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The Josh Byrnes Interview: Analyzed

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I must confess, I can't say I really "enjoyed" the interview at all. I was just too nervous, busy concentrating on not making a fool of myself. When you brain has thought swirling around like, "Is the tape recorder still going? Don't fall oft the chair! Where's the next question?" it's hard to kick back and admire the view. That said, given it's only the second face-to-face interview I've done in the past decade - and the other was hardly comparable, being former WWE's women's champion, Molly Holly! - I think it came out pretty well. I get a good sense of where our GM is coming from, his baseball 'smarts', and he was more frank and open than I expected.

With the time limitations, I didn't really have a chance to ask much in the way of follow-ups, but re-reading the transcript, I think there are some things which probably deserve additional comment. I also want to point out that I was surprised how small Josh's office is: I expected something befitting his station - perhaps with free-agent relievers fanning him gently and peeling him grapes. But it's definitely a case of function over style: just about everything is within arm's reach from his desk, shall we say. Anyway, what follows is unofficial and purely my own interpretation of what was said. Warning - to sergey606 in particular! - it's pretty long.. You might want to get some snacks and a beverage of your choice first...

Free agency in general, you're paying for players who are a little bit older, and you're signing them for long deals. I think the risk of a longer commitment paying for past performance is probably a risk we need to avoid.

Well, that's another nail in Brandon Webb's Arizona tenure, as he will be 31 at the end of his current contract, which runs out in 2010. That's the same age as Orlando Hudson is now, and we allowed him to walk as a free-agent this season. An extension for a couple of years further may still be negotiated, but I would not be surprised to see Webb traded, with the timing dependent largely on how competitive the Diamondbcks team are, this year and next.

I think the one demographic is the pitcher with some health questions.

Or, as it will henceforth be known, the Tom Gordon clause, who signed exactly this kind of incentive-based contract the next day! As people have noted in the comments, the obvious question is, why wasn't such a contract offered to Randy Johnson? A couple of possible causes there: the amount involved for RJ would be a good deal higher - he has $5m in incentives with the Giants, a good deal more cost uncertainty than the $2m Gordon has. However, I think Byrnes' mention of clubhouse issues such contracts create might well be significant. I think the conclusion is that the team, for whatever reason (or more likely, reasons), was not all that interested in bringing Johnson back, 300 wins or not.

Our team in 2008, obviously our offense was very inconsistent. Generally, it ended up in the middle-third on most metrics of relevance - but it didn't feel like that.

As pointed out by 'hacks in the comments, OPS+ would beg to differ on that. However, this perhaps requires some more analysis, in particular how the park factors involved in OPS+ are calculated. It's not easy: heck, I have two years of college stats to fall back on [albeit not recently!] and I still found myself glazing over at this explanation.  But basically, for Chase it comes off the runs scored and allowed by the D-backs, at home and on the road. And there was an extraordinary split in the team's productivity there: 96 OPS points, 13.8% higher. That's almost up there with the Rockies (105 points).

So is Chase Field really that good for offense? Not sure it was in 2008, for a couple of reasons. If that was the case, you'd expect visiting batters to be helped by it as well - a rising tide floats all boats, as they say. Yet this was singularly not the case. Looking at our pitcher's splits, the OPS against them on the road was .714. At home, it was almost identical at .717, a mere 0.4% up - if Chase helped them, visiting hitters didn't seem to notice. While NL home teams generally batted 30 points better than their guests, in Phoenix, that gap opened up to a chasm-like 74 points This kind of extreme result would tend to exaggerate the 'park effect' factor in OPS+.

On digging further, I also noticed.the D-backs BABIP away from home was .281, significantly [especially in 3,100+ road PAs] below the league road average of .295. Overall, BABIP at home was a few points higher in the NL - .302 to .295, which makes sense since home defenders know their park better and can convert more balls into outs. However, for Arizona, the difference was five times as much: .316 to .281. The latter was almost the same road BABIP figure Arizona recorded in 2007 (.280), so maybe the team just sucks away from Chase? Young players missing their homes? Who can say. Certainly, the 34-47 record out of state last season - six games worse than the previous year - will probably need to improve if the team is to see post-season activity.

Whether it's a primary reliever or a starter, having someone who can assume that role, the quantity and durability associated with that role, and pitch it in an average or better level - that's a good way to build a pitching staff.

This is something we covered before, particularly with regard to the starting rotation. To some extent quantity and quality go hand in hand: if you suck, you're not going to reach the eighth inning. Starting pitching is particularly important, because you are always in the game before the first inning starts. You can get away with having a couple of sturdy but poor arms in the bullpen, for mop-up work when the game is out of control, to save your better pitchers for more crucial situations. But if you can go out there every night feeling you've got at least a 50/50 chance, even with your #5 on the mound, then your team is in fine shape.

That may be the case with the D-backs. I'm not sure who our #5 will be, but last season we were the only team in the NL to have four starters, each with more than 25 games and ERAs under 4.40. If Scherzer and Garland can match that [the latter's career ERA is 4.47, and that's in the AL], we could be five-up there this year. The only NL outfit to do that in the past decade are the 2005 Cardinals, who won 100 games in the regular season. If you add park factors and make the cutoff Doug Davis's ERA+ of 107, no team has had five such good 25-game starters since the 1961 Cardinals [Bob Gibson, Larry Jackson, Ray Sadecki, Curt Simmons and Ernie Broglio]. Will we be that brilliant? We can only hope.

Chad Tracy is in great shape. He's now 18 months removed from the knee surgery, he's had an off-season where he can condition himself rather than rehab. So I think if you even consider Reynolds, Tracy, Jackson, Byrnes, Young, Upton as six players, five spots - Tony Clark too. So that's 3,500 plate-appearances divided by that number, and it doesn't seem so crowded.

It looks as if Melvin is looking for a number of players to show flexibility with regard to their positions this year. If Tracy's knee is indeed fully recovered, then we can probably expect to see him at 3B as well as first - and going by the names mentioned above, possibly even in RF, where he played 47 games in 2005. It will all depend, I suspect, on how well he hits, and how much we need his left-handed bat in the line-up. Jackson will see 1B and LF; Byrnes possibly at all three outfield positions. I can't see Young, Upton or Clark being moved about too much, and doubt Reynolds will be either.

...even some middle-infield players. Jemile Weeks, Gordon Beckham, Jason Castro, guys like that...

Josh did say "Gordon Beckham," but when verifying how to spell "Jemile," on MLB.com's Draft Tracker, I noticed they had the #8 pick listed as James Beckham. I presumed that was the one our GM meant, so corrected that in the transcript. When I sent a copy to Josh, to see if there was anything in need of correction or clarification, the only amendment he made was to confirm it was Gordon. Further investigation revealed he was right. The prospect's full name is James Gordon Beckham, but he goes by his middle name everywhere. Score one for the GM...

Guys like Drew, Young and Upton, who are still pretty young, have a lot of upside.

The lack of any mention of Jackson was noted over on DBBP. That may be tied to the upcoming arbitration case - don't want to say anything that could be taken down and used in evidence against us! Or it may be that Jackson is a little bit older, being 26. Certainly, it looks likely that we will have a well-balanced offense, that can score from just about any spot. As noted, the Baseball Prospectus projections have six AZ players with VORP of 20+, excluding our catching platoon of Snyder and Montero  who combine for more than that. So call it seven positions. The Dodgers and Padres have five such spots [the latter including Scott Hairston, predicted to out-VORP Chase Headley]; the Rockies four; the Giants only one, Pablo Sandoval. Johnson might be waiting some time for that 300th win...

On the outside looking in, other people, other clubs, national media, a lot of them have a really favorable view of the franchise. Like anything, sometimes when you're closer to it, you tend to nitpick it, as do we. It is baseball and it's never going to be easy for 162 games, but there are plenty of things here to be optimistic about and to be proud of.

I think that's true. One question I wanted to ask, but thought better of, is whether Byrnes thought Diamondbacks' fandom was 'spoilt' by the early success under Colangelo? It's something we've discussed before: whether we are the Paris Hilton of fandom, with unrealistic expectations of what life will be like, based on the champagne-filled fountains and mink jackets we had in our youth.

Here are some interesting stats, to illustrate the almost unprecedented level of early success Arizona has had. We are the only team founded in the past century which has a winning franchise record over our history. Even despite 2008, we have averaged 14 more wins per season than our expansion brethren in Tampa. The Diamondbacks have reached the playoffs four times in 11 attempts; the  Rockies, Marlins and Rays have combined for five, in 41 completed seasons. It took the Astros 36 years to reach their fourth post-season' the Padres 37; the Angels 42; the Brewers are still waiting, forty years on.

Nice though it would be to expect this level of success to continue, more than 70% of teams do not make the playoffs in any given season, and we are no more entitled to do so than anyone else. It'll take constant smart-thinking to be able to do so, especially with the mid-market budget this team will have for the foreseeable future. As a result, it's essential to have people in charge who appreciate the challenges that this poses, and have a sound understanding of what needs to be done in order to meet them. I'm pretty optimistic that, while mistakes have happened and will continue to happen - no-one is perfect, after all -  the franchise is in good hands going forward.

And, finally:

...if this work is not 24/7, it's close to it.

He isn't kidding. I don't know about you, but if someone emailed me about work at 11pm, they'd certainly be waiting until next morning for a response. Not our GM, who responded at 11:30pm after I sent him the transcript. All those who would like his job should bear this in mind!