by Steve Mancuso

Dick Williams, David Bell and their partnership for change

“David Bell is unbelievable. It’s amazing how involved he is with staff development on a consistent message from the top to the bottom. A big part of my interview was David Bell. Not a single other organization had the manager call me and not just try to sell me on it — he was involved from day one. … There wasn’t anybody close to the Reds in terms of progressiveness.”

The author of that statement is Kyle Boddy. He’s the new Reds minor league pitching coordinator hired from Driveline Baseball in Seattle. The quote comes from a terrific interview and reporting by Jeff Wallner (WCPO). Please read the entire post.

Boddy’s words shed further insight into the working relationship between Dick Williams and David Bell. It’s important and promising information for Reds fans.

People who know Dick Williams are impressed by his intelligence and analytic skills. To his credit, he’s been open with fans and the media. Williams’ background in business, as opposed to baseball, gives him the ability to look past how things have always been done in the creakiest of sports. Yet whether due to his inexperience or the unwillingness of ownership to trust Bill Williams’ grandson with the keys to the car, the first part of Dick Williams tenure leading the Reds was choppy.

What changed was hiring David Bell. Williams fought pressure to bring in a “face of the franchise” old-school manager. Instead, he went with a younger guy possessing no major league manager experience but plenty of other important qualities. I wrote this in February:

“Dick Williams has found a new running mate in David Bell. Reds fans should hope their dynamic and fascinating partnership will continue to reshape the organization and implement a unified, modern approach.

Two men, sons and grandsons of Reds nobility, have each come their own distance the past ten years. They find themselves, in this time and place, prepared to produce positive generational change for their family and city’s baseball team.

And in a twist that’s a textbook example of irony, their last names might be the ticket to convince ownership to really fix things around here.”

That’s why Kyle Boddy’s comments about David Bell’s involvement in his recruitment caught my attention. Boddy’s account reveals how the Reds operate now. David Bell is more than just a field manager. More than a post-game press conference. Bell is more than a conduit passing stacks of data from the analytics department to Reds players and coaches.

David Bell is the de facto co-President of Baseball Operations for the Reds and has formed an energetic and effective partnership with Dick Williams.

The two men are moving the Reds organization forward in ways unimaginable a couple years ago. I’m not just making the easy comparison with the final disastrous seasons of Walt Jocketty’s regime. The past year also stands in contrast to the early, uncertain days of Williams’ own time at the top.

Bell and Williams have given the organization needed direction. It’s sound and modern. A big part of the duo’s success seems to be their influence with ownership to make moves. The suddenness of change in the flow of power was evident in the mere four months that separate the failure to trade Matt Harvey and the release of Billy Hamilton.

Williams and Bell have ditched the organization’s preference for familiar, the status quo bias of putting too much value on what one already owns. We’ve seen that in decisive moves regarding both coaches and players.

Boddy’s hiring is itself evidence of new thinking at the epicenter of the rebuild’s biggest bust.

An enormous factor in the Reds sputtering rebuild was the failure-to-arrive of a large class of starting pitchers. It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. Those youthful arms were afforded ample time to break through in 2017 and 2018. Aside from Luis Castillo it didn’t happen.

That collective failing generated palpable frustration in Reds fans. #GetThePitching became primal scream by hashtag. But not only among the fans. The Reds front office and ownership expressed their own dissatisfaction and impatience with in-house options. Remember, the inception of that slogan came from a comment by Reds owner Bob Castellini last October.

By any objective analysis, Dick Williams and David Bell did get the pitching in 2019. They brought in a few arms. They improved pitchers new and old with a modern coaching staff. Last week, in the face of competition from several other suitors, the Williams-Bell combo added Kyle Boddy to push those innovations to the minor league affiliates.

The rapid, significant improvement in Reds pitching lends itself to opposing lessons. The positive: The organization-wide commitment in 2019 to embrace technology and up-to-date ways has had a meaningful effect. The negative: The Reds were late adopting them. Imagine how that large class of young starting pitchers might have developed differently if Reds ownership and the front office had come up with the right answer even a year before. In that sense, the front office partly has itself to blame for the lack of progress in 2017 and 2018.

Let’s learn from but not dwell on the past. The pitching is on a trajectory of progress. The no-messing-around firing of Turner Ward gives Williams and Bell a second swing at building a hitting staff to match what they’ve assembled on the pitching side.

You have to wonder if ownership appreciated the radical transformation it was letting loose in hiring the sons and grandsons of Reds royalty. At a minimum, it’s delicious irony. But it’s also an unambiguously positive development. Hesitancy won’t cut it in a league led by organizations with aggressive, smart leaders willing to embrace change.

Overcoming years of backwardness won’t happen overnight for the Reds. But Dick Williams and David Bell have become powerful agents of change.

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

3 Comments

  • Craig Slater

    Analytic Gabe Kapler only last 2 seasons in Philly and look at the roster they had. I’m not sold on the nepotism of Williams and Bell, just look down the street at 1 Paul Brown Stadium to see how that has worked.

  • Sean Lahman (@seanlahman)

    Great analysis, Steve.This is why I’m feeling optimistic about the organization for the first time in a long time. The Reds have gone from being one of the last teams to embrace analytics to being at the cutting edge. I understand why some fans remain skeptical, but could you have imagined this team even talking to a guy like Boddy a year ago?

    • Steve Mancuso

      A year ago, the Reds were still considering hiring Jim Riggleman or John Farrell as manager and figuring out whether or not to sign a contract with Matt Harvey, who they hadn’t been able to bring themselves to trade because of “positive momentum.” I was deeply worried about the direction of the franchise then. They hired Bell on Oct. 21. Bell was the perfect hire. His up-to-date baseball savvy meshed perfectly with Dick Williams who was open to change but hamstrung by ownership and uncertain vision. Bell filled those gaps. The two are a great team. I don’t mean to leave out Nick Krall, but it’s harder to know where his influence fits in. I really think Bell (maybe because of his last name) has been able to convince ownership to give Williams more latitude.