Baseball America has named Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson as their Major League Baseball Coach of the Year for 2019. It’s the players that often get talked about when it comes to free agency and adding to the team. But even last year when the Reds announced they had brought in Johnson as the new pitching coach, it just felt different.

And was it ever different. The 2018 Cincinnati Reds pitching staff struck out 7.86 hitters per 9-innings and posted a 4.65 ERA while posting 8.1 WAR (Fangraphs version). The Reds did a lot more to change the pitching staff than just bring in Derek Johnson, but he oversaw a huge change from year-to-year. In 2019 the Reds pitching staff struck out 9.71 hitters per 9-innings and posted an ERA of 4.18.

The jump in strikeouts per 9-innings pitched of 1.85 was easily the best in baseball. Only the Rangers (1.58) and the Rays (1.07) topped the +1.0 mark. Of course, some teams had a lot less room to climb than the Reds did, who ranked 23rd in the stat during the 2018 campaign. The drop in ERA of 0.47 was also the best in baseball from 2018 to 2019.

The team as a whole pitched a lot better. But it might be what the two starters at the top of the rotation did that sticks out the most. Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray were both named to the National League All-Star team. In 2018 Luis Castillo flashed the brilliance we saw during his rookie season, but he struggled to find it consistently, posting a 4.30 ERA in 169.2 innings for the Reds. But under Derek Johnson in 2019 that improved to a 3.40 ERA in 190.2 innings while striking out 226 hitters.

Sonny Gray pitched for the New York Yankees in 2018. And he struggled, posting a 4.90 ERA in just 130.1 innings. Johnson was a big reason the Reds were going after Gray last winter – he was his college coach at Vanderbilt. With a few changes in 2019, Sonny Gray powered a career best 158 ERA+, throwing 175.1 innings with a 2.87 ERA and 205 strikeouts. The year marked the first time in the Cincinnati Reds history that two pitchers topped 200 strikeouts in the same season.

Donnie Ecker hired by the San Francisco Giants

The Cincinnati Reds didn’t have all great news on Thursday. Late on Thursday night C. Trent Rosecrans from The Athletic reported that Donnie Ecker was taking the job as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach. Ecker has been the Reds assistant hitting coach in 2019. He’s the coach who suggested changes to Aristides Aquino about his swing in spring training this past season, and helped unlock the record breaking season for the slugger known in the batters box as The Punisher.

There’s no word yet on whether the Reds will replace Donnie Ecker with another assistant hitting coach. And if they do plan on that, who it would be is certainly unknown. But with Redsfest getting started tomorrow and everyone all in one place, it’s likely we could find out the answer to the first question this weekend.

15 Responses

  1. Ed

    I can’t believe Ecker didn’t get Turner Ward’s job… I wonder if Ecker expressed his intent to leave, which is why they brought in Zinter and gave Ecker the new “hitting coordinator” position as a stopgap or something. Zinter is a real question mark to me. Oh well. Congrats to the giants

  2. Still a Red

    Hmmm…losing Ecker is disconcerting. He was suppose to establish the organization-wide approach to hitting instruction, supposedly a key strategy for improving the offense up and down the organization for years to come. Looks like that effort is now in question.

  3. Brian Jolley

    I am pumped we have him! I feel like any one the Reds obtain will improve after working with him and quickly. Also, I really appreciate all your writing about our team. I noticed you have stepped up the volume of material and I enjoy it (though I am still not feeling Villar at SS).

  4. Ed

    I’m apparently too dumb to figure this out- where can I see combined plate production stats from Winker and Ervin platoon? I guess the stats would be skewed because Ervin had less playing time at the beginning of the year, and then lots of at-bats against when he was playing left basically full time… I’d be curious to try and figure out exactly what sort of platoon they’d be but I’m too dumb for baseball reference

  5. Hotto4Votto

    On ESPN I saw a trade proposal between the Reds and Red Sox that sent Boston Lodolo, Winker, and Richardson for Betts.

    Betts is great, don’t get me wrong, but why in the world would the Reds trade Lodolo for a guy that’s only controlled 1 more year and will cost about $30m for his one season? Give me six future seasons of Lodolo any day.

    If the Reds were on the cusp of the WS and this put us over the top, sure, maybe. But I for one didn’t sit and watch 5 years of rebuild to roll the dice on one season and then have very little for the future. I’d be very disappointed in this development.

    Some of these proposals….sheesh.

    • Scott C

      That trade I might go for although if I’m trading two MLB players and a top 5 prospect. I would want something else thrown in, like maybe Quinn Priester.

    • Hotto4Votto

      That’s a much better proposal. Like Scott said, would want a little bit more coming back, but at least that one’s reasonable.

    • Hotto4Votto

      I think that’s probably likely, one more big signing and a bigger trade. It’s a reasonable route for this team to take. With that said, I really hope the Reds hang onto Lodolo, Stephenson, Greene, and Garcia when exploring trades unless there’s a true difference maker out there controlled for 3+ years. Of their top tier (6) prospects I could see parting with India or Santillan for shorter term gains, but I think the other guys are too important to our future. In Stephenson and Garcia’s case they’re the only guys at their positions (in full season ball) that look like future big leaguers.

    • Wes

      That’s too much mlb talent to part w. Pirates have to be rebuilding and are asking for a catcher. Give em TySteve straight up or throw in a back secondary piece like packy naughton.

  6. Bill J

    My only question is how much of Winker do we get? Did I read that since he was called up he has missed about half the games because of injury.

  7. Ed

    To me it’s just a matter of what’s available in free agency- I think we could trade the outfield pieces we have now to find an SS and catcher, and I think we could very easily upgrade our outfield by bringing in someone new. Castellanos would rake here, and even Puig brings some speed and defensive ability that our roster lacks presently.

  8. TR

    Congratulations to Derek Johnson. There’s a lot to be encouraged about the Reds so far, especially the acquisition of a top pitching coach.

  9. Ed

    BK- are there any catchers that you think would be worth targeting in a trade?

  10. MK

    Can’t blame Ecker for leaving since thy did promote him to head hittig coach.

  11. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I want to take this time right now to nominate:

    Doug Gray

    For the internet fan site manager of the year. For, he takes so much from all of us and is still able to keep a cool head.