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Reds extend manager Dusty Baker's deal for 2 years

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Reds extend manager Dusty Baker's deal for 2 years

CINCINNATI (AP) Reds owner Bob Castellini couldn't imagine Dusty Baker leaving.

The 63-year-old manager got a two-year contract extension Monday, giving him another chance to take Cincinnati deep into the playoffs. They've been there twice in the last three years, failing both times to get past the division series.

Baker missed the Reds' NL Central title celebration this year because he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. He returned and lost ace Johnny Cueto at the start of their series against San Francisco, which ended with the Giants rallying to win Game 5.

The team's first big question of the offseason was whether it would bring Baker back for another try.

``This is Dusty's team,'' Castellini said. ``These fellas are poised to go deeper and deeper in the season. To not bring Dusty back or not ask Dusty to come back was out of the question.''

Baker is feeling much better, and the Reds have the nucleus of their 97-win team returning next year, including one of the deepest pitching staffs in the major leagues. When the club offered another two-year deal - same as the last one - Baker quickly agreed.

``It's very much the same contract and very much the same thing for all of us up here: There's work left to be done,'' Baker said. ``I didn't want to leave on a note that we still have work to do.

``I don't want to leave in a situation where for the rest of my life I would have regretted not coming back with unfinished business. It would have left a real pain in my heart to feel the way I did at the end of the season.''

Baker did one of his best managing jobs this season, guiding the Reds through one major setback after another.

They lost closer Ryan Madson and their two setup relievers to injury during spring training. Baker eased left-hander Aroldis Chapman into the closer's role, a move that worked beautifully. Joey Votto tore cartilage in his left knee at midseason, costing the Reds their top hitter - he was never the same, even after returning.

Baker juggled his lineup and led the club on a 36-12 tear while Votto was recuperating. With the team on the verge of clinching, Baker ended up in a hospital during a road trip in Chicago. He missed 11 games and returned for the final regular-season series.

The Reds made it through the season with all five starters healthy, a trend that ended in the first inning of the playoffs. Ace Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side on his eighth pitch in San Francisco, sidelining the 19-game winner and putting Cincinnati's pitching plans in disarray.

Baker got creative with his pitching staff and the Reds won the first two games. With a chance to wrap it up back in Cincinnati, they had a passed ball and an error that let the Giants rally for a 10-inning win in Game 3. The Giants completed their comeback on Buster Posey's grand slam to take Game 5.

The Reds have won two division titles in the last three years - their best showing since Sparky Anderson ran the Big Red Machine in the 1970s - and have won 169 games over the last three years, their best such stretch in 30 years.

``We're moving in the right direction,'' general manager Walt Jocketty said. ``We're trying to build a team that will be in contention for a long time and win multiple world championships. One of the things we feel is very important is continuity.

``Every place I've been, we've always had continuity, whether it's the scouts, the front office, the minor league people. But most importantly, the guys that are leading the team on the field. If you look, the more successful operations and teams are the organizations that keep continuity in their leadership.''

Baker has presided over a revival in Cincinnati, which was rebuilding when he took over in 2008. The Reds were moving from a team reliant on homers - an offense built around Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn - to one that wins with pitching and defense.

A young team reached the playoffs unexpectedly in 2010, then got swept by Philadelphia. Baker became one of only six managers to win division titles with three teams, along with Billy Martin, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson.

Cincinnati took a step back last year, when three starters got hurt or sick during spring training and several players had subpar seasons. They won 90 games again this year, the seventh time one of Baker's teams has reached the mark.

The overriding question was whether he'd be physically able to continue managing. He's had an irregular heartbeat since he was a teenager and high blood pressure for years. He's managing the problems with a change in diet.

``Really his health was never an issue with us and him,'' Jocketty said. ``The doctors in Chicago and Cincinnati gave him a clean bill of health and said he'd have a total recovery. We've seen a quick recovery. Look at him now - he looks happier and stronger than he was even months ago.''

Baker has lost weight, much of it from fluid buildup.

``I can't wait for spring training,'' Baker said. ``I feel excellent. I feel I have most of my strength back.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do. 

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.