Cincinnati Reds at the 2014 All Star Break

Cincinnati Reds Logo courtesy of MLB.comHeading into the All Star break, the Reds were hot – winning seven of their last ten. Despite not having Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips (and even Skip Schumaker), the Reds managed to gain some ground on Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit three homeruns during that stretch and was primed for one of his team-carrying hot streaks.

Then the break came and the Reds broke.

Since regular season baseball resumed, the Reds have dropped four straight. And it’s been ugly, ugly, ugly. Dropped pop-ups, flubbed grounders, base running blunders and an inability to hit with RISP have put serious doubts into whether the Reds should be buyers or sellers in the second half.

Oh, and Jay Bruce is 0 – 11 with 5 Ks since the break.

But the fact remains, this team is only three and a half games out of first place. They’re still over .500 and the starting pitching remains above average – if not superb. The bullpen has improved, though both Broxton and Chapman have been touched up a little as of late. And for the amount of money being spent on those guys (see my previous rant on that for more details), well, they’d better improve. Only JJ Hoover can’t seem to get it together (see below for my thoughts on him).

They’re not getting Phillips or Votto back anytime soon, but if they can snap out of this little funk before leaving the land of brats and cheese wheels, I think the Reds should still be buyers. Cautious buyers, but buyers nonetheless.

Please don’t give up top-end prospects to land a mediocre rental player. Trade a guy you’re probably not going to re-sign that’s proven to be successful.

This mostly consists of pitching as the Reds can’t afford to lose any position player that can even hit at least .240. Now this is a very limiting strategy, I’ll admit, but this Reds team is probably not worth mortgaging the future.

Alfredo Simon, as much as I love what he’s done this year, might be a flash-in-the-pan as a starter. His arm might not be used to this many innings. Deal him while he has value. If you truly believe in Homer Bailey (money talks), and you trust Mike Leake and pray to God that Cingrani seasons well, you still have a solid staff. And in the playoffs, you’ll only need Cueto, Latos and Bailey.

However, if the Reds get swept out of Milwaukee or lose three or four games over the next seven, I’d start selling.

Should be easy, right? Who wouldn’t want the likes of Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Zack Cozart, Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, Donald Lutz or Skip Schumaker? Teams are probably salivating to take on the contracts of Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto. GASP – did I just say to unload Joey? Yes. Yes I did.

Of course, none of this will happen. The Reds will continue to get diminishing returns on BP and JV, and no contender is looking to part with prospects for the rest of the gang.

All we can do is hope these guys continue to play as a cohesive unit and that somehow, someway, someone picks up the slack.

If only the Todfather had a daughter. And it was the day of her wedding. Every day. And he had to grant all us Reds fans our wishes: more bombs (of the three- or four-run variety), the healing touch on Votto and Phillips and a post-season berth. Surely the Home Run Derby runner-up has the clout.

Final Thoughts on JJ Hoover

JJ Hoover Meme

Seriously, though, Hoover’s stats are horrific. He’s given up 8 homeruns in 34 appearances (41 IP) and 25 earned runs for a 5.49 ERA, all leading to a 1 – 7 record. He might have good stuff and may eventually become a quality reliever, but right now? He’s killing the Reds. Get on the phone, call Louisville and tell them they have a project on the way.

JJ Hoover statistics

—Ryan Varney

Homer Serves Them Up At An Alarming Pace

Homer Bailey bobblehead

David Dewitt Bailey. His nickname, and the name you know him by is “Homer” – not a bad nickname for a baseball player. Except Homer Bailey is a pitcher and unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, a team that just shelled out $105 million for his services, Homer is serving them up at a rate of 1 every other inning in 2014.

It’s early, and that number will no doubt get better as the season progresses, but it’s alarming nonetheless. Besides the long balls, Bailey’s ERA this season at 8.16 is almost double his career average of 4.32. His WHIP is nearly a point higher, too.
Homer Bailey career statistics
Further, the Reds gave Bailey SEVEN years to reach the potential they felt he had in him – which they thought they saw realized in the pair of no-hitters he tossed in one calendar year. Hence the deal for a cool $105 mil over six years. That’s an average of $17.5 million per year. In other words, that’s ace money.

While I do think Homer Bailey has shown improvement over his first seven seasons, he’s no ace. People will quibble over the definition of what an ace is, but everyone agrees, an ace is the team’s best option when they need a win – someone you can bank on virtually every appearance. You can’t bank on Bailey. Like most of the Reds staff, he’s just too inconsistent and his career stats bear this out.

Too often the trend in baseball has shown that players receiving huge contracts have rather suspect performances the ensuing season. And with the Reds anemic offense, they really need Bailey to rise above the norm. Based on the early returns, he is not.

But it’s not all doom and gloom Reds fans. The team was smart enough to back load the contract with Bailey getting $9 million this year, $10 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016, $19 million in 2017, $21 million in 2018 and $23 million in 2019. Plus they set a buyout price at $5 million. So if Bailey doesn’t get back to his 2013 numbers, they can get out of the deal without taking too big a hit.

I certainly hope Bailey gets back into form in short order. He’s got dynamic stuff and he’s fun to watch. Plus, the Reds have enough guys in the bullpen willing to give up bombs – good thing Uncle Walt spent so much on such quality middle relievers (it’s enough to make you think he’s still on the Cardinals payroll – but that’s a post for another day).

I digress.

As does Homer.

—Ryan Varney

Dusty Baker and Reds Part Ways

Cincinnati Reds and Dusty Baker part ways
Reds and Dusty Baker part ways after several failed playoffs
Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker
Baker loses NLCS with Cubs
San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker
Dusty loses WS with SF Giants

Dusty Baker and the Reds are parting ways. Reds fans have been calling for Baker’s head since 2010 but have been largely ignored by a Red’s front office that seemed to have Baker’s back 100%. So it is rather surprising that Baker’s out with a year to go on his contract. Whether it was the Red’s decision or Baker’s to part, it was the right move for both.

Sometimes I’m happy to see a manager get fired (yeah, you Bobby Valentine and hopefully you, Joe Girardi), but in this case, as vocal as I’ve been about firing Dusty, I have mixed emotions.

Let’s face it, Baker took a woeful, inept Reds team and, with the help of Walt Jocketty, reversed the current flowing through GABP. He’s gotten them into the playoffs three times in six years and has overseen the transitions of Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto into national stars. He’s done a world of good for our Redlegs.

Yet, on the big stage, his teams falter. Where was your World Series triumph in 2002, Dusty, when you had the most dominant hitter on the planet (who didn’t even win the MVP because the second baseman was so good) and a 3-2 edge over the Angels? Where was your NL championship in 2003 when you had the second most prolific homerun hitter of the era and a bevy of young arms? No, you can’t blame Bartman. And what happened to your playoff run in 2012 when you go on the road and win two games only to come home and lose three straight?

As I’ve said before, it’s a case of motivation. Over 162 games, staying level-headed and even-keeled is a good thing – keeps you from burning out. But come October, you need to dial it up, give your players an edge and light a fire in the clubhouse. But it’s not Baker’s style to raise a ruckus. He’d prefer to leave it up to the players.

But who do players take their cue from? The GM? The owners? No. They take it from the captain, the skipper, the guy who’s in the trenches with them.

In 2003 Baker let the Cubs get away with all kinds of blame-shifting. They had a chance to win after the Bartman incident, but like the 2002 Giants, couldn’t close the door. Then a decade later, the 2012 Reds couldn’t close the door on Baker’s former team, needing only to win one of three games at home. Finally, there’s the ignominious honor of bowing out of the playoffs to a team that hasn’t seen (let alone win) a playoff game in over two decades.

What do all these teams have in common? Talent, ability and a complete lack of urgency in the clutch. What can the manager control or influence? The mindset, the heart and the emotional fire that burns inside his players.

Team meetings and motivational speeches don’t win games. But they put the team in a mindset that gives them the best shot of winning. Baker’s track record clearly demonstrates that his players are not in the best mindset come crunch time. (Remember when the Reds hit .272 with a .436 slugging percentage as team in 2010, only to get no-hit and swept out of a Division Series where they scored four total runs in three games?)

And now, Baker leaves the Reds with minimal hardware, unmet potential and worse, a team without clubhouse leadership.

It remains to be seen how Jocketty and the front office will approach hiring a new manager, but for the sake of our storied franchise, let’s hope they hire a motivator, an inspirer, perhaps an orator, but most certainly a leader.

—Ryan Varney

PS – Fire Jacoby next.

2013 Reds Post Season Recap

2013 Reds post season recap
Lights out for the 2013 Reds

This article will be about as long as the Reds post season.

Last night, the Jekyll and Hyde Reds showed up to PNC Park in all their Mr. Hyde ugliness, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2. The Reds post season lasted eight and a half innings and just under three hours and fifteen minutes.

**********

Actually, there’s more.

Everyone will want to second guess Dusty Baker for going with Johnny Cueto over Mat Latos, considering Cueto is still getting into pitching shape after missing most of the season. But it’s hard to argue with his logic. Cueto is (well, was) 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA at PNC Park, and Latos hasn’t looked his sharpest lately.

The fact is, Cueto simply didn’t come through. He wasn’t locating his pitches the way Francisco Liriano did. It appeared the constant, droning Cue-to, Cue-to, Cue-to chants definitely rattled him. (Note to Buccos fans: act like you’ve been there before – er, never mind.) Trouble was certainly evident when even Liriano slapped a hit up the middle. He only had three all year – for an impressive .064 BA. Then there was the long ball situation. While Marlon Byrd’s was forgivable, Cueto, along with Logan Ondrusek, also surrendered homeruns to a weak hitting catcher batting seventh in the order.

Russell Martin only batted .226 during the year with 15 jacks. Both his homers were soul crushing. Following up Marlon Byrd’s HR, Martin’s first bomb exploded the fact that Cueto was off his game. And then in the seventh, his second blast of the game pushed the run differential to five, meaning the Reds couldn’t even get back into the game with a four-run homer.

Congrats, fellas. You didn’t let McCutcheon beat you. Sure, he had two hits, two walks and a run, but he wasn’t the difference in the game.

Cueto’s inability to perform doesn’t let Baker off the hook, though. Part of a manager’s responsibilities falls outside the on-field strategies. Managers need to motivate.

Ask yourself, how motivated have the Reds looked in their past three post season appearances?

Not very.

The Reds have a ton of talent, but zero leadership. Not amongst the coaching staff and consequently, not amongst the players. This can be laid squarely on the manager’s shoulders. Pittsburgh clearly has less total talent than the Reds, but Clint Hurdle can light a fire when it’s needed.

So what now?

Moving Forward

Baker has exhausted his run as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. A change is needed and it starts with letting him go. In fact, the whole staff needs to go.

While I don’t have a suggestion for Baker’s replacement – other than “Please God, not Bobby Valentine” – I do have a suggestion for hitting coach: Dwayne Murphy.

To answer your question, Dwayne Murphy is currently the first base coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. And that job is actually a demotion for him. He was formerly the hitting coach for the Jays and is the guy responsible for making Jose Bautista the hitter he is today. Oh, and he turned Edwin Encarnacion into Bautista 2.0, something the Reds couldn’t do in all his time with them.

Imagine Todd Frazier unleashing the power we know he has to the extent that those two have. Devin Mesoraco, too. With Choo most likely gone and the uncertainty of Ludwick’s health, wouldn’t that be something of a nice surprise?

And the aggressive hitting approach Murphy takes could certainly help us remember why we ponied up a cool $225 million for Joey Votto.

Not trying to pour salt in the wound, but former Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner is said to have said, “Homerun hitters drive Cadillacs; singles hitters drive Fords.” Votto must’ve bought stock in Ford this year, because he’s buying up a fleet of them.

The Reds are sitting on a great wealth of talent and ability, from pitching to defense and even to hitting. But it needs to be brought to life, day in and day out – and especially in the clutch.

A change in the coaching staff is the best place to start if the 2014 Reds are to come alive and stay alive, all the way through October.

—Ryan Varney

NL Gold Glove Snub

I was stunned to learn that Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds did not win the Gold Glove for National League secondbasemen. Instead, the award was given to Darwin Barney of the last place Chicago Cubs. (I know, I know, the team’s standings shouldn’t factor in, but just look at the MVP award and you’ll see that MVPs often play for winners.) Mind you, I’ve been slow to come around on Phillips. I’m not some Reds nut who’s rah-rah for his guys. Phillips’ on-field flakiness has often caused me to cringe and I’ve questioned his on-field demeanor and awareness many times—especially on the bases. However, watching him on TV and in person for the past three years has proven to me that he is, without a doubt, the best secondbaseman in baseball. He simply makes plays nobody else can make and his range is mind-boggling. Apparently, though, only stats matter to the managers and coaches who voted for the Gold Glove this year.

The Stats

Looking purely at the stats (below), Barney does seem like the better choice. With nearly 100 more chances, he made 3 fewer errors. Barney’s fielding percentage was .997 while Phillips’ was .992. However, statistics don’t always tell the whole story.

Defensive statistics for Brandon Phillips and Darwin Barney
Statistical comparison between Brandon Phillips and Darwin Barney

Going Beyond Statistics

Brandon Phillips has a knack for making unbelievable plays in great spots. He has saved the Reds from big innings countless times, often stretching the limits of physics to make the out that ends the inning. While you can never say for certain that runs would’ve been scored, it’s no stretch to surmise that Phillips easily saved the Reds 15 to 20 runs in 2012, which probably led to at least seven extra victories. Seven games can be the difference between a division title and especially a wild card slot.

Even when he wasn’t coming up with plays in big spots, he was still making ridiculous plays. Bare-handing double play feeds, ranging to his right beyond second, diving back-turned-to-the-infield to make over-the-shoulder catches and even throwing between his legs to make outs, Phillips has done everything a secondbaseman can do. To get a better idea of what I’m lamely trying to describe, just watch the video below.

Your Eyes Do Not Deceive

After watching this video, it should be obvious why Phillips is the best secondbaseman in baseball. And while Darwin Barney is still relatively young (and will certainly continue to evolve defensively), he is not even in the same class as Phillips. Of course, there’s nothing to be done now that the award has officially been mis-given, but at least you now know who the best secondbaseman is in baseball. Please feel free to pass this along so the rest of America can be duly educated.

—Ryan Varney