I don’t know anything about Derek Johnson (47) other than what I’ve read the past few hours and from the Brewers pitchers I’ve watched the past three seasons. Milwaukee fought to keep Johnson. He is highly regarded. The move has been described as “stunning” and “shocking” by baseball writers. It’s nice when the Reds are associated with that in a good way. 

Robert Murray has a terrific article outlining Johnson’s accomplishments with the Brewers:

“When the Brewers hired him, he came with a resume as one of the game’s best teachers from his time at Vanderbilt and the Chicago Cubs. He helped heighten the talents of David Price and Sonny Gray, among others. In Milwaukee, he provided exactly that in three years with the team.

In 2018, it was refining Chacin’s slider, allowing him to use it effectively in numerous arm slots. It was teaching Wade Miley how to properly impart a cutter against right-handed hitters. Both players experienced slow free agent markets in the offseason, with Miley having to sign a minor-league deal.

His work with the bullpen was equally impressive, too.” [Murphy, The Athletic]

Tom Diesman posted this link about Johnson in the comment section. It’s an instructive 2016 post that details Johnson’s teaching philosophy. Brewers’ team blogs weighed in here and here.  

“How big of a loss is this? Huge. Derek Johnson was known as one of the best pitching coaches in baseball and he reformed several Brewers pitchers such as Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin, and Wade Miley. It was because of him that the pitching staff was so successful.” [David Gasper, Reviewing the Brew]


“DJ helped to develop an effective, if unrenowned, pitching staff at the start of the season that ended up at the 4th best ERA in the National League … Reports were that Johnson helped pitchers such as Chase Anderson and Zach Davies reach their full potential, and his tutelage aided Gio Gonzalez when he came to Milwaukee late last season. Certainly many pitchers, like Jhoulys Chacin, out-performed their expectations once they joined the Brewers.” [Ben Reagan, Brew Crew Ball]

You can find testimonials praising Johnson from just about any major league pitcher who has worked with him. If Johnson is this good, he’ll improve the Reds pitching across the board.

A few other thoughts about the hiring: 

1. It’s audacious. Here’s the relevant portion of the meeting transcript: “If we could get the one person we most want, regardless of how plausible it is, who would it be?” Then the Reds — the Cincinnati Reds — went out and did everything they could to bring that person in. Kudos for the front office for aiming high and bagging the target. Massive effectiveness. You wonder what role David Bell played in landing Johnson.

2. It’s an important precursor to acquiring starting pitching. Johnson’s presence could make the Reds a more desirable destination for free agent pitchers. It also brings in another outside big brain to help the Reds front office choose which pitchers to pursue. 

3. Johnson’s experience in the Brewers’ dugout will give the Reds vast insight into how an ultra-modern organization operates. This includes new deployment strategies for covering innings. Milwaukee was certainly at the forefront of that. It doesn’t get more cutting edge in thinking about how to win baseball games.

“No one in baseball who had watched the Brewers were surprised, given the Brewers’ willingness to explore innovative ideas. In large part, that confidence was afforded to them by 1) analytics and 2) their confidence in Johnson to handle the pitching.

When Johnson came to Milwaukee, he was seen as an outstanding developer and open-minded in game theory. People within the Brewers organization considered Johnson the glue that made the “opener” and a variety of outside-the-box moves stick together.” [Murphy, The Athletic]

Johnson can also provide ideas to the Reds analytics department for what metrics to study, what data to provide to pitchers, and what an extensive scouting report looks like. 

4. The Reds might be giving Johnson a broader portfolio to coordinate (dictate) minor league pitching instruction. That could have been a big selling point to Johnson. Before joining the Brewers, Johnson had been the minor league pitching coordinator for the Cubs for three years. Milwaukee’s GM David Stearns described the Reds offer to Johnson as a “unique opportunity” and too good to turn down. That might be just money, but given Dick Williams’ recent talk of aligning instruction in the organization top-to-bottom, giving Johnson control over that on the pitching side makes sense. I suspect we’ll hear about this in Johnson’s press conference, if there is one. 

5. It’s a pennies-on-the-dollar investment. Pitching coaches are cheap relative to starting pitchers. Even if the Reds are paying Johnson twice what he was being offered by Milwaukee, it’s a pittance compared to the budget for starting pitchers. If spending a million dollars extra gets the organization a better pitching coach, it’s a wise investment, several times over. 

6. Signing Johnson, who is 47, is another powerful move toward new voices in the Reds dugout, which the club signaled when they cut Jim Riggleman loose. 

7. Even better if Johnson comes as a package deal with Josh Hader … or Walker Buehler … yes?

25 Responses

  1. big5ed

    This is an excellent hire. I just ordered his 2013 book.

    He’s got some good, young raw material to work with: Mahle, Stephenson, Reed, Lorenzen, Castillo, etc. And we’ll see what he does with Homer Bailey.

    Guys have to want to be coached, but I suspect that they pretty much all will be pumped for spring training.

  2. Scott C

    So far two pretty solid moves to start the off season. Keep on Keeping On.

  3. roger garrett

    The Brewers were 4th in the league in ERA.Look at who he had and tell me our guys don’t have at least as good as or better stuff and we know they have better velocity.Brewer park is a hitters park as well.I love this hire and if we can improve to middle of the pack in pitching under this guy well what a great hire.

    • Eric

      ERA? Oh, geez…you’ve done it NOW…look out – here comes Steve! *chuckle*

  4. seanuc

    Perhaps the Reds are going to trade for Sonny Gray, one of the better bounce-back options on the market. Sounds like Gray and DJ have a strong history.

  5. Jeff Reed

    A couple comments from a Brewer blog. ‘First Scooter, and now this.’ And ‘Cincinnati is not some terrible baseball town and has way more tradition than the Brewers; so let’s not trash the Reds just because we have had a couple better seasons.’

  6. redlegs64

    I am certainly a casual fan – I don’t know the coaches around MLB, college game, etc. But from what I’ve been reading on RLN, these are two very solid hires. If we look back through the past 4 years, the pitching has been the leading cause of the Reds’ horrible-ness.

    I’ve wondered many times why the pitching floundered under Coach Price – a former pitching coach. The only motivation seemed to be “send you back to the minors” if you didn’t perform at the ML level. It was almost it’s up to each pitcher to “figure it out” especially during the “spring training try-out!” Some did (Castillo) and some didn’t (Stephenson) and some were in the middle (Mahle).

    As the Williams/Krall era continues, I’m not entirely pleased with the pace of change, but it seems they are now getting some traction. Pitching appears to be the number one priority and it’s long overdue!

    Slowly the Reds are changing – and really for the first time since the rebuild started, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. When you combine some decent talent with a plan good things can happen.

    In addition, the release of the old coaching staff really sends a signal – it’s time for a change!

  7. BigRedMike

    The Reds swept the Dodgers in LA, the Dodgers must not have been a good team

  8. Ron Payne

    This is a good start to what hopefully will be a very exciting offseason. It will be very interesting to see what pitchers the Reds will go after.
    I think the Reds will go after Sonny Gray. Beyond that, I see them going after 1 or 2 lefty starters from the group of Happ, Ryu, Gonzalez or Alex Wood.

    There are also two relief pitchers that I would like to see the Reds go after.
    Taylor Rogers (Twins) and Lou Trivino (A’s).
    Taylor Rogers (LH) IP-68 K-75 ERA – 2.63 WHIP- 0.95 Lou Trivino (RH) IP-74 K-82 ERA- 2.92 WHIP- 1.14

    If the Reds do go after Sonny Gray, maybe they can expand the trade to include Didi Gregorius. That would put Peraza or Senzel at 2B assuming Scooter is traded or moved to the outfield.

  9. Mason Red

    I’m willing to give the Reds a chance with the hires made thus far but I’m more interested in personal changes with the team itself. They need pitching plain and simple.

  10. Nick Hogan

    I really wanted the Reds to land Chacin last year, and the wonders Johnson worked with him gives me serious hope.

  11. MWF7337

    Bailey lost his fight in my opinion. He doesn’t have the “Starter Stuff” anymore, especially in Great American Small Park. Put him in the bullpen and let him stew or release him and eat the contract.

  12. Still a Red

    ? can he get the young Reds pitchers to pitch strikes, w/o putting it over the middle of the plate. Also, maybe we’ll start drafting pitchers and not throwers.

  13. John Ring

    The hiring of Johnson was tremendous. Very encouraged by this. Hope the Reds have a press conference for this guy and yes, Homer better listen to him.

  14. acepurple

    I think they should spend the $20 million or so to move the fences back 20 feet, and raise the outfield wall.

    • Still a Red

      Not a bad idea. Why is GABP designed this way anyway…is it constrained by location or done on purpose? This season, the Reds gave up 135 HRs in GABP but only hit 98. In 2016 they gave up 140 while only hitting 88. Others years have been more balanced, but still…

      • Jeff Reed

        Junior Griffey came to the Reds in 2000 and GABP opened in 2003, so I doubt it was designed for him. The Bengals were given the better location because Brown threatened to move them to Baltimore at the time. The football location would have given the ballpark a real good view of the skyline. I favored Broadway Commons where the Casino is now. That location would have allowed a spacious outfield with a view of Mt. Adams. Such is history.

    • jr53

      Home runs are like beer. One is fun. Two are better. Twelve just make a mess and ruins the game. Back in my youth my least favorite player was Dave Kingman. Big guy. Bigger swing. Lots of strike outs and homers. A one tool player. Sounds like he would fit perfectly in todays game. Dave Kingman ball was boring ball. Lets move the wall back.

  15. Timmy RedLeg

    I’ve been in favor of moving the fences back for a couple of years. 1 person made the argument that they,(Reds), would never do it because of all the electrical lines that would have to be rerouted, & of course the cost. But, IMO, it’s a no brainer. Cincy’s Pitching staff has given up a boatload of HR over the past 4 seasons. I think if they’d push’em back, then the younger guys would pitch with a lot more confidence. Move the fences back, get new uniforms; it’s a new day in Cincinnati! The losing stops now!!! Go Reds!!!!!

  16. Timmy RedLeg

    The other teams have a significant advantage, at this time, because our pitching has been historically bad. Seems to me like the Reds are exposing their weaknesses to the other team. I’d like to see them try to minimize their weaknesses, & potentially create a home field advantage. Just my opinion.

  17. Still a Red

    Some interesting information below. GABP is the fifth smallest park in terms of fair territory acerage, but not that much smaller than average (less than .1 acre smaller). In fact most parks are within .1 acre + or -. There are 3 parks greater and 3 parks less than .1 acre of average. In terms of wall height, GABP seems about normal too, if not relatively boring. Of course there are some interesting outliers. I would think smaller fields would reduce base hits, higher wall would reduce home runs. The below data does not show power ally dimensions, nor weather/microclimate impacts.



    • Jeff Reed

      So five ML parks have less outfield acreage than GABP (Boston, ChiC, Philly, Cleveland and Houston). In the thirties when Redland Field’s seating capacity was expanded and one of the largest outfields in MLB became one of the smallest, a terrace at the outfield wall was added to renamed Crosley Field. That was a problem for the opposing outfielders dealing with the terrace. Maybe a terrace would cut down opposing homeruns at GABP.

  18. JoshG

    Frankly I don’t really like too much of the free agent starting pitcher class