Baseball fans love to question their team’s manager. We interrogate every decision to bunt, steal a base, or use a pinch hitter. We’re never, ever satisfied with the stupid batting order, playing time decisions, bullpen roles, use of platoons and much more.
Second-guessing the manager is as much a part of the national pastime as the baseball itself. Those debates are the beating heart of radio call-in shows, water cooler conversations and, of course, team websites like this one.
That won’t change with the Reds’ new manager.
But David Bell doesn’t have to make out perfect lineup cards to be an inspired choice for the Reds. His most important attributes lie elsewhere and won’t be visible to the public. He has invaluable experience with first-class organizations and can use it to move his hometown team forward.
Over the past five years, the job of big league manager has been torn down and rebuilt.
The grizzly face of the franchise guys with outsized personalities, set in their ways, running games from the dugout on intuition and hunches — think Tommy Lasorda, Sparky, Jim Leyland, Sweet Lou, Bobby Cox, even Tony LaRussa — they’re anachronisms.
For better or worse, front offices are invested in playing a much larger role in in-game strategies. Files stuffed with data are mandatory reading for field managers. Tactical decisions of who to play and where; the batting order; and when to bunt, steal and make pitching changes have become collaborative by design.
Richard Justice, one of America’s best veteran baseball writers, recently said this:
“The wall that once existed between the manager and general manager no longer exists. There is information flying back and forth all day long, emails, texts, memos and all that. The front office is going to have input into your lineups, it’s going to have input into how you play out the game, the game plan that night and they’re going to review everything the manager does.” [The Tony Kornheiser Show, Oct. 17, 2018]
Managing every inning has become a team effort that includes the president of baseball operations, general manager and front office staff.
Given that context, where does a manager’s value-added come from?
Not everyone can do it, let alone excel at it. We’ve all had good teachers and rotten ones. The best are organized, clear and can explain new, complex ideas in ways we understand.
The major league manager has become the person responsible for making sure advanced data is condensed and transmitted to players in a coherent way. More data does not necessarily mean more comprehension. It’s easy to overload players with too much new, technical information. Players also often have to be sold on change.
David Bell and his coaching staff must digest the information provided by the front office and make it understandable without undercutting a player’s natural instinct. That’s an important human element in an analytics-first dugout.
David Bell gets that. By all accounts he’s great at it.
Last week, Bell talked about “bridging the gap” to make sure “everything that is worked on in the front office is part of what we do on the field and player development and scouting. …There’s a real edge to be had there.”
That’s an accurate description of what is expected now from the thoroughly modern major league manager.
But it’s not a complete picture of what’s needed. Not with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds analytics department has been focused on front office personnel decisions. Nothing wrong there. Where it seems to fall short in comparison to other organizations is having a working structure in place to assist the team’s players.
David Bell is the right guy to address that. In his three years as Mike Matheny’s bench coach, he saw how the St. Louis Cardinals transmit advanced information to its players and the value of it. In fact, Bell’s job was to immerse himself in the new data and do just that. Like many front offices, the Cardinals put priority on supporting their players’ preparation, even real-time during games.
“There’s incredible information, and it has to factor into everything we do,” said Bell during an interview less than year ago. “It’s there. If we don’t access, utilize and implement that information, we’re going to fall behind. The information is the edge.”
Bell must help the Reds develop a better system to do just that. He can let the Reds know what a first-rate analytics department does.
Early signs are promising.
Bell repeatedly mentioned during his introduction the importance of every player being prepared as much as possible. That’s code for downloading information. That means the front office doing research and supplying it to players.
“We continue to learn new things each and every day,” said Bell in an interview about a year ago. “That’s something that’s really important to me, having a mindset and having people around me that have a mindset that we are going to get all of the information we can. Some of it we may not use, but we are going to be open to finding the best approach in every situation.
It’s significant that Bell has asked for his own workspace in the Reds front office. Many managers don’t spend the offseason in their team’s town. For example, Dusty Baker went home to California once the season ended. Bell is moving his family here and plans to be around Joe Nuxhall Way all winter. He wants to be involved in front office decision-making. That’s terrific news.
If David Bell is to bridge the front office and dugout, he must insist the research folks provide more help to the coaches and players. That’s the way it works most successful places. Players who switch organizations now talk openly about differences in information they’re provided. When it comes to information flow, David Bell has to make demands on both the players and front office.
To borrow his metaphor, traffic travels both ways on bridges. So does communication.
The words “family” and “familiar” share a common Latin origin. At David Bell’s introductory press conference, the notion of “familiar with” was never used to explain his hiring. This time Reds didn’t choose an internal candidate. Though Reds fans had reason to be skeptical that’s where the search would finish.
We’ve come to expect a certain pattern of Familiar With employment in the Castellni Era.
Bob Castellini was Familiar With general manager Walt Jocketty from the time they were together in St. Louis. The Reds hired Familiar With pitching coach Bryan Price to replace Dusty Baker. Walt Jocketty brought in a parade of Cardinals retreads because he was all too Familiar With them. The Reds brass has promoted and promoted Familiar With employees, including Dick Williams himself.
There were plenty of those candidates for manager this time, too. But Dick Williams stayed true to his announced plan, despite local and national drumbeat to anoint Jim Riggleman during the season.
David Bell has ties to the Reds. More on that in a minute. But that wasn’t the primary rationale for his hiring. His qualifications were largely built on knowledge and professional development from after he left the Reds. If you took Bell’s resumé and crossed out every connection to Cincinnati, he’d remain wholly qualified for the Reds manager job by today’s standards.
We know that, in part, because Bell was pursued by several other organizations this offseason. Bell’s diverse experience, age and qualities match the prototype manager that successful teams — the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Brewers and more — have hired the past couple years.
In fact, David Bell’s hiring represents an important break from the insularity plaguing the Reds. It’s a victory for Dick Williams’ vision of dragging the Reds into the 21st century.
Much has been said and written about how David Bell can play a vital role delivering a unified message throughout in the Reds organization. Bell’s unique front office experience from his time with the Giants as VP of Player Development makes him suited for that. Bell himself talked about this in his press conference and subsequent interviews.
But the problem Bell must address is much more fundamental. The Reds don’t have a true, single, coherent message.
We’ve watched divisions produce inconsistent personnel management and messaging. The commitment to rebuilding has been jagged. A manager made important personnel announcements that weren’t communicated to players or seemingly even to the front office. To say they were walked back does a disservice to the pacing. Even the recent search appeared plagued by conflicting, head-snapping leaks from Reds leadership.
No split has been more central and debilitating than that between those reluctant to move forward and others ready to. Ownership has held on to players too firmly. The family broadcasting brand mocks change. Ideas like speed-first leadoff hitters linger well past the expiration date. We’ve witnessed a culture of aversion to change.
Can David Bell address all that? Yes. He can and he must.
Bell comes down squarely and loudly on the side of change. He’s said the Reds “entire organization” should not only be modern, but unified “ahead of the curve” He could not have been clearer about his determination to use all available data to help prepare the players.
If you’re concerned that irony is dead, consider this.
David Bell’s last name will afford him latitude with the Old School group to make change happen. Gus Bell’s grandson will hush the chorus of resistance to new ideas on the nightly broadcast. Buddy Bell’s son will be able to shepherd rapid personnel turnover through the owner’s box.
I’ve heard you never go wrong with a Bell.
One Good Man
Is David Bell the right guy to lead the Reds back to regular contending?
It’s a tough division. It’ll be a while until we know.
Whenever you’re talking about the impact of a manager, it’s worth keeping front and center that roster is reality. As I’ve said, when the Reds acquire and develop better players, when those players are healthy enough to be on the field and perform to their potential, only then will the manager make a crucial difference. The encouraging, fleeting peaks (and deep valleys) of the 2018 season demonstrate that truth.
That will be the case for David Bell in 2019 and beyond.
Noted philosopher Janis Joplin wrote, albeit in a different context, “one good man ain’t much, it’s only every little thing.” Can a single person make a profound difference in a major league organization?
Hmm. Maybe. If it lets him.
In David Bell, the Reds have landed a smart, curious guy with meaningful experience. He possesses a valuable skill set that can challenge and align ownership, the front office, dugout and locker room. Bell may well be the smartest, most talented person in the organization. If that’s the case, let’s hope the people who hired him realize it and grant him a broad portfolio.
Maybe, for once, an organization laden with nepotism and insularity punched above its weight because the candidate had sentimental reasons to choose Cincinnati over Toronto, Anaheim and Arlington.
If the wall between manager and front office has fallen, David Bell must take full advantage of his time on the other side. He was hired to be the first modern manager for the Reds. But, for the club to be its best, Bell’s influence must extend far beyond that role. He has to function as de facto co-President, working hand-in-glove with Dick Williams and Nick Krall on everything, especially personnel decisions and information flow to the team.
David Bell is qualified to do just that. He’s built to come home and fix things.
That’s an uncharacteristically optimistic article Steve. And as one of the more optimistic fans at RLN I approve. It all boils down to the opinion that David Bell has the experience and skill set to be a successful manager in the “modern” mold, and that he has so far said and done things that suggest that he could be very effective. And that’s wonderful news for the Reds, for many reasons.
But having watched a lot of high level baseball between four teams with very strong rosters from top,to bottom (Boston, LA, Houston and Milwaukee) it’s clear that Bell is only one piece, albeit a big one, of the competitiveness puzzle. The Reds have some very good players right now, and a few more coming up through the minors. They may have the strongest bench in recent Reds memory, which could be huge in the post season especially, but also in the face of inevitable injuries. If you watched only the World Series, could you tell me for sure who the starting 8 are for Dave Roberts or Alex Cora? But as we all know, the Reds are not yet competitive from that little hill in the middle of the infield.
Let David Bell move into the executive suite, move to Cincinnati for the offseason, start naming coaches, gathering data, and preparing for 2019. And while that’s happening, the Reds have urgent questions about their roster. Where are at least one or two more starting pitchers and how do they get to Cincinnati? Of the remaining arms, who starts effectively, who mans an efficient bullpen, and whose time with the Reds is done? And on offense, what is the best use of Scooter Gennett, where does Senzel play, is BHam still a Red as a supporting player or does he roam someone else’s center field? Those and many other questions must be answered decisively and with a united, purposeful voice. If so, 2019 could be an exciting year. If not, then probably not.
Either way, welcome to David Bell. We’re glad you’re here. Now let’s get down to some serious work.
I’ve seen comments from some Reds fans about how this is a typical Cincinnati Reds hire. At first, and only but for a moment, I was slightly perplexed at what they meant by that. But it didn’t take me long to figure out what they were saying. The fact that it did momentarily confuse me bothers me.
Here’s why it bothers me: I’ve been a Reds fan for 29 yrs and I should’ve seen this type of hiring coming. What do I mean by that? What type of hiring should I have seen coming? Here’s what I mean by I should’ve seen this type of hiring (and what I believe those aforementioned reds fans were talking about): that the Reds would hire a mgr with no previous MAJOR LEAGUE managing experience and one with ties (familial or otherwise) to the organization.
I got caught up in the big names being thrown about (Joe Girardi, John Farrell, etc) and I’ve only got myself to blame. I’m kicking myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
But, I’m not entirely against this hiring. Yes, I do have concerns about a guy with no ML managing experience but at the same time I kinda hafta look at it like this….If the Reds had gotten one of those big name managers then they likely would’ve had to shell out more than what they’re gonna be paying Bell. That is why you can’t convince me that this move wasn’t at least partly driven by money in that they want to save as much as they can.
But that’s fine with me bcuz I’m hoping it frees up more money to sign the big name starting pitchers this club needs.
So, yeah, I’m concerned about a first time major league manager. Did I want the resumeÃ‚Â´ of a Girardi or Farrell…yes, yes I did! But this move saves us money for better plyrs. So take the good with the bad I guess. And just in case there are those who might be pointing to Boston’s Alex Cora as an example of what a rookie mgr can do, I would say this…We’re not Boston. We don’t have their market size/money. Also, I saw last night how Cora is only the 5th (I think) rookie mgr to lead his team to a World Series title in ALL of major league history. So, yeah, likely not gonna happen again for quite some time.
I wanna get one thing clear about my point about Cora and rookie mgrs in general. By bringing this up I’m not in no way implying that Reds fans or even Reds brass are saying that we’re gonna win the WS next year. I bring bit up bcuz I know that there’s at least one reds fan out there who’s thinking it, even if they haven’t vocalized it on social media. It’s to that one fan (or possibly even more) that I speak this to. If it ain’t you then don’t worry about it. Maybe this one fan wasn’t worth bringing this up for but I felt it was worth it, lol. Anyway, free country/freedom of speech and all that good stuff, lol.
I don’t think anyone is expecting Bell to lead us to the World Series in year one. Getting us to the playoffs would be a big step. No we are not Boston. We are Cincinnati and we can do better than we have the last four years. I think Bell can begin that process.
I’m just playing the odds that there’s at least one fan out there that thought that. But they probably wouldn’t be so bold as to voice it.
I agree wholeheartedly and I am very hopeful. I do think that his moving his family to Cincinnati now is an extremely important move. Baseball (or any sport) is no longer a seasonal job. Not only the front office but also the manager, coaches and players need to be invested all year round. No more 3 month vacations. If the Reds can find some pitching and a centerfielder I will really be excited.
How many days till pitchers catchers report- letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s go !
Fantastic article Steve! RLN is lucky to have you write for them. I’m all in for David Bell. There are just so many possibilities moving forward with this organization, provided everyone is on board for out of the box thinking. Part of what I love about post-season baseball is that roles are no longer clearly defined. Starters pitch in relief, bench players bat lead off if the match-up data supports it, etc. If we get some semblance of that in Cincinnati next Spring/Summer, then our Reds have taken a major step forward.
I love this team so much and…..man, am I tuned out.
Terrific piece and perspective!
Great article, Steve. The offseason should be ripe with optimism, as it always is, but I’m not sure I can remember optimism kicking in as early as this before. A string of “good moves” (or, no-brainer moves that any other organization would make, but for some reason the Reds have been unable to make for years now) have my hopes high.
Well Jordan, while I’m happy that of the finalists, Bell was the choice, that alone doesn’t lend me to be optimistic. I still need to see what the actual plan is and whether Bell, Williams, and Krall are going to be allowed to carry it out without interference from Bob, Walt and whomever else has stood in the way. It is hard for me to imagine this team being appreciably better in 2019, i.e., contending for a Wild Card slot unless there are big changes in roster.
I’m not in favor of chasing expensive free agent pitching and not sure what the FO is willing to deal in trade for a decent, cost-controlled starter(s). The defense was pretty awful this past year and if that doesn’t improve, along with the realities of pitching in GABP, signing decent FA pitchers won’t be much of an option anyway. So, guess I’m at best curious how things play out over the winter, but I’m much too jaded by this team to be optimistic based on a managerial signing. Then again, I might have been suicidal or homicidal if they had hired Riggleman or some other old-guard type manager.
I say get your pitching via Free Agency. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe Stroman or any other young controllable starter, (that will be available), would be worth what the Reds would have to give up. Probably Trammel, India, Santillan, etc… I say go after Eovaldi & Ryu. I think both would be doable, financially speaking. Just my opinion.
I don’t think a manager needs to instill the ‘fear of God’ into the players. That is the responsibility of each player to perform up to his talent level in order to continue playing for the Reds or any other team in ML baseball.
You would think that would be the case. But this team has not played hard since Dusty. I think the problem is there is no vocal leader in the clubhouse. Votto is too quiet. I think Suarez May be developing in that role but is not there yet.
There is no Scott Rollen , Barry Larkin, or Greg Vaughn in the clubhouse to get into a players face if he quits on a play so unfortunately I think Bell will have to fill that roll as well. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not saying he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do it but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily think that is his personality.
So Steve, since the clear message is change (and I’m all in with the message), will you be replacing your current pic of Bailey with a newer, fresher one?
What…in a Dayton uniform for his next rehab assignment?
Well, that’s harsh! 🙂
it doean’t matter how good Bell is, because he is irrelevant. Until MLB adopts a revenue sharing/salary cap system like the NFL, NBA, and NHL have. the Reds have no chance of winning, and can hope to be competitive every 10 years or so.
Is Wolfgang’s last name Mozart?
Every team now uses “analytics” in evaluating a team, both for roster composition and in-game tactics.How can a person believe “a wall”, as Kornheiser wrote, existed between Riggleman and the front office? Was Riggleman a hardheaded tyrant as manager and cut off all communication between his team and the front office? As an interim manager!!!! Really folks.
Since communication should be the only skill. (according to some) ,I could be manager. I can relay information with the best of them and I can speak some Spanish. A bonus.
Does Bell speak Spanish???
I like the choice of Bell, Cincy connection yet enough of the new age of manager to push us away from the old school mindset of Dusty/Price, we’ll see where it goes. As a long time Reds fan I of course still root against the Dodgers. My best friend of many years is a Dodger fan and I of course sent him a picture of the 1990 team and a picture of the Nasty Boys and reminded him that we’ve still won the World Series more recently than they have. LOL
Darwin, perhaps. Hatcher, for sure. Beyond that…hmm…
Great article and I am all in with Bell because well I have to be.Change must be driven from the top down and not from the bottom up so lets see how it goes.Just hard to imagine Walt and Bob going along with new thoughts and ideas but we shall see.Personally if Bell can use data to manage this roster and make out his line up rather then being told to use gut and sentiment we just got better.Performance when given the opportunity is paramount to being successful.Loving players beyond their performance is a long gone loser type mentality that well losers only keep hanging on to.Surely changes will be made and I believe we will begin to see it very soon.
Williams is the son of one of the “minority” owners. I doubt he gets what he wants, I doubt he gives Castellini any ultimatums, and I doubt much gets changed.
Bell can’t fix the Reds all by himself. The majority owner, above all, must at least approve of a strategic direction. Bob has already approved of a strategic direction: tread water and let the “kids mature”. Don’t spend too much money, because after all, Cincinnati is a small market team.
A clue: When Hamilton is still on the club in Spring Training (after arbitration and making +6 MM dollars), you will then know how little will be allowed to change.
You know, I can live with Homer still being with the club in Spring Training; they owe him a boatload of money for 2019, and will give him every chance to hang in there and earn it.
And I wonder how long Bell will put up with all this? When the Reds only lose 85 games in 2019, will this be progress?
Perhaps DW has already had that conversation with them.??? Significant changes have been made & continue to be made. Just today I read that DW stated (IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m paraphrasing), that it would take a little while to get the entire coaching staff in place, in part because they have not been able to talk too potential coaches because of the World Series. They are looking under every rock. I like it!
There are baseball coaches under rocks? Sounds odd.
Choosing coaches from under rocks does not sound very New Age.