This weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays are using one of their relief pitchers, Sergio Romo, in the first inning of games. I haven’t carefully studied the reasoning for it. At first glance though, regardless of the specific merits, it strikes me as the kind of open-minded thinking in general that I’d want my front office and manager to employ in today’s rapidly changing game.
During Sunday’s television broadcast, Thom Brennaman and Chris Welsh took their swing at the Rays new strategy. The exit velocity and launch angle left something to be desired.
Brennaman called it “staggering” and laughed at the Rays. But he didn’t stop at questioning the Rays use of their reliever. Brennaman quickly turned his criticism toward the Tampa Bay organization in general.
“Really, when Joe Maddon was there and Andrew Friedman was there as General Manager they had that one run, but you look historically at that franchise that started the same year as the Arizona Diamondbacks going back to 1998. I mean, it’s just been an awful franchise outside of really a handful of years when they hit the lottery, did a great job of drafting some players, giving some guys a chance. Joe Maddon was the manager and they got to the playoffs a couple of times.”
Chris Welsh — friend of the Nation, and typically the most open-minded of Reds broadcasters — offered a tepid endorsement of the Rays experiment with Romo because they were “scuffling as bad as they are” and “looking up at basically the entire baseball world.” He added, however: “bottom line, their way is not winning baseball and they are not winning any championships.”
First, let’s do some fact checking.
• The Tampa Bay Rays had the foresight to hire Joe Maddon as manager and Andrew Friedman as GM. Those guys didn’t fall off trees into Tampa. Those were smart hiring decisions and the Rays ownership should get credit.
• Over the past 15 seasons (“historically”) the Rays have won 21 more games than the Diamondbacks.
• The Rays have also made the post-season four times in the past 11 years, including an appearance in the 2008 World Series. They have won 80+ games eight times in the past 11 seasons.
• Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have made the post-season three times since 2008, without winning a single post-season series. The club hasn’t made a World Series since 1990. The Reds have only won 80+ games three times in the past 11 seasons. Bottom line: The Rays have been a massively more successful organization than the Reds over the last ten years.
• What’s more, Tampa Bay has accomplished this with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and while competing in the same division as the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox. Since 2008, Tampa Bay has spent about $300 million less on payroll than the Reds. Yet, over that time, the Rays have won 74 more games – an average of 7 games better per season. If the Rays organization is “awful,” how does one describe the Reds?
• That “one run” with Joe Maddon lasted nine seasons, with the Rays winning 90+ games five times. Compare that to the Reds with Dusty Baker where they won 90+ games three times over six seasons.
• The Rays, “scuffling as bad as they are” are 22-23. The Reds are 16-32.
Look, there’s more here than Thom Brennaman making a misinformed statement. That’s not news. (Although you kinda wonder what MLB thinks of one team’s broadcaster laughing at and calling another of its organizations “awful.”)
But I think there’s a fair point to be made here, and some constructive criticism to be offered. I’ve said before, while the Reds announcers may not make policy, they sure do condition the fan base for what to expect and value. Broadcasters lay the groundwork for either understanding or ignorance. They choose between promoting acceptance of change or digging in heels. They can offer fair-minded explanations of new concepts or settle for rank mockery.
Remember when the Reds played in Philadelphia in April and the team’s broadcasters – television and radio – spent the weekend making fun of Gabe Kapler, the Phillies analytically inclined manager? Well, the Phillies, who were 66-96 last year, are 26-18 under Kapler. When the Reds front office gets around to hiring a new manager, Reds fans should hope being open to new ideas is one of the important qualities they seek.
New front office leadership under Dick Williams and Nick Krall offers a glimmer of hope. That verdict is still out. In the meantime, it’s imperative to push back at knee-jerk opposition to forward thinking. Raise your hand if you think management of the Cincinnati Reds can go down the old conservative path, with a know-nothing message, and turn things around.