Do the Diamondbacks need more fire?

Harry How

Interesting comments by GM Kevin Towers, speaking on KTAR yesterday.

I felt like we were a punching bag... They slapped us around and we took it."Kevin Towers

The comments initially seem to stem from a game on September 8, where the Dodgers homered six times in an 8-1 rout in LA, and were clowning around in the dugout, feeding bananas to Juan Uribe, who is apparently nicknamed King Kong. [As an aside, the Dodgers must have really low standards if 12 home-runs is enough to get you called Kong. And there's something vaguely distasteful about the entire concept. Put it this way, I'm sure the Dodgers wouldn't be laughing if fans started throwing bananas at Uribe, in the same spirit of 'light-hearted fun'. But, hey, as we've seen, this Dodgers team and class are almost mutually exclusive, so whaddya expect?]

Towers was sitting behind home plate for the game, and was not impressed: "I felt like we were a punching bag. Literally, if I would have had a carton of baseballs I would have fired them into the dugout from where I was sitting behind home plate. That's not who we are as Diamondbacks, that's not how -- I mean, it's a reflection on Gibby, on myself, on our entire organization. They slapped us around and we took it." While it's not clear what he wanted the team to do, afterward he spoke to the coaching staff. But his words seem to have had little effect, Towers noting that a week later, Paul Goldschmidt was hit, something accepted meekly by his team-mates.

"if Goldy's getting hit, it's an eye for an eye, somebody's going down or somebody's going to get jackknifed," said Towers. It's not hard to link his comments - and the apparent inaction after his post-banana "words for the staff" with the departure of the laid-back Charles Nagy from his role as pitching coach earlier this week. However, comes in to replace Nagy will presumably be under no illusions from the get-go, that Towers requires the pitching staff to protect their team-mates. And, going by Towers' other comments, if it turns out the pitchers aren't willing to comply, then they may be in line for an exit:

"I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it's going to be an eye for an eye and we're going to protect one another. If not, if you have options there's ways to get you out of here and you don't follow suit or you don't feel comfortable doing it, you probably don't belong in a Diamondbacks uniform."
-- Kevin Towers

Strong words, certainly. There were definitely times this season where it did feel like we were "punching bags" - the last series against the Dodgers, where they appeared happy to plunk our batters at will, without even the whiff of any counter-measures, comes to mind. And this does tie in with what Towers said yesterday, about the pitching staff needing to re-claim the inner half of the plate. However, it's worth noting that the Diamondbacks were already above-average in terms of the number of hit batters, having nailed 60 (league average = 53), though of course, this may be the same wildness which lead the league in WPs. There's no separation for intent in those numbers.

I confess that, in some ways, it all seems a little bit silly. The best revenge is a figurative kerb-stomping of the opposition, where it counts - in the standings. Part of me feels that revenge and retaliation are an aspect of the game which should be left in the past. Certainly, it's hard to believe that this perceived lack of aggression is what had led the team to consecutive .500 finishes.

Update. Towers has now amended his position:

"I'm not saying hit players on purpose. I'm saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away. I'm talking about pitching inside effectively with purpose. Sometimes they're not always strikes, but you pitch in to a hitter to be able to get the slider down and away... We need to make guys uncomfortable at the plate after two or three home runs. Move somebody's feet. Not hit somebody, but move them off the plate, make them move their feet.' It wasn't, 'Go bean some guys.' No."

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