Dear AJ: A letter to the new Diamondbacks manager

Dear AJ,

Welcome to our world. You're probably still settling in to the managerial chair right now - adjusting the height, putting your own photos on the desk, that kind of thing - but thought we, as Diamondbacks fans, should welcome you to the team. Congratulations on the first win Sunday, and commiserations too, on a pair of one-run losses that could easily have gone the other way. And, while we're here, I think we might as well point out some highlights from that first series, illustrating very nicely the issues we have been enduring, for about the past year - and with which you now have to deal...

A badly-broken clutch
Hitting, that is - as if you didn't know. Overall in the series, we were 11-for-47, which is a) sadly, an improvement on the start of the season, and b) a massive upgrade over the performance the rest of the week. Still, plenty of room for improvement. Particularly egregious [you're a Stanford man, you know these words] was Friday's failure to get Chris Young home from third with no-one out in the fifth - the run that didn't score ended up being the difference in the game. We left almost an entire roster and a half out there on the bases - 36 men - over the three contests.

If you compare the numbers with runners in scoring position, it's not just that we aren't hitting, it's that we are striking out more, when it should be less. Through Friday, we struck out 23.3% of the time - worse than the team average of 21.5%. In contrast, the NL as a whole struck out only 17.1%, less than league average (18.2%). I don't think it's coincidence that the top three teams for RISP performance are all well below average in the number of K's. Get the team to stop swinging for the fences, and put the ball in play. Nice things sometimes happen when you do that: see Sunday for details.

A Petit Problem
At first, I thought replacing Yusmeiro Petit with a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fourth was your managerial style, but turns out he was DL-bound. I know common wisdom is that we don't have very many credible alternatives, resulting in the call-up of Augenstein from Double-A. But the answer might already be close to hand. Juan Gutierrez was mostly a starter in the minors, and has performed well since coming up, allowing six runs in 18 IP - with, Yusmeiro please note, one homer - and 24 K's. So maybe we can stretch him out; it shouldn't be long before he can go four, which is about all Petit seems good for. Gutierrez's home-run rate in the minors, with a better sample size, was 0.75/9 IP, so one hopes he might be less prone to the long-ball than Petit. His career figure in the majors is now at 2.14 HR/9 IP, and almost at three this season.

Esmerling Vasquez may not have seemed like it today, but is another who might be worth a shot. His HR rate in the minors was even better, at 0.61 per nine innings, and he started fifteen games last season for the Tucson Sidewinders. Admittedly, the results were poor [an overall ERA of 6.72], but that seems to have been a health issue as much as anything else. Between Reno and the big-league club, in 19 innings, Vasquez has allowed 17 hits and six earned runs, striking out 17. He has walked seven in 9.1 frames at the major-league level [most notably on Thursday]. but that seems excessive, compared to his minor-league numbers. Anyway: all I'm saying is, you have options. You're not as stuck as you may think.

(Batting) Orders that must be obeyed at all costs
When the offense is struggling - as ours is - you need to make sure you maximize all the other factors, to leverage the output to the best possible effect. Included in that is the lineup. There was a very good article over on DBBP, which looked at optimizing the batting order, based on their production. One particularly-pointed quote: "This should have been one reason why BoMel was fired. His lineups heavily weighted his weaker hitters to the top, and strong hitters to the bottom, ensuring that this weak hitting team hit even worse than it should. And I'm not just talking about this year, but the last three years."

I'm not sure batting Chris Young second is the answer: that's where he was on Opening Day, and he was there again as recently as Tuesday. So it seems a very Melvinesque thing to do, and you saw how that ended... You were brought in to provide a different approach to Melvin, and line-up construction is a good place to make a statement. A lack of managerial experience might work for you here. You can do what's best for the team, such as putting the pitcher eighth, and people who don't know that's actually more efficient than having them bat ninth, will simply roll their eyes. Oh, and Conor Jackson should hit leadoff: no power, good OBP, tied for the team lead in stolen bases.

Running into trouble
Firstly, I don't want to pick on Eric Byrnes - he's far from the worst base-runner on the team [coughF-Locough]. But there were three plays over the weekend that bear more analysis. In the eighth on Friday, Eric was the tying run on first: he stole second and was thrown out trying to steal third. But 24 hours later, with him again the tying run and on first - this time in the ninth with men on the corners and two out - he stayed put. Let's crunch the numbers, using the handy Win Expectancy Calculator, and given the specific game situations. The break-even point is the percentage of time the steal has to be successful, for the attempt to be worth the risk, weighing the gain if successful, against the results of failure.


Win Expectancy
Steal 2nd
Friday
Steal 3rd
Friday
Steal 2nd
Saturday
Successful steal
35.5% 44.6% 17.3%
No steal attempt 31.7% 35.5% 9.8%
Failed steal
19.6% 19.6% 0.0%
Break-even Point
81% 65% 57%

Perhaps surprisingly, is it wasn't the steal of third that was questionable. It was stealing second immediately before, which added very little to the chance of victory, with the result of failure the same for second or third - bases empty, two outs. With hindsight, stealing second on Saturday would probably have tied the game on Montero's double. But the pure numbers also show it the least risky of the three situations, even if failure meant the game was over. So why did Byrnes stay put? Giving people the green light to steal is fine, but they need to know when it helps the team and when it doesn't. In Eric's case, I think trying to explain Win Probability and Run Expectancy Matrixes may cause severe drowsiness in the subject, and possibly a coma: I'd just use appropriate game footage and a cattle-prod.

Don't Believe the Bullpen's Lies
They were clearly on their best behavior this weekend, allowing five earned runs in 12 innings of work, a very respectable 3.75 ERA. Do not be fooled by this: the first month showed them as like a willful bunch of children, who pretend to be all sweetness and light, only for them to tear down your house with the gleeful abandon of a tornado, the moment your back is turned. Tony Peña and Chad Qualls - those are reliable arms in close games, and I trust I need not go over the whole Schoeneweis thing: if you're interested, search the archives for his name, "right-handed batters" or "Aargh! UselessgoddamnMelvin!". But the others need to be watched like hawks, since on any given day, they can be dominating, useless or anywhere in the middle.

Exhibit A would be Jon Rauch, who pitched two scoreless innings this series, and since April 24th has allowed three earned runs in seven frames. This might mislead you into believing he has worked out his issues, and start using him in higher-leverage situations, like one-run games. However, any closer analysis shows how lucky he has been: over that stretch, opponents have still hit .344 off Rauch. This weekend's performances are good examples: he gave up four hits and a walk in those two innings - you don't deserve much credit for escaping a jam, when you created the jam yourself. A couple of inches on the bats of Adam Dunn and Wil Nieves and instead of two zeros, it could easily have been a grand-slam and three-run homer.

Anyway: best of luck. I know there has been a lot of negative talk in some circles, but we basically ignore the posters on azcentral.com, since they were the ones demanding Eric Byrnes get his contract extended, and that we should re-sign Randy Johnson (he of the 7.68 ERA against teams not named 'Arizona'). There's no underestimating the task you have at hand, but you're the man now, dog. More games like Sunday's offensive Ragnarok will soon win the uncertain over. For Phoenix is an absolute front-running town: just ask the Phoenix Cardinals, whose fans went from wearing bags on their heads to the Superbowl in short order. The non-diehards had just about given up on this team after the first month, so you have little to lose and everything to gain, with Drew back this week, and Webb returning in due course. Here's to turning this season around - we'll be pulling for you.

Best wishes,
  Diamondbacks Fans

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