Why Reds Manager David Bell Should Be on the Hot Seat

His supposed brilliance has never once shown up on the field, where the flailing Reds really need a spark.

As your friendly neighborhood Reds scribe, I make every effort to remain as upbeat as possible. After all, baseball is supposed to be fun, right? Many of you are spending three hours of your life with the ol’ Redlegs every single night, and it seems like the least you can ask is for your favorite baseball team to insert a brief moment of joy into your life every now and again.

 

Well, you may have noticed that those moments have been few and far between in recent years—25 of those years (since the Reds last won a playoff series) to be precise. As the losses keep piling up in what is rapidly becoming another lost season, the natives are getting restless (at least, the ones who are still paying attention). On social media and talk radio, a loud segment of Reds fans have been adamant that manager David Bell should be fired for various transgressions, most of which boil down to the fact that his teams lose too often.

This week, Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams addressed Bell’s hot seat. Sort of.

“I’ve gotten better about recusing myself from social media and talk radio. The main reason that I’ve done that, with all due respect, is that most of the ideas that are shared on social media and talk radio are shared by people that don’t have access to the same information as I do or my staff does. For example, things going on away from the field in players’ lives, injuries that they’re dealing with that aren’t disclosed.

“I don’t know of anyone outside of my inner circle that has seen a single pitch at [alternate training site] Prasco [Park] this year to know what we think and why we think it about the players that are there and what we think they can do when they come up. We may not be right. We may not be wrong, but we’re doing the best we can with the information, and we have a lot of information that the general public doesn’t have access to.

“We go back and review them and the decisions that were made. The decisions [of] this coaching staff have been made with great rationale. The main glaring statistic for us is the underperformance of the offense and the batting average on balls in play. We’re definitely focused on if there are things we can do differently to change the outcomes there in terms of players’ approach, but a lot of that is bad luck and I don’t want to blame that on the wrong person.”

Not exactly a vote of confidence in Bell’s performance, but Williams is essentially saying, “It’s not all his fault.” And it’s true that every problem facing the 2020 Reds can’t be pinned on Bell. The manager doesn’t pitch, doesn’t play defense, doesn’t hit (just like nearly every other Red, now that I think about it). At some point, the players on the field have to perform, and you can’t give Bell all the blame for the fact that so many players aren’t living up to their expectations.

Further, it’s a fact that the Reds have been unlucky this year. That sounds like a lame excuse losers make, but it has the benefit of actually being true. Statistically, these Reds are the unluckiest hitting team in the last 30 years.

Let’s talk very briefly about BABIP. Here’s how MLB explains the stat:

BABIP can be used to provide some context when evaluating both pitchers and hitters. The league average BABIP is typically around .300. Pitchers who have allowed a high percentage of hits on balls in play will typically regress to the mean, and vice versa. In other words, over time, they’ll see fewer (or more) balls in play fall for hits, and therefore experience better (or worse) results in terms of run prevention. The same applies for batters who have seen a high or low percentage of their balls in play drop in for hits.

Cincinnati’s BABIP this year is .237. Not only is that the worst number of the last three decades, it’s more than 20 points below the next worst team! It’s absolutely true that the Reds have been unlucky this year. Redleg Nation had an excellent twitter thread that demonstrated how it has impacted this year’s team. It’s real, and it’s not spectacular.

But guess what? I don’t care. I’m sick of losing, and I’m sick of excuses from a franchise that has done nothing to earn the benefit of the doubt. Bad luck doesn’t explain the horrible defense we’ve seen from this team. Bad luck doesn’t explain Raisel Iglesias’ continued decline or Michael Lorenzen’s inconceivably bad first month of the season or Eugenio Suarez’s struggles.

Moreso, bad luck doesn’t explain Bell’s lack of urgency all season long. It doesn’t explain giving middle of the order at-bats to guys like Matt Davidson, who was recently designated for assignment, or any at-bats at all to the Christian Colons and Travis Jankowskis of the world. This is a short season, when you need your best players in the lineup as often as possible. Certainly, many of those players haven’t performed, but Bell doesn’t get a pass for treating his roster like a Little League team in which everyone needs to play.

Reds fans have been calling for Bell to be fired since his very first week on the job. I just roll my eyes at much of that; social media can be useful, but it’s often best just to ignore it. And I am certainly not calling for Bell to be fired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Don’t kid yourself that firing Bell will be a quick fix that immediately turns this franchise around.

But someone has to take responsibility for this continuing disaster. No reasonable observer believes that Cincinnati’s 17th losing season in the last 20 years is entirely Bell’s fault. But he does have to share in the blame. And if we’re being honest, Bell’s teams have underperformed expectations for his entire (albeit short) managerial career. Maybe he’s a brilliant tactician, and I’m perfectly willing to believe that he does great work in the clubhouse where most of a manager’s job is performed. His players certainly seem to like him. But if he’s great at those things, it has never once shown up on the field, where the Reds need it.

Cincinnati radio personality Mo Egger summed up what Reds ownership will face this off-season if they fail to make the playoffs once again:

I’m sure fans who’ve spent recent years not going to games while enduring endless pleas for patience from a front office/ownership group with a very limited track record of winning will nod along and smile at a winter of “come on, we were just unlucky, have you heard of BABIP???” You don’t get to treat losing like it’s an outlier when it’s the norm.

If Cincinnati doesn’t turn things around immediately and somehow figure out how to make the playoffs, there will be a reckoning this off-season. The players aren’t getting fired, and there is little sense (at this point) that ownership is fed up with the team’s front office. So that leaves Bell.

Williams and company can say that Bell isn’t on the hot seat, and other writers can make the case for why he shouldn’t be. But I’m here to tell you that David Bell’s seat is warm, and getting warmer. Stay tuned.

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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