Talk about a quick turn around. Last offseason the Cincinnati Reds were being praised for their coaching hires. Some called them downright steals as the Reds lured Turner Ward away from the Dodgers, who had been a juggernaut offense in 2018, and took pitching coach Derek Johnson away from the Brewers. One of those moves resulted in a big break through for the Reds, who saw their pitching staff go from perhaps the worst in the league to one of the best. The offense, however, struggled throughout much of the season. And it seems that the performance of the team’s offense cost Turner Ward his job.
#Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams today announced that hitting coach Turner Ward will not return to manager David Bell's coaching staff in 2020.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) October 1, 2019
Dick Williams had this to say about the move:
Speaking for the organization, I want to thank Turner for the work he put in on our behalf. As we reflected on this season, it became clear that we lacked the alignment we were seeking with our offensive approach.
The offensive approach certainly is an interesting portion of that quote. The approach quote can be taken in a few different ways. Ward was a proponent of getting the ball in the air more. It worked well in Los Angeles. The Reds fly ball rate jumped up a small amount in 2019 from 2018, going from 34.5% to 36.3%. That could be as simple as a change in players from one year to the next.
Then there is the approach of the hitters. Jose Peraza looked like the guy we have seen before – swings at anything thrown towards the plate. Jose Iglesias was basically the same guy he’s always been, but with the added benefit of a juiced baseball (his adjusted stats were actually worse in 2019 than in 2018 – the baseball made a difference). Eugenio Suarez, despite hitting 49 home runs, had a slightly worse OPS+ than he had last year, thanks again to the baseball making a difference.
But, the big thing is, no one seemed to improve from either what they were last year in the Major Leagues, or what was really expected of them this year. A few players were what they were expected, but many flat out underperformed their expectations from an offensive standpoint. As a team the Reds wRC+ was 88, and their OPS+ was 87. In 2018 those marks were 95 and 95. The offense not only got worse, it got a lot worse.
Multiple players this season changed their swings from what they have used in the past. For some guys, like Aristides Aquino, it worked. But for more than a few other guys, it simply didn’t. Joey Votto is constantly tinkering with his swing, so we don’t really know exactly what – if any – effect that Turner Ward had to do with that one, but he didn’t really start hitting the ball until he went back to a swing we had seen from him in the past. Nick Senzel saw a few different swings and set ups during the season, even some that changed within a weeks span of time, too.
On the front of performance, the Reds letting go of Turner Ward isn’t surprising. But on the idea that he got one season at the helm, after being hired away from the best offense in the league, it’s certainly surprising. It does tell us that things weren’t acceptable, and that’s a good thing to see from the organization. If something isn’t working, don’t just stick with it because someone is still under contract. This move signals some sort of “accountability”. And maybe Turner Ward was a part of the problem. But the talent level needs to improve, too. The next hitting coach that comes in won’t walk into a situation with no talent to work with. But if the Reds want the offense to get where it needs to be, they need to add better hitters to the lineup, too.