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.