And a Pitcher Shall Lead Them NL Central Spring Training Preview: Cincinnati Reds

​Although they are the center of every play, pitchers are not often hired for managerial posts when they hang up their spikes. According to SABR’s Richard Schumann, barely one-tenth of major league managers since 1901 have been ex-pitchers. This pattern persists despite the fact that, today, half a team’s roster usually consists of hurlers. Now that a former pitcher, John Farrell, is the manager of the World Series champion, perhaps this trend will begin to change. This past off season the Cincinnati Reds promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to lead the team, replacing the ousted veteran Dusty Baker.

​Given the strength of the Reds rotation, hiring a pitching oriented manager seems to be a smart move. The team’s 28-year-old ace, Johnny Cueto, was injured for much of last season and made three stints on the disabled list. The 2.82 E.R.A. and outstanding 1.05 W.H.I.P. that he compiled while healthy should make Reds fans optimistic about Cueto’s 2014 outlook.  Behind Cueto, the rotation remains deep. Innings eaters Mat Latos and Homer Bailey are entering their prime years. Both Latos and Bailey have thrown over 200 innings with an E.R.A. in the mid 3.00s for two straight years, and sabermetrics indicate that their success is not a fluke. Additionally, 24-year-old southpaw Tony Cingrani has the potential to improve upon his productive rookie campaign. Leads should be safe once Price turns the ball over to his closer, the fireballing Cuban southpaw Aroldis Chapman. Chapman has averaged nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings for the past two years, and his peripheral numbers indicate that the 26 year old is due to improve upon last season’s performance.

On the surface Cincinnati’s lineup, the third highest scoring crew in the National League, would appear to be dependable.  Joey Votto continues to be the face of the franchise and one of the game’s top first basemen. Jay Bruce’s strikeout rate is astronomically high, but Cincinnati will put up with the Ks if he can provide a fourth consecutive 30+ home run season. Yet under further scrutiny, the Reds’ offense provides cause for concern.Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, one of the premier on-base percentage players in baseball, departed for a mega-contract with the Texas Rangers. Replacing Choo in the leadoff spot is twenty-three year old outfielder Billy Hamilton, who despite his 155 stolen bases (yes, really) in the minors in 2012, cannot be expected to even approach Choo’s on-base prowess. Further, although Great American Ballpark is known for being hitter friendly, Cincinnati finished in the middle of the pack in home runs. More alarmingly, the Reds had the worst team slugging percentage in the NL Central.

Bryan Price was fortunate to inherit a stronger team than most rookie managers. The deep pitching staff should certainly enable Cincinnati to be competitive this season. However, if the flaws in their lineup get exposed, the Reds will be unable to punch a third straight ticket to October.

By Ben Tannenbaum