David Bell has only been the manager of the Cincinnati Reds for a bit over a week, but he’s already making good on his promise to quickly fill out a solid coaching staff. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Reds have found their new pitching coach, and they didn’t even have to look outside the National League Central to find him. That’s right - Derek Johnson, the Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach for the last two seasons, is set to make the move to Cincinnati.
#Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson leaving team for same position with #Reds, sources tell The Athletic. Third coaching change for MIL since end of season - hitting coach Darnell Coles resigned to join #DBacks and the team dismissed bullpen coach Lee Tunnell.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 31, 2018
That Johnson was the Brewers pitching coach this year is a pertinent point, but the rest of his coaching history is certainly of note here, too. Prior to his stint in Milwaukee, he served as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Chicago Cubs for four years, and for a decade prior to that he served as the pitching coach for the Vanderbilt Commodores. What a fine, fine institution that is, I must say. While at Vandy, he coached the likes of David Price, Sonny Gray, Nick Christiani, Caleb Cotham, Jeremy Sowers, Jensen Lewis, Mike Minor, Drew Hayes, Matt Buschmann, Taylor Hill, and Drew Verhagen, all of whom have cracked big league rosters since their time in Nashville.
Y’know who else spent four years at Vanderbilt working with many of those same pitchers? Current Reds catcher Curt Casali, who graduated in 2011. I’d wager he’s got some solid insight into this hire.
As for his recent results, the Milwaukee pitching staff’s 3.73 ERA in 2018 ranked tied for 4th best in all of Major League Baseball, and that came while 2017 staff ace Jimmy Nelson sat sidelined for the entire season. He also coached a Brewers bullpen that boasted a 3.47 ERA despite being leaned on for 614 IP, which was the 5th highest workload of any unit in the game - higher even than the Reds bullpen, which fired 602.1 IP last year. Given how baseball has increasingly moved to shorter outings by starters and more strategic usage of bullpen arms, perhaps that’s one of his calling cards that stood out in particular to David Bell, Dick Williams, and Nick Krall.
What’s also interesting is that the Brewers apparently tried hard to keep Johnson around, as MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt both relayed.
David Stearns confirms @Ken_Rosenthal report that highly regarded pitching coach Derek Johnson is leaving the Brewers. Said they had "extensive" negotiations to keep him.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) October 31, 2018
Asked if there's something amiss happening within coaching ranks or #Brewers aren't paying going rate, GM David Stearns said he didn't think either was factor in Johnson leaving. Said he had talks with DJ about staying.— Tom (@Haudricourt) October 31, 2018
Johnson will take over a Reds staff that has been hands down the least valuable in all of baseball over the last four years - albeit one that should have several new, prominent faces within it if management and ownership’s statements about getting ‘the pitching’ are to be trusted. That said, there aren’t any free agent starting pitchers of significance who have worked with Johnson in either Chicago or Milwaukee. On the other hand, New York Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray - who is firmly on the trade block after statements made by Yankees GM Brian Cashman - worked his way into being a 1st round draftee after working with Johnson (and Casali, for that matter) for three years at Vandy, so let your reclamation project imaginations run with that one for a bit.
As it was with Bell, this appears to be a solid hire, although one that will still need several additional moves to really move the needle.