Saturday, John Fay published an important column about Jim Riggleman for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

I’m going to bracket off what might be the most discouraging part: Fay’s reporting on a meeting that Reds owner Bob Castellini had with Riggleman about managing decisions, something Riggleman calls unprecedented in his vast experience as a major league manager. So after you finish reading this, go back for Fay’s entire post. 

Instead, I want to focus on Fay’s main thesis — that the St. Louis Cardinals have been successful the past 20 years because of adhering to a Cardinal Way of playing with fundamentals, or in Fay’s words: 

“… a strict adherence to the fundamentals — from rundowns to bunt plays to generally playing the game right …”

Fay believes Jim Riggleman manages by the Cardinal Way and that Riggleman should make that fact the center of his case for being given the permanent job as Reds manager. 

“If I were Riggleman, here’s the case I’d make: Everybody has the numbers now, every [team] has a roster of analytic guys with advanced degrees. What I can offer is thousands of games of managerial experience and a strict adherence to the fundamentals — from rundowns to bunt plays to generally playing the game right.”

Riggleman says he learned the Cardinal Way working for the Cardinals organization in the 1980s from a legendary baseball instructor named George Kissell. Indeed, Kissell was a widely praised baseball instructor. Sparky Anderson, in particular, had good things to say about Kissell. 

Let’s take a closer look at Fay’s suggested case for Riggleman.

Jim Riggleman hasn’t worked with the Cardinals since 1992. That’s 26 years ago. He never coached above the AAA level for them. As a big league manager, he’s compiled a record of 718-887, so it’s fair to say his “thousands of games of managerial experience” using the Cardinal Way has not been a recipe for success. Ever. Anywhere. 

Fay’s case for Riggleman really breaks down over a few statements of fact: 

“The Reds have been better at that (fundamentals) since Riggleman took over.”

I say “statement of fact” although Fay provides nary a smidgen of proof to back it. Maybe better to say it’s his opinion.

Really? Are the Reds measurably better at bunting, rundowns and “playing the game the right way” since Riggleman has managed? I watch almost every Reds game and still see big problems with fundamentals. Their (overused) bunting game remains a joke. They miss cutoff throws. They get picked off. They bust some of the few rundown plays that happen. They are last in the league in converting routine plays on defense.

Now, maybe none of that is Jim Riggleman’s fault. He’s preaching fundamentals to the team. Conducts all those extra practice sessions, after all. Don’t blame him if the players don’t listen, right? Wait, though. Isn’t that an indictment of the entire pro-Riggleman argument? If he’s preaching but not winning converts, what good is the sermon?

Fay’s next sentence undermines the entire gist of his argument for Riggleman.

“He also had them winning until the injuries and continued struggles of the starting pitching caught up with them.” 

The health of Riggleman’s lineup and starting pitching have had the most to do with whether the Reds win or lose. Something with which Bryan Price and Sparky Anderson would agree. Not the rigor of their rundown practice. 

All that said, let’s take a closer look at the Cardinal Way. Is it really about good bunts? A stronger case can be made the Cardinals’ success the past 20 years is due to their owner’s commitment to hiring smart, outside, highly qualified people from a variety of backgrounds, and turning them loose on scouting, international signings and player development. It isn’t proficiency in rundowns or bunting that has led to St. Louis’ success. It’s their owner’s early commitment to rigorous and innovative personnel management.

I wrote about this a couple years ago:

“(The Cardinals) roster resilience in face of adversity is no accident. It is the product of a player evaluation system put in place more than a decade ago and refined over time by people at the cutting-edge of their industry.

It began in 2003. The Cardinals hired Jeff Luhnow, who had degrees in economics and engineering from Penn and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern. Note the absence of the word baseball in that resume.

The Cardinals assigned Luhnow the task of developing a new data methodology the team could use for scouting, evaluating and projecting talent. He started by hiring a NASA engineer and biomathematician, Sig Mejdal, to help him devise a system that could assimilate all the available information.

The Cardinals’ player evaluation program was one of the first that combined scouting information and statistical analysis. The system has evolved into one of the most sophisticated in the business, with proprietary algorithms (using neural nets and other artificial intelligence technology) that determine the value for each player.”

That emphasis is the result of one person, their owner, Bill DeWitt, Jr., a Cincinnati native and current resident. In fact, from his downtown office window, the Cardinals’ owner can see the Reds’ home ballpark. The Cardinals have indeed thrived in win-loss under the leadership of Bill DeWitt Jr.

“DeWitt’s commitment to modern baseball has produced a golden era for the Cardinals. In his 20 years as owner, the Cardinals have won more postseason games (71) than any National League team. By comparison, the Reds have won two over that period. The Cardinals have won two World Series and four NL pennants. They’ve done all this with a mid-sized market and average payroll.

“As time went on we had to change,” DeWitt said. “There was so much information out there. The use of metrics kept proliferating, and we weren’t doing anything to take advantage of it to evaluate what a player’s true performance was — and what that meant in terms of their value.”

DeWitt embraced advanced metrics as an evaluation tool … in 2003 … the year that Moneyball was on the bestseller list, far earlier than other owners.

“Today, every aspect of the game is under analytical scrutiny. On the field. Off the field. … There has been a coming around to information in the last 10 to 15 years and a lot of teams were looking for that edge,” said DeWitt. ‘I feel good that at the beginning we were able to capitalize on it.'”

This led to a transition for the Cardinals away from then-GM Walt Jocketty to a more modern approach: 

“Despite the Cardinals success in the mid-2000s, Jocketty wasn’t a good fit for Bill DeWitt’s plan to move toward more data-driven decisions. DeWitt wanted a more analytical front office and Walt Jocketty didn’t offer that.

By 2007, Jocketty’s most successful strategy had become outdated. He had been adept at grabbing players from other clubs engaged in mid-season fire sales. But as revenues surged in baseball, along with generous revenue sharing, teams became less eager to unload salary.

The division between Luhnow and Jocketty simmered barely beneath the surface for the summer of 2007. DeWitt fired Jocketty on October 3.

John Mozeliak, who had been an assistant to Jocketty, took over as the Cardinals GM at the age of 38. One of Mozeliak’s first moves was establishing a Baseball Development department, which had not existed under Jocketty.

Mozeliak put together a team of baseball outsiders to work with the Cardinals scouts and other baseball people. His analytics department consisted of a NASA engineer, and people with degrees in business, psychology and statistics. Their product generates the 0’s and 1’s for the organization’s data-driven decision-making.

“We’re able to combine advanced stats with the ability to create a model that gives us recommendations on contracts, salary and length,” Mozeliak said.

It factors in aging curves among other variables. Instead of paying players for what they have already accomplished, under Mozeliak the Cardinals pay for what they expect the players to do going forward.”

Rivals call the Cardinals a model organization for the way ownership and front office operate, not their team’s bunting.

You know what you never read about the Cardinals? About how players X or Y couldn’t be traded because Bill DeWitt loved them. About how players X and Y were getting an extension because of the owner’s personal judgment. You might make the case that sentimentality got the better of the Cardinals in their recent 3-year extension deal with catcher Yadier Molina. But Molina is earning his $20 million this year. 

To grasp the extreme contrast in the way Bob Castellini runs the Reds compared to Bill DeWitt’s Cardinals, read the rest of that post. 

Slouching back to old-timey baseball and threadbare clichés about playing the game “the right way” is exactly the opposite of what the Reds need if they want to follow the Cardinal Way.

And what are the other managerial candidates going to say? That their teams will play the wrong way? Good grief. 

Seriously though, showing up in 2018 for an interview to be a major league baseball manager and stressing you’ll do your job like someone taught you 30 years ago should be disqualifying, not a clever sales pitch. It’s hard to imagine any industry where a candidate would do well to say their approach to the job would be based on what they learned in 1990, before for example, when the World Wide Web was made available to the public. 

Finally, it isn’t the case that just because a team has an analytics department it therefore doesn’t matter whether the manager is adept at modern thinking about how to win baseball games. The manager has to be engaged and comfortable with using new information and ideas. One need only look at the 2018 Reds to see that. The gulf between their analytics-oriented front office and the way Riggleman manages can be observed from outer space. Certainly from Bill DeWitt’s office window. 

If the Reds want to catch up in the win column by using the Cardinal Way, they need to take a closer look at the owner’s box, not bunting practice. 

30 Responses

  1. Bill Lack

    My biggest concern is that this is already a done deal and the decision’s been made. Hope I’m wrong, but that’s my concern…my other thought is that they’ll hire Matheny (we all know the Reds love St. Louis cast offs).


    So you are saying then that in order for the Reds to become a consistent competitive team their off-the-field salaries need to be higher than on-the-field. Even if the Cardinals off-the-field staff SWAPED PLACES with the Reds the players on the Reds currently plus the players currently in the entire Farm system would not create a competitive team. Why? Because it takes a special talent to SPOT TALENT when drafting players. The Reds managenent of the past 20 years didn’t know what talent looked like and and they still don’t. A lot of blame can also be laid at the feet of players, especially pitchers. Pitchers used to go the full 9 innings more often than not. Today the average is 5 or 6 innings. What a joke. How many fans have a job who have full time jobs and leave work after 5 hours. When was the last time a pitcher worked on a KNUCKLE ball? Or invent a NEW TYPE of pitch? Today it’s the MPH which ruins arms. Still, the writer has a valid point but to add to his point it still comes down to whether owners want to spend BIG BUCKS both on and off the field. The Reds don’t have such an owner. Too bad the fans can’t hire and fire owners. Then the game would change and fast. Instead the Reds have frustrated fans and an owner who is LAUGHING HIS WAY TO THE BANK because of dedicated baseball fans.

    • Aaron Bradley

      The knuckle ball is really just an innings eater pitch but I could see a use for it and I like the idea of inventing pitches and arm angles, this is something Bronson Arroyo was fond of doing and had great success with for the Reds. I think in a home run park such as GABP it is good to think outside the box (to keep the ball in the band box). The Reds need to do a whole lot more thinking outside the box. Lorenzen should have been coached with the idea of hitting and pitching… but at least they are dabbling with him now… but still, they were willing to sign Ohtani an let him play two ways, but they don’t try the same thing with our own in house talent?

  3. turbobuckeye

    Terrific article. Very sobering as well. I feel that the hope of the last few years is fading for many diehard Reds fans.

  4. Daryl Abraham

    Excellent article Steve but I think the Cardinal instructor’s last name was Kissell. I always enjoy your articles!

  5. Scotly50

    From my perspective, the difference between the Cardinals and the Reds lay not in the managerial realm but in the front office.

    The Cardinals were .500 when they fired Matheny. A .500 team is not acceptable. They also have a different valuation process for their players. They do not fall in love, or to put another way; they do not overvalue their player based on feelings or metrics. The Cards office simply asks, “Is this player helping us win?”

    The Reds front office are mired in a losing culture and seem destined to continue. Ten games under .500 and a stretch of mediocre, (.500), baseball and they deem it a winning culture. Forward momentum.

    I am truly ambivalent to who manages the Reds. I think it is more of motivational position than anything else.

  6. Leslie McSorley

    Times change. Time marches on. To survive, one must adapt. The Reds are in the process of doing that … unfortunately not nearly fast enough for the majority of the fan base.
    I find it ironic to laud the efforts of Bill DeWitt Jr. considering it was his father as owner of the Reds threatened to MOVE the franchise out of the Queen City. I do agree that the Cardinals are a successful franchise and as a small-medium market team compete financially with the Big Boys not names Frisch’s. St. Louis will draw 3 million fans, Milwaukee nearly as many. The Reds … well thank heavens for revenue sharing.
    To me there is no one way to develop a winning franchise … actually there is. It is a plan that involves action, not passively waiting for new talent to develop. Action gets the fanbase energized and and that brings more fans to GABP.

    To be successful a company has to put out a product that people want to buy. To create the best product that company needs to take advantage of ALL the information available. It doesn’t have to use it all, but it needs to be aware of its existence. Pick what works best and keep the rest in reserve.

    Take a look at the roster, if there is a better second baseman or shortstop that who is currently there, go get him! Pitching, same story. Yes, it’s a roll of the dice. Trading a diamond in the rough for established talent. But it is something which is always better than doing nothing.

  7. roger garrett

    Amen and Amen.The reality is Riggs will return because he is old school and well so is everybody else.Sad

    • David

      Tony Larussa and Walt Jocketty did not like each other. And they are both OUT of the modern Cardinals organization.

      Advanced metrics can be useful, but unless they are meshed with intelligent management and understanding, they are just….statistics.

      The game on the field has not changed that much, but the game OFF the field has changed immensely. Look at how the Reds got trapped into some really back long term contracts in the past 20 years.
      Ken Griffey Jr.
      Barry Larkin
      Homer Bailey
      Devin was more of a tragedy, in that injuries really wrecked what could have been a great career.
      Homer had some promising fundamentals and got hurt, but I still think this was a mistake that could have been avoided.
      Long term contracts can be an asset if given to the right players, and a real lodestone if given to the wrong players. The fact that the Reds have such “bad luck” tells me that they really have a flawed decision making approach.

      The metrics have to be comprehensible to management, regardless of the complexity of the inputs and associated algorithms to determine how players should be targeted and what their ceiling is.

      My personal opinion after reading this is that the Reds really have no clue as to how to apply advanced metrics in a comprehensive way to evaluate players thoughout the organization.

      The most obvious case is their inability to develop young pitchers, especially starting pitchers. They truly have no clue about what they are doing. They may get lucky, but luck is not a plan.

      • David

        It is standard practice, I think, to draft pitchers that have strong arms, velocity. You can’t teach that. The thinking is everything else can be taught. I don’t think the drafts were bad, as every team had the same players on their draft board, and they would have been taken by someone else if the Reds didn’t exist.
        But the problem is evaluating them as they move up the ladder in the minors, and identifying their weaknesses, things to be corrected.
        Delino DeShields caught a lot of flak here last year (?) when he publicly criticized Bob Stephenson. But….he was right. Stephenson just had not adsorbed the lessons of control and command of the strike zone. So here he is, out of options, and not really ready for the majors. Will the Reds hang on to him, or waive him, or what?

  8. ghettotrout1

    I agree with the premise of this article in that ownership needs to get their noses out of decision aka bob c. But I highly doubt that the manager whoever it is will make more than one or two games difference. I do like the way Riggleman conducts the games minus a few bunts but all in all if we think the next manager is going to make that big of a difference we are all delusional. But I believe you’re right that the decision to hire Riggleman is more about the bad decision making process front big bob.

    • David

      The management and ownership HAVE to be involved in major decisions regarding payroll, contracts etc.
      The problem is that the thinking of the Reds Ownership is wrong. They are using the wrong methods to make decisions. The Cardinals, by example, have developed a better decision making process, a better way to use metrics and player evaluation to decide which players are good, and who to get rid of/hang on to. Would the Cardinals have held on to Billy Hamilton this long? My somewhat educated guess is no. If Hamilton had come up with the Cardinals, he would have been long gone.

  9. Tampa Red

    I just think too much of being made of the owner being a problem. I mean, it’s the same owner of the very good, winning teams of 2010-12. Would it be better if Castellini was less involved in roster decisions and the on-field management staff? I guess, although again I’ll go back to 2010-12. And really, outside of conjecture, do we REALLY know how much Castellini gets involved in those things?

    The number 1 reason — and whatever number 2 is, it isn’t close —- the Reds have been bad for 3+ years is their pitching has been horrible. It’s not the bunting, or the lineup construction, or not using the Herrara’s and Ervin’s of the world enough or whatever else gets discussed ad nauseum, it’s the horrible, no good starting pitchers the Reds have been running out there for years.

    Reed, Stephenson, Garrett, Romano, Finnegan, Mahle, those are the guys we’ve hearing about for years. None of have turned into dependable big league starters. Sure, they all have great arms, but none of them have two or more above average pitches AND the command of those pitches to be reliable, consistent big league starters. That’s the problem, not the owner.

    That was an interesting read, and well written, as usual. The only reason I’m even commenting on it is that I’m starting to see this theme pop up everywhere recently. And I just think Castellini could retire today to his palatial estate in Naples or West Palm or wherever and do nothing more than sign the checks and it won’t make the Reds one game better until they improve their pitching staff. And I don’t see how the pitching staff can be blamed on Castellini.

    • Tampa Red

      Ok fair enough. But Castellini did in fact hire Baker, so there’s that. And if you have some evidence that Castellini is telling Riggleman how to do his job then I’m all ears. That would be a game changer.

      What I read is that Castellini is giving Riggleman a job interview in real time. It’s his team. Pretty sure he can do that. Furthermore, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      Finally, Riggleman is an interim manager. If that’s changed then I’ve somehow missed it. I just think everyone would be well served to let this play out, but I understand why that’s not happening and it’s all good.

      But none of this matters until the Reds until the Reds address their woeful starting pitching staff. If they go into 2019 depending on the same guys, the manager won’t matter.

      • David

        Most of the key players on those teams were scouted and drafted and developed before Big Bob and his sidekick Walt showed up in Reds Country.
        Walt went out and got a retread Cardinal to play third, Scott Rolan, and drafted Mike Leake who went right into the rotation as a rookie in 2010. They also signed Aroldis Chapman out of Cuba.
        Jocketty made some later shrewd trades to bring in Latos. But he also clogged the roster with a lot of other retread Cardinals that produced a lot of negative WAR.
        Walt also is to a large degree responsible for the fact that after 2013, the Reds have pretty much stunk. He played the personnel game by the old rules, and well, here we are.

  10. Jeff Reed

    I’m sure Mr. Castellini and Mr. DeWitt, Jr. know each other and are probably friends but does that mean Mr. Castellini will adjust the Reds organization to operate in the Cardinal Way? Highly unlikely. it’s much more likely, as long as Mr. Castellini remains the principal owner, that the operating philosophy will remain the Reds Way.

  11. Scotly50

    “A walk is as good as a hit”. Really. You actually believe that?????

  12. roger garrett

    Great article Steve and you are right about it being such a challenge to even think about trading a player.It is obvious when they do make a trade its only to acquire more players then they give up in hope they get lucky.

  13. Russell Proctor

    Please send some of the highlights from this piece over to John Fay and also his boss (seriously). It may get some mention in the Enquirer and get more people talking.

  14. another bob from nc

    As an aside, with the possible exception of Philadelphia and New York, writers for major media outlets (John Fay et al.) seem very careful not to offend when writing about the teams they cover. They appear to walk a thin line between analysis and promotion. This price for a writer’s access is paid by the fans.

    • David

      Sport team owners, and major college athletic programs are thin skinned and touchy about bad PR like little children.

  15. big5ed

    Aah, maybe. The Cardinals offered Pujols a huge contract, but gout outbid, and thus bailed out, by the Angels. Luck counts, though.

    • RedsFanInFL

      They offered him more $/year for less years (something like $30 million/year x 6-7 years). They never even considered a 10 year contract. I lived in StL at the time and I remember the local media saying that they would hate to see Pujols go. But they also said that it would be nuts to get into a bidding war with the big media markets and that the Cards would be better off in the long run to just let him go than to sign him to an albatross contract that the Angels now have

  16. big5ed

    I don’t think Riggleman will be the manager next year, and Fay’s theory was lame.

    Having said that, I absolutely have no problem with Reds minor leaguers consistently being taught the proper way to execute rundowns, to get a proper secondary lead, to hit the cutoff man and to know where the cutoff man will be, to use the proper footwork while making any number of plays at every position, to concentrate on game situations so as to know things like whether the left fielder throws left or right-handed, to be a passable situational hitter when appropriate, and, yes, to have fundamentally sound bunting technique for those unusual situations when a bunt is called for.

    The Reds do not have to choose between using analytics efficiently, and having players who know how to play the game properly. They can do both.

  17. Aaron Bradley

    The owner loves Jocketty. Really this is the splinter faction of the Cardinals that believed in the Old Way not the New Way. They inherited a lot of good work by Krivsky and even O’brien and they have made some decent moves, but they have proven why the Cardinals cut them loose. Remember Bob is a former minority owner in the St Louis franchise, there is no doubt he brought Walt over here as part of their former acquaintance. Why they hired Baker is a bit of a mysery but I am thinking it was political correctness, it put the Nati on the map for being first North American city to have head coach as African American in football, baseball and also have a black Mayor. I know that is a stretch, but I remember at the time it was mentioned as a big thing, I didn’t invent this out of thin air, it was a talking point when the Obama era was kicking off.

  18. James H.

    Steve, this article really makes me mad. Why? Because it’s absolutely the honest truth. What is wrong with the Reds? That should be your next article, summarizing their problem.