The change doesn't really come as too much of a surprise, especially in the wake of recent comments by Josh Byrnes and Derrick Hall. Byrnes was asked about Melvin's job security, and his response was "The offense has not clicked and we're being thorough and fair in looking at all the reasons for that, everything from how our team is constructed and how it has performed." Hardly a ringing endorsement or backing for Melvin, and on the Doug and Wolf show on KTAR this morning, president and CEO Derrick Hall was asked basically the same question. He responded, "We've all been analyzing what the answer is going to be and what we need to do... The bottom line is...it's unacceptable... There's something missing and it hasn't just been for the 28 games this season... Something's got to give."
Audio courtesy of KTAR 620
Above is the whole interview [Melvin is discussed about 2:40 into it], in which Hall also makes clear his dissatisfaction with the way the season has unfolded so far with regard to the team, and their lack of focus. He also discusses how even though a player has been up in the majors for a couple of years doesn't mean he can't be sent down to the minor-leagues - which seems pointedly directed at Chris Young. Another topic is whether the players are as good as we think they are, and Hall reckons they have all proven themselves capable of contributing, and points out that it's not that long ago people were demanding Justin Upton be sent down to the minors. He also says the decisions need to be made regardless of a win or loss - by the end of the interview, it has to be said, it sounds like Melvin had already been fired. Here are Hall's final comments this morning.
We know something has to be done because we've been grossly underperforming now for five-plus months and it's just not fair to the fans, it's not fair to the organization, it's not fair to the young players that are performing below this team at Triple-A and Double-A that are ready for their opportunity. So a lot goes into consideration... Is it fair to put the blame on one man? No. Does it happen all the time in the major sports? Yes. And sometimes teams do respond and players do respond.
Interestingly, Nick Piecoro reports, "Another reason for the dismissal appears to be what sources describe as a deteriorating relationship between Melvin and Byrnes." I also note the apparent timing of the decision, with the change apparently made on the day the national media are diverted with Mannygate, which will certainly mean the first managerial dismissal of the season gets less attention than it otherwise would. [See the infamous memo sent out by a Labour Party press officer in the UK on 9/11: "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury."] It probably helps that the new manager gets to face the weakest team in the league, the Nationals, at home over the weekend, so has a good chance of a winning start, even if he does nothing at all.
It now seems certain that the new manager is the current director of player development, AJ Hinch. He was a player until very recently - his last game in the majors was September 2004 for the Phillies, and so is pretty young, not turning 35 until a week tomorrow. A Stanford graduate, he was initially hired by the Diamondbacks in November 2005, as manager of the franchise's minor league operations, and was promoted to his current position in August the next year. In that role, he should already be very familiar with most of the roster. He's pulling up some of his colleagues with him. The new hitting coach is Jack Howell, a former MVP [ok, it was in Japan!] who was the minor-league field coordinator, in charge of instructing players. In a March interview, he said, "I think my skills translate best to bench coach. That’s kind of what I am now, in a way, I’m A.J. Hinch’s bench coach." Well, I guess that was close enough, Jack.
Will it make an enormous amount of difference? Probably not immediately, especially if the replacement comes up from within the organization [or especially the current staff, such is Gibson], and thus is more likely to have a similar philosophy. There will probably be some opportunity for what the stock-market refer to as a "dead-cat bounce" - basically, things will get better, because the offense can't really get very much worse. The team's BABIP of .262 is still well short of the league average (.295), and I still expect that to regress as well. The acid test will be whether there is any significant change in the performance of players like the slumping Chris Young. Going by Hall's comments it's not impossible he could be Reno'd, though one wonders whether Gerardo Parra is up to facing major-league pitching on a full-time basis.
Perhaps more problematic is the loss of Bryan Price as pitching coach. He had worked with Melvin since their days in Seattle, and it appears his loyalty extended to falling on his sword when the manager went down. I'm fairly sure the club would have held on to him, had he wanted to stay - while there have been issues in the bullpen, the pitching is not seen as anything like as much a problem as the offense. Mel Stottlemyre Jr. will be taking over, having previously been the minor-league pitching co-ordinator [presumably, another Hinch choice] However, with a mostly veteran rotation, the pitching staff should generally take care of themselves, with the possible exception of Max Scherzer and some of the younger relievers, such as Vasquez.
I feel somewhat sympathetic to Melvin - there is only so much a manager can do, after all. But in the end, as I've said before, a manager lives or dies by the overall performance of his team, and the hitters have undeniably underperformed badly for the past year. And I'm sure Melvin will take the news with the same phlegmatic approach he has managed the team for the past four-plus years. With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, here's his epitaph
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a
Manformer major-league manager my son!