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The Exits of Charles Nagy and Steve Sax

Well, that didn't take long. Barely a week after the last pitch of the 2013 season, changes takes place, with the Diamondbacks firing pitching coach Charles Nagy and first-base coach Steve Sax.

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"I don't anticipate any big changes."Kevin Towers, last Tuesday

The firing of Nagy and Sax, while not particularly unexpected, did seem to fly somewhat in the face of recent comments by GM Towers and manager Kirk Gibson. Speaking after the season ended, both seemed to downplay the need for significant retooling of the coaching staff. Gibson said, "There's nothing glaringly wrong," but did seem to leave the door open for fresh faces, adding, "Every team makes changes and the coaching staff is no different, so that could be a possibility as well."

The story linked above did explicitly point out the strong difference in tone between when Gibson was asked about whether he wanted bench coach Alan Trammell back - Kirk responding "Of course I do. Sure" - and a much more guarded response in regard to Nagy. "I'm not going to get into anyone's names specifically. We've evaluated them all. We're going to continue to evaluate them." He did say that the team would let anyone know their fate quickly, after this week's evaluations, and seems to have kept that promise, at least.

For Nagy, the move comes almost three years after the team hired him, in October 2010, to replace Mel Stottlemyre Jr. Nagy had a long and successful major-league career, lasting 14 seasons, and being selected as an All-Star on three occasions. It's perhaps no coincidence that his career on the field ended in San Diego, under then general manager Kevin Towers, who hired him to the position with Arizona. But how have the results been for the D-backs pitching staff, since Nagy was hired? Here's the results, starting with 2010, the year before Nagy arrived:

  • 2010: 4.81 ERA, 15th of 16 in NL
  • 2011: 3.80 ERA, 9th of 16 in NL
  • 2012: 3.93 ERA, 9th of 16 in NL
  • 2013: 3.92 ERA, 10th of 15 in NL

While the overall number certainly took a step back this season, it hardly seems disastrous, particularly compared to what things were like before Nagy arrived. Of course, there's no way to tell how much of that is his doing, and how much is simply having different personnel - the man who pitched most innings for the 2010 Diamondbacks was Rodrigo Lopez, so we may simply have been speaking of addition by subtraction. After a sharp improvement from near-bottom to around average, the team seems to have been stuck at or slightly-below average, and this probably didn't sit well with Towers, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of good pitching to winning teams.

The spike in home-runs allowed this year, to a league-high 176, seems likely to have been of particular concern, as well as the number of blown saves, also most in the league. I also wonder if the failures of heralded pitching prospects like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs to translate their potential into the kind of success expected at the major-league level was seen as Nagy's fault. If we're going to blame him for that, however, in fairness we should also credit him for the unexpected success enjoyed by the likes of Wade Miley and Josh Collmenter.

Nagy's approach appears to have been laid-back: he was known as 'The Professor'. Asked after 2011 about the team's improvement, he said, "I really didn't bring much to the table. I just tried to communicate as much as possible." However, reliever Craig Breslow painted a different picture: "He's so optimistic, so positive, so calming, it seems like no matter what the situation is, you can hear his reassuring voice, kind of overriding ... He does a real good job of calming people down, not being overwhelmed by the big picture. Just going, `Look, here's what you're going to do, throw the pitch down and away, get the ground ball and we'll worry about the rest of the stuff later.'"

Speaking before that season, Joe Saunders largely seemed to concur: "He might not be as boisterous as other coaches, might not be as outspoken, but Charlie, the best way I can put it is, he has this quiet storm about him. He has a real quiet mentality, a real laid-back attitude. But when something needs to get done or be said, he says it - and says it in the right way. He's very good at giving constructive criticism if need be." At this point, speculation on replacements is probably pointless, but It'll be interesting to see if the team goes for someone with a different approach, or a new coach with the same style, just a different message.

Sax had much less tenure with the Diamondbacks, having only been signed before this season, replacing Eric Young Jr at first-base, with the aim of addressing our deficiencies in base-running. That didn't happen. Instead, the stolen-base success percentage for Arizona declined further this year, dropping from 65% to a major-league worst 60% (and that was with Willie Bloomquist playing only 48 games), and the percentage of time we took an extra base also went down from 41% to 38%. Given Sax's SB% during his career was 71.3%, it seems that he wasn't able to pass on his skills to the players under him.

But it doesn't seem Sax will be idle. This morning, I received the following PR email: "Five-time MLB All-Star and two-time World Series champion Steve Sax is set to debut The Steve Sax Baseball Clinic on November 2 in Mesa, Arizona. The one-day, hands-on clinic provides serious-minded players, coaches, and managers with the advanced training and insider techniques needed to better their skills and draw the attention of scouts. Sax provides personal explanations and demonstrations in an intimate, indoor environment." Just don't ask about base-running...