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Off-day ambivalence thread: rooting for losses

The Diamondbacks head for the East, on a road-trip through Philadelphia and Cincinnati. But wanting them to win might not be in our best interests.

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Norm Hall

Cheering for your team to win is one of the most deeply engrained parts of fan DNA. There's a reason "supporter" is a synonym for fan, after all. But I've become increasingly conflicted this year, as the months have turned, because I am less convinced that winning baseball, at this point, is in the best long-terms interests of the Diamondbacks as a franchise. This feels really strange.

I should stress, there's certainly a significant section of my brain which is still pleased by a win. I think that's an aggregation, formed from my still pristine desire to see individual players do well. I like our guys, and enjoy, say, the amazing transformation of David Peralta from failed minor-league pitcher into everyday outfielder. There may not ever have been a more wonderful personal story on our team [Clay Zavada may be the closest parallel?] The personal successes of our players are also the building blocks for the team going forward; team wins are an amalgam of these individual successes, and I still very much appreciate them as such.

However, there is other ways, in which wins don't help at all. We aren't going to make the playoffs this year. I say this, because no team with our record at this point in the season has ever done so. The worst such were the 1973 Mets, who were one game better, at 45-57, but managed to take the NL East. However, they did so with 82 wins, and I'm pretty sure that will not be nearly enough to do so this season. In the wild-card era, only one team has had less than 50 wins and reached the post-season, the 2006 Dodgers, who were 47-55 but took the wild-card spot. So, sixty games left or not, we won't be playing past September.

Most obviously, the more wins we get, the worse our draft pick next year will be. Now, it is true that the MLB draft is a crapshoot compared to other sports, where the first pick can be plugged straight into your major-league roster and have an immediate, and decisive impact - think Lebron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, higher picks perform better, and there's quite a steep drop-off. Our colleagues at Beyond the Box Score looked at the average value of draft picks, and found that a typical #1 gave his team 11.83 fWAR, while the average from slots 3-7 was less than half that, at only 5.37 fWAR. If we're to build from within - as I think we should - that's a non-trivial difference.

But more concerning is that every win seems to increase the chance that the current regime will remain in place, rather than receiving the drastic house-cleaning I think it needs, in order for the Diamondbacks to turn around and get things going in a positive direction. The signing of Tony La Russa was a good first step, but since then, there have been few, if any, signs of the radical organizational shake-up many fans want. Obviously, a period of appraisal and assessment is perfectly reasonable. But it has been more than two months since La Russa was hired. My question is now, is Kevin Towers still in charge? If not, why is he still employed? Or if so, why?

The Diamondbacks are currently on pace for 70 wins; they've been playing around .500 ball since the end of the disastrous first month, which if sustained the rest of the way, would take them a few notches higher. If we end the season with 75 wins, I'm pretty sure we will be hearing the "if only we'd been healthy" mantra coming from the PR department. This conveniently forgets that the same claim was made last season, when we saw Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross all miss significant chunks of the schedule. Logically, those absences also depressed the 2013 win total - from which we have still managed to decline further.

Here are six words I don't think I've written on the 'Pit before. I largely agree with Dan Bickley, who wrote "This team doesn't need a fire-breathing manager. It doesn't need a tweaking, as some team officials have suggested. And they don't need to hang on to Brad Ziegler so they can compete for a playoff berth in 2015. They need a total overhaul, from top to bottom." Now, that isn't necessarily true on the playing side. We have a number of solid and valuable pieces around whom the team can build going forward: Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Owings, A.J. Pollock, are all young, reasonably-priced and productive.

But the starting pitching is a complete mess, with the second-worst ERA in the league, ahead only of the Rockies and more than one-third of a run worse than the 13th-placed Marlins. It's why our pitching staff is worth a whopping one bWAR this year. That's not a "tweak" or a "healthy Patrick Corbin" away from contention. That's over seven wins below NL average, never mind a playoff spot. And I have exactly zero confidence in Towers knowing how to fix it,  since he's the man who brought to Arizona, Heath Bell, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, J.J. Putz, Tony Sipp, Randall Delgado, Addison Reed, etc.

It's certainly possible to turn things around rapidly. The 2010 pitching staff was even worse, barely replacement level (0.1 bWAR), yet improved almost eight wins the following season. That took a entire Home Depot's worth of new brooms to accomplish that, as well as no small degree of good fortune e.g. Ian Kennedy producing more bWAR that season, than his other seven combined. We have no wiggle-room in payroll, and don't have a surplus of prospects to trade for top of the rotation arms. Realistically, we probably have to wait until Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and other prospects, hopefully develop to their projected ceilings.

But I'm fine with that. I'd rather see a long-term approach being taken. Credit where it's due, the prospects picked with our early selections in this year's draft were clearly intended to that end, being high-schoolers rather than more polished players, who could be fast-tracked to the majors. I've said it before and I'll say it again, After three seasons of sharply declining results, I do not want to see another off-season like the past ones, full of dubious acquisitions, trades to address false issues and moves that aim to stick a Band-Aid over what, it's increasingly clear, is the kind of injury usually seen during the finale of Japanese samurai flicks.

Kevin Towers has taken a fortunate 94-win team in 2011, and in less than three years, turned it into one on pace for close to 25 wins less, while simultaneously doubling the payroll. That's spectacular, to the point that all I can do is quote Eddie Izzard talking about mass murderers: "You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning! I can't even get down the gym." While KT remains, even nominally in charge, I can't have confidence in the rebuilding process necessary being successful. That why part of me celebrates every Diamondbacks defeat, as another step closer to his departure, and the day when I can start looking forward to the future with some hope.