Winter Meetings interview with Bryan Price
Q. You talked about some of the things that you learned when we talked to you the other day. You said about dealing with the media, but as far as how the games are managed, have you learned a lot about yourself and about the struggles the team went through? What did you learn mostly and how can it help yourself going into next season?
BRYAN PRICE: How do you get out of your own way sometimes in a one‑run game?
I didn't have a lot of times last year where I reflected like I really felt like I made a catastrophic mistake, a game‑changing mistake. Certainly there's times where something doesn't work out, and you wish you would have done something different. You think squeeze, okay, I have a great opportunity to squeeze here, do you want to pull the trigger on it, now you're putting your faith in the pitcher to throw a strike and you have to get the sign and get the bunt down.
And as you can see throughout baseball, not a lot of people use it as a big‑time offensive weapon. But I think there were times there with our offense being as it was last year we could have utilized it more and been a little more creative.
Did a lot of stuff with lineup restructuring, and tried to find ways to get the offense going. And we had our challenges with that throughout the course of the year. But the question is: Are there things that I learned throughout the course of the season? Absolutely.
I think a lot of it is you just have to trust, I have to trust my gut and my instinct to make an endgame decision. I think there are times I want to put faith in the player to get a hit as opposed to being more creative as a manager to create an offensive opportunity. I want the players to know I have faith in them. But at the same time I think I needed to be a little more creative than I was.
Q. Did you defy your instincts, where you decided to go against it because of either track record or whatever?
BRYAN PRICE: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's real easy to go into a game and know that you've got a hitter up that's 1‑12 against a particular pitcher, and it might be a better idea to try to get a bit more creative.
But the guys that have some success that I was confident would put a ball in play or get a ball in the air, when it doesn't happen, the tendency is to look back, and Boy, I was thinking I should have been more creative, a hit and run, squeeze, or something of that nature. And for a team that did at times throughout the year struggle to score runs, I think there were times I got reluctant. For a guy that really wanted to be as aggressive as possible, there were times I could have been more so.
Q. You think you will be a more aggressive manager?
BRYAN PRICE: I think aggressiveness will define the trust issue. The aggressiveness will be myself trusting that I'm going to pull the trigger on a decision as opposed to simply turn it over to the player to go out there and drive a guy in with a base hit or put a ball in play that drives in a run. I think you have to take what's given to you and take a few more risks than we did last year. Especially in those one‑run games.
Q. What did you do at the end of the season when you had that time off? Do you go back and look at individual games for that? Is there a way that you evaluate yourself and say, Oh, this game I could have done differently? We always hear about football coaches, but with 162 it seems almost difficult or is it after the season more like sit and get a big picture reflection?
BRYAN PRICE: The first month, the month of October, you know, baseball is in its premium season. You're in the postseason. I evaluated every game afterwards. That's probably the reason that as managers and coaches we lose sleep, because we spend most of the game after when you lose trying to figure out where things went wrong and what could have been done differently to have won that ballgame.
But October was ‑‑ having been with the Reds and been to the playoffs three of the previous four years, was being an outsider looking in. It was disappointing. And it would have been easy and comfortable to fall back on the 2014 DL.
That being said, I still felt, and I said it all year, that we had the talent on the team, enough talent on the team to win more than we did. Maybe we weren't the best team in the division, maybe we weren't better than the three teams that finished ahead of us, but we were better than 76 and 86. I don't think we were a sub‑.500 club, even with the injuries. And those are the things that beg the question, what could we have done differently, or what could I have done differently as a manager.
I don't have a lot of regrets. I think there's a lot of positives as far as taking some chances with the lineup construction. And putting a lot of value in our starting rotation and allowing them to pitch deeper in the ballgames than they have in years past, and that paid dividends. Unfortunately, we were challenged offensively and with the bullpen at times and that hurt us.
Q. Did you watch the playoffs?
BRYAN PRICE: I did. I did. There's times when we lost to the Giants in 2012 that it was really difficult to watch the duration of the postseason after we had that two‑game lead. We were all very frustrated by that. But considering how we finished our year, we weren't knocked out in the last week of the season. We had been eliminated much earlier.
And so I had a chance, I certainly have friends in the game, too, and I'm building more relationships and I have a lot of ex‑players that I'm familiar with. There's an interest in watching them play. And I was able to enjoy it to a certain degree, but certainly not as much as I would have had we actually been in the postseason.
Q. There was so much hype and expectations with Billy last year, Billy Hamilton. Did he live up to your expectations?
BRYAN PRICE: You know, he did. And truth be told, I was cautious to make sure that I felt we had a legitimate contingency plan if he wasn't ready. He was a .260 hitter in Triple‑A in 2013, obviously a dynamic base stealer. We didn't know that much about him defensively, and didn't know how he would face Major League pitching on a regular basis. He played for us in September. I think he was 7 for 19 in September in 2013. But that's a small sample size. Once the league figures you out, it can treat you pretty cruelly.
So I wanted to make sure that we weren't rushing him and we had a contingency plan. And he ended up, in my opinion, being a Gold Glove center fielder, at least in the top two in best rookies in the National League and did some wonderful things.
And he had to have this season to have an understanding and perspective on what he needs to do to have a strong start to finish season. He needed to have year one, which he accomplished. I anticipate from the growth standpoint he will improve exponentially as far as his strike zone command, his stolen base percentage increasing, and his on‑base percentage. I think he's going to be a dynamic player.
Q. How concerned are you about the caught stealing, the percent there? Do you think he'll get better at?
BRYAN PRICE: I think there will be a certain amount of that. I think that I put a lot of faith in his ability to make some decisions, and then we started to get a little bit more involved in trying to select better situations and better environments in which to run.
That being said, nobody wants to lead this kid by the hand over the course of his career on how and when to steal bases. We want him to be the resident know‑it‑all about that.
I think introducing a little bit more history of the guys that he's trying to run against and getting an even greater understanding of the advantages we have when he doesn't run, and types of pitches our hitters are getting when he doesn't run, with all ‑‑ we're seeing slide step times from pitchers that we don't even have in our statistical stuff, our stat pack or our scouting pack. Pitchers that might be a 1‑2‑5 on the plate with a slide step or getting down in under 1, 1. That may deter Billy from running, but if gives our guys a lot better pitches to hit over the course of an at‑bat, because there's going to be more mistakes made by the pitchers.
Q. There's a slide step and then there's a Billy?
BRYAN PRICE: Exactly. You're absolutely right. When you're a young guy like that, you're young and confident, Yes, that's what people do, there's a certain amount of showman, in these guys that have a particular tool that stands out, if it's a throwing arm or if it's raw power, if it's foot speed, if it's velocity as a pitcher. And I think they really like to show that off when they can.
So one thing I really enjoy about Billy is he's one of the guys still left in baseball that runs hard out of the box on a line drive base hit to the center fielder, because he's going to take every advantage if that ball is bobbled to get to second base. We'll be a better team when we all go with that philosophy.
Q. He wants to get a high OBP guy, to help the offense. Could you see a scenario where that guy would be ahead of Billy in the lineup, the new leadoff guy, or is Billy going to be your leadoff guy no matter what?
BRYAN PRICE: I think that's a question I'd look at more when that time comes. So I think I'll probably have a better answer for you at that point in time.
I think as we figured out over the course of last year is that we're going to try to put the most functional team on the field and get away from getting concerned about hurt feelings if somebody is not hitting in a spot or order that they prefer. So if we were a better club with somebody else leading off we would lead off with somebody else.
But I do believe that is where Billy really will make a name for himself would be that spot in the lineup, creating havoc.
Q. You're kind of a prudent guy and patient, but if you look around, you don't really have a lineup that you can throw out right now, especially with Heisey gone, too, probably not an everyday lineup. Are you getting antsy for that outfielder you need to sign?
BRYAN PRICE: I'm not, only because we need to be ready by opening day of 2015. So I can be patient. I don't think it's my nature to get worked up about things that don't ‑‑ questions that don't need to be answered at this moment.
I mean, anybody would like to know what their team is going to look like right now, very few do, if any, know what their club is going to look like for next year. We have our challenges. So I think we're ‑‑ I'm comfortable with letting it kind of move along at the pace it's going.
Q. There are obviously a lot more strikeouts the last few years. Is that something that you think teams, your team needs to adjust to and try to get more balls in play earlier or is that counterproductive to do that?
BRYAN PRICE: You know, I think if baseball was easy enough to decide what your team has to do better, and they could go out and do it, our team would be unbelievable, because you get guys that strikeout or have a hard time throwing strikes. And as much as we want to not strikeout, you want a pitcher to throw more strikes.
If you look at the history of the player, very rarely do you find somebody that can do a significant turnaround as far as production goes. So as an example someone that's a 150‑strikeout a year guy, getting him down to 90, and getting the same type of or similar type of performance as far as run production, I think is unrealistic. I think it would be unrealistic if his only goal was to put the ball in play, it would still be a challenge to get that strikeout number decreased a great deal.
So I think what we really focus on as opposed to looking at the raw numbers is trying to make sure that we're able to verify or identify good pitches to hit early in the count and be confident enough ‑‑ if you have confidence you can get the good pitch to hit. If you're not confident with two strikes, I think the tendency is to be more aggressive to hit an early strike, regardless if it's a good pitch to hit. And I think that's the type of discipline everyone is looking for.
Q. Is the lower strike zone, has that impacted it and maybe the approach with the hitters?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, I acknowledge that you're right, I did feel like the strike zone, the lower strike zone was called more consistently this year than in years past. And you hate to complain about it. So I'm not complaining.
That being said, it's taking some time for the hitters to get used to that. And again, there's that pitch that you have to identify, if you're a high ball hitter, I don't want to hit at the bottom of the zone and take myself out of an inning, it's that type of discipline that I think everybody is looking for.
Q. Is it unsettling to go into the offseason with 80 percent of your rotation in their final year and knowing that one, maybe more, could be gone in a trade this winter? How do you deal with that uncertainty, looking at a talented rotation that may be ‑‑
BRYAN PRICE: That is. That is unsettling. I've said it before, I mean this group of ‑‑ these particular five starting pitchers, if we had them all long‑term I'd be tickled to death. I think any manager would be. It's quality one through five.
Certainly health plays a big role in that. But we're not in that environment where we can pay these guys the terms of the contract that they've earned through their performance. And so we have to be able to make smart decisions and I think we're in a similar playing field with many teams, but there's other teams that have more ability to take on that type of a financial commitment. And we also have other parts of our team that we have to improve. We feel there's some pitching depth in our system that's going to be in the next year or so is going to be able to help us.
But we have some challenges, and maybe have to look at some of those pieces in our rotation to get us other pieces for 2015 and beyond.
Q. Are you a believer in the pitching or playing for a contract idea, that having all of these guys optimize their performance this year?
BRYAN PRICE: Yes and no. I've seen both ends of that. I've seen ‑‑ I think it depends on the individual. Of course, anybody that really is a baseball fan would be sickened by the idea that you get a better effort from a player in a contract year than you do other years. But there's no doubt about it that it's a motivating factor for some.
But I think what we're looking for is our players that play because they love to play. And those are the guys who you want to make long‑term commitments to, the guys that are going to show up and compete on day 1, or day 162 as they did on day 1, no matter where you are in the standings, regardless of whether or not they're in a contract year or not.
Q. When we talked on Friday you hadn't talked to a lot of the guys that had been injured, obviously you probably got a chance to talk to them this weekend. What did you get from those guys and your kind of feeling about all the guys who were injured and where they are now?
BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, I actually hadn't spoken with those guys. I had spoken with them, but seeing them in person, I think that that's where you're going, is that I feel very good about it. I think really what we were talking about, Skip Shumaker had the separated shoulder and concussion. He's made big strides in a few weeks. That's a major surgery, that's a shoulder reconstruction surgery. We're cautiously optimistic that he'll be ready to go in Spring Training and be ready by opening day to do what he does. And we want him to be 100 percent healthy. This is a high on‑base percentage guy that does a lot of great things for us, he's a really good baseball player.
Jay Bruce, I think, is going to be great. That torn meniscus isn't going to be an issue. Joey is headed in the right direction from strength, getting rid of the pain and adding strength. And be done with the rehab in time to spend a lot of time on field hitting, taking ground balls, doing the things he needs to do for Spring Training. Tony Cingrani looked great. Homer, Latos, I think they're all on schedule at this time.
Q. Joey never has demonstrated the traditional leadership stuff that some of your players in the past have. Would you like to see him in his own way to become a leader?
BRYAN PRICE: You know, we talked about this so long now in Cincinnati, there's no one there left to lead the club. I don't know if those guys are manufactured. We talked about it at length as an organization.
And I remember as a young player watching Troy Tulowitzki come up as a shortstop for the Rockies in 2007. And him running in from shortstop and making mound visits to veteran pitchers. I don't think it's going to go over very well, a rookie coming in there. But it was inherently who he is as a player.
So I think it's a matter of really defining guys that just do it because that's who they are, you know, as opposed to trying to talk somebody into, Hey, you should be the voice of the team. You need to be more confrontational or demanding of the performance and the effort of your teammates.
I think Joey could be a very good silent leader, because he's a great worker and go out there and not just set the tone for how you work, but nudge guys in the right way.
Q. You had the issues with the bullpen. How do you fix the bullpen? I mean, so many of those guys you have had success, do you feel like that's an influx of talent or influx of coaching or whatever? And how do you improve that bullpen that you guys have?
BRYAN PRICE: I think we realize that ‑‑ first of all, the first thing we have to realize, and I realize it, is that the bullpen pitching is a very volatile role on a team. So when you have a guy or a group of guys that underperform, that the initial response is, Hey, let's get better by getting these guys ‑‑ getting rid of these guys and bringing in a new group. I don't think we need to do that.
I think there's a need to be able to validate if Sean Marshall is going to impact our bullpen next year. We have to have confidence that Manny Parra will rebound and be healthier throughout the course of 2015 and pitch the way he's capable of. J.J. Hoover had a tough year, but two great years before that.
We have to put some confidence in our guys and maintain our confidence. But we also have to realize that one thing we really lacked as an organization last year, I thought, was guys with depth at the Major League level, guys that could come up. And not just take up a spot on the 25‑man roster, but could impact us in a positive way. And we've gone and reached out to some good players that I think are going to satisfy that role next year. Brennan Boesch and Josh Satin, some good University of California guys, our breeding ground.
Q. We talked a little bit about the differences in the manager position. Is managing the bullpen maybe a little surprise or do you look back at how you managed the bullpen or what you did in the bullpen, was it anything different than what you expected sitting one or two seats over?
BRYAN PRICE: No, I got pretty ‑‑ right or wrong, I've got a pretty strong feeling on how to utilize the bullpen. I'm sure there's plenty of statistical analysis that would suggest that I didn't do a great job, simply because.
But I felt like when our strength is our starting pitching, that I stayed with our starting pitching, not by adding to their pitch limits, but allowing them to pitch beyond the sixth inning, even at times when they got into a little bit of trouble.
The other part is we had some down years from our bullpen guys. That made it a little bit more challenging to turn the ball over to guys that were struggling late in games, for a team that didn't score many runs, as opposed to sticking with the starting pitchers.
I felt my evaluation was the situation was fairly clear‑cut. I think anybody is going to feel at times, you may get caught with your pants down. You may not anticipate a move by the opposing manager, pinch‑hit as early as they do, or utilize or pinch‑hit a particular player. Sometimes Pedro Alvarez was hitting for them, I think that was happening the first time they did against us. That's something you wouldn't anticipate until it actually happened there in Pittsburgh.
But I certainly will continue to evolve in those decisions, but I didn't have a lot of games where I felt I really screwed it up by bullpen management.
Q. You said before the year that you didn't like the matchups and you might throw your closer a little longer. Would it be a necessity that it seemed like Chapman had one or two where he went ‑‑ was that because of his situation when he came in? There were a lot of things where you said you might do things differently in the bullpen. But I don't know how much different it was other than the starters going longer.
BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, it shortened the game. And you could argue that Broxton, at least statistically, was having a better year than Chapman. Now that being said, I always felt very comfortable having Chapman in the game. But I didn't feel any less having Broxton in the game. He was having a great year for us before we traded him.
So, yeah, I don't think there was a lot of games out there where I felt like I had the wrong guy in there when I could have been using Chapman. There are times where I had left‑hand hitters up with Broxton in the game with an ERA under 1. If I wanted to cover my butt I'd bring in Chapman, but Broxton was doing so well against both lefties and righties, even better against left‑handed hitters than right. I would have just been doing it for that reason. I wouldn't have been doing it because I wanted Chapman out there, because I didn't believe in Broxton. I did it because Broxton was doing it, stayed with that.
Yeah, I certainly didn't do it as much as I thought I would do it over the course of the year and bring Chapman in the eighth inning in the middle of a problem, but I did it a few times.
Q. How much say do you have in possible player acquisition? You're having those conversations, do you talk about things like the low strike and certain guys getting certain pitchers better or how certain guys may perform against players in your division, with strengths and weaknesses?
BRYAN PRICE: Well, I think the great thing about being a part of the Reds under Walt's leadership is he's a very inclusive person. So he has a close relationship with his scouting department. And he utilizes me and my opinion when it comes to making decisions on personnel.
That being said, he's the general manager. He doesn't rely on me to make these final decisions, but he does like my input. And that's what makes the relationship so strong.
I think we do due diligence when we scout the players, what we like, in all different areas. So I don't know if that's really answering your question or not. I can tell you that Walt's great to work for. He is inclusive when it comes to decision making and things with the roster. And it's been a good relationship.
Q. You earlier talked about how you'd love to have all five of your starters back. Tony Cingrani would obviously be an intriguing situation, because he'd be that 6th starter if healthy. He wants to start. Would he be a very successful late inning bullpen option?
BRYAN PRICE: Yeah, I think Tony can do a lot of things. And the key, of course, is being healthy enough to be on the field and pitching regularly with his regular stuff. Game 2 of the season against the Cardinals, it didn't look like there was anybody on the earth that would be able to hit him. And he was throwing primarily fastball. And he's got that special fastball, but that fastball is 92 to 95, 93, 97 miles an hour, with power, and completely different gear. And when his velocity isn't there, he relies on his off‑speed stuff, he became more vulnerable, and that was a challenge for his last year. We're trying to define where he's best suited.
Can he be primarily a fastball pitcher as a starter? I believe he can. I don't think we should try to convince him that he can't. But he also has to be given the opportunity to, No. 1, pitch as a starter regularly, or No. 2, perform or not perform as a starter. Going into next year if we are able to bring this rotation back intact, he would be probably a starting ‑‑ a 6th starter, as you had mentioned, but definitely a guy that could help us.
Q. Do you have enough confidence of where he is physically if you guys do trade a starter that he could probably step in?
BRYAN PRICE: You know, I have optimistic confidence. There's no discredit to Tony or anybody else. Look, we're always trying to make decisions that we hope turn out. And it's a crap shoot. It's unfortunate because there's always somebody that's accountable when you sign somebody or you put your expectations on somebody, and they either don't live up to those expectations or they get hurt.
I think if Tony stays healthy, he'll have an outstanding big league career, and I think he would be first in line if we had an opening in our rotation.
Q. I know this is really kind of more for Walt, but with the opening you have now, would you be okay with a platoon player or would you rather as a manager have somebody that's penciled in every day?
BRYAN PRICE: Left field, we talked about offense by position, you're really looking at your corner outfielders, your corner infielders, are doing a lot of offensive damage. Based on what that left fielder provides as far as offensive production, it doesn't necessarily have to be a ton of home runs, but it should be some extra base damage and some run‑producing performance. And I think that's key if we're really looking strongly at being able to go out there and really compete in the division.
But if we've got to do a platoon and the platoon works, there's a lot of teams that do that stuff, you look at Oakland and their success. If we get the right two guys, I think that can work, as well.
BRYAN PRICE: 80 percent of the year Milwaukee was one of the best teams in baseball. They had a great year with a couple of setbacks.
Yeah, I think it's kind of the neat part of it. It used to be the weak link, the National League Central was the weak link of the National League or Major League Baseball just as far as the expectations coming out of the division. And now it's a strength.
There's a great feeling about being in that, because it's so competitive. But they are, everyone is getting better. I don't see a team there that's taking a step backwards as far as improving their club and being optimistic about having even a better year in 2015.
By the time we get into Spring Training we're hoping to be in that same position where we're talking about our chances. And in the end, as I said last year, you have to play 162 games and decide who the best team is. You always want to go into the Spring Training feeling like you have a great chance to do some damage.