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2019 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #4 Mike Hazen

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Can he take DBacks from Good to Great ?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Rating: 8.31

Age: 43

2019 Stats: 85-77, 2nd in NL West, 4th in NL Wild Card.

88-74 Pythagorean W/L, +70 Run Differential.

Contract Status: Originally signed to 4 year deal 2017-2020, extended in September for unknown length beyond the 2021 season.

Introduction

Disclosure: During the last off season I reached out to the organization to see if there was an opportunity for me within Baseball Operations. There was not. Nothing positive or negative written about Mike Hazen is an attempt to suck up in hopes of future employment or sour grapes over not getting an opportunity to rejoin the organization. I call em like I see em, always have, always will. Also, this is going to be long...grab a coffee or a beer......

If you need a refresher in Mike Hazen’s background, Jim’s “Who is Mike Hazen” article at time of the signing is a good place to start. His hiring was received with almost unanimous approval throughout the industry, as can be seen in the “Reactions article” Jim also posted.

His tenure started off with a bang. The team won 93 games in 2017, and an epic Wild Card Game before bowing out to the Dodgers in the NLDS. While most of the team was comprised of holdover players, he made a number of key strategic additions at catcher and the bullpen that contributed to the sudden turnaround. His biggest move however was the mid season acquisition in July of J.D. Martinez. He was sensational, posting over 1.000 OPS for the DBacks.

Hazen also made a high profile trade with the Mariners that did not appear to favor his side of the equation at the outset. While Taijuan Walker was a fairly solid rotation addition, and Ketel Marte showed some promise, Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura both made the AL All Star team in 2017. There were howls about the trade being a bad deal for Arizona, but those were muted somewhat by the success of the season.

One seemingly minor move at the time was leaving Brad Keller exposed to the rule 5 draft in December 2017. The 8th round draft pick reached AA by age 21, but was posting ERA’s in the mid 4’s. He was chosen by the Reds and then traded to the Royals. Over 2018-19 he’s thrown 305 IP, 123 ERA+ and 6.2 WAR. Oops.

2018 saw a lot of ups and downs. Unable to resign Martinez, Hazen expended some mid tier pitching prospects and Brandon Drury for Steven Souza Jr to play right field, but he was hurt much of the season and played poorly when on the field. (He also got Taylor Widener back in that deal)

The team got off to a hot start, suffered a historic offensive collapse in May, recovered for a while but then collapsed again in September as the Dodgers charged. Brad Boxberger, who was signed to close for the team, was removed from the role mid season due to continued meltdowns. The Three Catcher system produced the worst offensive group of catchers in the league, (but their defense and pitch framing were superb).

Despite entering September in first place, the team won just 82 games, and missed the playoffs. They also faced the impending free agency of several key players, including Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock. To his credit, Hazen avoided dealing away any higher end prospects, and steadily built the farm system. (Despite failing to sign #1 pick Matt McClain).

The biggest cloud that hung over the team was the decision to be made over face of the franchise Paul Goldschmidt, who had just one year left on his contract extension before turning free agent. What direction Hazen should take the team was a topic of intense debate here at AZ Snakepit, and resulted in an article series presenting plans and debating the various options. You can read the summary Round Table article with poll , and within that are links to the “All In, Retool, & Rebuild” articles.

2019 Review

One helpful feature on Baseball-reference.com is their transaction section. If you go to the Diamondbacks team page, and mouse over the word “other” at the bar across the middle top, you will see the link for transactions page for the 2019 season. Mike Hazen’s 2019 season started November 2nd, 2018. So that’s pretty much what we’re reviewing here.

I reached out to the writers here at AZsnakepit to get a sense of how much importance they attach to the various parts of the GM’s job. This exercise helped me get a sense how others viewed the role. Sean made a good point, by asking the question “are we evaluating from the vantage point of a fan, or the owner ?” Good point, however ultimately I view it from a combination of those two perspectives. Makakilo emphasized Culture and Ethics above all else, as from his vantage point that is the foundation for everything. As always, Mak is a worthy moral and spiritual guide for us.

Here were the categories and the average ranking once I had 9 responses (7 writers and 2 scouts I know responded ). Please let us know in the comments section where you agree and where you differ from this particular crowd sourcing. The scale is simply 0-100 , must total 100

Using a 1-4 Grade Point System, here are my grades:

DRAFT: The 2019 draft was an important one for the team. With a slew of picks in the top 100 and a large bonus pool to work with, it was critical that the team make good choices and avoid obvious mistakes. The industry consensus was that they did just that. Turning to our own James Attwood’s summary as a guide, I am comfortable giving the organization under Hazen a 4.0 for how they handled the 2019 draft process. Actual results will take years to know.

DEVELOP: While a number of players and prospects developed really nicely in 2019, several key prospects did not. At the end of the day though, this is a process of keeping up with the Joneses....or specifically, the Dodgers. They continue to roll out high impact players from their system year after year, despite having lower draft picks. Any measurement of the DBacks player development system must go directly head to head with the Dodgers.

Dan Szymborski wrote in the Dodgers ZIPS article

“The Dodgers always seem to have a ready stash of prospects who just happen to fit the team’s needs at the right time. Yasmani Grandal leaving and Russell Martin showing aging? Well, here’s Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz. Corey Seager only a couple years from free agency? Okay, let’s have Gavin Lux engage full beast mode in 2019. Pitching defections? Let’s just have Dustin May emerge as a top 10 prospect, and just three years from being signed from out in Fraggle Rock.”

I have to squint to give the team a 3.0 on this score. That may be generous

TRADES: Talk about burying the lead. This was the area where Hazen made the biggest impact on the 2019 Roster. He did so in dramatic fashion by Trading Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, and Andy Young. The negative emotional impact on the fan base was immeasurable. But the on field results provided a resounding affirmation of the trade, as Kelly and Weaver provided value immediately , and Andy Young looks ready to step in to a utility role in 2020. With many years of cost controlled performance ahead the trade should continue to bear fruit. This wasn’t the only trade made in 2019. Other moves that impacted the 2019 MLB roster in a big way were the Tim Locastro and Zac Gallen trades. The trade deadline deal of Zack Greinke bolstered the farm system and saved money, but will take time to payoff at the MLB level.

Below is a table showing the in and out. The overall WAR and WAR Value Earned is not too much different, but of course the cost savings were enormous, so the surplus value for the DBacks was quite high. Add in the years of control, and I give a grade of 3.8. (Sorry, the Blake Swihart for Marcus Wilson deal prevented a perfect 4.0)

FREE AGENT SIGNINGS: Working with the limited budget that he has, it’s not easy for Mike Hazen to make a large impact here. Still, the way the free agent dollars were used were strategic, and overall positive. There were some hit’s and misses. But Merrill Kelly, Wilmer Flores, and Abraham Almonte’s contributions more than offset the negatives of Greg Holland, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph. (If you are inclined to opine the intangible positives of Jones, you’ll need to offset that with the negative intangibles of signing a closer who couldn’t throw strikes and who wouldn’t take coaching from the coaching staff) Here is the table. Still, no big mistakes that hurt the team long term. Score 3.25

IN SEASON ROSTER MANAGEMENT: I have a decidedly negative view in this area. The persistence of the three catcher system well into the season, the mishandling of Jon Duplantier, sticking with Holland too long, sticking with Zack Godley WAY too long, giving Swihart too many PA to rack up negative production, etc etc all added up to a lot of missed opportunity for the team. There is little second guessing going on here on my part, as I was vocal on each of these issues throughout the season, and I believe that many of the readers here felt the same way. Were it not for the astute callup of Alex Young and the patience with Archie Bradley, this score would be even lower. Score. 2.0

BUDGET MANAGEMENT/ASSET ALLOCATION: It was pointed out to me there is some overlap here with the trades and free agent portion, and I agree with that. But I still believe this deserves extra attention and credit. Mike Hazen had the unenviable task of putting together teams at least capable of appearing to contend while working with a very restricted budget. After being granted a franchise high budget in 2018 to work with, the was cut WAY back in 2019.

Year End Expenditures

2018- 154 Million

2019- 123 Million

So he saved his owner 30M over the previous year, gave a roster to Torey Lovullo that was capable of contending for the Wild Card through early September, and came out on the positive end financially of most his trades and FA signings. He unloaded the Greinke contract while bolstering the farm system. During the previous off season he extended Ketel Marte to a very team friendly contract, and Marte broke out to have a 7 WAR season while only making 2M, swinging the trade valuation from the previous season completely around. He also plugged Christian Walker (making league minimum) in at 1b after the Goldschmidt trade and Lamb injury, and that paid off in spades as well. Grade: 4.0

COACHING STAFF: Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo have put together a strong coaching staff and the players respect and listen to their coaches. However letting Mike Butcher go signaled a breakdown at a critical coaching position, so . Grade 3.5

USE OF ANALYTICS AND TECHNOLOGY: The Diamondbacks are all in when it comes to utilizing all of the technology and player development tools available in the industry these days. They constantly rank high in successful replay challenges. (Video reviews have been excellent !) And they have proven their excellence in other analytics areas by continually being at or very near the top in positive runs saved due to shifts. At the same time they are not a slave to analytics. In fact being a Theo Epstein disciple , Mike Hazen is fully invested in traditional scouting as well. The Dbacks have one of the biggest scouting departments in MLB. In may seem incongruous to discuss scouting in this section, but it is precisely the ability to balance the two disciplines of Analytics and Scouting that brings me to a grade of 4.0

CULTURE AND ETHICS: One scout I spoke to (not one of his) said that within the industry Hazen is viewed as an honest broker, with no backhandedness. He’s well respected and has a good reputation among agents, players, and other executives. He never seems to say the wrong thing in public, and always appears respectful. He runs a tight ship that simply does not leak. The days of players being bad mouthed before or after a trade seem long gone. The only reason this score is not even higher is because we just can’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes, and a small measure of reservation is always good in these matters. Score 3.5

SUMMARY and 2020 Outlook: Using the weights and grades above, I come out to a 3.50, or a very solid B+

That feels about right. Hazen is a very good GM, who had a very good year. He is not yet a GREAT GM. As much as I respect and admire his process, this business is about results. Hazen himself would tell you the team did not have a great year. In fact when they were eliminated from the Wild Card race they were just a couple games over .500. They finished with an 8-2 run to get their record to 85-77 , but that came AFTER they were effectively out of the race. Their stated goal is to win championships, and they did not come anywhere close to doing that. However making the playoffs with the payroll he has to work with in any of the next couple of years would put him on the cusp of greatness. This time around, lets hope that ownership stays the course and remains patient.

Just after I finished this article draft, the Madison Bumgarner signing news broke. Clearly Hazen is consistently trying to position the team to contend, at least for the wild card, and has done so by adding Bumgarner on a heavily backloaded contract. He’s also added veterans Stephen Vogt and Junior Guerra. He still has outfield issues to address, but with the payroll flexibility he has opened up, one must feel confident he can do so in a competent manner.