Is there a plan?

Christian Petersen

Watching (or at least following) the 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks has been an exercise in futility. This is especially true for those of us living in the eastern half of the United States, and I can only imagine the feelings of those living across vast bodies of water. Victories have been sparse. We can only hope that improves with a trip to Wrigley Field this week, and that the Diamondbacks can pick up three victories (and the Kansas City Packers one) thus salvaging the record somewhat, and relegating the Cubs to the position of worst record in the league. But watching so far, I am forced to wonder if there is any sort of a plan behind the actions of the powers that be in the dugout and the front office.

Case #1: Shortstop.

One of the key battles of spring training was the battle for starting shortstop, with the understanding that the loser would be sent to Reno to learn second base. The battle was held, Chris Owings won, and he has done nothing since then to cause any dispute in the matter. In fact, according to bWAR, he is the most valuable player on the team, earning 0.8 bWAR in 64 plate appearances. He has shown greater patience than expected, better skill with the glove than expected, and the ability to turn singles into doubles and steal bases. Yet he is regularly benched in favor of Cliff Pennington, or slotted so far down the order as to have his value minimized.

It does no good to put a singles and the occasional double hitter in front of the pitcher, or in front of Tuffy Gosewisch and the pitcher. He would be far better in the #2 spot occupied yesterday by (you guessed it) Cliff Pennington! Gibson has been willing to move Pennington (who hasn't been that bad on offense so far this year, admittedly) up the order, but not Owings. I don't blame Gibby for playing Pennington, given his superior defense and his decent offense thus far, but it would have made far more sense to play him in place of Prado (who was getting an off day) or Hill, rather than in place of one of the few bright spots on the season thus far.

Case #2: The Cahill/Delgado conundrum.

No one would argue that Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado were disappointing in their starts prior to moving to the bullpen. But the way in which the moves were made appeared at the time to be a knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to be appearing to do something. This appearance has not improved since. While Josh Collmenter and Mike Bolsinger have not done worse in the starting roles, they have struggled to successfully get through the batting order more than once. This means that Cahill and Delgado are still pitching, just later in the game, and still with the game on the line. While Cahill's performance showed genuine problems (for a ground ball pitcher, he was allowing far too many fly balls), Delgado's poor performance was largely a case of being BABIPed to death. His BABIP against for the season still sits at .400, despite performing well in his five relief appearances this season.

While it's true Delgado is probably best in long relief, he was serviceable as a starter last season, and provides no upgrade over Josh Collmenter, who is also best in long relief, and has proven that over more time than Delgado. Cahill, on the other hand, has worked four perfect innings in relief since moving to the bullpen, while Bolsinger has been knocked around to the tune of 13 hits and 8 earned runs in 7 innings, and lasted only four innings in his first career start. There seems to be no real plan here, only the desire to appear to be doing something. If there was a plan, Kevin Towers and Gibby would be making moves that clearly improve the team, rather than swapping out roughly identical pieces and hoping for different results.

Case #3: Bullpen usage.

The bullpen has thrown an ungodly amount of innings thus far. Some of that is the result of poor starting pitching. However, there have been a number of questionable moves. Bronson Arroyo, acquired to be a solid #3 innings eater, has yet to go more than 5 innings, and has not thrown more than 90 pitches in a start. On the other hand, thanks to the bullpen being over-used, Brandon McCarthy was basically left out to dry in his last start, despite his history of injury, and has regularly thrown more pitches than most of the starters, averaging 91 pitches per start, even with throwing only 71 pitches in his second start.

Case #4: Pinch hitting.

The extended bullpen does weaken the bench, and this has caused problems when it comes to pinch hitting. These problems are exacerbated when one of the bench players, Tuffy Gosewisch, is quite possibly worse with the bat than some of the pitchers. (This season, Gosewisch has fewer hits than Cahill, Arroyo, and Bolsinger, in more at bats.) But this does not let Gibson off the hook when it comes to extremely poor usage of the players available. While leaving Miley in to hit against the Dodgers on Friday was excusable (as Miley has done well with the bat this season), there was no real advantage to hitting for Delgado (appearing in "long" relief) against the Mets when trailing 9-0, and the goal should have been to save the bullpen as much as possible. Allowing Ryan Rowland-Smith to hit for himself is also far from advisable. The decisions on when to pinch hit (and who to use) seem to be made by throwing darts at pictures on the wall, for all the sense to them.

Case #5: "Off" day lineups.

Players need days of rest. That has been recognized as true for a long time, Cal Ripken Jr. not withstanding. But running out Cliff Pennington and either Tony Campana or Tuffy Gosewisch in the same lineup just takes too much of the offense out. At least he hasn't committed the cardinal sin of putting all three in the lineup at the same time. If the goal is to win baseball games, planning off days so that multiple of the better offensive players are not off at the same time would be a good start.

These are five areas where it appears that there is no plan behind the decisions that are being made. Of course, the injury to Corbin did require a change of some of the plans, but if there was a real master plan, one injury should not derail it. As an outside observer, it seems that there is no clear leadership in the dugout, and possibly no clear leadership in the clubhouse. Someone needs to step up. Who will call a players-only meeting? Who will rally the pitching staff? Who will take a leadership role on their shoulders and work to improve the situation? This post is already quite long, but I'll make an attempt to answer these questions in a second post later.

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