Take a behind the scenes look at how Enquirer photographers Sam Greene and Kareem Elgazzar capture portraits of the Cincinnati Reds. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
Look At Me. I Can Be. Centerfield.
And so it begins. Renewal. Baseball awakens from its slumber today. One hundred and forty-five days since Great American Ball Park went dark on an October Sunday afternoon, the game yawns, stretches and begins the slow warm up to Opening Day. Take it in. Breathe. It’s back, baby.
Things could get very interesting down at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way this season. For a day at least, shuffle off the negativity like a winter coat on a 70-degree day. Step back and ponder the possibilities. Here’s four things I’m watching and you should, too:
1. Billy Hamilton
He moves across the manicured grass with an easy and joyful speed, separate and apart from the earthly rules that tug at the rest of us mortals, his feet barely touching the outfield veldt, eyes never straying from his prey. Waiting until the very last moment, he snatches the ball from its inevitable descent, only then relinquishing his body to gravity’s rule.
If sabermetric WAR had a WOW factor component, he would be worth many millions. Alas, the Billy Hamilton Experiment is heading into year five, and for all the promise and potential, the offensive production remains desperately wanting. His best year was 2016: .260/.321/.343—the OPS+ a dismal 77, 23% worse than a league average hitter.
What keeps us hanging on is the disruptive speed. Hamilton at any moment can turn the bases into a high-tech particle accelerator, infielders colliding like so many protons and electrons. The “Billy Boson.”
The truth is, baseball doesn’t quite know how to value defense. Advanced metrics can find purchase with our inner geek if we are so inclined. And yes, we all have the geek gene, however latent, as your freshman high school yearbook photo will attest. The Eye Test inherently undervalues run prevention. Just as a twenty dollar bill found on the sidewalk is worth much more than the unseen Andrew Jackson saved at the grocery checkout, the visceral reward of a run displayed upon the scoreboard is oh so much more satisfying than the run erased by the great catch or the laser to home plate. Advanced metrics tries. Lordy, how it tries.
Yeah. Defense matters. And therein lies the conundrum.
Baseball doesn’t know Billy Hamilton’s value. It has no clue. Through the mist, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) tell a story, but it remains a hazy one. Take the curious case of Jason Heyward:
Sabermetrics 101: Base Runs (BsR) is a measure of a player’s value on the bases. It’s a skill that gets lost amid the traffic of more prosaic stats such as HRs and RBIs, but it has real value, measuring the effect not just of stolen bases and caught stealing results, but also the ability to avoid the double play, and taking the extra base—or what Scott Rolen referred to as “Need Ya On Third, Brucie.” It contributes significantly to Mike Trout’s worth as the best player in the game today. As you can see from the table above, Billy’s skill on the bases helps offset all the other offensive categories where he lags behind Heyward. This helps explain why—despite the edge in every other offensive area—Hamilton’s Wins Above Replacement valuation over a 4-year period from 2014 through 2017 is remarkably close to Heyward’s.
Get to the point, Richard.
The Chicago Cubs paid Heyward $28M last year and will pay him another $28M this year. They will still be paying him to the tune of $22M in 2023. Admittedly, Theo Epstein & Co. thought Jason would be more of an offensive force than he’s turned out to be. Still, Heyward’s raison d’être was the defense he played in right field. To a large extent, he was being paid to prevent runs. What are the chances of anyone paying Billy Hamilton $20M a year even if he can modestly lift his OBP to something approaching league average?
What is his defense worth? San Francisco Giants bench coach Ron Wotus on Hamilton:
“You get a Billy Hamilton type of guy, your pitching improves tremendously right there,” Wotus said. “He’s saved more runs than he’s driving in. You can look at this year saying we let in too many runs. So that’s an easy way to help your pitching.”
The Reds’ failed attempt to trade Billy to the Giants has been widely seen as another example of an asking price that was more Tiffany than Target. But, what if the Reds’ were not looking to trade Hamilton as much as they were attempting to ascertain his worth, should they decide to move him at a later date? For in the here and now, the Reds need Billy Hamilton. Half of the club’s up-the-middle defense is gone. Brandon Phillips last season; Zack Cozart now. To lose Hamilton’s peripatetic play in centerfield would be a disaster for a young pitching staff trying to find its major league feet.
2. Bryan Price
We hate Bryan Price. Or at least, we’re starting to. He doesn’t win baseball games. There may be extenuating circumstances, but no matter. Got to keep it simple. Amirite?
Price will catch more hell when you look at today’s very first lineup card and see who’s batting leadoff. That spot belongs to Jesse Winker. We know this. The Reds’ outfield’s collective on base percentage is a day old McRib sandwich. It stinks. Winker fixes much of that. But, don’t blame Price. The game, it is a-changing. Gone is the old carousel of revered out-of-work managers running a clubhouse with an iron fist. The Billy Martins, Davey Johnsons and Dusty Bakers are systematically being replaced by younger, more open-minded skippers who are in tune with their young GMs. There’s no way a manager today ignores the wishes of his boss for very long. If Jesse’s healthy, he’s at the top of the lineup on Opening Day. If he’s not, blame Dick.
3. The Forgotten
It’s been several chapters ago since we gave more than a passing glance to the likes of Devin Mesoraco and Dilson Herrera. Multiple health issues and a guy named Barnhart have left Devin at the bottom of the toy box, discarded. Forgotten. Herrera has never truly been on anyone’s radar screen since being acquired for Jay Bruce. His shoulder issues a thing of the past (according to Dilson), the 24-year old is out of options and must either go north with the team or likely find himself claimed by another organization. Should Herrera have an explosive spring, there will be a ripple effect across the infield, affecting everyone from Scooter Gennett to Eugenio Suarez to Nick Senzel. Which is not a bad thing.
For Mesoraco, it’s complicated. You would think Tucker Barnhart is now the starting catcher for the Reds. But, if Mes wakes up the echoes and his bat looks like 2014 again—well, we all know The Bat Plays.
4. Good Health
Since the spring of 2014, injury has stalked the Cincinnati Reds like an IRS agent on the trail of a wanton tax evader. It’s one thing to lose most of your starting pitching staff to the inevitable hourglass of free agency, it’s quite another to see their replacements taken down in the midst of a rebuild. If it seems the transition to the next good Reds club has been long, bad elbows and balky shoulders have been the detour on what has been an arduous road back to relevance. Say a prayer for Anthony DeSclafani’s stem cells, Homer’s elbow and bubble wrap everyone from Tyler Mahle to Sal Romano to Amir Garrett.
Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barhnart, recipient of a 2017 Gold Glove, reflects on the award and looks ahead to the 2018 season. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The theory here is Tucker Barnhart won the Gold Glove for two reasons:
1. He richly deserved it
2. Advanced analytics have become part of the criteria.
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The two go hand-in-hand. The voters, managers and coaches might not have known that Barnhart deserved the award if they hadn’t been required to look at the analytics. In the past, Gold Gloves have been like heavyweight titles. Perennial winners had to be knocked out to end their streaks, i.e. guys like Yadier Molina won on reputation alone.
Barnhart had the third best defensive rating of any player in the majors, according to fangraphs.com at 14.9. Only shortstop Andrelton Simmons and third baseman Anthony Rendon were higher. Molina was the next-highest NL catcher at 12.7.
Barnhart had the second best defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) at 2.8 of anyone in the majors. Again, Simmons led MLB.
So Barnhart’s numbers likely helped sway voters who don’t see him all the time.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” Reds manager Bryan Price. “… I think there’s real value in that, or voters who don’t see the Reds all the time and being able to break a player down through statistics and analytics. It certainly didn’t hurt that he had the number of caught stealings and what did he have, one passed ball? One error?”
Barnhart, indeed, only had one error in 953 total chances. He actually had four passed balls. He also led MLB with 32 caught-stealings. He threw out 44 percent of all would-be base stealers, tops among the NL catchers.
It all added up to a Gold Glove – the one award Barnhart really strived for.
“I’ve had to be a guy who played really good defense to stay on the field,” he said. “I’m not as much of an offensive threat as other guys are. The Gold Glove, I hold at a very high standard. That’s the pinnacle of awards I could possibly win. To win it early in my career is really special.”
Barnhart, 27, has long had a reputation as a good defender. He won the Gold Glove for all of the minor leagues in 2011.
“Defense came more naturally than other things,” Barnhart said. “But I had to work at it. I picked up catching at a young age, but I played a lot of infield when I was younger. Turning double plays at a young age helped evolve me into being able to make a good clean exchange to throw guys out at second.”
Barnhart also put together his best offensive. year. He hit .270 with a .347 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 44 RBI.
Those numbers, combined with the defense, prompted the Reds to make Barnhart the No. 1 catcher over former All-Star Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco’s injuries played into that.
But with a young staff, a catcher who can lead pitchers and be exceptional behind the plate is key. The Reds see that in Barnhart.
“You have to marry your knowledge of the hitter with the game situation to the strengths and weaknesses of the pitcher,” Price said. “It’s not as easy as saying, this guy doesn’t hit the slider or the breaking ball very well. You have to evaluate, he’s a big-leaguer, he can hit the breaking ball. It’s the quality of the breaking ball. Hitters know how to adjust, they’re being crowded with fastballs inside, at some point in time, you have to be able to recognize the adjustment of the hitter before the damage is done and know when to go to the other side of the plate or a different velocity.
“There’s so much that goes into becoming a great catcher. I think that perhaps the thing that’s the most exciting for me is to see the growth in Tucker over such a short period of time.”
Barnhart sees handling the pitching staff as his top job.
“That’s most of it,” Barnhart said. “That relationship you build is so valuable. Specifically in spring training, we take a lot of time to do that. So when guys get called up, you hit the ground running, and it’s not a get-to-know process. It’s like: ‘All right, I talked to you in spring training. I caught you in spring training. Let’s get guys out.’
“It’s huge. It’s so valuable to understand what a guy’s thinking mound. What his best pitchers are. Things like that.”
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – David Hernandez hit bottom on July 24 of 2013.
It had been a bad year. Previously a dangerous eighth-inning man for the Arizona Diamondbacks, his ERA was sitting a good two runs higher than the year before. That night against the Chicago Cubs, he gave up the deciding run in a 12-inning loss.
Still, that didn’t seem to explain the scene that FOX Sports Arizona cameras caught in the dugout in the closing moments of the game. Hernandez sat in tears, the arm of fellow reliever J.J. Putz draped sympathetically over his shoulders, listening to Putz’s words of support.
Hernandez felt like his life was falling apart. On the mound, he couldn’t record outs. Off of it, he went home to an empty house, where he missed his two young sons and the woman who’d told him nearly a year ago that she wanted a divorce. He had no idea how to cope, turning instead to late nights and alcohol.
It all became too much that night at Chase Field, his emotions bursting through from where he’d tried contain them. But once you hit bottom there’s only one direction to travel, although another speed bump awaited him down the road.
Five years later, Hernandez is in camp with the Cincinnati Reds, fresh off signing the first multi-year deal of his career. He again is a viable late-inning reliever. More importantly, he is a better, happier and more stable person.
And it was that summer in Arizona that Hernandez began the long process of putting himself back together.
Hernandez puts the blame for the divorce squarely on his shoulders. He wasn’t ready to be married, and he did it anyway.
His reasoning at the time certainly isn’t uncommon. He’d been dating his girlfriend Rachel for five years when she became pregnant with their first son Jayden, eight years ago. Hernandez wanted that son to grow up in a typical family, with happily married parents.
But that life development dovetailed with another, and not as happily as one would expect. Hernandez was just then breaking into the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. And big-league life can be awfully exciting for those who seek excitement.
“I wasn’t ready for that lifestyle, wasn’t ready to cut everything out,” Hernandez said, staying away from specifics. “I just made wrong choices, wrong decisions.”
In August of 2012, a few months after the birth of their second son Lucas, Rachel dropped the bombshell. She’d had enough and she wanted a divorce. She took the kids and moved back to their shared hometown of Sacramento. He blocked it all out, putting the finishing touching on his best year as a big-leaguer while looking forward to reuniting with his sons after the season.
The next season would be quite different.
The signs that the 2013 season would be trouble were prevalent early in spring training. One morning that spring, Hernandez was called into the office of Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson. Someone had smelled alcohol on Hernandez’s breath, and Gibson and others were concerned for him.
“I was just completely caught off guard that that was a topic of discussion,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t realize it was that bad.”
The drinking stemmed from loneliness. When he’d go home at night, Hernandez would feel the absence of his family. In order to escape it, he’d spend his time anywhere else. Sometimes that meant going out to dinner. Sometimes it meant going to the casino. Sometimes it meant late nights at bars and clubs.
Hernandez doesn’t think he was an alcoholic, but he acknowledges that Gibson’s concern changed only the appearance of his behavior. He still coped with his solitude in the same unhealthy ways. He just strove even harder to hide his struggle from those who cared about him.
At the ballpark, Hernandez kept to himself or kept conversation superficial. Then-teammate Daniel Hudson said others had an idea of what was happening – player wives talk – but the clubhouse culture doesn’t exactly foster deep, emotional discussions.
“I’m also not one to talk about my problems or go out and seek help,” Hernandez said. “Looking back at it, I wish I did. I felt like it could have helped.”
The first step to healing was a demotion to Triple-A Reno that came two weeks after the game against the Cubs. Players are given three days to report upon being optioned, and Hernandez spent that time in Sacramento with his children. When that time was up, he was buoyed by the knowledge that Reno and Sacramento are only two hours apart.
The Diamondbacks recalled him to the majors in September, and Hernandez felt rejuvenated. He posted a 0.64 ERA the rest of the way.
“I wish they would have sent me down in June or May,” Hernandez said. “I feel like being sent down, the pressure of doing well is not as great as pitching in the big leagues. I was able to just refocus knowing there’s not going to be a spotlight on you.”
The 2014 season was supposed to be a resurgent one for him, but life once again intervened. In late March, Hernandez suffered a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and had Tommy John surgery. He thinks now that God was telling him he needed more time to heal emotionally. But Hernandez was also much more prepared to cope.
He wasn’t the only pitcher coming back from Tommy John. Hudson was there too, as were left-handers Patrick Corbin and Matt Reynolds. Together they formed the self-titled UCL Club, adding to their ranks when Bronson Arroyo required the surgery later that year. During the season, Hernandez had his built-in social circle, all easily identified by the scars on their elbows. Weekends when the team was on the road, Hernandez would return to Sacramento to be with the kids.
It was also that summer when Hernandez met Brittney. They’d been introduced by a mutual friend, and one day Hernandez slid into her DMs. They were both video-game enthusiasts, and Hernandez sent her a direct message on Twitter about playing together online. A couple real-life dates followed.
They got married this past November. Corbin was in the wedding.
“I feel like meeting her, it was so much easier leaving my past in the past,” Hernandez said. “That’s when I finally just broke away and moved forward.”
Hernandez’s deal with the Reds marks the most recent step in his career trajectory. He came back from the surgery in 2015, but only now has he reestablished himself as a reliable major-league reliever.
Prior to the 2016 season he signed a big-league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and posted a solid 3.84 ERA, but struggled with walks. A year later, he was in two different spring camps on minor-league deals, before ultimately making the majors with a third team, the Los Angeles Angels.
It was with the Angels that Hernandez finally found his stride again, adding a cutter and pitching well enough to be flipped back to the Diamondbacks at the deadline. All in all, he posted a 3.11 ERA between the two teams that year.
He signed with the Reds in January, his two-year deal offering some stability. Hernandez is now again in control of his own life. His wounds have healed.
“You just never know what somebody’s going through, and it’s not an easy thing to talk about while you’re going through it,” Hernandez said. “Now that the dust is settled, it’s a lot easier to talk about. It definitely shows you how to grow.”
The 2018 season kicks off with a five-game homestand that includes three games against the Washington Nationals and two versus the Chicago Cubs: • Thursday, March 29: Reds vs. Nationals, 4:10 p.m. – 142nd Opening Day (tickets on sale March 10) • Saturday, March 31: Reds vs. Nationals, 2:10 p.m. – 3rd annual Kids Opening Day presented by Frisch’s Big Boy • Sunday, April 1: Reds vs. Nationals, 4:10 p.m. • Monday, April 2: Reds vs. Cubs, 4:10 p.m. – Findlay Market Game (99th Findlay Market Parade from Noon to 2 p.m.) • Tuesday, April 3: Reds vs. Cubs, 6:40 p.m.
Highlights of the 2018 Reds promotional schedule including Kids Opening Day presented by Frisch’s Big Boy on March 31, Reds Hall of Fame Induction Weekend on July 21-22 and the Ohio Lottery Post-Game Concert Series featuring Jake Owen on Aug. 11. Plus, Fireworks Fridays return May-September, along with Super Saturdays and Family Sundays presented by Klosterman Bakery all season long.
Super Saturday Highlights • March 31 vs. Nationals: Kids Opening Day Cap presented by Frisch’s Big Boy & 2018 Team Calendar presented by Kroger • April 14 vs. Cardinals: Tucker Barnhart Gold Glove Bobblehead presented by Coca-Cola • May 5 vs Marlins: Eugenio Suárez Bobblehead presented by John Morrell • May 19 vs. Cubs: Reds Garden Gnome presented by Kahn’s • June 9 vs. Cardinals: Scooter Gennett Bobblehead presented by Dynegy Energy Services • June 23 vs. Cubs: Reds Tote Bag presented MLB Network • June 30 vs Brewers: Rosie Red Bobblehead presented by St. Elizabeth Healthcare • July 21 vs. Pirates: Reds Cap presented by FOX Sports Ohio (Reds HOF Induction Ceremony presented by PNC Bank) • July 28 vs. Phillies: Joey Votto Funko Pop! Collectible Night • Aug. 11 vs. D-backs: Ohio Lottery Post-Game Concert Series featuring Jake Owen • Aug. 18 vs. Giants: Fan Vote Bobblehead presented by PNC Bank (Voting will be held on reds.com beginning Opening Day) • Sept. 8 vs. Padres: Joe Morgan Replica Statue (celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Hall of Famer’s bronze statue dedication) • Sept. 29 vs. Pirates: 2018 Team Photo
Fireworks Fridays • 11 post-game fireworks shows from Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks May through September plus a special Independence Day show on Wednesday, July 4
Family Sundays presented by Klosterman Bakery • Live mascot races, face painters and more as part of Family Sundays presented by Klosterman Bakery • Giveaways for kids every Sunday including a series of 10 Reds Fathead® wall decals plus special PLAY BALL Weekend wristbands on May 20 • Run the Bases Days for fans of all ages on April 15, July 1 and Sept. 9
The full promotional schedule can be found at reds.com/Promotions. Promotional schedule is subject to change.
Fans have many options to purchase single game tickets on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.: • Online: reds.com • Phone: 513-381-REDS or 877-647-REDS (7337) • In person: Great American Ball Park ticket windows
Cincinnati Reds LHP Cody Reed talks about his spring so far. Wochit
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Left-hander Cody Reed is clearly the player who has most impressed the boss early at Reds camp.
Reds manager Bryan Price singled out Reed for the second time Thursday when asked which pitchers looked good.
“There wasn’t a guy I was disappointed with,” Price said. “Cody Reed was the first pitcher on Field 3, and he was really sharp. Fastball, slider, changeup were all good. Spot on, like they’ve been in the first two bullpens.”
Reed, 24-year-old left-hander, entered last season as the club’s second-rated prospect by Baseball America. He began the year on the big league roster, but he was sent out May 4 and didn’t return until the roster expanded in September.
Had he pitched better at Louisville — he was 4-9 with a 3.55 ERA — he might have been back sooner.
“It’s not unusual (to get sent down),” Price said. “What has to hopefully change for the better is how guys handled it. In Cody’s case, I don’t think he handled it as well.”
But things changed in the offseason.
“I think he refocused and recommitted on having a positive attitude instead of alternative,” Price said.
Part of Reed’s refocus was to come to Goodyear early from his home near Memphis.
“I’ve been out here all offseason,” he said. “I moved out to get out of the weather. It was kind of cold in the later months. I’ve been working out here all offseason, working with the strength coaches. I’ve been focusing myself on what I need to do to prepare myself for the six-month season. I think I’ve done a really good job at that and paying attention to my throwing and getting on a good throwing program that the trainers set up for me. (Anthony) DeSclafani came out the first of the year. I threw my bullpens with him. Everything’s going good for me.”
Reed would prefer to start. But Price said Reed is competing for a bullpen spot. Reed would like to force the Reds to re-evaluate that.
“I think I’m going to stretched out, maybe have a start or two to show myself,” Reed said. “Who knows? Who says I can’t start? Who says I’m only going for the bullpen? Who says I can’t throw 30 games in the major leagues. I just need the opportunity — even if they only give me one start.
“If I end helping the team out of the bullpen, perfect. I had some good stints out of the ‘pen.”
He was 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA with Reds. A lot of that is ERA was the result of one horrible start. But he had more walked (19) than strikeouts (17). His stuff is good enough that if he throws strikes, he’ll be successful.
And Price isn’t ruling out a starting role.
“He’s competing,” Price said. “I still like his ability to compete for a spot in the bullpen. Everyone here has the freedom to pitch themselves into different opportunities. But being frank with the guys and letting them know the work that’s in front of them to get to where they want to go is better than being ambiguous. I don’t want him to be disappointed if he competes and makes the team as a reliever instead of a starter.”
Long-term, Price sees Reed as a starter.
“I would say that I think organizationally that we’re all convinced right now that there’s no reason for Cody to be looked at as a long-term relief pitcher,” Price said. “We all feel confident that he can be a very good major-league starter, but we like him to be able to fill the need of a reliever if that allows us to get off to our best start and makes us the best 25-man roster on Opening Day, knowing that eventually he’ll return to the rotation.”
Right now, Reed is doing what he needs to do.
“He’s been very impressive,” Price said.
Take a behind the scenes look at how Enquirer photographers Sam Greene and Kareem Elgazzar capture portraits of the Cincinnati Reds. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar