"My instinct leans toward June 23rd. It's an off-day in the middle of a nine-game homestand, and comes at the end of what could be a brutal stretch of the schedule: ten games against the Dodgers, Brewers and Giants, who currently have a combined record of 50-30. It would also give whoever replaced Gibson a fairly soft start to their schedule, beginning their tenure with eight games against the Indians, Padres and Pirates, teams who are 34-47 to date. Coincidentally, it'd be after our 79th game, exactly the point at which A.J. Hinch was fired in 2010."
That's what I wrote on May 1, as the most-expensive team in franchise history finished the first full month with one of the worst records in franchise history. And here we are, on June 23. Things have recovered somewhat, with the D-backs having gone 23-25 since. But only somewhat. Arizona dropped seven of the ten games mentioned and lost their last four series in a row. Since winning the first game against Houston, to be better than 10 games below .500 for the first time since April 18, the Diamondbacks have gone 4-10, and are now a season-high 15 games under .500. Gibson's 2014 record is one game above A.J. Hinch's 2010 record, when he and Byrnes were fired.
So, is it time to pull the plug? After all, the Padres issued a statement which could easily be applied to our situation in the desert: "This ownership group is committed to fielding a team that consistently competes for postseason play. Thus far this season, the results on the field have been mixed at best and clearly have not lived up to expectations. After a lengthy evaluation of every facet of our baseball operations, we have decided to make this change today." Note. 1. They are currently a game and a half ahead of the Diamondbacks in the standings. 2. Despite spending about $22.5 million less this year.
One major argument for retaining Towers's' services is no longer relevant: the 2014 draft has taken place, with the Diamondbacks having completed the signing of their top 12 picks, by agreeing to terms with 1st-round selection, Touki Toussaint. There is still the issue of the upcoming trade deadline, but one wonders if the team might be better served by having someone in place for that who has a long-term stake in the club's future. While of course I don't think Towers would do anything deliberately stupid or out of spite, his philosophy and approach to trades is one of the things which got us here. It's more the problem than the solution.
You can certainly separate the fate of Towers and manager Krik Gibson, and the Padres have taken that approach, confirming that Bud Black will remain in charge through the end of the year. If Gibson is fired as well as Towers, I imagine there'd be an interim replacement for the rest of the season, as a new GM would have to be found, and would initially have his hands full with the other aspects of the business. No point rushing into things; it's not as if the 2014 Diamondbacks are going anywhere.
A couple of days ago, Scott Bordow made the case for Gibson staying on as manager, stating "The progress Arizona has made the past six weeks should be enough to convince Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa that Gibson deserves to manage the team in 2015." Bordow also argues, "He was handed a weak major-league roster by General Manager Kevin Towers," which makes it seem like Gibson turned up when pitchers and catchers report to hear about player for the first time. Even if Towers made the final decision, I'm pretty sure Gibson had input into the decisions, and as such, also should be held responsible for them.
The big change since last time we wrote one of these is the arrival of Tony La Russa in an entirely new, and apparently unique, role as "Chief Baseball Officer", operating somewhere between the GM and the owners.That probably signaled the effective end of the Towers era in Arizona; it seems to me much more a question of when, not if, for Towers's departure. But Gibson, it's harder to say. He and La Russa have a long relationship, all the way back to when Kirk limped to the plate against Tony's Athletics in the World Series. There's mutual respect there, and I think that will probably save Gibson's skin, at least for the rest of the season. After that? Much harder to tell.
But is there evidence the team is genuinely playing better? If we look at the stats, most of them have gone the right way in the month or so since we last did this. Hey, we no longer have the worse ERA in the National League! But what follows is also a lesson in why I have great difficulty in trusting fWAR as an accurate reflection of performance for pitchers... Here's an update on all of the usual categories.
- BA = .253 (6th in NL) - was .253 (4th)
- OBP = .306 (11th) - was .304 (12th)
- SLG = .397 (5th) - was .386 (7th)
- OPS = .703 (7th) - was .691 (9th)
- OPS+ = 93 (7th) - was 90 (9th)
- wRC+ = 90 (9th) - was 87 (11th)
- Runs per game = 4.03 (8th) - was 3.72 (12th)
- fWAR = 7.9 (11th) - was 1.9 (13th)
- fWAR leaders = Paul Goldschmidt (2.8); A.J. Pollock (2.5), Chris Owings (1.7)
- fWAR trailers = Cody Ross (-0.9), Tony Campana (-0.5), Aaron Hill (0.3)
- ERA = 4.45 (14th) - was 4.76 (15th)
- ERA+ = 84 (15th) - was 78 (15th)
- K/9 = 7.59 (11th) - was 8.10 (7th)
- BB/9 = 2.76 (12th) - was 2.92 (10th)
- HR/9 = 1.18 (2nd) - was 1.18 (1st)
- Opp. OPS = .764 (2nd) - was .748 (2nd)
- xFIP = 4.12 (14th) - was 3.59 (6th)
- fWAR = 3.5 - was 1.8 (12th)
- fWAR leaders = Brandon McCarthy (0.8), Bronson Arroyo (0.6), Bronson Arroyo (0.6)
- fWAR trailers = Addison Reed (-0.2), Matt Stites (0.0), Will Harris (0.0)