SweetSpot: Dusty Baker

Price gives Reds fans reason for optimism

October, 22, 2013
As expected, the Cincinnati Reds have tapped pitching coach Bryan Price to be the club's next manager. After six years with Dusty Baker at the helm -- even with all the goofy lineups and sacrifice bunts that come with him -- Reds fans should be rightfully concerned about the new guy and whether he can push the team to the next level.

There are reasons for real optimism here.

Price has earned a reputation around the majors as one of the game's brightest pitching coaches. He has served in that role for Cincinnati since 2010; before joining the Reds, Price served for a decade as pitching coach for Arizona (four years) and Seattle (six years). He reportedly turned down an opportunity to become Miami's manager last year, and there have been rumblings that Price was on the Mariners' short list for their current managerial vacancy.

With the Reds, Price has presided over a pitching staff that has developed into one of the best in baseball. Two starters who made huge strides under Price’s tutelage, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos, have given their pitching coach much of the credit. Obviously, we can't know precisely how much credit Price deserves for the successes of the Reds' staff, but we do know this: Manny Parra suddenly became an effective reliever at age 30 under Price's tutelage. In addition to being well-respected, Price is evidently a miracle worker.

Some of the initial criticism of Price's hiring is that the Reds remained in-house, elevating a member of Baker's staff rather than looking outside the organization. Given that GM Walt Jocketty and owner Bob Castellini each mentioned a desire to change the culture in the clubhouse as one of the motivating factors in making a managerial change, it's a bit surprising a more exhaustive search wasn't performed.

Still, that's an unfair criticism. Price was never one of "Dusty's guys," whatever that means. Price was brought in by the front office to replace Dick Pole as pitching coach after Baker's first two (losing) seasons in Cincinnati. Price wasn't hired by Baker, and there is little reason to believe that he represents a continuation of the Dusty Baker managerial philosophy that is responsible for headaches throughout the area.

As a matter of fact, this touches on perhaps the biggest reason for optimism: There is plenty of evidence to suggest Price might actually be the anti-Dusty.

In the wake of Baker's firing, pitcher Bronson Arroyo was quick to endorse Price for the job. In a conversation with Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Arroyo didn't mince words: "He's as organized as anyone in the game, he holds people as accountable as well as anyone I've seen. He doesn't buy into stereotypical things in the game, things that other people buy into that I don't feel are relevant. Price looks at evidence. He's a freaking smart guy, he makes his decision on reasonable evidence.

Sometimes in baseball we go by hunches, what someone else said or they way things have gone in the past. He doesn't do that."

Obviously, one of the chief criticisms of Baker has been that he manages by the book, to a fault. We are veering into old-school versus new-school territory here, and we really don't have any way to know that Price is going to be a sabermetric darling or the second coming of Joe Maddon. If nothing else, however, Arroyo's assessment gives reason to hope that Price will have an open mind about tactics and new ideas.

If Price is open to the idea that someone with a sub-.300 on-base percentage shouldn't be hitting first or second in the lineup, that would be an immediate improvement over the past six years (also known in Cincinnati as the Willy Taveras/Corey Patterson leadoff era).

Arroyo touched on it (as have Bailey, Latos and Sam LeCure recently), but plenty of digital ink has been spilled in Cincinnati over the past year in making the case that Price is a great communicator who holds his pitchers accountable. We've heard that term -- accountability -- a hundred times, and I expect we'll hear it more now that Price is officially the head honcho. I don't know whether this was a coordinated effort by the Reds' media relations department to paint Price as the opposite of Baker, but that has been the practical effect.

Similar to his final days in San Francisco and Chicago, Baker's tenure ended with accusations that he'd lost the clubhouse and, being a player's manager, wasn't holding his players accountable (there's that word again) when they committed gaffes on the basepaths or defensively. Some of that was overblown, but be prepared: This will be the narrative that will inform every single article about Price next spring. You'll read that Price may not be fiery, but he holds his players accountable. Time will tell whether that has any actual effect on the on-the-field product in the Queen City.

One final reason for optimism revolves around the big lefty in the bullpen. Price led the charge last spring to convert Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher, and he was very enthusiastic about that possibility. Baker, of course, had other plans; he couldn't find the chapter in "the book" that referenced turning an All-Star closer into a starter, I suppose. It will be interesting to see whether Price makes one last stab at converting Chapman, or whether that ship has sailed. Either way, Price was open to the idea in the past, and that's a good sign.

There are still plenty of questions to be answered about Price's ability and philosophy as a manager. The early returns, however, are very encouraging. Now if he can just figure out how to get some guys on base in front of Joey Votto, and maybe lead the Reds to a playoff series victory for the first time in nearly two decades, he'll be ahead of the game, indeed.

Chad Dotson runs Redleg Nation, a blog covering the Reds.

Eric and myself discuss why Dusty Baker got fired in Cincinnati and why we're not happy with what managers are doing in the playoffs so far.

It was time for Dusty Baker to go

October, 4, 2013
As Joe Sheehan pointed out on his podcast earlier this week, Dusty Baker has managed 20 years in the major leagues and won just three postseason series. Including Wednesday's wild-card loss to the Pirates, he's 3-7 in postseason series with an overall win-loss record of 19-26.

He's had success in the regular season -- three manager of the year awards, five division titles, 16th all-time in wins and he's won 90-plus games in three of the past four years with the Reds -- but the lack of results in the playoffs finally cost him his job, even though he had another year on his contract. It's the right decision.

Baker's flaw in the postseason is managing like it's still the regular season; you can't do that. There is a sense of urgency needed in the playoffs. There's no tomorrow or next start you can look forward to. We saw this against the Pirates, when Johnny Cueto was obviously struggling and perhaps even rattled by the crowd in Pittsburgh. After giving up two home runs in the second inning and three hits and a run in the third, Cueto was allowed to start the fourth inning and gave up a double that eventually led to another run. By the time Baker pulled him, it was too late.

Go back to last year's division series loss to the Giants. Yes, Cueto's injury in the first game hurt the Reds, but they lost Game 3 in 10 innings as Aroldis Chapman pitched just one inning (the ninth) and threw 15 pitches. Meanwhile, Sergio Romo threw two innings for the Giants and got the win. In Game 4, Bruce Bochy yanked Barry Zito in the third inning; Baker left Mike Leake in to allow five runs, including two in the fifth. The Giants won 8-3. OK, that wasn't a must-win game, but Game 5 was. Mat Latos gave up six runs in the fifth inning, capped by Buster Posey's two-out grand slam.

In the regular season, maybe you see if Latos can work of that jam; in the postseason, with Latos laboring, you can't afford that luxury. (Even more bizarre was the botched hit-and-run with two runners on as the Reds were rallying in the sixth inning, with Jay Bruce getting caught stealing at third as Ryan Hanigan stuck out.)

Note, however, that Bochy removed Matt Cain after that strikeout and let a reliever get out of the inning. Bochy didn't want to wait one batter too long. Closer Romo again pitched more than one inning. Bochy altered his strategy; Baker never did, and it was a big factor in that series.

Go back even to Baker's ill-fated 2003 Cubs, when Kerry Wood was left in to allow seven Marlins runs in Game 7 of the NLCS. Who allows a starting pitcher to give up seven runs in a decisive game?

Look, ultimately you need talent, and while the Reds certainly had plenty of that this year, they did lack one big right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup. Brandon Phillips is nobody's idea of a cleanup hitter, except maybe Dusty's. Maybe a healthy Ryan Ludwick would have made a difference.

It's interesting to compare what Reds GM Walt Jocketty did with Baker to what the Rangers did with Ron Washington. Like Baker, Washington has had regular-season success and is known as a manager who builds a strong clubhouse and gets his team to play hard, but whose X's and O's have been questioned. The Rangers decided to stick with Washington.

We'll see whether either club made the right decision.

Reds-Pirates: What to watch for

October, 1, 2013
Whether or not you like the one-and-done format of the wild-card game, it does present a great opportunity to second guess everything the managers do, from roster management to pitching changes, bunts and, of course, when to use your closer.

Tim Kurkjian has five key questions for the game, but here some other key components on how this game may play out.
  • Obviously, to a large degree the outcome rests on the starting pitchers, even knowing quick hooks are in order. The Reds' three best hitters are Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce, all left-handed, so that's why Clint Hurdle is going with Francisco Liriano, who held lefties to a .131/.175/.146 batting line. He allowed just two extra-base hits to left-handers, both doubles. Liriano had one blow-up 10-run start against the Rockies, but he's been very consistent all season. He had just one other start where he allowed more than four runs -- and that was against the Reds. Still, to beat Liriano, it's likely the Reds' right-handed batters that will have to do some damage.
  • Meanwhile, Mat Latos was the likely starter for the Reds until he admitted he had pain in his elbow, diagnosed as bone chips. So Johnny Cueto draws the start. He's made just two starts since missing three months with an oblique strain, similar to the injury that knocked him out of Game 1 of last year's Division Series. He pitched well in those two starts, but they came against the Astros and Mets, so it's hard to read too much into those. While he's made just 11 starts this season, don't forget how good this guy has been: 2.61 ERA over the past three seasons. Cueto throws a fastball, slider and cutter, but his big pitch is a changeup that induces a lot of groundballs. Over the past two seasons, batters are hitting just .217 against the changeup (and .097 in 2013 in 62 at-bats). He threw 99 pitches his last start, so he's ready to go as deep as Dusty Baker needs.
  • This is going to be an armchair manager's dream because there are going to be a ton of potential matchups that could come into play. For Hurdle, he's gone with a nine-man pitching staff. Gerrit Cole is the long man/extra-inning guy, with lefties Justin Wilson and Tony Watson available to face the Choo/Votto/Bruce section of the lineup. Wilson and Watson can both get righties out, so Hurdle doesn't have to treat them as LOOGYs. The right-handers are Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli, plus Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris and Jeanmar Gomez. Basically, assuming Liriano goes even just five innings, Hurdle should be able to get the matchups he wants in the late innings, as Baker doesn't really have many pinch-hitting/platoon options on his bench.
  • You could argue that Chris Heisey should be in the starting lineup over Choo, who hit .215 with no home runs against lefties. He did post a .347 OBP, but part of that was HBP-induced (he was hit by a league-leading 26 pitches) and Liriano didn't hit a batter. I realize Baker isn't going to suddenly change, but the numbers say this is a bad matchup for Choo.
  • The Reds are carrying four left-handers in the bullpen -- Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Manny Parra and Zach Duke -- and 10 pitchers overall (Mike Leake is the long man/extra-inning guy). The extra lefties give Baker the ability to match up with Pedro Alvarez, Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones, all of whom have big platoon splits. Alvarez and Morneau will start with Jones coming off the bench. But Baker has to be worry about getting too cute here. Hurdle won't hit for Alvarez, but Gaby Sanchez is a platoon bat for Morneau and Jose Tabata is another right-handed bat. Keep in mind the Pirates are carrying an extra position player -- they have three catchers in Russell Martin, John Buck and Tony Sanchez -- so Hurdle has a deeper and more usable bench.
  • As home team, the Pirates have an advantage in using the closer in a tie game. If Baker waits to save Chapman for a save situation, he may never get him in the game. Of course, this doesn't have to be an advantage for the Pirates. Baker doesn't have to wait use Chapman until the Reds take the lead. Look at what happened to the Braves last year: Craig Kimbrel had maybe the greatest closer season of all time but didn't get in the game until it was already 6-3 in the ninth. In the meantime, the Cardinals scored two runs in the seventh inning (some shoddy defense hurt, but Kimbrel could have been used to potentially get out of the inning).
  • Billy Hamilton versus Martin. The rookie speedster is on the roster. Martin threw out 40 percent of base stealers.

Prediction: Liriano is tough, the Pirates have the ability to counteract Baker's moves, the bullpen does the job and Chapman doesn't make an impact. Pirates 4, Reds 2. (And I didn't even mention Andrew McCutchen!)

Where do we even begin with a game like this?

Forty-six players used, 16 innings, a controversial call, questionable managerial decisions, a crazy failed bunt play, power arm after power arm in relief, an All-Star going 0-for-7, a phenom speedster doing his magic on the bases once again.

All good stuff. But we start with Matt Adams. He didn't even start the game for the Cardinals. He usually doesn't. Adams would be the starting first baseman for many teams in baseball, but on the Cardinals he's a backup to Allen Craig, the kind of solid bat off the bench that playoff teams need. When Craig sprained his foot rounding first base in the fourth inning, Adams got his chance. As the Cardinals and Reds rolled deep into the night, the tension increasing with each inning, Adams finally put St. Louis ahead in the 14th inning with a home run to right. The Reds tied it up. Adams homered again in the 16th inning.
[+] EnlargeMatt Adams
David Kohl/USA TODAY SportsMatt Adams gave Cardinals fans a long night they'll long remember.
Cardinals 5, Reds 4. One of the best games of the year, especially considering the circumstances, with both teams trying to keep up with the Pirates in the NL Central. With Pittsburgh losing to Milwaukee, the Cards climbed to a game behind the Pirates, while the Reds remained 3 1/2 back.

Adams is built like an offensive lineman from your high school football team, but I don't mean that in a Big Ten scholarship kind of way, and regardless the dude can hit. He hit 32 home runs in the minors in 2011, hit .329 with a .624 slugging percentage last year in Triple-A, and was hitting .400 in late May for the Cardinals. Used primarily off the bench early on, he got some semi-regular playing time in June and July due to some injuries, but has started just seven times since the beginning of August, and after going hitless in his first three at-bats was in an 0-for-17 slump.

Slump over. In the 14th, he led off the inning with a low liner off Alfredo Simon, hitting a 1-2 cut fastball Simon left over the middle of the plate instead of in on the hands where catcher Devin Mesoraco was setting up. In the 16th, he drilled a low 1-0 fastball from Logan Ondrusek to right-center. The pitch was right in Adams' sweet spot -- 10 of his 11 home runs have come on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone. On that pitch, Mesoraco set up on the outside corner. Call it poor execution by the Reds' relievers.

In between Adams' heroics, there was plenty of action to discuss, from relief pitcher usage (like Aroldis Chapman, removed after 14 pitches) to bunts. Reds rookie Billy Hamilton pinch ran in the 14th and swiped second, with the Cardinals arguing that Zack Cozart interfered with Yadier Molina's throw. He did lean over the pitch on his swing, but the pitch was well off the plate, and it appeared Molina got the throw off cleanly, exaggerating his follow-through in an attempt to get a call. It looked the umps got this one right, and Hamilton would score on Cozart's bouncer up the middle.

In the 15th, Shin-Soo Choo led off with a base hit and Dusty Baker had 100-RBI man Brandon Phillips sacrifice. The stats guys on Twitter went crazy (Dusty never gets much love on Twitter), but Phillips does ground into a lot of double plays (16 on the season), and Joey Votto and Jay Bruce were on deck against right-handed Carlos Martinez. I'm in the "no bunting" club for the most part, and it's not often 100-RBI guys -- even overrated 100-RBI guys -- are asked to bunt. But, hey, National League baseball, or something like that. Maybe Dusty got caught up in Billy Hamilton and thought we were back in the 1980s. Anyway, Votto grounded out to move Choo to third, Bruce was intentionally walked and Chris Heisey then attempted to bunt (remember, two outs), missed the pitch, and Choo got caught in a rundown -- a play that has to go down as the worst of the season, or at least the worst in a crucial game in September that you can't afford to lose.

Cardinals fans will remember this one for Matt Adams. I have a feeling Reds fans will remember this one for the bunts.

I like the expanded rosters of September. There, I said it. Of course it's completely illogical to play under different rules in September than the previous five months. Of course it's a little ridiculous to see dugouts crammed excessively full with five to 10 extra players. Of course it doesn't make sense to have somebody's 34th player -- can you say Dan Johnson? -- helping decide a pennant race.

Instead of focusing on the negative, let's look at what expanded rosters can give us: Billy Hamilton, minor league speedster extraordinaire, maybe the fastest player to ever suit up in a baseball uniform (although Cool Papa Bell and former world-class sprinter Herb Washington would make for a fun race), leading off first base in the seventh inning of a 0-0 tie in a crucial game between contenders, with the best catcher in the game squatting behind home plate.

It had been a great pitcher's duel between St. Louis Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha and Cincinnati Reds righty Homer Bailey. Wacha had been pitching in the bullpen and was pulled after 80 pitches. Ryan Ludwick led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to center off Seth Maness. Out came Hamilton to make his major league debut, the most exciting pinch-running appearance of the season.

The catcher: Yadier Molina. Only 20 bases had been swiped off him this season; he'd caught 15 thieves. He basically shuts down the running game, a Johnny Bench with smaller hands but the same quick trigger and laser accuracy. A lot of relievers don't hold runners very well, but Maness had allowed one steal in 52 2/3 innings, so all Hamilton had to do was swipe second base against one of the toughest combos in the majors.

Hamilton earned a national spotlight when he stole a record 155 bases in 2012. He stole 75 bases in Triple-A this season, although he was caught 15 times.

[+] EnlargeBilly Hamilton
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBilly Hamilton's fleet feet were immediately put on display with his first big-league steal.
Hamilton versus Molina. Reds fans on their feet. Reds players watching with the intensity that suggested a playoff atmosphere, not a game on Sept. 3. Dusty Baker chewing on his toothpick. The steal was on.

"It will take a game before it feels real," Hamilton told MLB.com before the game.

I'm guessing it feels real now. Maness threw to first once and then Hamilton took off, no need to waste any time. Molina's throw was high and way right, and Hamilton had his first major league steal. After missing two bunt attempts, Todd Frazier then doubled down the left-field line. Hamilton could have scored walking on his hands.

The jury remains out on Hamilton's future potential -- he has little power and hit just .256 at Louisville, although he did improve in the second half -- but there's no denying the excitement he brings when on base. Like the great basestealers of the '80s -- Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines -- you'll have to pay extra, extra attention.

Hamilton wasn't the only story. Bailey was magnificent in allowing just two hits over seven innings, following up on Mat Latos' complete game against St. Louis on Monday. He had great command of the fastball all night, working outside to right-handed batters and inside to lefties, and then putting them away with his curve or slider. The thing that makes Bailey tough when he's on is that he throws a lot of four-seamers up in the zone, and then goes down in the zone with his off-speed stuff, often getting hitters to chase on pitches off the plate. Batters have to adjust not only to the change in velocity, but a different plane.

Baker faced a tough decision when Bailey came up with two outs and Frazier at third. He'd thrown 106 pitches and had retired 14 in a row. He certainly had another inning in him, even in this day of hyper-sensitive pitch counts, and the Reds' eighth-inning relievers haven't been the most reliable. Baker hit for Bailey and handed the game over to his bullpen. Of course, he could have brought in Aroldis Chapman for a two-inning save; after all, Chapman hadn't pitched since Aug. 24 -- 10 days ago.

Instead, Baker brought in fellow lefty Manny Parra with two left-handers due up for the Cards. Mike Matheny went to his expanded roster and used right-handed pinch-hitters Shane Robinson and Brock Peterson, but Robinson flew out and Peterson struck out looking on a fastball on the inside black, and after David Freese walked, Parra got Matt Carpenter to line out to right.

Chapman went 1-2-3 in the ninth -- or should I say 101, 100, 103, 103 and 103 in fanning Matt Holliday with triple-digit meanness? -- and the Reds had the win, moving a game closer to St. Louis while remaining 3.5 behind Pittsburgh.

And that's the real news: The NL Central is a three-team race. And if the 32nd player on one of those teams end up deciding the division winner in the final game of the season, well, that sounds like a good story to me.
On Wednesday night, Dusty Baker used Aroldis Chapman for two innings to close out the Cincinnati Reds' 10-7 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was only the second time all season he'd brought in Chapman before the ninth inning (the other coming in a mop-up role) and the first time he'd used Chapman for more than four outs since May 27 … of 2012.

The six-out save was born more of necessity than by design. Jonathan Broxton got hurt after serving up a leadoff home run and walk to start the inning (he'll be lost for the season), and the bullpen had thrown 5 1/3 innings the day before. Manny Parra and J.J. Hoover had been used in the seventh and Alfredo Simon and Sam LeCure both had thrown more than 30 pitches the night before, so rather than use a lesser reliever with an 8-6 lead, Baker turned to Chapman.
[+] EnlargeAroldis Chapman
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesIs Dusty Baker's willingness to stretch out closer Aroldis Chapman a positive sign?

Considering the Diamondbacks are the team closest to the Reds for the second wild-card spot, it was a pretty big game, all things considered, so give Baker at least a little credit for doing something he hadn't done all season. To be fair, Baker's use of Chapman isn't any different from the way other managers handle their closers, although (A) Chapman is a big, strong guy who trained as a starter in Cuba and the minors and as Bill James once wrote of a reliever named Bryan Harvey, "He's awfully strong to be throwing so few innings"; and (B) he's supposed to be better than most closers.

One way to show you're "better" is to show you can, you know, get four or five outs in big games.

Anyway, that's wishful thinking in this day and age. Closers pitch the ninth, not part of the eighth and then the ninth. Still, it means Baker has either fallen into the trap of robot managing, or believes Chapman wouldn't pitch as well with a heavier workload.

That takes us to Thursday with the Reds leading the Diamondbacks 2-1 entering the ninth after eight strong innings by Mat Latos. Baker could have left Latos in since he'd thrown only 102 pitches, but the Reds rarely let Latos go to 110 pitches (only three times all season, never more than 111). He could have used Chapman, who threw 35 pitches on Wednesday. Baker said he was unavailable. Instead, he went to option No. 3, LeCure. He gave up two hits, including an infield single, but escaped the jam and got the save.

You can read the scenario in two ways or both ways: That Baker will continue to be very cautious with Chapman and will revert back to three-out saves, and/or that he had confidence in LeCure to close it out.

Either way, with Broxton out, it will be interesting to see if Baker changes his usage patterns with Chapman the rest of the regular season -- and into the postseason, if the Reds win the division or advance past the wild-card game.
ChapmanAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastCincinnati's bullpen secured the game after Aroldis Chapman failed to close out the Cubs on Friday.
On Friday afternoon, Aroldis Chapman had a rare bad outing trying to finish up the Cincinnati Reds' 6-2 lead over the Chicago Cubs. So bad, in fact, that manager Dusty Baker actually removed his Proven Closer (tm) for J.J. Hoover with the game on the line. Chapman already had allowed three runs when he walked Cody Ransom to load the bases with two outs. Baker -- give him credit here -- took out Chapman and Hoover struck out Darwin Barney to close out the 6-5 victory.

The question: Did Baker learn anything?

Did he learn that there are multiple ways to use a bullpen, ways that can make the Reds' pen a more effective weapon? In fact, on Sunday, with Chapman and Jonathan Broxton both having pitched two days in a row, Hoover earned another save in a 7-4 victory.

That's the way a bullpen should be used: Save Chapman for the close games and tie games; using Chapman with a three-run lead is essentially a waste. Hoover, even if he's the third or fourth guy in the pen, is capable of closing out a three-run lead. Of course, I doubt Baker will change because of two games. He blamed Chapman's poor outing Friday on inactivity.

"He hadn't pitched in three days," Baker said. "If you don't pitch him it's like if you're pitching him too much."

OK. I think I get what Dusty is saying: Being rusty can lead to the same ineffectiveness as being overused. Chapman hadn't pitched in three days, which doesn't really seem like an unusual layoff, but I guess it's a good excuse. But it's that concern that often leads managers to pitch closers in meaningless situations just to get them work. That could be avoided by using your closer for more than three outs, but that is against the Unwritten Rules of Modern Closer Usage. Even though when Chapman was a setup guy, Baker routinely used him for more than three outs.

Hoover actually summed up bullpen usage pretty succinctly Friday: "You kind of train yourself for that as a reliever. All of these [relievers] can handle that situation. That's what makes us a good staff."

Hoover, Broxton, Sean Marshall and Sam LeCure are all good pitchers, as Hoover points out, and capable of saving games if needed.

So, if Dusty is concerned about Chapman not pitching enough, then pitch him more! Tie game in the eighth? Use him for two innings. Extra innings? Let him go two. Chapman has pitched 15 innings in 16 appearances. Even though he's one of the great strikeout relievers in the game's history, the type of pitcher who can get you out of tough jams, only once has Chapman entered with a runner on base this season, and that was when the Reds were already trailing.

I know I pick on Baker a lot, and he's really only one of 30 managers who uses his pen this way. But he's a high-profile manager on a team with World Series aspirations with a unique weapon at his disposal in Chapman. The lefty flamethrower is on pace to pitch 78 innings, many of which will be wasted with three-run leads, and few of which will come to escape tough jams.

Baker can use him in smarter ways. And leave the cheap saves to Hoover.

Consider that the Cincinnati Reds entered Monday's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies having lost five games in a row. Aroldis Chapman, the relief pitcher deemed so valuable as a late-inning reliever that the Reds backed off their plan to move him to the rotation, had thrown a grand total of five pitches in the previous seven days. His lone appearance in the past week came on Sunday, when he entered a game the Reds were losing 9-6.

It's too early to say the Reds were desperate for a win, but the Reds were desperate for a win. All they had to do was beat Cliff Lee. Bronson Arroyo came up huge for Dusty Baker's club, matching zeroes with Lee, and when the Reds broke through with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, he was poised to get the victory. He'd thrown only 79 pitches through seven innings, and considering the Reds' bullpen had lost all three games to the Pirates over the weekend, it was understandable that Baker sent Arroyo out there for the eighth.

So, no, I'm not busting him for that decision.

I will, however, call out Baker for leaving Arroyo in to face pinch-hitter Chase Utley with two outs and a man on. It's simple: You have one of the biggest weapons in the game in Chapman. USE HIM. LET THE MAN GET FOUR OUTS. Arroyo was having a fine game. Terrific, go out, tell him he pitched great, pat him on the butt and tell him to give you the ball. Arroyo can give up home runs (26 last year, 46 the year before). Utley can still hit 'em out of the park. Left-handed batters hit .108 against Chapman last year. They struck out in more than half their plate appearances. As Willie Stargell once said about Sandy Koufax, it's like trying to drink coffee with a fork.

But there was Arroyo pitching to Utley and there was Utley smashing a 2-1 sinker for a game-tying two-run homer. There was Chapman sitting in the bullpen and there were Reds fans going crazy and there was Baker, managing by that tired old book. Or the tired new book. Whatever you want to call it, this absurdity of not using your best reliever for more than three outs is growing to epic levels of idiocy. You'd think that after losing a lead in the eighth inning on Sunday, as Baker allowed by leaving in Jonathan Broxton to give up six runs, and giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Friday and Saturday, Baker would be sufficiently desperate for a win.

Hey, what do I know, though? Chapman had thrown 78 pitches all season. Maybe he was fatigued. Maybe Baker doesn't think he can get four outs. Maybe Baker trusted Arroyo to get that out and wasn't really just saving Chapman for the ninth.

Maybe I shouldn't be panning Baker since the Reds scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to grab the lead, leaving Chapman to come in to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts. Instead of criticizing Baker, maybe I should be praising Arroyo for his effort. The veteran right-hander rarely cracks 90 on the radar gun. After he went 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 2012 and after he struggled in 2011 (5.07 ERA), some wondered if he was going to be more 2011 than 2012. But when he's on, he keeps opposing hitters off balance with his sinker/slider/slow curve repertoire, and that's what he did against the Phillies on Monday. With Johnny Cueto out at least a few weeks, the Reds will need more strong outings from Arroyo.

So, yes, give credit to Arroyo for coming up big when the Reds needed him. Give credit to Derrick Robinson for being a very fast human and beating out a little tapper to start the rally, to Shin-Soo Choo for a sacrifice bunt, to the Phillies' Laynce Nix for missing Zack Cozart's blooper (he should have caught it) and to Brandon Phillips for his two-run single.

It worked out OK for the Reds this game. But that won't always be the case.
Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Cincinnati Reds are expected to announce today that Aroldis Chapman will return to the bullpen, where he will pitch one inning at a time, often protecting three-run leads that are held 99 percent of the time no matter who is pitching.

The funny thing about all this: The Reds -- the small-market Reds -- will now be paying Jonathan Broxton, probably their fourth-best reliever, $21 million over the next three years to pitch in potentially higher leverage situations than those Chapman will appear in. (To be fair to Broxton, he has a 3.52 ERA over the past three seasons, but R.J. Anderson tweeted to me that he added a cutter after joining the Reds late last season and that was his most effective strikeout pitch.)


What would you make Aroldis Chapman if you were the Reds?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,839)

I've written about why the initial decision to move Chapman in the rotation was the correct one, so won't rehash all that again. Obviously, this points to a larger communication issue between general manager Walt Jocketty, manager Dusty Baker (who wants Chapman to close), pitching coach Bryan Price (who has publicly been in favor of starting Chapman) and Chapman himself, who apparently wants to close. How was the decision discussed? Were Baker and Chapman consulted before the Reds signed Broxton? Certainly, the small-market Reds could have spent the Broxton money in another direction, especially considering they already have a deep bullpen with Sean Marshall, J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and others.

Frankly, however, if Chapman's heart isn't in starting, it doesn't say a lot about his intestinal fortitude and moving him back to the pen is probably the right move. Starting pitching is harder and more challenging, a challenge Chapman may not be 100 percent invested in. Starters make a lot more money because it's a more valuable role and great ones are harder to come by. As much Baker thinks Chapman is an indispensable weapon in the bullpen, it's simply not true. No reliever is going to get a $100 million contract like Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke received this offseason.

Anyway, if the report is true, it doesn't really make the Reds a better club, and could make them worse, especially if Mike Leake is mediocre again and Bronson Arroyo fails to match his excellent 2012. And, sadly, we'll be missing the chance to see if Chapman had a chance to develop into Randy Johnson 2.0.
Aroldis ChapmanAP Photo/Paul SancyaWith their deep bullpen, Cincinnati can afford to move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation.
Jim Bowden writes about the turmoil brewing in Reds camp Insider on ESPN Insider: Manager Dusty Baker -- and the players -- think Aroldis Chapman should remain the team's closer; general manager Walt Jocketty, with the support of pitching coach Bryan Price, is telling Baker that Chapman will be in the rotation. Whether Baker likes it or not.

There are a multitude of issues in this controversy. It's a symbolic example of today's game, where the GM constructs the roster and even tells the manager how to use it. It brings up the argument over the value of a closer. And lurking below those two, what's best for Chapman? We've seen other relievers successfully transition into the rotation -- C.J. Wilson and Chris Sale to name two -- but last year we also saw Daniel Bard implode and Neftali Feliz blow out his elbow.

But this situation has a pretty obvious answer:

1. Baker is wrong.
2. Jocketty is right.

Look, I get it. Chapman mowed down hitters like Ghengis Khan marching through Eurasia. In truth though, Chapman was more dominant than he was valuable. That's where Baker can't separate what his eyes tell him -- he sees Chapman striking out all those hitters to close out games -- from what the analytics suggest, which is the closer role is overrated and that Chapman, even a somewhat less dominant Chapman, is worth more to the Reds as a starter.

Plus, don't you have to find out if Chapman is Randy Johnson 2.0? OK, that's setting the bar too high since we're talking about one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, but even if he's a notch or two below that we're talking about an All-Star and potential staff ace. Imagine a big three of Chapman, Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos; that's what has Jocketty and Price salivating.

Chapman had 38 saves last year and pitched 71.2 innings (he began the year as the set-up man). As a supreme strikeout pitcher his strikeouts, in some fashion, are wasted in the ninth-inning role, since you enter with the bases empty. Think about it: When is a strikeout most valuable for a pitcher? With runners on base, to escape jams. Used as a reliever, Chapman would probably be more valuable entering in the seventh or eighth innings, especially with runners on and less than two outs. Of those 38 saves, nine came with a three-run lead; one came with a four-run lead. Those are wasted appearances. Any competent major league reliever would save three-run leads well 95 percent of the time, and good relievers like Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton close to 100 percent. Another 14 came with a two-run lead. Again, not the more pressure-packed situation.

The Reds were 78-3 when leading after eight innings. (All three losses coming after Chapman became the closer and all three losses were charged to Chapman.) The average major league lost ... 3.7 games when leading after eight innings. Chapman may look more impressive closing out the ninth inning than every closer not named "Craig Kimbrel," but in the end, he didn't provide all that much added value in the role.

And it's not like the Reds would be giving the job to Brandon Lyon or Francisco Rodriguez. Broxton has closed before. Marshall has been one of the game's best setup guys for years. J.J. Hoover looks like a future closer. The pen is deep enough with guys like Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon and Logan Ondrusek to not suffer much even as everyone is pushed up a chain on the food link.

The biggest risk is that Chapman gets hurt or reverts back to having difficulty throwing enough strikes. Some think his lack of a quality third pitch will hurt him; hey, Johnson did pretty well throwing a high-90s fastball and slider, and I see no reason Chapman can't succeed as a two-pitch guy. So, yes, there's risk, but there's also risk in running out a rotation that includes Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.

Baker may not like the move now, but something tells me he'll be OK with it once Chapman is 10-4 in late June with a 2.87 ERA, is leading the NL in strikeouts and makes the All-Star team.

Does picking top skippers make sense?

November, 13, 2012
Johnson-MelvinAP Photo, US PresswireDavey Johnson, left, and Bob Melvin were particularly adept at managing lineups and pitching staffs.

It was the managers' turn Tuesday in Major League Baseball's awards week, and you can understand why this might be greeted by a collective yawn by the performance-analysis community. The throwaway comment is that it's the award for whichever guy in the dugout saw his team improve by 15 or more games from one year to the next.

If that's true, I guess that means we could have ruled out Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox (six-game improvement from 2011) and Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants (eight games) right off the bat. Given that the Washington Nationals' Davey Johnson and Oakland A's Bob Melvin are bringing home the trophies in their respective leagues, that fulfills that bit of prophecy.

You could just chalk up the results to simple luck, with voters picking who was luckiest. Buck Showalter, Melvin and all three National League finalists were in the black as far as seeing their teams finish with records better than expected via Pythagorean projections. By that standard, Showalter was most fortunate of all, with his Orioles finishing 11 games better than the 82 wins they were “supposed” to wind up with, while Dusty Baker and Bochy tied for the NL lead at six games better than expected.

Admittedly, Showalter's plus-11 tally represents an unusually good year, and also reminiscent of Mike Scioscia's best years in the Aughties, when the Angels would exasperate statheads yearly by consistently finishing with better-than-expected records. Calling that luck risked losing sight of the Angels' execution and exploitation of opportunities, or the virtues of those teams, and I wouldn't be so quick to consign Sciosia's pair of manager-of-the-year trophies to mere luck. Similarly, I wouldn't say Showalter's Orioles were just lucky.

Certainly, describing a manager's impact on his team defies easy description. Thanks to stats, we like simple, measurable answers, but analyzing managers brings in a broad category of soft factors -- whether managing players' workloads, placing players in the best position to succeed or exploiting their abilities to best effect, or even something as ill-defined as “leadership.” But because we can't ascribe a numerical value to those things doesn't mean we can't pretend they don't have an impact. (Whether or not the people voting for the award have a perfect grasp on those things is another matter altogether.)

Not even the best book on the subject, Chris Jaffe's comprehensive "Evaluating Baseball Managers," succeeds entirely at quantifying a manager's impact, because on some level it's impossible to separate player performance from managerial predilection, and as responsibility for roster design became more and more the general manager's turf over time, you can't credit skippers with most of who's on the team. And in-game tactical options, one of the more obvious places where managers make an impact, are fundamentally rooted in personnel.

Besides which, fixating on that kind of offensive information is particularly pointless today, because for all sorts of reasons, one-run strategies just aren't in vogue. The total difference between the leading teams in position player sac bunts (the Angels and Brewers with 60 apiece) and the last-place team (the Cubs with 19) that had them bunt the least is noticeable, but it isn't anything like the difference between teams managed by Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver in the '70s.

So how do you sort out who did a great job managing his team in a particular year in today's game? I'm someone who thinks the award still matters because -- as someone who has voted twice on managers of the year, in 2010 and again in 2011 -- I think the careful voter can validate the best dugout efforts. But on some level, you have to address the changing nature of the role of managers.

[+] EnlargeBuck Showalter
Tim Heitman/US PresswireBuck Showalter's Orioles greatly exceeded projected win totals, and finished just shy of the ALCS.
Pitching-staff management almost automatically demands the primary place for evaluating a manager's impact, particularly bullpen management. In today's game, you don't necessarily have to be great at it, and you don't have to turn in virtuoso performances like Bochy has in his club's World Series wins or Tony La Russa did in 2011, but as a matter of handling multiple players, varying workloads, game situations and securing the right matchups, it may well be the most important task a manager has to get right across 162 games, not just in a single game. It's equal parts logistics and tactics, foresight and reaction.

On that score, all of the candidates have their merits. Baker's bullpen wound up leading the NL in fair run average, while Johnson cobbled together a fairly effective 'pen despite losing key relievers for extended periods of time. Johnson also had to deal with -- or perhaps fight against -- the tight rein kept on Stephen Strasburg's workload, but ran a deep rotation effectively despite that distraction all season. In the American League, both Showalter and Melvin had to adjust their rotations constantly, and both struck upon effective late-game formulas despite relying on relatively lightly regarded relief corps. Crediting them with getting tremendous mileage out of guys such as Pedro Strop or Sean Doolittle is the least we can do.

Lineup-card management is another thing you have to take into account. Not so much the batting orders themselves, but who gets to play, and to what effect. The mileage that Melvin and Ventura got out of unknown quantities such as Brandon Moss or Alejandro De Aza in their lineups certainly deserve shout-outs. Johnson deserves especially high marks for sticking with a couple of past established habits, stocking a strong bench and using it to good effect (Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy and supersub Steve Lombardozzi in particular).

The other thing I like to look at is how well a skipper adjusted in-season to when he had to adjust his roster, either because of injuries or slumps. Essentially, how well did he adapt when things started going wrong? Because things always go wrong -- players get hurt, somebody earns his release, a rookie earns a shot.

Again, looking at how Showalter, Johnson and Melvin tweaked their rotations and lineups constantly, I think you have to credit them with remarkable adaptability and flexibility. Whether Johnson's willingness to move Lombardozzi all over the diamond or shift Danny Espinosa across the keystone to play short while Ian Desmond was injured or Showalter's aggressiveness in moving Chris Davis around between first base, the outfield corners and designated hitter to try to squeeze every last bit of offense out of the slim pickings he had to work with, some managers were clearly put on the spot and came up with creative solutions.

In the AL, Melvin had to cycle through a variety of options at third base, shuffle around his outfield, and had to work without a perfect answer at first base until the stretch run, when he had the benefit of balancing Moss and Chris Carter's playing time.

Those kinds of decisions and reactions have a place in being honored, in this or any season. I'm glad for dugout favorites old and new -- congratulations to Davey Johnson and to Bob Melvin. They weren't the only managers who did great work, but they were deserving of their honors just won.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

Before the final game of the Division Series between the Reds and Giants, I had written that it could be Dusty Baker's last game as a manager. With his contract ending with the Reds and the club non-committal on an extension, it was possible the Reds would look elsewhere, especially if they failed again to reach the NLCS.

The Reds did lose but announced on Monday that Baker signed a two-year extension.

I think it's the right move. Baker has managed the Reds the past five seasons, helping mold them from a team that won 74 games his first season to a team that won 97 games in 2012 and won the NL Central for the second time in three seasons. Along the way, many young players developed into big league regulars under Baker: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Ryan Hanigan, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Aroldis Chapman, to name the best ones. Before the series against the Giants, Baker referred to the Reds as "my team," and it's easy to see why he would say that.

Baker will always be open to second-guessing from fans and analysts, and his bizarre hit-and-run play (or run-and-hit) with Hanigan at bat and Bruce on second base in Game 5 that helped kill one of the Reds' late-inning rallies was only the latest move to question. On the other hand, he did a terrific job all season handling his rotation and bullpen, and while it took him a while to figure out the lineup, he eventually realized Brandon Phillips was his only reasonable option in the leadoff spot.

If you ask me, the onus for 2013 is on general manager Walt Jocketty to construct a more balanced lineup. Ryan Ludwick is likely to decline his $5 million mutual option to become a free agent. He'll be a tough call for the Reds after slugging .531; and that wasn't just a Great American Ballpark creation, as Ludwick slugged .505 on the road. On the other hand, it was his best season since 2008 and he'll be 34 years old. More importantly, the Reds need to find a left-handed-hitting outfielder, preferably one who can play center field, either to take the job from Drew Stubbs or at least provide a reasonable platoon partner. Prospect Billy Hamilton, who is moving to center field from shortstop, may eventually fill that role, but he needs at least one more season in the minors, so maybe a short-term guy like Shane Victorino is an option. Jocketty also needs to find better bench players than Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez and actually give Dusty some options to work with.

The Reds may not have a lot of flexibility on their payroll. They'll surely let Scott Rolen ($8.1 million) go and hand third base to Todd Frazier and pay the $2.5 million to buy out Ryan Madson's option (Madson made $6 million in 2012). But much of that savings will be eaten up by Votto's increase -- from $11.5 million to $19 million. Reds attendance did increase about 1,600 fans per game over 2011 and there is often another bump after a big season, so the Reds may see a little more money coming in through the turnstiles.

In the end, this will still be a team with championship aspirations in 2013. While Baker seems snakebit in the postseason, it seems stability is the right call here. Are there really any recycled managers you'd want to bring in? And hiring a first-year skipper would seem a risky move for this team.

There was one more epic confrontation left for the San Francisco Giants before they could close out one of the great comebacks in playoff history.

Sergio Romo, the guy with the long beard, an 87 mph fastball, a nasty slider and the control of Dennis Eckersley, against Jay Bruce, a slugger with as much raw power as any other hitter in the game.

The Cincinnati Reds had scored one run in the bottom of the ninth, and Bruce represented the winning run with one out. After Wednesday night’s drama, you had the feeling something amazing was going to happen yet again.

My notes: 87 mph fastball fouled off; 87 chopped fouled again; 78 slider outside, Bruce Bochy pacing, fans chanting “Bruuuuuuuuce!!,” fouled off on low and outside; 87 fouled off; 87 fouled off Dusty Baker chomping on toothpick; 88 fouled back to screen; Bruce steps out, Buster Posey visits the mound; 82 slider low and away; 88 up and in, doesn’t get the call, 3-2; 79 slider, fly ball to left field.

What a showdown. A great at-bat by Bruce, fighting off all those pitches on the corner, with Romo throwing pitch after pitch on the corner. Romo won on the 12th pitch and then struck out Scott Rolen to begin the celebration.

The Reds had trailed 6-0 after Posey’s fifth-inning grand slam. They brought the tying to the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. They brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth. They had 17 baserunners.

But the Giants found a way. The entire series, they found a way.

* * * *

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Buster Posey
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREBuster Posey's grand slam in the fifth inning created a 6-0 Giants lead and vaulted them into the NLCS.
In the end, the Giants made the big plays, and the Reds didn’t. In the end, the Giants had Posey, and the Reds didn’t. In the end, Bochy had a quick hook on his starter when he had to, and Baker didn’t. And, yes, in the end, the Reds had to win a series without their ace and with a hobbled Joey Votto.

Despite needing just one win at home to advance to their first NLCS since 1995, the Reds couldn’t get it done. Despite Homer Bailey flirting with a no-hitter in Game 3 and the Giants finishing with just three hits, the Reds couldn’t win that game. Despite knocking out Barry Zito in the third inning of Game 4, they couldn’t win that game. Despite again generating some offense against Matt Cain, they couldn’t win Game 5.

Give credit to the Giants for going on the road and taking three in a row. Give credit to Angel Pagan for a big Game 4 and to Tim Lincecum for his relief effort in that game. Give credit to Posey for crushing the decisive hit of the series, the grand slam off Mat Latos on Thursday that powered the Giants to a 6-4 victory.

Let’s start there. The game was 0-0 heading into the fifth, a pitcher’s duel as many had predicted. Latos had retired 11 of 12 entering the innings. Gregor Blanco led with a single to left, and then Brandon Crawford tripled into the right-field corner. During those at-bats, Latos was visibly upset with some calls by plate umpire Tom Hallion. After Cain tapped back to the mound, Pagan reached on shortstop Zack Cozart's error, scoring Crawford. Marco Scutaro then walked on four pitches, including a first-pitch pitchout. The bullpen began stirring as Sam LeCure took off his warm-up jacket.

Pablo Sandoval singled to left, loading the bases.

Now, you have to ask: Did Baker leave Latos in too long? Should he have had the bullpen up earlier? Was LeCure even the right guy? It’s an elimination game, and the last thing you want to do in an elimination game is leave your starter in to give up six runs. The Reds had the best bullpen in the majors during the regular season. Sure, if anybody could get you out of a bases-loaded jam, it would be a guy named Aroldis Chapman, only one of the greatest strikeout relievers in the history of the game, but that would require thinking outside the box. Baker had little option but to leave Latos in.

Latos grooved a 2-2 cutter to Posey that didn’t cut much. Posey ripped it over the fence in left-center.

Down 6-0, the Reds didn’t quit. Brandon Phillips doubled in two runs in the fifth. Ryan Ludwick homered leading off the sixth. Jay Bruce walked, and Scott Rolen singled to put runners at first and second. Then came one of the most surprising moves I remember in recent postseason play.

With catcher Ryan Hanigan up, the count went full. Now, Hanigan is a good contact hitter. He struck out just 37 times in 371 plate appearances this season; among players with at least 300 plate appearances, that was the 16th-best strikeout rate in the majors. Still, that means he strikes out 10 percent of the time. In 53 potential double-play situations, he grounded into six double plays -- 11 percent. Factor in that Cain is a decent strikeout pitcher and one with a low ground-ball rate (37 percent), and the odds tilt slightly away from a potential double play and a little more to a potential strikeout.

Baker sent the runners. Hanigan fouled off a pitch. Baker sent the runners again. Cain threw a fastball that tailed back over the black, Hanigan took it for strike three, and Posey gunned down Bruce at third. Look, it was an aggressive play. Baker obviously trusted Hanigan to put the ball in play, even against a tough pitcher like Cain. Bruce is not a fast runner, a guy with just 29 steals in 52 career attempts. Most managers sit tight there, not wanting to run themselves out of a potential big inning. Instead of making the Giants turn two, the Reds gave them an easy second out at third base.

“That was big," Posey said afterward on TV. "They had a lot of momentum going, putting a lot of good at-bats together.”

Unfortunately, that seems to be Dusty’s karma in the postseason. Back in the 2002 World Series, the Giants led 5-0 in the seventh inning in Game 6, only to lose. In 2003, the Cubs were up 3 games to 1 in the NLCS. They lost the Bartman game, and then Baker left in Kerry Wood to give up seven runs in Game 7. And now his Reds became the first National League team to blow a 2-0 series lead in the Division Series.

The Reds rallied twice more. They got two runners on in the seventh with two outs, but Jeremy Affeldt finally retired Ludwick on a bouncer to the mound after an eight-pitch duel. In the eighth, Crawford robbed Hanigan with a diving catch of a line drive, and then with two on and two outs, Pagan made another diving catch of Dioner Navarro’s soft liner.

In the end, the Reds were left with Chapman pitching the ninth inning with a three-run deficit. In the end, the Reds go home frustrated and disappointed. They'll be haunted by two plays at third base -- the Brandon Phillips play in the first inning of Game 3 and the one from Thursday. Two plays that the Giants made, and the Reds didn't.
Normally, I just root for exciting baseball, for late-inning drama and Game 5s and Game 7s, for unknown heroes and superstars strutting their stuff. OK, maybe I root a little harder for the underdogs or for the team that has never won the World Series, or at least not in a generation or four.

This postseason, I find part of myself rooting for Dusty Baker and after the Reds lost Game 4 to set up today’s Game 5, it dawned on me: This could be the last game Baker ever manages.

Baker’s contract runs out after this season. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has been noncommittal on Baker’s future, saying only the situation will be addressed after the season. Before the start of the series against the Giants, Baker told MLB.com: "This is my team, you know."

"I plan to manage," Baker added. "I'm not worried and, God willing, I'm going to manage some more because I think I'm getting better and I'm still enjoying it. As long as I'm enjoying it, and as long as my family doesn't object, I will be somewhere."

[+] EnlargeDusty Baker
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesDusty Baker -- the NL Manager of the Year in 1993, 1997 and 2000 -- has a .525 win-loss percentage over 19 seasons.
But Baker is 63 and if the Reds don’t bring him back, there’s no guarantee he gets a job somewhere, especially considering only the Red Sox and Rockies currently have an opening. His recent health scare would have to be a factor in his future employment as well.

Only Gene Mauch managed more games than Baker has without winning a World Series, but Mauch rarely came close -- the 1964 pennant race with the Phillies and the 1982 and 1986 playoffs with the Angels being the exceptions. Consider the disappointment Baker has gone through in his managerial career:

  • The 1993 pennant race, winning 103 games but losing the division on the final day to the Braves.
  • The 2002 World Series, handing the ball to Russ Ortiz in Game 6, only to lose that game and then Game 7.
  • The 2003 NLCS with the Cubs, the Bartman Game and then Game 7.
  • Three other playoff defeats.

Look, Baker doesn’t deserve to win a World Series any more than another manager or player deserves to win one, I suppose. He did win a World Series as a player with the Dodgers, so his long and distinguished career isn’t without a ring.

Does he deserve some sort of validation? Perhaps. Few managers bring as much division as Baker. I’ve mentioned that during my weekly chat sessions -- his name gets brought up without fault, in this season, usually for his lineup selections. Sabermetric analysts have faulted his fetish for veterans, yet during his five seasons with the Reds he has broken in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Hanigan, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and, this season, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier.

OK, so his batting orders at times have been questionable. Yes, he still gets criticized for running Mark Prior into the ground back with the Cubs. Many will say Barry Bonds carried him in San Francisco. There is truth in all of those statements. On the other hand, I never get the impression that Dusty Baker's teams underachieve. It’s hard to say the Reds could have done much better this year than winning 96 games.

I’m not even a Baker fan. (Can you really be a fan of managers, anyway?) I thought it was ridiculous when he had his 3-year-old son in the dugout back when he managed the Giants in the 2002 World Series, or later held his son on his lap during postgame news conferences when he managed the Cubs, which seemed a convenient way to deflect some tough questions.

But he has managed a lot of baseball games and lost a lot of big ones. If Baker hoists a World Series trophy in a couple of weeks, you can't say the man hasn't suffered to earn it.