Cingrani on the pitching mound, the Reds did go on winning streaks. Which might point to the fact that players these days need a kick in the pants type of manager. (Pinella/Showalter/ect). The replacements are so poor, that benching a starter becomes a non solution.

  8. ncmountie1

    it just kept jumping out at me that a GM and a manager really have to be in lock-step together. If a manager wants to get more platoon advantages out of his roster, he’s got to have depth, etc. My feeling is that Jocketty and his front office should be fired, and unless the new leadership team has a previous relationship with Price, I think it would probably be in the Reds’ best interest to let them hire a manager who will execute their vision.

    ^^^^This. I was not upset to see DB go and thought Price was a safe pick (As Vegastypo alluded to–wouldn’t confront WJ). I thought he was an above average Pitching Coach, but some of his handling of pitching staff has made me wonder IF he made those call previously or if it was all Dusty.

    Bottomline for me is that the game has long passed Jocketty by. He HAS TO GO IMO. Price may be a casualty, if so, so be it. Just like you’ve not seen Dusty resurface, Price won’t be at the helm of another MLB club anytime soon.

  9. User1022

    Here’s something I want to know:

    Despite Dusty getting so much flak in his ability to manage the bullpen, in his last season (2013), his bullpen had a 3.29 ERA.

    Bryan Price, the very next year and with the exact same bullpen (minus swapping Alfredo Simon for Jumbo Diaz) got a 4.11 ERA out of them.

    Bullpen management is one area where I think Bryan Price is clearly extremely weak. He simply does not know how to utilize the players he has in such a way as to give them the greatest likelyhood to succeed.

    • User1022

      And what I wanted to know is: Why was Bryan Price’s bullpen so much worse than Dusty’s?

    • tct

      The thing that has shocked me the most, and disappointed me, has been how traditional Price has been in his usage of the pitching staff. No outside the box thinking at all.

      Now, Price hasn’t had a lot to work with out of the bullpen. But when you go back and look at what Dusty had in 2010, 2012, and 2013, it really doesn’t look all that different. I was never a big fan of Dusty, but for the most part guys did perform well under him. The 2010 bullpen was Coco, Massett, Rhodes, Bray, Ondrusek, Jordan Smith, Carlos Fisher, Herrera, etc. Some talent there, but not all that intimidating on paper. He got a lot out of guys like LeCure, Hoover, Ondrusek, Arredondo, and Parra in 2012 and 2013 as well.

      And then there is the Chapman issue. If he’s not gonna start, fine, but 50-60 innings per year is just not acceptable. Getting him 16 innings per month would put him around 100 innings for the year. You pitch him twice per week, on average, and let him go 2-3 innings at a time, and he’s getting 100+ innings.

    • Matt WI

      What’s weird is that Dusty’s bullpen was Price’s work. Now that Price isn’t the pitching coach, the pitchers are less effective. Don’t know what that means.

      • ncmountie1

        Was it? That’s my question. Maybe Dusty was Price’s puppetmaster?? IDK. I agree that Price as mgr. has been less effective managing pitching staff.

      • lwblogger2

        Honestly, Dusty liked to delegate, so I think that it is highly probable that Price made most of the decisions on pitching changes and bullpen usage.

  10. Evan armstrong

    How long/many games should a manager have to be fairly assessed his skill at that job?

    • Jeremy Conley

      I don’t think there’s a number of games or years, because the manager doesn’t play the games. If the GM and owner intentionally try to make a bad team every year, the manager will never have a winning season.

      Look at Lou Pinella. He won the series with the Reds and set the record for single season wins with Seattle. Then they brought him into Tampa Bay and he couldn’t turn it around because their ownership and GM were terrible. Then after they got rid of Pinella, they got a new front office and an inexperienced manager, and they had years of success.

      Does that mean Pinella was a bad manager? Of course not.

      That’s why I think all that you can do to evaluate a manager is look at the choices they make, not the team’s results.

      • wkuchad

        We may differ in opinion on your column above, but I do completely agree with this post. I said 2 years half in jest because I want Price gone this offseason.

      • lwblogger2

        I also look at the players on the field. Do they look like they are still working hard? Are they making physical errors or mental errors? Are the mental errors the same errors or are they making better choices? What does the dugout look like, do the players seem engaged in the game? The GM is mostly going to look at “Do I think he’s making the right/correct strategic decision?” and “Is this team still playing for him or has he lost the players?”

  11. Tom Reed

    As stated above, the key to moving the Reds into the future is a young forward-looking GM. And that’s a decision Bob C. will have to make. I think the current administration will make the trades of those the Reds will not extend. If changes in the front office and field management and other player trades are forthcoming, they will happen in the off-season.

  12. RedFuture

    I agree that Walt is the biggest problem. Price hasn’t been great but has at least experimented with the team. Price seems to be stressed and I feel that infiltrates the environment of the team. Baker’s best quality seemed to be his relaxed attitude. I was hoping that Price would combine good decision making with coolness under fire. Perhaps he can still regain his composure and in turn allow the players to relax more. Walt has to do a better job with the roster and I expect Price influenced Walt a bit on keeping the likes of Gregg and Marquis in the early going. I get the sense that Price respected their playing careers more than a manager with his own successful playing career would have. Bottom line is that Price in “growing” and Walt is “declining”.

    • lwblogger2

      I agree with what you’re saying here with one exception. I don’t think Price’s experience under Dusty had anything to do with his thinking on Gregg and Marquis. I honestly think he was looking at their bodies of work as pitchers are his own evaluation of both their stuff and their makeup and made a very poor evaluation.

  13. jay johnson

    i do not remember ever seeing a manager misuse a bullpen as badly as Price does.Dusty made me crazy,but this guy just stinks.
    I think that his misuse of the pen cost Jumbo his job,has allowed Cingrani to regress,and cost the starters at least 10 victories this season.Before the start of the season it was well published that Price was in favor of using Chappie for more than an inning,what happened to that?
    The discussion about Price changing seems to have tilted to “yes he has”. I say “where/when”.He insists on bringing his “b” pitchers into one run games at the same ridiculous pace,will only bring Chappie in for a save,continues with the insane righty/lefty mentality that has been proven wrong over and over.
    I have been looking all day today for a “breaking news story”PRICE GETS FIRED.So far no luck.

    • IndyRedMan

      I completely agree. I can’t believe how bad a former pitching coach like Price could misuse his pitchers? I was shocked a few weeks ago when Price sent Disco out for the 7th inning vs the Twins and he’d already thrown over 100 pitches. Disco got scored on in the 1st inning and struggled all night to hold them to 3 runs in 6 ip. As he was coming off the mound at the end of 6….the crowd clapped for him politely and he seemed to exhale on his way to the dugout. I guarantee he was as surprised as everyone else when he was sent back out for the 7th….that + Badenhop turned a 3-1 deficit to 7-1….game over

  14. Art Wayne Austin

    Price had great success as a pitching coach because he really knew his trade. For this, he had the respect of an above average, talented pitching staff. However, Dusty had the final say, Price was out of the picture once a starter or reliever was chosen. As manager, he has grown from a frustrating weak base of getting the best of 12 specialized players to 13 other talented ballplayers plus a coaching staff. His weakness showed first last year with his selection and retention of the 3rd base coach. He has also been timid in handling some of the problem children on our team like Bruce and DaDude. Bruce slumped the first month and half of the season with only a slap on his hands with a demotion to the 6th and 7th spot in the line-up. During this period Bruce only made one major contribution to a win when he hit two homers. He hit two triples in another game but it was for a losing cause. Of course, Brandon continues to detest a walk and scares everyone with his erratic base running. Like many mild mannered managers Price’s problem is being tough when the occasion calls for it. The solution would seem to be, delegate the “tough decisions” to your batting and pitching coaches. If they’re ineffective fire them.

  15. John Ryan

    Bottom-line Dusty knows how to win, Price does not, As proven by his record. Players don’t respect Price, players love playing for Dusty, again look at the record.

    Dusty will prove it again in San Diego next season