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The Bard’s Take: Accountability - Perception is Reality

Has the time come for changes, no matter how empty or symbolic?

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

-Tony La Russa 25 July 2016

-Tony La Russa 25 July 2016

-Tony La Russa 25 July 2016

-Dave Stewart 2 August 2016

-Dave Stewart 2 August 2016

Over the last 10 days, the Arizona Diamondbacks have continued to stand behind embattled second-year manager Chip Hale. Despite rumours that began 13 days ago, of Phil Nevin’s impending arrival from AAA Reno to take over the job, Chip Hale’s hand is still the one on the rudder. The Diamondbacks were expected to make the move on the 22nd of July. Since then, the Diamondbacks have gone 3-9. What’s more, is they have been outscored 92-47. This, capped off by going 0-3 and being outscored 38-8 in their last three games, where the three starters that are expected to contribute alongside Zack Greinke started the games against Los Angeles (Corbin) and Washington (Bradley, Ray).

Dave Stewart, despite the number of head-scratching things he has said over the last year, left the door open on Tuesday for speculation regarding Chip Hale.

-Dave Stewart 2 August 2016

Shortly thereafter, the team dropped another bomb at home, losing 10-4. Robbie Ray was chased with a poor final line after getting two outs in the fifth inning having only allowed two runs to that point. Daniel Hudson was beat up on yet again. Meanwhile, the nearly empty stadium watched as Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb reminded everyone that this season was a wasted opportunity.

Ken Kendrick did not become a billionaire by ignoring when a business is in trouble. The Diamondbacks are in trouble. After arguably the highest profile signing in team history, the Diamondbacks PR machine went into overdrive. The hype for this season was enormous. With television revenue set to start streaming in and a contending team taking the field, the future for the Diamondbacks looked very bright in March. Now the offseason’s prized acquisition sits on the shelf. The team’s second-best position player has been out all season. The team is on pace to lose 97 games this season, despite the expectation of winning 90 plus. What’s even more damning to the club is that the team has a woeful home record of 17-37, a winning percentage (.319) that if it were applied across all games in the season would equate to a 51-111 record, tied for seventh-worst since 1900 and the third-worst since World War II. The result is that the team is hemorrhaging fans, and thus revenue, at an alarming rate. Perception is everything, and without some sort of indication from the front office that it is aware of just how bad things are going and that it actually cares, things are only going to get worse for the franchise.

These are professional athletes taking the field day in and day out. Even the worst performer on the field is better at the game than 99% of the world. Every last one of them, to reach this level of opportunity, is filled with competitive pride. The players are not taking the field with the intention of losing. Nonetheless, watching the Diamondbacks go 3-11 since the break and the way that things have gone from bad to worse near the end here, it is difficult not to see a team that looks like it is giving up. Sure, there are individual performances on any given night that might stand out, but as a unit, the team simply looks defeated. There is no bounce in the step, no swagger in the stride, no ownership of the diamond. As a diehard fan, if I am starting to believe the team has begun to give up, I can assure you that there are numerous casual fans feeling the same way. That creates a problem for Kendrick and his partners.

The team has reached a point where something needs to happen, even if it is just symbolic. They’ve already tried once and messed up on that when they designated team mascot, clubhouse leader, all-around nice guy, and fan favourite Josh Collmenter for assignment, ostensibly to “send a message” while making room for a pair of left-handed arms to get a chance to audition for jobs. The problem is, Collmenter has been mostly successful this season, recording scoreless outings in 12 of his 15 appearances this year, with all but one of those being for less than at least one full inning of work. Yet Dominic Leone, who has had no success at the MLB level since 2014 still has a spot in the bullpen. Despite having a public relations nightmare of a season, the front office chose to cut one of the few players on the roster that fans still identified with, even though he was doing the job better than many of his peers. With nothing left to play for this season, and with other options available, it seems rather problematic to be further alienating fans.

The team has reached a point where changes, even symbolic ones need to start being made, and those changes need to reflect fan attitudes. Firing Chip Hale may not (and probably does not) make this team any better in 2016, or perhaps 2017. It will hold someone visible to the public accountable. It will tell fans that management is indeed paying attention to just how poorly this team has performed this season. There are other candidates almost certainly more deserving of the axe, such as pitching coach Mike Butcher. General Manager Dave Stewart knows from first-hand experience gained during his time in Toronto just how fruitless a mid-season change of the pitching coach can be. Furthermore, casual fans are not as keenly aware who Mike Butcher is. Someone near the top needs to answer for this train wreck of a season. Kendrick isn’t selling the team, and Tony La Russa is Ken Kendrick’s choice to run the organization’s baseball operations. Tony La Russa has gone on record (just this morning even) with how impressed he has been with the job Dave Stewart is doing. Next up is Chip Hale.

Few teams in baseball would be expected to beat the Washington Nationals with Max Scherzer on the mound and the offense having a hot week at the plate. It would therefore be unfair to expect a win out of Chip Hale in order for him to keep his job. Though, if he were to pull out a win later this afternoon, it would become much more difficult to dismiss him, given he would have just led a demoralized and inferior team to victory over one of the best teams and pitchers in the game. If the Diamondbacks do lose the game though, they need to keep it close. If they are not still “in the game” when the ninth inning comes to a close, it could (and probably should) be Chip Hale’s last one as manager of the club.

The team has not looked remotely competitive outside of a few of games in nearly three weeks now. With the team’s stars on the DL, the ill-advised dismissal of a fan favourite player, and the team’s pathetic home record, anything short of holding the hand that steers the rudder accountable is not going to cut it.

Sadly, for Chip Hale, the real fault here lies with forces not entirely within his control. He did not control team spending. He did not make the trades that came to define this team. He is not the one failing to perform from sixty feet, six inches. He didn’t take a hammer to A.J. Pollock’s elbow. The players on this team, especially the pitching, have grossly underperformed. Even allowing for only modest performances as regression took hold of key players, the pitching has come up wanting, and the defense has been suspect at best. Chip Hale cannot get out there and pitch and hit for the players. That is on the players. He has, however, failed to get the most out of the players he has, and that simply is no longer acceptable.

Symbolic or not, this team needs a drastic change in leadership, or else the fans aren’t coming back, not this season.