The Cincinnati Reds didn’t pitch well in 2017. Their 5.17 team ERA was the worst in the National League, as was their 5.08 FIP. They also gave up more runs and issued more free passes than any senior circuit staff. A plethora of arms contributed to those woeful results. In all, 31 hurlers took the mound for the Central Division cellar dwellers.
Dick Williams sees a light at the end of the tunnel. When I talked to the Reds GM earlier this month, he sounded anything but pessimistic about his club’s pitching future.
“We’ve built up our roster to a young exciting group,” said Williams. “One thing I’m really pleased with is the progress we’ve seen with our young pitching. People were a little concerned about their pace of development this year, but we had to fill a lot of innings with pitchers we weren’t necessarily expecting to be in the big leagues.”
Williams went on to explain that they learned of Homer Bailey’s elbow maladies shortly before spring training, and that Anthony Desclafani joined him on the shelf not long thereafter. A third member of the projected starting rotation, Brandon Finnegan, was subsequently injured in April. As a result, “the Sal Romanos and Rookie Davises and Amir Garretts were making big league starts early in the season, which wasn’t part of their original development plans.”
The mixed results they experienced were to be expected. Davis and Romano made their debuts as 23-year-olds, while Garrett made his at 24.
“Those guys handled it as well as they could,” opined Williams. “I don’t think their struggles should be held against them. Triple-A is a big step and we asked a lot of guys to either skip Triple-A or spend very little time there. That was reflected after their arrival to the big leagues.”
The youthful trio had plenty of company. By season’s end, 16 pitchers 25-years-and-younger had taken the mound for the rebuilding Reds. Ten of them had never before appeared in a big league game.
“If you look at their last eight starts, Romano and Castillo had ERAs under 3.00,” Williams told me. “Mahle made four starts at the big-league level and his ERA was 2.70. That’s a really encouraging finish for those guys. A lot of our young pitchers made progress over the course of the season.”
Major League managers have historically been former MLB players. There are exceptions, but only to the extent that they didn’t reach the highest level. Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter, and Brian Snitker topped out in the minors, while every other current skipper earned a big-league paycheck between the white lines.
Contrast that with other major sports. In both the NBA and NFL, fewer than half of the head coaches reached the top of their profession as players.
I asked Minnesota Twins GM Thad Levine about this, and his response was predictably thoughtful. He began with plaudits and proceeded to proffer a prediction.
“One of the best aspects of this year’s postseason, in my humble opinion, is that A.J. Hinch is still managing,” said Levine. “It was a little bit of a breakthrough when Josh Byrnes put him in the dugout in Arizona. Josh received a lot of derision and criticism, as did A.J. They ultimately lost their jobs there.
“A.J. has been the bastion of this new wave of ex-players who were trained in player development, scouting, or major league operations. Guys like Brad Ausmus, Mike Matheny, and Craig Counsell have been the beneficiaries of that. I think that’s the wave of the now — finding people with playing backgrounds who have had complementary training in front offices.
“That should pave the way for the next iteration, which you referenced. Why shouldn’t somebody who hasn’t played at that level get a chance? A lot of GMs have been able to have success in that role without a playing background, so why can’t you replicate that on the field as we’ve seen in the NBA, NFL, and NHL?
“The generation that’s on the horizon will probably also be met with tension at the outset. Even so, when you look up 15-20 years from now, you’ll see a handful of people who haven’t worn uniforms before, but they’re wearing uniforms now in dugouts.”
Like many big league managers and coaches, Jeff Banister has a background in player development. The Texas Rangers skipper was a minor league manager in the Pirates system, and also served as a minor league field coordinator. He’s well-versed in what works down on the farm.
He doesn’t espouse a one-size-fits-all approach, nor does he feel a coaching staff should claim too much credit for a prospect’s success.
“You’re always going to give the accolades to the player,” Banister told me a number of months ago. “He’s ultimately the one in control of it. What is he putting into his craft? There’s the exercise physiology part of it, his nutrition, his routines, his throwing program… he’s either out there doing the things he needs to or he’s not.
“And there’s a difference between individual and comprehensive. Every organization has philosophies on teaching and coaching — their beliefs on how you best get to the end result — but that doesn’t mean it works for every single player. You and I are different. We get up differently and live our lives differently. I’m a taller, longer guy than you are. If we were pitchers, why would we be treated exactly the same?
“You’re molding and shaping different human beings on a daily basis. Yes, you have a comprehensive philosophy — it gives you a baseline — but beyond that you have to expand or retract on certain things you do, or don’t do, with individual guys. They’re not robots. They’re human beings.”
Five Larry Walker facts:
Walker had 8,030 plate appearances, 2,501 (31%) of which came at Coors Field. He slashed .282/.372/.501 in his 5,529 PA outside of Coors.
In his career, Walker hit .316 with a .993 OPS against right-handed pitchers. He hit .306 with a .903 OPS against left-handed pitchers.
Walker hit .314 with a .403 OBP in day games. He hit .312 with a .399 OBP in night games.
Walker hit .313 with a .402 OBP in the first half of the season. He hit .313 with a .398 OBP in the second half of the season.
The lowest batting average he had in any one month was .301, in July.
If you’re active on social media, you’re familiar with the online campaigning that goes on come Hall-of-Fame-voting time. Count me among those who enjoys the banter. It enlivens our off-seasons, and the stats and comparisons being shared are often enlightening.
That being said, I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew tired of the anti-Jack Morris crusade during his final years on the ballot. While the arguments against Morris’s worthiness were largely valid, the relentless attempts to marginalize his accomplishments became boorish. Rather than accentuate the qualifications of other candidates, a select group of pundits hammered away at the 1980’s icon.
Welcome to Morris-land, Omar Vizquel. The 2018 ballot includes more worthy players than check boxes allowed, and you’ve been anointed the new whipping boy. Hopefully you have a thick skin, because despite everything you accomplished over 24 MLB seasons, the negativity campaign has already begun.
My BBWAA membership began in 2010, so I won’t have the honor of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot for three more years. Here is who would get my vote as of today:
If more than 10 names could be checked off, I’d also be inclined to vote for Trevor Hoffman, Gary Sheffield, Omar Vizquel, and Billy Wagner. Being a big-hall guy, I’d consider a few others, as well. To say this ballot is stacked would be an understatement.
The answer is Max Bishop, who slashed .271/.423/.366 for the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox from 1924-1935. “Camera Eye” had 13 four-walk games in his career, and a pair of five-walk games. He once drew eight free passes in a doubleheader.
RANDOM HISTORIC HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Gary Bell was known as “Ding Dong” during his playing days (1958-1969), and for good reason. Solid but nothing special as a pitcher, Bell was well above average as a jokester. That hasn’t changed as he’s aged.
This past summer, the jovial 81-year-old feigned a poor memory when I asked which hitters gave him the most trouble.
“I can’t remember anybody that killed me,” grinned Bell. “I’m sure there was somebody, but that part I blank out.”
What about guys who didn’t hit him well?
“I think I had good luck against Al Kaline,” responded Bell, who spent the bulk of his career with the Indians and Red Sox. “I saw him a couple of years ago, and I was kidding with his grandson, who was with him at the time. I said, ‘I personally put your grandfather in the Hall of Fame.’ Al said, ‘Well, you got me out plenty, too.’ I didn’t realize it, but I guess I did do pretty well against him.” (Kaline went 15 for 76 against Bell.)
Bell was quick with a quip when I mentioned that Norm Cash owned him (20 for 54 with six home runs).
“I roomed with Norm in spring training,” said Bell. “Don’t forget, he was originally with Cleveland. I told him all about how I was going to pitch him if we were ever on opposite teams. You have to help the little guy once in awhile, you know.”
I looked at Bell skeptically.
“Nah, I’m just kidding,” guffawed Bell. “We never talked about hitting and pitching back in those days. We were too busy having fun.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Hall of Stats, Adam Darowski presented us with a JAWS-esque Hall Rating Baseline.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, the inimitable Russell Carleton wrote about what he learned from managing the 2005 Chicago Cubs through a simulated season.
Nippon Professional Baseball handed out its MVP and Rookie of the Year awards earlier this week, and an American-born closer was among those honored. Jim Allen gave us the details at The Kyodo News.
Lookout Landing’s Isabelle Minasian wrote about what she sees as The fault in Dipoto’s (prospective) stars.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Stephen Strasburg, first time through the order (career numbers): .222/.281/.355. Second time: .222/.274/.343. Third time .220/.275/.330.
On November 27, 1947, Joe DiMaggio edged Ted Williams in AL MVP voting by one point. DiMaggio had a .913 OPS and 4.9 WAR. Williams had an 1.133 OPS and 10.5 WAR.
On September 1, 1890, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms swept a triple-header from the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Pittsburgh finished the year with a record of 23-113. Brooklyn went 86-43 and advanced to the World Series to where they went 3-3-1 against the Louisville Colonels.
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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.