Braves outfielder Jason Heyward was carrying a sub-.700 OPS near the end of July when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to move him from the #2 spot in the lineup, where he had hit for most of the season, to the lead-off spot. Despite owning baseball’s best record at 74-47, the Braves have lacked a “true” lead-off hitter for most of the season. Andrelton Simmons (.643 OPS) has led off 62 times and Jordan Schafer (.828 OPS) has led off 20 times but has also been injured for most of the season. Even B.J. Upton led off 13 times at the beginning of the season.
On July 27, Gonzalez moved Heyward up a spot in the lineup and it has been just what the doctor ordered. In 18 games since, Heyward is hitting .382/.455/.603. He has had multiple hits in six out of his last seven games. The Braves, meanwhile, have won 16 of those games (89%), averaging 5.4 runs per game. Their first place lead in the NL East has increased from 8.5 games to 14.5 games.
Because of his size and power potential, Heyward was never really thought of as a lead-off hitter, but he has the second-best walk-to-strikeout ratio on the team (0.67). He trails Simmons, but has reached base overall nearly seven percent more often, which is what really matters. Designating Heyward as the lead-off man was certainly not an obvious move, but considering how well things have gone for the Braves since, it was a necessary move.
The Cincinnati Reds have fired manager Bryan Price. He’ll be replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Jim Riggleman. The team also fired pitching coach Mack Jenkins. The club also added Louisville manager Pat Kelly to the staff as the new bench coach and Double-A pitching coach Danny Darwin as the new big league pitching coach.
It was only a matter of time for Price, whose Reds have begun the season 3-15. This was Price’s fifth season at the helm and the Reds never won more than 76 games in any of his previous seasons, doing so in his first year, in 2014. They won 68 games in both 2016 and 2017 and 64 games in 2015. While that’s far more attributable to the Reds talent level than anything Price ever did or did not do, at some point the manager will take the fall for a team that makes no progress.
Price’s tenure will likely be considered largely forgettable in the view of history, but he did have a pretty memorable moment as Reds manager in April of 2015, when he went on a profanity-laced tirade at the media because they reported the availability or lack thereof of certain players for an upcoming game. Which is part of the media’s job, even if Price didn’t fully grok that at the time. The tirade itself was pretty epic, though, with then Cincinnati Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans reporting that “there were 77 uses of the “F” word or a variant and 11 uses of a vulgar term for feces (two bovine, one equine).”
Taking over will be Jim Riggleman, who last managed in the big leagues with the Washington Nationals, resigning in June of 2011 because he was unhappy that he did not get a contract extension. It was a weird episode, the sort of which a lot of guys couldn’t have come back from, perhaps being considered quitters. Riggleman took a job managing the Reds’ Double-A team, however, then moved on to Triple-A and then the Reds’ big league coaching staff. There’s something to be said for persistence. And for being a big league lifer.
Anyway, Price’s exit is not likely to change the Reds’ course too much in 2018. But, as it is so often said in baseball, sometimes you gotta make a change all the same.