2020 was a very disappointing season for the Diamondbacks. Expected by many to contend for a post-season spot, especially given the expanded playoffs, they instead crashed to the bottom of the National League West, for the first time since 2014. Pro-rated, their win tally was 171⁄2 games off what they had delivered in 2019, despite the big-splash arrivals of Madison Bumgarner and Starling Marte over last winter. Their OPS+ dropped seven points, from 94 to 87, while their ERA+ lost ten points, falling from 106 to 96. But as Nick Piecoro reported yesterday, it does not appear that Arizona intent to make any changes to their coaching staff.
The idea seems to be that this season was an aberration, and it wouldn’t be wise to over-react to 60 games. Indeed, there’s a case it was really much less than that: specifically, 20 games from August 19 through September 9, of which the team lost eighteen. Outside that, they were 13-11 prior to that stretch, and 10-6 thereafter, for a 23-17 record over the rest of the season. While all games matter equally, and you can’t just pretend one of the worst losing spells of baseball in franchise history didn’t happen, I can see what the team means when Mike Hazen says, “My instinct would tell me that what we’ve seen is likely abnormal. My mindset going (into the offseason) is I feel like we have a good baseball team.”
On the other hand, as was mentioned in the opening paragraph, it seems that almost every facet of the team took a step back this year. Pitching was worse. Hitting was worse. Defense was worse. Baserunning was worse. While the team was probably a couple of wins better than their record, according to Pythag, they were in 2019 too. So it seems undeniable, the 2020 Diamondbacks just weren’t as good. The key question would be, where does responsibility for that situation lie? Hazen’s comments tend to suggest it’s not with the players. But Lovullo strongly defended his coaches: “I can speak on behalf of my coaches in knowing the effort they gave me and the focused work that they gave me was fantastic.”
This begs the question: if we have the same players under the same coaches next season, why should fans expect any different results from the massive disappointment which was the 2020 campaign? I think there is some reason to look for some players to bounce back. Madison Bumgarner is the most obvious candidate. If he posts a 6.48 ERA again, we’re in trouble. But his last two outings - five innings of scoreless, two-hit ball in each - definitely provided reason for hope. The Diamondbacks will also be hoping for considerably better from Luke Weaver than going 1-9 with a 6.58 ERA, and again, the results were generally improved down the stretch.
There will still be some personnel changes, especially in the bullpen. We won’t have Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Robbie Ray and (likely) Hector Rondon, a quarter who combined for 68.1 innings of 7.24 ERA. The bar for improvement over those four is therefore low. The same goes on the position player side: Jon Jay, Jake Lamb and Ildemaro Vargas combined to bat .142, and should not trouble the scorers in Arizona next year. Instead, young prospects like Pavin Smith and Daulton Varsho will be a year older, and should be a year better, benefiting from the major-league experience they gained this season. Eduardo Escobar will hopefully not have a 61 OPS+. It’ll help if he stays in shape this winter.
Additionally, just because the coaching personnel are the same, doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be applying exactly the same approaches. I’m sure the results from this season will be analyzed, lessons drawn, and changes made to the methods, where appropriate. But I do think that the leash will be considerably shorter next year. Coming into this season, there was a sense that whatever happens will happen - maybe something good, maybe something bad, but in only 60 games the chance to control the outcome was seen as being considerably less than usual. All things being equal, that won’t be the case in 2021, and responsibility for the results should be in full effect once more.
I’ll certainly be disappointed if it’s any other way.
Should there have been coaching changes?
This poll is closed
No, it was too short a season
Yes, fire pitching coach Matt Herges
Yes, fire hitting coach Darnell Coles
Yes, fire both Herges and Coles