We all know with 100% certainty the things we do not want to see from the next manager of the Cincinnati Reds. We don’t want to see him play that one guy who goes 0 for 4, intentionally walk the dude before the guy who whomps a dinger, go to the bullpen when the starter should stay in, or pinch-hit with that one batter who strikes out.
It’s easy as hell to critique a manager after things happen on his watch. Hindsight, especially in the league within the sport that still tasks managers with active lineup management in all non-interleague games in AL parks, makes rubbing sand in the wounds post facto an easy, knee-jerk way to cast blame on the decision-maker in the dugout. When you hear a certain broadcaster rip into the concept of defensive shifts when Matt Adams cue-balls a slow roller down the vacant 3B line on a breaking ball he rolls over on 90% of the time and it goes for an infield single, this is exactly what I’m talking about. No, the decision making didn’t work out. Yes, it looked a bit silly. Yes, we’d rather there have been an easy 5-3 putout instead of a runner on 1B.
But no, I’m not unhappy with the manager’s decision to put a shift on in that situation. It just didn’t quite work out.
So much of being a manager in today’s game of baseball is putting the right players from the active roster given to you each day in the best possible position to succeed, not making them succeed when given those opportunities. That part’s on the players, to be sure. However, there are certain aspects of management that are damn near prerequisites in the modern way in which baseball is played,
I mentioned defensive shifting already. That’s just part of how the analytics of batted ball data has helped change not only the way the game is defended these days, but also the way in which it is pitched. You want a lefty with pull tendencies to hit a ball to the RF? Give him the precise kind of pitch he does that most often against. Put the pitcher in to face him that’s the best at throwing that kind of pitch, with that kind of location, and make that decision more often the bigger the potential run-scoring situation. Also, make sure you know what other options the opposing manager has at his disposal in that instance to ensure that if he counters your pitching change with a pinch-hitter, you know what that pinch-hitter can do against the pitcher you may or may not use. Sure, go with your gut if you have a good feeling down there, but make damn sure you’ve studied the book of information made available to you before making that call, since it’s all readily available to you.
Don’t bunt. Just don’t. And if you have a roster full of non-pitchers with skillsets that make you wince and think bunting might be the best way for them to get on base or actually move runners around, don’t bunt - yell upstairs at the front office and tell them to go find more players that don’t profile offensively as need-to bunters. Just don’t bunt.
Speaking of which, work with the front office. The hope is that the Reds front office, as currently constructed, has plans for each and every player on the roster, ever player with a chance to crack the roster any time soon, and for players on the free agent and trade markets that they’re going to target between now and Opening Day. That said, a communication pipeline between the folks acquiring the players in the first place and the one in the dugout deploying them for 9 innings 162 times a year is paramount, especially in today’s age of increased specialization. All players have strengths, and all - even Joey Votto - have flaws, and the idea of roster construction is to create as much balance between the flaws of one player and the strengths of another to build insurance into each potential decision. Knowing why the front office has a player on the active roster and for which specific scenarios they’re supposed to be used is crucial, as is which part of the game is the correct time to implement that strategy in the front office’s eyes.
(As an example of this, I look at what the Los Angeles Dodgers have been doing, while fully acknowledging that they’ve been able to make decisions in an economy of scale wholly different than the one used in Cincinnati. That said, you can still look at their quarter-billion dollar payroll and see that they gave a journeyman like Max Muncy a chance, depended on him and his league-minimum salary in situations where he was poised to succeed, and still have zero qualms about sitting him when a left-hander starts on the mound. That’s a three-headed example, to clarify: 1) player reputation and opportunity aren’t predicated on salary, 2) succeeding where a player is best suited to succeed doesn’t equal trying to shoehorn them into something they’re not good at, and 3) when the front office says to play a guy, you play him despite his baseball card maybe looking rough around the edges from a different generation’s eyes.)
Moving on, it’s paramount that the next Reds manager often wave his magic pitching wand, and if he does not have a magic pitching wand, he should not be the next Reds manager. I’d get into more specifics about this one, but the first rule of blog club is that you never reveal the secrets of magic pitching wands, and I’m not about to get myself kicked out of blog club. Just know that the next manager will need a seasoned, weathered magic pitching wand to even be considered for the job, and he’ll certainly have to have more talent in wielding it than his predecessors.
Finally - and this is certainly an instance of ‘saving the best for last’ - the next manager of the Cincinnati Reds needs to be an ardent communicator. Before the game. After the game. During the game. After a big win. After a crushing loss. Specifically when one of his calculated decisions goes wrong. Part of the analytics revolution in baseball over the last few years has been the numbers themselves, but an even larger reason why it has begun to take off is because it’s begun going meta. It’s no longer spreadsheets and computers doing analytic calculations and giving a pre-written script to a manager who, in turn, yells ‘FOUR FEET TO THE LEFT’ to his 2B and calls it a day. No, today’s game has managers who tell their 2B early and often - beginning in the locker rooms in spring training - why he’s going to be moving him around, against which players it’s going to work best, and that it’s because they’ve looked at spray chart data - not because he thinks the 2B doesn’t have enough range to make the danged play. The ability to effectively communicate to the rest of the dugout that a positional decision, lineup change, or pitching change is not done because the manager thinks a certain player can’t do something but, rather, that it should make for an easier, more predictable outcome - and why - might well be a manager’s biggest task these days, and the better at that part of his job he is, the better equipped the players will be to respond accordingly.
Whether the Reds turn things over to a newfangled option in, say, David Bell, or turn to a tried and true veteran of the position like Joe Girardi or John Farrell, it’s safe to say that the consistent evolution of data in today’s game of baseball will make one thing absolutely certain: how the next manager of the Cincinnati Reds manages in 2019 will be completely different than how they would’ve managed in 2017, 2015, or 2013, and it’s vital to have a new manager who’s willing to admit that, whether they were actively managing at that time, or not. That’s not to say that older managers are behind the 8-ball, just that they’ve got to be pliable, and broad-minded enough to acknowledge how much has changed in game preparation and management in just that amount of time. In-line with that, they’ve got to acknowledge that they’ll be willing to continue to adapt at that increasing pace going forward, too, since that’s just how this whole thing is going to work in this era.
That’s a lot to ask from Dick Williams, Nick Krall, and Co. But since there are only 30 of these jobs on the planet, it danged well better be an exhaustive vetting process. Here’s to finding a good one, the right one, and the one with the best magic pitching wand.