keyboard_arrow_uptop

Bryan Price went rather out of his mind for a little over five minutes Monday. There’s certainly nothing good to be said about Price in this: his harangue of C. Trent Rosecrans was unprovoked and abusive, ranking somewhere just behind Hal McRae’s violent tantrum some 20 years ago in the all-time ranking of regrettable managerial behavior. Venting about an umpire or a fan base or a dirty slide is one thing; a direct, unwarranted five-minute rebuke of a fellow professional is another. Price’s apology was 10 times too soft for my taste, as was the Reds’ apparent willingness to shrug off the incident without some form of disciplinary action. Still, everyone has ugly moments, and perhaps it’s for the best that everyone appears to be moving on from this one.

Still and all, I think we should have a non-rant-based conversation about Price, who has been employed as an MLB pitching coach or manager for 15 seasons now, almost perfectly continuously. He was the Mariners’ pitching coach from 2001-06, migrated to Arizona from 2007 through early 2009 (when he resigned in support of fired manager Bob Melvin), then took over the Reds pitching staff after that season. He turned around the Reds, although one could also say that the Reds’ scouting and development teams turned around the Reds. In either case, Reds pitchers had a remarkable run from 2010-2013. Price successfully developed Mike Leake as a big-league starter without Leake spending a day in the minors. Homer Bailey made start-stop progress for a time, but eventually broke out, under Price’s tutelage. In 2012, the Reds’ top five starters (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Bailey and Leake) made 161 of their 162 regular-season starts, and only a doubleheader cost them the other game. The team’s bullpen was one of the deepest and most dominant in the league in 2012 and 2013, despite relying somewhat heavily on cast-offs and guys who waited until their late 20s or longer to make good in the big leagues.

We’ve established the premise: Bryan Price is a good pitching coach. His pitching coach abilities are nearly unassailable; he had considerable success in three different places. When the Reds fired Baker after 2013, though, they needed a manager. Their choice of Price as Baker’s successor—a decision made without interviewing any other candidates—appeared even at the time to be a bit too easy. Price had never managed before, at any level. That’s an increasingly common blank space on a manager’s resume, but it’s a glaring one, nonetheless. The Peter Principle put Price in his position, and that’s not a great leading indicator of success. Nor, in general, is it the habit of a successful franchise to replace one leader they felt needed to be terminated with a member of his own staff. It suggests too small a change, and maybe an underestimation of the real challenges ahead.

It became clear almost immediately that Price is not a great big-league manager. He did bat Joey Votto second in his order, a lovely nod to stat-savvy observers, but a false lead in the search for his real managerial level. Aroldis Chapman has withered from merely underused to downright neglected, except that he seems to warm up without entering games more often than ever before. Price observes the hierarchy of the bullpen way too closely, which often means allowing middling middle relievers to face the middle of the opponent’s batting order in key situations while the relief ace waits for the inning to read ‘9’.

The Reds’ April 13th loss to the Cubs illustrates the point. Entering the bottom of the eighth, the Reds led 6-4. Two of the Cubs’ first three scheduled hitters were left-handed, and that included Anthony Rizzo, leading off. Optimally, a manager calls upon his unhittable left-handed reliever in this situation, to get him through the middle of the lineup and allow the second-best arm in the pen to take care of the weak hitters at the bottom in the ninth frame. Price had right-hander Jumbo Diaz take that situation instead, and two batters into it, the game was tied.

Okay, but no one goes to their closer in the eighth inning. Maybe you’d like your former pitching coach to be the one manager creative enough to do it, but that might be asking too much. So give Price a partial pass, and let’s fast-forward to the 10th inning of the same game. Again, Rizzo was due to lead off. Chapman was still available, and indeed, had warmed up during the intervening time, but here, Price called upon Manny Parra. Parra is a decent lefty specialist, but he was facing two pretty good left-handed hitters, so it wasn’t a great surprise that he sandwiched a single between two walks to open the frame. With the bases loaded and nobody out, the Reds needed to miss some wood in the worst possible way. Happily, Price still had Chapman—the greatest strikeout pitcher in baseball history—available. He went to the mound, lifted Parra, and left the ball in the hands of Burke Badenhop.

Burke Badenhop. Look, that tirade calls for a fine, even a suspension, maybe, but Price’s most fireable offense of 2015 took place one Monday earlier. Badenhop got Starlin Castro out, by some miracle, but he then surrendered a walk-off single to Arismendy Alcantara. (Alcantara was optioned to the minors Tuesday. He’s taken the plate 32 times this season. That single represents half of his offensive production.) Price gave away a game the Reds might have lost otherwise, but he lost it without calling upon Chapman at all.

Lest we forget, Mat Latos made some rather damning remarks about Price’s leadership and the state of the Reds’ clubhouse after being traded this winter. It’s unseemly to do that kind of thing only after safely departing the circles within which the comments have consequences—and it’s Latos—but Monday’s malfeasance hints that Latos might have been onto something. The Reds are off to a bad start, and are the worst team in what might be baseball’s best division. There’s no reason to believe they’ll salvage the season, so maybe firing Price would only exacerbate whatever drama surrounds the team, in a season that should be about the All-Star Game they’re about to host. By the next time Cincinnati is a serious contender, though, they should strive to put both a more tactful man and a better tactician in Price’s seat.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
mbgrayson
4/22
I rise in defense of the Reds. The statement that "The Reds are off to a bad start, and are the worst team in what might be baseball’s best division." is simply wrong. Currently, the Reds are 7-7, and sit in the middle of the NL Central, 2 games behind the Cardinals, and 5 games ahead of the Brewers. Time will tell. I agree that Price over-reacted to C. Trent, and it was clearly a reflection of the pressure that he was under. Still, it shouldn't have happened, as C. Trent did nothing wrong, and is a good reporter. Price needs to grow as a manager and try some new things (like not bunting like a crazy fool). Still, he is smart enough to adapt, and I hope he will. Batting Votto 2nd is new this year, and he has indicated that he is open to Chapman pitching more than one inning. Yet in my estimation, the Reds will stay in the thick of the playoff race if they remain healthy. Their bullpen clearly is terrible, and they will need to make a couple moves. I worry about whether Mesoraco can return and play near last year's level, but we are seeing far better production from Votto, Cozart, and Jay Bruce. The starting pitchers will be better than expected, and Chapman is great. I will wager that the Reds don't finish last in the NL Central. Any takers?
matrueblood
4/22
I'm not a betting man. But I will, you know, bookmark this or something, and if they don't finish last, a gold star for you at season's end. Five games is probably as wide as the talent gap between them and Milwaukee in the first place, so perhaps I should have said that I expect them to be worse from here on out, rather than that they're simply the worst in the division. I can't share your optimism, though. I'm sorry. This lineup is so shallow, even one guy going down (and if it be Votto, sheesh, they might never score again) would just be too costly. And I don't trust Price to evolve in the same way you do, though I don't claim clairvoyance on it.
ProBeauNO
4/22
I'm pretty much in agreement with you about the rant, reporters going to report. Price should get over it, it's especially funny he thought he lost a tactical advantage regarding a player who was out for the past seven games anyway. I disagree however the other portion, at least slightly. I saw this complaint (lack of Chapman in that Sunday game) from Keith Law as well immediately following the game and both arguments (your and his) are lacking to me. My issue is that it is just assumed Chapman was available. He had pitched in every game but one up until that point, including on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. So basically Chapman had pitched 4 of the previous 5 days - I don't think he was available, and Price has always been wary of having Chapman be hurt. Sure, this is speculation, but it at least deserves some mention. Unfortunately for the Reds Chapman is the only reliever on the team who can get outs consistently, so it's easy to look bad if he's not used, yet you can't use him in every game. I agree the Reds have a thin lineup, but barring injury (like every team) I think they can easily compete in the division with everyone but the Cardinals, who might be the best team in the NL. The Reds fatal flaw is the bullpen, there's no doubt about it. Other than Chapman, and perhaps Jumbo there isn't another major league caliber reliever on that staff. I see no reason why the Reds would wait to make a small move to improve their bullpen (Rafael Soriano, or through trade, moving Iglesias to the pen, call up Michael Lorenzen perhaps)? The Reds need a lot to go right to compete (Votto's health), but guess what - he's healthy, as is Cueto. To me, if they are both healthy the Reds need to act like this is their last year to compete, which it probably will be for a long time - so why not move Lorenzen/Iglesias to the pen and make other minor moves to improve what has to be one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues?
matrueblood
4/22
Chapman warmed up twice that night. He was available.
ProBeauNO
4/23
Sounds like an assumption to me, but point taken. Do you have any more evidence than a one game occurrence after Chapman pitched 4 of the previous 5 days or could this be a small sample size thing? Did Price do this last year as well? What about compared to other managers? Is this piling on an easy target?
matrueblood
4/23
I'm not sure what you're looking for, but yes, it's a habit of Price's. High-leverage situations made up a much smaller percentage of his appearances last year than in either of the last two years under Baker.
gweedoh565
4/23
I know this isn't the same things as "percentage of high-leverage situations", but according to FanGraphs' Average Leverage Index when entering a game, Chapman's numbers don't seem to differ that significantly between 2012-2013 Baker and 2014-2015 Price: 2012: 1.86 2013: 1.79 2014: 1.74 2015: 2.07 (SSS, obviously)
fawcettb
4/22
Well, I just read a transcript of the rant, and minus the hilarious number of expletives, I pretty much agree with Price. If you're going to lose your mind, a mashup of truly stupid questions is a fairly understandable reason.
matrueblood
4/22
That's... Not what he was on about. He was upset that he felt reporters were reporting things that damaged the Reds' ability to gain very minor strategic advantages. It could hardly be a more unfounded complaint.
redsfan1470
4/22
That's really the worst part about it. I thought the ridiculous expletives were pretty amusing, but the content of his rant was inane. "Your job is not to sniff out every f****** thing is about the Reds and f****** put it out there for every other f****** guy to hear. It’s not your job." Um... Bryan, that's pretty much precisely what the beat writers' job is.
walrus0909
4/22
Yeah, I'm confused at what Price thinks the beat writer's job is. It seems like overkill, but I'm reminded of the quote, "News is something somebody wants suppressed; all the rest is advertising."
Richie
4/22
Maybe he was just sucking up to his players ("gee, we're losing despite how great we are. Must be the press' fault!"). I think it's a poor managerial tactic, but not an uncommon one.
dougkm
4/22
Try this behavior at your job today, and see how long you remain employed. He disgraced the organization.
matrueblood
4/22
It's absolutely something one could be fired for, under certain circumstances. As I said, the lack of any apparent discipline is surprising and disappointing. I do think we underestimate what most employees would get away with, at least as a first offense. There are disciplinary steps many organizations would take in a similar situation that fall shy of termination. There's also the fact that obscene language is much less rare in baseball than in virtually any typical workplace. I'm not happy about that, and wish more were done to push back on it in cases like this, but it's probably a factor.
gweedoh565
4/22
I don't really understand the calls for public discipline. The guy was venting b/c his club was under-performing and under-staffed. The issue and forum through which he vented was ill-advised, but it didn't really hurt anyone (except those offended by bad language, I guess?), and it was hilarious, so who cares? You could maybe argue that C Trent was hurt by it since the rant was directed at him, but it sure doesn't seem like he took any offense (he presented it as a guy venting b/c his team was sucking).
darkman9
4/22
I've never been a big fan of writers (here or anywhere else) "analyzing" what makes a "good manager". It always devolves into a judgement about all of the managerial moves that the particular writer would have done differently. And, frankly, I don't find that to be compelling analysis. Stick to the analytics.
flyingdutchman
4/22
I guess it depends on one's "definition" of "analysis".
bmmcmahon
4/22
I'm actually kinda mystified at the rant. "Why didn't you bat Mesoraco in that spot" is a question that a good reporter in 1925 might have asked as much as a reporter today. Price had two choices: he could answer honestly and say Mesoraco's not with the team, or he could cover it up for, as Matthew put it, "minor strategic advantages," by saying he just didn't think Mesoraco matched up well against that pitcher or something. The position he was in is par for the course for a Major League manager. As for the tweeting about the replacement catcher being on the plane to St. Louis--don't take it out on the reporters because you put off telling the poor guy longer than you should have. Jeez.
BCermak
4/22
Just ridiculous. Price needs to understand that he owes his livelihood to the very fan interest that inspires the media's behavior. If you don't want certain proprietary information leaking out to your competitors, then don't share it with the media. But to complain about the media doing what they are paid to do is outlandish at best. Shame on you, Mr. Price.
BCermak
4/22
I'm sorry to go off on a tangent at the bottom of what was a very nicely written article. Thanks Matt
matrueblood
4/22
Thank *you*, and I agree. Many managers, Price apparently included, dramatically overestimate the value of these informational advantages, anyway.
maphal
4/22
I thought it was unprovoked and uncalled for, but abusive might be a bit strong. What Brandon Phillips said to Trent last year was abusive (and personal.) Price was really just mad at his sleepy GM who is fine going a week with 23 players and took it out on Trent.
matrueblood
4/23
He didn't say a thing about Jocketty, though. If a man hits his wife because of his own insecurities and inadequacies (and I mean, that's why men do it), you don't excuse him because there was no good reason for his abuse. To the contrary, that's part of what makes the crime so appalling. Price didn't hit anyone; didn't even throw an office phone. Good for him. His language, tone and general approach to the interaction still falls well within the bounds of abuse.
ProBeauNO
4/23
It was abuse. I agree, but let's not compare dropping F bombs on a reporter to beating one's wife. No matter how many F bombs were uttered.
theduke11
4/22
The quote that was missing here was Price screaming that 85% of the journalists are honest and hardworking and the other 15% are bums who just criticize his team. Then it would have been the perfect rant
TonyRiha
4/26
As a fourth generation Reds fan I read up on the team quite a bit and this article is accurate, insightful and concise. At the beginning of the season I pegged Price to be the first manager let go though there's no doubt Jockey has some culpability in regard to the bad bullpen. Most of the teams have figured out how to grow talent for the MR/Setup roles while the Reds largely look to retreads, with an exception being Cingrani. Unfortunately he's deep in the Price doghouse to the tune of having pitched 1/3 of an inning in the last 11 days while retreads Gregg, Badenhop and Parra get pounded (18 inn, 28 hits and 5hr). Latos might not exactly be the voice of reason but it seems his statements have either validated or have been validated by what others have indicated. And then there's the rant and it is perplexing that no punitive action was taken.